8 Nov 11 – Sommelier 2011
Too many wine events all at once.
The Judean Hills Wineries Fair on Thursday night, the Wineries Run on Friday morning, and Sommelier this week. It wouldn’t be so “bad” if I didn’t have to go to work along the way. And to top it off I’m fighting a cold. Well it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.
So yesterday I left work (Herzlia) shortly after 15:00 expecting to get to the Nokia Stadium, where the Sommelier event was held this year, in about 20 minutes. Just my luck that the Ayalon was backed up most of the way, and it took me much longer to get there. At least parking wasn’t a problem.
Inside, a number of wineries’ tables were set up around the perimeter of the stadium floor, with quite a few more spread around the mezzanine area.
As usual, I tried to skip wines and wineries that I know, and as usual I failed. After the first few tables, most of which had quite good, but in my opinion overpriced wines, I fully intended to skip the Saslove table. But then I saw that Roni was there, and it would have been rude not to stop and chat. Roni went off to Australia to study winemaking a number of years ago, and now she and her father Barry are Saslove’s winemaking team. In particular, I wanted to talk to Roni about an idea I have for another wine shirt, as I understand she has some friends who might be able to help me with the graphics.
I also planned to skip the Gush Etzion table, but there were tastings of their outstanding Cabernet Franc, and I couldn’t resist. Asaf Rosenberg, son of owners Shraga and Tamar, asked me to stay a while as I was singing the praises of the Cabernet Franc to anyone who was willing to listen.
Gush Etzion was the last table on the stadium floor, so I headed up to the mezzanine where I found the Tepperberg table and winemaker Olivier. I had not met Olivier before, but we spoke on the phone last week when I called to ask where I’d be able to taste their Malbec, about which I’d heard so much. Olivier told me I’d be able to try it at Sommelier, so I made that a priority. Looking over my notes now I see that I failed to record my impressions for this wine, but I do remember that it was quite different from the few Argentinian Malbecs that I’ve had, being a good bit lighter in body. For me this is a good warm weather red, of which I have not found too many that I like. I also ran into Tepperberg’s chief winemaker Shiki, so of course I asked him when they’ll be opening their new visitor’s center across from Kibbutz Tzora. He told me it would be another two years. I wonder why it’s taking so long.
And then I reached the Barkan table. Normally I wouldn’t stop at Barkan as I am familiar with many of their wines and I was trying to pace myself. But then I saw that Ed Salzberg was there and I had to stop. Ed is the chief winemaker at Barkan, but I met him back in the late 1980s when he was the winemaker at the Tishbi Winery (when it was still called Baron Winery). I have not seen Ed in well over ten years and we took a few minutes (turned into more like half an hour) to catch up. Ed introduced me to Barkan’s new Assemblage line of blends. These wines are priced somewhere between Barkan’s Reserve and Altitude series. Of the three, my favorite was the Reichan 2009, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot. The most interesting of the series is called Tsafit, and it is a blend of Marselan (which the internet tells me is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache), Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec), Carignan, and Pinotage. I think it’s great that Barkan is experimenting with new-to-Israel grape varieties, and I am looking forward to more new and interesting wines in the coming years.
After a few other minor stops I made it to Chillag to be greeted by Orna Chillag and her winemaking sidekick Yariv. I have tasted Chillag’s wines both at the winery and at the Israel Museum’s wine festival this summer, and I thought I had tried all of their offerings. I was wrong. At Sommelier, Chillag was offering tastings of a Carignan that I’d never seen or heard of before. With the exception of a wine still in barrels, this Carignan immediately became my favorite Chillag wine. Full bodied, complex, soft tanins, long finish … just perfect. I have no idea how much it costs, but I must get some.
Then just when I was thinking that I had really had enough and it was about time to start heading home, I came across the Ramot Naftaly table and owner/winemaker Yitzhak Cohen. My friend Steve and I were in Ramot Naftaly in August (visit described in the posting I never wrote), where we visited the 3 Vines and Na’aman wineries. We did want to visit the Ramot Naftaly winery too, but they were closed that day so I was especially pleased to find them at Sommelier. Having more or less reached my limit by that time, I tasted only two of Ramot Naftali’s wines, their Malbec 2008 and Petit Verdot 2009. I won’t go into much detail, just suffice it to say that these wines are absolutely fantastic, and far superior, in my opinion, to many wines costing much more. At NIS 120, these are still above the NIS 100 limit that I try not to exceed too often, but I tasted quite a few wines last night that were more expensive and nowhere near as good. If you’re anywhere in the area it’s worth going out of your way to visit the wineries in Ramot Naftali; they are all good and the winemakers are all very friendly.
Next to Ramot Naftaly, was the Na’aman Winery and owner/winemaker Rami Na’aman. From the names of his wines – Pink Floyd (rose), King Crimson (Cab-Merlot), and Deep Purple (Cab-Merlot-Cab Franc), it’s not too hard to guess Rami’s musical taste. Having tasted Na’aman’s wines at the winery, I didn’t try any at Sommelier, but I can tell you that Rami also makes an excellent Petit Verdot, of which I bought a bottle in the summer. Apparently the climate in Israel agrees with the Petit Verdot grape, because there are a number of excellent Petit Verdot varietals here from both the Judean Hills and Golan Heights regions. I have seen Petit Verdot from other areas as well but have not tried them.
That’s it. There were lots of wineries and wines that I didn’t mention, like the port style wine from the Har Bracha (Mount Blessing) Winery, which was made from grapes harvested at 35 brix! I didn’t know the sugar content could get so high.
As I was leaving I saw that Clos de Gat had a table hidden away up some stairs, but there was an announcement over the PA system that the event was closing and asking everyone to leave. I have been wanting to try Clos de Gat’s wines for a long time, but I guess I’ll have to wait a bit longer.
So after spending over five hours at Sommelier (I have no idea where the time went) I can offer the following advice: If you have a cold, and if you are a wine enthusiast, just go to a wine event like Sommelier, and you’ll forget all about your cold. At least I did.
On the way out, I passed the Saslove table again and “complained” to Roni that there was too much wine. “No such thing” she said, and I realized that she was right. There isn’t too much wine, there just isn’t enough time!