Clos de Gat:My Second Visit of the Year (And Well Worth It)

By: Daniel Rogov more »

Of all things necessary to the sustaining of life in general and to the continuation of the “good life” in particular, fewer are more important to me than espresso coffee. On my way this morning to visit the Clos de Gat winery I arrived at the Beit Shemesh railroad station, there pleased to be greeted with a cup of take-away double-espresso. Alas, the coffee beans had been over-roasted and as surely as the day followeth the night, the person working the espresso machine lacked any ability whatever to make a decent cup of coffee. Later, to add insult to injury, at the winery I was given a cup of caf? botz* to drink. Not good omens, but I am more than willing to forgive owner-winemaker Eyal Rotem such minor sins because he does, after all, make some of the very best wines in the country.

Located on Kibbutz Har?el in the Jerusalem Mountains, this joint project of the kibbutz and Australian-trained winemaker Eyal Rotem released its first wines from the 2001 vintage. The name ?Clos de Gat? is a play on words?the French clos is an enclosed vineyard surrounded by stone walls or windbreaks, while the Hebrew/Aramaic gatis an antique wine press. Grapes come from the winery?s own vineyards, which now include Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Chardonnay. Production is currently about 50,000 bottles annually. With new vineyards soon coming on line the winery is aiming for 100,000 bottles in the not-too-distant future. The winery releases wines in three series, Sycra (Aramaic for ?bright red?), the Bordeaux-blend Clos de Gat, and Har?el.

Perhaps of piquant interest ? in addition to receiving rave reviews here, in the UK, Clos de Gat seems to be the only winery exporting wines to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. And, at this writing, one of the fewer and fewer local boutique wineries that fully intends to remain without a kashrut certificate.

The immediate goal of today’s tasting was to sample the soon to be released 2007 Sycra Syrah. But, as Jacqueline Susanne points out so nicely, “once is not enough” so we went on to taste each of the Syrah releases of the winery in both the Sycra and the Har’el series since 2003.

Vertical tastings like this are always valued as they give the opportunity to see precisely how wines are developing from year to year. They also give the critic the ability to check his own earlier tasting notes, to check on the consistency of the wines from year to year and, no less important, to show how accurate our predictions were for drinking windows. Of Clos de Gat I can say with no hesitation that consistency is just fine thank you, each of the wines comparing comfortably to the wines of other vintages and each carrying the distinctly elegant signature of the winemaker. My tasting notes follow.
My thanks to Eyal Rotem and his representative William White (to whom I invariably refer as “Sir William”) for a fine tasting as well as a light lunch of salad and what may have been the best tchina that I have tasted in years, those taken on the outdoor terrace of the offices and tasting room of the winery.

Oh yes, in case any of my colleagues should ask, as to Rotem’s policy of welcoming wine critics and criticism but not sending sample bottles of wine to any critic whomsoever (present company included), I approve whole-heartedly. As always I have said, it is the privilege of any winery to send or not send wines for sampling to whomever or non-ever as they choose. And another “oh yes” …whatever you do be sure to read the final tasting note on this page.


The Sycra Wines

Clos de Gat, Syrah, Sycra, 2007: Super-dark garnet towards royal purple, full-bodied and reflecting its 20 months in French oak barriques with abundant but gently mouth-coating tannins and notes of cinnamon and vanilla on the palate. Deeply aromatic, opens to reveal generous raspberries and red currants on the first attack, those yielding comfortably to plums, notes of saddle leather and a hint of green tobacco on the remarkably long finish. Caressing and elegant. Approachable on release in September 2010) but best from mid-2011-2018. Score 94. (Tasted 1 Jun 2010)

Clos de Gat, Syrah, Sycra, 2006: My most recent tasting note holds firmly. An opulent wine, almost impenetrably deep garnet in color, full-bodied, with silky-smooth tannins that caress gently and opening in the glass to reveal aromas and flavors of wild red and black berries, grilled meat and spices, those leading to a fruit-rich finish on which you will find tempting chocolate and vanilla undertones. Long, round and generous. If this one does not make you fall in love you?re a hard-hearted wine lover indeed. One of the best wines ever from Israel. Approachable and enjoyable now but best from 2012-2019, perhaps longer.. Score 95. (Re-tasted 1 Jun 2010)

Clos de Gat Syrah, Sycra, 2004: Again, my most recent tasting note holds firmly. Oak-aged for 20 months. Full-bodied, with oak that at one moment seems spicy and at the next smoky but never dominating; with firm tannins integrating nicely now. A dense, almost muscular wine, but one that sits gently and opens to show a tempting array of cherry, berry and currant fruits, those on a just-spicy-enough background to highlight hints of freshly roasted coffee. Well focused, intense and long. Drink now?2014. Score 93. (Re-tasted 1 Jun 2010)

The Har’el Wines

n.b. My tasting notes for each of the Syrah wines in the Har’el series reflect their development over time and hold firmly, with twp exceptions, that being the occasional addition of one point to the score and that in nearly all cases I have extended the drinking window by 1, 2 or more years.

Clos de Gat, Syrah, Har’El, , 2008: Blended with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and developed for 15 months in barriques, showing super-dark garnet towards royal purple. Full-bodied, with generous but softly caressing tannins making the wine more than approachable despite its youth. Opens to show blackcurrant and blueberry fruits, those parting to make way for blackberries and black cherries with gentle hints of black pepper and grilled meat rising on the remarkably long finish. Drink now-2017. Score 93. (Re-tasted 1 Jun 2010)

Clos de Gat, Syrah, Har?el, 2007: Dark, almost impenetrable royal purple, full-bodied, with generous soft tannins integrating nicely. Blended with 15% of Cabernet Sauvignon and oak-aged for 16 months, a generously spicy wine opening to show wild berry, plum and black and red cherry fruits, those going on to reveal notes of sage, minerals and dark chocolate. Deep and complex, with a long finish on which tannins, red cherries and floral notes make themselves comfortably felt. Thoroughly enjoyable now but best 2012-2016. Score 93. (Re-tasted 1 Jun 2010)

Clos de Gat, Syrah, Har’el, 2006: Dark garnet toward royal purple, blended with 15% of Cabernet Sauvignon and oak-aged for 15 months (about ??3 new oak). Full-bodied, with soft, gently mouth-coating tannins and fine balance and structure. Opens slowly in the glass at this stage but when it does, it does so with gusto, showing plum, red berry and cassis fruits, those on a generous but well-proportioned spicy background. Long, round and elegant. Drink now?2013, perhaps longer. Score 93. (Re-tasted 1 Jun 2010)

Clos de Gat, Syrah, Har?el, 2005: Blended with 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, this dark royal purple, deeply aromatic, mouth-filling and lush red shows medium to full-bodied, and boasts tannins that are soft but comfortably gripping. A generous array of plum, cherry and berry fruits, those backed up by juniper and white pepper. On the nose near-sweet black fruits and on the long finish hints of leather and citrus peel. Drink now?2012. Score 93. On the long finish hints of leather and citrus peel. Drink now?2014. Score 93. (Re-tasted 1 Jun 2010)

Clos de Gat, Syrah, Har’el, 2004: Dark, almost impenetrable garnet, this medium- to full-bodied blend of 85% Syrah and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon shows soft, round tannins and on the nose and palate a generous array of plum, blueberry and blackberry, those complemented by spices and appealing hints of fresh herbs and toffee. Drink now-2013. Score 93. (Re-tasted 1 Jun 2010)

Clos de Gat Syrah, Har’el, 2003: Remarkably youthful for its age, dark ruby towards garnet, this now softly tannic blend of 85% Syrah and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon shows generous peppery overtones. Medium- to full-bodied, with now soft and well integrated and complex plum, red berry and earthy aromas and flavors, all with a hint of leather on the finish. Drink now-2012. Score 92. (Re-tasted 1 Jun 2010)

And At The End

Towards the end of our tasting, Rotem asked if I might like to try his first attempt at a white dessert wine. Who and what, after all, would I be to deny such a tasting.

Clos de Gat, White Dessert Wine, 2006: A deep, youthful gold towards orange blend of 75% Muscat Alexandroni and 25% Viognier, those aged in well tempered barrels (those previously used for Chardonnay) and reinforced with grape alcohol to a 16% alcohol content. Generously sweet, but with fine balancing acidity, opens with notes of citrus peel, goes on to reveal honeyed peach and apricot notes and then, surprisingly, to tropical fruits, all coming together as a well structured and coherent whole. Long and generous. Fewer than 700 bottles were made, and those may never go on sale. If you are fortunate enough to obtain one, drink not with but as dessert. One of the very best dessert wines made in Israel and certainly the one destined for the longest cellaring ability. Drink now-2040, perhaps longer. Score 95. (Tasted 1 Jun 2010)

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