Time waits for no one. It’s almost a shock to realize Garage de Pape has gone through eleven vintages already - and that I’ve known Ido Lewinsohn through about seven of them.
When Ido invited me (along with a couple dozen chefs, sommeliers and other wine writers and bloggers) to a retrospective tasting, I figured I'd just file any notes away as corollary data points. I didn't think I could find something new to say about Garage de Papa after all these years. The plan was just go to the event, have a fun time with people I like. It would be an educational event, not a blogger/pseudo-journalist gig.
But the thing is, if you do learn something new, you should be able to write something new.
Basically, I learned a few things about Ido’s philosophy that I probably knew to begin with, but a retrospective tends to re-conceptualize things you already knew.
I think the basic thing I learned is that while Ido has grown, learned and developed, his basic approach is the same today as it was when he started out. In addition, I picked up a few interesting technical details I had not been aware of.
Ido's goal is to craft tasty, complex, food friendly wines that Ido himself would enjoy drinking. Most wineries advocate similar rules of engagement, but Ido laid out to us a very practical, no-nonsense approach that, by his own admission, hasn’t changed much in the eleven vintages he has worked. He's on the lookout for combinations of terroir and varieties that encourage early phenolic ripening, as that is way of dealing with the hot Israeli summers. He utilizes as many used barrels as he can manage. All that in order to avoid over-tannic reds and overripe whites and maker lithe, peppery reds and flinty whites.
The major change is the gradual move to larger barrels. Besides the obvious reduction in exposure to oak aromas and flavors, it allows the winery to improve the quality of the staves at a lesser expense than had they upgraded the smaller barrels. The eventual aim is retain the current ratio of 10-20% new barrels.
The nose is remarkably flinty. This wine is consistently the flintiest of any Israeli Chardonnay I taste. The fruit is ripe, laid out on a very structured frame with good acidity - which is what Ido looks for in Chardonnay and he gets it by blocking malolactic fermentation. The blend is sourced from vineyards in Galilee, which Ido finds to be strong on a mineral character and lemons flavors.
The first Garage de Papa Chardonnay ever was sourced from Karmei Yosef, which isn't an area Ido particularly likes for Chardonnay, but that's what he able to get for his freshman vintage. Of course, his tenure at Recanati and the current one at Barkan* have opened up better sources since. I'm guessing it must have been a good wine, although I never tasted it (I probably started following the winery with the 2010 vintage or so). It's alive, no doubt about it, but past its best, the way I see it, an old man facing dementia in years to come. Both the nose and color are very mature, the nose a potpurri of cheese and chocolate, while retaining hints of flint. It's surprisingly lively on the palate, where there’s breadth and complexity, but the focus of the young 2016 is so utterly convincing and gorgeous it swats the 2007 away without a second thought.
This is an educational exercise, but one I admit I am not able to get a lot out of. Though I suppose I could node my head sagely and tell you how excellent the acidity is.
Initially made of Bordeaux varieties, Ido quickly moved to the so called Mediterranean grapes (Petite Sirah, Syrah, Carignan, Marsellan).
Sweetish fruit and black pepper on the nose. Full, long, laced with acidity, sensual with supporting structure.
Excellent maturity, greater aromatic complexity than the 2013, sweeter on the finish but with a mitigating spiciness that adds complexity. I slightly prefer the 2013, especially after the 2011 recedes in glass.
There's a little brett here that shows as rubber and not poop. A nice wine but I think I prefer the reds at 4-5 years.
Ido has always fermented part of the red cuvée whole cluster (that is, without de-stemming). In 2014, Daniel Lifshitz and Eldad Levy talked him into selling them a barrel of the whole cluster batch. Simply because they loved it - and it was an apt reaction. In 2016, Ido set aside two barrels for the cuvée. Both have the making by of iconic wines. The 2014 was aged in a new barrel because he had planned to blend it in the Garage de Papa Rouge and comes off as superficially more impressive. The 2016, I think, is the better wine, with a pre-planned barrel regime. The bottle I opened two months ago was alluring, almost feminine despite a firm backbone, but it has gone into a shell since and tastes very embryonic now.
* While I realize my admittedly narrow audience is probably aware of the details, I should at least briefly go over Ido's CV. After the requisite oenological education and stages abroad, Ido returned to Israel for a decade's tenure at Recanati winery. After eventually advancing to the co-head winemaker position, he moved to Barkan a couple of years ago to assume head winemaker duties. In parallel, he's been the winemaker at the family winery, which was actually located at his father's garage before the operation was moved to a proper boutique winery facility.