Tasting of Two Carmel Appellation Wines – Carignan & Petit Sirah

The Appellation Series of Carmel Wineries consists of ten different varietal wines and one blend. We most often associate the word, “appellation,” with the French AOC, or Appellation d’Origine Controlée which was created and mandated by French laws in the 1950’s as a system of designating, controlling and protecting the geography and the quality of wines. The tradition of wine appellation did not start in France and the oldest references are to be found in the Bible, where wine of Samaria, wine of Carmel, and wine of Jezreel are mentioned. The name seems to imply that these wines hail from separate and different regions of Israel, but this is not entirely so. Nine of the eleven Carmel Wineries Appellation wines, originate from one single region. These include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a blend of Cab-Shiraz, Chardonnay, Viognier, White Riesling, Gewurtzraminer and Sauvignon Blanc, all of which are from the Upper Galilee region. There are two more unusual varieties, which are part of Israel’s history in that they were grown in the early years of viticulture here. They are the subjects of today’s tasting, your israelwinetaster having purchased them when we recently visited the Carmel Wineries. They are Carignan from the Shomron region, and Petite Sirah from the Judean Hills region.The wines of this Appellatiion Series are distinguished by their attractive labels, each featuring a different variety of fauna from Biblical Israel. This series is the “second label” of the Carmel Winery, which, I suppose, means that it is considered a notch down from their best, the Single Vineyard Wine series.

Jancise Robinson, in her Oxford Companion to Wine, states that Carignan is a “late-ripening black grape variety which could fairly be called the bane of the European wine industry, although old bushvines, as is their wont, are demonstrably capable of producing particularly concentrated wine. Carignan, distinguished mainly by its disadvantages…..Its wine is high in everything—acidity, tannins, colour, bitterness—but finesse and charm. This gives it the double inconvenience of being unsuitable for early consumption yet unworthy of maturation.” Because of its late-ripening habits, Carignan can thrive only in relatively hot climates, and she states that “at one time it underpinned Israel’s wine industry.” Robinson concludes the section on this grape variety with the statement, “Let some interesting old Carignan vines be treasured but let it not be planted.”

Our tasting of Carmel’s Appellation Carignan from the 2007 vintage initially revealed a cork that had been invaded by the wine, indicating that saving this bottle in our wine cellar would not have been appropriate. It was a good thing that we were drinking it now.

We found it to be of a thin body. We agreed with Robinson’s Oxford Companion that it had a deep purple color, but disagreed about the tannin level — we think that it was low. It seemed to have aromas of the sea, reminding us of fresh salty fish. It had a short finish and we gave it an israelwinetaster grade of “C” as it did not seem to be worth the price of 85 shekels at the winery. This is about $22 according to today’s exchange rate. Incidentally, other wineries afford this variety the high status of single vineyard labeling such as the Recanati Special Reserve Carignan from Ba’al Vineyard. In this link, you can read that Daniel Rogov spoke highly of it and we look forward to tasting this wine.

The Petite Sirah grape is relatively important in a wide range of warm wine regions, especial California. It  is genetically related to the grape named Durif, after a French botanist who developed it in 1880, although today, it is almost nonexistent in France. Petite Sirah has been valued as a relatively tannic, well-colored blending partner for Zinfandels, but it has been somewhat eclipsed by the fashionable true French Syrah. The Oxford Companion of Wine states that, “It has nevertheless carved out a place for itself in California, for it makes dark, well-balanced, sturdily tannic red wine of agreeable if not highly distinctive flavour.” Here in Israel, Petite Sirah has recently experienced somewhat of a revival, both in high-end blends and bottled as a single or majority variety by Recanati, Sea Horse, Vitkin, and Margalit Wineries. Our tasting revealed an earthy taste of berries and mushrooms which was nice in the mouth, though a bit thin. It had a sweet, moldy finish. We thought it to be a simple, light summer red wine, but, again, overpriced. It also cost 85 shekels at the winery. Give it a “C” with the addendum that there are those who love both of these wines. Once again, with wines, the sense of beauty is in the taster.

Enjoy your tasting. L’Chaim and a Happy Holiday to all.

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