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.
One 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!
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.
And 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.