Monday, February 2, 2009

Israel KeePS ImPreSsing!

As I've mentioned earlier, I have a special place in my heart for Israeli wine. Between my family, the food, and the incredible energy in the atmosphere, Israel is a place I treasure. It's great to see (and to taste!) that they're making similar strides in their wine. The best place to go for the most up-to-date information on Israeli wine is, of course, Rogov's wine forum.

According to Daniel Rogov (of the eponymous forum), the dean of Israeli wine critics, PS was historically used as a blending grape in Israel. (Having tasted the execrable Gedeon 2005 Petite Sirah -- Kosher and Mevushal -- I see why they used it primarly for blending). But after the UC-Davis-trained Dr. Yair Margalit went to Israel, and started using PS in his Special Reserve Cabernet (in the 10-15% range), it has become noticeably more popular with each vintage. Of late, it seems to have reached the tipping point.

Ze'ev Dunie of Sea Horse (Rogov recent notes) is not the only one using it in single-variety wines and blends. Recanati (kosher) maintains 2 PS-majority blends, one featuring Zin (and available pretty widely in the US) and the other adding Syrah (only available at the Derekh HaYain stores in Israel), though they don't have a standalone PS. Asaf Paz at Vitkin (soon to be imported by Israeli Wine Direct), and Carmel (kosher, 2004 vintage available here,) have recently hopped on the PS bandwagon -- or in Carmel's case back on, with a dedication to making serious wine. There's plenty more room, however, as shown by the latest crop of Israeli PadawanS.

Here are Rogov's recent notes on notes on some selected PS-labeled wines and PS-heavy blends:
Avidan, Blend de Noirs, Tagadom (Red Label), 2007 (Advance Tasting): Oak aged for 12 months, this medium-bodied blend of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz (45%, 35% and 20% respectively), shows super-dark garnet in color. Opens with a fresh, black fruit nose, goes on in the glass to reveal currants and raspberries, those supported by hints of mint, licorice and espresso coffee. Soft and gently mouth-coating tannins rise comfortably on the finish. Drink now-2012. Score 88.

Avidan, Fringe, 2007: Reflecting the winery's proclivity to "play" with labels and with blends, I am tempted to call this one not "Fringe" but, as my daughter might "far out and funky" – that in the most positive sense though for this is a wine that will make you both think and smile, at one moment appearing to be from California, at another from the Rhone and at yet another from the Mediterranean. Whatever, a full-bodied and gently muscular blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Petite Sirah, showing still caressing tannins and a comfortable modicum of soft and spicy oak in fine balance with black fruits. On first attack blackberry, currants and vanilla, those yielding to citrus peel, chocolate and mint. Approachable and enjoyable now but best 2010-2013, perhaps longer when it will show both softer and more round. Score 90.

Avidan, Petite Sirah, 2008 (Barrel Tasting): A deeply extracted Petite Sirah, full-bodied, concentrated and intense with still almost searing tannins and muscles that seem to enjoy making themselves felt. Reminds me much of the Margalit Petite Sirah. Wild berries, blackberries and loganberries all here in abundance, those set off by generous spices and, on the super-long finish notes of bitter-sweet chocolate. Perhaps to be released as a varietal, perhaps as a blending agent. Tentative Score 90-92.

Carmel, Petite Sirah, Old Vines, Appellation, Judean Hills, 2007: Aged for 14 months in oak, partly new, partly used, made from 35+ year old vines, a concentrated and full-bodied red, showing royal purple in color and with generous tannins in fine balance with spicy and vanilla-rich wood. On the nose and palate a fine array of red and black fruits, those complemented by notes of black pepper, olives and Mediterannean herbs. Best from 2010. Score 90. K (Tasted 22 Jan 2009)

Carmel, Petite Sirah, Old Vines, Regional, Judean Hills, 2006: A big wine, full-bodied, deep garnet toward royal-purple, oak-aged for 12 months, with gripping tannins just starting to settle down but showing fine balance between tannins, wood and fruits. Ripe plum, blackberry and boysenberry notes on a background of minerals, minted chocolate and spicy cedar wood. Drink now–2012. NIS 80. Score 90. K (Re-tasted 7 Feb 2008)

Chillag, Giovane, Petite Sirah, 2006: Deep, dark and rich, full-bodied, with firm country-style tannins and showing beautiful huckleberry, blackberry, and black cherry notes on a background of vanilla, minerals and chocolate-covered cherry notes. Long and generous. Drink from release–2012. Tentative Score 89–91. (Note: Not certain whether this wine will be released)

Chillag, Giovane, Cabernet Sauvignon-Petite Sirah, 2005: A blend of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. Oak-aged for 20 months showing medium to full-bodied and with still-firm near-sweet tannins, those just starting to settle down and opening to reveal generous black fruits, those on a light background that hints nicely of licorice and bitter almonds. Easy to drink but with just enough complexity to grab and hold our interest. Drink now–2010. Score 90.

Ella Valley Vineyards, Petite Sirah, 2007 (Advance Tasting): The winery's first release of a Petite Sirah varietal wine and quite a success. Made from grapes from 10 year old vines, intensely dark royal purple in color, showing generous tannins and fine fruit concentration. On the nose and palate blackberries, raspberries and loganberry fruits, those matched nicely not notes of mint and tobacco. Firm and chewy with a long, near muscular finish. Drink now-2012. Score 90. K

Vitkin, Petite Sirah, 2005: Made from old-vine grapes and oak-aged for 16 months. Full-bodied, impenetrably dark purple-black, with deep spicy overlays and firm tannins all coming together beautifully. On the nose and palate blackberry and blueberries, those matched nicely by notes of white pepper, peppermint, chocolate and cedar wood, and on the long finish enchanting hints of raspberry jam. Drink now–2012. Score 91. (Re-tasted 29 Jan 2009)

Vitkin, Petite Sirah, 2006: Showing much as at barrel and advance tastings. Reflecting its youth with a dark royal-purple color, medium to full-bodied, with fine extraction and with lively notes of spices, white pepper, tobacco and cedarwood supporting generous blackberry and huckleberry fruits. Chewy tannins rise on the finish along with a hint of grilled beef. Best 2010–2014. Score 90. (Re-tasted 29 Jan 2009)

Vortman, Shambour, 2007: Dark garnet in color, aged in French oak for 10 months, a somewhat unusual blend of 50% Merlot and 25% each of Petite Sirah and Pinotage, but don't let that hold you back. Low on the nose but the wine opens to reveal flavors of rich black fruits and Mediterranean herbs along with a hint of green olives. Tannins and fruits rise nicely on the finish. Drink now-2010. Score 87. (Tasted 16 Jan 2009)
Also of interest, as linked in the right-hand column, are Rogov's previous batch of tasting notes on Israeli PS, from November 2008.

Rogov's tasting note for the 2006 Sea Horse Munch will accompany my own impressions from tasting it with the other PSychos in an upcoming PoSt (with PictureS!).

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