Ben Ami, Noble Carignan, 1977
Yair Haidu brought this to a dinner at Pronto last week. I rarely get patriotic and shit, but this makes me proud. While so many Israeli winemakers worked their asses off over the last decade to put Carignan on the map, this bottle slept out of sight and mind in someone’s fridge, made with winemaking technology that was probably a few steps behind contemporaneous standards. A gift of time.
I doubt anyone at Ashkelon Wines thought forty one years ahead. Probably, they were just glad to sell whatever they could to restaurants. I'm not sure anyone expected this to age even ten years. The Carmel 76 and 79 Cabs are generally viewed as the first serious Israeli reds, but the ones I tasted ten, twelve years ago were never as vital as this. I thought this was a thirty year old Rioja or Bandol. It showed the well formed classicism of an ageworthy wine at its peak, yet without the more delineated lines of a colder climate wine like Bordeaux or Burgundy. Given the state of vine growing and winemaking in Israel in the seventies, this is like finding out the Belgians had landed a man on the moon in the fifties.
The label says the grapes came from a vineyard in Dir Rafat in the Judean Hills and it would have been both ironic and moving if we could be sure it’s the same vineyard where Recanati’s Wild Carignan is sourced from.
This was the evening's unquestionable emotional core, but it was just one wine, albeit a wine that held its own with wines from all over the map.
Tissot, Arbois, Les Graviers, 2012
This is Chardonnay from the Jura. I love Tissot's Cremant du Jura, Blanc de Blanc and had started to explore the Chardonnays when... well, that's a story for another time. This is lovely, showing a facet of Chardonnay I never got anywhere else: sweet, sour and tangy, orange marmalade laced with Atlantic salt, bacon fat and clay.
Jacquesson, Grand Cru Avize, Champ Cain, 2005
A great Champagne to open when you want to extol the virtues of Blanc des Blancs. For me, it's all about orange blossoms and chalk, spiked with mushrooms, and shows a good marriage of complexity and power, minerals and the savory effect of the mushroom flavors.
Rene Rostaing, Cote Rotie, Ampodium, 2011
The lithe, tasty expression of Syrah that is Cote Rotie. Utterly drinkable, the tannins soft, yet savory, with just enough presence to lend structure, the aromatics complex and typical (black pepper and bacon). No one raves about 2011, yet this is still young and already an excellent wine despite being the house's entry level Cote Rotie.
Chateau Larrivet Haut Brion, Pessac Leognan, 1995
Sometimes Bordeaux surprises you, but for the most part the wines are only as good the reputation of the house and vintage. What we have here is a tasty, but not complex, wine, just what you’d expect from just an average Pessac Leognan property from just a good vintage: rustic black fruit, lead pencil, iron, a touch of brett.
Foradori, Trentino, Sgarzon, Teroldego, 2014
Sometimes it's all about context. Served after the Ben Ami, the Sgarzon comes off as a well mannered role player, even though it's probably the better wine. Context. A well formed wine with good complexity, tasty and savory, it's worthy of all the praises lavished on the work Elisabetta Foradori has been doing with the Teroldego grape.
Feldstein, Dabuki, 2017
I would guess that of all of Avi's wide (for a boutique) range of wines, the Dabuki is the one that the consumer is the most eager to taste each vintage. At least, consumer me. This is one of the clearest Israeli whites I've tasted, just brilliant clarity of fruit, almost floral like, with a hint of minerals in the finish that I wager will assert themselves more as the wine develops.
Chateau Montus, Madiran, 1998
Well formed and robust, reminding me of a Bordeaux in a year where the grapes ripen enough for a little fat, yet still retain good acidity. This Tannat (and Madiran) benchmark shows currant spiciness and leather, as well as a tannic finish that is both powerful and sharp. Great.