One of the best Israeli examples of my belief that wine can be called “philosophy in a bottle” is from the Recanati Winery. Israeli born and UC Davis trained Gil Shatsberg took over as the chief winemaker in 2008 and since then, he and his associate Ido Lewinsohn (who trained at the University of Milan and also worked in France and Australia) have transformed one of Israel’s largest wineries from a winery known for mostly premium New World style wines (under founding winemaker UC Davis trained Lewis Pasco) to a winery being innovative in producing wines more reminiscent of the Old World.
From the vineyard to the cellar room, Gil and Ido with the recent addition of their cellar master Kobi Arviv, Recanati’s newest addition to their winemaking team, have steered their wines and customers to enjoying wines that have dropped significantly in alcohol to deliver wines as Gil has told me “are wines you just don’t want to have one glass of but can be drunk throughout a meal and into the evening”. Earlier harvest dates is one key which trades for more acidity in exchange for lower sugar levels (and therefore less alcohol after fermentation). That added natural acidity also helps the wines rely less on tannins for complexity and aging potential and delivers wines that have been a sommelier’s dream for pairing with menus at Israeli restaurants (as well as for their outlets overseas).
Invited to try three of Recanati’s new wines at one of Israel’s best steakhouses, “The Place of Meat” in the trendy gentrified Neve Tzedek neighborhood of Tel Aviv, I received an opportunity to enjoy their wines under the most favorable conditions for Old World style wines that of being served with compatible delicacies. Where New World wines are thought of as more stand alone drinking wines, Old World wines are thought often as half of the dining equation in France, Italy and Spain for example.To be able to experience several styles and cuts of Israel’s best prepared and most succulent beef carpaccio, t-bones and other meaty treats was a great way to savor and best encounter wines designed to marry those same delights. I’ve often thought it unfair to European wines or wines from elsewhere emulating their style to compete against New World wines in competitions for if not served with food as designed, New World wines should always come out more favorable since they can often shine brightest served alone.
On a very favorable late winter’s afternoon in Tel Aviv with temperatures in the low 70’s (about 23 degrees centigrade), we were first greeted with a refreshing glass of 2011 Recanati Chardonnay (NIS 55 or about $14) 88 points. Served on its own (with an accompanying dish such as ceviche or poultry it might have scored higher) this “entry level” Chardonnay is a great value for the price rivaling in taste and complexity of other Israel Chardonnays costing 20 to 40 NIS more (about $20 to $27). About one third of this Chardonnay was oaked for about six months in Burgundy barrels with its sur lees which contributes to the full yet smooth texture and body of this wine. There was no 2011 Recanati Reserve Chardonnay as those grapes went to their top tier 2011 Recanati Special Reserve White blend yet for the winery I think this wine is a nice less expensive option for consumers or for restaurant wine lists until the 2012 Reserve and the 2012 entry level Chardonnay are ready to be released. In my tasting and since we were only tasting three wines I did go back to this wine a few times, I sensed classic pear and citric notes with creaminess giving evidence of the time on oak. Subtle notes of tropical fruit such as banana and pineapple give way to a trace of creme brule and this wine didn’t show crisp acidity in the finish (maybe it was served too cold?) but it did have a pleasant lasting fuller finish (than say a Pinot Grigio might) that resembled a bolder red wine more than a racy white which leads me to believe it would be a good match for roasted or grilled poultry or fish or various dishes with cream sauces such as Alfredo or even with pesto.
On to the stars of this evening which were the two Reserve red wines, the 2010 Recanati Reserve Merlot Manara Vineyard (NIS 110 or about $28) 94 points and the 2010 Recanati Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Lebanon Vineyard (NIS 110) 92 points. These two wines are there first appearances as single vineyard wines and elevate them to the same tier as the winery’s Syrah/Viognier Rhone style blend, their Old Vine Carignan and their widely adored Petite Sirah/ Zinfandel. At only NIS 10 more than (about $3) more than previous vintages, I think buyers will feel they are getting much more value than the price increase requires for justification. This Merlot could be a benchmark wine that other Israel wineries might find worthy of imitating which I think is even more complementary of one wine writer’s score. Deep ruby color, intense red fruits such as plum and sour cherry on the nose meet up with subtle notes of underlying blackberries, spicy fruit cake and notes of varietal and/or oak influenced traces of dark chocolate. It’s fruity but elegant with only 14% alcohol, a nice meeting of Old World and New World styles. I also enjoyed the Cabernet Reserve but might have found it as complicated and worthy of high praise as the Merlot with more time decanting. After 10 to 15 minutes in a glass it was just showing its true potential and if/when I get a chance to savor it over an evening I expect to revisit my score if it opens up how I expect it might. The Cabernet was a darker denser wine with heavier black fruit flavors of blackberries, currant, slight graphite, smooth but evident tannins. Black plums and raspberries seemed hidden deep beneath as it opened but as the evening waned I didn’t get to reward my patience with confirmed suspicions.
Its one of the challenges of being a wine writer that sometimes mirrors the experience of restaurant diners who order a red wine and don’t give it time to open up before indulging which is why I think for now at this stage for both wines the Merlot is a better choice for wine lists.
Once again the winemaking Recanati team has awarded my interest in their endeavors with exceptional wines which confirms why more and more of their wines are winning international prizes and write ups in some of the most reputable wine publications overseas.
David Rhodes can be reached at [email protected]