Israeli Excitement

Israeli vineyardHeader-image-StephenBy Robert K. Stephen (CSW)

(TORONTO, ON) – If you can’t visit Israel, let some of Israel visit you. Try some Israeli wines.

Israel is a mini producer of wine so we rarely see it in Canada. When we do, we are afraid to try it. It’s a bit of a vicious circle. Not enough on the Canadian market breeds unfamiliarity and temerity.

Sure, just about all of it is KP standing for Kosher for Passover, but that’s not going to bite you.

To be considered as Kosher, the vines must be at least four years old and no fruit and vegetables can be grown between the vines. The vines must be left fallow every seven years.

Sabbath observant male Jews can only participate in the wine making process. No animal products can be used, such as egg whites, for filtering the wine. If a bottle of Kosher wine is opened and served by a non-Jew, it loses its kosher status, unless it is Mevushal, meaning it has been boiled.

I have no issues drinking Kosher wines, but if they are Mevushal no thank you. They are usually horrible.

As Israeli history and tourism is fascinating, so too are chances to delve into its wines. In fact, it’s exciting to drink wine from the fringe, but a bit distressing to see it remain on the fringe. Not to bash big brother LCBO, but if only there was capitalism as opposed to monopolism in distribution of spirits and wines.

We would certainly see entire stores selling Israeli wines, not the paltry amounts those who think for us import. At best, close to Passover, we see a few bones tossed to us.

Wow. In the March 7 Vintages magazine we see a whopping five Israeli wines. As pathetic as that is, I suppose as wine consumer beggars, we should… Let’s not go down this route.

Israeli wine sales amounted to $220 million USD in 2014, which is a 10% increase over 2013. Twenty-three million dollars worth goes to North America, including $3 million USD to Canada.

Thirteen million USD was also exported to the EU, with France being the top consumer. Interestingly, $2.2 million USD was exported to China where there is no Jewish population of which to speak.

There are some 250 wineries in Israel. Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute Wine Department head, Ya’ara Shimoni, said that most Israeli wine exports are bought by the diaspora Jewish kosher market.

“In recent years, Israeli wine has won international recognition,” she said. “And the rise in wine exports to Asia where the kosher market is insignificant demonstrates the strength of Israel’s wine brand around the world.”

Let’s try a Galil Mountain Pinot Noir.

Galil Mountain is a top producer of quality wines, but so rarely do we see its wines. Its garnet in colour and it’s very rich on the nose with oodles of black cherry and, as is customary with Israeli red wines, figs and dates. Slight notes of red sour cherry.

It’s definitely not coming across like a North American or Euro Pinot Noir, although there is just a tad of that plastic tubing so common in many Pinot Noirs.

It packs a wallop on the palate, again not customary for a North American or Euro Pinot Noir. But, it is clean and precise with stiff black cherry with a tiny twist of sour cherry on the finish.

Like most Pinot Noirs it’s light on tannins. This is a dark and stern Pinot Noir with a slight bit of sweetness that hits the after palate, at just the right moment.

I last tried the 2009 Galil Mountain Pinot Noir, which I rated a 94, and stated it was lusty and throaty, but not aggressive. The 2012 is at the edge of aggressive. Israeli reds are never wimps. (Galil Mountain 2012 Pinot Noir, Yiron Vineyard, Upper Galilee, Galil Mountain Winery, Yiron, Israel, 750 mL, 14.5%, LCBO #121228, $22.95, Square Media Group Rating 89/100). Aged for 10 months in French oak. I would set this aside for another three to five years to calm down the tension.

Another winery name that is big in Israel is Tabor, and we are now going to sample their 2010 Adama Merlot.

Garnet coloured with heavy shades of brown. A lush and boozy nose just waiting to get you into some trouble, like arguing with Sammy and Frank at The Sands during intermission.

On the nose, black currants, strawberry, cranberry, sweet red cherries, and date and oatmeal cookies. As it opens up you can just about smell the basalt soil it was grown in.

On the palate, clean and crisp with some elegance, therefore somewhat of a chameleon considering its aromatics. Medium tannins and a relatively moderate length finish coating the mouth with black soil.

It hides its 14.3 % alcohol well, which is why you probably argued with Sammy and Frank.

If you are following wine trends, we hear much about the volcanic soils of Sicily on Mt Etna giving its wines a unique quality. This Merlot was also grown on volcanic soils in a very hot growing season. The grapes were picked during the night and were at the winery at dawn.

This Merlot plot grew in the Upper Galilee’s Kedesh Valley, on Ramot Naftali’s mountain range at an altitude of 430 meters above sea level. A unique mesco-climate of temperatures that drop at night and rise at day, make the valley an ideal vineyard growing area. The ground is deep, mineral rich, and abundant with volcanic rock, giving the wine its unique character.

It spent 12 months in oak, which I suspect was not American. (Tabor Adama Merlot KP 2010, Tabor Winery, Israel, 750 mL, 14.3%, LCBO #400820, $26.95, Square Media Group Rating 91/100). The tannins here merit up to three more years of ageing.

We have a blend from Segal’s with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Given the high octane of Israeli, reds I am not expecting anything too delicate.

A rather light purple. Heavy smokey graphite with deep date, black cherry, and fig notes. This is a dense smelling wine. Full of chocolate covered plums.

On the palate, the Cabernet Franc seems to take charge with notes of tobacco, wet autumn leaves meshed up with the lushness of Merlot, yet also with blueberry and cherry pie. All these aromas transcend themselves into a simplistic but superb palate of smoked cherry, plum, and date, which fades into a smokey duskiness, like the sun setting over the ocean in Tel Aviv.

Not only is this a KP wine, but it’s a Mevushal. Absolutely brilliant for a Mevushal wine, which are ordinarily close to undrinkable.

Had I known it was Mevushal I would not have purchased it.

Short finish of sour cherry, so consume now. Somehow, some way, I think this is best consumed somewhere in Israel, preferably at some altitude watching the sunset below. I can distinguish the individual grapes, but this is so un-Canadian I need to fly 13 hours from Toronto on El Al to Tel Aviv to even start to begin understanding this wine. (Segal’s 2011 Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, Galilee Heights, Segal Brothers Ltd, Hulda, Israel, 750 mL, 13%, LCBO #157206, 13%, $22.95, Square Media Group Rating 88/100).


Now a KP Cab-Sauv from Tabor.

Dark ruby and light purple coloured with dense notes of incredibly rich cherry dancing around figs and dates, and cultivated blueberries with a good dollop of dark organic chocolate. This hints at a massive and powerful wine because its power is not overly laced with black fruit, but back-stopped by fig and date.

What about the palate? Blueberry pie, cassis with well tamed but muscular tannins, leading to a medium finish with a long fade. The date and fig notes on the palate give this Cabernet Sauvignon a true distinctive Israeli note.

Its thick palate its ideal for smoked and cured meats with gigantic garlic pickles and crisp hand cut fries. Its finish won’t overpower the food combo mentioned, but compliment it, especially after a good chomp on a pickle. (Tabor Galil Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 KP, Galilee, Tabor Winery, Israel, 750 mL, 14%, LCBO #283838, $20.95, Square Media Group Rating 92/100). Although a very good wine, the Tabor Winery website is generic and uninspiring, replete with generalities and a lack of technical details on the wine. Luckily the wine speaks for itself.

We see very little Israeli whites here in Ontario but, in terms of my top whites for 2014, a 2012 Recanti Chardonnay tied a Viewpointe Estates 2012 Auxerrois. Two rather outer limits winners.

So, with a usual open mind, and a bit of excitement, I crack open a 2013 Hermon White which sounds, right off the bat, like a blend.

It is light gold in colour. On the nose, some caramel, pear, and apple, so I guess some Chardonnay is involved. There is a bit of brash and tropical involved, too, so I am guessing some Sauvignon Blanc. I am tempted to say some Chenin Blanc or Viognier.

The label says nothing other than it is a blend. The winery website says it includes Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.

The Viognier gives some deep tropicality on the nose.

On the palate, a very good grip and solid finish. There is baked upside down pineapple cake and, through and through, a lushness that Viognier can deliver, yet perfectly cut back by the more acidic Sauvignon Blanc. Love the marmalade and grapefruit with the grapefruit not taking over but being beaten back by that wonderful Viognier. (Hermon Mount Hermon White Galilee 2013 KP, Golan Heights Winery, 13.5%, LCBO #611327, $20.95, Square Media Group Rating 92/100). Hermon is a Golan Heights Winery brand. You’re big when you have multiple brands of wine. Source of grapes is in the Northern Golan Heights.

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC.

Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden.

Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, “Have Story, Will Write.”

Email Robert Stephen

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