For our inaugural edition of the Leket Wine Club and in honor of our increasing operations in the Northern parts of Israel, I have decided to focus on four wineries with vineyards located on Israel’s Northern border – Dalton, Galil Mountain, Recanati and Segal. While Leket has not yet had the opportunity to pick grapes up North; our professional pickers and volunteers spent their August picking over 45 tons onions, peppers, mangoes and pears from four different moshavim in the North of Israel. The vineyards of these wineries were on the front lines during the hostilities with Lebanon in 2006 but, as you will see from the 2006 vintage wines included in your shipment, the wineries managed to overcome any issues in harvesting these grapes and produced magnificent wines despite having to repeatedly duck for cover as missiles flew over their heads.
I have included short blurbs below about each of the wineries and my recent tasting notes for each wine included in your shipment. These wineries share a common trait by producing wines that are excellent value for your money. Two of these wineries (Recanati and Galil Mountain) are what I like to refer to as a “Safe Bet Winery”, meaning that you can safely purchase any of their wines secure in the knowledge that it will be a good one. The “bonus” dessert wine is one of my all time favorites – Carmel’s Single Vineyard, late-harvested Gewürztraminer wine from the Sha’al vineyard.
I hope you enjoy these selections and I would love to hear any thoughts, comments or questions you may have. You can contact me at www.yossiescorkboard.com, where you can also sign up for my weekly newsletter on kosher wines and find additional material about the wonderful and growing world of kosher wines.
Shana Tova and Le’Chaim,
For many years Dalton was my favorite winery, with the 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon having a special place in my heart. After a few down years, with the introduction of their 10th anniversary Meron wine in 2004, the winery reemerged as a serious contender for one of Israel’s top wineries and since then has continued to produce wines which provide excellent value. Under the auspices of their talented, Australian and Californian-trained winemaker, Na’ama Mualem, the winery is now producing excellent wines in multiple series all of which should be considered contenders for your palate and wallet.
Founded by the Haruni family in 1993, the winery currently produces upwards of 800,000 bottles annually and is targeting one million bottles for the 2010 harvest. In recent years, the winery has also produced more Bordeaux style wines – causally elegant and sophisticated with more muted fruits. Dalton is currently producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Barbera, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat varietal wines in a large, sometimes confusing, number of series which include Single Vineyard, Reserve, Safsufa, Estate, Alma, Dalton and Canaan. While not quite a Safe Bet Winery, Dalton is right on their heels and I would expect them to earn this title in the very near future. Dalton also recently launched a Super Israeli wine called Matatia that is excellent. Some of my favorites from this winery include their Barbera wines which make for great barbeque matches and their Viognier wine which I selected to be the representative white wine of this shipment and a great refreshing wine for the end of the summer heat.
Dalton, Reserve, Viognier, 2009: A few years ago there was an explosion of Viognier wines on the market as it went through a phase of being the so-called “flavor of the month”. I found many of these wines to be very Chardonnay-like and, other than the Yarden Viognier, was not very impressed. Things have gotten better over the years as wineries became more comfortable with the varietal and, while I still love the Yarden, I recently find myself drinking more of the Dalton. Fermented with the grapes natural occurring yeasts, this light yellow colored wine is medium bodied with characteristically true peach and apricot flavors on the delightful nose. More of the same, together with honey, apples and summer floral notes on a slightly spicy and creamy background. A long luxurious finish rounds out this wine. A crisp wine to be consumed well-chilled, and a nice match to light, grilled fish dishes.
Galil Mountain Winery
Galil Mountain Winery is a joint venture between the largest and one of the best wineries in Israel – the Golan Heights Winery, and Kibbutz Yiron, the kibbutz on which the winery is physically located and from which its flagship wine derives its name. With über-talented winemaker Micha Vaadia at its helm, the winery is currently producing over 600,000 bottles and is aiming to increase production to 1,000,000 bottles in the next year or so. In my opinion, Galil Mountain represents, dollar for dollar, the absolute best value for your money in wine today. A certifiable Safe Bet Winery, every wine from Galil Mountain is enjoyable, with some, like the included Meron, being extra special treats. The winery’s flagship wine is the Yiron, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that has been consistently awesome year after year while remaining well priced at around $20. A Yiron Syrah was also produced for a few years and the included Meron is now intended to replace it. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot table wines represent the most complex wines you can get today for $10, and provide absurdly good value.
Galil Mountain, Meron, 2006: The intended replacement for the lovely Yiron Syrah, this wine has a complex and unique blend of 78% Syrah, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Petit Verdot. Petit Verdot has been an interesting blending component in Israel for a long time and seems to be popping up more and more frequently in top-tier wines. While the Syrah is the most prominent component in this wine, both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot are clearly pulling their weight and contribute their individual characteristics to this delightful wine. While the wine is relatively high in alcohol, it is nicely tempered by good structure and tannins, acidity and fruit. I’d open the bottle an hour or so before you intend to drink it, or give it about 10 minutes in your glass to fully open up so that you can fully appreciate its delightfulness. Loads of jammy fruit on both the nose and palate including blueberries, raspberries and blackberries along with Mediterranean herbs and hints of spicy oak and toasted almonds. A wine that is peaking right now and will cellar nicely for another five years or so. A little lighter and less graceful than the Yiron, it is definitely more interesting and fun to drink, and will pair nicely with your meal.
Established in 2000 and located in Emek Hefer in the Sharon region, Recanati was founded by Lenny Recanati, a banker and true oenophile, who got his start in wine from his parents who made their own wine with grapes from their backyard vines. The original winemaker for Recanati, the incredibly talented and delightful Lewis Pasco, returned to California a few years ago and was replaced by Gil Shatsberg – formerly of Amphore – and considered by many to be one of the best in Israel. Assisted by Ido Levisohn, another talented winemaker, Gil is obviously continuing down the path started by Lenny and Lewis, creating top-notch wines at affordable prices. While many of the Recanati wines available today (including the Special Reserve in your shipment) were conceived in the Lewis Pasco era, Gil is now making all the final decisions in the winemaking process, and is completely responsible for the more recent vintages.
The winery relies on their own grapes and sources additional grapes from certain contract vineyards, primarily in the Upper Galilee, including the highly-touted Manara vineyard. The winery currently produces between 900,000-1,000,000 bottles annually in four series: their flagship wine, the Special Reserve which is included in your shipment, two varietal series, Reserve and Recanati and a table series called Yasmin.
One of the basic dilemmas in winemaking is the potential trade-off between harvesting a little early, which typically results in lower alcohol and higher acidity in the wines but more green notes, versus a slightly later harvest which can result in a wine with more robust tannins and developed flavors but has the potential for extra alcohol and low acidity that can make a wine seem flat. Instead of aiming for Californian or Australian style wines with ton of forward ripe fruit, Gil and Ido are focused on creating Israeli wines that will appropriately represent Israel’s unique terroir without being negatively effected by the hot Mediterranean climate which can lead to high alcohol and low acidity. One of the noticeable changes Gil seems to have ushered in includes less green notes, more elegant fruit and higher acidity making the wines more food friendly with a smoother and rounder mouth feel. I have included the 2006 Special Reserve from Recanati which I think you will find a treat and a perfect accompaniment to your festive Rosh Hashanah meal.
Recanati, Special Reserve, 2006: Among the best priced “Super-Israeli” wines and a longtime favorite of mine, the Special Reserve wine is a truly special wine. Every year different components make up this treat, and the 2006 vintage is no different, comprised of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Merlot, aged for almost two years in oak barrels before bottling. Plenty of robust tannins that are nicely integrated with the delicious fruit and gripping acidity all of which bodes extremely well for this wine’s future. While this wine is quite delicious right now, I would actually recommend waiting a year or so if you can as it will be even better then. Dark royal purple in color, this is a full-bodied yet gentle wine, with a rich nose of blackberries, currants and black plums, together with cassis, slightly pungent forest floor and espresso, leading into a palate loaded with more black forest fruit, asphalt, fine bittersweet chocolate, spices and almost sweet cigars.
Segal was established in 1950 and, although acquired by Barkan in 2001, it has succeeded in maintaining its own name and established identity while continuing to be one of the finer wineries in Israel. While Barkan is the second largest winery in Israel producing approximately 9,500,000 bottles annually (most of which are supermarket wines), this has not hampered Segal’s creative winemaking team in producing approximately 1,500,000 bottles of really good wine in many different series. Their better wines include their flagship Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon and those in the Single Vineyard series with wine hailing from the Rechasim, Dovev and Dishon vineyards (which we have included in your shipment). The Unfiltered, a rich, deep and complex wine which is one of the closest kosher wines to a classic Barolo and has achieved an almost cult-like status among wine connoisseurs.
Segal, Single Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dishon, 2007: One manifestation of Israel’s winemaking trend which focuses on the unique terroir, is the proliferation of Single Vineyard wines, which take on the unique characteristics of the individual vineyard from which the grapes are harvested. Segal’s wines in this series are especially good but they tend to be under appreciated given the popularity of their genius older brother – the Unfiltered. Hopefully after trying this wine your appreciation for this series will grow. A full bodied wine with tannins that are already nicely integrated with an abundance of juicy black forest fruit. Gently biting spiciness accompanies the generous hints of tobacco, espresso and dark, wintry forest which combine together into a slightly brooding but deliciously complex wine with a long, caressing finish.
Bonus Dessert Wine
Carmel, Single Vineyard, Gewurztraminer, Late Harvest, Sha’al, 2007: Carmel has long put its old reputation for mediocrity behind it and this delightful single vineyard dessert wine serves its top-tier reputation with honor and pride. A high level dessert wine that gives the stalwart dessert wines from Yarden a serious run for their money, this wine is at a lower price and recently earned an 88 from Mark Squires (Robert Parker’s taster responsible for Israeli wines). A medium bodied wine with plenty of apples, pineapple, white peaches and the traditional Gewürztraminer lychee fruit on both the nose and palate with more of the peaches and some honeysuckle coming near the finish. Plenty of bracing acidity keeps the robust sweetness from becoming flabby and enables this wine to stay lively from start to finish. Served chilled, this wine is a great accompaniment to the dessert you have selected for your Rosh Hashanah meal or even as a dessert all by itself.