Recently, I participated in an unprecedented tasting of Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon wines in Tel Aviv in the garden of Chef Alon Gonen’s home. We had all been invited by wine writer Rani Rogel of Food & Beverage/Israel. Three panels of wine writers, enthusiasts and wine makers sampled 37 wines so each panel averaged about 12 wines with the wines divided into three price categories, under 70 NIS (under $20), 70 to 120 NIS ( $20 to $35) and over 120 NIS (over $35). The wines were all close in age ranging from four vintages 2007, 2008, 2009 & 2010 with only one from 2011.
We, the chosen reviewers, were tasked evaluating the wines based on sight, smell and taste as well as place a value on each wine we were tasting and assign a value from 1 (worst) – 5 (best). It can be daunting to taste and evaluate so many wines in a short span of time yet we did so dutifully without hesitation since we knew a dinner awaited us cooked by our hosting chef. All the wines had been opened at least an hour prior to tasting and were poured blind from foil wrapped bottles.
In the first category, the Golan Heights Winery scored strongest with two of its entry level wines, the 2010 Golan Cabernet Sauvignon (43 NIS) scored best with a 4.3 with the more expensive 2008 Gamla Cabernet Sauvignon (69 NIS) scoring a slightly more modest 4.1. The newly kosher boutique Tulip winery scored almost as well with their 2010 Tulip Cabernet Sauvignon (4.2) in a close second place. The 2011 Tishbi Cabernet Sauvignon (formerly their “vineyard series”) at 48 NIS, the 2007 Carmel Appellation Upper Galilee Cabernet Sauvignon at 65 NIS and the 2009 Yogev Cabernet Sauvignon all scored equally well tying for third place with an impressive 4.0.
In the mid range Cabernets, scores generally improved as one might expect with the Golan Heights Winery once again gaining high score with a 4.5 for it’s 2008 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon at 110 NIS. It didn’t share top rung alone this time as the 2009 Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon also chimed in with a 4.5 yet at a more affordable 90 NIS. Tulip once again made a strong showing with 2008 Tulip Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve scoring 3.8 at 95 NIS. Third place went to the Eyal Winery with their 2008 Eyal Cabernet Sauvignon at 3.75 at a modest 75 NIS.
In the over 120 NIS top range, we had a lot of wines showing strong, with the Saslove Winery inching out many second place challengers. The 2008 Saslove Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve scored a 4.1 at 177 NIS and surely will make kosher consumers anxious to taste their 2010 Cab Reserve, their first kosher vintage, when it’s released in a couple of years. There was a four-way tie for second place with the Barkan, Adir, Assaf and Karmei Yosef wineries all contending. Each scored a 4 just shy of the highest scoring Saslove. The market powerhouse Barkan placed with its 2008 Barkan Cabernet Sauvignon Altitude 720 (125 NIS) while the Assaf Winery from the Golan Heights with its 2008 Assaf Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (130 NIS), the Galilee’s Adir Winery with 2009 Adir “Plato” Cabernet Sauvignon (180 NIS) and the Judean Hill’s Karmei Yosef 2009 Bravdo Cabernet Sauvignon (129 NIS) continued a strong showing for boutique wineries as higher end wines. The Judean Hill’s Ella Valley scored third with its 3.75 with its 2007 Ella Valley VC Cabernet Sauvignon though at a higher price of 210 NIS.
Generally, the scores would indicate that larger wineries (possibly because of an economy of scale) can produce better wines at lower prices than boutiques although there are many good values from boutique wineries in the mid range and up-end of the price scale outperforming the top-tier wines from larger commercial wineries.
These scores may have differed I guess if each wine was decanted as it seemed younger wines fared better than older vintages and there were some surprising under performers from some well-respected wineries who I suspect would have shined under different circumstances (which is why I leave them unnamed). Yet, it’s the nature of any scoring system or tasting regiment to have its limitations and the tasting was conducted with the utmost care and professionalism by Rani Rogel with the assistance of Chef Alon Gonen who extended the reward of a great tasting and amazing experience with a perfectly seasoned mouth-watering savory falling off the bone osso buco served over a bed of delicate yet wine soaking gnocchi.
I look forward to any other tastings Rani conducts of different styles and varietals in this manner as tasting wines of the same varietal or style side by side does offer a perspective otherwise difficult to duplicate and is an enjoyable and edifying way to calibrate one’s taste for wines.