Visit to Rubin Winery

Dr. Kent and Ronen Rubin, the vintner/owner of Rubin Winery

Today my good friend and colleague, Dr. Jonathan Kent, invited me to pay a visit with him to his favorite small boutique winery, Rubin Winery. Ronen started making wine about 15 hears ago up north near Kiryat Shmonah. Originally, what was started as a hobby with 20 or 30 bottles of wine has become a burgeoning profession, and he now produces approx 3,000 bottles of wine each year. He does not do any of the viticultre, but chooses, instead, to purchase the grapes which come from Meron, Alma and Kerem Ben Zimra. These are well known wine grape growing areas, but we question the veracity of purchasing grapes rather than growing. I have participated in the discussion on WineLovers forums on Israeli and Kosher Wines I am a firm believer in the need for someone who wants to make quality wines to focus primarily on the growing, and secondarily on the fermenting, aging, blending, and bottling. To make a fine wine, one needs a perfect grape, if there is such a thing. Try to make wine from what you buy in the supermarket. It just won’t work. And if someone grows that wonder-grape, he or she will use it to make their own wine or sell it to the likes of Golan Heights Winery for a top price. If you compromise on the grapes, you just cannot make an exceptional wine no matter what you do.

Enough preaching for now. We are visiting a winery run in the home of a  wonderful guy, Ronen Rubin.  His winery is in a real basement under the ground under his home. It is a beautiful set of rooms cooled to an ideal 18 degrees Centigrade, even on a hot summer day at Moshav Bar Yochai where the outside temperature today was in the mid 30’s. Ronen did all the work to build this place and he does all the renovation of the oak barrels he purchased from major wineries in the area  He has disassembled them, sanded down the inner aspect of the wood and burned the wood before reassembling the casks. In addition to being a builder, and vintner he is a cooper. Truly a man of many talents.

At his winery, we tasted the Petit Verdot (he calls it Petit Bordeaux) from the cask. It is a deep magenta, highly flavored, spicy wine which he will use for blending. We also tasted his Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010 which was aged 18 months in oak barrels. It is a complex big bodied wine with a long finish with tastes of chocolate, tobacco and cardamon. His Sangiovese had little nose and a gentle flavor. He also makes a Merlot and a Cabernet Franc which we did not taste. We purchased a bottle of his 2010 Shiraz and a bottle of Port made from Cabernet Sauvignon with 8% alcohol added to stop the fermentation while there were still some sugars left.   Ronen is now also making a “Cognac” distilled product and a variety of liquers made from Nana, Ginger, Cherries and other fruits.

Ronen Rubin continues to varietize and innovate. There’s no stopping him.

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Gamla Sangiovese 2008 Vintage

This is a return to this grape variety, having tasted and written about Gamla’s 2007 vintage approximately six months ago.

Sangiovese is considered the “workhorse” grape of central Italy and is the main ingredient of Chianti. Sanguis Jovis, the Latin origin for this grape’s varietal name, literally means “blood of Jove,” who is the Roman Jupiter, king of the gods. This name connection resulted in the theory of the origin of the grape to the time of Roman winemaking. Jancise Robinson’s “The Oxford Companion of Wine” states that Sangiovese is a qualitatively variable, red grape variety that is Italy’s most planted. In 1990, almost 10 per cent of all Italian vineyards, or more than 247,000 acres, were planted with some form of Sangiovese. They go on to explain that, “Sangiovese’s principal characteristic in the vineyard is its slow and late ripening—harvests traditionally began after 29 September and even today can easily be protracted until or even beyond mid October—which gives rich, alcoholic, and long-lived wine in hot years and creates problems of high acidity and hard tannins in cool years. Over-production tends to accentuate the wine’s acidity and lighten its colour, which can also oxidize and start to brown at a relatively young age. The grape’s rather thin skin creates a certain susceptibility to rot in cool and damp years, which is a serious disadvantage in a region where rain in October is a frequent occurrence.” Sangiovese vineyards with limestone soil seem to produce wines with more forceful aromas. Thus this grape is well suited to Israel, with our hot and dry summers. Here the entire year’s rainfall doesn’t start until after October, except on very rare occasions. Also, much of Israel’s soil is limestone.

There are many subvarieties, clones and regional differences of Sangiovese in Italy, each with its own characteristics. I especially love the Oxford Wine Companion’s conclusion that, “a good part of contemporary viticultural research in Toscana…is dedicated to resolving a single problem: how to put more meat on Sangiovese’s bones, how to add flesh to its sizeable, but not always sensual, structure.”

In some ways Sangiovese is to Chianti as Cabernet Sauvignon is to Bordeaux. Both form the base of wines normally blended with other varietals, and both, by themselves, share a certain distinctive elegance and complexity when well-made. In Italy, Sangiovese is now often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. Robinson adds that in this highly successful grape variety combination, “the intense fruit and colour of Cabernet marries well with the characterful native variety.”

The Professional Friends of Wine state the following about the wines of this variety: “The flavor profile of Sangiovese is fruity, with moderate to high natural acidity and generally a medium-body ranging from firm and elegant to assertive and robust and a finish that can tend towards bitterness. The aroma is generally not as assertive and easily identifiable as Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, but it can show a strawberry, blueberry, faintly floral, violet or plummy character.”

Golan Heights Winery’s Gamla Sangiovese is one of our friend Naftali Admoni’s favorite wines. We tasted it along with a wonderful dinner of refried beans, steamed brown rice, and a salad of chunks of avocado, tomato, and coriander with a dressing of olive oil, mustard, and homemade cider vinegar. Good food and a good wine. It was, including good companionship, the perfect evening. This 2008 vintage is a medium bodied wine with subtle aromas, which reminded us of a mossy stone wall. The tastes, which one senses when drinking it, were multiple and consisted of cherries plus all the fruits known to man. It also raised visions of walnuts, vanilla, cinnamon, and mushrooms with its musty and earthy complexity of flavors. It has a medium body, intermediate tannin level, and a moderately long finish, which, however, included a bit of a bite at the end. It especially complimented our meal, with its kaleidoscope of flavors. That, after all, is the role of drinking wine with food.

We give this wine, which costs 59 shekels at the winery, an israelwinetaster grade of B+ or perhaps even an A-. It cannot be classified as a “blockbuster” but has such outstanding flavors that the price permits us to advise it as an, “I would buy it again” wine. In Rogov’s wine grading system, I would rate it a 90.

We hope you receive much enjoyment from this wine, and say to you, “L’Chaim.”