Daniel Rogov: wine in Israel and Lebanon

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Daniel Rogov: wine in Israel and Lebanon
Last week was the 7th anniversary of the death of Daniel Rogov, the famous and influential food and wine critic of the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, author of the Rogov's Guide to Israeli Wines. I never had the opportunity to meet him in person, despite frequent business trips to the Holy Land; however, starting in 1998 we were frequently in contact on the paleo-social-network of the time, newsgroups (alt.food.wine).

But one day I decided to call him, because I had a special project. At the time, I was working for an Israeli telecommunications startup, and every quarter I went to Herzlia for meetings. It did not take my bosses long to realize that I was passionate about wine and food, so they proposed that I prepare a one-hour "presentation" to "teach my 50 Israeli colleagues something about wine", perhaps bringing some wine from France and from Italy.

The logistical difficulties seemed unsurmountable, so I decided to use Israeli wine, that way maybe I could also learn something. I talked to Daniel, who called me a few days later to tell me that a wine shop would provide everything free: goblets, spittoons, decanters and a selection of emblematic wines from all the Israeli wine-growing areas, to be delivered to the company conference room on the agreed date ... GASP!

I proposed that he come as a guest speaker, or at least that we have dinner together, but he had no time, busy finishing his guide, but in the meantime, he sent me some of his articles on wine in Israel, on wine-growing areas, on terroir, on kosher wine. I studied and prepared 60 slides, of which I intended to use twenty, leaving the rest for those who wanted to read on and learn more. My workshop was greatly appreciated.

Ten years later, I met one of the participants at a trade fair in Munich. He told me: "I still remember that course, I learned so much. Now when I go to a restaurant I ask for Sauvignon, I tell the sommelier it has an aroma of cat pee, and he agrees with me. This always impresses the girls".


WINE AREAS

• GALIL - Galilee includes the Golan, the best Israeli region for viticulture; at that time the Golan Heights Winery, Dalton, Segal, Margalit and Saslove were expanding their businesses, planting Cabernet S., Merlot, Sauvignon, Chardonnay.

• NEGEV - desert area that can produce wine by irrigation.

• SHOMRON - near the Mediterranean coast, south of Haifa, this is the most extensive wine area, with the wineries of Baron, Binyamina, Carmel Mizrachi Zichron Ya'acov, and various "boutique wineries"

• JUDEAN HILLS - around Jerusalem, with cool climate at high altitude, excellent area for Chardonnay, with many small companies, some specializing in sweet kosher wine.

• SHIMSHON (Samson) - between the Judean Hills and the coastal plain, known for Carmel Mizrachi.


KOSHER WINE

I was used to kosher wine in America, sweet undrinkable stuff like Manischewitz, made in Naples, NY. In Israel, kosher wines are produced essentially by large industrial wineries; for small companies, producing kosher is not economically viable. Keep in mind that most Israelis are not really practicing Jews, and can drink normal wine. The principles of kosher wine are interesting; briefly:

• plants must be at least 4 years old
• every 7 years vines are not harvested, the harvest is abandoned
• it is forbidden to grow other vegetables or fruit in the vineyard
• you can only use containers and tools dedicated only to kosher wine • containers and pipes must be clean
• only practicing Orthodox Jews can work in the area dedicated to kosher wine
• 1% of the wine produced must be ritually poured onto the fields; symbolizes the ancient 10% tithe to the Temple of Jerusalem


ISRAELI AND LEBANESE WINES 

The best Israeli wines are produced by small companies. Unfortunately, excellent Israeli wines such as Clos de Gat or Margalit are practically unobtainable in Europe or America. Here it is easier to find Lebanese wines, such as the famous Château Musar.

For the little I know about Lebanese wines I owe a debt to Daniel Rogov, who appreciated them. He once sent me his notes of a tasting of Lebanese wines organized on 22 March 2001 at the Grape Man (Ish ha Anavim) in Jaffa, the avant-garde food and wine area of Haim Gan. For those who want to read further, here is the Lebanese vertical commented by Rogov.

I put it here as historical documentation, in memory of that great wine lover who left us on 7 September 2011. 21 Wines from Lebanon - A Special Tasting Daniel Rogov Recipes (and some say hashish) cross the Israeli-Lebanese border with relative ease, but because of outmoded and somewhat silly laws, it is a rather tricky affair for the citizens of either of these two countries to sample each other’s wines.

Until recently, the two best ways to arrange for such international samplings were to visit Vinexpo in Bordeaux or to make your purchases in London or New York. Happily, I was recently invited to a tasting of Lebanese wines. Sponsored by The Grape Man (Ish ha Anavim) in Jaffa, the tasting included vintages ranging from 1985 – 1996 from four Lebanese wineries. The day after that tasting, I opened and re-tasted my own last bottles from six more vintages.

Following are my tasting notes. Those marked with an asterisk (*) were tasted at the Jaffa based tasting room of The Grape Man. The wines are listed not in the order of their scores but from most recent to older vintages.

Chateau Musar

Chateau Musar, Blanc, 1996: So grassy and herbacious, this white wine will make you think of Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc and so full bodied and oily it will call to mind German Riesling. Whatever, made from Obaideh (which some believe to be the ancient ancestor of Chardonnay) and Merwah grapes both of which are indigenous to Lebanon, this full bodied wine has now passed its peak and even though it still shows some signs of fruit it is far too dominated now by a resin-like aftertaste. Drink now if you have any on hand. Score when the wine was first tasted in 1997, 87. Current score 84. (Tasted 22 Mar 2001) (*)

Chateau Musar, Rose, 1995: When this wine was young it had a truly pink color but as it has aged it has taken on a pale caramel color. With its fruits going down rapidly and now barely felt and a bit of oxidation sneaking in on the nose, this is a wine to drink at once. Score when the wine was first released, 86. Current score 82. (Tasted 22 Mar 2001). (*)

Chateau Musar, 1993: A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan. Medium to full bodied, with a near absence of fruits but with plenty of spices, tea and Demamara sugar in its flavors and aromas, this smooth wine almost attains elegance. Drinking well now, and not meant for further storage. Score when the wine was tasted in 1996, 87. Current score 85. (Tasted 22 Mar 2001). (*)

Chateau Musar, 1990. When I tasted this wine in 1999, I wrote “there may be some good bottles of this wine but those that I sampled here and abroad were all disappointing. Because of bad bottling and bad corking this is not a wine that will age well and I would hesitate to invest in it”. I see no reason to change those notes. Score 85. (Most recent tasting 23 Mar 2001)

Chateau Musar, 1988: Although this wine has a strong medicinal aroma when first poured, that soon makes way for herbaceous, peppery, tea and leathery aromas. Medium to full bodied, starting to show a bit of brown around the rim but still drinking well. Drink now or in the next 2 – 3 years. Score 87. (Tasted 22 Mar 2001). (*)

Chateau Musar, 1986: When I first tasted this wine in 1990, it was luxurious and full of herbal and spicy flavors. Even then, however, I noted that the wine was basically imbalanced and suggested drinking it in the next two or three years. Today, the wine has oxidized completely, turning from its original deep amber to brown, featuring harsh and cooked caramelized flavors. Unscorable. (Tasted 22 Mar 2001). (*)

Chateau Musar, 1985: Now celebrating its 15th anniversary, this wine maintains its deep red-brown color and multi-layered bouquet that is rich with the aroma of casis, cedar wood, vanilla and fresh. The strawberries that could be found as recently as 18 months ago have vanished but the wine maintains its smoothness, has flavors that linger nicely. My current estimate is that the wine will continue to store well for 10 – 12 years longer. Score 92. (Most recently tasted on 22 Mar 2001). (*)

Chateau Musar, 1979. As if to demonstrate the longevity of the pre-1985 Musar wines, this still fruity and deep purple wine maintains its charm and although fully ready for drinking now should store nicely for another 4 – 5 years. Score 90. (Most recent tasting 23 Mar 2001).

Chateau Musar, 1978. Although beginning to brown around the edges, the color of this wine remans one of deep red-purple plums. Elegant and with with a sweet and attractive bouquet, the wine is well balanced and full bodied and will make for good drinking now or in the next year or two. Score 90. (Most recent tasting 23 Mar 2001)

Chateau Musar, 1970. A wine that amazes me constantly because even though it is now well into its 30th year, it maintains a youthful appearance and its peppery, herbacious character. Drink now or in the next 5 – 8 years. Score 93. (Most recent tasting 23 Mar 2001)

Chateau Musar, 1964. An excellent vintage and a wine so well balanced that only now is it beginning to go down. Despite minor losses, the wine remains elegant and stylish and has flavors (especially of Mediterranean herbs) that linger nicely. Drink now or in the near future. Score 92. (Most recent tasting 23 Mar 2001).

Chateau Musar, 1961. From an extraordinary vintage year, this remarkable wine simply refuses to die. As deep, rich, concentrated today as it was in its youth, and still showing tantalizing ripeness, this is a magnificent wine. Drink now or until 2010. Score 95. (Most recent tasting 23 Mar 2001


Kefraya

Kefraya, 1995: Surprisingly devoid of fruits but with appealingly deep flavors and aromas of herbs and spices, this deep purple wine opens nicely in the glass. Look for the hint of berries as the wine lingers on the palate. Drink now or in the next year or two. Score 88. (Tasted 22 Mar 2001) (*)

Kefraya, 1994: A year older than the wine reviewed above (the ’95 of Kefraya), but amazingly it feels five or six years younger. Fuller bodied, fruitier (look for blackberries, black cherries and currants) and well balanced, the wine is drinking beautifully now and should last nicely in the bottle for another 3 – 4 years. Score 89. (Tasted 22 Mar 2001) (*)

Kefraya, Coteaux de Kefraya, 1988. With an attractive red-brown color, a bouquet that hints equally of black currants, oak and fresh herbs, this is a complex, especially attractive wine. Ready to drink now and will continue to age well for five - six years longer. Score 89. (Most recent tasting 22 Mar 2001) (*)

Kefraya, Coteaux de Kefraya, 1987. Despite its attractive deep red color and tempting Cabernet Sauvignon bouquet, this wine has passed its peak. If you have any on hand, drink it now or in the very near future. Score 85. (Most recent tasting 23 Mar 2001)

Kefraya, Coteaux de Kefraya, 1983: This very deep colored wine has an outstanding blackcurrant bouquet, and rich, smooth lingering flavors. Drink now or in the next year or two. Score 86. (Most recent tasting 23 Jan 1999)


Chateau Ksara

Chateau Ksara, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cuvee Speciale, 1996: With a deep but lively color, this distinctly old-world wine remains highly tannic and still half-asleep, almost as if waiting to open. Well balanced and medium to full bodied, my prediction is that the wine will be ready for drinking only in another year or two and then will last nicely in the bottle until about 2006. As it wakens, look for herbaciousness and hints of leather. Score 87+. (Tasted 22 Mar 2001) (*)

Chateau Ksara, Close d'Alphonse 1983. As it has been since its youth, this is a country style wine, based primarily on Cinsault with small amounts of Carignan and Grenache grapes. Despite its roughness (and its age), the wine has a surprising depth, concentration and ripeness. Perhaps best categorized as a wine-lovers wine. Drink now. Score 87. (Most recent tasting 23 Mar 2001

Chateau Ksara, Clos d'Alphonse, 1968. Based heavily on Cabernet Sauvignon grapes with small amounts of Mourvedre and Grenache grapes, this wine has a medium red-brown color, a calm, dignified Cabernet Sauvignon bouquet and a very good balance and delicate flavor. The wine is now rare, but worth trying if you can find it. Drinkable now and for another 5 - 6 years. Score 89. (Most recent tasting 20 Jan 99)


Clos St. Thomas


Clos St. Thomas, 1998: A blend, I believe based on Cabernet Sauvignon with Carignan and Cinsault, this new-world wine has a lively red color. Medium bodied and with smooth tannins this lively wine is fully ready for drinking now or in the next year or two. Worth trying. Score 86. (Tasted 22 Mar 2001) (*)
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