Flew into Tel Aviv for a few days with some friends yesterday on a whim. Everything was quiet, except for the occasional military helicopter speeding by overhead.
It is my first time to Israel, and it is a trip I have wanted to make for a very long time.
After clearing security at the airport, we drove over to some friends’ house near the beach in Herzliya. They had laid out a huge family-style lunch at their beautiful home, which resembled something in Malibu with its modern, minimalist design, long angular pool and well-manicured gardens. Parts of Tel Aviv resemble sections of Los Angeles, where I grew up. The problems in Lebanon and the constant threat seemed a long way away, although it’s on everyone’s mind here. And meal conversations inevitably end up on the subject.
We ate on the patio. It was hot and humid outside. They served various salads, roasted chicken and baked fish. The host pulled out a few bottles of Israeli reds including a couple of vintages of Domaine du Castel (1996 and 2000) and a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon from Margalit. The latter was clearly the best wine, with a lovely balance of fresh blackberry, violets and currant fruit character, medium to full body and silky tannins. It was a big surprise for me. I consider it 88 points going on 90.
I tried another wine from Margalit later in Tel Aviv during dinner with some other friends at a restaurant called Raphael. The 2003 Enigma is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Again, this red had balance and finesse with a good depth of ripe fruit. Full-bodied, it showed lovely raspberry character on both the nose and palate, with hints of chocolate and currants. The tannins were ripe and harmonious. I would put it at 88 points.
I asked the restaurant's sommelier, Eugene Vevgeny, if there was another wine that would compare well to the Margalit Enigma, and he recommended a wine from Yarden, a 2001 single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from the El Rom Vineyard. Vevgeny said he is one of Israel’s longest-serving sommeliers, and he seemed to know his stuff. He said that the grapes for the wine came from high hillside vineyards about 3,000 feet above sea level. Apparently, only about 4,000 bottles were produced.
I loved the wine. It showed wonderful currant, berry, vanilla and spice aromas that followed through to a full-bodied, silky, complex palate with layers of refined tannins and subtle flavors. I'd give it 91 points. Maybe I was overly enthusiastic about the wine, considering the ambiance. But it was impressive.
Vevgeny also recommended a bottle of 2003 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin that I also enjoyed, but it was not on the quality level of the Yarden El Rom. He explained that Castel had gone kosher because the winery was finding it difficult to sell its wines around the world. “Few people know Israeli wine, but they do know kosher wine,” he said. Regardless, I found the wine very good, with lovely blackberry character, full body, velvety tannins and very good balance. I'd rate it 88 points.
This morning, I am going to do a blind tasting of about two dozen of Israel’s best wines in what some say is the city's best restaurant, Mul Yam. So stay tuned. I am also having dinner with a handful of Israeli winemakers later on. And then there’s a late-night party in Tel Aviv….
Neil Koffler — New York, NY — August 31, 2006 10:53am ET
Yaron Zakai Or — Israel — August 31, 2006 4:13pm ET
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