As someone who first started studying wine as a Geography student in college, I’m fond of wines that give homage to their terroir whether its the emphasis of a single vineyard from where the grapes are harvested or the altitude of the vineyard or in the case of the Ella Valley Winery’s new release, its latitude and longitude. As I also helped manage an auto parts store while working my way through school, it seemed I was returning back to my roots as Ella Valley launched its new ultra-premium 2008 Ella Valley 32 /35 ( a shout out to its 32 north degrees latitude and 35 degrees east longitude origins) to a cadre of local writers at the bodacious backdrop of the Auto Italy Ferrari/ Maserati dealership in Tel Aviv. Before I even tasted the first drop of wine that evening I was already drooling over the array of luxury muscle cars that are rarely seen on the often congested byways of Tel Aviv. Auto Italy has established a link with the winery as it often brings prospective clients for tests drives near the winery in the more rural and hence open roads of the Judean Hills.
Ella Valley’s 32 N, 35 E wine marks a transition from its previous winemaker Doron Rav Hon who would have overseen the 2008 harvest and the initial winemaking from that vintage and his successor winemaker Lin Gold. Before tasting their newest addition to their lineup, we would taste their newest vintages of Ella Valley’s Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
First to leave the gates and cross our lips was the 2011 Ella Valley Chardonnay (13% alcohol) which was aged partially in oak barrels for 13 months and partially in stainless steel tanks before being blended and poured into 22,000 bottles. The wine in oak went through a secondary malolactic fermentation and aged with its sur lees contributing to the wine’s creaminess and full body as well as buttery, banana and vanilla aromas while the wine remaining in stainless steel would have retained more of its white grapefruit, lemon zest and minerality as well as a food friendly crisp acidity (NIS 89, K) 88 points. It seemed like a good potential base wine for a sparkling blanc de blanc if the winery ever decided to go down that path. The recent 2011 white wine releases from Ella Valley have been totally under Lin’s auspices and it will be interesting to see how future reds from the 2011 vintage and beyond develop under her total supervision from the vineyard to the winery to eventual release.
Leading up to star of the evening, the 2008 Ella Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (14.5% alcohol) is a well executed Cabernet Sauvignon complemented by the inclusion of 10% Syrah and 5% Merlot. Aged for 14 months in oak before additional bottle aging, this wine delivers a wash of dark fruit & smoked nutty aromas to complement the tastes of cassis, black & red plums, black raspberry, blueberries, fruitcake and mocha. The fruit and tannins married well and promises to age into an even more pleasing wine than it already is. 13,845 bottles were produced (NIS 99,K) 91 points.
Last but not least, the 2008 Ella Valley Vineyard’s Choice 32 / 35 (15% alcohol) was rolled out. This audacious Syrah, Petite Sirah and Merlot blend is a non-traditional blend as far as it not paying homage to any region such as more common Israeli Bordeaux or the Rhone style blends but becoming traditional in a sense in Israel as Israeli winemakers often feel unrestrained by foreign appellation restrictions and customs to make the best wines possible from what grapes they have available. The limited release of only 2,730 bottles will make this wine a rare find in Israel and its 2008 vintage like the aforementioned Cabernet Sauvignon are from the most recent “shmitah”, sabbatical, vintage in Israel that are rarely exported and mostly enjoyed domestically with the years before and after exported in greater numbers.
A generous 20 months of oak didn’t overwhelm the bold dense ripe fruit flavors that Israeli Syrahs and Petite Sirah grapes typically deliver. A spicy yet fragrant floral and fruit aroma was a teaser to the dense layers of black fruits that were opening up in the glass. In contrast to the dominant cassis of the Cabernet, creamy black raspberry and blueberry notes were the dominant flavors with a more braced structure most likely contributed by the Petite Sirah. The edges were seemingly smoothed by the inclusion of Merlot as in the Cabernet yet the Cab seemed to exhibit more hints of Merlot related flavors that were yet to shine through with the more leading Syrah and Petite Sirah partners Notes of smoked game meat, leather and cigar boxes added to the complexity of a wine that seemed like you could enjoy as it opened up over an evening or for the more patient would still be showing well ten to fifteen years from now if properly stored. A very well balanced wine with a long and lingering nuanced yet fruity finish. At NIS 210,K (93 points), it is situated in the stratosphere of ultra-premium Israeli wines that most buyers would consider drinking only for special occasions. Of course, opening a good or great bottle of wine for a connoisseur is a special occasion in its own right.
Although the Ella Valley wines presented didn’t pack the same horsepower as a white Ferrari or red Maserati, they still seemed the kind of worthy wines one might favor after putting one of these well engineered marvels through their paces on one of Israel’s back roads. And with the right company, enjoying such wines can be just as stimulating and not nearly as dangerous.