Tuesday, August 28, 2018


Madeira, the wine, was born of location and circumstance. The Madeira archipelago is located right where the Atlantic streams break westward, making it a useful port of call for America bound ships. Wine was the drink of choice, for sailors and traders, so vineyards were planted. To survive the long trip, the wines were fortified. The heat in the ships' storage transformed the flavors of the wine, it was discovered, and the style was finalized. I suppose the effect of heat and fortification would have been discovered elsewhere, but Madeira is where it became renowned. 

Few Madeiras have been imported to Israel. Last year, Eyal Mermelstein started importing one of the historical houses, Barbeiro. This is a review of three non-vintage wines, fairly priced for the quality and interest value.

Island Rich Sweet 5 Year Old

This is made of the Tinta Negra grape and is matured in a stable temperature. It smells and tastes like liquid pecan pie, with an enticing touch of salt that ensures I come back for another whiff and another sip. A  pretty digestif. Not very complex, but very pretty.

Verdelho 10 Years Old Reserve

Despite being vinified and labeled as a drier wine, it's still not a table wine, but rather a digestif/appretif like the Island Rich. It's more pungent, the aromas and flavors more focused and fresher. There's a fruity acidity in mid palate that resolved in a salty finish. Think salted cashews. Turned into liquid pie.

I want to make a comparison with Sherry before I go on to the next wine. Sherry is my first love in fortified wines. All the different style - sweet or dry, oxidized or raised under the flor yeast - have a trademark iodine-like tang that is unique and almost impossible to emulate. Great vintage Ports have the advantage of massive fruit and tannins (not to mention the decades of slow simmering maturity in the cellar required to get them at their best), but, to me, few things can compare with the marriage of roasted, caramelized nuts and cured, briny meat and iodine.

And yet...  Madeira... While I miss sherry's rust and brine, and the complexity they add, these Barbeitos have a similar rancio tang and there's an undercurrent of succulent, mandarin orange flavors that make the sour sweet finish addictive.

Definitely a wine I need to explore in greater breadth and depth.

Malvazia 10 Years Old Reserve

This is the best of the trio, the most pungent and intense, the most complete and characterful. It's not easy to write comparative tasting notes for these wines. They're too much of a piece and the descriptors are too similar. So, unless I resort to scores, I'll have to be creative about putting across how I feel about the Malvazia. Let's just say that of if the first two were an excellent amuse bouche and starter, this is the chef's masterpiece, a wine I drank over the course of a week without losing the initial post-coital bliss.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Israel: Sauvignon Blanc Nation?

I feel like I went out on a limb here.

I had this notion that Sauvignon Blanc is Israel's best white grape. And there's a good chance I'm right, but when I got down to tasting through the available options, I found out the playing field was narrower than I'd thought. Still, there are three or four that shine out as world class wines that any wine lover would be cherish on their own merits. The wines from the lower rungs are good (or better) for the most part, and I enjoyed them, but I can't consistently find a good, differentiating selling point for them abroad, besides kashrut or a general interest in the Promised Land.

Tzora, Shoresh, Blanc, 2015

This is one of the few times I've managed to hold on to the white Shoresh this long. The Shoresh is always a juggling act of tropical fruit and minerals. At first, the tropical fruits are more prominent than I'd picked up in past tastings, yet they are well balanced by tasty, salty flavors. The minerals then become intense and focused, as the wine grows broad and complex in texture, aromas and flavors. I'd call it well placed on a plateau of maturity. A beauty. (May 24, 2018)

I rebooted my laptop without noticing a few notes hadn't been saved, Sphera among them, but my memory of the Sphera, Sauvignon Blanc, 2015 is quite firmIt's no surprise that I'm a fan of Sphera. Just look how many notes I've written about this local white wine specialist. Maybe the disappearance of my note is a blessing in disguise as I would just be repeating my usual praises anyway. It's a lovely wine year in and year out and world class. I would like to point out that even though summer 2015 made the growers and winemakers miserable, the best of the Sauvignon Blancs are doing very well.

For example:

Feldstein, Sauvignon Blanc, 2015

I wish I had tasted this alongside the Shoresh and Sphera; it would have been a most insightful comparison, each showing a distinctive character and a different facet of Sauvignon Blanc. Less than a year ago, the Feldstein's fruit was ripe and very dominant. It's receded already, the highlight now on minerals, while the aromas and flavors are detailed and complex. It shares the Sphera's Loire-like saline classicism, with a nervier finish, and the Shoresh's vividness. Lithe and regal, it's nuanced and lightly nutty (without being oxiditive) in a way the other two are not. Classy. (May 28, 2018)

About 120 NIS.

Time out for a short history lesson.

Dalton, Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve, 2015 and 2016

The first major Sauvignon Blanc in Israel was the Golan Heights Winery 1982. That was before my time. I did manage to catch the de facto harbinger of Israel Sauvignon, the Dalton Reserve, 2001. Then, as now, it matures in tanks, which was a statement at the time, as the non-reserve Fume was aged in barrels and was cheaper. I'm not sure I've bought any since 2004 and I was curious to see how it stands up against its peers. Well... the 2015 hasn't aged as well as its other 2015 peers. I'm not even sure it was meant to. That's a valuable data point, because the 2016, while clear and pure, is the kind of wine that wins you over if you drink a glass, but once past the initial glass, you'd be looking for more complexity or character and you won't find it. And, judging by how the 2015 turned out, I doubt aging it will get you anywhere.

In the wake of Dalton's success, a few other wineries started to pay attention to Sauvignon. I recall Tabor and Recanati circa 2004/5 put out some good ones. I hadn't tried any for over a decade, but have discovered that the Recanati, 2017, for all its modest ambitions and price tag (50-60 NIS) is a fine drop, nodding at New Zealand with its restrained palette of guayavas and chalk. I'm not saying it's a world beater, but it's a wonderful surprise for a supermarket wine.

At roughly the same price niche is a much better wine, the Alona, Sauvignon Blanc, 2017. This is the most vibrant, nervy and fresh of the mid tier Suavignons (i.e., under 100 NIS shelf price) I've tasted. This is a grapefruity/herbal Sauvignon, crisp and saline, very tasty and moreish. So refreshing I can see myself packing a bottle to the gym. At the same time, it's a wine that is intellectually appealing, despite - or because of - its almost transparent clarity. This is the winery's debut SB and I look forward to future releases. (July 2, 2018).

Even better, arguably, is a contribution from a winery I never tasted before (admittedly for political reasons), Gush Etziyon Winery, Sauvignon Blanc, 2016. Very green, cool and herbal, even minty, its trademark is a pungent nose (grapefruits and a hint of guayavas) and a salty finish. (July 23, 2018) 

Then there's Shvo. I consider Shvo's to be one of the charter members of the Israeli Class Of Sauvignon Blanc. The Shvo, 2017 is at a very tender age, just hinting at minerals, the ripe, fleshy fruit has some aging potential. If you can find it, Gaby Sadan makes a very small batch from a select plot in his vineyard, the Gershon, and that is really top of the class, dense with flint aromas and flavors, a trickster in any blind tasting - but it's hard to find and I haven't had a bottle in a couple of years. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Fenocchio Don't Tell Lies (Aug. 7, 2018)

"Excuse me, sir, do you have a minute
to talk about Barolo, our Lord and Savior?"
Nebbiolo is an oddball of a grape. With its inclination towards high alcohol and acidity and gripping tannins - lots of everything, in fact, except for the fruit, which at its best is lithe and supple rather than lean - it could easily have been a niche wine, like, say, Mourvedre or Baja. Instead, because of the renown of the big Piedmont DOCGs, Barolo and Barbaresco, it has become a household name.

If your household is comprised of substance abusers.

There are good reasons why Piedmont became so famous. In the dark ages of winemaking when growers couldn't consistently get ripe grapes every year, Barolo was probably the biggest boy around (Barbaresco? The biggest girl around?). The Italian market was shallow until the last couple of decades of the 20th century. If you wanted an Italian wine, you either got one of the two B's or went Tuscan (with less consistent results). Then modern-minded winemakers made the American writers prick their ears and suddenly everyone wanted Piedmont in their cellars and wine lists. It didn't hurt that the pastoral lifestyle photographs adorning wine magazine articles added allure.

I'm not quite as sarcastic about Piedmont as I may sound. I do love Nebbiolo and its genetic peers (Freisa). Barbera is a different matter, thank you. Surprisingly, I can actually enjoy Dolcetto. It took me a few years to love Nebbiolo, rather than simple appreciating it, which I always have. What I still haven't fully come to terms with is exactly how much Nebbiolo reflects terroir. To my mind and palate, the tannins and acidity have a tendency to obscure nuances.

Yiftach Lustig, who has been a winemaker at house Fennochio for quite a few years, hosted a tasting of (mostly) 2013 reds from the Giacomo Fencchio house in Barolo. Yiftach is crazy, good crazy, about the concept of terroir in Barolo and he did a great job highlighting the differences between the crus. I came away with a greater understanding of the working marriage of terrior and Nebbiolo. Deja vu: I thought the same thing about the tasting Yiftach gave in 2016

The 2013's are wonderful. I recommend getting one of each. If you need to pare your shopping list, then go for the Villero and the Bussia. Or the Villero and the Cannubi. Maybe the terroir thing does work in Piedmont if I have to struggle with the choices. Contact Eldad Levy for price quotes.

Arneis, 2016

This is a very drinkable white, made from a grape grown nowhere else, with a solid bedrock of minerals and a welcome bitterness. It's an interesting wine but I don't have a good explanation why I never buy any. Mostly because I suspect my family would prefer a different style of quaffers for home use.

Barolo, 2013

This is declassified Bussia (from a lesser section, I'm not sure Barolo has village vineyards per se). Even regular Barolo usually has such complex aromatics and length of palate that my first impression of any given Barolo that it's an overachiever. Until you taste it alongside the crus. My verdict here is that it has a very good price point and will sate any Nebbiolo cravings in the near term while your crus age in the fridge. But it doesn't have the same balance that the crus have.

Cannubi, 2012

The regular Barolo had dusty/tarry aromas with a touch of tea. This is more of the same, more expressive, more complex, and very enticing, with an additional overlay of floral, exotic notes. 

Cannubi, 2013

Similar aromatics but a touch more mute. The palate has much better, fresher structure, deep and packed. 

Castellero, 2013

Compared to the Cannubi, 2013, this has more forest floor, a leaner body (not austere, perhaps I should say lither). I don’t usually buy into stylistic comparisons with Bourgogne, but it’s appropriate here. Marginally shorter than the Cannubi.

Villero, 2013

The aromas are very dusty at the start but clear up to show, as did the Castellero, a Bourgogne like character. Very linear and focused on the palate, but, at the same time, there is a peacock effect as it opens up on the finish.

Bussia, 2013

The most savory and succulent, with less tar and dust. Also, the most obtuse, except for the Riserva, which is almost a study in monolithic opaqueness. 

Bussia, Riserva, 2011

The grapes went through 90 days of maceration.  Still primary, this is the kind of flagship wine where, as you go up the food chain, the wine becomes bigger and not necessarily finer. Time will tell, I suppose.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Flashing Bars Of July

Domaine Robert Arnoux, Bourgogne Fin, 2014

This is a curio I'm glad I bought, A long time ago, Wine Route carried Arnoux for about a year. Now, they've brought it back and, for good measure, are seeling this rare Pinot cultivar, Pinot Fin. Despite the lowly designation, it actually comes from decent vineyards: three parcels from Chambolle, Vosne and Nuits proper (a blend of multiple village plots is enough to downgrade the wine to generic Bourgogne) as well as another plot from Premeaux, just outside of Nuits, that was planted in 1959. 

The nose is simply quintessential Bourgogne, an autumnal forest decaying in bliss around an essence of coq au vin and strawberries. And the palate! So fresh and vibrant, carrying an echo of the complexity of aromas, but killing it, just killing, with an undercurrent of tannic black fruit, which is just the ballast any good Burgundy needs to thrive.. I have had my share of greater wines, but I'd guess it's been months since I had such a delicious one. And there's actually enough nuances and weight to lend it a credible nomination for Premier Cru class. (July 8, 2018)

Jean-Marc Brocard, Chablis Premier Cru, Vau de Vey, 2016

I love lithe wines tinged with minerals. I love the scents of the sea that Chablis evoke, the briny breeze laced with salt and sea weeds. What I love the most about the Vau de Vey is that it doesn't stop there. In 2013 it did, but not in 2016. It has flowers and mint and hints of sweetness that remind me of a dry Riesling. A fullness with steely backbone. (July 1, 2018)

Hagafen. About 160 NIS.

Shvo, Chenin Blanc, 2016

Always one of the most challenging of the icon Israeli wines, it shows much variation between vintages and needs time. It's hard to describe a young Chenin. It's all about quince and flint, a lick and a promise, all about the tension between tensile surface and full, ripe fruit beneath. Sniff the nose, take in the lingering bitter/salty finish, and you'll get what I mean about its potential. (July 4, 2018)

Quinta de Saes  (Alvaro Castro), Dão, Reserva, 2013 

This is one of the great value reds that Eyal Mermelstein carries in the Tchernichovsky 6 restaurant/wine bar/store. I drank it during the World Cup Brazil-Belgium quarter-finals, after I just about ran out of wine producing countries to support. Eyal is a great lover of Bourgognes and quite aptly this is one of the most Burgundian reds in the portfolio, the framework soft and lithe, with floral and tobacco flourishes. (July 6, 2018)

Alona, Rose, Harmony, Grenache Noir, Rose, 2017

Very mute at first, we didn't finish the bottle the first evening and it surprisingly kept and developed, evolving into a dry, mineral laced, moresih rose. A welcome addition to my shopping list. (July 7, 2018)

Larmandier-Bernier, Premier Cru, Longtitude, n.v.

This wine is designed to highlight the character of the Grand and Premier Cru villages of the Cotes de Blancs, and so it does, indeed. The chalky texture and saline flavors; the ripe fruit transformed, but not overwhelmed, by the mushroom accents of the autolysis; the linearity of form, the reserve wines providing complexity without loss of freshness. I have just conveyed my take on the Larmandier house style as well. (July 10, 2018)

Williams and Humbert, Amontillado 30 years, Jalifa

It has occurred to me that this probably doesn't sell well enough in Israel to justify bringing in a lot of new shipments so there's a decent chance that the juice in this bottle is much older than the thirty years the label promises. There's real force behind the pungent kick of the aromas and flavors that doesn't ease up even after a full week. What it never gains is any sense that there is anything behind or beyond that kick, as impressive as it is in its own right. I look for just a hint of sweetness to offset that linear salted nuts and iodine character. Sweetness would have both complemented and highlighted that character and without it, the wine feels incomplete.

J.L. Chave Sélection, St. Joseph, Offerus, 2014

Granted, this is sourced from bought grapes, but this is still Chave, so what's in the bottle is the product of top flight wine-making from one of the most venerable names in the Rhone, a name that, based on what's the in the bottle, has rightfully earned its reputation. The Offerus showcases everything that's lovely about young Rhone Syrah; succulent, juicy fruit, velvety, accessible and sexy, tinted by aromas and flavors that speak of bacon and olives. For depth and complexity, though, seek out the domain wines. (July 22, 2018)

Niepoort, Porto Colheita, 2000

The name is misleading. It's labelled as a vintage, but the style is that of a tawny. it's not a bad trade-off, because it's a very excellent tawny, mellow and nutty with a pungent, tarry kick. And knowing the year makes it easier to keep track of when to open it. And the price point, 160 NIS, is also attractive. (July 27, 2018)

Imported by Eyal Mermelstein.