#126 – May 7, 2010
Although I consider any winery producing top-notch, hedonistic pleasure-inducing wine a dear friend; with both Yatir and Gvaot among my favorites and Bustan a soul mate, Ella Valley has always been my true love ever since my magical taste of their 2002 Merlot which I was first introduced to by those great folks at Avi-Ben in Jerusalem (sorry Miles Raymond). This week I wanted to share this true love with you and introduce you to a winery that should never be confused with the far inferior Ella Valley Series from Kinneret – a private label made entirely for export by Teperberg – the Ella Valley winery.
Ella Valley is another winery from the Judean Hills, a viticulturally important area for 2000 years. While, from an historical point of view, the aesthetically stunning Ella Valley is primarily known for the monumental show-down between David and Goliath; it does have other claims to fame. As with the Psagot winery we discussed last week, an ancient wine press was discovered on the site of the winery further evidencing the fact that the area had been used to grow grapes and make wine for centuries. If the workers of these ancient presses were to look into what was going on in Ella Valley today, I think they would be very proud of the continued heritage being carried out by the winery resulting in the highest quality of wines possible in addition to enjoying the esthetically pleasing look of the vineyards and the winery. From day one this winery knew what it wanted to be – the very best in Israel producing high-quality; unique wines. The first vineyards were very carefully planted in 1997 after extensive research as to best location and plots of land and used techniques imported from Napa Valley. To quote Daniel Rogov, Ella Valley “has vineyards that might well serve as a model of efficiency and beauty anywhere in the world”. The physically attractive winery was built in 2001 and is located on Kibbutz Netiv Halamed Hey in the same Judean Hills.
Production is under the supervision of French-trained winemaker Doron Rav Hon who is currently producing around 200,000 bottles annually (with a smaller production of about 150,000 for the 2008 Shmittah year as the majority of Shmittah wines are not exported). Having the winery and vineyards in such close proximity allows for a superior wine making process, providing both the ability to control every aspect of the planting, tending and harvesting and allowing for very minimal time between harvest and the beginning of the wine making process (i.e. fermentation). The 800 dunams of vineyards are so vast that Ella Valley only uses approximately a third of their (best) grapes, selling the others to many of the other, local, wineries.
The first vintage was in 2002 and despite it being a relatively poor vintage year in Israel, their first offerings were a resounding success. Starting with the 2003 vintage the winery created its reserve series – Vineyard’s Choice, and is currently producing excellent wines in three series: Vineyard’s Choice, Ella Valley and Ever Red. The winery also produces a private label wine for export – Hai. While the Vineyard’s Choice wines are truly top-tier and world-class, they, like many other top Israeli boutique wineries, carry rather hefty price-tags, especially in the US. The Ella Valley series wines are almost as good and much better priced. While not quite a value winery like Galil Mountain or Recanati, Ella Valley is consistently excellent and it’s a pretty safe bet that anything they make is going to be good (with the caveat that there are many vintages left on the shelves that have seen better days and are now well past their prime). Unfortunately they are not as well known as some other wineries, both as a result of their size and their distribution process, which is truly a crying shame as they produce some of the best and most interesting wines out there and are well worth your time, effort, palate and wallet.
Ella Valley Vineyards, Chardonnay, 2007: The winery also makes an unoaked Chardonnay (with different grapes) but, much as I love Israel’s unoaked white wines, I like this oaked version better, as it somehow managed to suck all of the good stuff from the barrels without getting too smoky, woody or toasty, creating a supremely elegant and delicious wine. Loads of caramel, vanilla and oak along with juicy peaches, citrus, melon, honey and fragrant flowers on both the nose and palate with some honey, nutmeg and vanilla coming through on the rich but not at all flabby palate. All leading into a nice long finish of freshly picked fruit, honey, cream and spice.
Ella Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, 2007: Obviously no winery could contend for a favorite of mine if they didn’t produce a rockin’ Cabernet Franc, and Ella Valley comes through wonderfully on this front. Classic aromas of blackberries, raspberries, tobacco leaf (delightfully pleasant whether you are a smoker or not) and those lovely green vegetal notes so characteristic to the grape on the nose with a palate packed with juicy fresh blackberries and tangy raspberries melded nicely with velvety tannins and wood leading to a long and mouth filling finish with more of the fruits together with wild anise, forest floor and espresso. With a Cab Franc this delightful, I can only hope and dream for one in the Vineyard’s Choice series.
Ella Valley Vineyards, Syrah, 2006: This delicious wine was so successful that the 2007 vintage was elevated to the Vineyard’s Choice line. When I last tasted this wine a little over a year ago, it had all the makings of a terrific wine but it took the last year of cellaring to get all the components to play nicely together and it was well worth the wait. The 5% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot making themselves felt and actually enhance the wine. A great matching blend of smoky oak, integrated tannins and fruit including black cherries, blackberries and plums with hints of green pepper, earth and mint and a finish that lingers on and on.
Ella Valley Vineyards, Ever Red, 2006: While the Vineyard’s Choice series is very very good, as with many other top-notch but “smaller” Israeli wineries, it is somewhat overpriced and the regular series is almost as good and well worth the money. While not exactly a YH Best Buy, this great, medium-bodied blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit-Sirah does provide exceptional value and is an excellent bottle of wine at a decent price a fact I was reminded of a few weeks back when I cracked open a bottle. Nicely integrated tannins and fruit are “spiced up” with intriguing hints of black and white pepper and a medium finish that gently caresses and a finish of seamlessly melded collection of fruit, wood, tannin and spices that hangs around for a while.
Ella Valley Vineyards, Merlot, 2005: Just another example of how, notwithstanding their magnificent Cabernet Franc, Merlot is what helps set this winery apart from all others. An easy example of a regular series wine that fully deserves to be elevated to the Vineyard’s Choice label – better for us this way! Muscular, robust, aggressive and bold are not your typical buzz words when talking about Merlot (especially if you are Miles); but those traits combined with the wines elegance, depth, richness and complexity make for an absolute killer combo. Tons of blackberries, wood, raspberries and tangy sharp plums backed by pepper, wood and a well balanced structure leading into a long caressing finish loaded with fruit and hints of dark chocolate. A wine that offers a good option for the unfortunately rare combo of being big, bold and muscular and matching lots of different foods.