(TORONTO, ON) – Although the modern Israeli wine industry is just that, we can comfortably say they many of these wineries are reliable in terms of quality. In general terms I am prepared to give Israel that compliment.
However, to be sure, let’s do some testing. Remember Israel is a tiny country.
The Upper Galilee is my favourite wine producing region of Israel, perhaps because it has some altitude which can protect the grapes from the searing lowland Israeli heat. Its vineyards are at altitudes between 420 and 800 metres.
As a producer Galil Mountain Winery produces wines of solid quality. In fact, I’ll say it makes the best wines Israel has to offer.
Their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon has a classic ruby colour and is very transparent, suggesting a lighter bodied wine. Thick brambly aromas of blueberry pie, cassis, black cherry, with a hint of charcoal. On the palate melliferous tannins which spread out like a slowly blooming flower, but a bit gruff and assertive with black cherry and blackberry leading the march.
Like the Israeli personality, this wine is not to be pushed around. The charcoal and grit on the palate say, “Enjoy me, but please avoid comparisons to other Cabernet Sauvignon. I am a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Upper Galilee.”
If possible, decant an hour before serving to placate its initial gruffness. Ideal for grilled beef, wild game, or rabbit stew in red wine sauce. Good until 2022.
(Galil Mountain Winery Upper Galilee 2014 KP Cabernet Sauvignon, Galil Mountain Winery, Yiron, Israel, 750 mL, 14.5%, $24.95, LCBO #128058, Square Media Group Rating 92/100)
Hey, a newcomer on my block.
Jerusalem Wineries with a Premium 2103 Shiraz. Garnet coloured. On the nose, red peppers, pepper, dates, figs, and blackberries, but it’s the black pepper on the nose which almost requires a comparison to many Syrah.
On the palate, very smooth with silky tannins. Lots of black cherry, cassis, and pomegranate with just a bit of gravel. A rather long and seductive finish. Satisfying and full bodied.
New kid on the block, but if they continue like this they’ll be old reliable.
(Jerusalem Wineries 3400 Premium 2013 Shiraz, Jerusalem Wineries, Israel, 750 mL, 13%, $24.95, LCBO #473900, Square Media Group Rating 91/100)
Recanati has continually impressed me with its Chardonnay. In fact, in 2012 it was the best white I had for that year. Again, it’s from my favourite Israeli wine region; the Upper Galilee.
Almost platinum in colour with aromas of apple, pear, melon, marzipan, and baby powder with some pineapple on the fringes.
On the palate, a strange smokiness with chalk, banana, gentle touches of oak, all kind of falling flat and short. A beautiful mind, but not so great a body. Or, put another way, charming aromatics, but a wandering and unfocused body.
Great with chicken kebabs or a falafel sandwich. Unfortunately, this vintage pales with Recanati potential.
(Recanati Chardonnay 2014, Upper Galilee, KP, Recanati Winery, Emek Hefer, Israel, 750 mL, 12.5%, $24.95, LCBO #128322, Square Media Group Rating 84/100)
My goodness, I rated their 2012 Chardonnay a 94. How far the mighty have fallen. No old reliable here.
Let’s finish off with a Teperberg 2014 Merlot.
It’s red plum in colour. A nose of ripe black cherries, ringed by a huge burning bush of mocha, all lathered up with generous notes of plum, pomegranate, and sandalwood. I’m getting a very good feeling about this wine.
Full bodied and, like a good Merlot, nice and plush mouth feel. Subtle, but lingering, tannins.
On the palate some fig, blackberries, and sour cherry with an initial nip of acidity. That little nip and subtle tannins make it suitable for veal, vegetarian risotto with leeks and Swiss chard, or an herbed mushroom and goat cheese sauce over egg noodles.
All said and done, fairly approachable and inoffensive. Utilitarian may be the right word. Complex no. Enjoyable yes.
It will hang in until 2020 and soften to the point that it will be a good sipping wine. For now, take advantage of its smidgen of noticeable acidity to pair it with foods.
(Teperberg Impression 2014 Merlot KPM, Samson, Teperberg 1870 Winery, Tzora, Israel, 750 mL, 14%, $23.95, LCBO# 479238, Square Media Group Rating 86/100)
Considering most Mevushals are not terribly drinkable, as they have been killed by pasteurization, this is perhaps one of best Mevushal reds I have had. I think if it had simply been KP (Kosher for Passover) it really would have shined brightly.
My advice for Israeli wines in particular is to avoid Mevushal wines due to the flavour killing pasteurization. KP (Kosher for Passover) wines, on the other hand, can be spectacular, but I’d pay attention to selecting the right winery and that only comes with an adventuresome spirit and the ability to embrace wines from distant lands, other than the usual millions of bottles of Euro, Californian, and Canadian.
Israeli wines have unique characteristics worth trying.