?By: Daniel Rogov
This morning found me on the road between Tel Aviv and the Margalit winery, not far from the city of Hadera. As we drove on the highway we saw huge plumes of flames and deep black smoke rising not far from Netanya. Only on return home did I learn that what we had seen was the fire that burned the Ikea store at the Poleg Junction to the ground. Thankfully, the building was empty and no-one was injured or worse.
We made it to the winery where bottling of the 2009 vintage was in full swing. The first task we undertook, along with each of those working at the winery was to share an out-of-doors breakfast, that almost making me think I might be at a table in France’s Loire Valley. Among others of the happy surprises that awaited was the presence of Ernie Weir of California’s Hagafen winery here in the full spirit of the bottling day lending a helping hand. Good, long time friends, I suppose that Ernie and Yair Margalit have something in common ? that being not merely that the two make truly fine wine but if the one did not exist in Israel and the other in California we would have had to invent them.
There are very few who know the wines of Israel who do not know the wines of Margalit. All of which is fair enough, for this was among the first boutique wineries in the country, and most certainly the first to capture the imagination of sophisticated wine lovers. Founded in 1989, the winery was first located on Moshav Kfar Bilu near the town of Rehovot, and since 1994 has been set in the center of a citrus orchard not far from the town of Hadera, at the foothills of Mount Carmel.
Father-and-son team Ya?ir and Assaf Margalit are most renowned for their Bordeaux-style reds that are released in both a regular and a reserve series. In his role as a physical chemist, Ya?ir Margalit has published several well-known textbooks. Assaf, now the winemaker who studied in the agriculture faculty of Hebrew University at Rehovot and also trained in California, is now firmly placing his own mark on the wines. Happily, the passing of the baton from one generation to the next shows itself as fully successful.
As to changes in the wines since Assaf became the winemaker, I would be hard pressed to say that the wines of either the father or the son are “better”, the overall signature on the wine maintaining its consistency but, under Assaf the wines showing somewhat less massive, more approachable during their youth and taking a clear turn towards elegance. Happily, the wines of Margalit p?re et fils remain equally cellar-worthy.
Margalit?s earliest release, in 1989, was of 900 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. More recent releases, are based on Cabernet, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc grapes as well as the occasional Merlot. The wines are made primarily of grapes from their own vineyards in Kadita in the Upper Galilee, while the Cabernet Franc is grown in their Binyamina vineyard. The winery offers three series, the top-of-the-line Special Reserve, Margalit, and, starting with the 2003 harvest, Enigma, a Bordeaux-style blend. All of Margalit?s wines are meant for cellaring. Production varies at between 17,000?21,000 bottles annually.
My thanks to Yair and Assaf Margalit as well as to Rami Livne, an integral part of the winery team, the trio reflecting no less enthusiasm today than they did years ago, that reflected in part by a genuine but soft-spoken and well earned pride in what they do.
Following are my tasting notes for the soon to be released (as always, in March) wines of the 2009 vintage, those followed by two surprises that awaited me, one at the winery and one on my return home.
Margalit, Cabernet Franc, 2009 (Advance Tasting): Dark cherry red towards garnet, a supple, round and thoroughly graceful wine, full-bodied but seeming to float on the palate with soft tannins that caress rather than grip and gentle wood influences giving the wine a plush mouthfeel. On the nose distinct notes of red fruits, those yielding comfortably in the glass to aromas and flavors of ripe cherries, currants, spices and, from mid-palate on a tantalizing hint of mint. Approachable and thoroughly enjoyable even now but best from 2013-2021. A fascinating marriage between power and elegance. Score 93. (Tasted 5 Feb 2011)
Margalit, Enigma, 2009 (Advance Tasting): A Bordeaux blend, this year of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Franc. Dark cherry red in color, full-bodied and concentrated but showing its muscles with discretion and grace. On the nose chocolate and (dare I say it) bacon and on first attack aromas and flavors of red cherries and raspberries those yielding comfortably in the glass to notes of currants, blueberries and hints of cedar wood and herbs, all on a softly tannic background. On the long finish notes of tobacco and minerals along with an appealing hint of loam. Approachable now but best 2013-2021. Score 93. (Tasted 5 Feb 2011)
Margalit, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 (Advance Tasting): Dark garnet, big and broad, a stylish wine with fine concentration and structure, opening slowly in the glass to reveal an array of currant, blackberry and black licorice on a background of near-sweet tannins. Generous and elegant, and on the long finish a surprising but most pleasant hints of raspberries. Approachable now but needs time to show its nuances and elegance. Best 2012-2021, perhaps longer. Score 94. (Tasted 5 Feb 2011)
Margalit, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, 2009 (Advance Tasting): Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 17% of Margalit’s remarkably intense Petite Sirah. Super dark garnet, full-bodied and concentrated, a broad and rich multi-layered wine opening with blackcurrants and blackberries, those parting to make way for notes of spices, cedar wood and green olives and finally, on the remarkably long finish notes of dusty oak and sage. At an estimate, in a few years this one will start to show notes of black licorice and dill. If you must try this one now and you’ll find it surprisingly approachable. If you have the patience, give this one the time it demands to show its depth, elegance and finesse. Best 2013-2023. Score 95. (Tasted 5 Feb 2011)
Following this, a surprise as Yair opened a bottle of this 2002 Cabernet Franc. As the Margalit wines have managed handily to overcome whatever problems came about because of the 2009 vintage, so do his 2002 wines demonstrate that they escaped the “2002 Curse”.
Margalit, Cabernet Franc, 2002: This deep royal purple, full-bodied, concentrated Cabernet Franc with 12% Cabernet Sauvignon blended in, now opens with a subdued nose hinting that the wine may be just a wee bit too mature. That is put to the lie rather nicely by the palate, the first impression being not so much of fruits but of bittersweet chocolate and roasted herbs. After five or six minutes in the glass one sits back with an “oh wow” look on the face as both nose and palate blossom, the wine unfolding to reveal fresh and dried black and red currants, cigar tobacco, sage and hickory notes and finally on the long finish, an appealing note of minerality. As full-bodied as ever it was, with the tannins and wood now comfortably in the background. Drink now in the next year or two. Score 93. (Re-tasted 5 Feb 2011)