Sea Horse Winery: My Annual Visit and Tasting Notes

By: Daniel Rogov more »


?By: Daniel Rogov

On Monday, 15 Dec 2008, an integral part of my day was spent visiting Ze’ev Dunie at Sea Horse Winery, there for a broad tasting of wines released, pre-releases and barrel tastings. As to changes at Sea Horse, because of shifts in vineyards, two wines, the Take Two and the Camus will soon be vanishing from Ze’ev’s reperoitre, the last vintages of both of these wines from 2006. No fear though, as Ze’ev will be replacing these with new and potentially exciting blends, those yet to be named (as is Ze’ev’s wont for people he admires for one reason or another).

Established in 2000 on Moshav Bar Giora in the Jerusalem Mountains, Dunie has his own vineyards planted in Syrah and Zinfandel, and draws on Cabernet Sauvignon from the Upper Galilee. Already planted and waiting for first harvest in 2010 are Mourvedre, Grenache and Petite Sirah. The winery?s initial production, from the 2001 vintage, was of 1,800 bottles. Production in 2007 was about 18,000 bottles and predicted production for 2008 is for about 20,000 bottles. Releases include two Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines, Elul and Fellini; a Zinfandel-based wine, Lennon; a Syrah-based wine, Antoine; and in selected years, Munch, which is made entirely from Petite Sirah grapes. There is also one blend, Gaudi, and in barrels from the 2006 vintage are Primitivo and Petit Verdot. The winery?s first Chenin Blanc wine was released from the 2007 vintage.

My thanks to Ze’ev for a fine tasting and for his courtesies during my visit. Sheesh?the man even has good enough sense to have an espresso machine at hand. Oh yes ? the 2007 Chenin Blanc was re-tasted yesterday in my own tasting room.


Sea Horse, Chenin Blanc, Special Cuvee, 2008 (Barrel Tasting): Old vines that give low-yield, aromatic and concentrated must, that translating to a round and generous wine, showing citrus peel, papaya, pineapple and peach aromas and flavors, those leading to a mineral rich and long finish with an attendant minerality. Simultaneously hedonistic and elegant. Drink from release-2010. (Tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Chenin Blanc, 2007: Made from 32-year-old vine Chenin Blanc, with drastic cutting back to concentrate the crop, and fermented and developed sur lie in three-year-old barriques. Rich, crisply dry and well focused, with tangy mineral, chamomile, grapefruit, white peach and nectarine aromas and flavors, those supported very nicely by hints of figs and ginger. At the same time tangy, lively and elegant. Drink now?2010. Score 89. (Re-tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Grenache Blend, (Tentative Name), 2008 (Barrel Tasting): A medium- to full-bodied (leaning to the full) blend of 50% Grenache and 25% each Syrah and Mourvedre. Dark cherry red towards garnet in color, medium- towards full-bodied, with generous but gently caressing tannins. Smooth, round and ripe, calling to mind nothing less than Rosemount’s GSM Show Reserve. On the nose and palate blackberry, cherry, blueberry and exotic spices, those lingering long and comfortably on the finish. Best starting in 2010. Tentative Score 90-92. (Tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Grenache Blend (Tentative Name), 2007 (Barrel Tasting): Dark garnet in color, medium- to full-bodied, at this stage showing an appealing bitter-sweet streak that parts to reveal blackberry, red cherry, pomegranate and sweet red pepper flavors, those supported nicely by notes of rose petals and the tobacco that is coming more and more to represent fine Israeli wines (more to be written about that in the near future). A blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, needing time for its elements to come together but already showing fine balance and structure. Drink from release-2013. Tentative Score 89-91. (Tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Antoine, Tete de Cuvee, 2007 (Barrel Tasting): A medium- to full-bodied blend of 72% Syrah and 14% each of Grenache and Mourvedre, showing firm tannins and generous wood, those in fine balance with fruits. Opens with blackberries, raspberries and mint. As the wine develops in the glass shows full-bodied, dense and chewy, the still firm tannins integrating nicely and yielding to huckleberries and blueberries, all with tannins and a light tobacco note rising on the long finish. Approachable and enjoyable from release but best from 2010. Tentative Score 90-92. (Tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Antoine, Tete de Cuvee, 2006 (Advance Tasting): Full-bodied, with still gripping tannins waiting to settle in. Reflecting its oak-aging for 18 months with generous but soft and spicy cedar notes, showing tempting bittersweet chocolate and a cigar tobacco note that underlie red berry and currant fruits. A blend of 74% Syrah and 13% each of Grenache and Mourvedre, with an appealing bitter herbal hint rising on the long and so-far muscular finish. Score 90. (Re-tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Antoine, Tete de Cuvee, 2005: Showing much as at an earlier tasting. Made entirely from Syrah grapes, this full-bodied wine spent 16 months in used French barrels and now shows deep garnet-toward-royal-purple color with gripping tannins in fine balance with gentle oak. Opens on plumy and leathery notes that yield to blackberries, spices and red licorice. A long, generous finish with a tantalizing bitter note. Drink now?2011. Score 90. (Re-tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Lennon, Tete de Cuvee, 2005: A blend this year of 92% Zinfandel and 8% Petite Sirah. Aged for about 16 months in used American oak barrels, this full-bodied, deep, dark-garnet wine is richly aromatic, with soft tannins integrating beautifully with the wood and wild red berries, red currants and sage notes. Comes together in a rich and long spicy finish. Drink now?2010. Score 90. (Re-tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Lennon, Tete de Cuvee, 2006: Deep garnet towards royal purple in color, a blend of 95% Zinfandel and 5% Petite Sirah. With gripping tannins and generous spicy oak, those yielding slowly in the glass to reveal an appealing array of plums, wild berries and bitter-sweet chocolate, those complemented by gentle hints of Oriental spices and Mediterranean herbs. Long and mouthfilling. Best from mid-2009-2012, perhaps longer. Score 90. *Re-tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Lennon, Tete de Cuvee, 2007 (Barrel Tasting): Still showing a distinct country style, with its tannins somewhat chunky and its wood rather pronounced, but those in fine balance and merely needing time to integrate. As this one develops look for generous plum, berry and licorice aromas, the tannins destined to be always muscular but parting on the finish to reveal notes of raspberries, black pepper and sage. Best from 2010-2015. (Tentative Score 91-93). (Tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Fellini, 2005: My most recent tasting note holds firmly: A blend of 46% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, those complemented by 8% of Petit Verdot. Developed in French and American oak for 18 months, this medium to full-bodied wine shows silky tannins along with cherry, raspberry and licorice aromas and flavors, those opening to reveal tempting hints of Mediterranean herbs and bittersweet chocolate on the finish. Drink now?2011. Score 90. (Re-tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Fellini, 2006: A medium-bodied, soft and round blend of 55% Syrah and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, those oak-aged for 18 months. Showing soft and round, with silky tannins and a gentle hand with the oak. Opens to show plums, raspberries and cassis, those with notes of vanilla and licorice that linger nicely. Drink now-2011, perhaps longer. Score 90. (Re-tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Fellini, 2007 (Barrel Tasting): Dark garnet with green and orange reflections, a blend of 55% Syrah and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, now showing heady, near-sweet tannins and near-sweet cedar wood in good balance with fruit and natural acidity. On the nose and palate generous black fruits complemented by notes of bitter-sweet chocolate, freshly cured cigar tobacco and, on the long finish, a hint of red licorice. Best 2010-2015, perhaps longer. Tentative Score 91-93. (Tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Elul, 2005: My earlier tasting note holds firmly: A blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Syrah and 9% Petite Sirah, developed for 20 months in French and American oak, and showing dark, youthful royal-purple, medium to full-bodied with firm, near-sweet tannins. Opens with currant, kirsch, citrus peel and black cherry fruits, those yielding to hints of licorice, spices and berries, all leading to a long and complex finish. Drink now?2010. Score 91. (Re-tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Elul, 2006 (Advance Tasting): Showing better than at barrel tastings. Still in its infancy, showing full-bodied, with generous firm tannins and cigar-box notes but with balance and structure that bode well for the future. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Sirah (75%, 20% and 5% respectively). On first attack blackberry and blackcurrant fruits, those opening to reveal notes of Oriental spices, mocha and cigar tobacco. Look for a long, tantalizing near sweet finish on which tannins and fruits rise nicely. Best from mid-2009 until 2012, perhaps longer. Score 91. (Re-tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Elul, 2007 (Barrel Tasting): An early tentative blend, showing dark garnet towards royal purple, with gently gripping tannins and wood in good balance with blackberries and purple plums yielding to currants, a potpourri of spices and a note of tobacco. Promising. Best from 2010. Tentative Score 89-91. (Tasted 15 Dec 2008)

Sea Horse, Munch, 2007 (Barrel Tasting): Dark, almost impenetrable royal purple in color, full-bodied and with still muscular tannins waiting to settle down. On first attack a strong whiff of blackberries and notes of dusty and spicy wood, those parting to reveal notes of garrigue and roasted herbs. Destined to be both muscular and elegant. Best from 2010. Tentative Score 90-92. (Tasted 15 Dec 2008)

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