Saslove Winery

#202 – January 30, 2012 (more recent update)

The 2010 vintage year was especially blessed, but not necessarily from a climate perspective. Au contraire, 2010 was a pretty bad year weather-wise and will be somewhat of a winemaker’s year – a year in which the ability of the wine maker will play a paramount role in creating top-notch wines. The reason I consider 2010 blessed has more to do with three top-notch Israeli boutique wineries finally coming over to the dark side and became kosher – Tulip, Flam and Saslove. While for Tulip and Flam, this is their first experience with making kosher wines, Barry Saslove, whose Saslove winery is the topic of this week’s newsletter, has plenty of experience making kosher wines, first with ill-fated “K by Saslove” made in Carmel Winery facilities and in more recent years, his “Sagol” wine, made outside the winery at a kosher service winery, most recently located at Or HaGanuz.

Saslove winery was founded on Kibbutz Eyal in 1998 by Barry Saslove after a few years of making wine on a smaller scale, which was mostly enjoyed by family members and some lucky friends and others “in the know” (a not uncommon trend for many boutique wineries). Born and raised in Ottawa, Barry first came to Israel as a volunteer in the 1967 war, later moving to Israel permanently and working as a computer engineer at Amdocs until calling it quits in 1991 and devoting himself to his passion of wine. While the winery, visitor center and barrel room are still located on Kibbutz Eyal, in 2007 Barry built another facility on Kibbutz Tzuriel in the Upper Galilee, in order improve the wine making process by being closer to the winery’s approximately 30 acres of vineyards. The proximity gives him greater flexibility including the ability to harvest smaller plots at a time utilizing smaller than usual containers to ensure that the structure of the grapes aren’t compromised before they get to the winery.

Saslove is the quintessential family winery. Barry is the chief winemaker with both his wife Nili and middle daughter Roni heavily involved. While Roni’s main focus was initially PR and marketing she has been involved with every harvest at the winery in one way or another, starting in 1992 where Roni and her sister stomped the grapes themselves and working full-time in the winery since 2002. After spending a year at Ontario’s Brock University learning winemaking (after obtaining a degree from the agricultural school at Hebrew University), recent years have seen her get more involved with the actual winemaking process including making “her own” wines like the Lavan reviewed below, a port-style wine from the organic Kadita vineyard and a recently released Gewürztraminer in Icewine style, a trend expected to continue (the Kadita and Gewürztraminer are non-kosher). The winery has and continues to enjoy a long-standing fan base based, no doubt, at least partially on the delightful personalities of the involved Saslove family members.

From day one the Saslove winery has been at the forefront of innovation and experimentation among Israeli wineries, with a big focus on blends and barrels utilizing over ten different types of barrels (American and French acquired from ten different coopers, all 225 liter barriques). The winery places a large focus on the type of barrels used and proudly promotes the use of oak staves or chips in their lower tiered wine meant for early drinking – the Aviv series tasted below. They were also among the first Israeli wineries to adopt synthetic corks as their line of defense against the dreaded TCA. With his conversion to kosher, Saslove also updated the Aviv labels (as Israeli wineries like to do all the time (see newsletter #200) which now each sport a different gorgeous bird (other than the Marriage which has two bird – marriage – get it?) – see below. I don’t know if the Adom and Reserve lines are getting new labels (the new April and Lavan wines retained the look of Saslove’s prior wines).

Despite his official title as wine maker of the Saslove winery, thousands of folks in Israel consider Barry to be a wine educator par excellence having learned much about vino from him. Barry is responsible for launching the careers of many Israeli wineries (a title I’m pretty certain he would actually take more pride in than his well-deserving winemaker one). For many years, Barry conducted well-attended and high-level wine making courses and lectures (even publishing a great book on the subject which can be read here), providing a bastion of knowledge to a country just starting to appreciate wine and where such knowledge (and the ability to effectively teach) was at a premium and the winery’s visitor center is consistently a hot bed for wine appreciation.

Saslove has a number of highly acclaimed vineyards all located on the Upper Galilee including the famed Ben-Zimra area, Kadita, Tzivion and Alma, mostly located on volcanic rock over limestone soil. Kadita and Tzivion are organically farmed. A passionate hobbyist cook, Barry’s wines are tailored to be food wines, enjoyable with a plethora of delightful food options. The winery clearly has room to grow as they sell approximately 30% of their grapes to other wineries. With a current production of approximately 80,000 wines annually, Saslove produces wine across three labels. A table wine called Aviv which are meant to be “in your face” wines, consumed young and are “aged” for six months with oak chips. A premium label – Adom – usually aged for approximately 20 months in French oak and the winery’s flagship label – Reserve – which is only produced in appropriate years from the best of the Adom barrels. For now, kosher consumers will need to satisfy themselves with the newly released Aviv wines, but will wait with bated breath for the 2010 vintage of the Adom (and hopefully Reserve) wines to come to market (at least another 12-18 months). While not yet available in the US, these wines will likely hit our shores soon.

As I mentioned above, in addition to his “regular” wines produced at the Saslove winery, for a number of years Barry produced a kosher label (“K by Saslove”) at the Carmel Winery but these wines, while conceptually exciting for the kosher wine consumer, weren’t that successful and Barry ended their production with the 2005 vintage. Despite the difficulties he experienced with the K by Saslove label, he gave it another shot with the approximately 2000 bottles of kosher wine for the 2007 vintage which was sold under the “Sagol” label and produced at a kosher service winery. Due to Israel’s kosher regulations, as Saslove produced non-kosher wine as well, the kosher label was not allowed to carry the Saslove name, but was still pretty similar to their “regular” bottles. Despite some initial controversy surrounding the inaugural 2007 vintage, the 2007 and 2008 vintages were really nice wines, finally providing the kosher wine consumer with a window into all that adoration following the Saslove winery (there was also a 2009 vintage that I have not yet had the opportunity to taste). Despite the recent, and mostly economically driven, decision to convert the winery’s entire production to kosher wines, the Sagol label will continue to be produced as a “private label”. If you would like to purchase it, A.A. Pyup wine store in Jerusalem is a good starting place to look.

One important thing to keep in mind with these wines is that they are merely the first salvo on Saslove wines, representing their lowest tier of wines meant to be consumed early and with food (although they tend to last longer than one would expect giving some validation to the use of oak staves). As with Tulip and Flam, we are going to have to be patient and wait the requisite additional year or two under we can experience the really good stuff from these wineries, about which we have heard for year and which is really whetting our appetite.

Saslove, Aviv, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010: A medium bodied wine with a nice array of ripe black fruit on the nose including currants, blackberries and cherries with strong notes of spicy oak, some sweet spices, chocolate and hints of anise and herbs. With gripping tannins on the palate that bode well for the future of this wine, much of the nose follows the palate with more sweet spices, hints of crème brûlée and plenty more oak that needs a bit of time to settle down but which should integrate nicely with the fruit and ever so slightly-sweet notes. Not exactly a food wine but with enough acidity to keep the varied components in check, this will pair nicely with some heavier dishes. Drink now but give it some vigorous swirling and about 10-15 minutes in the glass to open up and then enjoy through 2016.

Saslove, Aviv, Merlot, 2010: A medium bodied and round wine that spent six months with wood staves. A nose loaded with strong near-sweet notes of wood, nutmeg, warm sugar and burnt caramel to go with the blackberries, cherries, plums and jammy cassis. On a flavor-packed palate, you get a rich burst of mostly dark fruit, solid tannins, hints of earthiness, more nutmeg and cloves and a tinge of crushed warm Mediterranean herbs. A medium finish with a nice chocolaty note to it rounds out this sweet wine. Enjoy now through 2015.

Saslove, Aviv, Shiraz, 2010: Blended with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine has a bit of funk on its initial nose which blows off to reveal cherries, currants, tannin, crackling black pepper, a bit of singed espresso and a sweet caramel undertone. The nose is rich with more fruit and spicy wood, backed up by wood tannins, a touch of green notes and more extra-dark chocolate leading into a lingering finish with a pleasing bitterness to it. Drink now through 2016.

Saslove, Aviv, Marriage, 2010: Easily my favorite red (I really liked the Lavan as well) from Saslove I tasted. A nice Bordeaux blend with a similar mix of varietals as the April, though with better results. A medium bodied wine that spent 6 months with American and French oak staves giving it a solid base of near-sweet tannins that are already well integrated with a lovely nose of cassis, cherries, red plums tinged with black pepper, spicy oak, black licorice and baker’s chocolate. Plenty more fruit on the nose along with more spicy oak, solid tannins some pleasing herbal notes and espresso with a medium finish that lingers nicely. As with the other Aviv wines meant for early drinking and not long-term cellaring, the wine is enjoyable now but could use another 3-6 months (or time to open in the glass) and should cellar nicely through 2015, likely even a bit longer.

Saslove, Lavan, 2010: Whether intended or not, off-dry wine is a great accompaniment to spicy or Indian food as well as a joy to sip on its own (while more appropriate as a summer wine, its still delicious in the winter). Utilizing the winery’s more recent plantings of Gewürztraminer and Viognier, this wine is a blend of 45% Viognier, 45% Gewürztraminer and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. Unfortunately it was made in limited quantities and is only available at the winery, otherwise I’d stock up on this one to go with a variety of foods and for those newbie winos that appreciate a bit of sweetness with their wines. Plenty of nice tropical fruit on the very aromatic nose including pineapple, mango and passion fruit, together with the characteristic lychee from the Gewürztraminer along with some dried fruit, rose water and honeyed sweetness. On the palate more guava, pineapple, white peaches grapefruit are accompanied by a pleasing spiciness, some herbaceousness, heather and bracing acidity that keeps the residual sugar honest and doesn’t allow it to get flabby on the mid palate. Drink now though 2013.

Saslove, April, 2010: A blend of 40% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon with the remaining 40% a mix of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Nebbiolo. A quick dip of 4 months with French and American oak had more of an impact than I would have expected. A rich nose of mostly red fruit, tannin, oak and alcohol which takes some time to blow over but the alcohol never quite goes away. One the palate more of the red fruit including raspberries, currants, plum and spicy oak together with Mediterranean herbs and a slight hint of chocolate. A somewhat stunted finish rounds out this well-structured wine which is an acceptable quaffer but not that much more. Drink now through 2013.

Sagol, Cabernet Sauvignon, Single Vineyard, 2007: Barry’s first re-attempt at a kosher varietal after the “K by Saslove” (which was also a nice wine & ill-fated due to circumstance not lack of quality) and a great attempt at that. After some back and forth somewhat vocal controversy with the late Daniel Rogov as the wine apparently went through a dumb phase, the wine is now showing very nicely indeed and has some life ahead of it. A full bodied wine with plenty of typical black fruit on the nose including currants, rich cassis, blackberries and some plums with Mediterranean herbs, cedar, tobacco leaf and dark chocolate. A round and mouth coating palate of elegant black fruit, slightly spicy oak, well-integrated tannins that support the core of fruit and hints of chocolate along with wet forest floor, crushed wet black fruit more chocolate and a bite of anise on the medium to long finish give us a sense of what the coming higher-tiered 2010 wines are going to look like. Drink now through 2014.