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31 January 2017

Discovering Israeli wines: the wineries Part 1

For the last 3 days I have been in Tel Aviv invited by The Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute together with Cathy Van Zyl MW from South Africa and Catherine Todd from the USA. The tour's schedule includes visits in wineries and participation in the big wine show that takes place in Tel Aviv called Sommelier 2017. 

The basics for Israeli wine: 60 commercial wineries (the top 6 wineries total 75 % of the harvest), 5.500 hectares of vineyards planted with international varieties that have been well adapted to the country's mesoclimates and a climate with extremes. A map of the wine regions of Israel from winesisrael.com is shown at the end of the post. Consumption per capita is very low, just 4 lts and the biggest threat in the vineyards is leaf roll virus with Esca making a strong comeback. Israel has also its first Master of Wine, winemaker and general manager of Tzora Vineyards Eran Pick MW. 

''In a country with such a warm climate with extremes, the biggest challenge for the winemaker is to make balanced complex wines. Which means picking decisions, protecting the grapes from the sun and good tannin management are all critical'' says Eran Pick MW.

We started out tour with Tabor winery situated in the heart of the fertile Galilee in the foothills of Mt. Tabor. Tabor winery produces about 2 million bottles from a variety of soils mostly from high altitude vineyards (800-900 m at Golan Heights) and they seem to pay a lot of attention to viticulture. We tasted together with Or Nidbach and agronomist Michal Akerman (pictured below) a good selection of wines. 

Adama Roussanne 2015 was very enjoyable with its intense stone fruity character while Sauvignon Blanc from 40 years old vines and clay - rocky soils delivered a lot of varietal typicity and complexity with pure mango and peach flavours. My top wines of the tasting were the Tannat Single Vineyard 2013 from an altitude of 950 m in Golan Heights. It showed a pure core of black fruit, firm structure and fine balance showing also some elegance (92/100). To achieve this balance skins are separated from the must at 8% abv to avoid over - extraction and phenolic bitterness. Malkiyia Cabernet Sauvignon from vines on the border with Lebanon to the north and from Eocene limestone soils was also very fine with high concentration, sweet fruit and lovely fruit expression (91/100). 

Binyamina winery located in Shomron to the south is another large player producing six series of wine and around 2.5 mn bottles. Climate which is typically Mediterranean benefits from the southern Carmel range and cooling breezes off the Mediterranean Sea. Soils vary from calcareous clay, terra rossa, limestome and chalk.

From the Reserve series I really enjoyed the Semillon 2014 with a dash of Sauvignon Blanc with its typical waxy and lanolin flavours and spicy, ginger character (90/100) and from the top Chosen series the white blend called Jasper 2015 stole my heart. Lovely integration of three varieties, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Viognier that mature in oak for 6 months. Great texture and complexity with just 13% abv (92/100). 

Contrary to Tabor and Benyamina, Alexander winery (central photo) set in the heart of Sharon region produces no more than 50.000 to 60.000 bottles, mostly for exports. The wines here are avant garde in style with very impressive packaging (pictured below) and lots of oak and interesting winemaking. 

Back to Tel Aviv - the city that never sleeps - we had a brilliant tasting and dinner with Eran Pick at the Milgo & Milbar. Food was delicious and the wines of Tzora Vineyards showed really well. The white Shoresh 2015 Sauvignon Blanc fermented and matured for 7 months in 500 lts oak has a lovely creamy texture and chalky character with long lingering herbal finish. Overall it is elegant with lots of flavour at 13.7% abv (92/100). On the same path is the red Shoresh 2015, a blend of 47% Syrah, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest being Petit Verdot. I thought to pair it with the grilled octopus tentacle and it was stunning. It is a fat and fresh wine with a Cabernet soul that matures in 30% new oak (93/100).  

To be continued... 

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