Monthly Archives: February 2012
Yesterday’s blog was a quick round-up of the state of play with Israeli wine, today I’m quickly going to go through our producer visits last week when I was in Israel to attend the IsraWineExpo exhibition.
We only saw four producers in person (although we saw many more at the exhibition itself).
On the first day we headed up to the very north of this country, very close to the border of Lebanon and Syria to Upper Galilee, the region that’s widely regarded as the best in terms of fruit quality for winemaking and where the soils are pretty volcanic.
Here we visited Galil Mountain, a relatively new producer (started in 2002) and whose wines were correct and clean, but the downside to their super clean style is that they lacked a little bit of a sense of place. That said, I actually thought their Pinot Noir was the most successful wine, which was interesting because the Pinot Noirs in general on this trip were both scarce and pretty average in quality. But there is definite potential, as Galil Mountain showed.
Still Galilee but much further south in Kiryat Tivon, Tulip winery is probably best known for its commitment to employing people from the local community who are mentally disabled, a community which was initially formed by holocaust survivors. The portfolio of wines was mixed for me here. There was one standout wine, but sadly for all the wrong reasons – an off-dry white wine made from Cabernet Franc (seriously, why bother?). A dry white of theirs was much more successful, a Gewurztraminer/Sauvignon Blanc blend, which is a decent aperitif wine. With the reds, many an American in our group cooed over the Black Tulip, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and while it definitely has some richness, the very obvious oak on the palate didn’t make for a wholly balanced wine in my view.
The visit to the next producer Binyamina, which is in the region of the same name, started off really well with a very approachable, slightly spicy and nicely fruity Carignan which was served with our lunch. The winemaker used be a pastry chef before turning his hand to winemaking, and he also used to work in Bordeaux’s Chateau Pontet-Canet. I think this was just one example of why Carignan is a variety to watch in Israel. Although this variety used to be a big deal in Israel, it fell out of favour but is now back in fashion as producers start to understand how to get the most out of it, and it seems to be working if Binyamina is anything to go by.
On the second day we headed south towards the Negev desert to visit Yatir, a winery which is owned by Carmel, a huge (by Israeli standards) and historic winery, even if Yatir has its own team and operates under its own steam.
Of the four wineries we visited, this had the most successful overall portfolio. Not only did the wines have an authentic sense of Israeli rusticity to them but they also appeared modern at the same time, and luckily they have an agent in the UK – yay (Enotria, in case you’re wondering). Very few Israeli wineries do have an UK importer, but there are a few starting to make inroads, and a few which are ready to be snapped up by an importer over here.
It seems to me that one of the most obvious wineries waiting to be snapped up is Recanati. This small, slick and smooth project is the brainchild of ex-banker Lenny Recanati. All the fruit for Recanati’s wines comes from the Upper Galilee, Israel’s high altitude region, and the winemakers seem to be a couple of cheeky chappies who clearly have a great rapport and the same vision for their wines. Definitely one to watch.
A more in-depth piece on my trip will be in a forthcoming issue of Decanter so if you want to read more make sure you pick up a copy, I’ll confirm the month in which is will feature (here) as soon as I know.
Before Christmas I was invited by the Israeli embassy in London to attend IsraWineExpo, the fourth year of an annual trade and consumer wine fair in Tel Aviv.
It was too good an opportunity to miss. I don’t mind admitting that my knowledge of Israeli wine was sketchy at best. But after less than a week over there, I’d like to think this has changed pretty dramatically, as we covered a great deal of ground between the 2 days of travelling and 2 days of the exhibition.
There’s so much to say, I’ll be doing this blog in two parts, today I’ll cover some bite-sized conclusions from my trip, and tomorrow I’ll do a quick précis of the wineries we visited.
In my eyes, you don’t have to spend very long among the wine folk of Israel to get a sense of the following:
1. The term Kosher is still vastly misunderstood across the world.
2. The origin of Israeli wine is referred to as ‘Eastern Mediterranean’ rather than Middle East – and in doing so Israel groups itself together with Lebanon, Turkey, Cyprus and Greece.
3. They do the above to emphasise that although Israel has long, hot and dry summers, it also has wet winters and easily achieves snow on higher ground. In fact last week when I was there, many of the schools in the north of the country had closed down because of heavy snow.
4. Such are the extremes in weather, Israel has an extremely long harvesting season – from July to the end of November.
5. The wine scene is both very old and very new. Old in the sense that it has made wine for thousands of years. New in the sense that the modern winemaking revolution only really began 20 years ago. That’s a lot of catching up to do.
6. It suffers from having no indigenous varieties of its own following the period of Arabian rule (636-1099), during which time all the native vines were grubbed up.
7. Because of the above, Israeli wines are usually made from international varieties, that are usefully familiar to western wine drinkers.
8. Israel makes more than three times as much red wine as white wine.
9. The 10 largest wineries crush 94% of the fruit of Israel’s whole wine harvest but there are smaller and boutique wineries starting to make some noise.
10. Producers are now starting to inject a bit more Israeli-ness into their wines, after arguably too much (but perhaps inevitable) influence from other countries – notably the USA and Australia – where a lot of the winemakers trained.
Part II tomorrow and in the meantime….. COME. ON. WALES!!!!
2003, in general, isn’t any old wine vintage. It’s the vintage of the Noughties when the summer was scorchingly hot across northern Europe, rendering many of the continent’s wines overblown, baked and too hefty for their own good.
These words aren’t exactly common descriptions for Champagne, and certainly never apply to Dom Pérignon, arguably one of the most beautifully elegant Champagnes that ever lived. And, even though DP is only ever a vintage Champagne (which means each release will be different), this wine has still earned a reputation for being one of the most complex but pretty, floral and girly* Champagnes out there.
The 2003 DP is the most out of character vintage I’ve tasted in some time. It’s still complex, hugely so, but this is a wine that has guts. It’s meaty. It’s voluptuous. It’s generous. It’s broad. It has wave upon wave of white truffle, earthy aromas. No wonder those involved at DP keep talking about its “dark sensuality”.DP’s living, breathing ambassador and chef du cave to boot, Richard Geoffroy, came to London last week to explain the new release to trade and press.
He’s honest enough to admit there were technical issues in this tricky year and he admits took risks, but he believes they’ve all paid off. When it came to blending, he said he had to think “outside the box” but if anything the challenge was worth taking, “we had to surpass ourselves, we had to push the envelope, but all the decisions that we made came right,” he declared emphatically as he drummed home the message that the 2003 wine was still “DP to the core” and “DP in spirit”.
While some at the tasting said they couldn’t tell it was a 2003 wine, I beg to differ. As delicious as it may be, the fullness of it, the voluptuous fruit, the relatively low acidity and the generous texture all speak of a warm vintage to me.
It tasted the same to me back in December, when I was lucky enough to taste the DP 2003 for the very first time. Back then I was puzzled by a statement from DP which declared the wine to be “somewhere between austerity and generosity” and I was still puzzled by this statement during the first half of the tasting last week.
When I tasted this wine before Christmas, and again during the launch last week, I only ever found it to be on the generous side (in fact I think the only time I’ve ever called a Champagne austere has been in relation zero dosage Champagnes, those with no added sugar).
However, my opinion changed during the second half of last week’s launch, during our DP 2003 & food matching session. We were served four different dishes alongside the wine and one of them, which included hibiscus flower and caviar, made the wine taste totally austere – the salinity of the caviar paralysed the DP’s muscular breadth and heightened its tight mineral character.
Moments later, as we tried the foie gras with cocoa beans, the wine completely opened up again. It was abundantly fruity and tropical, tasting of luscious caramelised pineapple and mango, and so that previously puzzling description “somewhere between austerity and generosity” suddenly made complete sense.
Sorry Richard – I should have never doubted you for a second!
* Some people have gone a bit PC crazy in recent years, but I make no apology for referring to a wine using a gender. Over the years I’ve found this to be a really useful description for encapsulating the character of a wine.
However, I will apologise for the terrible photos of the two dishes! Having half the plate cut off each time was slightly deliberate, in that I was trying to include the reflection of the DP image on the table top – but I’m not sure whether I pulled it off convincingly….