Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Recanati - 2017 Releases

If local interest in wine writing extended beyond reviews, gossip and marketing promotions, I'd be interested in doing a story on the Recanati  Mediterranean series, Now, Mediterranean wines is a term I don't like much, but it will do as a shorthand for lithe, yet robust, wines suited to the local climate, based on grapes that can reach phenolic ripeness in Israel at palatable sugar levels.

How much did the borth of the series have to do with the inclinations the people involved (for what it's worth, the winemakers and management people that I personally know share the same tastes as me) and how much of it was a business decision to carve out a new identity and find a marketable niche? Does anyone besides me even care that much how a winery shifts its profile and its product line?

In Recanati's case, these questions are so interesting because the decisions the winery took have made them the most interesting outfit of its size in Israel - broadly speaking, if you want to drink interesting Israeli wines, there's a short list of boutique wineries and then an ever shorter list of medium sized outfits, like Recanati and Vitkin. The changes in the last decade extend even to the packaging; hell, I'd even say the labels of the Reserve series are among the top five best or so in Israel. *

* In case you're curious, in no special order: Recanati Reserve, Feldstein, Tzora.

So that's the buildup to my notes about the so called 'Mediterranean' Reserve series as well as the Special Reserves, that I bought pre-release in the Recanati summer event.

Reserve, Marsellan, 2015

I'm willing to concede Marselan is an actual Mediterranean grape. It's a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, first bred near the French town of Marseillan, which is actually on the Mediterranean coast. So yes, it's a Mediterranean grape.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it: "Marselan was bred by French ampelographer Paul Truel in 1961 at the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) as part of a collaboration with the École nationale supérieure agronomique de Montpellier (ENSAM) to produce high yielding varieties with large berries of moderate quality. As Marselan could only produce small berries, the vine variety was shelved and considered not likely to be commercially released. But viticulture trends in the late 20th century that begun to value lower yielding varieties with good disease resistance to hazards like powdery mildew encouraged the INRA to revisit Marselan. The vine was submitted for approval for commercial release and was entered in the official register of grape varieties in 1990."

The history of wine making in the late 20th century in a nutshell.

Recanati makes a user and food friendly wine out of it, with fair complexity and  greater character and interest. With its black fruit trimmed with back pepper, herbs and dusty earth, it comes off as a Crozes-Hermitage transplanted to Vacqueyras. There's a warm, ripe breadth to it, but without the cheap ripeness that can be so off-putting with local Cabernets. (Mar. 4, 2017)

Reserve, Syrah, 2015

Calling Syrah a Mediterranean grape stretches the credibility of the concept, but I'm willing to concede it's a grape that can be suitable to to Israel, even if hasn't turned out to be the dominant force that ten years ago many expected it to become. The Recanati version went through a couple of production and marketing schemes before it was wedded to Viognier in a nod and a wink to Cote Rotie a few years ago. I loved the first couple of vintages, but the pair have since been divorced. The current vintage shows the succulent, peppery aspect of the grape. It's riper and less stellar than the version that Recanati winemaker Kobi Arviv makes. But then, that Syrah is one of the best ever made in Israel and is a testament to the skills of the Recanati winemakers and their employers' recruiting acumen. As for the wine under discussion, initially, the bitter tannins turned me off, but a very pretty purity of expressive fruit came out after a couple of hours. Wait and see, with optimism. (Mar. 5, 2017)

But I'll tell you what, though. Recanati's renaissance starts with, and hinges on, one wine, made from a grape that is as good a candidate as any to be our national grape. 

Reserve, Wild Carignan, 2015

This is always a deep wine that reveals its aromas and flavors reluctantly in its first couple of years, the 2015 especially so. What I get here at first is mostly a sense of warmth and a spicy/tannic mouthfeel. Then it finally offers up surprising aromatic complexity - not surprising for being complex, but rather because the aromas offer a gentle elegance I'd not found in previous vintages. Really, the Wild Carignan should live up to its name, but the 2015 defuses its punch with mellow blue fruits and wisps of black pepper. Wisps that become muscular strands as the wine shows its wild heart. (Mar. 16, 2017)

The Reserves are priced at 130-150 NIS (your mileage may vary) and you get a lot of quality fruit for the price. The price is in line with the price of many wineries' flagship wines and what you don't get for that price, thankfully, is histrionic helpings of oak.

The actual flagship wines, the Special Reserves, do cost more, of course.

Special Reserve, White, 2015 

This is a Rousanne/Marsanne blend, and I surprised myself for fancying this white Rhone combo at the launch. I guess these grapes do like the local landscape. There's not a huge level of acidity, but there is enough to support this rather fat, fleshy wine and the gently spicy punch on the finish. The spices also embellish the nose, which also features some chalk. Taste this alongside other local whites and it will show well; it probably won't finish first, but the results won't embarrass the people who made it and you'll be satisfied with the price (about 150 NIS). (Mar. 17, 2017)

Special Reserve, 2014

When Recanati started, and for a good part of the previous decade, this was your typical Israeli blend, Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot. Then along came Ido Lewinsohn, first, and then Gil Shatzberg, who replaced Lewis Pasco as main winemaker, and finally Koby Arviv - and little by little the blend changed. I noticed the change with the 2008 SR and wrote about it and then a wonderful thing happened. Some interchanges on an old wine forum led to a Recanati tasting event and I met Ido and that started a long, random chain of events that ended up with the group of friends I currently taste with. 

Recently, it's been a blend of Bordeaux and Mediterranean grapes, according to the winery's site. I'd guess that means Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Sirah and Carignan, in various permutations. This is a wine where you actually notice the oak. It's well handled, and the winemaking and barrels are both equally top notch, but it's there for now. Its aromatic and flavor profile reminds me of what Ido and Kobi do in their own boutique wineries: the freshness of the fruit, a welcome helping of black pepper, even a light streak of green. With that, I do sense a greater emphasis on sheen and gloss; which is not necessarily a bad thing and I'm not detracting the quality of the wine. Obviously the target audience is different from that of a boutique winery's, even if there is some overlap. The SR needs to acknowledge a great proportion of unhip buyers and naturally the team needs to be less adventurous, consciously or not. I'm trying to describe the effect, not criticize it. The quality of the wine would place it in the local top ten and you should buy it (for 200 NIS or whatever the release price is), if you haven't already, and then cellar it for at least three years (Mar. 18, 2017)

I want to close with off with an offhand note about a wine that we've been drinking casually at home for a while, the Jonathan, White, 2016. I'm not sure whether it replaces the old Yasmin series or cohabits the shelves, but this Chardonnay/French Colombard blend shows that quality control at the winery goes down all the way to the lower rungs. It's a light, fruity blend that won't blow you away but is very useful when you need to entertain a lot of friends and want to be able to enjoy yourself as well. This is where democracy wins.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Attack of the Killer Grenache - Vitkin, Early 2017

Time to check in, once more, on the winery that has always been located on the "road less traveled" part of the Israeli wine map - ever since the pioneer days when they were one of the first to break the paradigm of using Bordeaux grapes in Israel.

Grenache Blanc, 2014

A personal favorite, in my humble opinion already one of the top ten Israeli whites, this has an earthy character driven by tart acidity. Air fleshes it out (and I'm not ruling out that it should be served at a temperature close to that of a red wine, which is what I wound up doing and it worked for me) so that its lean frame is embroidered with nuanced flecks of bitter and savory flavors. The nose, while also austere, starts off with a nutty greenness and it, too, develops nicely, flaring into a bouquet flaunting an 'otherness', which I can't really break down meaningfully - perhaps something along the lines of chalk laced with sweet herbs and a hint of flowers, tobacco and iodine?  (Feb. 19, 2017)

The 2015 version is, at this point, more floral. I wish I could write more about the differences between the two vintages, but besides the year's worth of evolution, there's not much to tell them apart except for the greater clarity of the 2015 and a lither structure. I think the grape is comfortable in its new home. (Feb. 27, 2017)

125 NIS.

Israeli Journey, Rose, 2016

I prefer my roses so dry they could detox Keith Richards, and this more or less hits that sweet spot, with a wild freshness of fruit, almost floral, that is charmingly tempered and tamed by minerals. Assaf Paz says he thinks he finally nailed the formula, mostly Grenache with a modicum of Carignan. I agree. (Feb. 21, 2017)

70 NIS.

Grenache Noir, 2014

Grenache can easily go over the top and become too ripe, intense and candied. Assaf, however, confidently controls the grape and this wine just nods at that aspect with candied notes, but it also shows the same fresh wildness of fruit and flowers as did the Rose, as well as hints of raw meat. Most importantly, for any wine, but even more so for a grape so easily whored by producers prone to excess, this is a personable, very drinkable wine, with a raspy, yet savory finish adding plenty of jism. The label says "Collector Edition" and, while the wine is certainly special enough, it is no high octane trophy wine, just a wine that someone made because he wanted to do something different and so eased it into being, let the grape express its character without letting it get out of hand. (Mar. 3, 2017)

140 NIS. This is a terrific wine, really worth the price, showing, like the only other local Grenache that I know of (Feldstein), that the variety has great potential in Israel.

So that takes care of the various permutations of Grenache in the Vitkin portfolio. With that out of the way, let me finish with another example of how Vitkin does things differently. And yes, I know there are at least six other Israeli Rieslings, but Vitkin was there first.

Riesling, 2015

According to Cellar Tracker, the first Israeli Riesling was made by Golan Heights. Which I suppose makes Vitkin's inaugural vintage the first good local Riesling. But I quibble and anyway, making Riesling in Israel is always a leap of faith, on paper at least. I'm a classic German Riesling guy, also willing to accept their dry versions as well as those from Austria and, to a much lesser extent, from Alsace. While I appreciate the effort involved in making extraterritorial versions, you have to understand that I approach Rieslings from other regions with a very critical eye - uh, palate. This is a good wine. I think it brings a local touch. There's a certain herbal languor on the palate that I like, as well as bracing acidity and a healthy, cleansing salinity. The nose is fine, demure if not outright austere, showing lime and white fruit rather than apples (well, maybe some apples). I like it, and I'm happy I have another bottle to age, as well as a bottle of 2014, but I think it's a little short and the nose doesn't evoke the same thrill of discovery that the Grenache Blanc does. (Feb. 2017)

125 NIS.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The World Is My Oster (Feb. 23, 2017)

Getting ready for the Selbach tasting
The Selbach-Oster house is a masterful domain, even in Mosel, a region with no shortage of master artists. I was honored to participate in a tasting with Sigrid and Hanna Selbach.

Sekt, Brut, 2013

Sekts always torture me with montages of two of my big loves, German Riesling and Champagne. For example, this marries the complex, yeasty nose of a sparkling wine married to the light body of a Kabinett, showing citrus fruit, mushrooms and stone. 

Zeltinger Schlossberg, Kabinett, 2014

Even though this is relatively young and mute compared to the older Kabinetts that followed, this manages to show a charming nose of apples and pastry and cold slate, with a precise balance of fruit and acidity. The true measure of its lovely, evocative nose is evidenced when I sniff the remnants of the glass, which is when the aromas really open up.

Zeltinger Schlossberg, Kabinett, 2013

Something happened in 2013 to heighten the impact, a little more depth, visceral urgency and icy petrol pungency to the aromas, make the finish more savory and salivating, like a fine drill sparking the taste buds. 

Zeltinger Schlossberg, Kabinett, 2012

This is a regal wine, its pungency is a little more restrained - simply a wine that doesn't need to raise its voice. And one whose voice will keep ringing for a very long time.

Zeltinger Schlossberg, Spatlese, Trocken, 2012

You cross an invisible border when you move from classic, off dry/sweet Rieslings to the dry versions. Here, the aromas and texture are a totally different world, even though some similarities remain. The minerals dig deeper, as though the earth came alive. I usually prefer the classic style, but this is one of the best dry Rieslings I've ever had, a very detailed wine that doesn't try to slug its way in, as can be the case with Grosses Gewaches.

Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Spatlese Feinherb, Ur Alte Reben, 2012

This an off dry Spatlese, so it sort of takes the best of what the Kabinetts have to offer and changes gears. If the Spatlese Trocken shifts into mineral mode, this highlights the savory and steely aspect of the grape, with crystalline purity and a very complex and unique character. 

Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Spatlese, 2012

This is a textbook Mosel beauty that sweeps you with lemon sherbet/drops and an almost creamy seductiveness. 

Zeltinger Schlossberg, Auslese, 2011

This exists in different quadrant of space-time, creamier, more embryonic, like being hugged by a friendly panda bear. Again, this shows how all these wines have paint different colors with brushstrokes unto different canvases, but all were wrought by the same hand.

Anrecht, 2012

Ah! This feels like the Schlossberg Auslese sank into a black hole, and, while struggling to escape, is sending out a radio signal that broadcast hints of the same creaminess, but with a killer focus, highlighting the minerals, luring you in. And you don't resist. You can't.

A brief explanation on the Anrecht. Selbach-Oster stick to the usual strictures of German winemaking and makes multiple harvests of their vineyards in order to produce the expected pradikats from Kabinett all the way to Trockenbeerauslese and Eiswein. They make an exception for three sub-parcels (Anrecht, Schmitt and Rotlay), where they make a single harvest. They target Auslese but vinify all the grapes together regardless of the sugar level (presumably after sorting out grapes of lesser equality). The idea is to showcase the terroir in its purity, without any attempt to adhere to the stylistic demands of a specific pradikat.

Zeltinger Himmelreich, Auslese, 1990

This is a fine example of what happens to an Auslese after decades in the cellar. The nose, while no less detailed than in its youth, is less explosive, chamber music rather than a symphony. And time has taken the sweet fruit of youth and delicately sculpted it into a nuanced dryness. There was obviously botrytis when young, but it's implied and insinuated by now. A lovely gift of time.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Lost In the Supermarket

The things you find on the shelves. Jesus.

I am an ardent shelf stalker. I go through 'em all. Wine stores, supermarkets, duty free. Even when not actively looking to buy anything, I glance through, look again, compile and file away the inventory and prices. Why do I do even do this? Maybe someday this arcane data will make a difference. What can I tell you? I was a weird kid and I wound up a weird adult.

But, sometimes my compulsive behavior pays off.

Faccenda Enrico, Barolo, Rocche di Castelletto, 2005

Once upon a time, an Israeli engineer on relocation in Italy decided to import Piedmont wines to Israel. His nickname was Doosh and he called his company the Doosh. No English speaker was able to contain a smirk. The operation has long since ceased to exist, but I recently found this bottle, from what looks to be a small, family firm in Barolo, in a local supermarket chain. This type of discovery is one of the thrilling twists in the plot that makes a wine lover's life so wonderful. Firstly, because finding it was exciting and remembering the Doosh was like revisiting an old Damon Runyon story. Then, the wine. With typical, intensive aromas of iron, tar, dust and black fruit, this is not the most refined of Barolos (often a grungy style of wine in the first place) - the discreet sweetness of the fruit, the tart acidity and the rusty tannins play Chuck Berry, not Beethoven. Old World charm doesn't get a lot better than the twisted, long, saline finish, its kinky, spicy intensity whipping your palate to set it up for the next mouthful, right after the nose pulls on your heart strings.(Feb, 3, 2017)

300 NIS.

Joseph Drouhin, Nuits St. Georges Premier Cru, Les Proces, 2001

The reason I found the Enrico in the first place was a friend tipped me off that he'd found a small stash of the Drouhin Proces in the same store. I won't share the details. If this store has any more hidden treasures, hell, avarice is a virtue. But I imagine my friend running into this unexpectedly. I know where the wine was kept and I know you need an employee to access the shelves where it was kept. Did he suspect what he might find there? What was he looking for in the first place? It's hardly a store that raises a lot of expectations.

And then he spotted it. He's a Bourgogne head, just like me. He knows Drouhin is one of the good negociants, so he recognized the potential in the name itself. He knows 2001 is a tough, old school vintage for the die-hards. The rare, unknown vineyard must have thrilled him; he must have relished the notion of stumping the illuminati in blind tastings. He did, in fact stump us. We recognized it for Nuits, I think we recognized the vintage. To his credit, my friend didn't insist we name the vineyard. We would never have gotten it.

It's really an old school wine. It's not a sexy vintage. You get a lot of iron, a lot of rotting leaves and rusty tannins. You don't get sleek, fleet footed fruit. This isn't where Burgundy seduces you, it's where it scratches you in the face and threatens to claw your eyes out. (Feb. 14, 2017)

400 NIS.