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.