Wine and Spirits / Three of the Country's Best Wineries

With vineyards in the very best regions of the Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights, and with thoroughly talented winemakers aboard, three wineries continue to show a remarkable level of consistency in the high quality of their wines. The production capacity of the three, Golan Heights Winery (six million bottles annually), Galil Mountain (900,000 bottles) and Pelter (80,000 bottles), is notably varied.

Recent releases show no surprises and rely largely on classic varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Petit Verdot for their red wines and on Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for the whites. That is just fine for these wines, each in its own category, show excellence and quite often good value.

Golan Heights Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Yarden, 2006: Full-bodied, with soft, gently mouth-coating tannins and sweet cedarwood integrating nicely. On the nose and palate ripe black and red berries and currants on a background of spicy oak, with hints of spices, vanilla and light mineral-earthy overtones. Drink now-2018. NIS 121. Score 92. K

Golan Heights Winery, Chardonnay, Katzrin, 2006: Rich and supple, deep gold in color, full-bodied, with abundant toasty oak and vanilla but those well integrated and in fine balance with the fruits. Opens in the glass to reveal peach, yellow plum and mineral aromas and flavors. Hints of cream and spice come in but in the end the fruits carry through beautifully to an effusive finish that will remind many of an excellent Chablis. Drink now-2014. NIS 106. Score 92. K

Golan Heights Winery, Chardonnay, Yarden, 2007: Concentrated and full-bodied, with aromas and flavors of pears, figs, apricots and green apples, all with an overlay of spicy, toasty oak. Rich and persistent, with notes of tangerines and nectarines that come in on the long finish. Drink now-2012. NIS 55. Score 91. K

Golan Heights Winery, Pinot Noir, Gamla, 2006: Medium-bodied but intense and well focused, with generous raspberry and black cherry fruits supported nicely by notes of minerals and anise that rise from mid-palate on. Drink now-2012, perhaps longer. Score 89. K

Golan Heights Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Golan, 2008: Dark ruby toward garnet, medium-bodied, soft and round, gently tannic and with appealing blackberry, wild berry and black cherry fruits supported nicely by notes of black pepper and licorice. Drink now or in the next year or two. NIS 44. Score 86. K

Golan Heights Winery, Merlot, Golan, 2008: Medium-bodied, garnet toward royal purple in color, with soft tannins and bare hints of spicy wood integrating nicely to show a basic berry-cherry personality, the fruits overlaid lightly with hints of dried herbs and earthy minerals. NIS 44. Score 86. K

Golan Heights Winery, Chardonnay, Gamla, 2008: Light to medium-bodied, oaked for only two months, with appealing pear, melon and apple notes. Not complex but lively and pleasant. Drink now. NIS 53. Score 85. K

Galil Mountain, Shiraz, 2008: Unoaked, deep royal purple in color, medium to full-bodied and generously fruity, showing appealing blackberry, cassis and black cherry fruits on a background of freshly turned earth. Round and moderately long showing a bit of muscle on the finish. Drink now-2012. NIS 38. Score 90. K

Galil Mountain, Sauvignon Blanc, 2008: An unoaked white, light straw in color, with a generously aromatic nose and crisply refreshing acidity, showing a tempting array of melon, citrus and kiwi fruits on a background hinting nicely of freshly mown grass. Drink now. NIS 35. Score 88. K

Galil Mountain, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008: Medium to full-bodied, deep garnet, with ample and gently mouth-coating tannins to highlight aromas and flavors of cassis and black cherries, supported comfortably by notes of mint chocolate. Drink now-2012. NIS 38. Score 87. K

Galil Mountain, Merlot, 2008: Garnet toward royal purple, medium to full-bodied, an unoaked, softly tannic red with an array of wild berries, purple plums and garrigue on the nose and palate. Easy to drink with just enough complexity to catch our attention. Drink now-2011. NIS 38. Score 87. K

Whatever winemaker Tal Pelter is doing, he seems to be doing it just fine. Established in 2002 on the Golan Heights, Pelter, who studied oenology and worked at several wineries in Australia, draws on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay grapes from the Golan, the Upper Galilee and the Jerusalem Mountains. The winery, one of only four in the country to produce a sparkling wine, releases wines in two series: T-Selection and Pelter. Pelter most definitely earns its place as one of the 10 best wineries in Israel.

Pelter, Cabernet Sauvignon, T-Selection, 2007: Still a baby but what a lovely baby. Youthful garnet toward royal purple in color, full-bodied, with silky smooth tannins integrating beautifully even at this early stage of its development. Not at all a "blockbuster" but a concentrated wine that opens with black currant and berry fruits, yielding to notes of ripe plums and, from first sip to the long finish, notes of raisins, earthy minerals and anise. Ripe and supple even now but to find this one at its best hold until 2011 and then cellar comfortably until 2017. NIS 150. Score 92.

Pelter, Cabernet Franc, T-Selection, 2007: Medium to full-bodied, aged for 14 months in French oak, showing generous but not overpowering oak and firm chewy tannins that need time to settle in. On the nose and palate blueberries, raspberries and fresh herbs, and in the background an appealing floral note. Long and generous. Best 2011-2014. NIS 150. Score 92.

Pelter, Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz, 2007: Dark garnet in color, with generous spicy wood in fine balance with soft tannins and fruits. Full-bodied, opening with notes of spicy wood and black fruits, yielding in the glass to wild berries, red currants and earthy minerals, all on background that hint gently of cigar tobacco and licorice. Long and mouth-filling. Best 2010-2014, perhaps longer. NIS 95. Score 91.