Established in 1899, Barkan’s initial focus was on growing grapes and it actually produced very little in terms of wine. Top-grade grape varietals were brought from all over the world and planted in Barkan vineyards in Israel. Nowadays, there are dozens of varietals growing in Barkan-owned vineyards all over the country.
Just 101 years later, a modern winery that took a decade to build was established at Hulda Kibbutz in the Judean plains. The following year, in 2001, Barkan acquired Segal, and the combined wineries sell over 15 million bottles yearly. For that reason, Barkan’s export manager, Lea Lehavi, explains that “Barkan is much more than an Israeli classic.”
She explained that the Barkan complex benefits the most advanced wine-production technologies in the world. The winery includes laboratories, farms, the packaging center and a marketing and logistics center, as well as a beautiful tasting room. Today, Barkan still grows grapes all over Israel and produces many wines for its two labels. Winemaker Ido Levinson handles Barkan and Segal labeled wines with a team of four.
Barkan’s holdings include vineyards in every wine-growing region of Israel—in the Jerusalem mountains, Yehuda plains, Tel-Tzapit, the Negev, Upper Galilee (the Alma Vineyard), Dovev, Kadesh Valley, Dishon, Reihan Mountain and Miron, as well as others. While these wines would certainly qualify as “mass produced,” the effort here is to keep costs down and quality up, thus providing a lot of choice and a variety of price points for the kosher consumer.
My tasting group had the opportunity to taste five wines as part of its newest releases, and several more are on their way in 2020, so I hope we will have a chance to sample those. In the wine store, experienced shoppers will note these wines carry beautifully updated labels and many of the wines are named slightly differently from earlier incarnations; for example, the “Barkan Gold Edition” series appears to be a replacement incarnation of “Barkan Reserve,” a very popular inexpensive table wine. You can enjoy these new and unique wines and their stories along with their generally great QPR (quality price ratio).
The only white wine in our tasting was the Barkan Special Reserve Winemaker’s Choice Chardonnay 2016, from the Judean Hills. The grapes were grown in the Jerusalem Hills on rocky soil with cool nighttime temperature, and aged in oak barrels for six months.
“I can taste the oak. It’s pleasant and only a bit reminiscent of California/new world style chardonnays,” said Yeruchum. “Remember in the 1980s there was this movement toward very heavily oaked Chardonnays in California; but this is gentler and does not kick you in the face with the oak,” he explained. What a stellar description.
Greg noted a finish of tropical fruit. “Pineapple or kiwi,” he mused. Daphna and I also noted the fun tropical finish after he mentioned it, and the group decided this was one of the best wines of the tasting. At $20, this is a great wine to enjoy, slightly chilled, with light dishes like fish or chicken, or as an aperitif.
The next wine we tried was the Barkan Reserve Gold Edition 2016. This is a mevushal cabernet sauvignon from the Crater Vineyard in Kerem Ben Zimra, in the Galilee. This is an inexpensive wine without a lot of complexity, available at under $20, that our group noted would be good to drink up now. It needed a little air to open up, but once it did, we were pleasantly surprised. There were notes of red fruit and a much thinner viscosity and lighter color than many Israeli cabernets. This is a good wine to pair with a pasta bolognese or other tomato-based dish, somewhat closer in a sense to a lighter Italian table or house wine.
The Segal Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, newly dressed in a gorgeous white and gold label, and also mevushal, displayed a higher grape quality than the Barkan Gold and a more balanced, slightly more complex cabernet. The grapes were produced in the Upper Galilee from the Dishon Vineyard in the Kadesh Valley. The wine underwent a post-fermentation maceration of skins followed by 14 months of aging in a mixture of French and American oak. This wine certainly seems like it will age well, and at approximately $20, is a reasonable bottle to enjoy on Shabbat or a weeknight. This seems very similar to us to the earlier incarnation of the very popular “Segal’s Fusion” line of wines, one of which I chose as the red wine to serve at my wedding 12 years ago.
The 2012 Barkan Altitude +720 (part of the exciting Altitude series, which features bottles of wines made with grapes produced at a variety of different mountainside altitudes) was a fun bottle and one of Barkan’s more exciting and better-showing wines of this tasting. It was initially only slightly fruity, with notes of cherry and cassis, with a deep purple color, and a powerful, elegant finish with some nice tannins. The grapes come from a Barkan vineyard in the Galilee, on Mount Godrin, which is directly on the Lebanese border. It was aged for 14 months in French oak casks. At $42, this is also a bottle to buy now and keep for a few years; a little more time in the bottle is sure to improve this already impressive wine. “It’s a little pricey, but fun,” said Greg. “The Altitude series is generally one of the most enjoyable series that comes from Barkan. It’s really fun to try the various wines at a variety of altitudes and see how they differ,” he said.
Last, our group enjoyed the Segal Petit Unfiltered 2017. This is not made with petit syrah grapes, as is common in Israel and as the name might suggest; it’s made with cabernet sauvignon. Rather, the “petit” is sort of a wine designation of a one-step-below-a-flagship wine, like the extremely popular and slightly more affordable than the flagship Petit Castel wine that Domaine du Castel makes. I enjoyed this wine the most out of all the wines in the tasting, because it displayed that ever so slight Israeli “fruit bomb” characteristic that I enjoy so much, along with some more herbal notes and a very Israeli finish, meaning it lasts and you keep going back for another taste, just to see what might unfold. The “unfiltered” aspect of the bottle did not result in any pulp or sediment in the bottle that I noted. At $45, this wine is on the higher end in terms of cost, but it’s got a nice feel to it. Physically, even the bottle label is made from mulched grape seeds; running a hand over the bottle label becomes part of the experience of enjoying this wine. This wine is also mevushal, which is a little rarer in a bottle at this price point, but it would be a really special choice to serve at a simcha or restaurant.
Looking forward, it appears that new bottles being introduced in 2020 will include the Barkan 2014 Altitude 720+, and Segal Winery’s new “Wild Wine,” a wine that has apparently undergone unrestricted fermentation. Those seem like exciting and fun opportunities that we look forward to enjoying in the coming year.
By Elizabeth Kratz