Israeli Wines Part 2

(TORONTO, ON) – As Passover approaches, get ready for a run on Israeli wines, assuming you can find any in your local LCBO. And if not, the LCBO may be willing to help by transferring some to an LCBO store near you.

From one of my favourite regions in Israel we have a Hermon Mount Hermon Red 2014. It’s a blend of Bordeaux grapes, but the label fails to reveal the grape and its percentage in the blend.

It is light ruby in colour. Loads of ripe cherry would seem to indicate a high percentage of Merlot. Good degree of smokiness and chocolate indicate some Cabernet Franc. Despite it’s cheerful aromatics, it does have some heft and cut on the palate, which might be attributed to Cabernet Sauvignon.

There are notes of chocolate, sour cherry, and fig paste. Relatively short finish. Good acids and restrained tannins. Well made.

(Mount Hermon Red 2014, KP, Galilee, Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin, Israel, 13.9%, 750mL, $21.80, LCBO #611293, Square Media Group Rating 89/100)

The website for the wine indicates a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot and recommends it can keep for three years. As far as that goes, I’ll agree.

Being an unpaid internet journalist perhaps I can make my fame and fortune with some witty comment. In this case, as wine is concerned, my claim to fame is, “Only the foolish or brave make wines solely from Petit Verdot.”

Petit Verdot is a flashy and exotic grape which is often added in small percentages to blended red wines, including many famous wines from Bordeaux. But a 100% Petit Verdot scares me and many consumers who have no idea what the grape is.

Jerusalem Wineries has a Petit Verdot which is worth some analysis.

Red plum in colour and barely transparent it has a mad hatter cherry nose with cassis and bubblegum. It’s all vibrant and sensual, but what about taste?

Well, it’s milky and smooth, teeming with blueberries, electric plum, and fig jam, and is held together masterfully by gentle acidity and tannins.

Imagine a scrumptious Israeli Petit Verdot. This wine great on its own is illustrative of the talent and expertise of Israeli winemakers. It seems a shame they are shunted aside by major world wine markets.

Is it KP (Kosher for Passover) that scares off the public? Of course, for the competitors of Israel, ignorance is bliss.

This wine is good for a few years, but a subliminal match for lamb with roasted artichokes and organic potatoes very lightly tossed in an olive oil and oregano mix with just a tad of lemon. The more lemon added, the more the need to switch to a white to match the tartness. In fact, think about coating the lamb leg in pesto and forget the lemon.

(Jerusalem Wineries 4990 2013 Petite Verdot, KP, Jerusalem Wineries, Israel, 13.5%, 750mL, $33.60, LCBO #479204, Square Media Group Rating 93/100)

Next, on to a Tabor Adama 2012 Merlot.

Dark ruby coloured with aroma of sweet cherry, raspberries and, yes, camel dung. On the palate it has a bit of an edge to it for a Merlot, but I’d see this as a sign of character. Tannins are moderate and the finish is long and gentle.

On the palate, black cherry, dates, milk chocolate, and a bit of brisket.

My conclusion is that this is not boozey Rat-Pack Las Vegas lounge Merlot. It has some power, assertiveness, and uniqueness to it. Do you hear me bitching about the camel dung?

It has the fortitude to handle rare beef. This wine is still a baby and will begin to hit a softer, more integrated stride in 2020. I’d say good until 2025.

(Tabor Adama KP Merlot 2012, Galilee, Tabor Winery, Kfar, Israel, 14.5%, 750 mL, $27.95, LCBO #400820, Square Media Group Rating 93/100)

I can’t recall ever being blown away by an Israeli Pinot Noir. Perhaps it is because I have not seen many of them.

This Gilgal Pinot Noir sure has that light ruby colour so common with many Pinot Noirs. It also has a delicate bouquet, as many Pinots do, and is full of sweet red cherry on the nose with a hint of fresh picked raspberries.

On the palate, again light and delicate if not a tad juicy, but rather vacant in the taste department. Almost watery on the palate.

Great body, but the mind just isn’t there. Overpriced relative to quality.

(Gilgal 2013 KP Pinot Noir, Galilee, Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin, Israel, 13.5%, 750mL, $ 27.95, LCBO #440651, Square Media Group Rating 71/100)

Seventy-one isn’t exactly a great rating for a wine and I feel like a real heel knowing that my review may negatively effect sales and the economic security of those working at the winery. So with some trepidation I try another Gigal.

This one is a Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a grape that Israel can do a good job with.

The 2012 Gilgal Cabernet Sauvignon has a light purple colour. On the nose a strong beam of blueberries, stewing dates, blackberries, black cherry, and pomegranates.

On the palate, the taste is as rich as the aroma with thick and broad notes of blueberry pie, cassis, and black cherry. It’s big and powerful and would bulldoze to smithereens the Gilgal Pinot Noir.

Smooth tannins with a relatively short finish.

Gilgal has a great wine here, so I hope the 71 rating of their Pinot Noir was just an aberration on their quality. Wineries and their winemakers make mistakes and so do wine writers. No one is perfect.

(Gilgal 2012, KP Cabernet Sauvignon, Galilee, Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin, Israel, 14.5%, 750mL, $27.60, LCBO #611152, Square Media Group Rating 90/100)

As Passover quickly approaches, we will try a Mount Tabor 2014 Shiraz. Dark ruby in colour, it almost looks creamy. Some very high-toned raspberry and blackberry on the nose encapsulated by big fat black cherry with a little bit of pepper and cloves on the side.

On the palate, a big blast of red and black fruits delivered in a knockout sensual punch.

Thick and solid wine with well defined power. Superbly well integrated tannins with a solid finish. Serious juice.

(Mount Tabor 2014 KP, Galilee, Tabor Winery, Kfar, Israel, 14.4%, 750 mL, $21.95, LCBO #479253, Square Media Group Rating 93/100)

I look forward to the next release of Israeli wines. I think they need to work on their Pinot Noir, but for the other reds I have tried they are world class.

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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