Blind Tasting in August with a Focus on Beit El Winery

Just because I haven’t been writing, it certainly doesn’t mean I haven’t been tasting. One of the more prolific episodes occurred near the end of August. A friend who is in the business asked if I would like to come by and blind taste a couple of wines that he was considering bringing into the store. I thought we would taste 3-4 bottles and be in and out in half an hour. That turned into 20 bottles over about 2 hours. I had absolutely no idea going in what the bottles were going to be, who the producers were nor what price range they were in. It was a pure blind tasting. In the end it was split into 4 flights with each flight consisting of a different price range – though again, I knew that only after the fact. All of the wines ended up being Israeli and the producers were both large and small. There were a couple of nice surprises and I inadvertently ended up basically doing a portfolio tasting of Beit El winery without knowing it so that’s one less winery I have to visit any time soon. Out of the 20 wines I tasted, I liked 5-6 of them and was OK with 1 one other – with the rest being passes for me.

Beit El

So let me start with Beit El. Of the twenty wines tasted, 6 were from Beit El. I am not really sure what exactly is going on there. back in 2012/13 and even 14, the wines coming out of Beit El were good to very good. Sure – they were ripe – but they were controlled and not over the top AT ALL. I assume this was due to Lewis Pasco’s involvement. After that, on the couple of occasions that I tasted Beit El – I really couldn’t understand why the drastic change in style. Whatever I tasted seemed pushed and sweet. When I blind tasted these wines – all except for 1 bore absolutely no resemblance to the wines of the 2102-14 period. Honestly one was sweeter and more over the top than the next. Some tasted like dessert wines. To make matters worse – they aren’t cheap! So I really cannot understand who is buying these. Do people just hear a Biblical name and buy based on that coupled with price? I mean I know that consumers often go into a store with a price in mind that they want to pay for a bottle – and breaking the “price = quality” association is very difficult. But blind tastings do not lie. I had no idea what I was tasting and at what price tier, Some were literally undrinkable and poorly made – and others were just simply too sweet for me to accept. Of course these are only my opinions. I am guessing that these wines sell – as they have only expanded their lineup – and I assume this is what their client base wants. Here is a very brief rundown:

2018 Beit El – 3 Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – to me, this one tasted like sour Robitussin cough syrup. Super thick. I think this was the worst of the bunch.

2018 Beit El Havat Gilad Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc – This wine was very green (I guess kudos for showing some sort of varietal characteristic?)- but sweet and green rarely go well together. ‘Nuff Said

2017 Beit El Limited Edition Marselan – This just tasted like a sweet red Israeli wine. No varietal characteristics. Sad.

2017 – Beit El Amona Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon – This was actually not poorly made at all, though ultimately it was just a little sweet for me. Some nice lavender notes and good acidity. Still a little sweet for my taste so it’s a pass for me.

2017 Beit El Revelation Reserve – This is a Bordeaux blend. Literally tasted like a poorly made port. Sweet dried fig and raisin was all I could taste. What’s sadder is that this I believe is their flagship wine….

There was one bright spot though:

2016 Beit El Revelation Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – As opposed to the 2017, this is marketed as a single varietal CS. Nicely balanced. good structure with both tannin and acid contributing. Varietally true and not over the top at all. It drinks pretty young. Well made. I would actually be happy revisiting this wine and seeing how it develops in about a year and half.

The last wine makes me think that the shift was progressive and intentional. They simply have decided to change styles. I guess they are doing what is good for them – and more power to them. It’s just not stuff that I am gong to ever like.

The Rest of the Lineup

Now on to the rest. There were a mix of wines from various producers – big and small at all kinds of price points. In the end, wines were basically served in flights that matched price points – though I didn’t know that at the time. I’ll get the bad out of the way first – in no particular order:

2016 Carmel Private Collection Emek Hanadiv – Decent nose. But very flat tasting. No finish whatsoever. The truth is that when I saw it what it was, I actually though it exceeded expectations….

2017 Dadah Malbec-Barbera – Crazily out of balance. Tons of acid up front that then suddenly disappears leaving you with a mouthful of fruit. I was surprised as I have liked most previous vintages of this wine.

2016 Bravdo Coupage – This nose was so sweet it was overpowering – I almost passed on tasting it – but then I though, who am I, David Raccah? Well, I wish I had his palate – and his good sense. I should have learnt from the master and refused this wine entry into my mouth.

2016 Bravdo Merlot – This tasted like just another mass produced Israeli wine. Was there anything particularly wrong with it? No -but there was nothing right with it either. There was some nice sour cherry there – but the wood was way overdone. Pass.

2017 HaRoeh Cabernet-Petit Verdot – Imagine watermelon-cherry. While The Zohan might love a Fizzy Bubblech flavor like that, It does not belong in wine.

2 bottles were flawed:

2014 Bravdo Landmark Merlot – Corked

2016 Abuhav Irbuvia – Underwent some sort of reduction.

The OK stuff:

2016 Golan Heights Winery Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon – Not overly complex. Mostly presents blue. Nice amount of acid. Well made. Were this wine half the price I would warmly recommend it. But not enough depth for this price point.

2016 Yatir Nachal Yatir – This wine had a really great nose and an excellent bitterness that balanced the fruit. But ultimately the finish just was super short and somewhat flat. I sort of got the feeling that it might need a little more time to fully develop so I’m willing to try again if the opportunity presents itself.

2016 Recanati Special Reserve – This was very nice wine and well made – but really boring. Even now reading my notes I struggle tor remember what it tasted like. That’s not really good for flagship wine…..

The Good/Surprising:

2017 Daltan Canaan Red – yeah. I couldn’t believe it either. But I wrote when I tasted it – “This is a really nice everyday drink – I hope it’s priced like that” – and lo and behold it was. This bottle I believe retails for about NIS 45 and sometimes can be had as little as 3/100. While they don’t specify the blend, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a GSM base. Nothing overly complex. Some nice ripe plum which had a touch of sweetness, but nothing over the top. I was really happy to find this bottle. It’s a segment that is simply under-serviced.

2017 Castel Grand Vin – So first things first. It is not as good as the 2016. Its a lot riper. It is also showing FAR more approachable (much like its little brother the 2017 Petit Castel) . But there is a really nice amount of depth here with layers of dark ripe red fruit followed by some nice rich chocolate. Proof that I enjoyed it is that I took far more descriptive notes here than I did on most others. Having said that the oak currently is VERY prominent. But it is really well made. And the oak is almost guaranteed to integrate. This wine was only bottled in early July – and this tasting was only a month later – so I am pretty confident that in a year or so, it will be showing much better. Still its enjoyable now with a couple of hours of air.

2016 Bravdo Landmark 2B – This is a wine I really liked. Well balanced, well made, elegant and lithe. I don’t remember enjoying previous vintages at all. Could be it was a contrast from the tons of overly sweet heavy wines that I had tasted over the course of the evening. Would seem to be more Merlot than CS in this blend, but who knows. Nice tart raspberry, some graphite and a hint of coffee at the end. Really, really nice.

2016 Galil Mountain Winery Kerem HaSela Syrah – New release by GMW. Full bodied with some smoke and dark blue fruit. Medium tannin and acid. Presents really nicely. One of the better Syrahs I have had lately – and while fully Israeli in style, really well made. I think this will be a huge hit.

At the end of the night – after all of that red, we had some of the 2018 Ya’acov Oryah Anthology of Spice which really capped off a fun evening. That wine is just beautiful and is worth seeking out if you can as well.

Well there you go – a mixed bag for sure – but a full 25% that I can recommend – which is not bad overall. Happy drinking…..

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