Wines and Spirits / Any Port in a Storm

Because boutique wineries produce limited quantities and therefore do not have to appeal to a vast audience of buyers, they can stick to their own philosophies and sometimes idiosyncratic styles of winemaking.

Because boutique wineries produce limited quantities and therefore do not have to appeal to a vast audience of buyers, they can stick to their own philosophies and sometimes idiosyncratic styles of winemaking. But if these wines, which are often hard to find and quite expensive, are to win our hearts over a prolonged period of time, they must develop and maintain a level of consistency from year to year. It is not enough simply to produce good wines every year.

Even considering the difference in vintages, such wines must demonstrate a consistent style in the use of oak, the length of aging, and in their flavor and body, as well as in their potential for being cellared. Since they were established about five years ago, both Alexander and Bazelet Hagolan have consistently given us good wines. Neither has yet attained that exalted status, however, where one can sip them, eyes lighting up to say, "Aha, this is from Bazelet" or "This must be Alexander."

Both wineries have just released wines to the market. To locate them, phone the wineries directly: Alexander at (09) 882-2956, and Bazelet Hagolan at (04) 682-7223.

Bazelet Hagolan, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000: A wine that has opened nicely since my last tasting. Medium-bodied, with moderate levels of smooth tannins, this royal purple wine continues to show tempting currant, plum, mint and earthy aromas and flavors. Drink now till 2004. NIS 95. Score 88.

Bazelet Hagolan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Millennium Reserve, 2000: Medium- to full-bodied, deep ruby toward purple, offers generous and concentrated layers of currants, berries, mint and minerals, all with a long aftertaste on which you will feel appealing mineral and earthy flavors and aromas. Overall good balance between still firm tannins, oak and fruits. Best drinking 2003-2006. NIS 125. Score 89.

Alexander, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander the Great, 1999: Deep purple, medium- to full-bodied blend of 95 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 percent Merlot. Spent 24 months in American and French oak barrels, which may have been a bit too long - there is so much vanilla and smoky oak, it is difficult to guess that Cabernet is the primary grape. But this is a delicious wine, showing complex layers of plums, currants and orange peel, along with vanilla and chocolate and even the hint of mint that come in on the long, sweet finish. Not one for long-term cellaring but excellent now till 2005. NIS 180. Score 91.

Alexander, Cabernet-Merlot, Yama, 2000: Oak-aged blend, 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 40 percent Merlot, made especially to match the dishes at Tel Aviv's Yama restaurant, an establishment specializing largely in fish and seafood dishes. No problem, for this medium-bodied wine shows remarkable smoothness in its tannins, alcohol and fruits. Not one for cellaring but a good match to many kinds of food and great fun to drink. NIS 115 at the restaurant and at that price, a good value for your money. Score 87.

Alexander, Port, 1998: I am opposed to calling any wine "Port" if it has not come from Portugal and if it has not been made from a combination that includes at least Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cao grapes. But from South Africa and Australia to California and even here in tiny little Israel, wineries from time to time insist on releasing what they call "Port wine." The version released by Alexander, made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sirah may be said to be "made in the style of Port" but is as far from true Port as you can get. After 42 months in French oak, this full-bodied, unabashedly sweet wine shows flavors and aromas of dried cherries, raisins and cinnamon. That the wine is well balanced, smooth on the palate and has its charms is beyond question. All that remains to be answered is why it had to be called "Port." Drink now until 2010. NIS 159. Score 89.

Lackluster local releases

Binyamina Wineries recently released three wines in its top-of-the-line Reserve Series. The reds, which I tasted nearly 10 months ago, are already fading in charm, and the white is simply boring.

Binyamina, Merlot, Special Reserve, 1999: Distinctly one-dimensional (without complexities) but straightforward and pleasant, this medium-bodied wine has black cherry, vanilla, toast and mineral notes. Drink now or in the next year or so. Score 84.

Binyamina, Special Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 1999: On the rustic side and somewhat muscular, with firm tannins and flavors and aromas of plums and black cherries but a bit too earthy and without length or depth. Drink now. Score 83.

Binyamina, Chardonnay, Special Reserve, 2001: The color of light straw, this medium-bodied wine has a nose that after a few minutes in the glass seems to show an absence of fruit, flower or mineral flavors. On the palate, somewhat dull, reflecting an imbalance between acidity and wood, and with only bare hints of citrus and pineapple fruits. Drink now. Score 79.