Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Recanati's French Colombard, 2011 (Sept. 9, 2012)

I met up with Recanati's Ido Lewinsohn and Vagnilia's Itay Rogozinsky at one of our favorite haunts, Habasta, to taste a wine Recanati made according to specifications by Habasta owner Maoz Alonim: a refreshing, non-pretentious, yet reasonably complex, food-friendly white. Ido claims French Colombard retains its healthy acidity at almost any yield, and can make a decent quaffer even at high yields, yet he preferred to find out how much quality he could squeeze out of it with lower yields appropriate for quality wine. There's nothing special about the vineyard, he says. It's on the coast, it's not very high and the vines aren't very old. The results aren't explosive, their charms are more down home, which means they live up to Alonim's expectations.

The nose starts off with flowers and hints of oak, and then with air shows sweet, nutty spices that don't really appeal to me. It's an okay nose, I guess, it's just that those spices are a bit vulgar, for me. But the palate really works well, especially with squid and okra, showing a great mix of sour and saline sensations.

We continued on to a wine I really should buy more, of, Grosset, Polish Hill, Riesling, 2008, which has a gorgeous nose of apples and peaches, chalk and a very developed strain of petrol, which in no way overwhelms the freshness of the fruit. The palate is fresh and very vibrant, a very joyous mode of Riesling fruit, which is probably the happiest grape in the first place. This is imported by Mersch and sold for 270 NIS.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cork And The Damage Done - Ran Shapira's Birthday at Herbert Samuel (Sept. 12, 2012)

Damn, this was good!

Great wines as always at Ran's birthday bash, despite a couple of disappointments.

Nicolas Feuillatte, Palmes d'Or, Brut, 1999

Oranges and apples (more oranges than apples, now that I think of it), brioche, a hint of minerals. Still young, yet soft and inviting. Complex, elegant, yet somehow not quite as exciting as other Chanpagnes I've been drinking lately.

Donnhoff, Nahe, Oberhauser, Riesling Auslese, 2001

Heavenly.  Red Apples and cherries and slate, but this is yet another case where the wine's spirit lies not in individual components but in how they're put together - which is why great wines thrill us. There's a gossamer veil of petrol, talc and spices, and rhe palate is light, yet firm, as the backbone of acidity is  vibrant, yet subtle.

Giaconda imported this a few years ago for 300-350 NIS.

Ramonet, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, Les Ruchottes, 2001

Oxidized, very, very mature, yet with hints of life shimmering through somehow. Like a dish left in the oven for too long, where the chef's intents and the ingredients are implied. With premox running rampant in post-1996 Bourgogne whites, I just had to question Oron Stern's ambitions in buying a 2001, let alone bringing one to dinner, but he said he'd bought a batch and others were terrific. So chalk another one to Burgundy's impetuous wheel of fortune.

Next, we had a Mature Rioja Flight. Which I think was a great notion; I don't think there are a lot of wines remaining as true to the Old World idiom as do the Gran Reservas, so tasting such mature specimens from two of the greatest bodegas was a special treat indeed.

La Rioja Alta, Rioja Gran Reserva, 890, 1985

Sweaty currants and strawberries. Still tannic and spicy. Both this and the Ygay are classic, savory expressions of the highest order, with lively acidity.

Ygay, Rioja Gran Reserva, 1984

The more reserved of the two and the more harmonious and saline, yet in the end it is the more powerful as well, in its elegant way. Also, for my tastes, it is the more interesting and the more complex, and sports that classic formula of mature Riojas: red fruit, vegetable stew and mildew.

Then,we were supposed to have a Vieux Chateau Certan flight. Which was another great idea, a mini-vertical of this revered Right Bank chateau, except, as Amir Sheinman said, you can't bank against the attraction trichloroanisole seems to have to Ran's birthday party wines. Nor to some of my brighter purchases.

Vieux Chateau Certan, Pomerol, 1986

Corky. At 180 USD, this is the most I ever paid for prime TCA.

Vieux Chateau Certan, Pomerol, 1995

A fine claret, with subtle fruit and restrained finesse. Perhaps, coming after the Riojas and served in conjunction with the TCA, it comes off a little lackluster. But if I try to loo beyond that, it paints a fine portrait of the Right Bank, even if the Cabernet content is on the high side.

Chateau Bellerive, Quarts de Chaume, Quintessance, 2003

Botrytis heaven on the nose, abetted by notes of bakes apricots and burnt sugar. The palate shows fine acidity, but despite that, it is on the alcoholic side, so like Sauternes, it is a dessert wine that doesn't go with desserts. I expected more, because I loved the tastes I've had of this wine in the past.

Also imported by Giaconda, for more or less the same price as the Donnhoff.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Midbar Winery

I know Ya'acov Oryah tangentially. I'd seen him in tastings in Tel Aviv. You can't miss an Orthodox Jew tasting Burgundies or German Rieslings. And you can't miss his aura of calm and intellectual curiosity. I guess one aspect of quiet charisma is when you want to taste a guy's wines because you just gotta know what he'll bring to the table. So I'd tasted a couple of the wines he made in his previous winery, Asif (although not in a tasting where I thought note based on vague recollections notes would do them justice - I do that sometimes, but not with wines I feel deserve a longer date), and was just dying to get my nose and palate into his new project, the Midbar Winery.

I favor a "save the best to last" approach when exploring a new producer, but I wound up starting with a winner.

Semillon-Sauvignon, 2010

The classic white Bordeaux formula is divvied up here 70% in favor of the Semillon. This is such a precocious wine, painted in miniature strokes of aromas and flavors. There are flowers and wet rocks, and the fruit ranges from lime and mandarin oranges to mango. Lovely acidity that serves as a solid backbone and maintains harmony. A bitter finish reminiscent of peels. I think this could use a couple of years to flesh out - it certainly grew and changed a lot during the two hours Efrat and I gouged away at it. (Aug. 23, 2012)

100 NIS. Thumbs up. This works both as a Graves hommage and in its own right.

White, 44, 2010

Let me sum up Ya'acov's goal with this Gewurztraminer/Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay/Viognier/Semillon blend, as described in the winery's site: gain the intoxicating aromas of Gewurtz and fix its typical deficits on the palate by using the other varieties in the blend. And it works, for the most parts. The Gewurtz and Viognier battle it out on the nose, while the other three grapes, which are the more neutral aromatically, serve to tame them, so you get a somewhat less vocal version of the first's spicy lychee and rose petals, and of the second's luscious honey and flowers, and finally the Sauvignon Blanc lends its own hints of gooseberry and grass. On the palate, you get an echo of these two's hedonistic leanings, while the rest of the cast serves to fill in any holes and to lend structure where the two prima donnas prefer to coast. The label says this is off-dry, but it isn't any more off-dry than a Gruner Veltliner, the way it plays out on my palate, and that has to do with the great acidity once again, as well as with the tasty saline finish. Detailed analysis aside, I like this approach at utilizing Gewurztraminer and this is a very attractive package. (Aug. 24, 2012)

110 NIS. I can't make up my mind about the price. Objectively, it's on the high side, but when I consider how rare and hard it is to find a Gewurtz-based wine that makes good conversation before putting out...

Unoaked Chardonnay, 2010

This is the one wine in the line-up that I was the least looking forward to tasting. I mean - Chardonnay again? Personally, local versions of unoaked Chardonnay had left me unimpressed. Not that oak in itself is a virtue, but it seems like the grape needs whatever oxidative effects the porous barrels can impart. Finally, I was wary of the 14% ABV this weighs in at. Anyway, given that Chardonnay is a chameleon of a grape (one of its virtues, actually, one that allows it to mirror the lands that it grows in), this doesn't feel especially typical or impressive. It reminds me not a little of Sauvignon Blanc, on the nose, and because of its relatively high alcohol content, it tastes a bit like Viognier, what with its bitter finish. Stylistically, it is akin to the former two wines, but it doesn't work nearly as well as they did. The nose shows fairly complex, mineral-led aromas, but the palate is guilty of very high alcohol defect: a sweet attack and a bitter finish, both overwhelming what acidity is present. (Aug. 25, 2012)

85 NIS. I'm sticking with the Tzora, Neve Ilan at this price.

With the Chardonnay out of the way, I got back on track with Midbar's more interesting offerings and what I feel are Oryah's special pride and joy.

Chenin Blanc, 2010

I don't know where Israel's produce of Chenin Blanc used to go into, but the wine that put the grape on the map a few years ago was Sea Horse's James, which I used to drink by the glass at Beta Cafe and never wrote a note down for. I did find it intense and a bit rough, a la Savennieres, that I remember. Then Gaby Sadan made a bottling at Shvo last year, which was a very strange and unrelenting creature - and not all easy to digest, in any sense of the word. This, in contrast, starts out very reserved, almost austere, with a lightly pungent overlay of minerals that makes me expect a sharper bite on the palate than I actually get. As it opens, the volume increases without being gaudy, showing apples and summer fruits, an earthy overlay and a saline finish, and all in all, it shares the same DNA with the Semillon/Sauvignon and the 44 - whether that DNA is terroir or winemaker, I've yet to determine; but as all three are gentle yet confident creatures, balancing the sun-drenched sweetness of their ripe fruit with a firm, savory backbone, it's not really a critical issue. (Aug. 27, 2012)

Sold out, since it was a very limited production. I suppose it would cost 100-120 NIS.

Semillon, 2009

This low alcohol (11%), lightly colored wine is referred to on the winery's site as special early harvest - only in Israel would that be a point of distinction. It has such a fragrant nose of green apples and chalk and talc, with a an aromatic breed that is almost Riesling-like, yet that restraint comes alongside a vital intensity. The palate echoes that, with purity and understated depth. I've only had maybe one or two pure Semillon, so it's not that easy for me to place this wine, but I found it totally captivating, and its aromas and flavors don't so much change with air as modulate their pitch and volume. This is one of the best whites in Israel, a noble wine that presented myriad facets in its evening date with me and the missus. Ya'acov plans to release this in 2014 and, while I can see the point, the suspense is going to kill me. (Aug. 30, 2012)

No price yet. Hopefully, it, too, will be 100-120 NIS.

Orange, 44, 2010

This is very much an oddball, which is what orange wines are all about, employing red wine making on white grapes. Even were this a conventional white, the blend of Chenin Blanc (52%), Chardonnay (24%) and Viognier (24%) would be unusual. This smells and tastes like lightly oxidized rose, with notes of rocks, apples, carmelized nuts, Mediterranean spices, and the palate is surprisingly fresh despite the oxidation, with a lovely saline finish, and a firm, if subtle presence of fruit. This is a very complex, very interesting, very challenging wine - so challenging that I can sense words haltering and stalling in a way they didn't in the notes above. (Sept. 5, 2012)

At their best, Ya'acov Oryah's wines have a wonderful purity, a velvet fist in an iron glove style. I spent about a week with them, and became a fan - that's it, I confess, pure fanboy. I adore them and in an ideal world, people would drink loads of them on their patio and watch the sunset, and leave a glass to contemplate after dinner. But, I'm worried their potential audience has been ruined for life by oaky fruit bombs.

Taking Care Of Business (Aug. 2012)

Another convincing statement by Gaby Sadan

Dr. Loosen, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Kabinett, 2009

Beyond the expected, obvious, typical green apples and slate, this lithe Kabinett shows flowers, guayavas and red cherries. Also expected, obvious and typical is the racy acidity. Shoulda bought more. (Aug. 3, 2012)

WineRoute, 129.90 NIS.

Caruso and Minini, Sicilia IGT, Tasari (Nero d'Avola-Merlot), 2010

Black raspberries with a tobacco leaves and a meaty, herbal, Mediterranean tint and a lightly tannic finish with pleasant mineral notes that, together with the juicy acidity, offset the mild sweetness in mid-palate. An attractive, wholesome wine that isn't shy about divulging the merits of its personality. (Aug. 4, 2012)

Fat Guy, 69 NIS. I can't think of a better red available locally at this price point. Simply lovely.

Recanati, Reserve, Syrah-Viognier, 2010

The buoyancy of a lighter style of Syrah is now more obvious than it was a few months ago. This is savory, fresh and vibrant, with notes of blackcurrants, cranberries, black pepper and underbrush (and even hints of roast beef), and if anyone had any need to manipulate the acidity, it was done seamlessly. There are more and more local wines on my table lately, but this is still my favorite, and for my palate - the best. (Aug. 16, 2012)

120-150 NIS.

Tommasi, Veronese IGT, Appassimento Adorato, 2010

I had zero expectations from this wine. In fact, I didn't even buy it. It was a bonus wine that WineRoute gave me because I made a large purchase this month and I tried it out for educational purposes; it was either that or its red sibling, the Graticcio, and I've been keeping away from the Venetian reds for years, with no intent of returning to the flock. But a white Italian is at least an area I'm willing to experiment in. I'm not sure why this isn't a Soave, as it seems to fulfill the minimum requirement for Garganega grapes. I suppose it might be because half the grapes are dried out, Amarone style. Whatever, this is a nutty, honeyed wine, well-mannered and tasty, with sweet, somewhat citrus-y fruit, but with little depth, and, quite honestly, not a lot of complexity or interest either. It's not bland, exactly, but neither is it very distinctive. (Aug. 17, 2012)

WineRoute, 90 NIS.

Shvo, Sauvignon Blanc, 2010

I loved the Rose, I liked the Red, I found the Chenin Blanc weird (but I plan to re-visit) - so this now completes my tour of the Shvo portfolio (although I never got to taste the 2009 version of the SB, which I gather, from what I've read, was sweeter, with less alcohol - something about stuck fermentation). This, too, is very idiosyncratic, smelling and tasting like someone tried to make a Corton-Charlemagne out of Sauvignon grapes. The nose has dried grass, flint, rainwater and honey, some melon being an offhand clue to the variety. The palate is dense, almost sweet, with a hum of minerals reminiscent of Savennieres. It's initially rather aggressive, but calms down with air to show a saline finish. At no point is it very typical: at half way past this slow-drinking, brooding wine, I lost my orientation enough to forget what varietal I was drinking and caught myself thinking: "maybe Chenin Blanc just isn't my thing anymore".

An interesting wine, and although I can't pledge I'll make any returns to this vintage, I'll gladly check the upcoming ones. (Aug. 18, 2012)

About 100 NIS.

Tzora, Neve Ilan, 2011

100% Chardonnay, but the label doesn't say that, it doesn't even say "White" or "Blanc" (or "Lavan", at that), because Tzora is all about terroir. Which I really like. I also really like Eran Pick, head winemaker, just in case due diligence is expected here. Anyway, this is a really lovely wine. Just a couple of months ago, it had a green grass and tropical fruit character that made me think of Sauvignon Blanc rather than Chardonnay, but now it's pure Chardonnay, and the good kind at that. You know, Chablis. Because it's so fresh and pure, with vibrant acidity that turns saline at the finish. And the aromatics already show decent chalk, citrus and apple peel led complexity. I'll see about aging a bottle for research purposes, but this is very tasty already. (Aug. 19, 2012)

A steal at 89.90 NIS.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Galil Mountain Winery Redux

This is where it dawned on me: how much harder the local wineries are going to have to work, now that Daniel Rogov is gone. Whatever you might have thought of him (and me, personally, I thought the hype was misleading at best, to be charitable), a high Rogov score drove sales, and after a few years of consistently high scores from this particularly patriotic man, wineries could afford to coast, at least as far as maintaining an image.

These days, the Israeli wineries have to put in a lot of leg work, peddling samples and dinner invitations to every professional and amateur writer, building and maintaining images slowly and laboriously. Slowly and laboriously: because their efforts won't necessarily translate to immediate sales, what they need to do is constantly maintain a brand name that is recognized for its quality and, sometimes, quality-to-price ratio.Which is perhaps why I'm finally on the radar, which is nice - even though, to be quite honest, I don't lack for supplies in the happy and content bubble of my charmed existence. But it's an exciting feeling to talk shop and feel recognized, I must admit.

One result is the set of Galil Mountain wines I had delivered for tasting. I'm not sure how many of these I'd actually buy (and at their price point, they're destined for the restaurant trade, where they'll probably sell for a marketable 100-120 NIS), but it was easy for me to fall for their comely charms while I tasted through my loot.

Viognier, 2011

Just about every textbook on Condrieu mentions the fact that two of three decades ago, Viognier was on the point of extinction, and how now many growers and winemakers in the Old and New World are trying their hands at this extravagantly flattering variety. Me, I something mutter, "aw, shucks, we were so close...", although I can sympathize with the description in Hugh Johnson's "A Life Uncorked" of his first encounter with Viognier: I can imagine how the first impression must have felt almost extraterrestrial to a palate weaned on white Burgundy and Italian and Spanish whites. Riesling and Chenin don't prepare you for Viognier's hedonistic attack, either. Gewurztraminer has a similar effect, with a different palette and methodology. Viognier plays in a different timbre, and if Gewurtz smells like a luscious wench, Viognier is the same wench after a few years in finishing school. Unfortunately, the palate rarely lives up to the aromatics, in my opinion - and I've tasted some expensive Condrieu in my time.

Well, having gone through that lengthy introduction, I must say this is a very cute specimen, especially considering the price (55 NIS).The nose displays peaches and apricots, is floral in a languid way, and hints at Asiatic cuisine, without being spicy exactly, and also at green tea. The palate is about as focused as you can get at 14.5% ABV, where the alcoholic kick gets translated to spiciness, but with better granularity than I get in Gewurtz. Others have noted and complained about the oak - me, I don't really get that, but it might be because I'm so surprised at actually liking a Viognier these days. Let's put it this way, if someone told me that some appellation in southwestern France or Spain was experimenting with the grape, I'd be real interested in finding out more about the place after I'd tasted this. And like I said, I'n not a fan of the grape. (July 30, 2012)

Ella, 2010

This is the softer, more feminine (including the name) complement to the Alon blend, in this case 45% each of Syrah and Barbera, plus 7% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. It's suitably ripe, yet not overdone, with sour black cherries and cranberries, black pepper and violets. Its 14.5% ABV shows as a warm afterglow on the finish and that feeling of fullness, without a being in any way jammy or muscular. It's quite tasty, and due to a sanguine note on the finish, I prefer it to the Alon (both the 2009 and 2010 versions), while juicy acidity (the Barbera's contribution?) gives it enough shape for interest. Fun. At 70 NIS, this goes for the same niche as sister Golan Heights Wineries' Gamla series, but this just feels like a much more authentic specimen. (Aug. 1, 2012)

Alon, 2010

I like how this smells, and if you've ever gone through any kind of fling with the Rhone, you'd understand why. It's got that mixture of fresh currants and blackberries, with a touch of herbs and black pepper, and the overall effect is very Israeli, the way my nose understands the more restrained versions of the local paradigm. The palate is a different matter. It's cute, too, and tasty, but it's 15.5% ABV this year, and it shows as sweet, ripe fruit and not particularly structured, which makes it less useful to me. (Aug. 15, 2012)

Barbera, Yiron Vineyard, 2010

Attractive black fruit, with a distinctive smokey/peppery overlay. The alcohol (14.5% again) is concealed even better than it was in the case of the Ella, and the plump, juicy fruit is quite tasty. The oak is obvious here, even annoying, and while I feel it will integrate in time, I think a more cautious barrel regime would have made for a more distinctive statement,. At this point, a couple of steps behind the Ella - wait, I take that back. I feel the oak is more and more distracting as the wine opens. This might be the worst of the lineup, on par with the Pinot. (Aug. 26, 2012)

The bottom line is, I like the Ella a lot for drinking, the Viognier for experimenting and the Alon and the Barbera for serving to friends.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Wedding Anniversary Wines

Another evening in the clouds
At Bertie.

Domaine de l'Horizon, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, Blanc, 2009

I was so taken with this at Uri Caftori's tasting, that I just had to share it with Efrat. I think this is a very tasty, very interesting wine, but it's more fascinating than it is actually great, if that's what you're looking for in a wine for special occasions. Its fruit profile is hard to place, a mixture of quince, melons and mango, but so laid back the fruit never veers close to being tropical. In addition, the aromatics have a smoky, mineral-laden, spicy feel, later even showing a dash of sculptor's clay. The palate has an almost sweet ripeness, well complemented by very juicy acidity, and culminating in a lightly saline finish. I'd reckon the reason it shies away from greatness per se is that while it is highly individual and makes a unique statement, it doesn't really have a whole lot of pieces on its game board to play with. (Aug. 10, 2012)

IPVinum, 280 NIS.

The anniversary-year wine.

Ishmael Arroyo, Ribera Del Duero, Gran Reserva, 1995

The aromatics are deep and complex, redolent with black fruit, cardamon, ground coffee, leather and meat - very, very Old World. The evolution in the palate has been slow since I last had a taste three years ago, and based on that, I have no idea how long this will last, probably for years and years - there's enough tannins and acidity for comfort and plenty of fruit - but it will probably remain muscular until it succumbs to dotage. Whatever, it's ripe, almost sweet, and the finish is lightly saline and grainy. It's an oaky wine at that, but old school Spaniards are probably one of the last places I accept that. (Aug. 11, 2012)

Giaconda, 350 NIS.

Thank you, Efrat, for the lovely weekend and for a lifetime of love and happiness.