Israel And The Outer Limits
By Robert K. Stephen (CSW)
(WINDSOR, ON) – Israel’s reputation as a quality wine producer is growing but as far as wine world recognition goes it lies in the outer limits of the world market. Exports of Israeli wine were up 5.5% in 2011 over 2010 and Canada is its 4th largest export market. There was a 66% growth in the same period for Asia. Great wines with almost no distribution in Ontario. You’ll have to pack your suitcase before you have the opportunity to try a decent range of wines from the 80 plus wineries in Israel. And what a trip you may have too!
The Galilee region is one of 5 wine regions of Israel being subdivided into the Upper Galilee, Lower Galilee and Golan Heights (yes adjacent to Lebanon). The best Israeli wines I have had come from this region perhaps due to its higher altitudes and variation in night and day temperatures. It is also a bit of a tourist hotspot with spas, excellent dining and a host of amenities. I suppose many of us have the stereotypical attitude that Israel is a vast desert. Not right. A great source to understand Israeli wines can be found online where you will find information on wineries, wine history, wine and religion, wine tourism, articles on Israeli wine and a very entertaining section dealing with 20 FAQ’s about Israeli wine. Perhaps the best FAQ reads as follows. The response is given by Adam Montefiore who is a passionate advocate of Israeli wine;
IS THE MIDDLE EAST A SUITABLE PLACE TO MAKE WINE?
AM: “Many people think Israel is a land of sand and camels and in political talk, Israel is always referred to as being part of the Middle East. However Israel is in fact a Mediterranean country. The climate of most of the country is Mediterranean, much of the food is Mediterranean, and so it should not be a surprise that Israel produces wine and olive oil like other Mediterranean countries.
Israel is in fact part of the Eastern Mediterranean which includes Greece, Turkey, Lebanon & Cyprus. These countries were the cradle of the grape and where wine culture was born.”
I am thankful we can get this delicious Galil Mountain Pinot Noir from Israel. It has a rather aged garnet and orange colour with cutting aromas of red plum, cherry, date and fig all within a dusty chocolate frame. The dates and figs give this a unique Israeli character yet the light beet juice colouring, sweet cherry and chocolate give it a rather sensual Burgundian influence but more daring that a Cotes de Beaune yet not as fruit forward as a Pinot Noir from Sonoma . It just has its own identity which I believe we call terroir! The palate delivers with a tremendous concentration of dates, figs, cherries and a dash of nutmeg. Medium bodied with a medium finish. This wine really needs chicken with almonds in some type of cream sauce. A well done individualistic Pinot Noir not easily pegged. The date and figs rule here. I think I am drinking “Midnight at the Oasis” with Maria Muldaur! This is a lusty and throaty Pinot Noir but in no way aggressive.(Galil Mountain Pinot Noir, KP 2009 Upper Galilee, Galil Mountain Winery, Yiron, Israel, 750 mL, $22.95,14%, LCBO # 121228,Windsor Square Rating 94/100).
I recall we reviewed a Dalton Shiraz about this time last year and then reviewed it against “competitors” at Caplansky’s in Toronto, the haven for smoked meat. It beat out the competitors and Zane Caplansky now carries it on his wine list. So it is with quivering anticipation we try a Dalton Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend. It is light gold in colour and aromatics of sweet white grapefruit, grape seed oil, marzipan, almonds and retro Fig Newton cookies. Neither brash nor assertive like a single varietal Sauvignon Blanc. Melon, Fig Newton and pear on the palate. Short but thick finish. Not complex but very pleasing. I am thinking poached chicken with figs, almonds and clementines might suit this wine but it is very drinkable on its own. It makes no real statement or claim for uniqueness. A safe “international wine”. (Dalton Safsufa Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay KPM 2010, Galilee, 750 mL., 13%, $16.95 LCBO # 157008 Windsor Square Rating 87/100). The LCBO Vintages catalogue for the 18 February2012 release where this wine was featured describes the wine having “tangy acidity”. I am really scratching me head over that one as I can’t find much acidity in this wine.
I was given a warning in advance of trying this wine by a well known wine educator that the wine had a stewed character to it. Stewed aromas most often mean over ripeness or over extraction. No stewiness in this wine but it just might favour a rich lamb or beef stew! This Shiraz has a purplish colour and a meaty aroma with chocolate and I hate to sound repetitive but dates and figs are dancing around. Brackish on the palate with blackberries and a chalky minerality.A rough character in no way resembling its Australian cousins. A lingering and almost juicy finish. The wine somewhat loses itself in midpalate. Tannins are obviously not prominent so I would suggest pastrami, smoked meat and any meat well cooked and spicy if possible. On a more mundane plane I would say good old pot roast and for vegetarians a tofu dish with chili peppers, soy sauce concoction over Japanese buckwheat noodles. Drink this now as I think it can’t withstand too much ageing (Recananti Shiraz KP 2010, Galilee, Recanati Winery, Emek Hefer, Israel, 14%, $18.95, 750 mL, LCBO #218685, Windsor Square Rating 87/100). Note that there is 3% Viognier (white grape) in this. A bit of Condrieu in Israel? The winery was founded in 2000 and is located in the Hefer Valley and carries four “labels” under the names Yasmin, Recanati, Reserve and Special Reserve. Its head winemaker Gil Shatsberg is a grad of the highly esteemed Viticulture and Enology Programme at Davis University, California.
This Merlot has a rich ruby red colour with some coffee, red plum, vibrant sweet red cherries, pumpkin and chocolate aromas. Quite raw on the palate with a secret little tidal wave of sweetness surging in the mid palate lingering ever so faintly then exploding with dates, ouzo and rhubarb. Intriguing. A very meaty centre dripping with steak juice and leading one to the conclusion this wine has some power and spunk. Not a poofy Ontario Merlot and not a plush Californian. I like the rough edges. Tannins are there no doubt but far from overpowering and well integrated into the wine. Wobbles to a longish and sandy finish with bits of cedar inlayed like fine Byzantine stonework in a monastery in Simi, Greece. The weird happenings at midpalate give this wine its unique character .
Swept away. (Tabor Galil Merlot KP 2009, Galilee, KFAR Winery, Tabor, Israel, 13.9%, $17.95, 750 mL, LCBO# 183517, Windsor Square Rating,93/100).
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