Tel Aviv never sleeps. I left a subterranean club called Breakfast at 4 this morning, and it was just getting started. When I reached outside, the streets in town were gridlocked with people and automobiles. Neon signs and loud music shook my senses. The buzz was at a fever pitch. Maybe some people feel they have to squeeze the lemon as hard as possible each day with the current situation in the Middle East. But Israelis assure me that that’s normal life in Tel Aviv. “We never sleep,” said Robert, the owner of two bars in town.
But there are also a number of wineries in Israel who are squeezing the lemon at the moment. I did a blind tasting yesterday at the seaside restaurant Mul-Yam of a couple dozen wines from Israel. And I was very impressed to say the least. It wasn’t because they were the greatest wines on earth, even though a number of them were outstanding quality. It was more because I could easily see that the potential to improve wine quality is still very high for a number of names, including Margalit, Yarden, and Domaine du Castel. And Israeli wines offer an interesting style, one that combines the character of the ancient soils of the Middle East with the know-how of the modern Western world. I had the same sensation when I visited and tasted wines in South Africa in 1994, just after the change in government there.
A friend of mine, Frenchman/Israeli Yair Haidu, organized the tasting for me. He has written a book (it’s still only in Hebrew) on Israeli wines, while continuing to work for Riedel glasses around the world. He is very knowledgeable and will be soon opening a wine import company as well as wine/food center in Tel Aviv. His idea of the tasting was to provide a quick overview of the country's wine industry, which covers about 11,100 acres of vineyards and about 150 wineries. And he certainly succeeded.
The tasting included Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah and even Pinotage. Plus, there were a number of Bordeaux-style blends. Most of the wines were very well made, with defined fruit and a balance of ripe tannins and good acidity. The Viognier, particularly an outstanding 2004 Yarden Asprinia d’Aversa Viognier, was very impressive, with extravagant aromas and flavors of tropical fruit and just the right hint of new wood. It was more Napa Valley than Rhône Valley. Only 4,000 bottles of the wine were made, and half were sold to the restaurant.
Of the reds, I found the 2001 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon Galiee El Rom Vineyard to be outstanding, just like at dinner the night before. (I had no idea it would be in the tasting.) But the star of the tasting was the 2004 Margalit Enigma. A blend of 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 19 percent Merlot, and 21 percent Cabernet Franc, it was even better than the 2003 I had the night before, with more concentration and even better structure. Don’t touch it for a few years if you can find it. A 2001 Cabernet from Yatir winery was also oustanding, though slightly less so.
If you get the chance, also look for these wines that I scored very good (and at the high end of that range) in the tasting: 2004 Domaine du Castel Chardonnay C Blanc du Castel, 2003 Vitkin Petite Syrah, 2001 Ilan Merlot, 2002 Saslove Cabernet Sauvignon Reserved, 2002 Tabor and 2000 Domaine du Castel Haute Judee Grand Vin.
A dinner yesterday, which was hosted by Mul-Yam owner Shalom Maharovsky, underlined the passion and commitment of Israeli winemakers. The handful in attendance spoke with the knowledge and determination of some of the best wine producers I have encountered – and they can be very argumentative as well! They believe their vineyards and winemaking can be compared with the best in the world, and are tired of being categorized as Kosher wines. Moreover, problems with the recent war seemed over (I touched the wood of my chair when they said this!), and they were excited about the new harvest.
Israel--a country of beauty, excitement and enchantment--certainly has a soul of its own in winemaking, which is why it’s worth trying one of her wines.
Yaron Zakai Or — Israel — September 1, 2006 5:08pm ET
Zor Gorelov — September 2, 2006 10:04am ET
James Suckling — — September 2, 2006 12:09pm ET
Anacleto Ludovic — paris france — September 2, 2006 7:52pm ET
Anacleto Ludovic — paris france — September 2, 2006 7:53pm ET
Alexander Chan — california — September 2, 2006 9:32pm ET
James Suckling — — September 3, 2006 6:51am ET
Merlin — Zurich, Switzerland — September 3, 2006 8:25am ET
James Suckling — — September 3, 2006 8:58am ET
Richard Steinberg — Boca Raton , FL — September 3, 2006 4:12pm ET
Anacleto Ludovic — paris france — September 4, 2006 2:20pm ET
Joseph Romualdi — Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada — September 4, 2006 5:27pm ET
James Suckling — — September 4, 2006 5:39pm ET
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