A couple of years ago, my wife's cousin Boaz and his wife Stacy gave us a short, yet thrilling, food tour in downtown Manhatten. Ever since, we'd been planning a reciprocal engagement in Tel Aviv and today, it finally came to pass. Since Boaz and Stacy had just one free evening, I had only one shot at this and I chose Toto: because I believe it is typical of current trends in Israeli haut cuisine and I find it somewhat more dependable than its peers in the same price range. Also, I thought its signature dishes (chestnut gnocchi anyone?) would make a very memorable impression on the uninitiated. Plus, I have to admit I'm always inclined towards restaurants where I'm on friendly terms with the staff, especially the sommelier (hint, hint). It was a good call, in the event, judging by the reaction and the compliments.
Chateau Bouscasse, Madiran, 2005
This is the basic bottling, 50% Tannat and the rest roughly equal parts Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Very black fruit on the nose, but not over-ripe, with a prominent mineral vein and hints of leather. The palate is dense, yet not a blockbuster, with enough acidity to complement the fruit as the long finish glides on sleek, smooth tannins. Better and much more elegant than I expected and a great value. (Apr. 23, 2011)
About 15 euros at Fortnum and Mason.
I chose the Bouscasse because I thought (based on reading up as opposed to experience) that its ripe, yet tannic, structure would pair well with the robust character of most of the dishes at Toto, and would thus be a good catch-all choice. This last consideration was paramount because my wife frowned on my bringing more than one bottle, necessitating a very flexible wine. Also, I thought limiting us to one bottle for four people required a young, tannic wine that would be sipped slowly and last a bit.
However, the Bouscasse turned out to be easier to drink than expected, and more wine was requested in mid-meal. The solution: a couple of glasses each of Israeli reds, in order to highlight the local products. Oy vey, the notion of 2GrandCru turning patriotic!
The Flam, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, 2007 was full of black fruit with hints of brett, muscular with decent elegance, and did not in any way exceed my expectations (not a bad thing, as I'm still fond of the winery). The Chateau Golan, Syrah, 2007, on the other hand, did surprise me, even though the word on the street was that something very welcome was afoot. A fruity, yet mellow nose, one that was slow to show the varietal black pepper, was a break from both the Rhone and Australian paradigms, and I appreciated the fact that the fruit was reined in enough to highlight some elegance. The palate was complex and deep enough for joy, and above all tasty. High class. Both wines cost about 140 NIS.