Judean Hills Wine Festival – Part II

This is a continuation of the immediately preceding article which really should be read first by clicking on this link:  Part I of the Judean Hills Wine Festival.

We then moved on to taste another “one of a kind” wine. This comes from the Mony Winery, and is their Columbard white wine varietal. None of the other 300 some odd wineries produce this varietal, though, apparently some grow it for use in blends. Sam Sokol the vintner who hails from Canada via Australia, was pleasantly surprised how good it was when he first decided to bottle it in 2009. We tasted the 2011 vintage and it is full of fruity flavors with a hint of oak. And at only 39 shekels/bottle (less than $10), it is really a bargain.

Another star of the evening was the Chardonnay varietal from Tzuba Winery. This is half aged for eight months in oak and half fermented in stainless steel tanks. The combination makes for a nice complexity of vanilla and fresh fruit flavors, and at a price of 79 shekels (about $20 at the present rate of exchange). As an added note, according to CEO Eitan “Ken” Green they make “The best wine in Israel” based, not in the least, on their 20 year experience of growing grapes for the likes of many wineries including Castel, Har-Odem, Asif, Binyamina, Kfir, Shiloh and others. It has only been the past seven years that they have been producing their own wines, and 5 years ago were joined by vintner, Paul Rudd. Their elegant flagship wine, 2009 Metzuda blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec sells for a reasonable 100 shekels (equivalent to approximately $26).

What can we say about Castel Winery’s Chardonnay? Accolades are in order. We loved it, but it’s expensive at 149 shekels/bottle, or about just under $40. We purchased some and will report to you when we open it at home for a tasting.

We also tasted three wines at the crowded Ella Valley Winery booth. Their Rose, made from Merlot and Syrah grapes, with tastes full of citrus and melon flavors, is a reasonable value at 74 shekels (under $20). It was especially enjoyed by Gabe Geller, as described in his Festival Tasting Notes published on the Israel and Kosher Wine Forum of the WineLovers Discussion Group. Incidentally, this group is open for all to participate. Ella Valley’s Vineyard’s Choice blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, part of which resides 12 months in barrels is also a “buy” at 85 shekels. Nurit described it as having a “buttercup aroma” and we both liked it. The 2007 Merlot varietal was a winner and sells at 99 shekels ($26). I didn’t write a tasting note, so I’ll quote Gabe who described it as “A beautiful and muscular Merlot… Very dark garnet, full-bodied with on the nose ripe blackberries and raspberries as well as fresh cigars followed on the palate (sic) by ripe blackberries, raspberries, ripe plums, cedar wood, cardamon, dark chocolate and vanilla with mouth-coating tannins on a long finish. Great wine.”

Thus ended our evening at the Festival. We left with the overall impression that Israeli wines are continuing to rise in the level of quality. It also seemed to us that quite a few of them are being sold at more reasonable prices. We also enjoyed meeting a number of the vintners and must come back “down south” to this Judean Hills region for a visit to some of these wineries in the near future. Hopefully we’ll do this and you’ll be reading about these visits in the near future.

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