Yatir Winery

#279 – October 3, 2014

As I have lamented here in the past, one of the problems in writing a weekly (or in my case, an “almost-weekly”) newsletter as opposed to a daily one, is that you have only so much real-estate to dedicate to any particular wine or winery. With nearly 100 kosher wineries spread across the world and close to 80 in Israel alone, it is hard to provide the necessary updates on each in a timely matter. Case in point is the Yatir Winery, easily among Israel’s best whose quality, consistency and humility (other than a brief 2005-related “humility misfire”) have gifted us with so many delicious, innovative and long-lasting wines over the years. Despite the fact that Yatir obviously deserved to be recognized much more often, the last time the winery received a dedicated newsletter was over three years ago (I have obviously provided tasting notes for the majority of their wines over this three-year time frame, including nearly annual appearances on my “Best of the Year” lists, but no newsletter dedicated to the winery and its history). With Yom Kippur looming and in the spirit of “making amends”, I hereby present to you one of Israel’s best wineries and certainly one that I personally hold close to my heart – the Yatir Winery.

Founded in 2000 as a joint venture between the Carmel Winery and a number of regional wine-growers who collectively recognized the potential lying in the region located on the edge of the desert, this was one of the first kosher boutique wineries that produced spectacular wine, comfortably competing with then king of Israeli boutique wineries – the non-kosher Margalit and Castel Wineries (Castel’s first kosher vintage was in 2002). Located in the south of Israel with vineyards in Israel’s largest forest (for which its flagship wine is named), the winery sits between the tip of the Judean Hills and the arid desert. With a history of wine making dating back over 2500 years, it is highly suitable that some of Israel’s best wines are (once again) being made in this area. The breathtakingly beautiful forest was planted by the JNF back in 1964 at the urging of Israel’s then Prime Minister – David Ben Gurion (who, according to local lore, in response to being told by multiple scientists that creating a forest in the Negev was impossible told his underlings to simply change the scientists).

By 2006, after a number of years in partnership, the winery had grown beyond the financial capability of Carmel’s grower partners and needed substantial additional capital to continue to grow, develop and market resulting in Carmel taking over 100% of the winery’s ownership and the grower’s maintaining a financial relationship with the winery in a number of ways. While Carmel’s resources have certainly been helpful in maintaining impeccable standards at one of Israel’s most technologically advanced wineries, Yatir’s wunderkind head wine maker Eran Goldwasser is said to have complete autonomy over wine making decisions and is wisely left to his own devises to continue making Papa Carmel proud. Now assisted by the winery’s manager, Yaacov Ben Dor (who was an Israeli agricultural pioneer in the 1990s and spearheaded planting the vineyards in the desert forest) and Etti Edri, Eran manages to only produce fantastic wines – a tough feat for any winery and earning it the Yossie’s Corkboard Safe Bet Winery moniker. With his vinicultural training coming from Australia’s renowned Adelaide University (and then spending a number of years at different wineries), over the last 14 years Eran has created a style of his own while remaining one of the nicest and most humble individuals in the industry (a remarkable feat if you know the industry).

As everyone knows, first impressions are truly important and they have definitely had an impact on my feelings for this special winery. As I wrote in my “Personal Milestone Wines” newsletter, the 2002 Yatir Forest was my first encounter with Yatir (although the 2001 Forest was the first wine but I tasted it later) and a revolutionary wine to me at that time. A big and powerful wine with an extraordinary elegance to it. A truly special wine (and one that is still hanging on to life today with dignity). For many years, the only wines produced by Yatir were the Forest (Ya’arYatir) and a bold and complex blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz (in which the pieces come together beautifully into a great wine). In 2004, Yatir introduced an incredible Sauvignon Blanc wine that became an instant hit and followed that up the following year by introducing a single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz (now Syrah) that were just as successful (they also created a one-off port-style fortified Cabernet Sauvignon for the 2005 vintage). 2006 brought another major hit with a varietal Viognier and in the 2008 vintage saw the introduction of the amazing Petit Verdot reviewed below (I’m still waiting for Eran to be kind to me and divert some of their Cabernet Franc grapes from blending to a varietal version although he has told me he doesn’t believe they are suitable for such an endeavor). The winery currently produces approximately 150,000 bottles annually. In addition to the wines reviewed below they also produce a Sauvignon Blanc and a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz.

Yatir, Viognier, 2013: While I understand the concept of paying for quality and this wine certainly fulfills that criterion, it has traditionally been an uphill battle to sell expensive white wines (with a few exceptions). Whether a result of the general concept that white wines are cheaper (less to no oak and less capital carrying costs among other reasons), an unfortunate overarching preference for red wines or the even more unfortunate condescending attitude many still harbor to these wines or a myriad of other reasons, the average kosher wine consumer has proven less willing to shell out big bucks for white wine than red. As the wine is not yet available in the US, I am not sure on the expected retail (it retails for approximately 80 NIS / $22 in Israel) but hope that it will be priced so that folks will be tempted to give it a whirl. Differently styled than the another delicious Viognier on the market – that of Dalton, but no less good and with a more elegant and refined air about it, it provides a different way of looking at this delicious grape especially given the 50% that spent six months in mostly neutral oak. The wine opens with an aromatic nose loaded with Mayer Lemons and lemon curd, nectarines, apples, white peaches and a whiff of aromatic flowers. The medium bodied palate has plenty of the fruit continuing from the nose on a distinctively viscous feel to it while being loaded with acidity that keeps everything lively and in perfect balance while not overwhelming the fruit or becoming too austere for a Viognier. A lingering finish with a hint of bitter citrus pith on the end rounds out this treat. Delightful and worth seeking out.

Yatir, Syrah, 2009: After a few vintages where the quality of Yatir’s single varietal wines seemingly took a turn for the worse (other than the incredible Petit Verdot reviewed below), Eran Goldwasser produced this Syrah that is one of the best wines to ever carry the Yatir label and included shifting from labeling the wine “Shiraz” to “Syrah” in order to more properly reflect the wine (and winery’s) style. A rich and full-bodied wine with characteristically dark fruit, freshly cracked black pepper and freshly paved asphalt with plenty of roasted meat, cigar box and a hint of blue providing multiple layers of complexity. A reduction in the use of new oak is noticeable on both the nose and palate. Big and bold tannins combine with near impeccable balance that effectively guarantees that this wine will continue to tantalize and excite for a number of years to come. Enjoy now through 2016.
Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009: Fleshed out with a bit of Cabernet Franc (7%) and Malbec (8%), this is a classic (and good) Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon. Plenty of black fruit on the nose with a hint of red creeping in accompanied with good dark chocolate, tobacco leaf and a classically Israeli tinge of Herbaceousness. The round, mouth-filling and full bodied palate has plenty of the same extracted black fruit along with freshly cracked black pepper, saddle leather and good acidity ending with a lingering finish of more tobacco, minty chocolate, warm spices and some more toasty oak. Drink now through 2019.

Yatir, Petit Verdot, 2009: When Yatir released their inaugural 2008 vintage of Petit Verdot as a varietal wine it was love at first sight for me. Most commonly used as a blending agent, its big and bold personality is beautifully “tamed” by Eran without losing any of the grape’s characteristic traits. On release I found the 2009 to be an improvement over the powerfully awesome 2008 but, having recently revisited the 2008 in all of its developing glory, I can safely say that the two are both masterpieces with slightly different “world views”. Blended with 15% Merlot (the 2008 vintage had 15% Cabernet Franc), the wine spent 12 months in oak (with the varietals and wines from each vineyard aging separately) before being blended and spending another year in the bottle prior to release. Dark and inky with a welcoming nose of cassis, plums, black fruit, floral notes and lavender, together with hints of smoky oak, lead pencil, a hint of chocolate and tantalizing roasted meat. A full bodied palate with nicely integrating tannins has blackberries, more fruit, along with smoky meat, oak and a lingering finish that keeps you coming back for more. Drink now through 2018.

Yatir, Forest 2010: While the 2010 is the current vintage, Yatir’s flagship Forest is built for the long haul and rewards those with patience (I have recently enjoyed bottles from each of the 2003-2007 vintage). The 2009 vintage listed below is closer to drinkability and opening this wine now, while enjoyable, is oenophilic infanticide. As every year, the wine is a Bordeaux blend with the percentage varying from year to year and this wine coming out at 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Petit Verdot and 10% Merlot all of which spent about 13 months in French oak. The epitome of powerful elegance and most easily described (other than “awesome”) as an iron fist in a velvet glove. A dark, nearly impenetrable purple the nose starts off closed and needs to encouragement to open up. Once it does one is rewarded with rich dark forest fruits including blackberries, cherries and cassis along with roasted espresso beans, dark chocolate, toasty oak, cedar wood and freshly cured tobacco leaf which continues to evolve over time and is worth lingering over. An extracted and full-bodied powerful palate is loaded with more rich black fruit, black pepper, tobacco, chocolate, anise and freshly-paved asphalt backed up an impressive gripping tannic structure. The impeccable structure and balance ensure that this wine will cellar nicely and should develop over the next couple years. I’d wait 12 months before opening and then enjoy through 2021.

Yatir, Forest, 2009: Despite 2009 not being the most amazing vintage year Israel ever experienced, as would be expected from the country’s better wine makers, this is a supremely elegant and delicious wine – an iron fist in velvet glove, powerful with years of cellaring improvement to come. A blend of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Petit Verdot and 10% Merlot, this wine lives up to the expectations one has from one of Israel’s top wineries. A rich and voluptuous nose of ripe black fruit with some red notes as well with plenty of toasty oak and rich gripping tannins that have already started to integrate and bode well for the future development of this wine and some spicy notes from the oak. Much of the same on the palate with the added benefit of plum, cassis, cigar box and some pungent notes accompanied by a bitter hint of green that pleases, all leading into a velvety and lingering finish, rich with fruit, oak and hints of dark chocolate. A really special wine that was tasted by Mark Squires and awarded 91 points from the Wine Advocate (for whatever that is worth). Drink now through 2020.

Yatir, Fortified Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005: Despite having been tasted and reviewed by the late Daniel Rogov, I somehow missed this wine and was surprised to learn of its existence only eighteen months ago. Given the winery’s reputation, I did however jump at the opportunity and acquired the last six bottles the winery had without first tasting the wine – a rare occurrence for me but one that certainly paid off with the delicious and relatively rare wine. Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that was fortified with brandy and aged in neutral oak barrels for approximately eight months, the full-bodied wine is simply dark and delicious. Plenty of sweet berries, prunes, hazelnuts, lavender on the slightly oxidized nose with much of the same on the robust and sweet full-bodied palate, where they are joined by dark espresso coffee beans, rich bittersweet chocolate, a hint of smoke and still integrating tannins that lend the wine plenty of power, stability and character, all balanced by plenty of acidity holding the sweetness very much in check. Delightful.