Wine and Spirits A Far Cry From Its Foul Past

Daniel Rogov
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Daniel Rogov

I have been a wine critic for long enough that I can recall those days 20 years ago when entering the Carmel wineries in Zichron Yaakov or Rishon Letzion was something of a dangerous mission.

The Carmel facility at Ramat Dalton.

The wineries had an almost foul odor, the walls were coated with anything from pigeon and bat droppings to green or yellow mold, and with only several exceptions, the wines were to be charitable primitive.

And, because I often had no choice but to write negatively about those wines, I was not the most popular of visitors. One pundit even said that I would be wise to visit only if wearing a bulletproof vest.

Visiting either of those wineries today, or Carmels new facility at Ramat Dalton in the Upper Galilee, is a vastly different story. Although the history of the winery has been well-preserved, the wineries are now spotlessly clean, the equipment is state-of-the-art and the atmosphere is open; chief winemaker Lior Laxer hides nothing.

Best of all, the wines at every level have improved enormously, and the top-level wines at Carmel and its daughter winery Yatir compete nicely among the very best of Israel.

One must understand that critics are by nature optimists, hoping that the day will come when their criticism will be entirely positive. How nice it was to taste nine new releases, from Carmels Appellation series and from Yatir, each of which earned a score of 90 or higher.

The Carmel wines

Carmel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Single Vineyard, Kayoumi, Upper Galilee, 2007: Garnet toward royal purple, oak-aged in French barriques for 14 months. A distinctive full-bodied Cabernet, showing cherry, raspberry and red currant fruits on a background of freshly turned earth, tobacco and espresso coffee, all leading to a finish that goes on seemingly without end. Well-focused and with excellent integration among fruits, tannins and wood. Drink now-2015. Score: 93. K

Carmel, Shiraz, Single Vineyard, Kayoumi, Upper Galilee, 2007: Almost impenetrably dark garnet in color, a big, bold and expressive wine, showing generous black cherry, red plum, and raspberry fruits on a background of Oriental spices. Developed in French oak for 14 months, concentrated and generous, opening in layers and then lingering long and comfortably on the palate. Well crafted. Drink now-2015. NIS 120. Score: 92. K

Carmel, Shiraz, Single Vineyard, Kayoumi, Upper Galilee, 2006: Deep garnet with hints of royal purple and casting orange and green reflections. A concentrated wine, full-bodied and deeply extracted, yet showing remarkably soft tannins and spicy wood that almost melts on the palate. Plums and currants on first attack, making way for black cherries, hints of saddle leather and notes of asphalt. On the long and generous finish, with tannins rising, there is a comfortable overlay of freshly roasted herbs and cedarwood. Drink now-2016. NIS 120. Score: 93. K

Carmel, Sauvignon Blanc, Regional, Upper Galilee, 2009: Made entirely from Sauvignon grapes, intentionally unoaked. A crisply clean and nicely aromatic wine, light gold in color, with tropical and citrus fruits on a background of stony minerals, citrus peel and a hint of freshly cut grass. Refreshing and with just enough complexity to grab the attention. Drink now. NIS 45. Score: 90. K

Carmel, Viognier, Regional, Upper Galilee, 2009: Made entirely from Viognier grapes, this year from the Olive Tree vineyard, some harvested early and others late harvested, and with about 30% developed in oak, the rest in stainless steel. Aromatic, medium-bodied, crisply dry and with lively acidity to highlight the aromas and flavors of apricots, white peaches and green apples, all lingering on a long, generous and lightly floral finish. As the wine matures, look for notes of creme brulee sneaking gently in. Drink now-2012. NIS 55. Score: 90. K

One new release from Yatir

Yatir, Yatir Forest, 2007: Dark garnet toward royal purple, a full-bodied, softly tannic blend of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 36 percent Petit Verdot and 4 percent Merlot. Black currants and blackberries on first attack, making way for notes of purple plums, bittersweet chocolate and licorice. On the long and generous finish, tannins and fruits rise comfortably together. Approachable and enjoyable now but at its elegant best 2012-2021. NIS 250. Score: 93. K

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