Avi Feldstein's has recently held a weekend long launch party for his boutique winery's sophomore release. Avi makes too many wines to easily grasp in a single sitting, especially at a launch party, where the senses are bombarded by too many friends, too much noise and cheer. Despite that, it's obvious that Avi covers a lot of ground without loss of clarity of purpose and expression. The myriad wines are of a piece, yet each is a separate individual, each one plays out a role, marks out a coordinate in Avi's personal wine map.
I can't promise you that my reading of that map is the correct one. And despite friendship and, frankly, admiration, I can't even commit that I'll visit every beach and river on that map. What I can promise is that you're going to have loads of fun visiting any of the places he's marked out. I will, anyway.
First, the whites. Avi seems to have three themes here. Rhone whites in various configurations. White Bordeaux grapes in various configurations. And Dabuki, an ancient indigenous variety.
The 2014 was one of the standouts last year and so is the 2015 this year. This the funkiest and most unique of the whites, and not just because the grape is such an underdog oddball. Here's my take on what happened here. Avi recognized potential in the grape. Maybe Dabuki doesb't have Hall of Fame level potential, but it might just be as good as, say, Aligote. Because of his fine skills, Feldstein coaxed that quality that others would have missed. So I don't know if the funky complexity of minerals is a Dabuki trademark, but it's surely the stamp of a Feldstein Dabuki.
Similarly crafted to show a mineral veneer, albeit one encasing a less bitter, more friendly wine. Avi strikes me as someone who just can't settle on a single modus operandi, so if the other white wines attempt to depict his rendition of a grape or classic blend, here it strikes me that he starts out with an idea of a style and feel and assembles a wine around around that notion. Often, such blends can turn into trophy wines marketed as "the best of what we can do at winery XXX", but for Avi, making a blend is just a different way of doing things and so the Shalem is not necessarily (and probably not) a flagship white. I don't think he'll ever actually have one per se. Anyway, if you're concerned about such details, this year it's a blend of Vioginer, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (which has taken over the role played by Rousanne in the 2014 blend).
I was eager to come back to this, because the bottle Avi opened recently was so charming that it forced me to reconsider my reservations about the grape and the wine. However, the launch was not a good place for a re-examination, although I will say it performed well under the circumstances, presenting itself as commanding, full and spicy - ripe and healthily sweet, yet structured. The grapes come from the Judean Hills and the Gallilee. Picked at different ripeness levels, the outcome is what Feldstein wittily calls a blend of Rousanne and Rousanne.
Sauvignon Blanc, 2015
Tasting this was an utter torture for me. This is exactly the kind of wine that's totally killed at parties. It's too young and feels like you'd need an hour with it, thus even a regular tasting would probably not do it justice. I'm going to say the fruit is gooseberry, even though I've never tasted any gooseberry, because that's what they always say about New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, which is what this reminds me of, at least on a superficial level. The thing about young wines like this is you have to grasp at vague clues to get an idea where they're going. The gooseberry is so dominant it's hard to get beyond it, although I do get herbs, mostly mint. I'm guessing the fruit will eventually be complemented by an interplay of herbs and minerals.
Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, 2015
For me, the most complete white of the lot. Not necessarily more complex or better than the Sauvignon Blanc, but more complete. The 2014 was a classic from day one, and, if I factor out the background noise and crappy air conditioning that impacted my concentration, I think the 2015 is a worthy follow up.
I tasted this a couple of weeks after the launch, from a bottle that had been opened for a few hours. Perhaps the setting and the air gave it an edge in comparison to the other whites, but what I find here is classic rendering of a grape that, despite its long, esteemed history, has remained rather obscure, seemingly denied the cult fame that arguably less worthy grapes have garnered - Viognier was on the verge of extinction forty years ago and is now much more of a household word. From my (limited) experience, Semillon seems deceptively limpid at first, yet has a firm backbone and depth, and Avi's version creates that same impression, a perfect marriage of languid, ripe fruit and and a spicy, almost umami finish. As far as aromatics, melons with spicy nuances that I can't place, yet I also get spicy pears and hints of Champagne. This might be Avi's most age-worthy wine.
I think i know what Avi is saying here:
Semillon does this alone and Sauvignon does this alone.The only problem with that is you wind up having to buy three wines and the average budget doesn't translate to enough bottles to provide reasonable aging possibilities to play with. I'm fairly sure that, as they mature, they'll all show mineral aspects to one degree or another. But few will us will ever know for sure, as I doubt many buyers walked off with enough bottles of each to track their aging on a regular basis.
Together they do that.
And I think it's worth my time and yours to give you all three options.
Avi now makes three roses, that being a statement in its own right. They are my personal favorites. Not necessarily the best wines he makes, but the truest embodiment of what Avi is all about. I mean, three roses, each with a unique character and flavor profile - how many wineries in the world have ever tried to pull that off? Just make sure not to over-cool them.
Rose Grenache, 2015
Light and fragrant, with a finish whose light bitterness is just enough to cleanse the palate between bites. If Grenache at full throttle is candied and alcoholic, then making a rose out of it is a good way to limit the wine to scraps of red fruit and herbs off the fringes of the beast. Lovely.
Rose Carignan, 2015
This is more interesting and complex, meatier. without much loss of lightness - and a touch of rotting leaves and apricots.
Rose Syrah, 2015
Lats year, the rose that really won my heart was the Syrah (which Avi never released commercially), due to the fact that it showcased what I love about Syrah in a rose body and format. In other words, suggestions of flowers and the perennial black pepper. These are less pronounced this year, and so my heart has found a new master. For me, a rose lives and dies on personality - which is true of any wine, but with roses, it often strikes me there's little going on besides personality - and this year the Carignan is Mr. Charisma.
This is mostly Cabernet Franc, with some Merlot. Very powerful, its chewy ripeness reined in and in check, seriously nubile and monolithic, you get a hint of herbs and and a distinct sense of pedigree. I have great hope that as it matures and uncoils, its innate power will find an elegant mode of expression.
Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014
Avi returns to his old hunting ground, in a sort of hommage to the Unfiltered Cabernet that made his reputation in the 90's. This is the refined distillation of all he's learned in the intervening years, wherein he rethinks his depiction of the Galillee Cab in less muscular terms, without loss of the fullness of presence that were the UC's trademark.
A blend of six grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Argaman and Viognier. If the Ishtar is the serious contender in the red group, this is the friendliest. I think that's because Feldstein can mix and match here to suit his vision, same as his did in the Shalem. Personally, I prefer the Ishtar's surly vision, but this is a very charming wine.
This was launched last year, but even now it comes off as way too young, very pure and fresh, red fruit over a bed of raw geranium. Teeming with potential and grace, this is a wine Avi is justifiably proud of.
Port expresses a very specific cultural heritage, which is why it bothers anyone with an iota of respect to see the name on the front label of any wine made outside of the Duoro. Naturally, Avi avoided that. He even came up with a cool alternative designation, Seifa, an Aramic term which loosely translates to epilogue or appendix - an apt term for a digestif. He does refer to Port in the wine notes, because it's hard to ignore that this is a wine made in the vintage Port idiom. I don't have enough experience with the style to make significant comments on such a youthful specimen, especially one tasted in a warm, noisy room. I did gleam enough to recommend it, though, all the while wondering when Avi's breadth will finally tax even his very restless spirit.