In France, Italy and Spain, tens of millions make wine at home. The vast majority of these people make their wine for the sheer pleasure of it, to drink at home and to share with family and friends, but rarely to make a euro.
The story is somewhat different here in Israel. In the last decade some 250 commercial mini wineries have opened with bottles selling from NIS 50 to NIS 500. There is a certain level of romance in making one's own wine. Unfortunately, romance is nothing without some grape-growing and vinting know-how and thus quite a few of these boutique and garagiste wineries are producing some pretty poor wines.
Despite all the duds, an increasing number of the mini operations are producing excellent wines. Beyond their high quality, these wines reflect the small nature of their endeavor by reflecting what I like to think of as "the signature" of the winemaker.
Ventura, Chardonnay, Grand Vin Blanc, Haute Judee-Samarie, 2009: Reflecting its 12 months in new French barriques with a creamy texture and the barest hint of smoky oak. Shining gold in color and opening with a nose of generous white peach and nectarine. Medium- to full-bodied, with the acidity rising slowly in the glass to comfortably set off aromas and flavors of pears, melon and citrus peel. Drink now-2013. NIS 130. Score 89. K
Ventura, Cuvee Rose, Haute Judee-Samarie, 2009, 2010: Medium-bodied, bright cherry red, a blend of 75 percent Merlot and 25 percent Cabernet Franc. Crisply dry, with acidity that "creeps in on tin cat paws" to surprise pleasantly and complement aromas and flavors of raspberries, strawberries and both red and black cherries. Refreshing and just complex enough. Drink now. NIS 90. Score 89. K
Vortman, Shambour, 2009: Ruby toward garnet, medium- to full-bodied, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carignan (54 percent, 35 percent and 11 percent respectively ) reflecting its eight months in French oak with soft tannins that open to reveal red and black berries and cassis, supported nicely by notes of chocolate and tobacco. Fine balance between fruits, tannins, wood and acidity. Drink now-2014, perhaps longer. Score 90.
Vortman, Netiv Ofakim, 2008: Developed in French oak for 12 months, a blend of 38 percent Carignan, 31 percent Malbec, 22 percent Merlot and 3 percent each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. A super-dark potpourri of just about everything in the vineyard, yet it comes together very nicely. Ripe and floral, with caressing tannins and generous minerals and herbs to support currants and berries on a background of earthy minerals. An impressive effort. Drink now-2013. Score 89.
Chillag, Blend, Primo, 2007: A dark garnet, full-bodied blend of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 percent Syrah and 20 percent Merlot, reflecting its 26 months in French oak with generous tannins, gripping when the wine is first poured but becoming soft and caressing in the glass. On first attack red fruits and a note of licorice, parting to make way for currants, red and black berries and a note of bitter citrus peel. Tannins and fruits rise comfortably on the long and generous finish. Drink now-2016. NIS 180. Score 91.
Chillag, Blend, Vivo, 2007: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah come together in this distinctly Mediterranean wine. Oak-aged for 14 months, showing dark garnet, medium- to full-bodied with gently caressing tannins, opens in the glass to reveal black currants, plums and huckleberries, supported nicely by notes of exotic spices. A bit poetic for a tasting note, but you will feel sunshine in this wine. Drink now-2015. NIS 80. Score 89.
Sea Horse Winery
Sea Horse, Fellini, 2008: A blend of 58 percent Syrah and 42 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, oak-aged for 18 months. Dark garnet with a youthful royal purple robe, showing full-bodied, with gently gripping tannins. On first attack purple plums and black currants, parting to reveal generous notes of huckleberries, dark chocolate and tobacco, plus a hint of red licorice on the long and mouth-filling finish. Approachable and enjoyable now but best 2013-2018. NIS 90. Score 92.
Sea Horse, Underground, 2008: Winemaker Ze'ev Dunie's new flagship wine, a limited edition blend of 66 percent Petite Sirah and about 17 percent each of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Reflecting its development in barriques for 18 months showing full-bodied, with gently gripping tannins and an appealing note of spicy wood. A big, friendly and juicy wine, opening with blueberry and plum fruits, going on to reveal notes of blackberries, black pepper and licorice. Long and generous. Drink now-2016. NIS 280. Score 91.