RCC Israel # 36 – Av 5780

Due to the ongoing craziness that is our world, we have not had an RCC evening since February. March rolled around and with it the Coronavirus pandemic, and everything came to an immediate halt. With the initial improvement in conditions in Israel and the relaxing of the guidelines from the Health Ministry, I decided about a month ago to try and shoot for some sort of RCC. For this month. Social distancing requirements meant that it would be hard to host this kind of an evening in someone’s home. Instead we began looking for a restaurant that would agree to host us and keep to strict social distancing guidelines as well as full implementation of the Health Ministry’s guidelines, including masks by all staff. This is not to be taken as a given as MANY restaurants appear to be lax. Luckily we found a restaurant that was able to meet all of our requirements – Eucalyptus.

I have to say I was nervous. I had been to a wine event a month ago organized by someone else and hosted somewhere else and people were on top of each other, grabbing snacks and cheese without utensils and in general behaving as if this pandemic wasn’t happening.  If I would have realized how things would have played out beforehand, I certainly would NEVER have attended something like that. I sat at the corner of a table off to a side and left the proceedings whenever I could to avoid contact – and I lived in fear for two weeks after. So I was VERY clear that all protocols had to be followed – and I have to say, the restaurant didn’t blink an eye and in fact assured us that they followed every single protocol to the letter. In fact, they gave us the entire upper floor that usually can easily seat 70 or more. They set a table for us with an empty space between every dinner. Each dinner was provided his own bread and dips so nothing had to be shared. Every single staff member wore masks – including those in the kitchen (I checked). And – the food was EXCELLENT. Certainly our best RCC restaurant experience ever, and the meal rivaled many of our Private chef catered events.  Every single dish was a winner, with my favorites being the wonderful short ribs which were served beef bourguignon style, as well as the duck filled pastillas, and incredibly the fully vegetarian mushroom risotto which used freekeh instead of rice. Super tasty. And the portions were tremendous.  I can say without reservation that whenever a home-based RCC is not an option, Eucalyptus will be our new default.

But as I always say, this blog is not really about food, it’s about wine – so let’s get to it. The wines this month (almost) without exception were winners – including an Israeli wine that was 20 years old! One thing that cannot be stressed too much ESPECIALLY here in Israel where the summers can be oppressively hot – PLEASE store your wines appropriately – and ONLY purchase wines from merchants who do the same. When in doubt – do without. More on that in the notes. Here is how it went (Note – in the picture of the printed menu, Flam Noble 2011 appears. Due to an cellar access problem, this was substituted with the Dalton, Matatia, 2006)

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Blanc de Blancs, 2010 – This wine has moved into the typical direction – more of those nice yeasty notes that I really appreciate in aged sparklers. Flavors are typical – but are more apple oriented and IMHO the acid was a little flatter than usual. Not sure if this is an early downslope for this vintage or just a slightly off bottle. Will have to try another soon. Still, it was very enjoyable in any event.

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Merlot, 2000 – A wine celebrating its 20th birthday. The bottle was in excellent shape and you can tell that the storage was near-perfect as well. First, when I popped the cork, there was a thick layer of sediment on the cork itself – which meant that the bottle was likely stored upside down. While not ideal – horizontal is best as the sediment does NOT collect on the cork – it certainly means that this bottle was cared for enough to flip the bottle (likely for storage space) so as to keep the cork moist. The cork itself was in perfect shape, and the wine was alive and well. I can’t say it was at peak. But it had a very nice structure with fully integrated tannin and some acid holding things together. At first pour there was some wonderful mushroom both on the nose and in the mouth – that sadly dissipated in the first five minutes. But the wine otherwise held up for the duration. The fruit was all there, mostly black – with blackberry and dark plum with some cedar and chocolate coming in at the end. Really very nice indeed and SUPER impressive. Of course no one should really be holding this wine anymore. It’s not getting any better and will only degrade – but it was very nice indeed.

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003 – As opposed to the 2000 Merlot above, this wines storage was slightly less than optimal. The cork itself was fine. But you can tell that the wine was not 100% percent where it could have been. Still. It was not off or dead. But on the nose you could tell already there was a jaminess that was not there initially. In the mouth, sweet red fruit and some cinnamon and warm spice. The finish was also shorter than I would have expected as the structure seemed moderately intact. Again – it’s a 17 year old bottle so who knows – BUT I would expect that if the bottle had been well stored from the time of release, it would have been in slightly better shape. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed it as is for what it was.

Dalton, Matatia, 2006 – This is a rare bottle and some consider it one of the very best Israeli wines ever produced. I have only had this wine three times. Once it was a WOW moment. The next time was just about four years ago when the wine was just turning 10 and it was at an RCC. The truth is I had forgotten about that time, as it was less than memorable. Unfortunately, I had the exact same experience last night. The wine was fine – nice in fact – a little over the hill perhaps, but really fine. But there was no WOW. If you read my notes from the last time I tasted it – you could literally copy and paste them here. This time though, it was not the third best of the night. It was not even in my top five. Having said all that – as I wrote four years ago, the wine is nice enough, just less than I was hoping for – and at this point it is absolutely in drink up mode. (Lest you think the problem was storage, the provenance on this particular bottle is impeccable).

Yatir, Petit Verdot, 2013 – This wine showed varietal typicity and I guess was OK, but was WAY outclassed by the company it was in. It was served with the Forest 2013, of which this wine is but one component, but usually plays a dominant role in its flavor profile. In fact in some years, you get the feeling when drinking the Yatir PV that you are drinking a mini-Forest. This is not one of those years. Again – nothing wrong here, just the wrong wine for this evening.

Yatir, Forest, 2013 – This wine surprised me in the opposite direction. (Disclosure – it was the bottle that I contributed). I often wait until I have the entire list before choosing a bottle to bring. This gives me the opportunity to perhaps get some sort of interesting side by side comparison  – in this case vs the PV of the same vintage as described above. I was really worried because Yatir has taken a turn towards the mundane over the last couple of years. For the most part, the Forest has been spared – still, I worried. But really there was no cause. Beautiful dark fruit with some excellent pepper and spice. A very nice satisfying finish. Well made. Funny because the PV DOES shine through – but, really, it just shows you how well made the wine is. In the varietal bottle, it comes off as harsh and here it is used exactly as it was meant – as an ingredient in a wine that is clearly greater than the sum of its parts.  And all of this at a stage where the wine is still pretty young and could use another year or two of aging. Good stuff.

Recanati, Special Reserve, 2012 – Another wine drunk before its time. At first, this wine presented VERY muted and pretty flat. But I actually left this in my glass for a while before finishing, and with time this opened up (not on the nose, mind you, which remained strangely closed). But besides the dark red fruit there is some really nice depth here with good baking spices – like nutmeg and even a hint of ginger. On the finish is where you see the development. Nice deep rich chocolate, espresso, and coffee. Very nice indeed. Give this wine some time, you’ll be rewarded.

ElviWines, Herenza, Rioja Reserva, 2010 I have gone on about my love for all things Elvi many times. That coupled with the fact that we are talking about a wine made primarily of one of my absolute favorite varietals -Tempranillo – and you have a hit. This wine is STILL closed 10 years in. When will it finally hit maturity? I don’t know. Really. It’s crazy. If I had to guess, I think it will be drinking well in 10 years from now! It’s weird also because the nose is far more open than the mouth. Very red and tart with a touch of meat. In the mouth, you have to coax – but ultimately you some beautiful bright red fruit, which play on the tongue. Great tannin and super nice acidity. On the finish, you get a touch of mushroom but then more red bright fruit. In any event, lay this down and enjoy it in a few years.

Ya’acov Oryah, Iberian Dream, Reserva, 2011 – As another nice comparison we tasted Ya’acov Oryah’s version of a Spanish style reserve alongside the “real thing.” Ya’acov has long maintained that his Reserva rather than his Gran Reserva is the better of the two wines in terms of being built to age, owing to the fact that the Gran Reserva had gone through an extra 2 years of barrel aging, which exposed it to a much longer period of micro-oxidation prior to release. This made that wine far more approachable than the Reserva. The Gran Reserva IMHO is no longer improving and is drinking beautifully right now. I actually thought that this wine was going to be ready. But while I think it is now approachable – it has PLENTY of time ahead. As long as the Elvi? Hard to say. We are nine years in on an Israeli wine – so I I tend to be conservative. But then again, Ya’acov has shown that wines of his can go the distance and this might be the red wine to prove it. What was also fascinating is how similar the flavor profile of this wine is to the Elvi. We tasted them side by side and the profile is BOOM – spot on. Nose, body, and mouth. I know this has all been said before – but really I don’t think I ever spent this much time comparing the Elvi to the Oryah back and forth. It’s really something to behold. This wine continues to impress. Bravo.

Har Odem Winery, 1060, Single Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 – This wine was the only absolute loser of the night. There is very little redeeming I can write here. It was SO not my style. There who were around the table who have tastes that differ from mine and tend towards the fruity sweet and ultra-ripe. For 10 out of 11 people around the table, this wine was TOO ripe. For me it was nearly undrinkable. You can tell that right on the nose where you got candied dried fruit. But besides that, the wine was out of balance and even harsh going down. To top it off, it retails for about NIS 350 a bottle (on sale for NIS 300)! While  you can get some of the very best Israeli Cabs – featured below – for about half that!

Flam, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 – What a contrast coming after the Har Odem. Here you have a new world styled Cabernet Sauvignon that is absolutely the polar opposite of the wine above. Yes, the wine is fruit forward. That’s the style. But there is absolute restraint here. There is a nice line of graphite that runs through the wine as well. The wine is now seven years old and is beginning to develop nice tertiary flavors of mushroom and earth on the edges. But I think we are a number of years from peak. Still this wine was an absolute pleasure to drink. Loved it.

Flam, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 – I have commented before that this wine is one of my favorites. It was a wine that we had at our very first RCC four years ago, and the wine continues to impress. Storage though is KEY. If not stored properly, this wine is likely over the hill. But, if like this bottle, the storage is impeccable, you are in for an absolute treat. The wine is lush. The dark red fruit up front quickly gives way to some sweet tobacco, chocolate, and rich earth. Wow. The tannin is still firm but fully integrated. The acid is balanced. I can say that this was my favorite wine of the night – even beating out its slightly “bigger” brother, the Noble. Having said all of that, the wine is at peak, and I would likely not hold on to this for a whole lot longer unless you are sitting on a few cases and like to gamble.

Flam, Noble, 2010 – What a wonderful wine. As with the wine above – storage here is key. But again, this wine was stored perfectly and it showed in the glass. Big, bold, and new world Bordeaux blend that has aged absolutely gracefully. The fruit here has finally calmed down and is less in your face than it has been each time I have tasted since release. Still very rich – went SO well with the short ribs. In fact, I had pushed away my plate as I was full – but the joy of having this wine with the food kept me eating and drinking. Problem is, that I REALLY got wrapped up in the experience. And before long both wine and food were gone, and I had only my first impression notes. I was also ready to pass out from a food coma. What can I say, I screwed up. This was super enjoyable to drink. It was one of those wine-food synergy moments you always strive for. Mission accomplished. Absolute compliments to the Flam brothers. Just a wonderful experience.

Netofa, Fine Ruby, NV – No change here from previous tastings. This continues to be the very best value port-style wine available. Period. As a bonus, I don’t think you could have gotten a better pairing than the desert it was served with – poached pear in wine and dark chocolate truffles. Absolutely beautiful. A great way to end a really enjoyable evening.

As I finished writing and reading over my completed notes, I realized that my impression of certain individual wines was harsher in the light of day than when I tasted them I had jotted down the notes in real time on my phone. But when putting the experience of the individual wines into formal verbiage – the reviews on certain bottles are perhaps less favorable. The overall evening though was EXCELLENT. And the feeling I had when thinking about this is that RCC’s are not about the individual wines. Sure – that’s interesting and fun to talk about especially for the wine-geeks among us. Really though it’s about sitting around a table (perhaps with a little more space between us than usual) and sharing an excellent meal with good wine with people who appreciate such things. I LOVE that experience and the relationships it fosters. As I have mentioned many times, I have made some very good and close friends through our mutual love of wine. While I continue to taste and discuss things virtually with many of them, nothing beats that in-person interaction. It is something that is sorely missed. Wishing all of us continued health and safety and speedy return to normalcy.

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