Psagot Winery

#125 – April 29, 2010

This week I wanted to talk the Psagot Winery. Founded by Yaakov Berg in 2002, after he had been growing grapes in his vineyards for a couple years prior to that, the winery is located in the Northern Jerusalem Mountains. Berg professes a deep commitment to and bond with the land and even lives in the midst of his vineyards in an ancient rail-car. I first (and last) wrote about this winery in 2006 in connection with their 2004 vintage and after tasting the wines from the 2007 vintage – referring to Psagot as an “up-and-coming” winery won’t exactly cut it. Exploding is a more accurate term to describe the increase in quality that the Psagot winery has gone through over the last couple years. Psagot’s wines scored very high in a recent blind tasted I helped judge in connection with the Jewish Week’s annual kosher wine guide. A significant part of this improvement is a result of the recent investment by a number of silent, US-based, investors who have enabled the winery to significantly increase both its capacity and quality of wines.

During the building of the winery a cave was discovered underneath the vineyards and, once excavated, turned out to contain an ancient wine press dating back to the Second Temple. Today the cave serves as a majestic barrel room where Psagot’s wines age gracefully in near perfect natural conditions (the cooling system is rarely used – temperature remains constant – between 12 C in the winter to 18 C in the summer – with humidity at 90%) and also houses the modern stainless steel tanks and other winemaking equipment making for an interesting combination of ancient and modern winemaking facilities housed under the vineyards which were arduously planted in rocky limestone.

Even though it has been a wine-growing area since ancient times, it has recently been gaining much acclaim as one of Israel’s prime wine-growing areas (alongside the more traditional Golan Heights and Northern Galilee) and was recently profiled in the Wall Street Journal with Psagot receiving a nice mention. Additionally a number of the wines from the 2007 vintage (which I have reviewed below) recently received nice scores from the Wine Advocate.

The winery produces a Bordeaux blend named Edom which is its flagship wine and regular varietal wines in the Psagot series. For the 2007 vintage, the winery also produced a single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon which is excellent. Psagot also produces a Port-style wine called “Prat” although I find this wine to be the least impressive of their offerings. The varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Viognier and Chardonnay but skipped some vintages in which they did not produce the Chardonnay and Viognier. While they own a significant amount of the sourcing vineyards, they also rely on grapes from the local Dolev and Har-Bracha vineyards. Production from the 2008 (Shmittah) vintage was of about 80,000 bottles and the 2009 vintage is anticipated to be around 90,000 bottles.

Psagot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Single Vineyard, 2007: Easily the best wine to date from this winery. A full bodied wine that still needs some time for the wood and tannins to settle down and play nicely with the fruit but the good balance bodes well for this wines delightful future. I would give it another 6-8 months in the bottle before opening but if opened now, it can still very much be enjoyed with some swirling and waiting ten minutes or so between pouring and drinking. Rich and juicy black forest fruits on both the nose and palate mingle with a slight bitterness and hints of espresso. The wine recently scored an 88 from Parker’s Wine Advocate but deserved a much higher score. I find that the Wine Advocate tends to underscore Israeli wines which could be a result of their unfamiliarity with (or personal dislike of) the green notes that are part of Israel’s terrior and which I feel provides Israeli wines with a delicious individuality.

Psagot, Cabernet Franc, 2007: How could I not love a winery with a nice Cabernet Franc on its resume? This one has a heady nose of spicy oak, asphalt, lead pencil and herbaceousness that reaches out and grabs your attention right away. A full-bodied wine with good structure with blackberries and currants matched with the oak. A lingering finish rounds out this delight which recently scored an 86 from the Wine Advocate but deserved much more.

Psagot, Merlot, 2007: A fruity and delicious Merlot with loads of red currants, blackberries and raspberries on a gentle background of spicy and sweet wood (try it – you will see). A sturdy but gentle wine that provides for a mouth-filling delight. At its prime now, the wine will cellar nicely for another 2-3 years or so but isn’t meant for any long-term cellaring.

Psagot, Edom 2007: A wine that has steadfastly improved both in quality and sophistication every year it has been produced. A delicious Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (59%, 19%, 12% and 10% respectively). Another robust and full bodied wine from Psagot, the spiciness from the word is well integrated with the blackberries, currants, juicy plums and gooseberries leading to a finish redolent with green herbs. Round and mouth-filling – this wine is a treat and scored an 87 from the Wine Advocate in their recent tasting of Israeli wines.

Psagot, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007: At least in Israel, this wine is a YH Best Buy giving us an incredibly rich and layered wine at a very good price (about $15 in Israel). While the wine also includes grapes grown in the Northern Galilee, most of the grapes were sourced from vineyards located in the Judean Hills, which tends to provide wines with a lot of fruit accompanied by stony minerals. The wine was aged for 13 months in French oak which gives it pleasant flavors of wood and vanilla. These flavors blend nicely with the blackberries and plums together with some dark espresso and mint. With soft, silky and slightly sweet tannins, this wine is a pleasure to drink and will cellar nicely for another couple of years. With the prices of the Recanati and Galil Mountain wines edging up, this present a nice alternative that, while ever-so-slightly more expensive, is also a more sophisticated wine.