Further to my Best Wines of 2015 (and accompanying Most Exciting / Interesting Wines of 2015) published in #309, below are those wines that fully deserved to be on one of those two lists and were “cut” only due to my desire to keep each list to ten wines.
“Almost” Best Wines of 2015
Adir, Plato, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011: With new wines added to the portfolio and recent vintages showing pronounced improvement, Adir is once again ascending into the consciousness of every self-respecting kosher oenophile and their flagship Plato is no exception to the resurgence of this delightful winery located in Israel’s Upper Galilee, across the street from Dalton (and home to an impressive café serving incredible goat ice cream). This year’s blend is comprised of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Shiraz, both sourced from the winery’s highest-quality plot within their acclaimed Kerem Ben-Zimra vineyards. Clocking in at 14.2% AbV, the wine spent approximately two years in French oak giving it an impressive tannic backbone and giving it the strength to go the distance. The wine opens with a rich and expressive nose of primarily black fruit, including crushed ripe blackberries, rich cassis and black plums accompanied with earthy undertones, rich baker’s chocolate, green bell pepper all on a bed of toasty oak backing up but not overpowering the wine. The well-balanced and full-bodied palate has plenty more rich dark fruit and toasty oak along with freshly cracked black pepper, roasted Mediterranean herbs, baker’s chocolate, well-worn leather and a slight green streak that gives it some welcome character “bite”. Enjoyable now after two hours of decanting, the wine will be at its best in 18 months after which it will cellar comfortably through 2020.
Binyamina, The Cave, Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011: Despite the near cult-worship of Binyamina’s “boutique” wine – the Cave, I was never impressed with either its quality nor its high price tag (while attributing its popularity, especially in the US to its long-tenured position [but no longer] as the only high-end mevushal wine which was thus available in restaurants. However, this “special” version, launched for the 2007 vintage, sourced from “old vine” (which in Israel means something different than Spain for instance) Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and produced in limited quantities (under 1,500 bottles) in special years only, changed my mind about both the Cave label and Binyamina’s abilities in general. A rich nose and palate of blackberries, plums, and black cherries along with earthy notes of forest and cloves. Nice notes of sweet oak, tar, and acid combine with well integrated yet powerful tannins for a deep, complex, and rich wine with a long and caressing finish. This wine drinks beautifully now but will also age nicely for another several years.
Domaine Netofa, Late Bottled Vintage Port, 2010: This is the same wine that comprised the 2010 previously reviewed version, but aged for four years in oak before its release. The added aging allowed the aromas and flavors to harmoniously blend and yielded a highly-extracted and powerful wine whose near-endless complexity is matched by the wines sheer deliciousness. An explosively aromatic nose is recognizable as soon as the cork is pulled, even from several feet away. Loaded with notes of rich dark fruit, raisins, dates, good dark chocolate, hazelnuts, sweet figs and spices on both the nose and palate, this intensely sweet wine is well made and perfectly balanced, providing a highly pleasurable sipping experience that goes by all too quickly. Buy all you can find and try to control yourself sufficiently to put some away for additional aging [Only in Israel].
Four Gates, Frére Robaire, 2011: With his mother and father properly honored by having their names bestowed on Binyamin’s high-end Merlot (La Rochelle Merlot for his mother and M.S.C. for his father), it was time to provide the same to his brother Robert, for whom this top-tier wine is named. Capitalizing on Four Gate’s exceptional Merlot fruit, this elegant and simply beautiful wine is a blend of mostly Merlot with some Cabernet Sauvignon blended in granting it additional character and personality. With a rich and opulent nose loaded with fresh, mostly red, fruit including plums, ripe cherries, tart raspberry and a hint of cassis along with spicy oak, robust tannins providing a full-bodied palate along with structure and complexity. Additional notes of warm Oriental spices, garrigue, hints of oaky vanilla and dill from the oak provide delightful nuances. A wine that needs some time to develop, the near-perfect balance and impeccable structure make this wine a requirement for any self-respecting oenophile’s cellar and well worth the price tag (and any sharp elbows you made to fight others for your allocation). Approachable now with an hour or so of decanting, it will be better in 12-18 months and should cellar comfortably through 2020 [Only in the US].
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Blanc de Blanc, 2008: After hearing me rave about the 2007 version of this wine for over three years (it made the “Best of” 2012 list) and it’s younger Rosé sister for two), it is finally time to move on and celebrate the new[er] release of the 2008 Shmitah version which is delightfully delicious, albeit slightly creamier and luxurious than the more acidic and austere 2007 version but presents slightly more elegant and remains a lean, acid loaded and nuanced sparkler with great tight mousse and nuanced complexity of lip-smacking citrus, tart green apples, yeasty brioche, on a slightly saline background. A glorious finish rounds out this treat and you should load up with as much wine as you can carry. As an added bonus, the wine is a YH Best Buy.
Gvaot, Gofna Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011: I have been screaming for years that Gvaot is one of Israel most under-appreciated wineries with gobs of talent, tremendous quality and amazing wines. This wine is no exception and it is only the coming 2012 version that keeps this from being one of the best Cabernet Sauvignon wines winemaker Shivi Drori has produced. Blended with some of the Shomron’s unbelievable Merlot and a bit of Petit Verdot, the wine spent just under 18 months in a mix of French and American oak that yielded a powerfully elegant wine with plenty of character. Rich fruit dominates both the nose and the full-bodied palate along with slate minerals, a tinge of roasted herbs, lead pencil and a subtle whiff of good baker’s chocolate. Elegant and powerful, this wine is yet another reminder of why Gvaot has earned its place among Israel’s top wineries. While enjoyable now, I’d give the wine three-to-four months for the tannins to settle a bit (or aerate it a bunch), after which it should continue to develop nicely for another three to four years and cellar through 2023 Alongside Israel’s other top five wineries, Gvaot could take up almost half of this list all on their own with incredible wines such as the 2012 Masada below and Masada Pinot Noir, aforementioned 2012 Gofna Cabernet Sauvignon, newly added 2013 Gofna Petit Verdot, the 2014 “Dances in White” and the soon to be seen Cabernet Franc (finally!) but that wouldn’t be fair to others, would it?
Herzog, Special Reserve, Single Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley, 2012: After six years of producing a new Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon launched each year, I’d venture that this is their best yet. At this point the wine needs 12 months to come into its own but give it some breathing time (or vigorously decant through a Vinaturi) and the elegant structure and layered complexity will reveal themselves, allowing a sneak-peek at this beautiful wine which hails from Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley (despite being famed for Zinfandel, they can clearly grow some high-end Cabernet Sauvignon too). With a rich and expressive nose loaded with rich red and black crushed forest fruits over and undertone of earthy minerals, warm spices, slightly toasty oak and fresh brewed coffee leading into an elegant and full-bodied palate with much of the same where the array of caressing flavors are joined by cedar, fresh cigars and well-worn saddle leather surrounding robust tannins and buoyed by intense acid that combine to provide the structure for the components of this wine to integrate and present in the seamlessly wonderful manner Joe Hurliman intended. The lingering finish reminds you of the magnificent specimen you’ve just consumed. Give it 12 months and then enjoy [and cellar] through 2022, likely longer. Also mention-worthy are the Pinot Noir and Syrah produced under Herzog’s Wine Club only Eagle’s Landing label [Only in the US].
Trio, Special Cuvee, 2013: Despite no longer having the exceptionally talented Yotam Sharon as resident winemaker, the three Shaked family men’s Trio Winery continues to elevate itself with increasing quality wines, with this Special Cuvée rising about the rest. This year’s flagship blend is comprised of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Syrah, 10% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc each separately as components for about 12 months while utilizing a spectrum medley of different barrels. With a bright and fresh nose of crushed and mostly tart red fruits and sweet herbs backed up by impressive acid levels, the wine still needs bit of time to integrate properly for the various pieces to play nice but the underlying structural quality is easily identifiable and the extracted fruit and slightly smoky oak, along with array of Oriental spicy, black pepper, hints of green bell pepper and a lusciously caressing medium to-full bodied palate to make this a truly “special” cuvee (and even better than last vintage’s award winning version). I’d give the wine three to six months and then enjoy it through 2018 [Only in Israel].
“Almost” Most Exciting/Interesting Wines of 2015
Matar, Chenin, 2014: After joining the exceptionally small [but thankfully growing] club of kosher Chenin Blanc producing wineries with their inaugural 2013 version (“relocating it” from their non-kosher Pelter winery), I found the 2014 release to be even better. One of the most simply delicious wines I tasted this year, the wine is made from 100% Chenin Blanc grapes sourced from vineyards located in Mitzpe Rimon of which 60% spent three months in two-year old French oak giving the wine a little extra body to go with its rich and vibrant summer fruits and good acidity, while the rest fermented in stainless steel tanks. A delicious nose of fresh stone fruits, quince and citrus fruits along with flinty minerals, warm brown spices and a hint of vanilla with a slightly saline background. The medium to full bodied and slightly viscous palate is loaded to bear with more fresh fruit, and good [but in the background] acidity holding it all together with pleasing black pepper, warm herbs and slightly tart fruit giving the wine a bit of welcome bite. This is a wine that can be mindlessly enjoyed or pondered over for hours. Drink now or in the next year or so (although personally I will be putting a couple bottles away to compare its aging ability with Domaine Netofa’s White Latour, Elvi’s InVita and Tzora’s White Shoresh).
Recanati, Rose, Gris de Marselan, 2014: I am going to do my best to give the inaugural release of this supremely elegant and incredible wine the justice it deserves. Utilizing the saignée method to bleed some of the juice out of Recanati’s 100% varietal Marselan (the latest addition to their phenomenally successful Mediterranean Reserve series) which spent three months Sur lie and didn’t go through malolactic fermentation, resulted in one of the most elegant Rosé wines I have had the pleasure of tasting (besides being simply scrumptious and a real treat). This is a bright, crisply dry and refreshing wine that is guaranteed to please anyone who tries it, regardless of their personal preferences. If you are one of those who “isn’t into Rosé” this is guaranteed to change that. With a beautiful light peach color, the wine open with a nose that is loaded with fresh strawberries and floral notes, tempered by tons of warm spice, flinty minerals and a dry and medium bodied palate with plenty of bracing acidity keeping the near-sweet strawberries, black plum and cherry fruits in great balance with the tremendous and slightly earthy minerality, Oriental spices, crushed and fragrant rose petals along with a subtle hint of juicy watermelon. While already the second year in which Recanati released a second Rosé (in addition to their stalwart reviewed below), last year’s version was a special limited edition while I am hoping this wine will become a regular member of Recanati’s impressive and continuously growing portfolio) [Only in Israel].
Shirah, Grüner Veltliner, John Sebastiano Vineyard, 2014: Desiring another white wine to add to their repertoire, the brothers followed their hearts in a search for a varietal not common in the kosher wine world. This time around the search took them away from their usual Rhone tendencies all the way to Austria where they settled on one of the most food-friendly varietals out there which has recently become quite popular in a number of California AVAs, including the Santa Ynez valley from where this wine was sourced (along with the 2013 Pinot Noir reviewed below). I was so taken aback by the crisp and refreshing uniqueness of this wine, my stock was depleted far sooner than I expected as I drank the wine with nearly everything, in addition to enjoying it often on its own. Dominated by subtle notes of honeysuckle, minerals and spices are backed up by tart green apples, quince, subtle tropical fruit and black tea along with plenty of crisp acidity and plenty of mouth-watering citrus notes. Really a lovely and complex wine that deserves more attention than it gets based on its sheer deliciousness [Only in the US].