Insight (Sept. 17, 2019)

Vitkin, Insight, Macabeo, 2017

Some background. Macabeo is a white grape famous in Spain for its role in white Rioja and Cava, also widely grown in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. My own first hand experience with the grape is limited to whatever white Rioja made use of the grape. 

The first commercial release of the grape in Israel is interesting not only for its intrinsic quality but for its context in the evolution of the Vitkin style and philosophy. You all know Vitkin's banner: Mediterranean grapes. Well, they said it, not me. I don't like using that term even for Carignan and Grenache, let alone Riesling, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, which are also in Vitkin's portfolio and originate in climates so far removed from the Mediterranean basin that they are prone to summer hailstorms. Let's just say Vitkin has always shunned the more obviously commercial grapes for grapes arguably more suitable to Israel; or, in the case of Pinot Noir and Riesling, grapes Assaf Paz wanted to pursue out of love.

This wine has been twenty years in the making. Assaf Paz encountered the grape during his studies in Bordeaux in the late 90's. In the short essay he wrote for the launch he says Macabeo-based wines he had tasted from Spain and Languedoc-Roussillon were an inspiration for his professional and stylistic direction. In 2009, Vitkin were finally able to plant Macabeo vines in Israel and the first vintages after the vines reached maturity were dedicated to searching for the best growing and making techniques. With the 2017 vintage, Assaf felt ready for a small commercial release from a single barrel.

It's a good first effort. If you're familiar with the Vitkin Grenache Blanc, or even the White Journey, you'll recognize the same mineral texture and saline flavors. It's a light wine that manages to show more complexity and depth than the initial attack would suggest. It's lean without feeling under-ripe and the oak is totally sublimated. Which isn't easy to pull off with a single barrel, where you can't fix any defects by way of blending. It's not as distinctive as the Grenache Blanc, but it's good enough to warrant release. I'm not sure it warrants the tag price of 160 NIS, but return on investment is not really going to be a consideration for anyone hunting it down.