#221 – July 14, 2012
As a follow up to last week’s missive (and with a big thanks to the comments from so many readers, including a number of the wineries themselves), I have further refined and updated the maps & contact information for all kosher Israeli wineries (over 70). Please continue to send me feedback, suggestions and corrections to the map, which I intend to keep completely up to date and to which I will be adding additional features going forward.
When I last wrote about Adir Winery two and half years ago in newsletter #131, I was impressed with the quality of a number of their wines, but they were still suffering from an undesirable level of inconsistency – with some wines being good and others significantly less so. However, I fully expected things to improve and, after enjoying their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz releases last year, I realized that there had been sufficient improvement to warrant a renewed look. The results are below.
While the Adir Winery was only established in 2003, the vineyards from which its wines are produced are significantly older, with the first vines being planted around 1988. The vineyards are part of a larger agricultural commercial enterprise owned by the Ashkenazi and Rosenberg families who immigrated to Israel around 1950 from Turkey and Hungary respectively and settled in Kerem Ben-Zimra, located in the Upper Galilee. The winery is only the latest initiative in the enterprise which started out with orchards of fruit trees, grew to encompass a goat farm that has grown into one of the largest in the country and continued with the planting of hundreds of dunams of vineyards (the product of which was sold for years to other wineries). While the winery is the latest aspect of the project and is currently the family’s primary focus, the other pieces are very much alive and kicking, with the dairy forming an integral part of the newly launched and delightful visitor center (more on that below). There is also a lovely tzimmer run by Adir’s winemaker Avi Rosenberg and his wife that is highly recommended for a weekend getaway of fresh air, wine, food and relaxation.
Grapes from the Kerem Ben-Zimra area have been garnering serious accolades for years and those of the Adir Winery are no exception. Avi Rosenberg studied winemaking at Tel-Chai collage and like many before him was captivated by it. After years of watching their grapes be utilized for the premium wines of other wineries, Avi convinced the rest of the family to invest in creating a winery that would utilize the family’s grape harvest to make wines that carried their own name (the name “Adir” is comprised of the first letter of each family with “dir” (Hebrew for goat pen) in between). Founded in 2003, the winery was initially a hobby producing approximately 3,000 wines annually. It wasn’t until their flagship Plato wine was awarded “best in show” at the TerraVino competition that Avi and his brother Yossi (Adir’s CEO) realized they had serious potential on their hands and decided to move to their current facility and start to slowly increase production to their approximate 70,000 current production. Further affirmation arrived with the 2008 vintage when Adir earned the title of Israel’s best boutique winery from the TerraVino competition which convinced the family that additional investment was warranted, leading to the winery’s amazing visitor center which opened in the summer of 2009.
The winery has plots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay (they just released their first varietal Chardonnay which is reviewed below – previously the Chardonnay was used for blending, including in the Blush port-styled wine). Consistent with Israel’s renewed interest in finding more “appropriate” grapes for its Mediterranean terroir, Adir recently planted additional plots of Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah which should be coming online in the next year or two and I look forward to seeing what Avi does with the resulting grapes. While Adir now uses most of their production for their own wines, they still sell a small quantity to other wineries as well.
The winery produces wines in two series – their flagship wine “Plato” and Kerem Ben-Zimra which contains three varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Chardonnay, of which the Shiraz is the clear stand-out), their two port-style wines and the newly released “a” blend. All the wines are oak aged, primarily in French oak with the port-style wines spending around 30 months in oak, the Plato wines around 20 months (with an additional eight-month aging period in the bottle before being released) and the Kerem Ben-Zimra wines around a year (with an additional five-month aging period in the bottle). Plato (Latin for plate, in honor of the shape of the vineyard from which the grapes are drawn) is a blend of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon fleshed out with a relatively small amount of Shiraz.
Although Avi’s ability, technical expertise and sophistication have clearly improved since we last discussed Adir (lessening the need for Arkady Papikiyan’s consulting services), the winery’s philosophy hasn’t changed. While many Israeli wineries are currently following the trend championed by Carmel and Recanati (among others) towards more subtle, elegant and food-friendly wines suitable for the Mediterranean climate, Avi continues to make the new world wines he know and loves. With ripe and robust fruit, relatively high alcohol, Israel’s typical green notes, these are well made and structured wines that provide familiar comfort for those who prefer their wines big and bold. 2010 say a noticeable hike in alcohol levels in both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz wines but whether it is a result of a change in winemaking philosophy or merely reflective of the very different vintages in Israel remains to be seen and only time will tell.
The bright, airy and well-designed visitor center is indicative of the families’ business-oriented thinking and should have been included in Adam Montefiore’s nicely written article on the oenophilic joys of the gorgeous Upper Galilee region. While Avi Rosenberg is clearly passionate about his winemaking, Yossi Rosenberg understands the business of running a winery and the visitor center provides guests with a delightful experience, even for those in the minority who aren’t extensively interested in wine. Besides wine tastings, there is a nice cafe and the dairy has its own space where you can taste a plethora of delightful goat products including a number of delicious cheeses, yoghurt and ice-cream(!) while enjoying the breathtaking vistas of the Upper Galilee.
Adir, Kerem Ben Zimra, Chardonnay, 2010: The winery’s first release of a white wine and one that dutifully follows its New World philosophy with 12 months in French oak contributing to a round and mouth filling palate layered with toasty oak. A highly aromatic nose of tropical fruit, citrus, pears and green apple together with hints of vanilla, toasty oak and a bit of spiciness yields a lush palate with plenty of guava, pineapple, grapefruit, lime, pears and more vanilla, oak and a pleasing touch of bitter minerals. A bit more acidity would have been appreciated but this is a well-made and totally New World Chardonnay that pleases. Drink now through 2013.
Adir, Kerem Ben Zimra, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010: Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that spent 12 months in a combination of French (80%) and American (20%) oak, as is typical for the Kerem Ben-Zimra series. A ripe nose of ripe black fruit, plums, cassis, hints of blueberries with hints of spiciness and plenty of toasty oak in tinged by a bit of perceived sweetness. The medium to full bodied palate has plenty of ripe fruit, oak, softly integrating tannins and hints of spice and dark chocolate which leads into a lingering finish that is still a bit rough around the edges. A [technically] well made wine that provides a typical Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon experience – nothing more and nothing less. I’d give the wine at least another six months to let the fruit, alcohol and wood integrate a bit more and then enjoy through 2015, perhaps longer.
Adir, Kerem Ben Zimra, Shiraz, 2010: A far more interesting wine than its Cabernet Sauvignon sibling reviewed above, with a huge personality and a bit rough around the edges (the increased alcohol from the 13% of the 2009 vintage is noticeable and might have been a wee bit too much). A pure, single varietal Shiraz whose 13 months in new French (85%) and American (15%) oak yielded a big powerhouse of a wine clocking in at 15% alcohol. A big nose of black fruit, tangy raspberries, spicy oak, herbs, black pepper, nice floral notes, hints of chocolate and grilled meats leads into a medium to full bodied palate laden with more blackberries, currants, black cherries, spicy oak, freshly ground pepper, some green nuances and more grilled meat. Drinking nicely now (especially after 15 minutes in your glass), the wine should continue to develop and can be cellared through 2016.
Adir, Plato, 2009: The winery’s flagship blend, which is only produced in exceptional vintage years, this is the wine that put Adir “on the map” with its 2005 vintage, followed by a successful 2006 vintage reviewed in newsletter #131. Historically overpriced, in my opinion this is the first vintage of the wine that, while still expensive, delivers a substantial return on your money (a YH Best Buy it still is not). A blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Shiraz which spent 20 months in French oak (no American oak for Avi’s baby). A rich and aromatic nose loaded with red and black crushed berries, toasty oak, hints of dark baker’s chocolate and cigar box cedar with a mouth-coating full-bodied palate of crushed black fruits, massive tannins, spicy oak, an overlay of black pepper with hints of espresso and dark chocolate. A lingering finish loaded with more oak and chocolate rounds out this wine that is already showing elegance but needs some time to come into its own. Drink from 2013 through 2018.
Adir, “a”, 2009: A new blend from Adir, nestled between the Kerem Ben-Zimra series and their flagship Plato and priced accordingly. An easy drinking blend of 60% Shiraz and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon rounded out with 5% Cabernet Franc which spent 18 months in French (85%) and American (15%) oak yielded a soft, round and mouth filling wine with enough bite to keep things interesting. The winery’s characteristically ripe nose of rich black fruit, cassis and noticeable green notes is matched by near sweet oak, tobacco leaf and a nice array of warm crushed herbs. Much of the same on the medium bodied palate with plenty of ripe fruits, toasty oak and well integrating tannins that work nicely together without being overpowering. Eminently drinkable now, the wine could use another 9-12 months before it’s at its best and thereafter will cellar comfortably through 2017.
Adir, Port-Style, n.v.: Historically with only a few exceptions, Israeli port-style wine (only fortified wine from Portugal’s Douro valley should be called “Port”) was viewed as somewhat of a cash cow for wineries who would leave their less-than-desirable grapes to “develop” in barrels under the unrelenting Israeli sun then bottle and sell the results as port. While this practice still persists, along with the general increase in the quality of Israel’s wine industry, many wineries are now producing quality port-styled wines that are highly enjoyable. Good examples include the Golan Heights Winery (Yarden T2), Domaine Netofa (Fine Ruby) and Carmel (Vintage). Adir has been producing a port-style wine for a while and recent releases have shown a marked improvement in quality (I like the Blush version reviewed below even better). A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40 % Shiraz, the wine spent almost 30 months in French (50%) and American (50%) oak. Plenty of rich, ripe raspberries, plums and cherries with plenty of nice wood and hints of raisins and oriental spices on both the nose and palate. Despite the 18.5% alcohol, the wine remains fresh and lively and was delightful both on its own and as an accompaniment to several desserts.
Adir, Blush Port-Style, 2010: I was introduced to this wine on a recent trip to Israel by the delightful folks at Avi Ben (who, over 20 years, have rarely steered me wrong) and was delighted to make its acquaintance. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, with a clear and gorgeous salmon color, this wine is a bit lighter on the palate than the “regular” port-styled wine reviewed above, with refreshing acidity keeping the jammy fruit, near delicate sweetness and 18.5% alcohol from becoming overpowering. Nice stewed fruit, raisins, warm spices and dark chocolate contribute to a uniquely delicious wine. Sold only in Israel and well worth your efforts to bring back a few bottles. Opened in honor of Ariella’s birth, the wine was consumed over a three-day period and actually improved each day.