Yossi’s Wine Page

Sommelier 2014 – Part II

As promised, here, finally, is Part II of my posting about the 2014 Sommelier wine fair.

I hope you can all forgive me for the delay in my postings. Is it my fault that there are so many wine events in such a short period of time? I could keep up much better if I quit my day job, but then I wouldn’t be able to buy any wine.

Ok, enough excuses.

I’m not going to try to cover all of Sommelier in this posting. Instead I’ll stick to the wines and wineries that I found most interesting, impressive, or significant.

In Part I of this posting I mentioned that Oded Shoham also makes his own wines, and as Oded’s table was next to Rami Bar-Maor’s (Oded markets Bar-Maor wines), I tried his wines next. Oded does not have his own winery per se, and he utilizes the services of one Yehuda Gross, who has a small kosher winery in Moshav Nehalim near Petak Tikva (definitely worth a visit, especially since the marvelous Markovich dairy in the moshav as well). At Sommelier, Oded presented two wines both from the 2011 vintage. The first, called Onyx, is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Petit Verdot. Made from grapes grown in Kadita, this wine, while not exceptional, is nicely integrated with good body and a pleasant finish. The Black Onyx 2011 is quite a different story. Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, the Black Onyx is extremely elegant with subtle flavors and nuances that I could not identify. Certainly not what I would expect from a varietal Cabernet, this is a wine that will not overpower foods having delicate flavors. As you might be able to tell, I immediately became a big time fan of this wine; I just hope I can afford it.

Another new winery for me was Kishor. Located in the special needs community of Kishorit, the winery gives back to the community by employing a number of residents. Of the Kishor wines I sampled I most enjoyed their 2013 white blend of Viognier (85%) and Sauvignon Blanc (15%), aged sur lie for four months in used barrels, which I found more enjoyable and refreshing than the similar wine from 2012.

Of all the wineries at Sommelier I think I was most excited by the presence of Cremisan. Probably the first winery I ever visited in Israel, the Cremisan Winery is located in the Cremisan Monastery in the village of Beit Jalla, overlooking Bethlehem. I visited Cremisan with a friend in 1981, before the first intifada, when it was still fine to go to such places. At the time, I found the people to be very friendly, and some of the wines were quite enjoyable. I believe I even bought a few bottles. After the intifada began, I didn’t hear much about Cremisan anymore and I wondered from time to time if they were still in business. So you can imagine how heartwarming it was for me to see the folks from Cremisan at Sommelier.

Cremisan uses grapes from three different vineyards featuring known varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignion, Merlot, Carignan, Syrah, Chardonnay, Riesling, and even Argaman, along with more unusual (certainly to me) varieties like Dabouki, Hamadani, Jandali, Malvasia, Baladi and Alicanteis. According to the notes published on the Sommelier website, the Cremisan Winery produces some half a million bottles annually (I suppose most is exported), so I guess I needn’t have worried about their survival.

The wines presented by Cremisan at Sommelier were of the varietals unfamiliar to me: A sweet white made from late harvest Dabouki grapes, a semi-dry white made from from Hamadani & Jandali grapes, and a red wine made from Baladi grapes. Of the three I preferred the 2011 Baladi, which was aged for 14 months in 20 year-old 4650 liter barrels, making this essentially an unoaked wine.

I firmly believe that the best way to bring peace to our region is through cooperation in sports, the arts, and business, where people care more about the issues at hand than about politics. I’m hoping that Cremisan’s presence at a major wine event like Sommelier will help bring together people who would otherwise be kept apart by governments and politics. Bring Peace Through Wine sounds like a good slogan to me. (I’m also a big fan of Taybeh Beer – particularly the dark.)

The Yiftah’el Winery is only about a 40 minute drive from my home, but for some reason I’ve not visited them. Instead I end up trying their wines at festivals in Rosh Pina and Tel Aviv. At Sommelier I tried varietal Sangioveses. The first, from the 2013 vintage, was unoaked and is intended for early drinking. As expected this is a simple, fruity, and slightly harsh wine that is a bit rough on its own, but which would probably go well with burgers and the like. At NIS 39 it’s hard to go wrong. The second Sangiovese, from 2009, was oak aged for 12 months, and is much smoother and more elegant than its younger sibling. I liked them both.

Another new winery for me is Dubkin, which is located in Moshav Tkuma. Dubkin was one of the few wineries at Sommelier with barrel tastings, so of course I had to try that. On offer was a 2012 Merlot that was quite interesting, with more body than the light fruity Merlots of the north and less than the full-bodied Merlots of the Judean hills. Still quite astringent, this Merlot has interesting complexity and a strong finish. I don’t know how soon it will be bottled, but I’ll keep my eye out as this is a wine I’d like to try again.

As I am familiar with most of their wines, I really only stopped by the Chillag Winery‘s booth to say hello, but they pressed upon me a Cabernet/Syrah/Merlot blend called Bambino that I’d never seen or tried before. Bambino is available only in restaurants. Apparently I don’t frequent the right restaurants, so I was pleased to be able to sample the Bambino blend at Sommelier. Wine at restaurants can be a tricky business. Since most people don’t call ahead to order wine and have it opened in advance (I think you have be a pretty good regular customer for that), the most successful wines for a restaurant are those that don’t need to breath long before drinking, and those that pair well with a wide variety of foods. The Chillag Bambino succeeds very nicely in both these areas, being what I’d call a crowd pleaser. With medium body, medium fruit, and a nice finish, Bambino is a very enjoyable wine.

Montefiore is one of the younger wineries on the scene; I was not very impressed with their wines in the past, so I didn’t expect much here either. Instead I was pleasantly surprised by their 2011 Syrah, which showed medium fruit nicely offset by its balanced acidity.

I have been tasting wines from the 1848 Winery at various festival and events over the past few years and have been liking them more each time. Mordechai Avraham Galina, the patriarch of the family, established the Eshkol winery in Jerusalem in the year 1848, hence the name of the modern winery. (The full history, including descriptions of the generations, is available on the winery’s website, albeit in Hebrew.)

On this occasion I tried their 2011 5th Generation White Blends and 5th Generation 2010 Syrah.

The former is a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 24% Chenin Blanc, and 6% Semillon, with the Chardonnay and Semillon fermented together and then aged for 8 months in 400 liter barrels. The Chenin Blanc was fermented on its own and remained in stainless steel tanks until blending with the Chardonnay and Semillon prior to bottling. I rather enjoyed the dry, crisp, and mineral qualities of the wine and found it to be quite refreshing.

I also enjoyed the Syrah (with 10% Merlot and 5% Petite Syrah) very much. Aged for 24 months in new oak barrels, this Syrah is very smooth and balanced.

I have not had much opportunity to taste Red Poetry‘s wines so I was pleased that they were at Sommelier. As it was getting late I tried only one of their wines, a 2013 Grenache. Despite it’s youth it was an exceedingly enjoyable wine, though by this point in the evening I wasn’t really able to take much in the way of useful notes. I will certainly look for this wine again.

Last, but definitely not least, was the 2011 Pinot Noir from the Livni Winery. As I’ve never had a “proper” Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Sonoma, or the Russian River Valley, I can’t really say how this one stacks up internationally. I do know that Pinot Noir does not grow particularly well in Israel (quite a few vintners and winemakers have told me so), which is why there are not very many offerings of the varietal. Having said all that, the Livni Pinot Noir is definitely one of the very few Israeli Pinot Noirs that I enjoyed tasting. So if you’re looking for Pinot Noir in Israel, and particularly if you’re looking for a kosher Pinot Noir in Israel, I recommend that you consider this one.

So, that wraps up my impressions from this year’s Sommelier. It was lots of fun and I certainly intend to go again next time.

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