Tabor Winery

#286 – February 26, 2015

Tabor winery is located in Kfar Tavor, a village founded by Baron Rothschild in the shadows of the famed Tabor Mountain (from which the winery derives its name) which featured prominently in the biblical story of Debora the prophetess and Sisra and later on in Napoleon’s famed battle (and was one of the “candidates” to house the Temple).  Founded in 1999 by four families of grape growers who had been selling their grapes to other wineries for years and finally decided to utilize their quality vineyards to make their own wines.  While all four families (Sela, Peleg, Korman and Ben-Tanchom) continue to grow and sell grapes (these days, 100% of their production is for the Tabor Winery), the Sela family maintains a prominent position in the winery, with its CEO – Oren Sela (and the son of Arie Sela, one of the original growers), having managed the winery since its inception.

Arie Nesher is the winemaker and has been there since the winery’s founding.  His wine education is from the former Soviet Union, where he also worked at a major commercial winery for nearly 20 years before moving to Israel and joining the winemaking staff at Carmel for a few years, followed by a brief stint at Tishbi and finally joining Tabor in 1999, where he remains to this day at the helm of the winemaking staff.  Or Nedbach is a recent addition to the winemaking staff, having worked as Arie’s assistant in 2011 before decamping to California to continue his education at US Davis.  He recently returned to Tabor as a full-fledged winemaker (replacing Amir Sarig who had been there for the past 6-7 years).  Two other folks with whom I have interacted and are helping the winery grow and expand are David Montefiore (one of Israel’s quintessential wine families), the winery’s wine culture manager and Justin Kohn who runs export and marketing.

In 2005 the winery was producing approximately 200,000 bottles a year when it was 100% acquired by Israel’s Central Bottling Company (which also holds Israel’s Coca-Cola franchise).  They had been looking for some time to add a winery to their growing portfolio of brands (which also includes beer and spirits) and felt Tabor provided them with the substantial growth potential they were looking for.  Shortly thereafter they proceeded to pour a substantial amount of capital into the winery, investing in personnel, new equipment and vast plantings of new vineyards.  The winery now boasts some of the most advance technological equipment in the country and is putting it to good use.  Among the personnel hires, the winery counts Israeli-trained viticulturist Michal Akerman, (who joined the winery in 2009 after working at Barkan for five years with prior experience in South Africa) as one of its most important assets.  As we discuss often on these pages, the wine making starts in the vineyard and proper vineyard management and control is imperative to producing quality wines, especially in tough vintage years such as Israel has experience over the last few years, so having someone maintain tight control over what goes on in the vineyards has played a big hand in the winery’s recent qualitative improvements.  Other changes included a push into new varietals including numerous white varietals like Viognier (which they have since ceased producing – see below), Gewürztraminer and perhaps most innovatively, the aforementioned Roussanne.  Tabor was the first winery in Israel to produce a varietal of this grape and only the second kosher winery (Ernie Weir started producing a delightful version a few years earlier at Napa Valley’s Hagafen Winery).  Within a few years all of this investment started to pay off with some high-quality and innovative wines coming out of Tabor in recent vintages (although their prior incarnation of Rose was one of my favorites and the Meshcha was also often a great wine).

With an initial production of 30,000 bottles in 1999, the winery has experience significant production growth over the last few years (going from just over one million bottles in 2012 to 1.5 million in 2013 and 1.8 million in 2014 with the expectation to produce 2.1 million bottles for the 2015 Shmitah vintage year.  Annual growth thereafter is expected to be steady at 9% with a target of between 3-6 million bottles.  These numbers are significant enough to cement its place as the 5th largest winery in Israel (and its target numbers could take it much higher on the list).

After years of somewhat confusing labels and a number of changes, the winery has now simplified its branding with four major labels – Har Tavor (Mt. Tabor) (suggested retail $15), Adama (suggested retail $20), Adama II (suggested retail $30) and Limited Edition (suggested retail $50).  There is also an entry-level series of semi-sweet sparkling wines named “Pninim” (Pearls) comprised of a white (a blend of Viognier and Gewürztraminer), a red (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) and a rose (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) and a sparkling non-vintage brut called 562 (after Mount Tavor’s elevation level in meters).  The Mt. Tabor series is comprised of single varietal wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay and a semi-dry Gewürztraminer.  The Adama (Earth) series is named after the soil from in which the respective grapes are grown and is comprised of single varietal wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, the excellent Merlot, Shiraz, the terrific Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer and the deliciously innovative Roussanne (there used to be a Viognier which was discontinued after the 2012 vintage).  The relatively newly introduced Adama II is comprised of four interesting 50-50 blends and two white wines and includes Keshet/Rainbow (Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon), Ram/Thunder (Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon), Lahava/Flame (Merlot and Petit Verdot), Sufa/Storm (Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon), Tlalim (100% oaked Chardonnay) and Shachar/Dawn (100% dry Riesling being released in March).   Rounding out the collection is Tabor’s flagship wine – the Limited Edition which is named for the number of bottles in each vintage year (current vintage is 2011 and named 1/11,000) comprised of single vineyard (single plot actually) Cabernet Sauvignon from the winery’s top Har Malkia vineyard.

The winery was recently in the news after the Wine Enthusiast awarded its 2010 Adama Merlot a record-setting 93 points (especially awesome, giving the wine’s terrific QPR and the 2011 reviewed below is the current vintage which is almost as good) and its Sauvignon Blanc in the Adama series continues to win accolades (including an 89 from the Wine Enthusiast for the excellent 2103 vintage).  As with other wineries, some of the better white wines aren’t currently being imported (the Mt. Tabor Chardonnay and the excellent Adama Sauvignon Blanc are the only two white wines currently on the US shelves), but the winery expects to have some additional white treats available for the 2106 vintage (hopefully the dry Riesling reviewed below will be just as good for that vintage) including the Roussanne, Gewürztraminer and the delightful Rose (as the 2015 Shmitah vintage will not be imported in the US since Tabor is carried by Royal Wines, who don’t import any Shmitah wine).  In the interim I recommend sourcing a few bottles from Israel, especially of the delicious 2014 Rose.

Between my recent visit (where I was graciously hosted by Justin and Or) and the Sommelier Expo, I very recently tasted through all of Tabor’s wines, including a number of barrel and advance tastings.  To sum up the rather long-winder article, Tabor is much improved and is well worth seeking out and giving a try.  Listed below are a number of the Tabor wines I recently tasted that are representative of this trend and are wines I expect you will enjoy.

Shabbat Shalom and a very Happy Purim!

Tabor, [Adama II, Shachar], Riesling, 2014:  With Israel continuing to do great things with the white varietals, another dry Riesling (joining the Carmel Kayoumi and the private-label Lueria) is a welcome addition to the portfolio, with Tabor’s version loaded with guava, pineapple, a hint of kiwi and citrus along with a rich vein of steely minerals running through it as well.  While not yet confirmed as an Adama II wine, it is very likely and the wine’s structure and richness certainly qualify it to the higher stature (and price point) afforded by the label [Only in Israel].

Tabor, Adama, Rose, 2014:  Vaulting to a premium position among Israel’s growing list of Rose wines, this wine is amazing enough to make up for the fact that Tabor abandoned its previously lovely Rose so many years ago.  Made from 100% Barbera with an ever-so-slightly note of sweetness to it, the wine has plenty of summer red fruit on both the nose and palate, with delightfully lip-smacking acidity keeping the fruit (and slight sweetness) in check, granting it a welcome austereness and providing a great backbone to this refreshing wine that has a hint of pleasing bitterness and a mineral background to give it plenty of character.  An amazing Rose of which I intend to grab as much of it as I can [Only in Israel].

Tabor, Adama, Roussanne, 2014:  After their inaugural 2012 vintage was followed by an ever more improved 2013, the 2014 vintage of this wine shows that this wine wasn’t a flash in the plan but rather intends to be a solid piece of Tabor’s growing [QPR] portfolio of wines.  With plenty of fresh-cut grass on the nose along with apricot, white peaches, cantaloupe and tropical fruits accompanied by tart citrus peel, herbal bitterness, some saline minerals and a streak of green, most of which continues on the round and mouth-filling, medium-bodied palate, this wine is truly a delight and one that provides a counter-measure to the run of the mill wines we seem to encounter every day.  Kudos to Tabor – keep up the great work [Only in Israel]!

Tabor, Adama, Sauvignon Blanc, 2013:  Long one of Tabor’s standout wines, it is sourced from 30 year-old vines located near the winery.  A delicious wine with plenty of tropical fruit, citrus, a hint of gooseberry, fresh-cut grass on the nose with much of the same following on the medium bodied palate that add a hint of cream to the mix, along with delightfully zesty acidity keeping the plethora of fruit nicely balance, flinty minerals providing plenty of character and a streak of salinity that makes this wine exciting in addition to delicious.  Buy early and often.

Tabor, Adama, Merlot, 2011:  The 2010 vintage of this wine was the QPR miracle of the year garnering a score of 93 from the Wine Enthusiast, the highest achieved for an Israeli wine (while I think scores are ridiculous for wines, I acknowledge their marketing importance and recognize what such an achievement means for Israeli wine), and the 2011 is almost as good and remains very well-priced. For some reason I haven’t yet determined, the wine needs a LOT of airing out time (especially relative to its oak-aging and “stature”) but if you don’t have the time or the patience, you can always use a Vinaturidouble-decant or even try the blender to move things along a little quicker (I recently used this technique to open up a hyper-closed 2011 Napa Valley Reserve.  A lovely, mostly black, nose of forest fruit, earthy minerals, cigar box, and roasted coffee beans leads into a full-bodied and well-extracted palette with plenty more fruit, graphite and slate, some red cherries, more tobacco notes and a lingering finish. Significantly more layers and complexity that you might have expected, this is a real find and worth stocking up on and drinking through 2017.

Tabor, Adama, Shiraz, 2011:  The wine spent 12 months in oak, 30% of which was American oak that granted the wine a hint of intriguing green notes.  A very well balanced and bold wine with mostly black fruit on the rich nose, accompanied by a hint of blue with a medium to full bodied palate with nicely integrated tannins, roasted meat, freshly paved asphalt and spicy oak rounding out this well-priced and delicious wine.

Tabor, Adama II, Sufa, 2010:  A blend of 50% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, the wine spent 12 months in French oak.  Give this wine some time to open in your glass and you are rewarded with a rich and deep nose of primarily black fruit, with some blueberries and other “blue” notes thrown in for good measure, along with blackberries, cassis, some tar and a hint of herbaceousness that pleases.  The medium to full-bodied palate has plenty more black and blue fruit along with cedar, roasted herbs, great acidity and robust tannins that provide great structure that will enable the wine to continue to develop in the bottle for a few more years.