Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Attack of the Killer Grenache - Vitkin, Early 2017


Time to check in, once more, on the winery that has always been located on the "road less traveled" part of the Israeli wine map - ever since the pioneer days when they were one of the first to break the paradigm of using Bordeaux grapes in Israel.

Grenache Blanc, 2014

A personal favorite, in my humble opinion already one of the top ten Israeli whites, this has an earthy character driven by tart acidity. Air fleshes it out (and I'm not ruling out that it should be served at a temperature close to that of a red wine, which is what I wound up doing and it worked for me) so that its lean frame is embroidered with nuanced flecks of bitter and savory flavors. The nose, while also austere, starts off with a nutty greenness and it, too, develops nicely, flaring into a bouquet flaunting an 'otherness', which I can't really break down meaningfully - perhaps something along the lines of chalk laced with sweet herbs and a hint of flowers, tobacco and iodine?  (Feb. 19, 2017)

The 2015 version is, at this point, more floral. I wish I could write more about the differences between the two vintages, but besides the year's worth of evolution, there's not much to tell them apart except for the greater clarity of the 2015 and a lither structure. I think the grape is comfortable in its new home. (Feb. 27, 2017)

125 NIS.

Israeli Journey, Rose, 2016

I prefer my roses so dry they could detox Keith Richards, and this more or less hits that sweet spot, with a wild freshness of fruit, almost floral, that is charmingly tempered and tamed by minerals. Assaf Paz says he thinks he finally nailed the formula, mostly Grenache with a modicum of Carignan. I agree. (Feb. 21, 2017)

70 NIS.

Grenache Noir, 2014

Grenache can easily go over the top and become too ripe, intense and candied. Assaf, however, confidently controls the grape and this wine just nods at that aspect with candied notes, but it also shows the same fresh wildness of fruit and flowers as did the Rose, as well as hints of raw meat. Most importantly, for any wine, but even more so for a grape so easily whored by producers prone to excess, this is a personable, very drinkable wine, with a raspy, yet savory finish adding plenty of jism. The label says "Collector Edition" and, while the wine is certainly special enough, it is no high octane trophy wine, just a wine that someone made because he wanted to do something different and so eased it into being, let the grape express its character without letting it get out of hand. (Mar. 3, 2017)

140 NIS. This is a terrific wine, really worth the price, showing, like the only other local Grenache that I know of (Feldstein), that the variety has great potential in Israel.

So that takes care of the various permutations of Grenache in the Vitkin portfolio. With that out of the way, let me finish with another example of how Vitkin does things differently. And yes, I know there are at least six other Israeli Rieslings, but Vitkin was there first.

Riesling, 2015

According to Cellar Tracker, the first Israeli Riesling was made by Golan Heights. Which I suppose makes Vitkin's inaugural vintage the first good local Riesling. But I quibble and anyway, making Riesling in Israel is always a leap of faith, on paper at least. I'm a classic German Riesling guy, also willing to accept their dry versions as well as those from Austria and, to a much lesser extent, from Alsace. While I appreciate the effort involved in making extraterritorial versions, you have to understand that I approach Rieslings from other regions with a very critical eye - uh, palate. This is a good wine. I think it brings a local touch. There's a certain herbal languor on the palate that I like, as well as bracing acidity and a healthy, cleansing salinity. The nose is fine, demure if not outright austere, showing lime and white fruit rather than apples (well, maybe some apples). I like it, and I'm happy I have another bottle to age, as well as a bottle of 2014, but I think it's a little short and the nose doesn't evoke the same thrill of discovery that the Grenache Blanc does. (Feb. 2017)

125 NIS.

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