Gin-gin!

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On a day out in Plymouth, visiting the Plymouth Gin Distillery is an absolute must. For a reasonable price (£7 / person) I got a fairly detailed guided tour, a tasting, and then a free gin and tonic at the bar.

Here is what I found out. Gin is a sibling of the Dutch jenever, another juniper-based spirit. Juniper is a small dark purple-blue berry that grows on an evergreen shrub, often wild. It’s also the base for a Slovakian distillate called borovička. All these drinks get their main flavour from juniper, but what distinguishes gin is that it has several other ingredients, herbs and spices, added.

When William of Orange, who was a great lover of jenever, came to the English throne in the second half of the 17th century, he opened up distillation and placed a heavy duty on wine and beer – with the result that England became a gin-drinking nation. Gin was also called Dutch Courage as the story goes that English soldiers fighting in Holland would drink it to steady their nerves before battle.

The distillery in Plymouth was established by Thomas Coates in 1793. His young business was very well placed in the port city as the Royal Navy was a major buyer of gin. Their preferred style was ‘navy strength’, at 57% ABV, as at this strength the alcohol was still flammable and if it was spilled on board it didn’t ruin the gunpowder the ship was carrying. At the end of the 19th century the distillery introduced new restrictions and started to use soft Dartmoor water only. It was also stipulated that Plymouth gin could only be made within the boundaries of the city.

IMG_5234In the Second World War Plymouth suffered from 59 bomb raids but luckily the distillery survived. However, as no botanicals were available and the wheat could not be used for distillation as it was needed for bread, gin production came to a halt. After the end of the war gin fell out of fashion – vodka was the new thing – but recently gin has seen an immense revival in England and internationally.

Today gin and tonic (G&T for short) is the standard long drink, but it was actually a Victorian invention. It first appeared in India among British officers, who took their dose of extremely bitter quinine powder blended with gin, sugar and soda to protect them against malaria.

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Each gin brand has its own individual combination of botanicals, its distinguishing mark. At Plymouth Gin, 7 botanicals are used in the distillation process to give the gin its unique character: juniper, coriander seeds, lemon peel (using only Spanish sweet lemons), angelica root, orange peel, cardamom pods, and orris root. The triple distillation process takes place in a Victorian copper pot still and takes about 7 hours. (We were not allowed to take pictures while inside the distillery, but in the photo below you can vaguely make out the copper still in the background.)IMG_5231

The base spirit for Plymouth Gin (any gin in fact) is wheat-based alcohol, basically like vodka. They then soak the botanicals in it and distil the blend until the desired flavours and aromas emerge.

Plymouth Gin is categorized as a dry gin, or London dry gin, which means that angelica root must be one of the ingredients. Another stipulation in order to qualify as a London dry is that after distillation nothing except water may be added. While Plymouth Gin ticks both these boxes, because of its slightly different style and for marketing purposes it is not labelled as London dry. It gets a sweeter character from the sweet lemon, sweet orange and coriander in the blend.

The establishment has three distillations per week, each producing 5,000 litres of gin at a strength of 82-86%, which is then watered down. Two strengths are available on the market: the original at 41.2% and the famed navy strength at 57%.

The shop downstairs has a small exhibition where further historical information is available to the keen gin lover. They also run a connoisseurs’ tour as well as a master distiller’s tour, which are much longer and the latter even gives you the opportunity to create your own gin blend.

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Tzora, Judaean Hills

There was a man who lived on a kibbutz and had a dream to set up a winery. That kibbutz was Tzora, in the cool hills not far from Jerusalem, and the winery he started, and which bears the same name, is thriving today.

The man was Ronnie James – he didn’t live to see the success of his brainchild, but his memory lives on in the winery logo and he is remembered with fondness and reverence. In fact, as I look at the large painting of him in the tasting room, I get a feeling that in some sense he still very much runs this show. And then I recall that another winemaker in the Judaean Hills, Ze’ev Dunie of Seahorse, has named his signature Chenin Blanc after this man – James… one of my favourite Israeli wines.

Twenty-five years ago, Ronnie James decided that, instead of selling grapes like everyone else did, he was going to make his own wine. Small-batch winemaking was still in its infancy in Israel at the time, with literally only a handful of people experimenting with the promising but challenging task.

For a while Ronnie’s endeavour remained a one-man show, but finally in 2006 investments were made and the winery hired a professional winemaker, Eran Pick, who today is the first and to my knowledge only Master of Wine in Israel. Eran’s vast experience belies his years: not only has he completed the extremely rigorous MW degree, the Ph.D. of the wine trade, he has also worked in a number of top wine regions around the world from Bordeaux to Australia. His mission is to continue Ronnie’s commitment to creating wines that express the terroir, the land they came from. And so Tzora’s wines have character. As Eran says, he is trying to capture the fragrance of the herbs and spices that grow wild in the breezy Judaean Hills.

Tzora has about 15 hectares of vineyards and they only use their own grapes to produce wine – 100,000 bottles a year. We taste a range of whites and reds; Judean Hills, Shoresh, and Misty Hills are the three labels.

The Judean Hills white is a very crisp, citrusy, refreshing wine based on Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Care has been taken to avoid obvious oaky notes. The wine is light and lean, with terrific acidity – characteristics it shares with the Shoresh white, a similar blend but here the Sauvignon Blanc dominates. This latter wine, however, is made in 100% oak and the effect is noticeable: softer pear drop, toffee and caramel flavours mingle with the lively, sharp fruit and acidity. Eran’s goal has been to reduce body and alcohol levels, and this approach is clearly reflected in all his wines.

Tzora’s most important wine is the Shoresh red. We taste the 2016 vintage, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petit Verdot. It’s a toasty, spicy, savoury wine, with the lean character familiar from the whites. ‘Lots of flavour without the heaviness’ was Eran’s motto here.

Misty Hills, their top wine, is produced in very small quantities. At 280 NIS (70 USD) it is pricy but superb. We taste the bright ruby 2015 vintage and it is dazzling. It’s so together, so balanced, with all the intensity and complexity one could wish for. Great flavours, great youthful exuberance, herbal finish – a very attractive wine.

Not only are Tzora’s wines stylish and interesting, but the winery itself is worth a visit. The visitors’ centre and the gardens are beautifully designed, the massive table in the tasting room leaves quite an impression, and we were very warmly received by the winemaker himself, who even opened a couple of special bottles for us.

Tzora, a kosher winery, is a member of the Judean Hills Quartet, a fairly recent joint initiative of four wineries from the region to promote internationally their beloved Hills and the amazing wines produced there. The other members of the Quartet are Domaine du Castel, Flam, and Sphera – a very prestigious team indeed!

Luxembourg Surprises

Who would have thought that good wines were being made in the tiny country of Luxembourg? To be sure, I was aware, from my student days, of the presence of some wine industry there – but stuck between the famed wine regions of northern France and west Germany, Luxembourg has received little of the limelight, even though wine production there is as old as in neighbouring Mosel.

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The wine industry in Luxembourg is centred around three groups of producers: co-operatives, grower-merchants, who have their own federation, and independent winemakers, of whom there are at present 52. After England, Luxembourg is the smallest wine producer in the EU; but not being sizeist, I went along to a tasting of its wines and was very pleasantly surprised. The tasting focused on the wines of independent grower Abi Duhr (Château Pauqué), and I came away a fan.

Duhr created Château Pauqué exactly 30 years ago, with the aim of producing high-quality wines that would raise the profile of the wines of the Moselle. Quantities are small – with a production of 30,000 bottles we’re talking about a boutique winery. The two main styles are classic Luxembourg whites produced in the traditional manner (e.g. Riesling and Pinot Gris) and Burgundy-style wines fermented and aged in oak.

The grape varieties in Luxembourg are more or less the same as in Germany and Alsace: lots of white – including Riesling, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, Elbling and Pinot Blanc – and a little red, Pinot Noir. Typically we find single varietal wines, which means wines are produced from a single grape variety and are labelled as such, but there are some blends around, including some of Duhr’s wines I’ve tasted. The wine region (and appellation) is called Moselle Luxembourgeoise, and Grevenmacher, where Duhr’s winery is based, is referred to as the ‘metropolis’ of the region. The townlet lies on the bank of the river Moselle, right on the German border.

The wines listed below all bear the Moselle Luxembourgeoise appellation.

abi-duhr-bromelt-2015Rivaner and Elbling are the most common local varieties, used for mass-produced, mediocre wines. But both in his Jungle 2015 (Rivaner) and in his Bromelt 2015 (Elbling), Duhr has done well above mediocre, producing delightful, fresh, pure, fragrant wines. The Jungle has a sweeter, toffee and caramel character and a flinty finish, while the Bromelt is austere, bone dry, and slightly vegetal, reminding me of a spring shower and wet grass. Both are excellent choices for an apéritif wine.

Pinot Gris is, again, not one of those grapes that get wine connoisseurs really excited – and yet Duhr’s Pinot Gris Paradais 2016 has character and charm: sweet candy and caramel on the nose, lovely and fragrant, and a bit of CO2. His Riesling Paradais Vielles Vignes 2015 is also full of youth and floral perfume, but combined with oily texture, the rubbery character of Riesling, a darker gold hue, and a quite spicy, vegetal palate.

fossiles 2005 abi duhr

We were shown two vintages of Duhr’s blend, Fossiles – one from 2015 and one from 2005. Made from Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois and Chardonnay, Fossiles is an interesting wine to age, though I’m not sure for how long. The 2005 vintage showed a lot of quirky character, which I enjoyed; its pungent nose and cooked cabbage palate mix with lees flavours and a smokey toasty finish. The one shortcoming seemed to be a lack of acidity, which won’t help increase life expectancy.

A fantastic contrast was seen between the young and the aged Chardonnay. We tasted the 2014 Chateau Pauqué against the 2004 vintage, and it was a wow moment. While the young wine is reserved and discreet, despite its youthful fruity charm, the 2004 vintage seduced already with the nose: such depth, as if smells could have dimensions – and it seems they can! I found an intense, honeyed sweetness on the nose, which was totally contradicted by an utterly dry palate full of mature, vegetal flavours, combined in an unusual harmony with lees and oak characteristics.

Duhr’s Clos du Paradis Auxerrois is also one to recommend. We tasted the 2014 against the 2004 vintage, and the wine goes from zesty, citrusy and slightly fizzy refreshment to a toasty, savoury, rich wine, with oily texture and to me very enjoyable flavours from butterscotch to cooked cabbage. The acidity here is still great, and the finish long and flinty.

Chateau Pauqué wines are produced in small quantities so they won’t be that easy to find, and they won’t be that cheap either – around £ 20-25 a bottle – but if you’re keen to try something new and different, they are definitely recommended!

Oh Sherry

The word that would best describe my initial relationship with Sherry is probably incomprehension. It was no love at first sight. On the few occasions that I tasted it, it always struck me as a weird drink. Here I’m talking about dry Sherry, as sweet ones held little interest for me. Sherry has hardly any acidity but is nevertheless super-dry; and it baffles you with strange flavours unfamiliar to drinkers of regular light wines – flavours that I might even say would be considered faults in a light wine. But when I had to taste one Sherry after another in preparation for my fortified wines exam, it started to grow on me. I started to enjoy its nuttiness, its quirky characteristics, its oily texture. And what constantly kept astonishing me was how cheap Sherries were compared to other drinks of a similar calibre.

Sherry comes in so many colours

So I was extremely pleased when I heard about the Sherry masterclass that was taking place under the auspices of the Wines from Spain annual tasting in London. It seems I was not the only one who had a soft spot for Sherry: even though I turned up 15 minutes early, the hall was already full, with standing room only. Not exactly what I’d expected, but I stayed anyway, and I’m glad I did.

I don’t want to go into much detail about how Sherry is made, as that was not the focus of this masterclass. But I will mention some aspects because I learnt some interesting facts from Sherry specialist Beltrán Domecq, who presented us with a fascinating overview of the development of Sherry from a young, neutral base wine into a highly complex, mature drink. So, one of the interesting facts I learned was that the tradition of increasing the alcoholic strength of wines by the addition of spirits (the key act in the production of fortified wines such as Sherry, Madeira and Port) goes back as far as a thousand years. The purpose was not to get you drunk more quickly, but to stabilize the drink. The higher the alcohol content, the less likely the wine was to go off. But it was really only in the 16th-17th centuries that fortified wines enjoyed a boom: witsolera illustrh the discovery and colonization of distant lands and the massive increase in long-haul sea voyages, wines started travelling and when they were fortified they travelled much better. Sherry, it turns out, was the first wine to circumnavigate the world, in the famed voyage of Magellan and his crew that started in 1519. It was apparently 300 years ago that the solera system was introduced, to create uniformity in quality and style.

I also learnt how the word Sherry came about. The place name changed from Xera to Ceret under the Romans, then to Sherish under Muslim rule in the 8th century. It then became Xeres de la Frontera under Alfonso X, who reconquered the land from the Muslims. From Xeres it was only a small step to Xerez in the 16th century, which today is written as Jerez. As many wine merchants, including a lot of Brits, established themselves in the region, the name of the wine became known in its anglicized form as Sherry.

The production of dry Sherry consists, very briefly, in the following basic steps:

  1. produce a dry and neutral base wine relatively low in alcohol
  2. leave this wine uncovered so that a film of natural yeast can develop. This is called flor. flor
  3. classify wine, depending on character and the development of flor, in two main categories: fino (well-developed flor, light-bodied wine), oloroso (fuller body, little or no flor)
  4. fortification: finos to 15% alcohol, olorosos to 17%
  5. maturation in the solera system

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What we did in this tasting, though, concerned only the part that came in and after step 5. With ageing, not only did the wines take on darker and darker shades of gold and then amber; they also developed new characteristics and lost old ones. So the fruity-neutral, pale lemon base wine (Barbadillo 2016) gradually turned into a golden, very dry drink -in our tasting, it was an Ynocente Fino – with flavours of toasted nuts and seeds. The American oak (a rather unconventional solution for Sherry, I would have thought) lent the wine a noticeable woody character. The dryness of Sherry, I learnt, is caused by the disappearance of glycerol from the wine (it gets eaten by the yeasts). The next step up: a darker golden wine in which the nuttiness becomes more prominent and the wood less so (Fino Tradicion by Bodegas Tradicion). Our next wine, an amber-coloured 12-year-old Amontillado of Willams & Humbert was a special treat: the acetaldehyde aromas and flavours so typical of fino Sherry begin to go down at such a mature age. Other flavours are becoming more and more evolved and concentrated: candied, toasty notes on the nose and palate, rich, mouth-filling texture.

The older the wines the more concentrated they become because thanks to the porous texture of oak barrels, water can evaporate through the walls of the barrel but other, larger molecules remain. The first of our last, seriously grand wines was a Fino Imperial Merito Amontillado, aged for 30 years. VORS on its label stands for Very Old Rare Sherry, and old and rare it was, with lots of depth and a complex, rich, medicinal character. To wrap it all up, we tasted a Harveys 30-year-old VORS Palo Cortado. Medium amber, this wine was the first to exhibit a degree of sweetness. It was creamy and beautifully nutty, had a rich fruitcake palate and pretty high alcohol (19.5%), and a toasty, woody finish.

I also learnt from Mr Domecq that Fino and Manzanilla Sherry should not be kept for more than a year after purchase, and that once opened, they should be consumed within a week. Other, more mature Sherries can be kept for up to 3 years. They like to be stored in a standing, upright position, and they should be served chilled: 5-7 C for Fino and Manzanilla, and 14 C for the more mature wines are optimal temperatures. And please serve your Sherry in a proper wine glass!

 

If you’re as enthusiastic about Sherry as I am, you’ll be pleased to know that International Sherry Week is coming up in November 2017. To find out more click here.

If you’d like to learn more about Sherry, I recommend the official Jerez website, http://www.sherry.wine

 

 

Time for a new Experience?

The Kosher Food and Wine Experience (KFWE) is an evening of (supposedly fancy) food and wine, organized every year around February by Kedem Europe. It takes place in central London but also has sister events in Paris and in various venues in the United States. I’ve been going to this event for about six years, and I regret to say that not much has changed since I first attended in 2011. Or, rather, not enough has changed. To be fair, there have been a few developments. One, they’ve started doing tasting workshops, which is a much-needed gap-filler. Jews need to be educated about wine, and equally, non-Jews need to be educated about kosher wine. While I have some misgivings about the quality of these workshops, I’m pleased they are happening and I wish they were available all year round.

The foodie attitude is now tangibly present within the Jewish community, and I don’t only mean the modern segments but also the more right-wing groups (haredim, or the strictly Orthodox). Many haredim apparently have the money a) to attend this rather pricy event – tickets go at £50 each – and b) to buy more expensive stuff than the standard kiddush wine. The foodie approach is, however, limited for now to externalities. If it’s a trendy caterer, that’s cool, and if they serve sushi, that’s ‘in’. They’ve served sushi for the past six years. I say, it’s time to move on and try something different.

As for the wines, the selection has been expanding. My favourite part of the event is going around to see who is new. I skip the big shots, e.g. Herzog or Carmel or Binyamina, and look for the unknown names. This year I’ve discovered a handsome Italian winery called Cantina Giuliano, run by a young couple in Tuscany.

Their wines are still young and so are they, which means they haven’t got tremendous experience, but they are a nice addition to the international kosher wine palette. And it’s always heart-warming to see a small family winery (and Jewish too!) spring up in such a historic wine region. Their grapes are the traditional local ones, for instance Vermentino, Sangiovese, and Ciliegiolo; and their winemaking also reflects local tradition.
If you visit their website you’ll see that Giuliano is a well thought-out business with a clear sense of purpose. Their selection of wines is small, which could reflect a traditional outlook on winemaking: stick to grapes and styles that are local, or it could be down to the fact that they’re still growing. Giuliano also offer locally produced food in their restaurant, wine tours, and kosher accommodation.

I’ve tasted their full current range: a white Costa Toscana IGT made from Vermentino grapes, with a fantastic, rich bouquet, floral and fruity flavours and upright acidity. Primizia is their DOCG Chianti, which was aged only in the traditional tonno vat. The 2014 vintage is fresh and fruity with a hint of smokiness. The 2015 vintage has a completely different character: it is very perfumed and soft. Their Costa Toscana IGT red, called Gioia, is an enjoyable blend of fruitiness and ageing. A winery to look out for – and to visit when you’re in Tuscany!

matar-chardonnay-2014-w-26Matar, an Israeli brand, was my other favourite discovery this year. Matar is the kosher range of Pelter, a well-known winery who otherwise produce non-kosher wines. Their wines are spot on, made to a very high standard. I tasted their Cumulus 2013, a red blend with the sort of nose I love: spicy and peppery, with a prickly green, nettle character. On the palate it was soft yet savoury, friendly and interesting. The Matar CB is a red Bordeaux blend; the 2013 is rich, soft, fruity and chocolatey, with warming alcohol. This year they’ve also come out with a Chardonnay, produced in 2014, under the name Admon. The wine has a very restrained nose, which contrasts with a quite intense palate. The lees and oak influence are obvious, but it’s all pretty, with a very toasty tasty finish.

To come back to KFWE: despite my usual annual disappointment that their buffet menu is still heavily centred on carvery and sushi, this year I’ve come away feeling it was a worthwhile visit. I’ve discovered interesting new wines and retasted some superb classics. All in all, this tasting event is a great idea and I’m glad it’s becoming ever more popular, including among the more strictly Orthodox. But if it were infused with a bit more creativity, it would have even more potential.

White Night

Warm June evening at the Herzliya marina, just north of Tel Aviv. Sunset, clear skies, cool breeze, sea and sailing boats – the perfect setting for a tasting of summer wines.

Herzliya marina

The white and rosé wines featured at the event came mostly but not exclusively from Israel. My main interest, however, lay in Israeli wines, especially producers and labels I had not encountered before. I was not disappointed. Even if not all the wines were amazing, they were all well made and I came across an interesting range both of grapes and of styles.

One new label I discovered was Mare by MAIA, a boutique branch of Tulip winery. MAIA is an acronym for ‘Mediterranean Approach, Israeli Art’. Maia winesWhile I don’t think the name is really accurate, as the wines I tasted were not Mediterranean in their style at all, I enjoyed them precisely for that reason. Mare White was a blend of Marsanne and French Colombard, and Mare Pink was made from Carignan and Mourvèdre. Both had fairly low alcohol levels for a Mediterranean wine, and that is probably due to early harvest – which was also reflected in the lack of fruitiness in the wines. Israeli wines, if carefully made, have a lot of fruit to offer due to the warm climate and the easy ripening. The fruit in the Mare wines was, in contrast, very subdued, the sugar very low, and they were more serious than charming, which I thought made them interesting and unusual. Kosher

Barkan’s 2015 Viognier was a pleasant surprise. For a producer that never impressed me as focusing on quality but rather on quantity, they have come out with a varietal Viognier that explodes with intense apricot and peach flavours but still remains fresh and light. While there’s much – perhaps a bit too much – oak here, it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment. A fun wine. Kosher

While Barkan’s wine was good, Kishor’s 2014 Savant Viognier seemed to me to be in an altogether different league. It was all elegance and sophistication – a beautifully made wine! The intensity of fruit is somewhat lower but all in all it’s a more balanced, more refined wine. Kishor ViognKishor is an interesting winery in Western Galilee. They are based on a kibbutz called Kishorit, a community specifically set up for special needs adults, who run all the businesses of the kibbutz, including the winery. Assisting in the winemaking is expert consultant Itay Lahat. Their other lovely whites include Kerem Kishor, a fresh and fruity blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, and Savant Riesling, an off-dry, delightful varietal wine, which the winemaker promised me is not only very pretty now but also ages beautifully. Kishor’s wines generally are on the spot and made with great care and attention. Kosher, and highly recommended!

2 vats roseCarmel is one of the giant wineries in Israel, but apart from cheap entry-level stuff they also produce some serious high-end wine. Below are some that I have not tasted before.

2 Vats Rosé is a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre. It’s a tasty, stylish wine with good acidity. Its sister the 2 Vats White is made from Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Colombard, and it’s just perfect for the summer, with lots of flavours of grapes, rose petals, and the inevitable lychee. The Kayoumi 2011 single vineyard Riesling blew me away with a fantastic intensity of aromas and flavours and great, refreshing acidity. A tasty, loveable wine. All kosher

My conclusion: it’s worth keeping an eye out not only for new boutique wineries in Israel but also for new brands by large, well-known producers, as some of them will surprise. One grievance is that many wineries don’t update their websites and I searched in vain for information on their latest creations – shame, shame…

 

The Tel Aviv show

I’ve been going more or less every year to the now legendary Jerusalem wine festival, which takes places every August in the garden of the Israel Museum, and is a huge favourite with tourists and locals alike. But this year I’m spending the winter in Israel and thus got to go to a trade tasting in Tel Aviv, the Sommelier wine show.

While the event was mainly for professionals, this requirement did not seem to apply to the organizers, who had done a far from perfect job. For example, even though there was an online booking form, it turned out to be a waste of time. I never received a confirmation of my registration, nor was I registered in their system, which meant that I was allowed in as a kind of half-legit participant. Unlike at trade (and even non-trade) tastings, there was no catalogue or tasting booklet that would provide information on the wineries, their products, and their prices. If you got there early, you were at least given a notebook to put your tasting notes in – but I was not one of those lucky ones, so I spent ages running around begging the organizers for something to write on.

But enough of the rant. The event was all in all very nice actually, and there were a lot of presenters whom I had not encountered before. The main focus of the Sommelier show is Israeli producers, but there were a few stands representing international wines as well. I was obviously interested in the Israeli stuff, and tried to explore wines I had not tasted in the past.

Having said that, I had to start with Seahorse (Suson Yam; not supervised) from Bar Giyora in the Judaean Hills. Obviously. Because Seahorse are the winery where I did a summer of interning a few years ago. So I started with Seahorse’s signature white, the varietal Chenin Blanc James 2014. I have recently opened a bottle of their 2013 and it’s a very lovely wine – the 2014 caused no disappointment either. It is fresh and fruity on the nose, presenting attractive apple and citrus and sweet aromas. Upon tasting it showed great acidity and restrained fruitiness – a refreshing, clean, youthful wine with enjoyable minerality.

Bazelet CSOne of my new discoveries was Bazelet Hagolan (kosher). Situated, as its name suggests, in the Golan region of northern Israel, the winery overlooks Lake Kineret. It was one of the first boutique wineries to be established in the Golan, in 1998. Their production is focused on the best-known international varieties (this applies to quite a few Israeli wineries actually): Chardonnay for white, and Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon for red.

Their Bronza 2013 is a varietal Cabernet that has spent 8 months in oak. Although I felt this wine was still very young (meaning mainly that its tannins are quite untamed), it’s bursting with fragrant black fruit and is very promising. Then I tasted their Cabernet Reserve 2012 and the difference was massive: this wine had everything in smoothness, in togetherness, that its younger brother didn’t yet have. This rich, delicious wine is fully ready to be drunk now. And then they got out a magnum (1.5 l bottle) of their Cabernet Reserve 2010. Unsurprisingly, this wine was even smoother, with better integrated alcohol. On their website older vintages going back to 2001 are still available – wouldn’t I love to taste all of them!

ramon--CS-11

 

Ramat Negev (AKA Kadesh Barnea; kosher) winery have chosen a less obvious location for their enterprise: the Negev desert, near Kadesh Barnea. Their story goes back to 1997 and one of their principles is to exclusively use locally grown grapes. They produce both varietal and blended wines: whites from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and reds from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Mourvedre among others.

I first tasted their Neve Midbar 2013, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The wine spent 14 months in oak, which shows in its delicious toasty character. It’s still young but has ample fruitiness to make it enjoyable even now. In their Ramon range I tasted the Petit Verdot 2012 and the Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. Both were in oak for 18 months, which gives them a sweet, toasty, attractive character. Enjoyable palate, beautiful bright deep ruby colour, but the alcohol is a bit too much in your face.

Gofna PNAnd now a few kosher Pinot Noirs: Yarden are known for producing very reliable high-quality wines, and their Pinot is no exception. The special treat at the Sommelier show was to taste the Yarden Pinot Noir 1998. Its colour was so garnet it was almost brown. Although this aged wine was now strongly affected by oxidation, it still offered lots of fresh fruit, together with earthy, meaty notes. The Yarden Pinot Noir 2011 stands in interesting contrast to its elder: it’s still very young and light, with a nose full of strawberries. At the same time the palate has a more savoury character and is just beginning to show signs of maturity. The Gva’ot Gofna Pinot Noir 2014 has a light ruby colour and a cherry fruit nose. The palate presents a lovely balance of oaky flavours and fruitiness. It’s fresh and youthful, a well-made, beautifully balanced wine.

 

In general I have found that the standard of the wines was good, and some were excellent. However, it would be great to see more originality, especially in the choice of grape varieties, and more of an effort to create an individual style. Also, many of the wines are too flat and fat, lacking acidity. Without a firm basis of acidity, these wines will be unlikely to age well.