Day Trip To Tulip (Dec. 17, 2019)

David Bar-Ilan has been the head winemaker at Tulip since 2012. Under his guidance, and that of owner and CEO Roey Yitzahki, Tulip has been demonstrating how a winery can change its style in small increments, drawing new customers while allowing the existing base to adjust.

There are two or three factors at play here. One is the winery's decision to go for a lither, more food friendly style in place of the early heavy, blockbuster style (which I personally hated - act surprised, folks), which neatly coincided with where David personally wanted to go in the first place. The other: hiring Greek consultants, the idea was that Greece has similar climates, so let's find someone with experience mitigating the awful weather we all live through here. 

I tried to jot down what David was telling us about what he learned about vineyard management from his consultants before the tasting. I think the gist is that vines in Israel need more leaves on the canopy to protect them from the sun and encourage more photosynthesis - which is needed because despite our hot summers, our days are shorter than what the vineyards up in northern Europe get. And don't stress the vines in spring and early summer - irrigate well and leave the water stress for the end of the season.

As for the wines themselves - quite lovely. Notes to follow, but I'll give you the shopping tips straight away: don't miss the Sauvignon Blanc and, especially, the Chardonnay; the Mare Red from the sister/daughter label Maia is a great choice for a house wine (fairly easy to find in Tel Aviv); the Maia Mare Nostrum and the Tulip Cabernet Franc - Merlot are both compelling high-end reds.

We started the tasting with a sample from a Champagne method sparkling wine made from Carignan and French Colombard (the latter a grape David really loves as a blending ingredient). The vintage is 2018 and will remain on its lees for another year before disgorgement. It's fruity and minty and will need that additional year to work off its nubile bitterness and hopefully gain some body. It will be interesting to taste when it comes out, even though I'm not thrilled by its relatively low acidity.

Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve, 2019

I am, by now, highly biased about Israeli Sauvignon Blancs and their brash display of fruit, which always has a tropical aspect without over-doing it. The fruit here is indeed brash and focuses mean and lean tropical notes, which it then condenses into an endgy, minerally concoction. 

Tulip, Chardonnay, 2018

This is the best white we tasted, a Chardonnay of true class, classic chalk notes framing restrained fruit, and a step up from 2017. I’ve recently read a criticism that Israel Chardonnays are a bit dull, and while there’s a grain of truth there, isn’t it also true that we applaud Burgundy whites for their constraint and reserve. I thought, when I read that criticism, that it's a thin line between reserve and dullness. This is not a dull wine and I want to say that while this doesn't match the depth and complexity of the best of Burgundy, it shows the same elegant reserve that made Burgundy's reputation throughout the 20th century.

Maia, Mare Red, 2018

This is what's becoming a classic local blend - Carignan-Syrah-Mourvèdre - and it's fruity and floral, friendly and attractive. 

Syrah, Reserve, 2017

This reminds me of the 2016 - and both are wines I kinda wish I liked more. It's ripe, but not jammy, with black pepper and flowers accenting black fruit that I wish was a little more vibrant.

Looking through a back-bent tulip
Cabernet Franc - Merlot, Reserve, 2017

On the other hand, I have no reservations about this this one. The Cabernet Franc, I assume, is responsible for the red tones of the fruit, the Merlot probably beefs up the body. Between them, they conjure an overlay of black pepper that both decorates the wine and drives it forward.

Maia, Mare Nostrum, 2016

We tasted a couple more reds, and this Carignan-Syrah-Doriff blend showed the most complex and balanced set of aromas and flavors. It's a headier, spicier blend than the Mare Red, showing some dried fruit notes - carob? - that the "old school" Israeli wines used to have, but the fruit retains enough freshness to push those notes to the background and, like the Mare Red, it's a lithe, fruit-friendly wine. This I know because we took both wines out to lunch.