Sommelier 2018 – I Won’t Buy What You Don’t Let Me Taste

The annual Sommelier show took place in Tel Aviv last week on Monday and Tuesday. Plenty of people have written posts on Facebook already – and I am sure others will write detailed notes on the show and wines. Gonna skip that and give you a couple of highlights of the wine and overall impressions of the show and a word about wine festivals. For a nice write up of which I agree with about 95% – see my friend Alexandre Kassel’s post on Facebook in the Kosher Wines: Sharing & Experiences group.

First – here is the best of what I tasted:

Best Rose there for me was the 2017 Jezreel . I really enjoyed it. In fact it’s the only wine I bought at the show.  I think it sells for NIS 70-80 – and it’s worth the money for sure. I’ll eventually do a full write up when I have time to taste in  a better setting,but it was very impressive. I only got to taste the 2016 once (as I am guessing they shipped most of it abroad,  leaving us Israelis with the 2015 which they couldn’t export and which was nowhere near as good as 2015 was a VERY tough vintage for everyone) – and the 2017 is in-line with 2016 from what I remember.  Really very nice!

Best premium Reds of the night were at Covenant. While the 2015 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon probably edges it out based purely on quality – the 2014 Neshama blend (primarily Petit Verdot [60%] with a healthy amount of Malbec and some Syrah) takes the crown. Big juicy fruit up front, but balanced out by muscular tannin and a nice amount of acid, with some roasted smoked meat and pepper from the Syrah. It wins for me for 2 reasons. First it’s not Cabernet Sauvignon. While I love Cabs (and as I just mentioned Covenant’s was the best of them there and is consistently one the best kosher Cab’s produced year after year), I will admit to suffering from Cab Sav fatigue in general. The second reason it wins is, in my little world, price does matter.  While not cheap by any standard, it’s about 25% cheaper than the Cab. So  it was the winner for me.

Best reasonably priced red for me was the 2016 Gvaot Vineyards Dance. In fact all 3 of the reds that Gvaot put up there were nice (they also had their base level Merlot),  and while the the 2014 Cab Sav Reserve was better,  just like with the covenant wines above when you factor in price the Vineyards Dance is the winner for me.

Best white  – and this one was easy – was the 2017 Tabor Rousanne. This wine has improved year over year since it’s initial release in 2012. With good mineral and nice acid balancing the guava,  citrus and tart fruit. Will need to re-taste to get a fuller picture for better notes – but it was excellent. Why was the choice so easy ? Because it was the only outstanding white that I tasted.

And here we are moving to the general comments on the wine – and I will highlight the places that I disagree with my friend Alexandre whose notes I referenced above. First let me continue with the whites.

  • As opposed to others, I didn’t care for the Gvaot’s 2016 Jandali blend.
  • I thought that both of Kishor’s Reislings were very nice – and I always like it when a winery produces the same wine in 2 different styles (here dry and off-dry) allowing an interesting compare and contrast . As opposed to my friend Alexandre, I enjoyed the off dry as well.
  • I liked Capsouto’s 2016 Cuvee Eva blend which I think is Rousanne and Grenache primarily – very solid.

In fact, there were a whole bunch of solid whites – but nothing exceptional being shown. Which is scary. Why? Because according to most, Israel is supposed to shine on  the white side these days, and there was simply not a whole lotto write about. And on the red side, there was also nothing exceptional being shown for the most part (outside of the wines mentioned above):

  • I liked all of Tura’s reds  – all solid but nothing exceptional (and as opposed to Alexandre – I even liked the PN which was a 2015. They got proper flavor out of a very difficult vintage – and while on the lighter side  even for PN, that is likely due to the poor vintage )
  • I liked both of the Capsouto reds
  • I liked Ramot Naftaly’s Primo (and as opposed to Alexandre’s notes, I thought the Primo was the best of the bunch – a very nice Barbera-Merlot blend – and to me much better than the stand alone Barbera whose fruit was over the top for me). I also liked their Malbec although it is likely not for holding as i was already very soft.

Other than that, Alexandre pretty much summed it up.

So when you read through all of that   you probably aren’t really excited by much – at least I wasn’t  – and this brings me to a problem with these wine festivals that I have run into in the last few years.

Somellier is billed as the premier wine event in Israel. Until this year it was meant for people within the wine-trade only. This year the show was extended and remained open in the evening for the common man. The show itself is run professionally. Booths were set up across 3 levels and there was little crowding. There were areas to sit and congregate if you wanted. No ques to get in or pay. All nice and good.  So what went wrong? Well at the premier wine event in Israel,  with the market as saturated as it is, wineries should be serving their VERY BEST in an effort to get the public drinking their wines. As I have noted elsewhere – I pay for all of my wine – and I go through A LOT. I am NOT going to drop NIS 150 on a bottle I haven’t tasted. Sorry. Not going to do it. The wineries’ goal has to be to get the wine drinking public to an event to taste their wines – and show them why their bottle is worth it’s price. I know the answer – wineries are scared off by the masses coming to these festivals just to get drunk and therefore they don’t want to waste their better wine on the masses. They actually prefer a higher entrance fee to weed people out. Somellier’s ticket price was NIS 150 , which also got you a NIS 50 coupon to purchase wine at the show, but even NIS 100 makes it the most expensive wine show in Israel! And if so, why not pour the good stuff? And if the price isn’t enough of a deterrent – for the masses – maybe the masses deserve the good stuff! I mean how else are you going to get them to taste your wine? They have shown they were serious – they are paying NIS 150 for a 3 hour tasting!

In their current format, what these festivals excel at really, is missing an opportunity to present the very best that Israel has to offer to a public that really WANTS to find wines that they will buy – again and again. Sure  – there were some exceptions. Jezreel presented pretty much it’s entire portfolio – and I like about 60% of it very much – which I think is a very high percentage. And Covenant also was pouring it’s entire portfolio – even wines that retail for above NIS 400!

But they were the exception rather than the rule.

Gone are the days where the wineries would take out big booths and pour pretty much everything they had  – including library wines  at times. . I’m not sure if the wineries weren’t seeing a return on the investment that they could trace back to the festivals – or if they simply don’t care. The end result though is that these events have become less appealing to people like me – and I would assume I am their target customer – people who drink wine regularly and are not just looking for a cheap buzz.

While I will probably still go to the festivals – I will have to skip festivals where the price of admission is high while  the wine being served is so underwhelming. I try whenever possible to go to full portfolio tastings held in kosher locations in Jerusalem or to visit the wineries themselves when they are reasonably close to where I live.

But will I try any of GHW’s higher-end wines that I didn’t get to taste at the festival? Probably not – unless there is some large format GHW tasting in the future that I go to and that allows me to taste through and decide what I like especially in difficult vintage years like 2015,16 and 17 have been. Copy that comment to all of the larger wineries.  Will I taste the new releases of the dozens of boutique wineries where the cheapest bottle is NIS 150? Probably not. Why would I potentially throw my money out on a winery/winemaker that has no proven track record? Wineries have to realize that they are competing for my wine budget. And the sad thing is – I AM ALWAYS LOOKING FOR A NEW GOOD WINE TO BUY- especially when it’s reasonably priced! I just wish someone would convince the wineries to let me taste it.

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