I often get asked how I choose the wineries that I write about. The answer since COVID at least has been the same – I write about those that invite me to taste. It’s really that simple – I’m easy like that. And so a few weeks ago, I got a text from Eli Shiran asking me to taste through his new releases and here we are.
A few things to note off the bat, I have known Eli for a number of years. He has attended a number of RCC’s and we have had other dinners and tastings together. I consider him a friend. I think it is important to fully disclose that. I can say honestly though that it really does not impact the way I feel. I have always been up front with Eli about what I like and don’t like about his wines and have expressed that freely on this blog.
The next thing to note is that his wines and by extension his winemaking have improved year after year. I think that’s something worth noting – so when people look at a group of wines and you see a clear trajectory, you can say hey – I like where this winery is going, it might be worth joining them on that journey, as things are getting better and better. That is certainly the case here IMHO.
The last thing to note is on the other side of the coin. Something that has NOT been getting better and better with Shiran is the pricing. It is very hard to justify the price tag on a number of wines. I have had this discussion NUMEROUS times over the years with Eli. I understand his position; as a boutique winemaker with limited scale, his costs are higher, and therefore in order to be profitable, he needs to charge more. While I understand the argument, it makes no difference to me as a consumer if a producer’s production costs are higher – if that doesn’t add to the overall quality of the product being produced so that it is now that much better than anything else on the market.
For instance, if I develop my own recipe for a cola and source all of the very best ingredients from my local health food store – using the absolute best Madagascar vanilla, hand milled unrefined raw cane sugar, locally sourced hand drawn spring water, etc. and then spend weeks cooking and refining and processing until I have an absolutely incredible bottle of artisanal cola – and it tastes significantly better than Coke – assuming Coke is your baseline standard for cola at an 88 point score and this comes in at a whopping 95! How much is that one liter bottle of artisanal cola worth? Let’s say it’s twice as good as coke – so $2? But – it cost at least $15 to produce! And let’s say you can ramp up and get to some sort of boutique scale and that production cost can come down to $10 – so in order to make a profit, a $20 wholesale price (marketing, transportation, etc.) is about right – and then you have a distributor’s markup and then final retail price – is somewhere at $35. Would anyone pay $35 for that bottle of cola? No. And while exaggerated, that’s my argument against justifying the price of a bottle of wine with the cost of production. Ultimately, it has to be in line with the market for the same product’s quality level or else you are just marketing a label. Now, there are other arguments for the cost of a specific wine – but ultimately, I need to judge these wines within the quality category they fall – and that is where boutique wineries often fall short. There are other wines of similar quality at (far) more attractive prices.
Having said all of that, I really DO like some of these wines – and, I think the Israeli prices might even be justifiable in some cases. So, let’s get things started:
Whites (all unoaked)
2019 Shiran Triada – 4 months in steel, this wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Semillon, and Viognier. Bright green apples and citrus on the nose. But muted. Nice enough acid to start but then fades off. Good rich mouthfeel, but the fruit is muted. Some lemon and a little peach, which joins the apple with a nice bittering note at the end. I had this wine last year right before the world shut down and I liked it much better. It seems to already be on the decline, losing a lot of its zest.
2020 Shiran Semillon – (Kerem HaRuach) – Two months on the lees. Excellent funk on the nose. In the mouth, this Semillon is ready to play. And early for a Sem! I guess you can thank the ridiculous heat wave in the middle of harvest. I can’t say how long it’s going to last; currently this wine is in a wonderful place. It’s exactly what you are looking for in a Sem. Filthy, with excellent acid balancing out the wonderfully rich creamy mouth. The finish is a bit shorter than I would like, but close enough. I let this sit in the glass over the course of the long evening. The funkiness blows off in the nose – but other than that the wine got even better. The finish filled out and the acidity is off the charts. This one might age nicely….
2020 Shiran Chardonnay – Another muted nose with a little green apple shining through. In the mouth – nice but rather simple. Great lemon backing up the apple. Good acid. A nice effort. Is it super special? No. But nice enough. Would love a little more complexity here. But a nice enough wine.
2020 Shiran Viognier -Nice funkiness on the nose. Followed by some green grass. Refreshing. In the mouth, peach and almond, but with bracing acidity. Nice stuff for sure. Far better than last year’s edition. The acid really does wonders here, and this is a Viognier that I can get behind (even though I don’t usually care for peach).
2020 Shiran Riesling – On the nose, some flinty mineral and a touch of funk, which intensifies as the wine opens. In the mouth, really nice acidity with ripe stone fruit, mineral, and then lime and nice herb. A bit heavier than I would have expected with the profile. Finish could be longer, but again, not bad with good mineral and herb. This wine was a bit perplexing to me. Not sure where this one is going. It certainly has the potential to improve – and it tastes young, but I can’t say for sure that it will. As the wine opened over the evening, there were some interesting vegetal notes that developed that I liked. A wine with enough character to pique my interest and IMHO worth putting a couple away to see (if and) how they develop.
2018 Shiran The Soprano – A blend of Grenache and Petite Sirah. On the nose, ripe blue and dark red fruit and violet. In the mouth, sweet ripe blue and black fruit. Some spice. There is some nice balancing acidity but very light tannin. Overall this wine is not for me. Drink now.
2018 Shiran Trio – A blend of Carignan, Syrah, and Petite Sirah. Muted nose. Medium plus body. This wine presents far nicer than the Soprano – nice blue and black fruit – ripe but not over the top, warm spice and perhaps a bit of herb and some nice mineral at the end. Nice enough, though still not something that really grabbed me – and that’s what you need to do at this price. Again, this is a wine that I would say is not really built for aging, though I know others might disagree.
2018 Shiran The Conductor – This wine is a blend of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot. Both on the nose and in the mouth, crazy sweet ripe blueberry and a touch of spice. That’s about it. There is a healthy amount of acidity, but again, not enough tannin to firm it up. This is another wine that is not for holding IMHO – and is also not for me.
At this point in the tasting, something finally clicked, which I hadn’t really paid attention to until now. Eli clearly favors Petite Sirah in his wines. As I have noted previously, I find it is very difficult to make good, controlled Petite Sirah based wines, and overall I simply don’t usually enjoy wines from this grape. This is especially true in Israel, where the wines just feel pushed and over the top. I am aware that this is totally subjective, my dislike of PS, so take what I have written above with a grain salt or if you prefer, a slice of blueberry pie – though you likely have had your fill of blueberry by now.
2019 Shiran Song of the Birds – So let’s get one thing right, there is a marked improvement style-wise in this wine over the 2018 wines. It is FAR more to my tastes. Also, finally a blend of Eli’s that does NOT contain Petite Sirah – in this case – Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan. What you get is nice concentrated black and red fruit, all ripe, like black plum, blackberry, and raspberry, but controlled, with some black pepper and spice in the background. There is nice balancing acidity as well. My only problem here is with the tannin, which I can only describe as rough and mouth coating. Really aggressive. I mentioned that perhaps the wine simply was not ready, and that the tannin needed time to settle down, but Eli insisted that while the wine will improve, it is ready for drinking as is. That makes me worried that this is the intent with this wine – and while the tannin may indeed calm down in the long run, will the fruit and acid hold out until then? That’s an open question. Only time will tell.
2019 Shiran Old Vine Carignan, Limited Edition – Saving the best for last, we have this varietal Carignan. This medium bodied wine is still very closed and took a while to coax out of its shell. On the nose, we have classic green notes, followed by nice red fruit. In the mouth, dark red and black fruit, plum, raspberry, cherry with some nice star-anise and cloves, some toasted herb, and a wonderfully long earthy finish. Basically, a classic Carignan profile. The acidity here is medium+ with mouth coating tannin. I really enjoyed this wine, and here I think we have the structure to let the wine age and mature appropriately. Very nice indeed and a great wine to end the evening on!
My thanks to Eli Shiran for sharing his wines and for some wonderful conversation. While we don’t always see eye to eye, the discussion is always lively and interesting.