Not long ago I tasted three releases from the Barkan Winery's Altitude Cabernet Series. Released regularly since 2003, each of the wines in this mini-series are made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, fermented and oaked using similar methods - the major differences between them reflected in the altitude, micro-climate and soil conditions of the vineyards. All of the releases are excellent and, as I've done in the past, I recommend purchasing a bottle of each, inviting friends over, opening all the bottles at once and tasting from each to determine which is most to your taste.
Some will say that at this youthful stage in their development the wines should be decanted, but I disagree. I suggest the bottles be opened an hour to an hour and a half before serving and then be poured directly into glasses so each person can follow the wine as it blossoms and develops before them.
The bottles are priced at NIS 135 each. Considering their high quality and demand, I consider that very good value for money.
Barkan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Altitude 412, 2008: Made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the Avnei-Eitan vineyard on the southern Golan Heights and developed largely in new French oak for 14 months. Medium- to full-bodied, with soft tannins integrating nicely and a moderate reflection of spicy cedar wood from the barriques in which it aged. Opens to show a fine array of black currant, blackberry and blueberry, on a lightly spicy background hints of mint and tobacco. Coherent, long and quietly elegant. Approachable and enjoyable now, but best from mid-2011 to 2015. Score 90. K
Barkan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Altitude 624, 2008: As a Mediterranean Cabernet Sauvignon should be. Made from grapes from the Alma vineyard in the northern Galilee, oak-aged in new French oak for 14 months, showing deep garnet toward royal purple. Full-bodied, with silky tannins and notes of spicy oak, in fine balance with the fruits. On the nose and palate black currants, blackberries and notes of licorice, all with a tantalizing overlay of bitter orange peel. Long and generous. Give this one some time and it will show notes of vanilla and Oriental spices. Approachable now but best from 2012-2016, perhaps longer. Score 92. K
Barkan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Altitude 720, 2008: Made from grapes from the Dovev vineyard in the northern Galilee on the Lebanese border. With a nose that might make you think you were about to sample a cocktail of fresh herbs and wild shrubs, eucalyptus and citronella, melding nicely first to raspberries and red plums, then to more traditional Cabernet fruits, including cassis and blackberries. On the long finish a generous note of bitter-sweet chocolate. Approachable now but best 2012-2016. Score 91. K
Two wineries in the Elah Valley
I recently visited both Yaffo and Agur, two boutique wineries tucked away in the Elah Valley, both of whose wines are well worth considering.
Yaffo, Heritage, 2006: Dark garnet and full-bodied. A blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Merlot, reflecting 16 months of oak aging with spices and cinnamon notes - highlighting black fruits, tobacco and a hint of licorice that comes in on the finish. Long, round and generous. Drink now-2012. NIS 130. Score 90.
Yaffo, Merlot Syrah, 2008: A blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Syrah, oak-aged in a combination of new and older barriques for 12 months. Garnet toward royal purple in color; opens with raspberries, then goes to blackberries and currants, all with gentle hints of spices and leather. Generous and long. Drink now-2012. NIS 90. Score 88.
Yaffo, Cabernet, 2008: Aged in oak for 12 months and blended with 10% Merlot, showing medium-dark ruby toward garnet. Medium-bodied with soft tannins and a moderate hand with spicy oak, opening to show raspberry, cherry and cassis fruits supported nicely by notes of stony minerals. Drink now-2011. NIS 90. Score 87.
Yaffo, Chardonnay, 2009: Developed in stainless steel with oak staves for two months; light, bright gold in color, with generous but not excessive acidity to support aromas and flavors of white peaches and citrus. A crisply clean and refreshing wine. Not complex but a good quaffer. Drink now. NIS 68. Score 86.
Agur, Special Reserve, 2007: Dark, almost impenetrable garnet; full-bodied, with wood and tannins, finely balanced with fruit and acidity. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (50%, 35%, 10% and 5% respectively ). On the nose and palate black and blueberries, currants, licorice and notes of earthy minerals. The best ever from Agur, but needs a bit of time to round out and for the elements to come together. Best from 2011-2015. NIS 115. Score 90. K
Agur, Blanca, 2009: A somewhat unusual but quite successful blend of 55% Viognier and 45% Johannisberg Riesling, the grapes intentionally harvested early to maintain a quite moderate 11.5% alcohol content. Light, bright gold, with a floral nose on which the Riesling dominates and even shows a light oily note traditional to the variety. Medium-bodied; on the nose and palate fine citrus, apple and green melon fruits sit and linger nicely. Has the potential for some age, and as it develops in the bottle will become somewhat darker and heavier in body with the Riesling notes rising. Drinking nicely now, but best from 2011-2014. NIS 72. Score 89. K
Agur, Kessem, 2008: A medium- to full-bodied, garnet towards royal purple, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc (65%, 20%, 10% and 5% respectively ), each variety fermented separately and then developed in oak for six months before final blending. Dark garnet, with surprisingly firm tannins for such short oak-aging - but yielding in the glass to allow blackberry, black cherry and currant notes to be nicely felt. On the moderately long finish a note of Oriental spices. Drink now-2012. NIS 80. Score 89. K
Agur, Rosa, 2009: Rose wine made by the saignee method (i.e. draining the first run juice of red grapes to add both color and tannins to what will be a rose wine ). Almost a bronzed salmon pink, with a generous alcohol content of 13.5%, indeed showing tannic notes and hints of the wood in which the wine was developed. Not an aromatic wine, but revealing flavors of cassis, strawberries and raspberries. Off-dry with a bit of alcoholic heat on the finish. Drink now or in the next year or so. NIS 80. Score 85.