by Andrew Chalk
Here’s a secret of top sommeliers that is really useful to know: Israel, despite being intensely hot and arid, is making world-class wines that warrant a look.
They held a tasting in town recently that featured three new offerings. First, a 2019 Sauvignon Blanc ($20) that was partially barrel fermented in French oak barrels. Second, a 2017 Merlot ($30) that was aged in 40% new French oak barrels for 18 months. And finally, a 2017 Syrah ($87) with a specific vineyard designation (‘Allone Habashan Vineyard’). All of these were from the northern Golan Heights. I will omit the details, but anyone interested in agriculture would be fascinated by the steps one has to take to grow vines in this climate.
All of these wines exhibit a worldliness and savvy that gives the lie to the image of wines from Israel as eccentric and suitable only to wine drinkers who must drink Kosher. These fulfill the religious requirements but are targeted at the mainstream wine market competing against California, Australia, and Chile. Little surprise as head winemaker Victor Schoenfeld graduated from UC. Davis and worked at Robert Mondavi and respected Champagne house Jacquesson & Fils.
I made notes on the Syrah as that is a grape I have been investigating recently. The appearance is translucent ruby. The nose is a mixture of raspberry and cherry. On the palate the wine is tightly wound red fruit, tannins of note, effusive fruit. Plucky acid keeps this wine vibrant and interesting. Overall, a very good example of the grape that is best now with lamb, wild boar, or beef brisket.