#254 – August 9, 2013 (Latest Visit Report)
As promised a few weeks ago in my “Wine Country” newsletter, this week’s newsletter is all about Recanati Winery, who has not received primo attention in nearly three years (despite occupying a substantial amount of my drinking and tasting during that time). Established in 2000 and located in Emek Hefer in the Sharon region, Recanati was the realized life-long dream of Lenny (Leon) Recanati, a banker and true oenophile, who got his start in wine from his parents who made wine from grapes grown on vines in the backyard. The winery’s stated goal from day one was to produce quality wines at reasonable prices – a truly noble mission statement which it has accomplished beyond his wildest expectations. While Recanati has slightly lost its edge as an all-around QPR Winery with the higher priced Mediterranean Reserve Series and even higher-priced Special Reserve White (both great wines), it still offers pretty good value across the board with a number of YH Best Buys and carries the title of a Safe Bet Winery – a winery from who you can buy any of their offerings and, while not every wine may be to your linking, you never have to worry about a bad wine. As we will discuss below, it has also ascended into the stratosphere of Israeli wineries, producing special, elegant and just darn great wines behind quality winemaking and a consistent and unique philosophy.
After a number of years at the helm, the founding winemaker of Recanati – Lewis Pasco (who had been educated at UC Davis), returned to California in (he has since returned once again to Israel and, in addition to making wine on his own, Lewis provides winemaking consulting services to a number of wineries) and was replaced by Gil Shatsberg (also the product of UC Davis) in – formerly of Amphorae and considered among Israel’s best winemakers – in time for the 2008 vintage. Rounding out the winemaking team are two additional and very talented winemakers, both of whom started out working as cellar rats and were promoted with Ido Lewinsohn (educated in “Old-World” Milan) achieving winemaker status a number of years ago and Kobi Arbiv making the cut last year. In addition to their duties at Recanati, both Ido and Kobi make wine under their own labels. Ido at his eponymously named (non-kosher) winery and Kobi under the Mia Luce (kosher from 2011) label. The combo of Gil’s New World education (and prior experience at Amphorae and previously Carmel) and Ido’s Old-World have combined to make some really special and totally Israel-appropriate wines. The last but certainly not least member of the professional team is Recanati’s vineyard consultant – Dr. Pini Sarig, who is charged with choosing, maintaining and improving the winery’s vineyards (located in the Golan Heights (Manara and Ben Zimra), Upper Galilee and Judean Hills (the famed Wild Carignan) – the single most important aspect of the winemaking process. Lenny Recanati and Ori Shaked own the winery, while Noam Ya’acobi is the winery’s highly effective CEO.
Recanati’s wines are produced from grapes grown in its own vineyards and also sourced from carefully selected contract vineyards, primarily in the Upper Galilee (including the highly-regarded Manara vineyard). The winery produces wines in four series: Yasmin – which includes a red and white entry-level blend that is usually a great quaffer and one of the best Israeli entry-level wines (with the 2012 vintage being their best yet), with my personal preference for the white over the red blend; Recanati and Reserve, both typically oak-aged and varietal series’ (with the Recanati label approachable on release and the Reserve label being age-worthy and requiring some bottle time to fully develop), and their flagship wine, the Special Reserve (which includes a relatively new white blend and a red blend which ranks as one of Israel most underappreciated wines ever). The Special Reserve Red started off as a classic Bordeaux-blend under Lewis and has added additional varietals to the blend under Gil, including Syrah and Petit Sirah. The varietal series include which include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc; with the inclusion of each varietal in the two series’ varying from year to year (e.g. a Reserve Chardonnay is being produced for the 2012 vintage for the first time since 2009).
For the 2010 vintage Recanati designated two of its Reserve wines – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as Single Vineyard wines (even though I believe all of the Reserve wines are actually “single vineyard” wines). The reserve varietals are aged for longer periods in oak and utilize the higher-quality grapes. Recanati also recently launched its Mediterranean Reserve series, which is conceptually housed within the Reserve line, but is certainly a stand-alone product that includes its three most interesting (and personal favorites) wines at varying price points – the Wild Carignan, Syrah-Viognier and Petite Sirah-Zinfandel. The series was “launched” with the first vintage of the very special Carignan (the 25 year old, ultra low-yield (15 tons from 3 dunam) vineyard was discovered by “mistake”, with the wine joining the prestigious list of life-altering inventions resulting from mistakes including penicillin, potato chips, silly putty and chocolate-chip cookies), which was extremely well-received (and catapulted Recanati right back into major public awareness and brand recognition) with the already existing Petite Sirah-Zinfandel and a renewed Syrah being added to flesh out the label, with the savory Syrah being among Israel’s best representations of the grape. Recanati also occasionally produces special edition bottles for an Israeli wine store chain (Derech Hayayin). Production has been hovering around 1,000,000 annually for a few years.
One of the basic dilemmas in winemaking (which is especially prevalent in Israel) is the trade-off between harvesting the grapes early which results in lower alcohol and higher acidity but more green (and sometimes bitter) notes versus waiting a little longer to harvest and obtaining a better tannic structure, bolder fruit and more developed flavors with the potential trade-off being a sense of “hotness” from the higher alcohol level, overripe fruit which can make a wine seem (too) sweet and rotting grapes. After his stint at Amphorae, where he spent time making the then-typically Israeli high alcohol fruit and oak-bomb (Parkerized) wines, Gil reversed course and became one of Israel’s pioneers in the growing worldwide trend of the past five years or so to more subtle and elegant wines utilizing a lighter hand with the oak as well (Carmel, Tzora and other Israeli wineries have also been exploring this path). Gil and Ido (and now Kobi) have been focused on producing Israeli-style wines that showcase the unique Mediterranean terroir without the overbearing fruit and alcohol resulting from Israel’s relatively hot climate with the results being evident in the recent wines that have more elegant fruit, higher acidity with a rounder mouth feel to them with less “oakiness” (resulting from tighter-grained, lower toast barrels of which a lower percentage are new). Additionally there is a concentrated effort to lower the alcohol percentage by approximately 1% across the board. While this may not sound like a lot, it makes a big difference and isn’t easy to achieve without sacrificing winemaking style. The introduction of the Wild Carignan in many ways epitomizes this transformation since Carignan was, for most of its Israeli history, an over-planted blending grape, yielding mediocre and insipid wines at best, while obviously uniquely suited for Israel’s terroir. Together with Carmel and a few other wineries, the potential was recognized and a soon-to-be iconic wine was created Yesh Me’Ayin (Something from Nothing). With a top-notch (albeit limited production and hard to find) Cabernet franc already in the portfolio, all I am waiting for is for Gil, Ido and Kobi to pool their considerable talents and come up with a tremendous dessert wine!
Another new development is the production of a number of mevushal wines, especially for the US market, including the Yasmin wines and the Recanati Shiraz, both of which are produced in mevushal and non-mevushal versions (for some comparative notes on the differences between the two, see my “Wine Country” article). Similar to a number of other wineries (e.g. Psagot, Capcanes and Bravdo), Recanati is responding to specific requests from its US importer who requires a higher-level quality mevushal wine to integrate into restaurants and catering halls. One area where Recanati could improve a bit is their visitor center. As the kosher consumer’s sophistication and wine interest continues to grow, Israeli wine tourism is on the rise. Besides being off the wine-beaten path (although on the way from both Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv towards wine-intensive Zichron Ya’acov), the winery’s tasting facilities are somewhat small and the winery doesn’t provide the winery tour / visitor experience many wine tourists are looking for. While this is obviously more difficult to provide for larger and industrial wineries than their boutique brethren, other larger wineries including Carmel, Binyamina and Dalton all provide more attractive visiting opportunities than Recanati. Nonetheless, given the quality wines and friendly winemaking team, a visit is highly recommended!
As is my wont with the larger wineries, I have included tasting notes of wines I recently tasted, with a focus on those newly (or soon-to-be) released wines that I particularly enjoyed or found newsworthy. In summation, Recanati continues to be a top-notch winery, successfully combining quality winemaking, innovation, creative freedom and a consistent philosophy making it a winery that continues to occupy substantial room in my cellar and hopefully yours as well.
Recanati, Rosé, 2012: A long-time favorite of wine, harking back to a time when there was very little quality Rosé on the market. A blend of Barbera and Merlot, this light to medium bodied wine has a great nose of strawberry, peach, citrus and some tart cranberry. The palate is redolent of more summer red fruit, plenty of acid which keeps things refreshing and delightful citrus with hints of mineral and some spice giving the wine a nice bit of bite. A refreshing and unpretentious Rosé that give good bang for the buck and remains a YH Best Buy.
Recanati, Chardonnay, 2012: A delightfully refreshing wine of which 50% spent time in French oak while the remainder saw no oak at all. The win has plenty of tropical fruit, white peaches, grapefruit, lemon and toasty oak on the nose and a medium bodied and elegant palate of tropical fruit, apricot and citrus along with more oak and bracing acidity that keeps the wine in balance and refreshing with less buttery oak than prior vintages. Drink now and over the next 12 months. A delightful YH Best Buy.
Recanati, Reserve, Chardonnay, 2012 (advance Tasting): The first reserve Chardonnay in years as the past few years’ fruit simply wasn’t good enough, this wine certainly earns its right in the Reserve series and is expected to be released in the next month or so. 100% Chardonnay from Manara, the wine sent eight months in 40% French oak and was tasted unfiltered. Plenty of fresh and vibrant tropical fruit on the refreshing yet complex nose, with tart green apple, a hint of citrus and some slightly toasty oak. A medium bodied, slightly viscous, palate of guava, pineapple, pear and apple together with more toasty oak, great acidity and a pleasing spiciness makes this one to wait for and stock up on. Enjoy from release through 2014, maybe even longer.
Recanati, Reserve, Merlot, Manara, 2010: Sourced from Recanati’s top vineyard in Manara, located in the Golan Heights, this 100% Merlot spent 16 months in French oak. A vibrant nose of crushed blackberries, plums and black cherries along with a hint of blueberries, Mediterranean herbs, warm spices and toasty oak. A full-bodied and richly complex palate with plenty more black fruit, sour cherries, nicely integrating tannins, rich dark chocolate and layers of complexity that reveal themselves with every passing minute. A long caressing finish rounds out this amazing wine. May be one of Israel’s top Merlot wines, totally representative of Recanati’s melding of New and Old-world winemaking and a good contra to all that great Merlot growing in the Shomron region.
Recanati, Mediterranean Reserve, Petite Sirah-Zinfandel, 2011: Similar to the addition of Viognier to the Syrah below, this wine is primarily Petite Sirah with a minuscule percentage of Zinfandel to it whose inclusion on the label is more marketing/branding than anything else. However, this takes absolutely nothing away from this amazing wine (an “invention” of Lewis Pasco, mightily refined by Gil and Ido), which had long been one of my favorite Recanati wines (assisted by its great price, this is another easy YH Best Buy) until the other members of the series came along to fight for my love. This is my go-to wine for newbie drinkers given its slight sweetness and approachability whose complexity, elegant structure and balance makes it highly attractive to more sophisticated drinkers as well.
Recanati, Mediterranean Reserve, Syrah-Viognier, 2011: The third wine in Recanati’ newly branded Mediterranean series and just as superb and interesting as the other two, with its own distinctive personality. A vibrant nose that need a few minutes to open up but is loaded with blackberries, plums, cranberries and some cassis along with incredible savory tannins and notes of grilled meat and freshly cracked black pepper with the Viognier providing a touch of refreshing lightness to the wine. Elegant and simply delicious. Drink now through 2015.
Recanati, Special Reserve, Red, 2009: A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Carignan yields a powerful and elegant wine that is coming into its own. Plenty of toasty oak envelops a ripe nose of red and black fruit headlined by cassis, blackberries and notes of plum with an underlay of very dark chocolate, burnt espresso and some Mediterranean herbs with much of the same on the full-bodied palate loaded with black fruit, nicely integrating tannins, black pepper, toasty oak, tobacco and more dark chocolate with that delightful green bitter note running through ever-so-subtly and a lingering finish tinged with minty dark chocolate. While eminently drinkable now, as with many of the 2009 wines, this one isn’t for the ages (although, as one would expect from this tem – the sweetness is ever-so-slight and totally controlled) and I’d give this a few months and then enjoy through 2016.
Recanati, Special Reserve, White, 2011: A blend of 50% Chardonnay, 25% Viognier and 25% Sauvignon Blanc, all from Recanati’s top tier Manara vineyard, the wine was fermented (Sue Lie) and aged in French oak for eight months (followed by seven months of bottle aging prior to release) giving it a bit of spiciness, aging ability, oaky creaminess (from 50% malolactic fermentation), flinty minerals and a nice balance to the rich tropical fruits on both the nose and palate. A great nose of apricots, passion fruit, grapefruit, lemon, vanilla custard and a nice hint of balancing some spicy notes, lead into a rich and mouth filling medium to full-bodied palate of tropical fruits, brioche, orange pith and other citrus notes, all with a creamy mouth-feel that is well balanced by good acidity that keep everything together nicely. Drink now through 2014.