By Robert K. Stephen
(WINDSOR, ON) – Without all the facts and figures in front of me and running on mere powers of observation I think Israel is to the world what Lake Erie North Shore is to Canada in terms of recognition. On the Canadian radar screen of wine Israel is way out there with a token amount of wine flowing into the LCBO…sort of like finding Pelee Island or LENS wines in an LCBO Vintages release. The wines of Israel have been produced since biblical times. Islamic conquests decimated production and resulted in the destruction of indigenous grapes so today Israel is left with transplanted international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah. It was only in the 1990s that there was a revival and boom in quality Israeli wines.
While there are 4 VQA regions in the Province of Ontario, Lake Erie North Shore, Niagara, Prince Edward County and Pelee Island there are five wine regions in Israel which by the way is about the size of New Jersey;
- Galilee (Galil): Its high altitudes and diverse microclimates can produce complex and diverse wines. This seems to be the best wine producing area in Israel.
- Samaria (Shomron): Is the largest wine growing region in Israel.
- Samson (Shimshon): Yes, named after the guy with the long hair.
- Judean Hills ( Harey Yehuda)
- Negev (Hanagev)
Let’s take a sampler of the wines from Israel’s reputed best wine growing region, Galilee.
The best of the three wines was Dalton Shiraz KP 2009. This is a big earthy wine that shouts power. Loads of plums, earth, black cherries, black pepper, mushrooms with a whisper of cinnamon and coffee liqueur thrown in. It is quite easy to pick up each one of these aromas in neat and distinct parcels. On the palate raw and powerful with dates, black cherries, pepper and spice. Surprisingly mild tannins with a moderate peppery finish. Buy three and try over the next three years. Subtle use of oak. A stupendous match for spicy and fatty smoked meat giving both the wine and the smoked meat big hugs and slaps on their shoulders. One of the best food and wine matches I have ever had.(Dalton Winery Ltd. Shiraz 2009 Galilee Region, Israel, Alcohol 15%, Windsor Square Rating 92/100, $19.95, 750 mL, LCBO 217349).
The Tabor Galil Merlot KP 2009 buzzes with frantic energy in the glass. In your face aroma full of sweet cherries, figs, dates and almost hysterical high toned laser beams of cherry tinged with lavender and minestrone soup. Again we taste real big here like The Marlboro Man. For Merlot, usually a well behaved fellow, this guy is a bronco buster. Wonderful pomegranate and cherry liqueur on the palate. It’s running around the room like a happy West Highland Terrier (Dylan) after a brisk walk. Enjoy the high energy now. I am thinking about chilli made with ground lamb and lots of spice to quaff this wine. Almost enough to make you wish for more winter! (Tabor Galil Merlot KP 2009, Galilee Region, Israel, Alcohol 13.9%, Windsor Square Rating 87/100, $14.95, 750 ml, LCBO 183517).
The last wine was a Galil Mountain Yiron KP 2006. This wine is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc and is black plum in colour full of roughness and rawness hanging about the edges of this wine not managing to break into its centre. Instead the wine connects with decadent rich and ripe black cherries but I think the cherries are too ripe here, overpowering the wine with black cherry cola and coffee aromas. Perhaps the dark smudges staining my hand from the cork was a hint of the ripeness of the wine. The ripeness did not detract from the noticeable power of the wine which had a huge mouthfeel. This is a well made wine but for a palate that has focused on more restrained LENS wines it was a bit much. But if you like big powerful ripe wines by all means please do try. This wine underwent 14-21 days fermentation and was aged in French oak barrels. The wine was made from grapes grown in the Upper Galilee which is a wild, mountainous and forested area. Galil Mountain produces just over a million bottles of wine a year making it Israel’s 7th largest wine producer. To gain some perspective on this figure Pelee Island Winery produced approximately 450,000 bottles in 2010.It is owned by a collective farm Kibbutz Yiron (33%) and Golan Heights Winery (67 %). 25% of its wine is exported.(Galil Mountain Yiron KP 2006, Upper Galilee, Israel, Alcohol 15%, Windsor Square Rating 87/100, $33.95, 750 mL, LCBO # 095075)
I have some information coming from the LCBO that just may bear my theory well that Israel and LENS wines have more in common than you think. The Windsor Square hopes to be right in the middle of the wine action in a month or two reporting directly from Israel . Stay tuned.