Yossi’s Wine Page

Sommelier 2014 – Part I

If I wait to till I’ve written the entire thing, this posting may never see the light of day, so it’s coming in installments. This is Part I.

Sommelier is a two day trade fair (Jan 7 & 8 this year) at which wineries present their wares to distributors, wine merchants, restauranteurs, hoteliers, sommeliers, and the like. It is a major opportunity for wineries to get their products on shelves and wine lists. Sommelier is also open to wine journalists, and even wine bloggers like yours truly.

After a hiatus of several years the Sommelier Wine Fair was back where it belongs, at Tel Aviv’s Charles Bronfman Auditorium (what many people still call the Mann Auditorium).

Naively I thought if I went both days I’d manage to try most of the wines that interested me, and speak to most of the people I wanted to. And while I did manage to cover a lot of ground, and even though I skipped many wines that were already familiar to me, I still didn’t get anywhere near tasting and schmoozing as much as I’d intended.

This year there was something new – a vertical tasting of Margalit’s Cabernet Franc, including all the vintages from 2007 to 2011. Participation required registration in advance and there were limited places available, so I was quite fortunate to get one.

Margalit rarely participates in wine festivals, and they only open their winery to the public once a year during the weekends preceding Pesach. Even then, only the latest bottled vintage is available for tasting. The problem is that Margalit wines tend to be harsh and unapproachable when young, and I for one am hesitant to purchase an expensive wine now that I may or may not like in five years. Anyway, that’s why I was particularly pleased to participate in this Margalit tasting. Also, I do rather enjoy Cabernet Franc.

The Margalit tasting was presented by Oded Shoham, an independent winemaker in his own right (more about Oded’s wine later on). Oded started off by explaining that Margalit’s Cabernet Franc grapes come from their own vineyards in Binyamina and Kadita, and that the vines are neither irrigated or sprayed. The wines were not 100% varietal Cabernet Franc, with the blend varying from vintage to vintage (the 2011 contained 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Merlot). As with most Margalit wines, these Cab Francs were oak aged in a mix of new, once used, and twice used barrels (1/3 +1/3 + 1/3), except the 2009 vintage which didn’t see any new oak at all.

We started with the 2011, which was surprisingly approachable. When I tasted it at the winery last year, I found this wine to be distinctly bitter with harsh tannins. The extra ten months in the bottle had a dramatic effect; even though it’s clearly not anywhere near its prime the wine goes down much easier now, with medium+ body, and subtle notes of  green pepper.

The 2010 was a different story altogether; richer in aroma though surprisingly lighter in taste, less astringent, and with the beginning of a finish (can one say that?). Some of the difference is undoubtedly owing to the extra year in the bottle, but Oded said that the colder winter of 2009-2010 also influenced the character of the wine.

2009 was clearly a more mature, better integrated wine, with a stronger cabernet-ish aroma. The green pepper element was more subdued and the wine had a longer finish.

Skipping over the 2008 we proceeded to the 2007. Despite its age, the 2007 had a fresher character than the younger wines. Overall quite an elegant wine and extremely well balanced Cabernet Franc that was just a pleasure to drink. The 2007 was my hands down favorite.

Oded saved the 2008 for last due to its unique character. As soon as we had it in our glasses we could all detect the distinct barnyard smell of Brettanomyces. Some people like the complexity contributed by “Brett” and others not so much. I do know that there are winemakers who go to great lengths to get just the right amount of Brett in their wines. At Margalit I believe it is more hit or miss, with Brett showing up in the 2004 and 2008 Cabernet Francs. Oded and the winemakers at Margalit are pleased with the Brett influence, and while it certainly makes for a more interesting wine, I can’t say that it really appeals to me.

This is probably a good time to put in a plug for this year’s annual tasting at Margalit, which will take place during the weekends of March 28/29, April 4/5, and April 11/12 (see posting here).

Adjacent to Margalit I found Rami Bar-Maor with the latest offerings from his Bar-Maor Winery. Rami apprenticed at Margalit before opening his own winery so it’s rather fitting that they were situated in close proximity at Sommelier.

Bar-Maor is an estate winery using only their own grapes. According to the winery:  “Relying only on winter rains, with no irrigation … the roots of the vines having instinctively deepened further into the sub-soil locating water and natural nutrients highly beneficial to the creation of a vine with true expression and personality.” This is a true win-win situation, conserving water and improving the quality of the wine. On top of that, Rami uses only the free run juice for his wines, further enhancing the wine.

As I wanted to pace myself I tried only two Bar-Maor wines – Cabernet Franc varietal and a blend called Lilith, both of the recent 2012 vintage.

As expected, both wines were quite fruity and a bit lacking in depth, which is characteristic of young wines. Nevertheless, I found them both to be quite approachable. The Cabernet Franc was very enjoyable with good acidity to balance the fruit, and though a bit rough it had a lovely finish. In a year or two I expect it to be more balanced and subtle.

Lilith is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (83%) and Syrah. Despite it’s composition of two full-bodied varieties, I found the Lilith to be lighter in body than the Cabernet Franc, though this may change with time. The lighter body (at least for now) makes Lilith a good match for dishes like chicken and veal that can be overpowered by heavier wines.

Bar-Maor is also having tastings of their new wines during the same three weekends as Margalit March 28/29, April 4/5, and April 11/12 (see posting here). As the two wineries are located just a stone’s throw from one another, it’s quite convenient to visit them one after the other. Considering that Margalit’s and Bar-Maor’s wines are rather different in character, visiting both wineries on the same day will make for an interesting experience.

To be continued …

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