|Israeli Chardonnay and Australian Shiraz for brunch -
bet you didn't see THAT one coming
Venus La Universal is a winery started by Rene Barbier the fourth, son of Rene the third of Clos Mogador in Priorat. The site is a little heavy on romantic PR, but does convince me that the Barbier and Perez team are hard workers. As for the wine itself. I sometimes like to group together wines that have roughly the same style and personality, and this Grenache dominated blend falls into the Grenache Fanboy Family: wines made by people who understand what the grape can provide, if you don't allow to succumb to its own alcoholic, candied tendencies (which is what has been ruining Chateaneuf for years). What we have here is an intense nose that combines red fruit and dust and meaty broth and a palate that, despite 14.5% ABV, never gets out of hand. Look, it's not very complex; I can't tell if that is due to its youth or the wine's own glass ceiling but I don't see any reason why you wouldn't be able to lay it down for three-five years and find out. At any rate, definitely worth a look. (Apr. 28)
Wine Route. I bought at a mixed box discount, so I don't recall the original price, but it was probably about 150 NIS.
Olivier Guyot, Marsannay Blanc, La Montagne, 2013
A wine not just driven by acidity, but plowing through the palate on almost unbearably racy liveliness. There's an edge to the finish that only a cold terroir can conjure - it feels like La Montagne might actually be colder than your average Chablis vineyard. Aromatically, it's a lot tamer, chalk and roasted nuts, nothing as extreme as the palate. A very charming package, but in surprising need of time. (Apr. 29, 2017)
Bourgogne Crown, 160 NIS.
Domaine Jean Chauvenet, Nuits St. Georges, 2010
I don't know if the poor showing is because the 2010's are going through a tough period or because Chauvenet is a particularly demanding producer. Maybe I just opened it on Root Day. Whatever, this has potential, even the herbaceousness, meanness and stinginess can't hide the inherent breed and complexity. But I was really looking forward to some Bourgogne sexiness. (May 2, 2017)
Bourgogne Crown, 210 NIS.
Elian Da Ros, Côtes du Marmandais, Clos Baquey, 2011
I think there are fewer small local importers these days (actually, I think the big ones have narrowed the breadth and depth of their offerings as well) but while the market was, at least superficially, healthier, the smaller players had to carve out a niche by travelling the side roads of the wine world. Which is how Uri Caftory wound up carrying Elian Da Ros from the Marmande commune, whose AOC's are just outside the Bordeaux border. At least on one level, this flagship wine is a rustic version of claret, which is a way of saying there is light brett in it. It's a personal judgement call whether that would be a sign of personality or of a lack of hygiene and I'm still on the fence here. That's not all there is to it, thankfully. There's also a backdrop of earth and olives, with enough richness and complexity to relegate the brett to the background, while the good balance of fruit, tannins and acidity makes the wine very moreish. (May 6, 2017)
IProVinum, 220 NIS.
Marquis d'Angerville, Bourgogne, 2013
You would rightly expect a great producer to make a generic Bourgogne that punches above its weight and the Marquis, in my experience, makes one of the best. This is even better than what I'd tasted before. If the roughness of its structure reveals its lowly origins, its weight and length are certainly out of the ordinary. (May 12, 2017)
Bourgogne Crown, 190 NIS.
Dujac, Vonse-Romanee Premier Cru, Aux Malconsorts, 2014
This is the famous vineyard bordering and jutting out of the La Tache. At this young age, this has the length, focus and balanced structure of a Premier Cru, even a Grand Cru, with the fruit dormant. Tasted blind, it was easy to note the quality, less easy to pick the level or village - I thought it was a Chambolle or Gevrey Premier Cru, which I think is a legit guess, even if wrong. A treat, one I can't afford every day, and I have to thank the generous friends who offered me a glass.(May 12, 2017)
Tzora, Judean Hills, Blanc, 2016
I've been meaning to revisit this, but I usually wind up going for the white Shoresh, which is a more obviously special wine - and also a Sauvignon Blanc, which I prefer as a local white, all other things being equal*. But, this is a very good wine. I don't remember if it's a varietal Chardonnay in 2016 or a Chardonnay dominated blend, but it just about hits the glass ceiling of what the grape can do in Israel. It's concentrated without being heavy handed, ripe or tropical - a blend of spicy pears and minerals making it a marriage of Macon and Meursault of sorts, if that helps give an idea of the style. It's very moreish, but if you slow down to contemplate it as you drink, you will find a good amount of interest in its flavors and structure. (May 13, 2017)
About 110 NIS, your mileage may vary.
Standish, Barossa, The Relic, 2004
I'd call this hedonism under a tight leash, which, when you think about it, is what you want in a great wine. I admit this is a great wine, New World and all. It's ripe and liquorish, but in no way over the top, with nuances of roasted meats and truffle, as well as excellent acidity. And, a decade of maturity in bottle is a great boon. (May 13, 2017)
Mersch, the price for recent vintages average at 700 NIS . This wasn't my bottle. It would never have crossed my mind to spend so much on an Aussie Shiraz but I'm glad somebody did.
* Shvo, Sauvignon Blanc, 2016
This and the Shoresh show what I meant by Sauvignon Blanc being my go-to white grape in Israel. Actually, it could well be declared the national white grape, but then it would be too obvious a choice for me and I'd snub it. For example, the Shvo SB is actually so ubiquitous that I probably do wind up snubbing it. I haven't had it in over two years - well, I had the Gershon two years ago and it's so hard to find that I can't afford to snub it. Anyway, I should buy more of it, Efrat would love me to buy more, and, at about 80 NIS a bottle, it would ease the strain on my wine budget. It leans towards the green, grassy side of Sauvignon rather than the tropical, with an elegant stamp of smoky minerals. (May 14, 2017)
Tzora, Shoresh, Blanc, 2016
Once Israel manages to create an appellation system and gets around to demarcation of individual vineyards, Shoresh is a good candidate for a premier cru, for the excellence and consistency of both the red and white wines Eran Pick coaxes out of it. Of course, you have to give him credit for his meticulous skills as well. Then again, skills are what I think gave us the white Judean Hills. The vineyard and skills gave us this, truly a benchmark Israeli Sauvignon. The nose is more extravagant than either the Judean Hills or the Shvo, while the structure is more detailed and sustained, making for a wine whose texture is as memorable as its aromatics. (May 15, 2017)
Domaine de Clovallon, Vin de Pays Haute Vallee de l’Orb, Pinot Noir, 2014
This is another niche wine imported by Caftory and that niche is "the best Pinot you can buy in Israel that isn't from Burgundy". It might not be much of a niche, but it's a lovely wine, on the same level as, say, a Cote Chalonnaise , with an autumnal nose that is much about rotting earth and leaves and mushrooms as it is about fresh red fruit. The palate is totally driven by acidity that gives the fruit a tinge of oranges and pomegranate. (May 17, 2017)
IProVinum, 109 NIS
Domaine du Coulet (Matthieu Barret), Cornas Brise, Cailloux, 2013
This is much less of a niche wine, inasmuch as the North Rhone sells well in general, and I guess fairly decently in Israel. Maybe I'm wrong. Anyway, it's not the oddity that a Languedoc Pinot is. Although I'll qualify that statement with the observation that many still think Cornas is all rusty nails and that might make it a hard sell. But this is an eminently drinkable, fruit forward wine, lithe fruit supported by almost citrusy acidity that makes room for fine tannins on the finish. The floral, peppery aromas, so typical of Syrah and the North Rhone, make it very attractive on that front as well. (May 19, 2017)
IProVinum, 250 NIS. This is more or less what I'd expect a good Cornas to cost, my only complaint is that for that price, I'd expect a wine with more cellaring potential than I can spot here. By the way, Caftori also sells the domaine's Cote de Rhone for 105 NIS, which is apparently a Syrah based CdR, which is kind of a rarity.
Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre Rouge, 2015
This is a new producer brought in by Wine Route, and they actually specialize in red Sancerre, rather than white. Sancerre reds are pure Pinot Noirs. This one is, I guess, a sort of village bottling - there are also a few single vineyard wines (Wine Route carry the Belle Dame) - and it would be considered pale and light even in Burgundy. The nose is timid and while it eventually opens up, it never fully blooms and emerges. It shows fresh red fruit, dust and earth, even a hint of flowers, but hardly any of the forest floor you'd find in Burgundy. However, there's a strand of baking spices whose personality has no parallel in Burgundy, so the aromatics have subtlety and distinction to commend them. The palate packs decent amount of flavors unto its light body and the long, rusty finish is surprising. What's more, that light body puts on considerable weight and punch after 2-3 hours, and I'm very partial to Pinots that react that way to oxygen. (May 20, 2017)
200 NIS - I would say this price is determined by the rarity of a Sancerre red and the domaine's reputation.
The domaine's Sancerre Blanc, 2016 is, of course, a Sauvignon Blanc. It's very good and does an excellent juggling act of acidity and tropical fruit. The latter is my main objection as I find it New Zealand-ish in style, despite an overlay of chalk. Just a little too straight forward and maybe a little over-priced. (May 27, 2017)
And there's the single vineyard Sauvignon, the Sancerre, Les Romains, 2015. Oddly, it feels fuller and yet, at the same time, more nuanced, even subtle. The style, all smoke and stones, is what I love about Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume and I highly recommend this. It's sold out, but there's always next year - Wine Route is not always very consistent with what they carry year to year, but I think I detect an earnest effort here. Plus they sold out, with I hope will motivate them.
Alain Hudelot-Noellat, Bourgogne, 2014
A while back, Wine Route imported the Van Canneyt 2013 Bourgogne which I really liked and now both they and Bourgogne Crown have brought in this sibling (Van Canneyt is both the Hudelot-Noellat winemaker and the owner of his own mini-negociant). The Van Canneyt reminded me of a Chambolle, whereas this, with its rusty tannins, sauvage and sous bois aromas seems sourced from the Gevrey area. This isn't very complex but the length is impressive for the generic AOC. (May 23, 2017)
I don't want to get into prices here, since there is a worrying disparity between the two importers.
Tscharke, The Potter, Grenacha, 2011
There's a complex interplay of white pepper and black fruit. I can't really put my finger about what the fruit is all about. There's the candied trademark of Grenache, but there's also a savory, almost meaty face on it. And a great deal of purity, as though its maker, Damien Tscharke, knew that cleanliness doesn't need to come at the expense of expression.
Mersch, 130 NIS - one of the best values you can find in Israel.
Tscharke, Matching Socks, Touriga, 2012
It's obvious the same man made these two wines - with the initial tastes, the style and sensibilities almost overshadow the differences in the grapes. The Touriga, though, is darker and more saline, no less meaty and savory. I think Touriga and Tempranillo have a similar character, one rooted in a pungent herbaceousness, often termed tobacco leaves in tasting notes. Having tasted my fair share, my mind often labels the expression of that character "Iberian", albeit with some producers, actual Iberian producers, that character is often accompanied by brett. The Tscharke sensibility I mentioned, being what it is, is firmly opposed to the concept and presence pf brett.
Mersch again, of course, At 90 NIS, this is another great value. (May 31, 2017)
A Mini-Spotlight On Teperberg
Teperberg, Legacy, Cabernet Franc, 2014
Let me start off with the praises. This is very well and precisely made, with care and attention in both vineyard and cellar. It's clean without being sterile and I think it would stand up well against most of its varietal peers outside of France, especially the Cabernet Franc mentioned here. Within France, its peer group would be the Loire and that would be an interesting engagement, one that would underline my personal leanings. But, in order to explain how that would work out, I need to address typicality. The common complaint against Cabernet Franc is "lean and green". Having tasted a few dozen Francs over the years, I prefer to think of the good examples as "austere and herbal". The Legacy is certainly herbal, but far from austere. In fact, it is rather lush. Not ripe, and actually the tannins even leave a brittle, mineral after effect, but the overall impression is nigh-flattering richness, especially the hints of mocha on the nose. How well would it do against competition from the Loire? Putting aside stylistic preferences, I'd rank it against the upper mid-tier.
Teperberg, Legacy, Petit Sirah, 2014
If I'd guessed before tasting the two which would be the better wine, I'd have put my money on the Petit Sirah. Having tasted them, I give the Cabernet the nod for sure. The Petit Sirah shows a very sweet aspect - indeed, even after a few hours, the ripeness of the fruit is persistent, but it's not a jammy, blockbuster sweetness, more of a fullness of fruit that hinders the more savory aspects of the grape that I find in the Vitkin and Lewinsohn versions.I get some graphite and pepper notes, but they're encumbered by the same mocha aromas - the barrels, I guess. The Cabernet Franc fruit stands up to, perhaps even thrives in, the oak. The Petit Sirah just struggles with it, and that's a shame, because the fruit itself is very good and interesting.
Google tells me both sell for about 160 NIS.