Gvaot Winery

#194 – December 11, 2011

When I first wrote about the Gvaot winery almost three years ago it was a glowing report on their first released wines of the 2005 and 2006 vintages. Along with their amazing 2007 Cabernet Franc the winery had captured my palate with some rich and deep wines that managed to remain elegant with an intriguing funk on the nose and palate. I was certain that I would be writing frequently about their wines, as I tend to do with newly discovered wineries that manage to wow me at first tasting. However, like some other Israeli boutique wineries, after obtaining some initial high scores from Daniel Rogov, Gvaot’s success went to its head and subsequent vintages were priced insanely high, especially for a new and unproven winery. Adding insult to injury, there was a distinct drop in the wines quality for a year or two as well. As a result, I didn’t find a good opportunity to write about the winery (or its wines) since my initial write up in Newsletter #91.

However, I recently had a chance to taste most of their current releases at the Sommelier Expo in Israel and was rewarded with wines that represented all I had thought the winery could be, albeit still suffering from inflated prices that, in my opinion are a little hubristic. Despite the pricing, the wines are really good and will hopefully be given a good chance to shine on our shores with some decent pricing. The winery is located adjacent to Shiloh in the Shomron and the vineyards are all local, growing at altitudes between 700 to 900 meters above sea level. The first vintage year was 2005, comprising approximately 5,000 bottles and, as I wrote above, was a devastating success. Currently producing around 20,000 bottles a year, the wines are haphazardly imported into the United States and can be found at selected stores at rather expensive prices. Shivi Drori, the winery’s co-founder and wine maker has added plantings of Pinot Noir, Malbec, Gewurztraminer to the initial Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay and has used these new additions wisely, resulting in a killer Pinot Noir (predicted in newsletter #91) and some really great blends. I am still waiting for the winery to replicate its delightful 2007 Cabernet franc but to date they have not released another example of the varietal as Shivi only releases it when he feels the grapes are worthy standing on their own.

The winery is currently releasing wines in three tiers – Masada, Gofna and Herodion. The Masada wines are the winery’s best and are usually cellared in oak for about two years. Shivi likes to experiment with interesting blends, which in the past included a blend of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon blend and today a blend of Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer that is delicious, unpretentious and a delight to drink. Gvaot’s wines are typically deep and rich with a solid dose of slightly spicy oak all wrapped in an elegant body with great structure and backbone. Many of the wines have an interesting funkiness to them as well that I find particularly interesting and it’s nice to see an up and coming winery have enough self-confidence to experiment with something completely unexpected.

Gvaot, Masada, 2009: The winery’s flagship wine and justifiably so, produced in a limited run of 1,400 bottles. A wine whose punch has increased since its first release in 2005 (although the 2008 vintage is going to outlive this one). A full bodied and extracted blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (35%) and Petit Verdot (15%) whose whole is definitely greater than its parts. With robust tannins, those in balance with the spicy wood and fruit, this wine has a nice future ahead of it. Plenty of black forest fruit on both the nose and palate including black currents, black plums, blackberries and other crushed berries along with a delightful earthy funkiness and some Mediterranean herbs combine with a rich overlay of spicy wood from the 21 months in French oak and hints of dark chocolate. If you crack this one open now, I’d give it 15-25 minutes in your glass to open up and show its beauty but suggest giving the wine another 6 months or so before opening after which is will cellar nicely and continue to evolve through 2018. Suggested retail in Israel is 215 NIS but it can be had for less.

Gvaot, Gofna Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009: Despite being a part of the Gofna series, the winery felt that this wine was extra special and added “Reserve” to the title. In any event, it’s a solid representation of the varietal and consistent with the winery’s deep, rich and extracted wines, which retain a subtle elegance. The wine still needs some time in the bottle for the components to settle down but the wine is very well made and had the all the right pieces that will enable it to cellar nicely for a bunch of years. A full-bodied wine that was blended with 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot (harvested a month after the Cabernet Sauvignon) which helped to soften the wine a bit and influence the color and nose. Plenty of typical blackberries, black currents and other black fruit with a hint of bitter citrus peel notes, anise and crushed herbs representing the Israeli influence on the grape. The 16 months in French oak yielded solid but not overpowering notes of spicy oak and a nice notes of roasted coffee. Rich and deep, this wine has layers of complexity that are well worth your patience of allowing it to open in your glass over 30 minutes or so. I’d give this wine another 6 months or so, after which it will continue to benefit from cellar aging and drink well through 2017.

Gvaot, Gofna, Chardonnay-Gewurztraminer, 2010: An interesting and atypical blend of 83% Chardonnay and 17% Gewürztraminer that yielded an easy-drinking unpretentious and unassuming wine with brilliant notes of tropical dried fruit and plenty of the typical Gewurztraminer lychee fruits and spicy notes. The Chardonnay was aged separately on the lees for six months in new French oak before being combined with the Gewurztraminer and spending time together in steel. An insane punch of tropical fruits on the nose includes guava, pineapple, white peaches, juicy pears and a hint of fig on the extremely aromatic nose which follows through on the near-sweet palate joined by tangerines, lime and other citrus tempered by a slight hint of toasty oak. A nice jolt of acid keeps all those fruits lively on the palate and makes for a great drinking experience, especially with desserts. Drinking well now this wine will actually age nicely for a few years and likely gain some complexity over the next year or two and cellar through 2016.

Gvaot, Gofna, Pinot Noir, 2009: Gvaot’s first release of Pinot Noir in a limited edition of 550 bottles and a rousing success. Produced from vineyards at 720 meters above sea level where the delicate and high-maintenance grapes benefit from the natural protection of the valley’s walls. While, mostly resulting from terroir-based issues, Israel does not (and likely cannot) produce Pinot Noir at the Burgundian level, they are more and more succeeding at providing complex and pleasing versions of the varietal that make for nice food pairing and this bright wine is no exception, especially at a reasonable 12.5% alcohol. A medium bodied wine and sensual wine, whose depth of flavor and complexity is immediately recognizable on the rich nose of red fruit and wild flowers which follows through on the promise to a palate replete with cherries, raspberries, a tantalizing hint of strawberries, the typically Israeli crushed warm herbs and a nice spiciness from the 12 months in old French oak. Lovely right now, with great balance and elegant structure, this wine will continue to improve over the next year or two and should cellar nicely through 2017. Suggested retail in Israel is 170 NIS.

Gvaot, Herodion, Vineyards Dance, 2009: A easy drinking blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon (from three separate plots), 30% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot fermented separately before blending and spending 12 months together in a combination of American and French oak. A medium bodied wine with plenty of juicy black fruit on the nose and palate, along with raspberries, wildflowers, cinnamon and a hint of cloves wrapped in caressing tannins yielding a mouth filling and generous wine with a long lingering finish. Give it a few months to settle down and then enjoy through 2015. Suggested retail in Israel is NIS 109.

Gvaot, Herodion, Merlot, 2009: Despite its not always undeserved reputation for people pleasing mediocrity, a number of Israeli wineries manage to produce some really nice stuff from the grape including the Ortal version from Yarden and the ever-spectacular Ella Valley Merlot. Unlike those versions and consistent with the Herodion series, this wine is ready to drink now with no real reason for future cellaring. Blended with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a full bodied delight of a wine with loads of red fruit on both the nose and palate combined with some nice spiciness from the 12 months it spent in a combination of French and American oak. Plenty of purple plums, raspberries, blueberries and currents along with more spicy oak, stony minerals and warm spices combine to make a round and mouth filling wine with an somewhat surprising elegant side that pleases immensely. A treat. As with many of the winery’s wines, slightly on the expensive side with a suggested retail in Israel of 109 NIS.

Gvaot, Herodion, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009: Blended with 10% Merlot and harvested from 4 separate plots this full-bodied wine has strong notes of crushed black fruit and spring flowers. Plenty of blackberries, black cherries, currents, cedar wood, tobacco leaf and the winery’s characteristic spicy oak and warm Mediterranean herbs, combined with a touch of rich baker’s chocolate. A nice mineral overlay carries through into a lingering and fruit-laced finish. Drinking nicely now, the wine will cellar nicely through 2019. Suggested retail in Israel of NIS 109.

Older Notes (from Newsletter #91 / February 5th, 2009)

Gvaot, Masada, Merlot, 2005: The first vintage year of this winery and a special treat. Enjoyed with some spectacular fresh goat cheese this wine was great and at its peak. A medium to full bodied wine, the tannins were completely integrated and had that sweet taste to them without being overbearingly cloying. An interesting mix of spices and fruit (the winery prides itself on its winemaking procedures intended to exert the most from the grape) including cherries, raspberries and red currants. Hints of chocolate prolong the enjoyment yielding to a long and supple finish.

Gvaot, Herodion, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006: One of the things I like about this winery is that it has its own style. I haven’t tasted enough of its wines to ascertain what exactly that style is but for now I am going with funky (in a good way). A little too much wood on this one but given 10 minutes in the glass the wood dissipates and reveals layers of blackberries, plums, currants tinged with spiciness and an overly of herbaceousness. This will cellar for another few years.

Gvaot, Gofna Reserve, Cabernet Franc, 2007: In recent years Israel has turned out some really good examples of Cabernet Franc (including from Ella Valley, Recanati and Tanya – which I wrote about last week). This wine doesn’t disappoint and is destined to be a great wine. Opened a little early but enjoyed nonetheless, this full bodied wine will probably need another year in the bottle before its muscular tannins recede and allow its full potential to bloom. Lots of blackberries and plums to go along with the wood and already showing hints of elegance which will improve over the next 6-12 months.

Gvaot, Herodion, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007: I liked the 2006 and, tasted side by side, the 2007 was better. For a table wine this was great. Depending on how it ends up priced when it finally makes its way here, this would join my growing collection of decently priced wines (although the powers that be seem to be working against me as the prices of many such previously “affordable” wines in the $10-15 seem to have been jacked up in the last few months). A medium to full bodied wine with loads of fruit this was a joy to drink. I got hints of spices and oak to go with the blackberries, black currants and cherries. A decent finish leaves you wanting more.