Part II of IV
Moving southward in our tour of the wine regions of Israel, we move out of the amazing Galilee region and into the Judean Hills and Shomron. These are big wines, made old-world style but by people with new-world (mainly California and Australia) experience, with the grapes from this deeply varied region giving wines incredible depth and complexity. One of the challenges with this tasting was choosing representative wineries that help display the uniqueness of these appellations, and I think we succeeded with the wide variety of wines we chose. Thanks to Scott Maybaum of Wine Country for again curating the selection, and for providing these wines at such deep discounts for our readers to try in advance of the Chanukah holiday.
As discussed in the last article, Israel has five legally defined regional appellations: Galilee, Judean Hills, Shomron, Samson and Negev. In this installment of two we are doing on “middle Israel,” we are focusing on the Shomron and Judean Hills (also known as the Jerusalem mountains) region, but the next article will also include some of the more famous wineries (Flam, Domaine du Castel) from other subregions of the Judean Hills as well as Samson, which is located between the Judean Hills and the coastal plains.
Although only about 20 percent of Israeli wine is produced in the Shomron, it is considered a very traditional wine region. Altitudes reach 2,850 feet and many believe it is this high altitude combined with the very temperate climate that makes shiraz (also known as syrah) shine here. The petite syrah grape (completely different from shiraz/syrah) also does well in this climate, as do older specialty wine grapes such as viognier and gewurztraminer, as well as newer grapes, such as marselan. The Judean Hills, where altitudes reach 2,400 feet, and which lie between the Mediterranean Sea and Jerusalem, enjoy similar temperatures as the Shomron, enabling a long growing season. The central coastal plain southeast of Tel Aviv leads to the rolling hills of the Judean Foothills.
Barkan Assemblage Tzafit 2010 and Reserve Chardonnay 2016
Barkan’s Assemblage series from the Judean Plains are wine blends that seek to offer a new perspective on the potential of Israel’s wine regions. Barkan Tzafit Assemblage 2010 is a “rare red blend,” as opposed to the more traditional Bordeaux or Côtes du Rhône blends. It comprises 53 percent marselan (a cross between cabernet sauvignon and grenache), 20 percent caledoc (a hybrid between grenache and malbec), 12 percent carignan and 15 percent pinotage. It is because of wines like the Barkan Tzafit Assemblage that the Judean Hills are considered an exciting, emerging wine region with significant viticulture prospects. Each grape’s wine was aged individually in 25 percent new French oak and 75 percent on their second use. The wine has a strong nose of tobacco, chocolate and creme brulée. It has weak tannins and a pleasant mouth feel, with a round, sweet finish. “I taste the vanilla and berries,” said Randi.
“The nose and the color would not have interested me,” said Brooke, referring to the dark, murky purple color of the 2010 wine, but “I really enjoyed this; it’s dry but not too heavy on tannins, but this is quite unique and very pleasant.” Wine Country is placing this wine on sale for $28.97.
Barkan Reserve Chardonnay 2016 is aged six months in new oak barrels and this certainly contributes to its pleasant nose; round, buttery fullness; and pleasant mouthfeel. “I don’t usually like chardonnay, but this wine is not as dry as others; it’s inviting. This is not a classic chardonnay,” said Brooke. “A solid choice for a nice white, with a pleasant finish,” she added. “Interesting and unique for a chardonnay,” said Randi. This wine is on sale for $13.97.
Psagot Merlot 2014
Wine Enthusiast gave the Psagot Merlot 2014 a 91 score out of 100. “Blackberry and rose petal with touches of salinity. It is smooth and silky at first sip, with flavors of black plum, cherry, chocolate, lavender and freshly roasted coffee. As it makes its way around the mouth, stern tannins make their presence known and then recede into a finish notable for a lingering espresso bean flavor,” said the description in Wine Enthusiast.
Psagot Winery’s location is at the highest point of the limestone-filled Judean Hills. This fruit-forward merlot offers a complexity of aromas, from red raspberry fruits to black licorice, supported nicely by flavors of red berry, minerals and hints of dark chocolate and cedar spice. The nose is very strong. “I would not describe these tannins as soft,” said Randi. “A very spicy wine, but pleasant to drink,” said Allyson. This wine is on sale for $24.97.
Jerusalem Vineyard 4990 Series Petite Syrah 2014 and 4990 Series Reserve Shiraz 2014
Jerusalem Vineyard’s reserve range is made from grapes growing along the Coastal Plain. The grapes are brought from vineyards on Mount Carmel near Zichron Ya’acov, Carmei Yossef on the Judean Plain and Lachish in the southern part of the Judean Hills. The heavy soil on Mount Carmel abounds in organic material with high levels of rock, which improves ground porosity.
Around Carmei Yossef the soil is lighter and mixed with low quantities of sand.
Petite syrah is a black-skinned grape, and it yields dark, inky, fruity wines. These grapes come from Ktar Uriah in the Judean Foothills near Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Vineyard 4990 Series Petite Syrah 2014 has aromas of ripe, sweet plums, with contrasting but pleasant meaty and vanilla notes. This wine was aged for 24 months in French oak barrels and that shows in its smooth, delightful viscosity. The palate follows through with rich, fruity, firm and gripping tannins and lovely warmth. “Beautiful, appealing color and non-acidic, pleasant nose,” said Michelle. “I feel the tannins in the back of the throat,” she added. “Very rich and inviting. This would hold up well with a steak or a lamb chop,” said Brooke. This is on sale at Wine Country for $19.97.
Dark pomegranate red color, the Jerusalem Vineyard 4990 Series Reserve Shiraz 2014 has scents of cigar box and vanilla following through with fleshy, vibrant fruit framed with elegant tannins. This wine received an amazing 93 score from Wine Enthusiast. It was aged for 18 months in French oak. “The tannins are pleasing, and not overpowering,” said Randi. “Spicy; this a deeper drier wine, and I can even smell the tannins. This smells like a traditional red,” said Brooke. “The color is nice; it has nice, balanced acid, and it’s more typical of a classic red, and easy going down, thick and rich,” said Michelle. This wine is on sale for $19.97.
Tishbi Estate Gewurztraminer 2016 and Viognier 2016
Tishbi Estate Gewurztraminer 2016 is a perfect wine to bring as a gift for Chanukah. It’s light and enjoyable and it has a fruity sweetness that presents on the nose like a dessert wine, but does not taste like a dessert wine at all, even though it has little to no tannin. “This is well rounded, with a lot of depth, and I could drink this throughout the meal,” said Brooke. “What a delightful surprise,” said Allyson.
“The scent is not too strong; pleasant and smooth going down. Because I am a red wine drinker, I would drink this just for dessert,” said Michelle. This wine offers scents of pineapple, lychee, white peach, passionfruit and jasmine. The grapes were hand harvested from the Judean Hills region. This particular area is characterized by its white, chalky and rocky virgin soil, producing grapes that possess cassis and cranberry aromas. This wine is on sale for $12.77.
The Tishbi Estate Viognier 2016 comes from grapes also grown in virgin soil, where vines had not been cultivated previously for 2,000 years. This wine is made of 50 percent viognier and 50 percent riesling. A fruity, rich and fresh wine, this wine has a nose of white peach, green apple and bitter melon. This wine has a lovely mouthfeel that would go along well with dairy dishes at Chanukah parties. Chill it and serve it, as our tasting group did, with soft goat cheese or with ripe brie and Camembert. This wine goes down easy, so watch how fast you drink. “I like the seductive nose; it draws me in,” said Brooke. “This is more than your typical dry white wine, but it’s gentle and a little different,” said Michelle. “There is a scent of a fruit here that I don’t recognize,” said Randi, who later identified the bitter melon as a fruit note. “There is sustaining acid, inviting, and it makes you want to keep drinking,” said Allyson.
“This would be great for someone who likes white wine but might be ready to move on to the next level. This is not your basic chardonnay or moscato,” said Brooke. Try this wine for $12.77.
Special thanks to Wine Country for curating the selection of wines for this article. All the wines mentioned are on sale for the next week at Wine Country in Bergenfield, 89 New Bridge Road. Contact 201-385-0106.
By Elizabeth Kratz