Five years ago, I spent half a day trying to find the Ashkar winery in Kfar-Yasif, following an intriguing write-up in Haaretz by Ronit Vered. Waze and Google were not up to the task. Asking passersby did not help either, as, while Ashkar is too common a name in the village, the winery, as it turned out, is not a household name even in its own household. Ronit finally answered my text message with directions and the sad news that owner and wine maker Nemi Ashkar happened to be in Tel Aviv that day and that the winery was closed.
I eventually found a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc in TelAaviv. At Habasta I believe. It was very funky with a texture of lemons and chalk. I thought it worth following up, but Ashkar is not a winery well represented in the mainstream restaurants and wine stores.
I don't remember the full details of Ronit's story, and the winery' site doesn't dwell on them either, but the family is one of many displaced from the Iqrit village during the War of Independence in '48. Not one of the highlights of that war and always a controversial episode. The winery's vineyards are still located in Iqrit, which is way up north in the Upper Galilee near the border and very high up, a region consensually regarded as excellent terroir.
Iqrit, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015
I met Nemi Ashkar at a recent food and wine fair and he told me his vineyards managed to survive the very hot summer of 2015 (a year that still draws apologetic reactions from winemakers) and actually did quite well. He was saying that trying to sell me this wine - act surprised! - but it really is a very nice wine. On his site, he defines his style as "Old World" with minimal intervention, and this wine is indeed extremely uncontrived, yet well made at the same time. Minimal intervention or not , Ashkar's craft was enough to avoid faults in the wine. Except for the high alcohol, which is common enough even in more lenient vintages. It's at its peak now, and while the figs, dark chocolate and dust are typical of the Israeli Cabernets of the early 2000's that I'm not usually keen on, it is very reserved for its weight and ABV and it does manage to evoke associations with Old World wines, say Southern France. (Sept. 21, 2019)
Iqrit, Sauvignon Blanc, 2018
The object of the chase I mentioned. The nose has an interesting character, melons with mineral nuances, really playing off a single note, but an interesting single note. The palate also plays off a shrill, very restricted range. It's thin to begin with, and needs food, and maybe a year in the fridge. (Sept. 28, 2019)
Iqrit, Chardonnay, 2018
Very fine and my favorite of the three, despite some reservations. A delicate Chardonnay, apples and pears with a slightly spicy finish, managing to be creamy without being fat. Nothing fancy or contrived here, no oaky flavors, either (just the texture that's derived from barrel elevage). A shame it feels more like a three or four year old Chardonnay than a one year old infant. That's worrying. (Oct. 3, 2019)