Trends toward varietals and Israel’s ancient roots mark new wine offerings for Passover.
What Black Friday and Cyber Monday are to retailers, Passover is to the kosher wine industry. It is the make-or-break season, and the time to roll out exciting new products. In the plethora of new offerings, we spotted something of a trend this year: the emergence of new grape varietal wines.
The California-based Weinstock, for example, now offers a Weinstock Cellar Select Alicante Bouschet 2010 ($20). Alicante Bouschet is an unusual varietal that was popular during Prohibition, and that still has a place among hobbyists. At its best, as in Weinstock’s fine expression, it is big, round and quaffable, replacing tannic sophistication with an affable demeanor; it is a dry and fruity red with just enough oomph to accompany meat meals. Weinstock also released an attractive silky, medium-bodied Weinstock Cellar Select Petite Sirah 2010 ($20) which is also dry yet fruity with aromas and flavors of cocoa, cherries, berries, spicy cinnamon, apple, and a hint of citrus and nuts.
There has also been a push by Israeli winemakers to embrace their Mediterranean roots. The Carmel Winery led the way a few years back with an old-vine Carignan in its excellent “Appellation” series. Its current Carmel Appellation Carignan Old Vines 2007 ($20) is a fantastic example of what this traditionally uninteresting bulk wine grape has to offer. Made from Carignan grapes grown on 30-year-old vines, blended with 10 percent Petit Verdot, and oak aged for 14 months, this full-bodied, nicely balanced red offers aromas and flavors of blackcurrants, vanilla, plums, raspberries, violet and hints of cocoa and spices, with gently integrated tannins.
Assaf Paz, winemaker at Binyamina, has followed suit with Binyamina Reserve Carignan 2009 ($20), its first in the winery’s reserve series. This big, full-bodied wine has been rendered charming and gentle by soft tannins and the influence of smoky oak. With aromas and flavors of plums, cherries, blueberries, and spice with notes of roasted coffee beans on the long finish, this Carignan is drinking very well now and it benefits from additional vigorous aeration or swirling in the glass.
Easily the best of a decidedly fine bunch is Recanati Wild Carignan Reserve 2009 ($56) by the winemakers Gil Shatzberg and Ido Lewinsohn. The vines are all over 30 years old, have never been irrigated and (unusually for Israel) have been allowed to grow in a bush-like, untrellissed fashion resulting in a low-yield of intensely flavorful grapes. The wine offers intense raspberry and spicy black fruit aromas and flavors along with dark currant, herbal, mocha and mild pepper accents, along with a good balance and finish.
Other fine examples of Israeli winemaking, which play with less-familiar varietals while still embracing their Mediterranean roots, are the Carmel Appellation Cabernet Franc 2007 ($20) and the Binyamina Reserve Zinfandel 2007 ($26). Carmel’s Cab Franc is a delicious medium-to-full-bodied red with soft tannins, gentle oak, pronounced dark fruits, cedar wood, spices, vanilla, a touch of eucalyptus and subtle vegetative hints of bell pepper. The Binyamina Zin is an enjoyable Israeli take on a California classic — with notes of raspberry, black currants, chocolate, white pepper, as well as a dash of sage and a touch of oak. Both wines crave a bit of flesh.
Some other fine, possibly less familiar Israeli efforts include the Galil Mountain Viognier 2009 ($15) — a bright, soft yet sturdy, well-rounded, medium to full-bodied dry white with lovely citrus, lychee, peach, and melon notes, hints of oak and spice, and a vibrant food-friendly acidity; and the Carmel Mediterranean 2007 ($65) — a fantastic assemblage (37 percent Carignan, 26 percent Shiraz, 20 percent Petit Verdot, 15 percent Petite Sirah and two percent Viognier) in which each varietal plays its supporting role to create a long, rounded, balanced, beautiful symphony of aromas and flavors which include plums, raspberries, blackberries, cassis, juniper berries, black cherries, chocolate, white and green peppercorns, toasted oak and leather, supported by soft yet structured tannins.
Also of interest are the Shiloh Shor Barbera 2009 ($30) and the Shiloh Legend 2009 ($39.99). The Barbera is an interesting and elegant medium-bodied, dry red wine with appealing aromas and flavors of blackberries, raspberries, black currants, prunes, raisins and something vaguely black licorice-like, with whispers of cracked pepper and violets, all mingling with a slight fruity sweetness. The “Legend” is another rewarding cuvée (45 percent Shiraz, 40 percent Petit Sirah, nine percent Petit Verdot, and six percent Merlot) in which each varietal was fermented and aged separately for eight months and then assembled and for an additional eight months in oak resulting in a deeply aromatic, enjoyable soft-to-medium bodied wine with notes of bountiful dark fruits and berries, chocolate, and a definite oak influence.
Another newcomer to the U.S. market is the Domain Netofa, Latour Netofa, 2009 ($45), the pet project of veteran winemaker Pierre Miodownick, the longtime winemaker for many of Royal Wine Corp.’s greatest and famous French wine brands. Sourced from Netofa’s vineyards on Mitzpe Netofa in the Lower Galilee, the label uses the “Latour” moniker in both homage and jest to that French First Growth famous for its exceptional quality and its historic tower — Netofa also sports an historic tower, and obviously aspires to greatness with a French accent.
While hardly at the level of Latour (but then, what is?), the Latour Netofa is an enjoyable, rich, mouth-filling, finely balanced, medium-to-full-bodied wine that delivers a Rhône-styled Israeli blend of French oak aged Syrah and Mouvedre grapes. This deep purplish red wine showcases pleasing aromas and flavors of black berries, plums, red currants, smoke, and dark chocolate supported by present yet gently integrated tannins; it sports a relatively long finish which introduces additional notes of black pepper and possibly something like black olives.
Domain Netofa also has a simple but pleasant white, the Domaine Netofa White 2010 ($25). Made of 100 percent Chenin Blanc grapes in a decidedly Provençal style, the Netofa White is a lighter dry wine with notes of melon, white peaches, green apples and citrus, with just enough acidity to keep it fresh, floral and food-friendly.
Though not exactly new, the latest vintage of the Yarden Pinot Noir 2009 ($28) is a stunning, well-balanced, complex, aromatic wine deserving of attention. Full-bodied and food-friendly, this Pinot Noir offers aromas and flavors of black cherry, raspberry, earthy minerals, hints of Mediterranean herbs and black pepper, with a pleasing if slightly clipped finish.
Another fine Israeli surprise is the Rosé du Castel 2011 ($35), made from Merlot grapes in which the juice was allowed to run-off with minimal skin contact, this charming and delightful wine offers aromas and flavors of strawberry, cranberry, and spice, with balancing acidity and even some tannins to keep it lively, refreshing and food-friendly.
A solid Israeli dessert option that has finally reached the U.S. is the Binyamina Reserve Late Harvest Gewurztraminer Cluster Select 2009 ($30), a thick, rich, luscious dessert wine benefitting from 20 percent of the grapes having been worked over by botrytis noble rot, resulting in lovely notes of dried apricots, lychee, citrus, and honey, with solid balancing acidity.
Heading back stateside, another new entry comes from the Pacifica Evan’s Collection, a new kosher effort from Philip and Sheryl Jones, the folks behind New Zealand’s successful Goose Bay Winery. The Jones collaborated again with Royal Wine Corp. to establish Pacifica Evan’s Vineyard and winery in Washington State (the location is on the Underwood Mountain in the Columbia Valley). Their first releases are of two nice, well crafted wines: the Pacifica Evan’s Collection Washington Meritage 2010 ($39) from Washington State’s Columbia Valley, and the Pacifica Evan’s Collection Oregon Pinot Noir 2010 ($30) from the Willamette Valley. The Meritage is a rich, dry, smooth and easy-drinking blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot grapes, with aromas and flavors of dark fruits, berries, and a touch of toasted coffee bean, while the Pinot Noir is light but firm, with cherry, black cherry, raspberry, and over-ripe strawberry flavors and a long mineral rich finish.
Other newish wines worth considering are:
Elvi Ness Blanco Ribera del Jucar, 2009 ($16): This refreshing, medium-bodied, golden straw-colored wine offers aromas and flavors of citrus and tropical fruits, with lovely notes of flinty minerals.
Vignobles David Le Mourre De L’Isle Côtes du Rhône 2010 ($20): This blend of 60 percent Syrah, 30 percent Grenache and 10 percent Mourvedre is packed full of lovely ripe fruit flavors, crushed herbs and some spice, black cherries, blackcurrant and very light tannins and good balancing acidity, making it enjoyable and food-friendly.
Elvi Wines Herenza Rioja Crianza 2008 ($26): A solid, rich and oaky 100 percent Tempranillo red with intense and appealing notes of black cherry, spice, cocoa, roasted coffee beans and vanilla, with a nice lingering finish.
Borgo Reale Maturo Salento Puglia 2009 ($25): This easy-drinking blend of 55 percent Primitivo and 45 percent Negroamaro grapes offers red and black berries, stewed plums, cassis, earthy minerals, vanilla and spice, with distinct licorice and gently supportive tannins.
Bartenura Dolcetto D’Alba Ovadia Estates 2010 ($19): This Dolcetto has characteristic black cherry, blueberry and anise flavors, low acidity and a slight almond-like bitterness at the finish. Ideal for non-Passover pizza and pasta fare, but equally good with grilled meats and some Asian and Indian dishes.
Recanati Special Reserve 2007 ($48): This multifaceted, wonderfully balanced blend of Cabernet Merlot offers generous aromas and flavours of dark fruits, spicy, toasted oak, and dark chocolate, and, with a little time, that signature Recanati stamp of green bell peppers, olives, eucalyptus and Mediterranean herbs. Outstanding now, but will reward proper cellaring through 2015.
And for those for whom price is no object — Château Léoville Poyferré Saint-Julien 2005 (up to $250 online): This full-bodied, exceptional red blend of 62 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 28 percent Merlot, eight percent Petite Verdot, and two percent Cabernet Franc) is wonderfully balanced with soft, integrated tannins, spicy vanillin oak, and aromas and flavors of black currants, cassis, blackberries, blueberries, minerals and lightly minted chocolate, all with a long, lavish finish. ✦
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