Had anyone told me a bit more than a decade ago that Carmel's top wines would be regularly earning scores well into the 90s, I suppose I would have smiled politely but not gone very far in the way of belief. Tell me that today and I will agree, not only with enthusiasm but with multiple compliments to senior winemaker Lior Laxer and his winemaking staff, as well as the CEO and others of the administrative staff.
From the point of view of this critic, Carmel has not only become a friendly place to visit but an establishment that is comfortably challenging the best wineries in Israel.
The winery recently released several of their better wines, the 2008 Mediterranean, and three single vineyard wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Shiraz and a late harvest Gewurztraminer. I have tasted these wines on three occasions, from barrel tastings to pre-release tastings and now that they are on the market.
Carmel, Mediterranean, 2008: A blend this year of 30 percent Carignan, 25 percent Shiraz, 23 percent Petit Verdot, 18 percent Petite Sirah and 2 percent each of Malbec and Viognier. Similar to the blend of the 2007 (see the tasting note that follows ) and like that wine, oak-aged for 15 months in largely used oak. Deeper, darker and somewhat more full in body and tannins than the 2007 but maintaining its gentle and elegant personality. On the nose and palate wild berries, black cherries and currants, parting to make way for notes of raspberries. In the background appealing gentle notes of spicy oak and green peppercorns. A round and long wine. Drink now-2019, perhaps longer. NIS 160. Score 93. K
Carmel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Single Vineyard, Kayoumi, Upper Galilee, 2008: Opens with a deep currant nose, goes on to reveal wild berries, blackberries and cassis fruits on a background of mocha, baking chocolate and on the long, long finish, hints of coffee beans and black pepper. Full-bodied, well extracted and muscular but remarkably round, gentle and elegant. Drink now-2018, perhaps longer. NIS 130. Score 93. K
Carmel, Shiraz, Single Vineyard, Kayoumi, Upper Galilee, 2008: Shiraz blended with 2 percent Viognier and oak-aged for 15 months. True to the Shiraz varietal, super-dark royal purple in color, with generous but gently mouth-coating tannins. On first attack, raspberries and cherries parting to make way for blackberry and cassis. On the background and playing nicely on the palate, notes of saddle leather, fresh forest floor and finally, on the long finish, a hint of sweet cedarwood. Drink now-2018. NIS 130. Score 93. K
Carmel, Single Vineyard, Gewurztraminer, Late Harvest, Sha'al, Golan, 2009: Impacted on by about 15-20 percent of botrytis, a beautifully funky honeyed and floral nose. As were earlier releases, generously sweet but with fine balancing acidity, a complex and generous wine showing clear notes of eucalyptus honey, lychees and dried apricots, all on a just-spicy-enough background. A heady wine that lingers and lingers, seemingly forever. Drink now-2020. NIS 85. Score 93. K
Precious stones from Binyamina
Under the supervision of senior winemaker Sasson Ben-Aharon and winemaker Assaf Paz, the Binyamina winery is now the fourth largest in the country and produces about 2.6 million bottles annually from a large variety of grapes from vineyards in nearly every part of the country. More importantly, the wines make quantitative and qualitative leaps on a regular basis.
Among the top-level series released are those in the Avnei Hachoshen series (English-language labels use the title "The Chosen" ). In Hebrew, Avnei Hachoshen are the precious stones that adorned the vest of the high priests in the days of the Temple.
For those not familiar with Hebrew, the different stones in the series are: Sapir - Sapphire; Odem - Ruby; Yashfeh - Jasper; Tarshish - Aquamarine; Shoham - Onyx; Leshem - Opal; and Yahalom - Diamond.
The 2008 wines reviewed below have recently been released as a group. I have tasted each of these wines on two or more occasions.
Binyamina, Odem, Avnei Hachoshen, 2008: Blended with 4 percent of Viognier and oak aged for 16 months, partly in 225-liter barriques and partly in 300-liter barrels, this is a dark garnet, big, full-bodied wine, rich and tannic with generous but not at all overpowering oak. On the nose and palate a fine array of raspberries, plums and chocolate and from mid-palate, rising notes of saddle leather and dark chocolate, all lingering nicely. Drink now-2016. NIS 132. Score 91. K
Binyamina, Yahalom, Avnei Hachoshen, 2008: A blend this year of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 40 percent Syrah and 10 percent Petit Verdot. Aged in new French oak for 20 months, rich with purple plums and spicy cedar and oak, showing generous tannins and generous wood in fine balance with fruits and needing a bit of time to integrate at this stage, but showing fine promise for the future. On the nose and palate currants, wild berries and plums, those on a background of cedarwood and oak resin, the last turning to an appealing note of tar on the long finish. Drink now-2018. NIS 140. Score 91. K
Binyamina, Tarshish, Avnei Hachoshen, 2008: Cabernet Sauvignon from two Golan Heights vineyards (Tel Fares and Kidmat Tzvi ). Oak aged for 16 months in French barriques, dark garnet toward youthful royal purple, full-bodied and with fine balance between still-gripping tannins, smoky oak and fruits. On the nose and palate traditional Cabernet aromas and flavors of blackcurrants and blackberries, those complemented nicely by notes of minted chocolate. Drink now-2016. NIS 132. Score 90. K
Binyamina, Chardonnay, Shoham, Avnei Hachoshen, 2008: From grapes harvested in the Jerusalem hills, developed partly in 225-liter barriques and partly in 300-liter barrels. Light gold in color, combining earthy and flinty minerals that complement citrus, white peach and melon aromas and flavors. Promising elegance. Drink now. NIS 99. Score 89. K
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