Dining Out The Holy Grail of Wine Tastings

Wine critics are basically optimists, living for nothing more than the day they'll sit down to a tasting of a major collection of wines and find that each and every wine earns a rave review.

Wine critics are basically optimists, living for nothing more than the day they'll sit down to a tasting of a major collection of wines and find that each and every wine earns a rave review. Like for Anton Ego, the restaurant critic in the film "Ratatouille," such occasions, no matter how rare, make life worthwhile, and give us a raison d'etre to continue tasting the overwhelming numbers of "average" (read boring), mediocre and sometimes truly bad wines. I recently had the luck of enjoying a day of excellent tastings.

I tasted four of the Margalit's newly-released 2006 wines and five new wines from the Yatir winery, some from 2005 and some from 2007. Each earned 90 points or more and entered the "exceptional" category.

Margalit was founded in 1989 as one of the nation's first boutique wineries, and the first to capture the imagination of sophisticated wine lovers. Father and son team Ya'ir and Assaf Margalit are most renowned for the Bordeaux-style reds that are released in both a regular and a reserve series.

Margalit's earliest release, in 1989, was of 900 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. More recent releases, including Cabernet, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Syrah, were primarily made of grapes from their own vineyards in Kadita in the Upper Galilee, while the Cabernet Franc is grown in their Binyamina vineyard. All of Margalit's wines are meant for long-term cellaring. Production currently varies between 17,000-21,000 bottles annually.

Margalit, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, 2006: Cabernet Sauvignon blended with about 13 percent of Margalit's Petite Sirah. Full-bodied, dense and intense, but at the same time round and yielding, offering up chocolate-covered cherries, cassis, wild berry and kirsch, which are balanced nicely by spicy-cedary oak. Long, complex and destined for elegance. Best 2009-2017. NIS 270. Score 93.

Margalit, Enigma, 2006: Full-bodied, subtle and round, a softly tannic blend of 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 23 percent Cabernet Franc and 17 percent Merlot. Opens with red currants and red plums, goes to black cherries and a pleasing light spiciness and closing with a long fruity and persistent finish. Best 2009-2013. NIS 230. Score 93.

Margalit, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006: Almost inky black in color, offering a generous mouthful of currant, cherry, blackberry and blueberry fruits matched by layers of sweet spices. Big, broad and intense but yielding on the palate to show grace and elegance, and closing with a long, fruity finish. Best 2009-2015. NIS 200. Score 92.

Margalit, Cabernet Franc, 2006: Dark garnet to royal purple, medium- to full-bodied. Blended with 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and showing rich black currant, cherry and blackberry fruits matched nicely by floral and light earthy aromas and flavors, all coming to a long, round and caressing finish. Best 2009-2013. NIS 200. Score 92.

Enter Yatir

Set in a state-of-the-art winery near the archaeological digs of Tel Arad at the foot of the Judean Hills, this boutique winery draws its name from the Yatir Forest. Founded in 2001, the winery won immediate acclaim for its wines.

While Yatir is owned by Carmel, it maintains complete autonomy under the supervision of Australian-trained winemaker Eran Goldwasser. Its releases include the age-worthy Yatir Forest and Yatir wines. In 2004, the winery produced the label Forester-Lodge but that was issued only for one year. The winery cultivates its own vineyards with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay grapes. Its first wines were from the 2001 vintage. Current production is about 120,000 bottles annually and growth over the next two to three years is estimated at about 150,000 bottles.

Yatir, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005: Blended with 15 percent of Shiraz, this dark garnet with purple and orange reflections is showing fine balance between gentle spicy wood and mouth-coating tannins that are integrating nicely. On first attack: blackberries and currants, which yield to raspberries, spices and light overlays of earthiness and leather, all with a hint of what at one moment feels like lead pencil and the next like cigar box. Long, generous and destined for elegance. Best 2009-2014. NIS 119. Score 92. K

Yatir, Blended Red, 2005: A blend of Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot (37 percent, 36 percent, 15 percent and 12 percent respectively). Aged in oak for 12 months, showing firm tannins nicely balanced with lightly spicy wood. Starts with a rich blackberry nose and then goes on to aromas and flavors of wild berries, currants, and anise, all on a gently herbal background. Best 2009-2012. NIS 105. Score 92. K

Yatir, Shiraz, 2005: Dark, almost impenetrable garnet in color, intentionally aged in old oak barriques to highlight the typical characteristics of the variety, but still showing generous wood, the wine opens with meaty and herbal aromas, which yield nicely to cherry, red currant and berry fruits and finally, creeping in comfortably, an agreeable hint of saddle leather. Long, generous and destined for intense elegance. Approachable now but best 2010-2014. NIS 128. Score 92. K

Yatir, Sauvignon Blanc, 2007: Crisp and lively but with elegance and subtlety. Light golden straw in color with orange and green reflections, showing citrus, passion fruit, green apple and grapefruit aromas and flavors on a grassy and stony-mineral background. Well-crafted. Drink now-2010. NIS 65. Score 90. K

Yatir, Viognier, 2007: A blend of Viognier grapes, some intentionally harvested early, some quite late and wisely unoaked to maintain the fruity and aromatic nature of the variety. Rich, ripe and crispy dry, a generous mouthful of pear, green apple, melon and summer fruits, those backed up by crisp acidity and a hint of cream. Thoroughly enjoyable now but best 2009-2012. NIS 76. Score 92. K

Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc NIS 190-200(165) Engma NIS 220-230 (190) Special Reserve NIS 260-270 (230)