Israeli Wines: Top New Releases from Boutique Wineries-December 2010

VInes of Israel

The number of boutique wineries in Israel has increased dramatically since the late 1990s. They are today the source of some of Israel’s highest quality wines. They’ve grown up in the shadow of Israel’s highly successful large commercial producers like the Golan Heights Winery (makers of Yarden), Carmel, Binyamina, and Barkan, which together control more than 75% of the market.

These new boutique wineries are mostly in two of Israel’s top growing regions: Galilee (including the Golan Heights) which is the country’s best region for viticulture owing to its high altitude, cool breezes and well-drained volcanic soils, and the Jerusalem Mountains or Judean Hills that surround the city of Jerusalem. This region, like the Golan Heights, has high altitudes (up to 3,000 feet) with a diversity of interesting soils. And while it experiences hot temperatures during the summer, the nights cool off quickly allowing grapes to develop good physiological ripeness. There are now more than 30 boutique wineries operating in the Jerusalem Mountains.

These are all small scale producers with total production ranging from 1,000 to 100,000 bottles annually. The top performers like Margalit, Flam, Tulip, Pelter and Tzora, skillfully manage their vineyards and handcraft their wines using the latest knowledge and technology. They also strive to craft wines that incorporate the unique characteristics of their terroir and reach the highest international quality standards. The wines are all made from noble vinifera varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot . Some, but not all of these wineries produce kosher wines. In any case, as Daniel Rogov - Israel’s foremost wine writer - has noted, “There need be no contradiction whatsoever between the laws of kashrut and making fine wine.”

The wines reviewed here are some of the best produced in Israel today. They are delicious, well crafted wines showing character, flavor and style. Virtually all are blends combining red and black fruit flavors, earthiness, and the judicious use of oak. The wines are also food friendly, achieving good balance and acidity with excellent tannin management. While some are age-worthy, the majority should probably be consumed within 5-7 years. But be advised that these wines are not widely available, and some command relatively high prices. All of the wines reviewed here are imported by Israeli Wine Direct. Richard Shaffer Selections, Evanston, Illinois Tel. (866) 469-8708 www.israeliwinedirect.com

Margalit

MargalitFounded in 1989, Margalit is among the first boutique wineries established in Israel. Located in the foothills of Mt. Carmel, Margalit is run by the father and son team of Ya’ir and Assafat Margalit. It is known for its Bordeaux-style reds, which are released in a regular and reserve series.

Margalit 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Kadita Single Vineyard Galilee Mts. ($70) 90

This dark garnet blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (90%) and Merlot (10%) boasts elegant aromas of black currant fruit, charred oak, dark chocolate and loam. It provides a soft attack with a velvet texture and aged ripe plum, black fruit and toasted oak flavors. It is nicely structured with polished tannins and a very long and persistent finish. Appears to be aging fast.

Margalit 2006 Enigma Kadita & Binyamina Vineyards Galilee Mts.($80) 92

The superb Enigma consists of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Merlot (17%) and Cabernet Franc (23%). It has a garnet rust color with aromas of black and red fruit earth, tobacco and leather. It is soft on the attack and very savory on the palate. It has fine grained tannins and a persistent finish. Perfect for a well-made braised beef brisket. 

Flam

FlamLocated in the foothills of the Jerusalem Mountains, Flam has been a consistent producer of high quality wines since its first releases in 1998. The winery was established by brothers Golan and Gilad Flam, and the wines today are produced in a state-of the-art winery. Flam specializes in single varietal wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The Reserve and Superiore wines are their top of the line age worthy bottlings.

Flam 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Judean Hills ($50) 91

This Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve displays a brilliant dark color and fragrant aromas of plum, spice, forest floor and sweet oak. It has a very polished and international style exhibiting a velvet texture that combines good fruit concentration, earth, gritty tannins, elegance and finesse. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (87%), Merlot (9%) and Petit Verdot (4%).

Flam 2006 Superiore Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon Judean Hills ($40) 91

The Superiore Syrah is a fragrant blend of Syrah (84%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (16%). It has a lovely attack of spicy ripe dark fruit and charred oak aromas and a soft elegant palate of lush fruit, earth and minerals, polished tannins and a long finish. A delicious wine that will age well.

Tulip

TulipLocated near Haifa, Tulip is owned and operated by the Yitzhaki family. The winery produces Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and other single varietals. It produces about 6,500 cases annually. Their Reserve and Grand Reserve are their top of the line.

Tulip 2007 Mostly Shiraz Upper Galilee ($26) 91

The Tulip Shiraz is a delicious blend of Syrah (65%) Cabernet Sauvignon (35%) and Petit Verdot (5%). It has a spicy cedar and blackberry liqueur nose. Aged for 14 months in 50% French and 50% American oak, it offers a lovely palate of blackberry fruit, toast and ripe tannins. Beautifully put together.

Tulip 2007 Syrah Reserve Galilee ($39) 92

This is a very fruit forward wine boasting aromas and flavors of red berry fruit and oak. It has a soft texture with pure and concentrated fruit flavors on the palate. Nicely balanced, it reveals excellent structure, polished tannins and a persistent finish.

Pelter

PelterPelter was established in 2002 on the Golan Heights by Tal Pelter. Pelter studied oenology and worked at several wineries in Australia. Pelter sources Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and other grapes from the Golan Heights, Upper Galilee and Jerusalem Mountains. The winery is among a handful in Israel that also produce sparkling wine. Pelter and T-Selection are the winery’s two labels. The winery produces about 6,800 cases annually.

Pelter 2009 Un-oaked Chardonnay ($21) 89

This is a delicious, clean tasting, un-oaked Chardonnay offering aromas and flavors of tropical and orchard fruit. Like many other wines of its type, this un-oaked Chardonnay isn’t flashy. However, it is well made and enjoyable to drink with good acidity and freshness. It is also a good food wine.

Pelter 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon T-Selection Galilee ($38) 91

Pelter's Cabernet Sauvignon T-Selection offers fragrant aromas of plum and dark cherry with vanilla on the nose. Aged for 20 months in French oak, it has a soft texture and concentrated black cherry fruit flavors on the palate with touches of spice and highly toasted oak. It is nicely structured with ripe tannins and has a long satisfying finish.

Tzora Vineyards

TzoraThis winery was founded by the late Ronnie James, a viticulturist, who was dedicated to producing wines which reflect their terroir. James passed away in 2008 but prior to his passing brought on board winemaker Eran Pick who has prior winemaking experience in California, Bordeaux and Australia. Tzora wines are made from single vineyards: Shoresh, Hachalukim, and Neve Ilan. They also produce a Judean Hills blend, sourced from two vineyards, and other cuvees. Tzora wines have been Kosher since 2002.

Tzora 2007 Shoresh Judean Hills ($39) 91

The 2007 Shoresh is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (85%) and Syrah (15%). Dark ruby in color, it offers aromas of dark plum with spicy cedar. On the palate it reveals lush ripe blackberry and plum fruit with notes of cedar, pepper, chocolate and tobacco. The wine is nicely balanced with soft tannins and a long finish.

Tzora 2006 Judean Hills Judean Hills ($28) 88

This wine has a slight barnyard-funky nose of dark plum fruit. It is soft on the attack with concentrated plum fruit on the palate. It is fairly one dimensional and somewhat disjointed.

Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler