Part IV of IV
Southern Israel’s vineyards, which you can count on one hand, have one winery that consistently scores marks above 90 in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, the worldwide arbiter of good wines. It was my pleasure last week to meet Roni Jesselson and Etti Edri of Yatir Winery at Congregation Ahavath Torah’s evening of wine and whiskey, sponsored by Wine Country, and also again at Royal Wines’ Kosher Food and Wine Experience.
Jesselson, whose family is among the current owners of Carmel, the first and largest winery in Israel (founded in 1882 by Edmond James de Rothschild) and has been primarily known for sacramental wine and juice (though it has developed a very interesting single vineyard series, more on that in another article), explained that Yatir is a boutique winery, founded in 2000, now completely separate from Carmel, with only some shared business operations. Eran Goldwasser is the winemaker and Yaa’cov Ben-Dor is the CEO. Yatir, Jesselson said, is “the ultimate Israel story.”
Yatir prides itself on having grapes grown in the desert alongside a green forest, at the northernmost end of the Negev, Israel’s southern wine region/appellation. It’s next to the 3,000-year-old ruins of the Canaanite settlement of Tel Arad. “I was in the Israeli army, and I learned that David Ben-Gurion wanted to build a forest here,” said Jesselson. “He wanted the desert to bloom. He was laughed at but the forest was planted in 1964, and now there is a forest in the desert. It’s so inspirational,” he said. The JNF did indeed plant that forest after Ben-Gurion was told by multiple scientists that a forest would be impossible to grow in this region; he famously responding by telling them to “change the scientists.”
In 2000 Yatir Winery became part of that lush landscape, growing grapes between and around the forested areas, which “changed the desert soil and made it a better environment for grapes,” Jesselson said. The area is heavily irrigated and reaches the mid-80s in temperature most days.
By the mid-2000s the wines were winning awards and medals. One early benefit of being associated with the Carmel winery was using the option to age wines longer before releasing them. The winery only produced 150,000 bottles a year, Edri said, compared with Carmel’s 15 million bottles annually.
The only white wine Yatir makes is the Yatir Viognier 2016, 100 percent viognier, which is aged partially in steel vats and partially in old oak barrels for a very subtle influence of oak to keep the fruit forward. The nose contains peach and green apple, the taste has nice acidity and the aftertaste is distinctly and strongly citrus. Try this wine at Wine Country for $29. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate chose the Yatir Viognier 2013 among only five Israeli wines selected as one of the best wines and best value of 2015. I know I don’t generally recommend whites priced at this level but this is a wine to try if you love whites with little to no oak and a beautiful mouthfeel.
Yatir’s Mount Amsha 2012, an inviting red blend, is made from 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent syrah, 14 percent petit verdot and 6 percent merlot. As the winery’s main entry level red wine blend, the grapes differ from year to year, but the winemakers work hard to ensure that the wine is uniquely “Yatir.” The wine’s beautiful dark red color, its nose of ripe plum and leather and its pleasant aftertastes of smoke and spice are indicative of its year spent with the varietals aging separately in oak, and then combined, bottled and then further aged another 24 months. Wine Country is selling this wine for $33. I recommend trying it while it’s still available!
Every wine at Yatir is a hit, including the Petit Verdot ($35), the Syrah ($40), the Cabernet Sauvignon ($41) or for a special occasion try Yatir Forest ($65). Yatir Forest is one of Israel’s leading wines, and has been awarded 90 points or more for the last nine consecutive harvests by Wine Advocate. This year’s wine, from 2013, comprises 68 percent cabernet sauvignon and 32 percent petit verdot. It is aged in French oak, some of which is new, for 14 months, then aged in the bottle for another year. It has deep, dark color with a nose of fresh tobacco leaves and strong, bracing tannins. This wine has a delicious warmth and strong sense of elegance and structure.
By Elizabeth Kratz