Wine and Spirits A Critic Without a Critique

Daniel Rogov
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Daniel Rogov

People sometimes ask what drives one to becomes a critic. It is all rather simple - one becomes a critic because of a deep love for the subject about which he is writing, whether it be cinema, art, theater or literature.

In my own case, for example, I tend to think like the 18th century French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais who observed that "I stand in awe whenever I open a bottle of wine. It is not a mere bottle that I am opening. I am opening 5,000 years of human civilization."

Alas, for as not every film is well made, as not every book is well written and as not every bottle of wine is well made, the critic sometimes has no choice but to pan his love.

A great many may not realize it, but writing a negative review pains the critic. The simple truth is that that bad or mediocre wines have a deep emotional impact for the critic, who lives for the day when he can be entirely positive.

Thanks to the Yatir Winery, one of the best small wineries in the country, the miniscule winery of Ido Lewinsohn, and the Golan Heights Winery, which continues to lead the quality revolution here, I have not a negative word to say today. Ten of their recently tasted wines attain not only excellence but a high level of interest.

Set in a state-of-the-art winery near the archaeological digs of Tel Arad at the foot of the Judean Hills, and producing 150,000 bottles annually, the winery draws its name from the Yatir Forest in which many of its vineyards are found. Although the winery is owned solely by Carmel, it maintains complete autonomy under the supervision of Australian-trained winemaker Eran Goldwasser.

The winery recently released two white wines from the 2010 vintage and four reds from 2008, each of which demonstrates rather nicely that Goldwasser continues to earn his name as one of the very best winemakers in the country.

Yatir Forest, 2008: Phenomenal! A dark, almost impenetrable garnet blend of 58 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 32 percent Petit Verdot, 5 percent Merlot, 3 percent Malbec and 2 percent Cabernet Franc. Full-bodied, with soft, gently grippng tannins and notes of sweet-and-spicy cedar. On first attack traditional currant and blackberry fruits, followed by purple plums, bittersweet chocolate, espresso coffee and on the seemingly endless finish, tempting notes of anise and black olives. Approachable now but best 2013-2022. Perhaps the best yet from Yatir and by any standards one of the best ever Israeli wines. NIS 260. Score 95. K

Yatir, Petit Verdot, 2008: A blend of 85 percent Petit Verdot and 15 percent Cabernet Franc, the varieties developed separately in one year old oak. Dark, almost impenetrable garnet, full-bodied, with still-gripping tannins waiting to settle down but already showing fine balance and structure. Opens with aromas and flavors of black fruits, yielding to notes of bittersweet chocolate and roasted herbs. On the long, long finish notes of what at one moment seem like black olives and another like eucalyptus. May be released as a varietal wine. Or maybe not. Fascinating and delicious. Best 2013-2018. NIS 140. Score 93. K

Yatir, Merlot-Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008: Considering that the grapes listed on the label are not the only ones used in the wine, I am often tempted to refer this wine not by its grapes but as "Yatir, Blended Red." A blend of 44 percent Merlot, 25 percent Shiraz, 21 percent Merlot and 10 percent Malbec, the wine is intentionally developed in used barriques to prevent the wood from dominating. Dark royal purple in color, with a nose replete with crushed berries and white pepper, showing full-bodied with generous but gentle tannins. On the nose and palate black fruits "all the way," including black currants, blackberries and black cherries on a comfortably spicy background. Long and generous. Best 2013-2018. NIS 110. Score 91. K

Yatir, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008: Blended with 11 percent Shiraz, showing dark garnet with a royal purple rim. Medium- to full-bodied (leaning to the full ) with still gripping tannins needing only time to integrate, opens with rich near-sweet raspberries and plums, unfolds to show blackberries and spices. Developed in one year old barriques, concentrated and deep, long, round and generous. Best 2013-2018. NIS 135. Score 92. K

As has become their habit, the Golan Heights Winery now regularly releases several versions of the same varietal wine on an annual basis, each of those in their Yarden series, one of which is a blend made from different vineyards and two or more from single vineyards.

The idea behind a single vineyard wine is to let the wines made from a relatively small physical area reflect the unique terroir, determined by factors such as the soil, the prevailing winds, the night-day temperature changes in that specific vineyard and even the direction in which the sunlight falls on the vines during the day. The most current releases are from the Syrah grape.

Yarden, Syrah, Yonatan Vineyard, 2007: A candidate for Israel's best Syrah to date. Almost impenetrably deep garnet in color, a deep and concentrated wine, showing still-firm tannins and generous spicy wood but integrating nicely and showing fine balance and structure. On first attack red plums, cherries and a note of cassis liqueur, yielding to currant and berry fruits all on a background of earthy minerals. From mid-palate on look for hints of small game birds and a note of leather that lingers nicely on to the long, long finish. Drinking well now but best from 2013-2024. NIS 140. Score 94. K

Yarden, Syrah, Avital Slopes (formerly part of the Ortal Vineyard ), 2007: Deep, dark and concentrated, with soft, lightly dusty tannins and notes of cedarwood. Full-bodied and aromatic, opening in the glass to show generous purple plums, blackberries and black cherries, yielding to a comfortable hint of creme de cassis. On the long finish notes of earthy minerals and a light and tempting hint of bitterness. Drinking well now but best from 2014-2022. NIS 140. Score 93.

After formal winemaking studies and the garnering of experience in Italy, France, Israel and Australia, and currently as part of the winemaking team of Israel's Recanati Winery, Ido Lewinsohn, together with his father, Amnon, opened their own artisanal winery.

The winery is located in a residential garage in the Tel Aviv suburb of Hod HaSharon and produces about 6,000 bottles annually. It relies on a combination of modern and traditional winemaking methods and produces only two wines annually. The playful naming of those as Garage de Papa Blanc and Rouge is in itself a fine calling card but far more important is that the Lewinsohn wines are demonstrating a unique personality that is attracting a cult-like audience.

Lewinsohn, Blanc, Garage de Papa, 2010: Showing bright, shining golden in color, with the crisp mineral-rich notes of a fine Chablis and the well-focused and stylish notes of a fine Meursault, most definitely reflecting Lewinsohn's passion for Burgundy. Full-bodied but filling the mouth gently, opening to reveal lime, green apple, citrus and rich flinty minerals along with a hint of vanilla, a thoroughly well-balanced white that is mouthwatering and long. Not a "big" wine but one with grace and elegance. Approachable and enjoyable now but best from mid-2012-2018. NIS 140. Score 92.



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