An update on Israeli wines

It’s something of an interesting time for the wines of Israeli as a number of the very quality-conscious producers are digging into that third dimension of wine, “terroir”. They’re working to further flesh out and define what Israeli wine is exactly. It may seem a strange thing to say but in touring around the country in 2014, the group I was with was all in agreement that while there were and still are some quality producers in Israel, defining an “Israeli wine” was a fool’s errand.

This has definitely started to change and I’ve written about it at length in Issue 5 of Meininger’s. Given this, I thought I should probably post some reviews, thoughts, and other general musings from my trip in May to go along with it.

Bat Shlomo

There were many aspects to Bat Shlomo that I liked when I first tasted them and then tasted them again. They’ve always been quite nice to me so I figured, why not taste them again while in Tel Aviv and see what their evolution has been? Indeed, they’ve been tinkering away at the wines and the styles has changed yet again, including the birth of a rosé (from Grenache, yay!) and a fully-evolved version of Betty’s Cuvée that’s very, very nice.

Rosé 2016
Bit leesy with fresh strawberry notes, bit of crisp lemon citric, touch muted in the nose. Good, fresh medium body while staying open and holding to a medium finish. Lively and expressive with a good deal of character. Very potent pH at 2.9.

100% Grenache 11.8%

Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Bit of wet grass and straw, light green fruit, crisp lemon peel. Nicely perfumed, lingering aromatically. Full of pungent lemon pulp and medium finish with a wealth of acidity. Balance could be a bit tighter.

100% Sauv Blanc 12.8%

Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Light green fruit, crisp with lemon peel notes, light floral notes of honeysuckle. Thick and viscous in the mouth, nice oily texture. Nice bitter notes in the finish.

100% Sauv Blanc 13%

Chardonnay 2014
Pulpy lemon with marked barrel notes, bits of mint and general crispness, light straw. Fresh and good lift in the body, strident lemon notes, medium plus acidity, crisp and lingering.

100% Chardonnay 13%

Chardonnay 2015
Crisp green mint, light citrus notes, herbal crunch to it. Medium acidity to it, medium finish. Crisp and light but without the wealth of density seen in the 14.

100% Chardonnay 12.8%

Betty’s Cuvée 2014
Normally have Petit Verdot in the blend but was a tricky vintage. Plum, red fruit, crisp sage, bit of cigar and cedar. Fresh, live and very nuanced. Long, lingering finish. Alcohol pokes out of corners a bit.

92% Cab Sauvignon, 8% Cab Franc 13%

The Judean Quartet

This group of four, Domaine du Castel, Sphera, Tzroa, and Flam, became some of the main protagonists in my article as they’re really trying to spearhead a new terroir-y movement in the region by promoting their area of the Judean Hills. While the quality of these four producers has been some of the highest in Israel for some time, since I last tasted their wines, there has been a great deal of evolution and they have indeed found more expression from their region than what I’d previously seen. I was quite shocked at how good the Rieslings where from Sphera and can completely understand why the other three have invited them into their fold.

Flam – Blanc 2015
Light grassy nights, crisp vegetal notes. Touch of gooseberry. Medium weight, medium minus finish. Good length.

64% Sauvignon Blanc, 36% Chardonnay 12.5%

Tzora – Judean Hills Blanc
Steely with a light bit of pineapple and green fruity notes. Full and fresh on the palate with a good weight. Crisp green peas in the finish. 70% barrel ferment in old ones. 9 months sur lie.

90% Chardonnay 10% Sauvignon Blanc 13%

Sphera – White Concepts Chardonnay 2016
Prominent tropical fruit, pineapple, touch of brioche, and vanilla. Bit soft in the palate, decent length with a bit more of the astringency in the finish. Touch soft in the middle but overall quite integrated.

100% Chardonnay 13.5%

Sphera – White Concepts Riesling 2016
Very light petrol, minor straw notes, lemon pith punch to it. Fresh in the mouth, easygoing into the finish, lime skin notes come in more, slightly sweet on the palate with balanced medium acidity.

100% Riesling 12.5%

Domaine du Castel – Blanc du Castel 2015
Burgundy style, barrel ferment, 1/3 new oak, 1/3 year old, 1/3 two year. Structure and full of upright lemon pith, touch of nutty almond, dried orange. Full bodied, and very meaty in the palate, long finish. Needs to sit for a good deal more time.

100% Chardonnay 13.5%

Flam – Classico 2015
Mix of dark and red fruit, fresh and direct, minerality, crisp with light sage. Crisp on the palate, very clean and balance, excellent fruit in the mid palate.

46% Cab Sauvignon, 18% Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah 13.5%

Tzora – Misty Hills 2015
Deep cassis fruit and dark fruits, touch of plum, graphite, rich and textured on the nose with tea leaves. Crisp and balanced on the palate, creaminess from the oak. Full and layered on the palate with a medium finish.

80% Cab Sauvignon, 20% Syrah 14.5%

Domaine du Castel 2013
Light plum notes, stable with a bit of orange peel. Full and smooth on the palate, very Bordeaux, long, very lingering finish. Still very much a baby, needs a several more years to develop.

Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot 15%

And more

In eating around for various meals during the trips, I was always ordering wines as well, despite the rather whopping restaurant prices–Israel is priced for Americans and especially those from the cities. Thankfully, there seems to be a decent amount of support for local producers in their immediate market so local wines–even if not the best–were always found. Also quite remarkable is the wine shop at Ben Gurion Airport which is a privately-owned affair and not some state initiative, given that the sales tax is stripped off, the prices are nearly the same as normal shops despite the fact airport shops will happily mark up prices. If only we could see this in Spain.

Tishbi – Brut 2013
Light elderflower, yellow blossom, as well as citric punch, quite lovely floral notes overall. Integrated citric notes of lemon and grapefruit peel on the palate, medium plus acidity and medium finish.

100% Columbard 11%

Cave Bialik – Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Dark plum fruit, graphite, tea leaves, and minor tobacco notes and vervy minerality. Ample mouthfeel with good balance across the palate and redolent acidity that makes for a long finish. Well crafted and very “frenchy” but showing a good stamp of Israeli “spice” to it.

100% Columbard 11%

Katlav – Wadi Katlav 2013
Bit of a mixed bag. Stewy & overripe with a bit of a short finish. Feels like their was an idea of how to make it, but needs to be picked earlier and have the 24 months of oak dialed waaaay back as it takes oodles to open up.

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 10% Syrah 15%