Missed by a Stem (Best of 2011 Runners Up)

Binyamina Avnei Hachoshen, Yahalom-Diamond, 2007: A mentioned above, this was a limited edition run and a big success. A big, powerful and full-bodied blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Syrah (30%) and Petite Verdot (20%). Delicious right now but give it the time it deserves as it’s clearly destined for future greatness. Great structure and balance between the rich fruit, which included plums, blackberries and raspberries, the near-sweet wood, bold tannins and spicy background. Together with the Zinfandel, this wine represents Binyamina’s best and it brought me back to their heyday of the 2003 Syrah I loved so much (although that wine was more elegant to this one’s power). Great mouthfeel with plenty of dark chocolate, coffee and spiciness all leading into a long and generous finish that lingers.

Binyamina, Reserve, Late Harvest Cluster Select, Gewurztraminer, 2009: I first tasted the 2008 vintage of this wine while visiting Israel and loved it! I had the opportunity to taste the 2009 vintage at a recent tasting back in November held by the Israeli Economic Mission and was wowed by how different it was from the 2008 and by how much I liked it. Like Carmel’s Sha’al dessert wine, some of the grapes were infected with Botrytis to great effect. A rich, ripe and luscious wine with plenty of apricots and dried fruit, some lychees, heather and honey all tempered by good acidity that kept the richness in check. I haven’t yet seen it on sale in New York, but will definitely load up on it when it appears – a highly recommended dessert wine and great alternative to the delicious Sha’al.

Carmel, Single Vineyard – Kayoumi, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007: Carmel’s chief winemaker Lior Lacser must spend his nights sprinkling the Kayoumi vineyard with angel dust, as there is something truly magical about this vineyard which produces an incredible Shiraz in addition to this magnificent and powerful Cabernet Sauvignon. Both powerful and elegant, this wine is full-bodied with great structure and harmony among the wood, fruit, tannin and acid. Give this wine a little time in the glass to open up and you will be rewarded with aromas of red cherries and currants, gooseberries, tart plums and cigar box followed by a fruit and earthy palate with slightly darker fruits, tobacco leaf, bittersweet chocolate, mildly spicy oak and muscular yet well integrated mouth coating tannins. A long lingering finish reminds you that it’s time for the next glass.

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 their upper-tier Vineyard’s Choice label but it’s better for us this way since it stay eminently affordable. Muscular, robust, aggressive and bold are not your typical buzz words when talking about Merlot; but those traits combined with the wines elegance, depth, richness and complexity make for an absolute killer combo – give this some time in your glass and it really comes together. Tons of blackberries, raspberries and tangy sharp plums backed by pepper, wood and nice hints of chocolate. A well balanced structure and a long caressing finish loaded with fruit and hints of dark chocolate round this delight out. A wine with the rare combo of being food-friendly and big, bold and powerful.

Four Gates, Pinot Noir, n.v.: I don’t know if I have ever used beautiful to describe a wine but there really isn’t any other word to describe this medium bodied violet scented wine with a gentle nose. Blended with 50% each from the 2007 and 2008 vintages, this wine was great on its own but incredible with food. Plum, cherry, raspberry and cranberry on both the nose and palate with some nice hints of roasted herbs, toasted oak and kirsch. A medium and caressing finish rounded out this lovely wine.

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Single Vineyard, Yonatan, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007: While a nice touch, my adoration for this wine has nothing to do with the fact that the vineyard in which it was born shares the name of my oldest child. A full bodied and somewhat intense wine that is loaded with the characteristic ripe rich fruit, solid tannins and hints of slightly spicy oak we have come to expect from this series. Blackberries, cherries, black currants, plums, gooseberries are all present on both the nose and palate of this delicious and caressing wine that wows you with its elegance and power with every sip. Hints of eucalyptus and Mediterranean herbs keep the wine grounded in its Israeli origins all leading into a long luxurious finish that tempts you to open another one of your specially reserved bottles. Another rousing success in the Single Vineyard line of the Golan Heights winery, this full bodied wine is a delight that will continue to impress and bring pleasure for years to come. I’d give the wine another year for the tannins to settle down and for the fruit to take its proper place but then the wine should cellar nicely through 2020.

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, 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.

Karmei Yosef (Bravdo), Shiraz, 2009: Given my admiration for this winery, I was delighted when their wines were finally imported into the United States and they introduced a delightful blend called “Coupage”. As with the 2007 vintage I previously reviewed, this is a full bodied wine with distinct Shiraz personality and a hint of the Mediterranean terroir of its birthplace. A big, intense and brambly wine, consistent with its Shiraz name, with muscular tannins and ample, slightly spicy, wood matched nicely by blackberries, cassis and juicy plums on both the nose and palate, together with Mediterranean herbs and hints of cigar-box cedar. A great wine right now, but give this one another year or so in the bottle and you will be rewarded by a smoother and more grown up wine. A definite keeper and happily decently priced (unlike many other recent boutiquey arrivals on our shores).

Recanati, Special Reserve, White, 2009: It took me awhile to get my hands on this wine due to its limited availability even in Israel (it isn’t sold in the US at all) but, given my love and adoration for its red sibling, I persisted and it paid off (thanks for searching AG). After many years of releasing their flagship Special Reserve wine, with the 2008 vintage, Recanati released a Special Reserve white blend to much acclaim (which I have not yet had the opportunity to taste). This wine will supposedly only be produced in appropriate years and apparently 2009 was such a year – in any event, the wine is delicious. A blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, all from Recanati’s top tier Manara vineyard, the was aged in French oak for eight months giving it a bit of spiciness, aging ability, oaky creaminess, flinty minerals and a nice balance to the rich tropical fruits on both the nose and palate. Peach and apricot flavors abound, along with plenty of spring flowers some almond notes on the mid-palate all matched by mouth-watering acidity that brings the wood and fruit together harmoniously.