?By: David Rhodes
Nestled amongst the vines of Israel?s largest contiguous vineyard at Kibbutz Hulda, about thirty minutes southwest of Tel Aviv, Israel?s second largest winery, Barkan, hosted a press event to inaugurate it?s new and long awaited visitor center and to launch its release of their three Cabernet Sauvignon?s in their 2009 Barkan Altitude series. Over 30 wine writers and bloggers were invited from all over Israel to witness what is a major accomplishment in Israel, getting approval for a large visitor center on agricultural land.
Since vineyards are considered agricultural land and wineries are industrial and visitor centers are commercial, it is most often a bureaucratic nightmare in Israel to get all three together in one location. Many other countries have created land use exemptions for wineries due to their unique value and ability in attracting foreign tourists. So, even though many wineries have floundered in Israel for years in a byzantine quagmire, Barkan?s spacious visitor center has blossomed into what promises to be a tourist attraction capable of handling multiple tours at once. The centerpiece, literally and figuratively, of the new center is a theatre in the round that can seat 50 guests in an IMAX style setting which presents a 10 minute film on Barkan wines in a choice of five different languages: Hebrew, English, Russian, French & Spanish
The visitor center and gift shop are open from 9am to 5pm Sunday to Thursday and from 9am to 1pm on Fridays before the Sabbath. As a kosher winery, the winery will also be closed on religious holidays and national holidays in Israel. The Barkan staff expressed their interest in extending their hours on a case by case situation with arrangements made in advance so evening events are possible and an adjoining restaurant is expected to open in the Fall.
The evening was also an opportunity to introduce the visiting press to Barkan?s new release of their 2009 Barkan Altitude Cabernet Sauvignon wines. The Altitude series is Barkan?s second tier of wines, just under their top tier Superieur series, from three different vineyards at three different altitudes in Israel?s Galilee wine region, one of Israel?s most recognized appellations. Strategically the wines are located about the same ?place in Barkan?s portfolio as Carmel or Yarden?s upper tier single vineyard wines.?
Those familiar with Israeli wines are probably aware by now of the axiom that ? with altitude you gain latitude.? WIth Israeli vineyards situated between 29 and 32 degrees North latitude and most of the world?s better wines within the 35 to 45 degree latitude belt (both north and south of the equator), it?s an important key to understanding why Israel can produce good and great wines from grapes harvested from vineyards at altitudes of 400 to 1100 meters (1312 to 3600 feet).
The three Altitude Cabernets are from vineyards at 412, 624 and 720 meters respectfully. So being that 100 meters is about 328 feet and under the postulation that 5 feet provides the weather of about 1 mile in latitude, 100 meters is about 65 miles in latitude so even though the vineyards might be within a 30 minute drive their microclimates emulate vineyards that are up to 3 three hours away on a north to south route and 260 to 468 miles north at sea level. One degree latitude equals about 69 miles so 260 miles to 468 miles is about 3 to 7 degrees latitude putting many Israeli vineyards in microclimates similar to low lying vineyards in a belt of a more enviable 33 to 39 degrees.?
Tasting the wines, they are remarkably different with the lower altitude 412 being the most accessible from the bottle and the 624 and 720 needing far more time to decant in the glass. The 412 was lighter in color looking as if it was aged longer or maybe had less extraction with the skins but was most probably just a result of warmer temperatures at the lower elevation. The 624 appeared to mimic a Cabernet Franc at first tasting with bracing acidity and floral notes accompanying Black Currant and Plums with hints of vanilla, coffee and dark chocolate. As it decanted, the acidity softened and floral notes gave way to more black fruit as the wine started to tease with what promise it will offer as it ages. ?The 720 was the tightest offering, still being reclusive after a 1/2 hour in the the glass but starting to lift up its skirts after an hour to show the complexity, balance and muscle one expects from a New World Cabernet.
A fine catered meal accompanied the three Cabs, a major feat in its own right since the promising visiting center restaurant is still a shell of its future self without any stoves or ovens. Featured with the red wines were three distinctive dishes to suggest the range the Cabs can pair with food. As a starter was a Crispy Duck Salad with Baby Green Leaves, Red Plums & Beets in a Balsamic Pomegranate Reduction Sauce. The second course was rich Veal Bone Marrow in Beef Stock with Ravioli. The last savory dish was a Sliced Spice Encrusted Sirloin with Barley Risotto & Figs in a 720 Reduction Sauce. ?The suggestion that these three wines belonged on wine lists in fine dining restaurants wasn?t lost on this writer.
CEO Shmuel Boxer, Senior Winemaker Ed Salzburg and Winemaker Irit Boxer-Shank (Shmuel?s daughter) were featured speakers during the dinner. Ed departed early as he had been in the vineyards since 5 am and the writers all seemed to be in good spirits at their first of what promises to be many visits to what Shmuel Boxer expects will soon be Israel?s largest winery.
David Rhodes is a California trained Consulting Sommelier & Wine Educator living in Israel. David has written hundreds of articles about Israeli wine published in the United States and Israel and has hosted events & visits to wineries for tourists, diplomats, chefs, dignitaries and celebrities and has been featured as a guest talking about wine on over 100 radio shows and television stations in North America and Asia.
Photo by Israel Preker