On Valentine’s Day, I found myself without a date, it does happen from time to time; but I did get to marry two of my favorite passions, food and wine as part of a wonderful evening featuring the wines of Israel’s Odem Mountain Winery and the cuisine of the Crown Plaza City Center’s “11th Floor” restaurant in Tel Aviv. This high-rise wining and dining venue was an appropriate locale to feature the wines from Israel’s most northern and highest altitude winery and vineyards located 1,100 meters high in the Golan Heights.
The Alfasi brothers, winemakers Adam and Yoshai, were amiable hosts throughout the evening, going from table to table, giving notes about their wines as each course was served with a corresponding wine. Both in the early 30’s, they are two of Israel’s youngest winemakers and have made quite a mark since the winery first opened in 2003.
Opening up the affair, was their 2010 Odem Mountain Volcanic Chardonnay, their only dry white wine out of eight dry wines. When tasting wines, the traditional order is to taste from dry to sweet, white to red, simple to complex and light to heavy. If you think of it, that’s also how most meals progress, at home or at a restaurant. So, as it were, the Chardonnay was served with a trio of fish treats: a salmon cerviche, red tuna sashimi and thinly sliced buri (yellowtail) seasoned with sumac.
This Chardonnay was oak aged for 5 months with sur lees, the remains of the yeast spent after fermentation. The sur lees added body and texture to the wine while preserving the aromas and tastes of fruit. Perceivable were varietal notes of green apple, pear, citrus with hints of baked bread possibly from the sur lees and wisps of smoked almonds possibly influenced from time in French oak. With the grapes hailing from two vineyards, there was appreciable complexity and sur lees aging here was favored by the winemakers over allowing a secondary malolactic fermentation enhancement common in many New World style Chardonnays. The preference of using sur lees aging instead of malolactic fermentation is becoming a more common trait of finer Israeli boutique Chardonnays such as Tzuba and Lewinsohn. The resulting crisp acidity of this Chardonnay was a great match with the three fish fares as an acidic wine can substitute for the kitchen’s inclination to serve a wedge of lemon on the plate.
Although, not a part of this evening’s line-up, their soon to be released 2011 Odem Mountain Rose , a dry incarnation derived from bleeding Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes (70%/30% respectively) will be their first release of a Rose and will probably pair well with fish, poultry and salads. The Rose will add another summer friendly wine to Odem Mountain’s “red-centric” line-up.
A shot of icy mint slush served as an amuse bouche segue to their mainstay 2009 Odem Mountain Volcanic Cabernet Sauvignon which followed next. Where as their Chardonnay was an homage to Old World Chardonnays their Cabernet loudly barks New World’s ripe berries with black currant, dark plum, mint with a trace of espresso, alluding to and tempered by12 months of French oak aging, which was aptly served with beef bourguignon and gnocchi. Their “Volcanic reds,” including a single varietal Merlot and a Shiraz, have proven to be good value wines as they have occasionally out performed more expensive wines from competing local wineries.
As the focal and final savory dish, a succulent lamb chop/entrecote duet with “root” vegetable puree showcased the 2009 Odem Mountain Syrah Reserve. It’s the Alfasi family’s most highly demanded single varietal reserve wine and is a good example of why so many Israeli wine insiders advocate Syrah/Shiraz as a better grape for more Israeli vineyards than Cabernet Sauvignon. Bright and expressive blueberries and black raspberry shine through with a long lingering finish accented by typical varietal notes of black pepper. The 18 months of aging in French oak seemed to enhance this deep and layered wine with the promise that is was released with more than enough fruitiness, acidity and tannins to age gracefully in a cellar but evidently accessible now for drinking with little or no decanting. Either of their other single varietal reserve wines, their Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon would have served ably in this pairing, not to mention their hard to find flagship Alfasi label.
Rounding out the evening for diners was a trio of chocolate laced parve desserts served with Odem’s 2007 red dessert wine. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes for this wine were picked after the first harvest so late that they more resembled raisins giving loads of concentrated black, red and blue berry flavors with the added kick one expects from a fortified wine boasting 18% alcohol. This wine would just as well have accompanied a good cheese plate if the meal served hadn’t been a kosher meat meal or a cigar hadn’t the event been indoors.
As a special treat not offered to all, we were given a decadent bonus of tasting the 2008 Odem Mountain “ Amber” White Dessert WIne. Featuring fermented late harvest Chardonnay grapes that were aged in oak for 2 1/2 years, this would have been a better choice had the dessert featured white fruits such as peaches or pears or vanilla rather than chocolate and its notes of honey and tropical nectars would have paired well with baklava.
As a point of interest, also in attendance, was the iconic hero of Israel’s “99 percent,” supermarket magnate Rami Levi, who was on this occasion just another smiling diner. Even though, as one might imagine he did draw some attention, his presence didn’t overshadow the well orchestrated and enjoyable evening one might expect when a reputable fine dining restaurant showcases an accomplished boutique winery.