The Premier Crus of Israel

The Premier Crus of Israel
There has been unprecedented coverage of Israeli wine.
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The Premier Crus of Israel


There has been unprecedented coverage of Israeli wine this year (2008). There have been visits to Israel by wine critics and writers of the caliber of Mark Squires, Kim Marcus, Tim Atkin, Stephen Brook and Tony Aspler. Each has tasted a hundred or more Israeli wines and visited many Israeli wineries. There have been features on Israel in the Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate and articles in Decanter and Wine and Spirit. There have also been tastings of Israeli wines by Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV and Tom Stevenson in the Wine Report. From all their conclusions, a clear pattern has emerged as to what are Israel?s finest wineries.

????????? Mark Squires of the Wine Advocate and Parker?s Wine Buyer?s Guide, wrote that the best Israeli wineries are Domaine du Castel and Golan Heights Winery, and that Margalit and Yatir were contenders.

????????? Tim Atkin MW of Wine & Spirit, published his best Israeli wineries in Off Licence News and The Observer newspaper: 1. Castel , 2.?Margalit, 3. Golan Heights.

????????? The rankings in the Wine Report 2009, compiled by Daniel Rogov, were :1. Golan Heights Winery, 2. Margalit, 3. Yatir, 4. Castel.

????????? Hugh Johnson?s Pocket Wine Guide 2009 gave *** three stars each, to Castel, Margalit and Yatir. He gave **>*** (two to three stars) to Golan Heights Winery.

Though the views vary, the clear consensus is that Israel?s finest wineries, in no particular order, are:?Domaine du Castel, Golan Heights Winery, Margalit Winery and Yatir Winery. These four different wineries could not be more different, but each has succeeded to put Israel on the map for world class wines.?

Ownership & Production.

The Golan Heights Winery is owned by a co-operative of four moshavs and four kibbutzes. Castel and Margalit are family wineries where the owners, Eli Ben Zaken and Yair Margalit, have winemaking sons to take over. Yatir is 100% owned by Carmel, the historic winery of Israel.

The Golan Heights Winery is a large, commercial winery producing 6 million bottles a year. They penetrate every sector of the market from mass to prestige, producing no less than 37 different wines. It is their premier label, Yarden, which has provided the quality image. Castel and Yatir are small wineries each producing just over 100,000 bottles a year. Margalit is almost a garagiste producing 20,000 bottles a year. Yatir makes six wines, Margalit five and Castel only three.?

Wineries & Vineyards

The four wineries are spread out evenly from the Golan Heights to the northern Negev. The Golan Heights Winery is situated on the Golan Heights in the small town of Katzrin.?A stainless steel village of computer controlled tanks and a Napa style visitors center, greets you at this very technologically advanced winery. Margalit Winery is situated in a small packing house in an orchard, near Hadera on the coast. It is hard to find and visits are not encouraged. Castel is at Ramat Raziel in the Jerusalem Hills. It is a beautiful winery, situated in an old chicken coop, with the most photographed cellar in Israel. Yatir is situated at Tel Arad, sitting in a rather unglamorous agricultural, building in the semi arid north east Negev. However inside is one of the most modern, state-of-the-art wineries in Israel.

The Golan Heights Winery has 25 vineyards on the Golan Heights and one in the Upper Galilee. Margalit has two vineyards. One is at Kadita near Mt. Meron, where he grows Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and the other is a Cabernet Franc vineyard near to Zichron Ya?acov on the coast. Castel?s vineyards are in the central Judean Hills, west of Jerusalem and Yatir?s come from Yatir Forest, Israel?s largest forest, in the southern Judean Hills.

The Golan Heights and Yatir wineries make wines that are kosher. Margalit wines are not. Castel made non kosher wines initially, but since 2003 the wines have been kosher. Yarden, Yatir and Castel have proved to any doubters that kosher wines may be genuinely world class.?

Wines & Winemakers

The winemakers of the wineries have a variety of backgrounds. Victor Schoenfeld, born in California, graduated at UC Davis and took up the position of chief winemaker at the Golan Heights Winery in 1992. Yair Margalit and his son, Assaf, both studied at UC Davis and spent time in California. Eli Ben Zaken, owner winemaker of Castel learnt winemaking out of a book but sent his son, Ariel, to study and gain experience in Burgundy. Eran Goldwasser graduated at Adelaide University in Australia, gained experience at a Southcorp winery, before returning to Israel to open Yatir Winery.

To an extent the wines reflect the background of the winemakers. Those of the Golan Heights are very Californian in style. They make clean, technically perfect, sometimes oaky wines. Castel?s are the most French in style, with a touch of old world elegance.?Yatir wines are big, bold, concentrated and almost Australian in style. Margalit?s wines emphasise Bordeaux varieties but in a new world, up front style.

Castel, Margalit and Golan Heights, with their Yarden brand, all have a track record of fine wine production. Mark Squires wrote in Parker?s Wine Buyer?s Guide: ?Older Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux blends I had in tastings at wineries like Golan Heights, Castel and Margalit were superb.? With Yatir, the newest of the four, it is still early days to judge their wines over the long term.

The Golan Heights Winery, with its new emphasis on quality, was the winery of the 1980?s, blowing away the old, out of date winemaking standards, and initiating the quality revolution in Israel. Castel and Margalit were wineries that came to the fore in the 1990?s. The competitiveness between them created interest amongst Israel?s new wine lovers and drove forward the wave of new boutique wineries during this decade. Yatir is a product of the 21st century, arguably the most exciting of the many new quality driven wineries to open in the last ten years.?

Premier Cru Wines of Israel

The flagship wines of each of these wineries may justly be described as the Premier Crus of Israel. These super-deluxe, prestige wines are Castel Grand Vin, Margalit Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve, Yarden Katzrin and Yatir Forest. There are others that arguably should be part of this select group, like Carmel Limited Edition and Clos de Gat Sycra Syrah, but the four stand out because of their repeated international recognition.

Castel Grand Vin,Haut Judee, Domaine du Castel

Castel?s Grand Vin is the premier cru wine that has gained more international kudos than any other Israeli wine. It is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, which is aged in small French oak barrels for between 20 to 24 months. The 1992 vintage was referred to Serena Sutcliffe MW as the finest Israeli wine she tasted. The 1997 became Decanter Wine of the Month. The Castel Grand Vin was the only Israeli wine chosen in the book ?The World?s Greatest Wines? by Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve. The Grand Vin 2003, 2004 and 2005 all received more than 90 points in Parker?s Wine Buyer?s Guide. The 2004 received 92 points. The Grand Vin was personally recommended by Hugh Johnson in his Pocket Wine Book, when Castel became the first Israeli winery to be awarded **** four stars. Gary Vaynerchuk from Wine Library TV, also tasted the Grand Vin 2004 live and gave it 93 points. Mark Squires wrote: ?Castel excels with both whites and reds.?

Margalit Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve, Kadita – Galilee Mountains, Margalit Winery

Yair Margalit opened Israel?s first quality boutique winery in 1989. Apart from making wine he was an educator, running wine courses, also an author, writing books on winemaking and a consultant to many of the new boutique wineries. He has two wines vying for the ?premier cru? status. The first is Enigma, a Bordeaux blend. Tony Aspler wrote: ?Margalit is making the best wine in Israel today ? especially Enigma, which you could mistake for Mouton Rothschild in a blind tasting.? However the Special Reserve does have a track record going back into the early 1990?s and, though made in very small quantities, it is the most exclusive wine Margalit makes. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with a little Petite Sirah. Mark Squires has no doubts: ?The best wines are the Special Reserves, which can be quite exotic.?

Yarden Katzrin, Galilee, Golan Heights Winery

According to Parker?s Wine Buyer?s Guide: The Golan Heights Winery?s ?founding was a landmark and turning point into Israel?s development.? and it was referred to by Kim Marcus of the Wine Spectator as ?The powerhouse of the region.? The winery produces many wines and its premier label, Yarden, has been Israel?s most prolific winner of medals and trophies at the highest level. Yarden Katzrin is the flagship wine of the Golan Heights Winery. This was Israel?s first US $100 bottle of Israeli wine and remains Israel?s most expensive ?super-deluxe, prestige? wine. It is made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes grown mainly in the central Golan Heights and Upper Galilee. The wine is aged for 24 months in new French oak barrels. It is only produced in exceptional vintages and is eagerly swallowed up by collectors. The first year was 1990, and this was followed by 1996, 2000, 2003 and the next release will be the 2004. The Yarden Katzrin 2003 was one of only three Israeli red wines to receive 91 points or more from Robert Parker?s Wine Advocate and Buyer?s Guide and also received 91 points from the Wine Spectator.

Yatir Forest, Judean Hills, Yatir Winery

Yatir Forest, the premier label of Yatir Winery, is a blend always based mainly on Cabernet Sauvignon and usually with Petit Verdot and Merlot is one of the supporting varieties. However the blend changes each year according to the vintage. Yatir Forest is aged in small French oak barrels (1/3rd new) for 14 to 18 months. This wine has had extraordinary success since being launched. The 2001 and 2002 were gold medal winners, in Israel?s main wine tasting competition and at the Challenge International du Vin in Bordeaux. The Yatir Forest 2003 received 93 points from the Wine Advocate and Parker?s Wine Buyer?s Guide, the highest ever score given to an Israeli, kosher or eastern Mediterranean red wine. The Yatir Forest 2004 received 90 points from the Wine Spectator and was referred to by Tom Stevenson in the Wine Report?s ?100 Most Exciting Wines? as ?Quite simply the best Israeli wine I have ever tasted.? The Yatir Forest 2005 received 92 points and equaled the highest score ever given to an Israeli wine by the Wine Spectator.

Parker?s Wine Buyer?s Guide wrote: ?Yatir is shortlist contender for best winery in Israel and producer of best Bordeaux blend. Cabernet Merlot Shiraz is one of the best values I saw in Israeli wine.??

Robert Parker?s Wine Buyers Guide No.7

Since December 2007, the so called premier crus of Israel, have been tasted by Mark Squires and Robert Parker, with the following scores recorded in the Wine Advocate and Parker?s Wine Buyer?s Guide.?

Yatir Forest 2003 ? 93 points?

Castel Grand Vin 2004 ? 92 points?

?Yarden Katzrin 2003 ? 91 points?

? Castel Grand Vin 2003 ? 90 points?

? Castel Grand Vin 2005 ? 90 points?

? Margalit Special Reserve 2002 ? 90 points?


Wine Spectator

The Wine Spectator, until a feature in June 2008, had not ever given Israeli wines 90 point. Since the feature was published though, things have changed and the following Israeli ?premier cru wines? have scored as follows: ?

Yatir Forest 2005 ? 92 points ?

Yarden Katzrin 2003 ? 91 points?

Yatir Forest 2004 ? 90 points?

Summary of Scores

Below is a summary of the main scores achieved by Israel?s four leading wineries in the last 12 months.?

Yatir Forest 2003 ? 93 points, Wine Advocate & Parker?s Wine Buyers Guide?

Yarden HeightsWine 2005 ? 93 points, Wine Advocate & Parker?s Wine Buyers Guide?

Castel Grand Vin 2004 ? 93 points, Wine Library TV, Gary Vaynerchuk?

Yatir Forest 2005 ? 92 points, Wine Spectator?

Castel Grand Vin 2004 ? 92 points, Wine Advocate & Parker?s Wine Buyers Guide?

Yarden Katzrin 2003 ? 91 points, Wine Advocate & Parker?s Wine Buyers Guide?

??C? Blanc du Castel ? 91 points, Wine Advocate & Parker?s Wine Buyers Guide?

Yarden Katzrin 2003 ? 91 points, Wine Spectator?

Yatir Forest 2004 ? 90 points, Wine Spectator?

Castel Grand Vin 2003 ? 90 points, Wine Advocate & Parker?s Wine Buyers Guide?

Castel Grand Vin 2005 ? 90 points, Wine Advocate & Parker?s Wine Buyers Guide?

Yatir Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2003 ? 90 points, Wine Advocate?

Petit Castel 2005 ? 90 points, Wine Advocate?

Margalit Special Reserve 2002 ? 90 points, Parker?s Wine Buying Guide?

Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon El Rom 2003 ? 90 points, Wine Spectator?

Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 ? 90 points, Wine Spectator?


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