In Israel, the Sommelier Expo signals the start to the new wine season. For many Israeli wineries, this is their opportunities to launch new releases and get merchants interested in selling their product to the public. The event used to be only open to people within the business (liquor stores, restaurants etc) & press. For the last 2 years they have opened the event to the public as well in the evenings after the pro section is over. From what I can tell, this year, most wineries served the same wines for the most part to both sets of attendees – an improvement over last year.
There are hundreds of wines to taste and even if you were to attend both days for the full allotted time, you wouldn’t be able to properly taste through all of them without some sort of palate fatigue. So I did not even attempt to taste through everything – omitting things that I have previously tasted (so even though I love them, I skipped the 2016 Carmel Kayoumi Reisling & the 2007 Yarden Late Disgorged BdB etc.) or I knew I would be tasting at the upcoming Zur/KFWE Israel next week. I also tried did only whites on day 1 and reds on day 2 which allowed me to sort of keep my palate in check.
Overall, as has been noted by many, the Israeli scene can be summed up word – WHITE. There were simply some wonderful whites out there and even when they weren’t wonderful, they were usually OK if not to my taste. For me the the standout wine was the Shiran Winery 2018 Chardonnay. Just a warning – as with last year, this Chardonnay does NOT taste like a typical Chardonay – but is more in line with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc profile – this year though there is far less gooseberry and more guava. While we are talking about Shiran, he has 2 other whites that will be released as well – one called the Triada which replaces the duets in white from last year and a new Semillon which will be released in a few months from now. The Triada is nice enough while the Semillion shows a lot of potential and I am looking forward to see how that one progresses. (Disclosure – Eli Shiran attends many of our monthly RCC Israel gatherings – I do not at all think that influences my notes, but it’s something you should know.)
The most interesting new white was probably the 2018 Blanc de Noir made from Cabernet Sauvinon from Gat Shomron. Right after I headed over to Gvaot to sample the ’17 Chardonnay-Cabernet which is the only other white I know of being made from CS. As always, it did not disappoint. The 2018 Kishor Rieslings both showed great potential – though these were samples; they are still a few weeks before bottling. They release two versions – a dry and an off dry. The dry is really not 100% dry, though its a really nice wine even now with some petrol showing through And their off dry is really sweet – though this year they cut back the residual sugar by about a third and it is much more balanced and shows potential.
One exception that i made to not tasting wines previously tasted was the 2018 Recanati Gris de Marsellan. I tasted it about a month ago at RCC Israel Shevat and was underwhelmed but suspected bottle shock, the wine having been bottled only a couple of weeks before. I am happy to report, it was showing MUCH better at Sommelier. Weirdly, there were far less Rosés than I would have expected. Could be that everyone bottled later this year. I know that Covenant Israel’s Rosé had only been bottled 5 days before and they therefore were not showing it yet officially – same story with their Viognier . Both showed potential, with the Rosé being full of strawberry and maybe touch sweeter than last year and the Viognier being very mineral driven and slightly drier than last year – but these both need time to come together before I can really tell. They were also pouring their 2016 Napa Chard which was excellent as usual – with less overt wood in the mouth than usual. Was very happy with that one.
What about the Red side of things you ask… Well, while things are not at all where they should be – there was slight progress that was made in that while things were still sweeter than they should have been, there was FAR less oak in evidence. Also for whatever reason, things seemed more balanced in general – slightly less bombastic, less over the top, less hot. Also there was a lot more “Mediterranean friendly ” varietals in many of the blends instead of just more Cabernet Sauvignon. So what did I love? Covenant’s 2016 Landsman Pinot Noir was nice – but of course not Israeli. There was a value buy that a friend pointed me to from Jerusalem winery – their 2900 series 2017 Merlot-Carignan-Shiraz . Don’t get me wrong – this is not a blow you away kind of wine – but at NIS 28 a bottle it provides good value for sure – and it’s mevushal so would make a very decent choice for smachot for those who need that. Seems pretty bleak right? Really though for me the encouraging thing was that for some wineries there was a clear improvement overall. Take for instance again, Shiran Winery – was I in love with the reds? No. But was there a VAST improvement year over year? FOR SURE. And while that wasn’t true for all wineries (with some favorites even going the other way IMHO), there was enough change to at least be encouraged that maybe Israeli winemakers themselves are getting tired of what they have been putting out over the last couple of years. At least that’s how I’m choosing to view it.