Ella Valley Vineyards:My Annual Visit with Tasting Notes (K)

By: Daniel Rogov

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?By: Daniel Rogov

Because the city of Beit Shemesh is located conveniently to the many wineries in the Jerusalem Mountains, I have become intimately familiar with the railroad station there. Today, after making my way there by train I was met by Doron Rav Hon, the winemaker of Ella Valley Vineyards and from there we made our way to the winery for my annual visiting, that including barrel tastings, advance tastings and re-tastings.

Located on Kibbutz Netiv Halamed Hey in the Jerusalem Mountains, the winery has vineyards that might well serve as a model of efficiency and beauty anywhere in the world. Cultivation started in 1997 in the Ella and Adulam Valleys in the Judean Hills, and now includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscat grapes. The winery, a state-of the-art facility under the supervision of French-trained winemaker Doron Rav Hon released its first wines, 90,000 bottles, from the 2002 harvest. Annual production is currently about 150,000 bottles in three series, Vineyard’s Choice, Ella Valley Vineyards and Ever Red, the first two destined for moderately long cellaring and the third for early drinking. The winery also produces approximately 50,000 bottles annually of private label wines, the Manne label primarily for distribution in Israel and Hai Reserve for distribution abroad.

My thanks to Doron Rav Hon and to others of the winery for a fine tasting. Special thanks, however, go to Aharon of the winery who prepared an absolutely splendiferous shakshouka for our lunch. Shakshouka (for the uninitiated is originally a Tunisian dish, often associated with the Jews of that community, and now popular throughout North Africa and the Mediterranean. Made by poaching eggs in a thick and chunky sauce of tomatoes, onions, peppers and a variety of spices, a good shakshouka is, by any definition, a gift from the gods and this one was perfect, with just enough chili peppers in it to add a comfortable note of heat to the dish. And, for those interested, we did not drink wine with lunch. Our beverage of choice was, as it should be, ice cold beer.

My tasting notes follow.


2009 Barrel Tastings

Ella Valley Vineyards, Chardonnay, 2009 (Barrel Tasting): With 30% developing in new oak for an anticipated 11-12 months, already showing medium-bodied, with a lively gold color. Moderate acidity gives an almost creamy texture on which roasted nuts, citrus, pear and apricot fruits sit nicely with a hint of lime on the long finish. Bound for elegance. Best from release-2014. Tentative Score 89-91. K (Tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards, Pinot Noir, 2009 (Barrel Tasting): Deeply aromatic, deep royal purple in color, full-bodied for a Pinot but not overly tannic and with a still gentle wood influence. Ripe and spicy and, on the nose and palate plums, black cherries, cola and mineral notes. On the long flesh finish a note of cedar wood rising. Best from release-2016. Tentative Score 90-92. K (Tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 (Barrel Tasting): Impenetrably dark royal purple in color a concentrated and intense wine. Happily, as the style of the winemaker, not at all a blockbuster, its near sweet tannins and spicy wood parting to reveal forward but not at all vulgar blackcurrants and black berries, those yielding to notes of raspberries and a note of mint that makes itself felt nicely on the long finish. Best 2012-2016, perhaps longer. Tentative Score 90-92. K (Tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards, Merlot, 2009 (Barrel Tasting): Dark, deep and concentrated, opening slowly at this stage to reveal generous plum and blackberry fruits, those enhanced nicely by notes of mocha and licorice, all leading to a long mouth-filling finish. Best 2011-2015. Tentative Score 89-91. K (Tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, 2009 (Barrel Tasting): Super-dark garnet in color, on first attack seeming medium- to full-bodied but gaining depth and breadth as it opens in the glass. Opens to reveal sleek tannins and notes of spicy wood in support of plum and black cherry fruits, those with hints of freshly hung tobacco and minerals. Give this one time to show its supple and refined nature. Best from 2012-2017, perhaps longer. Tentative Score 92-94. K (Tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyard, Petite Sirah, 2009 (Barrel Tasting): Full-bodied and concentrated, with still firmly gripping tannins waiting to settle down but already showing fine balance and structure. Opens to reveal ripe blackberry, purple plum and huckleberry fruits, those highlighted nicely by notes of white pepper, all with the tannins rising on the long flavorful finish. Best from 2012-2016, perhaps longer. Tentative Score 90-92. K (Tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards, Syrah, 2009 (Barrel Tasting): Made from very low yield vines (150 kilos per dunam), inky dark garnet towards royal purple in color. Full-bodied and with generous gripping tannins, an intense wine opening with mineral and leathery notes and then going on to reveal blackberry and purple plums, those with hints of tar and earthy minerals. Powerful but well focused and not at all weighty and destined for muscular elegance. Best 2013-2018, perhaps longer. Tentative Score 91-93. K (Tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 (Advance Tasting): Blended with 10% of Semillon, showing light gold in color, deeply aromatic with grapefruit and pear l fruits supported comfortably by lively notes of tropical fruits that toy on the palate. Long and harmonious, easy to drink and simultaneously complex. If ever a wine deserved to be called “jazzy”, this is that wine. Drink from release-2012. Tentative Score 90-92. K (Tasted 1 Feb 2010)

2008, 2007 and 2006 Tastings

Ella Valley Vineyards, Chardonnay, 2008 (Advance Tasting): Developed partly in new oak, partly in stainless steel, not so much lively as it is well-focused and complex. On the nose and palate green gage plums, pears and yellow apples, all with a cr?me vanilla note. Firm and tight with a mouth-filling and elegant finish. Approachable on release but best 2012-2016. Score 92. K (Tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards, Ever Red, 2007: A medium-bodied blend, gently tannic red, this year of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Developed for 14 months in barriques, shows appealing near-sweet blackberry, currant and black cherry fruits, those on a background of light and just-spicy-enough oak. Not complex but comfortable drinking. Drink from release-2012. Score 87. K (Re-tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 (Advance Tasting): Blended with 15% of Merlot, ripe and rich, with near-sweet tannins, a soft, round wine showing a light touch of spicy oak. On first attack plums and notes of freshly turned earth, those parting to make way for currant and blueberry fruits and finally, leading to a long finish red cherries, roasted Mediterranean herbs and a tantalizing hint of chocolate. Generous and elegant. Drink now-2015. Score 91. K (Re-tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards, Merlot, 2007 (Advance Tasting): Blended with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, opens with a hint of dusty wood and near-sweet tannins. A full-bodied and firm Merlot showing round and well balanced, the tannins complemented nicely by light spicy oak. On the nose and palate generous blackberry, currant, plum and exotic spices highlighted nicely by notes of minerals, chocolate and light toasty oak. Drink from release?2013. Score 90. K (Re-tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, 2007 (Advance Tasting): Blended with 5% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, dark royal purple, medium- to full-bodied with softly caressing tannins. Opens with a distinct green Cabernet Franc note, that yielding comfortably to cherry, blackberry, licorice and citrus peel on the long and generous finish. Drink now?2013. Score 90. K (Re-tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards,Petite Sirah, 2007 (Advance Tasting): My tasting note of a year ago holds firmly. The winery?s first release of a Petite Sirah varietal wine. Made from grapes from ten?year-old vines, intensely dark royal purple in color, showing generous tannins and fine fruit concentration. On the nose and palate blackberries, raspberries and loganberry fruits, those matched nicely by notes of mint and tobacco. Firm and chewy with a long, near muscular finish. Drink now?2012. Score 90. K (Re-tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards, Syrah, 2007 (Advance Tasting): Made entirely from Syrah grapes, a super dark wine with a lovely light bitter note that runs through. Full-bodied and spicy, with red and purple plums, crushed berries and notes of almond, citrus pith and, on the long finish a note of saddle leather. Needs time. Best 2012-2016, perhaps longer. Score 91. K (Re-tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vineyards Choice, 2007 (Advance Tasting): Full-bodied, with still gripping tannins and generous spicy oak just starting to settle in. No fear though for the balance and structure are here boding well for the future. Dark and aromatic, with currants, blackberries and a generous hint of licorice. Give this one time and it will show as polished and silky. Approachable on release (in about a year) but best from 2012-2017. Score 92. K (Re-tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006: Showing better than at an earlier tasting. Developed in barriques for 16 months, blended with 15% Merlot, medium- to full-bodied with fine concentration and showing soft, gently mouth-coating tannins. On the opening nose black fruits and mocha, those going on to reveal blackcurrants, blackberries and hints of pepper. On the long finish what seems at one moment a hint of tar, at the next, green olives. Approachable and enjoyable now but best 2011-2015. Score 91. K (Re-tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Ella Valley Vineyards, Merlot, 2006: Full-bodied, a solid, almost muscular wine, but with gently gripping tannins and turning round and smooth in the glass. Dark ruby toward garnet, showing a tempting array of raspberries, cherries and spices on a tempting earthy-mineral overlay. Long and generous with an appealing note of garrigue on the finish. Drink now?2013. Score 90. K (Re-tasted 1 Feb 2010)


The Manne label is made by the winery exclusively for the Hinawe chain of wine stores ? Wine and More.

Manne, Merlot, 2008: Medium-bodied, developed in stainless steel tanks together with oak staves, showing soft tannins and near sweet blackberry and black cherry fruits on a lightly spicy background. Not complex but a good quaffer. Drink now. Score 85. K (Tasted 1 Feb 2010)

Manne, Andromeda, 2008: A blend of 50% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, developed in stainless steel with oak staves. Dark ruby towards garnet, with soft tannins and gentle wood influences and showing currant and wild berry fruits. A good entry level quaffer. Drink now. Score 85. K (Tasted 1 Feb 2010

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