TASTY, SUB-$15 CABERNET

Wines like this really test our communication skills. So many times whether or not someone might be interested in a wine we are offering can hinge on a single word. As merchants, it is to our advantage to be as honest as we can and convey as much information about a wine’s profile and value to consumers and explain what we saw in it to bring it in. This wine came in primarily because it answered one of the great dilemmas on our time…delicious Cabernet for under $20.

The search for Cabernet values can take us some pretty far-flung locales, in this case the Gilgal Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 comes from the Upper Galilee mountain range. Sitting atop the mountain range, the innovatively designed winery is committed to revitalizing the region’s rich history of winemaking. Over 2,000 years ago, these mountains, among Israel’s highest at more than 1,000 meters above sea level, was a choice location for the cultivation of quality grapevines.

Gilgal has an American winemaker, California-born and UC Davis educated Victor Schoenfeld, who has occupied the post as head winemaker for Golan Heights Winery, makers of Yarden and Mount Herman as well, for some 28 years. The area is warm enough to ripen grapes, but also has the cooler evenings to help preserve a wine’ freshness. This is a generally competent producer that makes a lot of solid wines but has the occasional hits. This Cabernet is one of those that stood out of the lineup.

If you want to profile the flavors, think ripe blackcurrant and a plush texture reminiscent of a warmer vintage in California, with a round mouthfeel and just enough acidity for brightness. We sure as heck can’t do a Cabernet like this for this kind of price here at home, so in that regard this is potentially an important find. Apparently, 2016 in the Golan Heights was one of the shortest harvests on record and there were no weather ‘events’ during the growing season to create issues. Maybe next year won’t be as easy, but we concern ourselves with the here and now with respect to go-to Cabernet candidates.

In the end, the only question was the winery telling us we shouldn’t say the ‘K’ word (kosher). Why not? We have been told that before but we don’t see the argument. We bought the Gilgal because we thought it was quite a performer for the fare and good value Cab isn’t easy to find. We wouldn’t buy something we didn’t like because it was ‘kosher’ any more than we would do that because something was ‘organic’ or ‘natural’. Quite the contrary, we see that fact that it serves the Kosher need as an added utility bonus for a tasty, low-priced, 100% varietal Cab that saw 12 months in oak and sells for under $15.

TASTY, WELL-PRICED and (shhh) KOSHER RED

Every time we are presented something from a Kosher winery here in the states, or from Israel, the first thing out of the vender’s mouth is, ‘but don’t make a point of it being kosher’.  First off, what’s wrong with it being Kosher?  Does that pidgeonhole it for buyers, the practicing kosher ones thinking it is only for holidays and everyone else presuming it tastes like the mass produced, sweet reds whose names you all know.

We have a hard time believing it is that cut and dried for most people. But maybe it is.  Still it is our belief that if you have a wine that plays on the ‘celebratory’ table, that will afford it a built-in audience from which you move forward.  If it happens to be a well made, dry red, the potential followers pool should be even larger because it should make an interesting proposition for folks who are merely looking for something red and tasty without concern for any holiday/holy day applications.  If it happens to sell for a really good price as well, that would appear to be some sort of trifecta.  In other words, this is first a candidate for a versatile everyday drinking red.  Everything else is a bonus.  The Golan Heights Winery Mount Hermon Red Galilee 2016 is such a wine.

Golan Heights Winery/Yarden makes a lot of different bottlings under its various labels.  It is easy to get lost in the shuffle.  But in a recent tasting we zeroed in on this one simply because it was dark, tasty, and engaging and sold for a song.  The 2016 Mount Hermon Red exhibits notes of berries and cherries, along with nuances of Mediterranean herbs, chocolate, earth and a little minerality. Made from all five Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec), with Cabernet as the lead player, the grapes come mainly from  the Golan Heights, a raised volcanic plateau going from 1300 to 3900 feet in elevation that is the coolest wine region in Israel.  A small portion comes from vineyards in Galilee.

We have tasted examples of this before but this one made an impression.  We didn’t have our Israel vintage chart handy but apparently 2016 was a superior vintage in the region (a warm spring and the earliest harvest in nearly a quarter century).   Wine Enthusiast noted, “A  nose of cassis and vanilla sets the scene for flavors of black cherry, blackberry, butterscotch, juniper and violet. It’s easy on entry, offering smooth tannins that slowly reveal themselves, culminating in a floral and cranberry finish. ..92 points.”  Tasty, well-priced and, yes, kosher, but you don’t reason need a ‘reason’ to open this.  In the end it’s simply a tasty red.