Yossi’s Wine Page

A Busy Weekend

Anyone reading this probably knows very well that the weekends leading up to Rosh HaShana (Jewish New Year) and Pesach (Passover) are laden with wine events. All the wineries want you to buy their wines for the holiday feasts, and many of them have tasting events to lure you in. The problem is that so many of the wineries have their events at the same time, making it impossible for us enthusiasts to attend them all.

I had a plan, and surprisingly I actually managed to stick more or less to it, fitting in eight events starting Thursday evening and ending Saturday night. My schedule wasn’t even too rushed, as it was my great fortune that many of the events were quite nearby. I even managed to get in a 10 km run on Friday morning! Unfortunately I missed the Chillag Rosh Hashana tasting (not nearby), so I’ll have to make up for that another time.

Thursday evening I walked all of five minutes from home to the Aren’s Winery’s new Hospitality Center (it’s more of a shop with a large courtyard than a visitor’s center) where they were having a Wine & Meat evening. Koby Arens, the owner/winemaker, invited meat importer Yaniv Rogovsky to grill some of his fine entrecôte to accompany the wines. Yaniv’s meat is grass fed beef that is flown in fresh and vacuum packed from Argentina.

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Arens is a small winery producing a few thousand bottles a year. Till now Kobi has limited his production to blends of Syrah, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot, and Carignan from his own vineyards; two different vintages of this Estate Blend, 2010 and 2011, were offered for tasting on this occasion. The percentages of the varieties in the blend vary from year to year depending on the character of the grapes. Have a look at this page on the Arens website for the details. Not yet released are the Estate Blend 2012 and a varietal Mourvedre 2012, which were also available for tasting, but not for sale.IMG_2950a

Arens’ wines are characterized by light fruitiness, making them ideal warm weather wines. Dina particularly liked the 2010, and we bought a bottle. I, on the other hand, preferred the 2012 blend, finding in it more complexity than the previous vintages. The 2012 wines are scheduled for release before Pesach.

As a Petit Verdot fan, I asked Kobi if he had plans for a varietal PV, and he replied that it’s a possibility. I look forward to finding out.

Also for sale were Arens’ own olive oil, as well as local honey (Milman), and preserves.

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At this event I met a fellow who asked if I planned to attend the Zimnavoda tasting the following morning. I hadn’t even heard about that event, but as I have been wanting to visit Zimnavoda for a long time, I decided to try to squeeze it in, and on Friday morning, after my run, I headed to Zichron Ya’akov.

Like Kobi Arens, and many of the other local winemakers, Shalomik Zimnavod is an nth generation grape grower who sells most of his grapes to Carmel Mizrachi. Some years ago he decided to use some of his grapes to make his own wine, and in 2005, the Zimnavoda winery was born.

At this tasting event, I tried four of Zimnavoda’s wines from three different vintages.

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From 2010 I tasted the Har Chorshan blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot, with the remaining and 20% comprising Carignan and Petite Verdot. The wine was barrel aged for about 16 months, with the blending taking place about half way through. This is a nicely integrated medium bodied very drinkable wine, with a nice finish, and I happily bought a bottle.

The 2011 Carignan, from ~40 year-old vines, was aged for two years in large 400 liter barrels. Shalomik told me that these vines received some irrigation at the beginning of the growing season, but none at all after that, so I was expecting a bold dominating Carignan. Surprisingly, the wine was rather soft and only medium bodied. A very pleasant and easy drinking wine.

Next I tried a 2012 Shiraz, which was also uncharacteristically light. This was my least favorite of Zimnavoda’s wines.

Last, but definitely not least, was a 2012 Merlot. As surprised as I was by the lightness of the Carignan and Shiraz, I was even more surprised by the fullness of this Merlot. The vines are a French Merlot clone known as 181, which is apparently something quite special. Zimnavoda imported these vines and planted them in 2008, making 2012 his first vintage. Aged for 14 months in once used barrels (imported used from France), this Merlot is very deep in color, is rather viscous in the mouth, and is characterized by dominant but not overpowering dark fruit flavors. I bought one of these as well.

Similar to Arens, Zimnavoda is also considering releasing a varietal Petit Verdot if the wine that’s in barrels now justifies it. Something to look out for.

All of Zimnavoda’s wines were priced at NIS 70, or NIS 360 for a case of six, making them good value for money, considering their quality.

After Zimnavoda it was back to Arens, with Dina in tow (she hadn’t accompanied me the night before), where the same wines were on offer, but this time accompanied by cheeses from the Jacobs Dairy and from Motke the Milkman in Talme Elazar.

On to the Alona Winery in Givat Nili. Alona had quite a range of wines, both varietals and blends. Alona has a reputation for excellent Rosé, and the 2014 did not disappoint. Made from 100% Greanche, this Rosé has body and a finish. Non-Rosé fans who skipped tasting it missed out IMHO. After the Rosé I tried Alona’s 2013 varietals. I found the Carignan (~25 year-old vines) and Cabernet Franc to be quite excellent, and I picked up a couple of each. I also enjoyed the 2013 Shiraz, which displayed the spiciness and full body typical of the variety.

IMG_2981aIMG_2983aAfter Alona I actually had time for a bit of nap before heading off in the evening to Kfar Tikva for the Tulip Winery’s annual pre-Rosh Hashana do. We arrived early, but the place was already filling up. By the time we left, it was crowded, and I heard later that it went from crowded to packed as the evening wore on. I’m glad we were early.

At this event Tulip was launching their new NET Sauvignon Blanc. As I understand it, the NET has two meanings here. First of all, the wine is 100% varietal. Other Tulip 100% varietals bear the “Just” moniker (Just Merlot, Just Cabernet Sauvignon), but with the SB there’s more to the story. We were told that the SB vineyard is shaded with netting to reduce the direct harsh sunlight on the grapes, thereby limiting caramlization of the sugars in the grapes. Considering that the “carameliness” of the NET Sauvignon Blanc was lower than the White Tulip, I suppose it worked. Still, this was far from my favorite Israeli 2014 Sauvignion Blanc.

IMG_2988aTulip’s red wines have a huge following, as was evident by the quantities being sold during the evening, but I just can’t get excited about them. Don’t get me wrong, these are quality wines, but they’re just not to my taste. I actually prefer the wines of Tulip’s sister winery MAIA, but they weren’t included in this event.

IMG_2999aRegardless of my wine preferences, I salute Tulip for the degree of social responsibility they exhibit. Not only does the winery support the special needs community of Kfar Tikva, they also employ several of the residents. And if that’s not enough, Tulip is now donating proceeds from their wine sales to Make-a-Wish Israel. To that end, Tulip designated two of their wines as Wish Makers, one being the NET Sauvignon Blanc, and the other a red blend that was not out for tasting.

Shabbat morning and I was off the Salomon Winery in Moshav Amikam. Salomon has these tastings twice a year, before Rosh Hashana and Pesach, but for various reasons I have been unable to attend the last two or three, so I was looking forward to finding out what was new. I was not disappointed.

In the past I particularly enjoyed Salomon’s Cabernet Franc, but this time not so much. Instead, and for the second time in as many days, I was surprised and impressed by a Merlot, this one from Salomon’s 2010 vintage. This Merlot was also uncharacteristically dark in color and viscous in the mouth, with full body and a lovely lingering finish. Different vintage, different clone (I think), but similar results. I’d have to try them side by side to make a proper comparison, but I doubt that will ever happen unless I can get a group together for the purpose. Keeping two open bottles of wines of this calibre is not such a good idea.

IMG_3001aSalomon makes two blends, of which I preferred the 2008 Nahal (Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc). At NIS 50 I considered this a real bargain and bought a couple.

After making my purchases I tasted Salomon’s 2014 Chardonnay, which was excellent. I had tried it upon arrival but it wasn’t sufficiently cold yet. Had I waited half an hour I might have bought some. Just as well as my shelves are rather full.

Dina had skipped Salomon this time (she’s not as wine loco as I), so I drove home to pick her up and together we headed south to the Marcus Winery in Kfar Monash. This was more of a social visit than a tasting visit, as we had been to Marcus a few weeks earlier with my friend Steve who was visiting from the States. I try to find new wineries for Steve to visit each time he’s here, and this time I took him to Bat Shlomo, Stern, Raviv, and Marcus.

Visits to Marcus are always enjoyable, as winemaker Avi Marcus, his son Or, and his wife Ilana make visitors feel like part of the family. On this occasion we were all sitting around a large table (actually several tables pushed together) in their garden, with relaxed conversation about anything and everything. Every now and then Avi or Or would come around to pour us some wine or another, and Ilana would disappear into the house to bring out something else to nibble on.

So even though we weren’t there for tastings, it was impossible to turn them down; Avi and Or just won’t allow it. Considering the weather, we started off with the whites, beginning with a Sauvignon Blanc. To my taste this is one of the better SB this year. Dry and refreshing with only a hint of caramel. Next Avi poured us some of his White Blend, which is heavy on the Gewürztraminer and just too sweet for me. The final white was a varietal Viognier that we found quite pleasant.

Since we weren’t staying long, and as I’d already had a good bit to drink at Salomon, I only tried one red wine, Marcus’ varietal Petite Syrah. This is a full bodied wine, with deep inky color, flavors of dark fruits, and a peppery finish. Having become one of Marcus’ most popular wines, it tends to sell out quickly.

After saying our goodbyes and wishing everyone L’Shana Tova we continued south to something a bit different.

Located in Kfar Shmaryahu is the Biderman Art Gallery, which was having an exhibition featuring contemporary Israeli art with wine and food motifs. The exhibit began on Thursday evening and ran through Saturday night. We saw some very lovely pieces and thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit. I don’t know much about art other than if I like it or not (actually that’s more or less what I know about wine too), so I can’t really say much more about it.

20150905_151251aDuring the previous two days of the exhibit there had been tastings of Psagot wines to accompany the art. On the Saturday when we visited, there was still wine to taste but no one from the winery to tell us about it. I tried two wines that were both quite enjoyable, one a Chardonnay and the other Psagot’s consistently good Edom blend.

Our final stop of the day (and weekend) was at the Vitkin Winery for their annual pre-Rosh Hashana tasting and sales event.

Being rather familiar with Vitkin’s wines I really only planned to taste a few that I didn’t know so well, but somehow I ended up sampling them all.

For a number of years now Vitkin has been holding their large tasting events with the same well organized layout. The event is held outdoors with tasting stations arranged in the order of recommended tastings. Whites and Rosé first followed by the lighter reds, then the heavier more “serious” reds, and finally the desert wine. This arrangement works quite well, and as there are only one or two wines at each station, crowding is minimal.

IMG_3010aMy favorites this year were Vitkin’s Pinot Noir, which is clearly one of the best in Israel, and their Carignan. In the past I was a big fan of Vitkins Petite Syrah, but this year I found it lacking in body and character. Perhaps it just needs more time in the bottle.

So there you have it, a rather busy, but very enjoyable weekend. I’ll be glad to hear about your recent winery experiences in the comments section.

If you didn’t manage to visit as many wineries as you wanted this past weekend (or any at all) , despair not. Marcus will be open again this coming weekend as will the Aligote Winery in Gan Yoshiya. Also, don’t miss the much awaited launch of Rami Bar-Maor’s Riesling at the Bar Maor Winery in Binyamina.  Check my calendar of wine events for details about all of these.

L’Shana Tova with good health (remember, wine is good for you), peace, prosperity, and fun to one and all.

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