Eventually it had to happen. My wine group decided to have an Israeli wine night.
The lineup included several wines we have all loved in the past (albeit different vintages in some cases). As our tastes have developed, we had left some of these wines behind, so to speak. Coming back to them now, I can't say we were thrilled by them anymore. Some would probably not have excited all of us to begin with. Others simply showed too many technical faults and were imbalanced at a very young age. And a couple were old friends about to depart for greener pastures.
We started with the Vitkin, Riesling 2005. A very sharp and focused palate but the nose felt distant and vague. We came back to it a couple of hours later and it had really cleaned up its act. Would stand up to a QBA level wine from a decent German maker and I do mean that as a compliment. In retorospect, the wine of the night.
Next up was a joker. Obviously a Chardonnay, the nose was buttery and nutty in a Meursault style, with obvious oak fenced in by the other elements. The palate was significantly less interesting - very flabby and imbalanced. I thought it was the Castel "C" but it was an oaked village Chablis from 2003 by a producer I'd never heard of, Lamblin.
Next was one of my personal disappointments, Sea Horse, Elul, 2003. Not that I was expecting a lot. Ze'ev Dunie's wines had appealed to me two or three years ago and ever since, not only have I been outgrowing them, but I've been sensing a lot of bottle variations or perhaps simply the wines coming apart in bottle. So right now I have quite a few bottles of his left and I'm singularly unexcited at the prospect of drinking them. The Elul 2003 I find very over-ripe, perfumed like a harlot, with the palate relatively balanced compared to the nose, but not very interesting. And it's rough, almost like chewing gravel, without even the notion of good fruit lurking in the background. We returned to the wine at the end of the evening yet all that time breathing the air in the bottle had left no positive mark on the sorry juice. I think I understand what Dunie is aiming for but the execution is lacking.
On to the Flam, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000. Flam is the brett lover's favorite Israeli winery, though I suspect recent vintages depend too much on the brett to carry them. Surprisingly, this was still alive, though not in good shape. The nose was a charmer, with bretty notes, chocolate, some mushrooms. The palate still had good acidity and grip yet the flavors were muted and faded. I really liked it once and I'm glad it's dying gracefully. And it's still got quite a nose!
I don't think anyone expected a lot from the Barkan, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 1997, which was just as well, as it was too simple and ripe and probably was never intended to be drunk in 2007. The Yarden, Cabernet Sauvignon, 1997 is a wine that we would have expected to be drinking well with adequate storage. It did have a lovely nose, surprisingly bretty though in a well measured way. But the palate probably deserves a saying in Yiddish, something about a favorite child not living up to expectations. It was hot and hollow, with indiscernible flavors.
The Vitkin, Cabernet Franc, 2003 was in the same cheap floozy style of the Sea Horse, without putting out as much, and time in glass only harmed it, with the barrel influences growing stronger. The palate was hardly balanced and enjoyable. Maybe it's just age but I remember tasting it a couple of years ago and not liking it even back then.
The final disappointment was my own second contribution after the Sea Horse: Pelter, Shiraz-Grenache, 2004, a wine I had loved only a year ago at the winery. It's actually the most I'd ever paid for an Israeli wine and I was willing to pay it because it highlighted a mixture of Old and New World styles that I thought should be a direction for Israeli reds. As it was then, a wine I would have brought to any blind tasting. A year later: very indistinct fruit; flat, simple and bitter, with not a single redeeming feature.
The Flam's demise was no surprise. Ditto for the Barkan and The Vitkin Cab Franc. The Yarden's state was somehow within the bounds of reason and I really hope the Pelter was an off-bottle. But the Elul was a failure in a class of its own. I can understand why I liked Dunie's wines once but that understanding does not relieve my frustration.