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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Visit to Pelter Winery

Pelter Winery, located on the Golan Heights, was founded in 2002 by Tal Pelter after studying viticulture and enology in Australia. He cultivates a number of varieties of grape including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Tempranillo, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. In the beginning he produced about 4,000 bottles and has continued increasing output to 85,000 bottles annually. The winery’s three cornerstones are vitality, quality and family.

Three of us drove up to the Golan and found Kibbutz Ein Zivan easily enough. This location is the present home of the winery, though not an economic part of the kibbutz. Once through the main entrance gate and after turning right, according to the instructions on the Pelter Winery web site, we lost our way. Actually we drove right by the winery, not realizing that the industrial looking building was the place we were trying to find. We continued on, and on, and on. We had obviously lost our way, so we finally called them on the phone. They said they were in the “hangar which was really easy to find.” If you know what you are looking for this is true. Once there, we were greeted by Tal and who graciously gave us a tour of the facility, explaining their production techniques.

Tal with Naftali & Michal in barrel room

Primary fermentation in steel vats

Then we sat down and were served two cheeses made by Tal’s wife.

Tasting area inside winer

They were light and tasty and went well, especially with the white wines including Chardonay,  and our favorite, the Gevurtaztraminer. All of these are fermented in stainless steel vats and then directly put into bottles.

The reds we tasted were Shiraz, Trio, Cabernet-Shiraz blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. I look forward to the release of the new, unusually named “I”, flagship wine of the winery, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in approximately equal parts. We also did not taste their sparkling Blanc de Blancs so I must return to the winery soon.

The Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in French oak barrels for 20 months and was especially good. I agree with the description of the wine on their website, “rich in herbal, mint and eucalyptus flavors laced with chocolate and a rich, lingering finish.” Price 140 shekels/bottle ($40).

The Cabernet Franc, aged in oak for 14 months, “reflects optimal extraction of the unique spice and blackberry flavors of this grape variety.” Price 160 shekels/bottle ($45).

For me the winner was the varietal Petit Verdot which is usually blended in small quantities with Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties to give the final wine an herbal flavor. Here at Pelter, they bottle it as a varietal. This wine has an extremely big body and a tartness. It is full of aromas of the fields with a complex taste of strong fruits and nuts with a long finish. It is rich in tannins and could be aged for a number of years in the proper conditions, the late Daniel Rogov gave this wine a  score of 93 in his annual visit with tasting notes. This is a very unique and special wine. Price 160 shekels/bottle ($45).

I will return to these wines again when we drink them at home at dinnertime. I can then concentrate on them one at a time allowing me to share with you a more detailed description of how these wines titillate my senses without being confused by tasting other wines. Nurit, who was not able to join us in our visit to the winery can also contribute her outstanding ability to transform tastes and aromas into words.

Meet Nurit