Big Israeli Wineries Going for That Little Boutique Feel

A tasting trip to Teperberg and Dalton yields mostly, though not entirely, good impressions.

Yigal Amar and Eyal Keren

It seems that we long ago made our peace with life in a global, capitalist, destructive village. The neighborhood pizzeria disappeared as American chain stores appeared. The small corner cafe that had been around for so long made way for another generic branch of the Cafe Cafe chain, and words such as “minimarket” or “notions” sound as archaic as the afternoon siesta between 2 and 4 P.M. One can find the exact same dress on the streets of Tel Aviv, Tokyo or London, and desperate attempts to find authenticity in the markets of Africa end in bitter disappointment as well, as we discover a sticker on the hand-crafted Zulu mask that reads “Made in China.”

Surrounded as we are by giant conglomerates and manufacturers, we have devoted ourselves to the pursuit of the wonders of “boutique.” This also applies to wine, as we search for a bottle with a human touch or even a good story, sometimes at the expense of good quality. There are quite a few such wines, and they make a living (if barely) for quite a few vineyards and wine reporters. We have all read about the high-tech guy who realized, after being laid off, that his life’s purpose was to make wine, or the vintner’s son who tried with all his might to escape from the vineyards, but fate brought him back, or the couple who had intended merely to make their own wine, but got such amazing reactions to it that they had to produce it commercially. Now all that remains is to visit a vineyard, put a face to the story and get an experience that will be completely different.

Teperberg

That is the main obstacle to writing about a winery such as Teperberg 1870. The massive production of millions of bottles does not match well with romance, and certainly does not make buyers feel special when they purchase the wine. Add to that the fact that Teperberg’s lower-end wines are served in every wedding hall from Rishon Letzion to the industrial zone of Nes Tziona, and the story starts to give off an odor of phyllo dough stuffed with ground beef and cream of mushroom sauce. And indeed, the quality of this wine matched this all-too-familiar wedding fare.

I have been keeping close track of Teperberg’s wines over the past two years, and over and over I have found myself surprised. When the surprises started piling up, it was obvious I had no choice but to announce that Teperberg was one of the most improved wineries in Israel’s wine industry. While Shlomo (Shiki) Rauchberger and Olivier Fratty, the vintners in charge of the winery, cannot create the appeal of a boutique winery, they definitely know how to take advantage of the financial strengths of a winery of this size. Besides moving to a modern building near Kibbutz Tzora in 2006, Rauchberger and Fratty chose to invest in equipment and vineyards that would produce better results. Now, after making the winery into one that gives good value for the price, Teperberg’s officials have issued two wines in their new high-end series, Limited Edition. Before tasting the wine, a quick question about the new illustration on the label. Why, people? Why?

1. Teperberg, Cabernet Franc Limited Edition 2011. A pleasant ripeness with nuances of the grape variety’s greenish hue, wood with a presence that combines well with the fruit flavors, the powerful flavor opposite the moderate alcohol taste and high drinkability. This combines together into one of the best Cabernet Franc wines that can be tasted in Israel today. NIS 120.

2. Teperberg, Petit Verdot Limited Edition 2011. One hundred percent Petit Verdot grapes in an unusual wine. The bouquet is concentrated and spiced as the feeling in the mouth is one of pleasant, refreshing fullness that does not weigh heavy. Here, too, the key is in the drinkability, balance and restraint that create a lovely, surprising and elegant expression of the variety. NIS 149.

Dalton

With a million bottles per year, the Dalton Winery, located in the Galilee, is far from being a small winery, even if the public tends to see it that way for some reason. Like Teperberg, this is a winery that gives good value for the price and issues good mid-range lines at reasonable prices alongside higher-end and luxury lines.

Naama Sorkin has been working as the winery’s vintner since 2002. While wines come and go at other large wineries, Dalton broadcasts stability and consistency, which allowed Sorkin to study the vineyards for years, and map and divide them into subsections that would bear their harvest at different times of the year. This approach took the form of the increasing number of single-vineyard wines that Dalton has been marketing in recent years. Here are the results of my tasting Dalton wines on a visit there last month:

3. Dalton, Pinot Gris, 2013. The winery’s first harvest of Pinot Gris, and it may be called a success. A tasty white wine, soft with a slight, caressing acidity. NIS 61.

4. Dalton, Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve 2013. The Sauvignon Blanc, a past source of pride for Dalton, was disappointing. The bouquet is bashful and closed while the palate is uninteresting despite the volume and breadth. Still, the good acidic quality succeeds in creating an appropriate and focused finish. NIS 64.

5. Dalton, Alma White 2013. An interesting and original blend of Semillon, Viognier and Pinot Gris. The result is a wine with a powerful and mineral flavor with a springlike bouquet that provides a positive and enjoyable drinking experience. A worthy and interesting experiment that ought to be tasted. NIS 75.

6. Dalton, Alma GSM 2012. For me, this is the best wine of the Alma series. It contains a blend of three Mediterranean varieties: Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre. The bouquet is concentrated and powerful, while the palate is full, juicy and balanced. This is Dalton’s first GSM, and it is definitely headed in the right direction. The wine will be reaching the market within the next several months.

7. Dalton, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kerem Meron 2012. A Galilee Cabernet with a heavy weight. The bouquet has a leafy component that imparts charm and vitality, while a flavor of ripe fruit breaks through in the mouth against a substantial background of wood and alcohol presence. The wine is young, tannic and highly acidic, but in time it will likely become gentler and more accessible. Lovers of a big Galilee Cabernet Sauvignon will enjoy it. It will soon reach market shelves.