RCC Israel # 38 – Kislev 5782

For the first time in almost two years, we were able to hold a “normal” RCC at someone’s home rather than a restaurant. I have to say – it was great to be back to normal. While there are some benefits to going to a restaurant – certainly in terms of cleanup — nothing beats the warmth of being hosted in someone’s home. Also, assuming you have the right chef, the quality is going to be better – and we had the right chef. Chef Amrom Pitterman has cooked for us once before and everyone is impressed. He further upped his game this RCC. Besides being inventive, one of the most difficult tasks for a chef is being able to put out multiple courses that will be able to carry heavy red wines without breaking the budget. I have to say, most chefs fail there. But Amrom put out a single fish course, which was good for the whites and PN that we had, and from then it was all red meat – which certainly worked well for the wines involved. The lamb and short ribs were truly standouts. Another challenge is keeping the desserts truly inventive, while complimenting the wine. At best, usually you get a dish that can work with but not necessarily enhance the wine being served with it. Not true here – this was one of the most inventive desserts we have had – smoked chocolate mousse and sous vide lemon curd with candied ginger, nori, and a blueberries coulis. On paper, there are elements there that shouldn’t work together – but when you think about it – it actually has many flavors you would find in wine descriptors, and they played extremely well with the port that we had for dessert. A really smart and tasty dish and pairing. All in all it was a great evening highlighted by some VERY fine wines – some of them historic bottles (like the first fully kosher Castel Grand Vin release and the first Mia Luce release). Speaking of wines, let’s get to the notes….

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Brut, Rosé, 2013 – This wine has developed very nicely since its release. It has maintained its crispness but has developed some nice tasted brioche notes that really do it for me. This is my favorite vintage of this wine so far. Grab them up if you can still find any – though that’s unlikely.

Ya’acov Oryah, Vim, 2020 – This wine and its brother were commissioned by Simon Jacob. The story goes that he had a dream, and in it, he was drinking wines with his father, who, like Simon also loved fine wine. There were two bottles of wine on the table, and the wines were clearly named Vim and Vigor. Simon asked Ya’acov to help him realize this dream – and so Vim and Vigor became a reality. The wines in Hebrew are Tohu and Vohu (תהו ובוהו). While these words are usually translated as some type of nothingness and void, apparently there is an interpretation which holds these words to mean “unrealized potential” and “actualization.” By themselves, each is useless – but when the power of actualization is applied to unrealized potential, the world may be formed. Regarding the wines – the components are near identical with minor difference in amounts. The Vim is made of 50.6% Chardonnay, 49% Skin Macerated Chardonnay, 0.2% Semillon, and 0.1% Gewürztraminer. Keeping with the theme of unrealized potential, this wine is designed to open slowly and develop as it ages. It tastes super closed and almost flat when you first pour it. But after about 30 minutes of air, the wine starts to become expressive. There is a nice flintiness that becomes apparent and some of the fruit starts to come out, with some nice tart green apple. It will be very interesting to see how this wine tastes in a year from now.

Ya’acov Oryah, Vigor, 2020 – as opposed to its brother, this wine was designed to feel more complete – and it does. And it’s wonderful. Made of 94% Chardonnay, 4% Semillon and 2% Gewürztraminer. Really a mineral monster but with a firm chardonnay core of green apple and lemon with some nice saline at the end. It’s a wine that you just want to keep drinking. The Semillon here is what’s giving it the complexity, I would guess. Really excellent. It’s a true study in what shifts in percentages and components can do.

Livnat Hasnapir, 2020 (Bonus Bottle) – As luck would have it, our hostess works for Ya’acov and for her son’s bar mitzvah commissioned him to make special blends for the occasion. Most of the components are identical – 50% Chardonnay, 30% Chenin Blanc, 12 % Semillon and 8% Gewürztraminer. Obviously, the CB is the big addition here percentage-wise – but that’s not what is felt primarily – here the Gewurtz is near dominant. This wine was designed to be a drink now wine for the Bar Mitzvah party, good quality, but nothing overly complex. It achieves that goal and then some. Really super drinkable, light, and fun. It was super interesting to taste these three wines side by side, as it illustrates how in the hands of a master winemaker, the same components can be manipulated into producing three very different wines.

Gvaot, Gofna Reserve, Pinot Noir, 2013 – Classic Gvaot Pinot. All of the flavors that you would expect are there. Perhaps a little heavy-handed on the cherry. The real issue with this wine is the body. It’s just heavier than it should be and overpowered the delicate salmon it was served with. Other than that, it really is one of the best PN’s that Israel has to offer. BTW, the 2018 release of this wine is off the charts and is the most varietally true release to date. It corrects much of the problems noted here with the body that typifies their PN – and the flavors are all on point. Well worth searching out….

Ramot Naftali, Primo, 2014 – Super sweet with some prune and date and sweet cherry. Nice enough acid that tries to balance out the crazy sweetness, but ultimately fails. What can I say, other than this is not for me.

Tzora, Shoresh, 2014 – Very nice showing of this wine. Rich lush dark fruit, nice warm spice, some herb, and cedar. The finish is long and tart with earth, a bit of graphite, and some nice tart cranberry. This is showing really nicely now – though it might yet further improve. (Full disclosure, this was my bottle)

Terra di Seta, Chianti Classico, Riserva, 2013 – This bottle unfortunately was slightly corked. Still enjoyable – but for those who are very sensitive to TCA, it sort of ruined it. In any event, not worth writing notes on this one as it truly wasn’t representative of what the wine should be.

Mia Luce, Rosso, 2009 – This is the first release of Kobi Arviv’s Mia Luce winery. It is his only Merlot release to date – so this is a unique bottle Out of the bottle, the wine was a little flat with some cherry notes on the nose. But after five minutes or so, the nose blew off, leaving just some very nice barnyard/brett in its place, and, in the mouth, the acid came alive, really waking up the wine. There was a little bit of tannin left here still holding the wine together. The fruit has sweetened a touch and the mineral has receded – but like the nose, the brett does come through clearly here, which keeps the wine interesting at its advanced age. Is this wine passed peak – that’s an understatement. But is it still super enjoyable and interesting? For me the answer is an absolute yes. It goes without saying that if you are holding on to this piece of history, drink up before it’s too late.

Domaine Du Castel, Grand Vin, 2003 – Another piece of history! This bottle is from the first fully kosher vintage at Castel – the 2002 having served as a test run with a very limited number of kosher bottles produced, with the rest being non-kosher. So 2003 was the first vintage that saw the winery working kosher at scale. It is remarkable how well these early Castels have held up. A couple of years ago I had one of the rare 2002’s, and at RCC a few years back, we had the 2003 Petit Castel- which at the time (May 2017) was drinking beautifully. This bottle seemed to be stored excellently. On first pour it was dead, but within five minutes it got some of its body back. Fruit was there though faint. There was some nice tobacco and chocolate and a velvety earthiness. Barely there acid and tannin – and within 20 minutes the wine was already receding. Again– a nice piece of history, 18 years old and still a bit of life in it. The early aught Castels were something else.

Domaine Du Castel, Grand Vin, 2008 – This bottle was from the famed 2008 vintage. Unfortunately, when we opened it, it was just dead as a doornail. It wasn’t off, just totally flat. As it happens, by a confluence of circumstance Simon also brought an identical bottle as a bonus – which we were not going to open as we already had one coming – but in this case we decided to see if it was a storage issue or if it had just gone belly up in general. Luckily it was a storage issue on bottle number one. This bottle was in MUCH better shape. Still – it is over the hill (and Simon’s storage is impeccable – so that’s not the issue here) – it’s just way past prime. Still better than the ’03 but not five years better – which just shows you how different each vintage can be with a wine. In fact, most 2008’s are past peak today. As I am writing this, I am wondering about the Carmel LE. The 2008 was one of my favorite vintages. Haven’t had one in about three years. If there is a premium kosher Israeli wine that is still at peak, that one might be it! In any event. Drink up before this wine is totally lifeless.

Domaine Du Castel, Grand Vin, 2013 – In line with previous tastings over the last two years. This wine is at peak now, and I don’t know how long it will hold. With even 20 minutes of air in the glass, you can already see it rapidly develop – and so I would caution against holding this one too long. But for now, while it may not have lived up to the extreme hype that it got upon release, it is still super tasty – so drink and enjoy!

Flam, Noble, 2013 – This was tasted side by side with the 11 & 12 – obviously, it really can’t hold a candle to the ‘11, and so I won’t even try. It does though share a flavor profile with the ’12 for the most part. I would say there is more depth, but in its current state it is slightly less refined. I would guess that the 12 is currently at peak and the 13 has another year or two to get there. In the long run, the ’13 will prove to be the better wine and will likely develop more tertiary notes and the fruit will recede. Just give it the time it deserves.

Flam, Noble, 2012 – This wine has not changed over the last couple of years at all. I am not sure if it will develop further, or this is peak – but it does drink VERY nicely currently with dark red and blue ripe fruit up front. There is nice sweet pipe tobacco and spice on the long finish. This really is an excellent expression of a New World Israeli premium wine. Very enjoyable.

Flam, Noble, 2011 – What can I say about the 2011. IMHO, this is one of the best Israeli wines ever made. It is a dead ringer for a well-made Bordeaux. Beautiful earth is now showing along with mushroom, tobacco, and both toasted and fresh herb (basil, rosemary, thyme. Super long finish. I keep on underestimating this wine and constantly think it much have reached peak by now, but clearly it hasn’t. Personally, I have drunk through half my six-pack and I’m sad – this wine has plenty of room to grow. Best wine of the night for me by far. Just stellar stuff.

Ya’acov Oryah, Up We Go, 2020 (Bonus Bottle) – Another bottle while we cleared the table prior to dessert. I had not tasted it before, and I was interested as it is certainly unique. It is a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Chardonnay, and Semillon. Yes a red and white blend. While this sounds strange, there are cases where Red and White wines are commonly blended together, for instance in Rosé champagne (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) – but also in still wines – small amounts of Viognier are commonly blended into Syrah in Cote Rotie and elsewhere for instance. So there are cases where blending whites and reds can be very successful. Unfortunately this isn’t one of them IMHO. I am just not sure what Ya’acov was trying to go for here. It is a strange hybrid that doesn’t really work on either front for me. This is one of the rare times that one of Ya’acov’s wines really struck out. I guess you can’t win them all…

Porto Quevedo, Ruby Port, N.V. – No change since previous tastings – but as I noted above, the dessert pairing truly elevated this already tasty wine. It just shows you how important wine pairing can be when done right!

My thanks to Penina and Jack Kustanowitz for hosting, Amrom Pitterman for providing some wonderful food and to all those who attended and provided some excellent wines and even more excellent company!

Chodesh Tov!

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