#261 – December 15, 2013
srael might not be at the stage where it is the country with the highest number of winemakers per capita, but anyone who spends enough time there would be forgiven from coming away with that impression. Barely a day goes by in which I don’t hear about a new wine or winery from Israel, usually accompanied by an inordinate amount of hype touting the special qualities of the vines, the winery’s history or uniqueness of the winemaker. Less often, but not unheard off are wines where the hashgacha (kosher certification) of the winery seems to be its main selling point… Notwithstanding the proliferation of new Israeli wines and wineries, evolution seems to be working as it should. Better wineries sell more wine and accumulate more of the capital necessary to invest in new technology and winemaking capability. On the flip side, wineries without a solid marketing plan or a dedicated audience continue to fail, with each year bringing forth news of additional wineries closing up shop (wineries rarely officially shut down, at least not until their remaining stock has been completely sold). I will be discussing this and other trends in my upcoming annual review and look forward newsletters, so stay tuned. Luckily for us wine lovers, more of the upward trend is noticeable than the downward (despite the recent downturn in quality resulting from a number of back-to-back relatively poor vintages and every time I close my eyes another winery seems to have made a giant leap forward in quality, sophistication and interest. While the wine revolution at Teperberg has underway for a few years already, recent wines and vintages (and a recent visit) have confirmed that they are a winery to be contended with and one on a clear upward trajectory of quality, creativity and sophistication. The fact that they have achieved this while remaining one of Israel’s largest wineries by volume (hey they make a lot of grape juice and Kiddush wine which pays the bills) only enhances this point.
Founded in 1870 by the Teperberg family in the Old City of Jerusalem, the winery relocated in 1964 to Motza, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. A few years ago Teperberg once again relocated to its current location in Kibbutz Tzora and officially changed its name from Efrat first to “Teperberg 1870” and then subsequently dropping the 1870 as well (although the winery continues to use the Efrat name to market and sell the lower-tier wines). Up approximately five years ago, the winery was mostly known for producing overly sweet and heavy Kiddush wines that were of no interest to anyone other than the soldiers looking for a Friday-night Kiddush buzz. I recently had a bout of nostalgia when informed that the army had ended its custom of serving heavy sweet wine every Friday night on bases around the country after apparently determining that serving alcoholic beverages to on-duty teen-agers with machine guns wasn’t the best idea and replaced the wine with grape juice. The winery had made a prior attempt in the early 1990s to make quality table wine but did not have any lasting success in that arena at the time. The seeds for the real winds of change were planted in 2002 when the winery brought California-trained winemaker Shiki Rauchberger on board with the mandate to create a quality wine-portfolio and convert the winery from a bulk producer of low-end plonk to a quality wine producer. In one word – success!
Teperberg owns approximately 3,500 dunam of vineyards (~865 acres), spread across the country, from the Upper Galilee, through the Shomron and all the way down South to Makhtesh Ramon with some of its best grapes coming from the Shomron, a relatively new (yet up and coming) grape growing region in Israel’s modern-day winemaking revolution (some of the best Merlot in Israel is currently coming from this region). From these vines, the winery produces approximately five million bottles annually including grape juice and plonk (while not yet a “real’ word, it certainly should be) with the table wines spread across three series of higher end wine – Reserve, Silver (which is mevushal and provides some very good QPR options in that regard) and Terra and two entry level series – Efrat and Teperberg. Having a solid base of lower priced wines that are sold is mass quantities is an imperative for any large winery striving for commercial success as these wines generate the day-to-day cash flow that helps pay for the large capital investments in personnel, machinery, technology and land required to make quality wines. Starting with 2010 there are a number of ultra-premium wines that may end up with a flagship designation depending on how the barrel and bottle aging progresses (with the Limited Edition Cabernet Franc reviewed below being the first example of this). Teperberg also has a number of dessert and semi-sweet wines named after musical instruments with their Merlot-based, Port-style wine Nevel being the most interesting of the three. The winery has slowly been progressing towards its goal of utilizing only table wine grapes and producing only quality wine (in addition to a real money maker – grape juice), which is expects to hit with the 2015 vintage.
Unfortunately Teperberg is not yet set up to receive visitors on a regular basis but they are in the planning stages of a visitor center which will be located right next door to the massive facility housing the winery. Until that happens, visiting is tough and needs to be coordinated individually with someone at the winery and they are not usually open for visitors. Teperberg still produces too many undesirable wines to be a Safe Bet Winery, but they are on definitely on target for that title and their very fair pricing and increased quality have resulted in them having quite a few YH Best Buys in their portfolio. They make a number of interesting blends as well as single varietal wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Shiraz and their two interesting wines – a Malbec that has become a favorite of many and a new Cabernet Franc that obviously owns a special place in my heart. All that said, in order to become a truly top-notch winery, they are going to need some truly great and high-end wines that capture the attention of the sophisticated wine lover. One point to make is that, while Teperberg is producing very good wines worthy of your lirot, with the exception of the Malbec and potentially the Cabernet Franc, they aren’t making a substantial number of wines that have really grabbed my attention with creativity, individualism or long-term aging (their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc was one of the best in recent years but a winery’s reputation, especially in Israel, is not going to be built on Sauvignon Blanc). However, Rome wasn’t built in a day and, with their current and constantly improving track record, I have little doubt that they too, will reach the pinnacle of success. With highly talented assistant wine maker Olivier Fratty added to the team, I look forward to seeing more and more from Teperberg in the coming years.
Teperberg, Silver, Rosé 2012: Made of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that were pre-selected to make this delicious and inexpensive rosé wine. Deep pink-red in color with on the nose red berries such as strawberries, red currants and cherries and hints of rose water. Light to medium in body with on the palate again much of the same characteristics as on the nose with crisp, refreshing acidity. A delightful wine that achieves the exact purpose of Rosé, and with a reasonable price to boot.
Teperberg, Terra, Sauvignon Blanc, 2012: When I first tasted this wine it was one of the most acidic wines I had tasted in recent years and I mean that in a completely complimentary manner. Sourced from Teperberg’s Shomron vineyards, the acid has mellowed out a little, given room to the mélange of fruits and citrus previously hiding in the background. A lovely nose redolent of white fruit, cut grass and limes is matched by a medium bodied mouth of tropical fruit, bracing acidity and a hint of spiciness leading into a nice citrusy finish with some spice, fruit and heather combining to remind you to pour another glass.
Teperberg, Terra, Viognier, 2011: After experiencing a surge in popularity in Israel for a few years, Viognier lost some of its luster and only a few wineries make a quality version with the Golan Heights Winery, Dalton, Midbar and Yatir being among the chosen few. To that list one should definitely add Teperberg, as the 2011 vintage is easily one of Israel’s better expressions of the grape. Unlike buttery Chardonnay, it’s kissing cousin, this version didn’t undergo malolactic fermentation (but 50% of the wine spent six months in oak), resulting in a surprisingly crisp variation with plenty of voluptuous fruit and floral notes on the nose, accompanied by honeycomb, spices and citrus. A slightly viscous medium bodied palate of rich tropical fruit, citrus and honey is accompanied by enough acid to keep the rich notes in check and in good balance with the slight notes of oak and spice. Along with the Malbec noted next, this is an elegant wine and highly expressive of the new qualitative direction ongoing at Teperberg.
Teperberg, Terra, Malbec 2011: Easily one of Teperberg’s top accomplishments, this high QPR wine, provides elegance and finesse in a wine not usually known for such adjectives (the Ramot Naftaly version is another good example). Teperberg’s first experiment with this wine was for the 2009 vintage and was an immediate and rousing success, combining excellent wine making and an exciting and underutilized varietal with a great price. A lovely nose of black fruit with nice hints of blueberries, violets, roasted meat and some pungent forest floor with hints of the 12 months the wine spent in oak. The medium bodied palate is loaded with juicy black fruit including plums and cherries with more hints of blue fruit providing a tantalizing complexity that intrigues and accompanied by saddle leather, warm spices, dark chocolate and a great tannic structure that will continue to evolve over the next year or so. Elegant power is a near perfect package. Load up.
Teperberg, Limited Edition, Cabernet Franc, 2010: I first tasted this wine a number of years ago in the barrel and again at the end of last year during my most recent visit, remaining impressed with the wine throughout its development. After recently tasting the finished version out of the bottle, I am delighted to add another good expression of my favorite grape to Israel’s burgeoning portfolio. Sourced from a small plot in the Shomron and produced in a limited quantity (especially for Teperberg) of 3,500 bottles, the wine spent 18 months in French oak and shows classic Israeli Cabernet Franc characteristics of green vegetativeness, cedar, tobacco leaf and delightful herbaceousness with good balance and a harmony that pleases. Black fruit, lavender and bell pepper are the dominant notes on the nose with leads into a medium bodied mouth of more black fruit, cedar, tobacco, mocha and toasty oak with the underlying green notes that are the backbone of a good Cabernet Franc as long as they don’t dominate. A long chocolate and tobacco laced finish round out this treat.
Older Tasting Notes (March, 2011)
Teperberg, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007: If Teperberg keeps up this level of quality in their Reserve series, I might be able to forgive them for a slight overstepping on pricing since this is a serious and respectable wine (not to mention delicious). Great structure and somewhat still-firm tannins bode well for the continued development of this wine that is approachable now but will get better with some additional cellaring time. Currants, plums, hints of cassis and blackberry jam along with some asphalt, bittersweet chocolate and some soft and bitter notes make up a complex and delicious wine.
Teperberg, Terra, Sauvignon Blanc, 2010: After spending a week down-under where it is summer and all anyone drinks is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, I have a hankering for some crisp and cutting wine, notwithstanding the 50-degree differential from yesterday to today for me. Nice body and structure are complemented by crisp acidity and plenty of citrus fruits on both the nose and the palate. Guava, melon and some passion fruit are accompanied by a tinge of muskiness I found pleasurable.
Teperberg, Silver, Merlot, 2009: A soft and gentle wine with a lusher body than I would have expected for this series. Good blackberries, plums and cranberries are kept on edge with some gentle spiciness, green notes, espresso and cigar box. A long finish rounds out this eminently pleasant (but not for long-term cellaring) YH Best Buy.
Teperberg, Silver, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009: Tons of rich black forest fruit on a warm nose and mouth filling palate were another surprise for me as I was expecting less depth. A lingering finish with a pleasant bitterness to it rounds this one out.
Teperberg, Terra, Malbec, 2007: Another YH Best Buy and a nice attempt at a grape that has proven elusive in the kosher quality wine category (Royal and Rothschild co-produce another nice version – the Bodegas Flechas de los Andes, Gran Malbec, 2009). Still going strong with currants, cherries, blackberries, espresso, slightly smoky wood, vanilla and chocolate. This was my last bottle for the vintage and a good thing as it probably has 6-9 months left on it, not more