Several days ago, I received a phone call from Yair Margalit suggesting that it was time for me to visit the Margalit winery not far from Hadera. That Margalit was calling from Antarctica where he is currently cruising was quite enough to impress me that something important might be happening. A quick follow-up call on my part to Assaf Margalit indicated that the 2008 wines are just now being bottled and that it would indeed be wise to pay a visit before those wines went into bottle shock.
Truth be told, I rarely dedicate a day to travel to a winery to taste merely five wines but in the case of Margalit, now the oldest boutique and most assuredly one of the very best wineries in the country, my decision to visit was based as much on excitement as on dedication.
Margalit was among the very first boutique wineries in the country, and was indeed 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 near 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 as senior winemaker 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 generation to generation shows as fully successful as one could hope for.
Margalit’s earliest release, in 1989, was of 900 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. More recent releases, including Cabernet, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Syrah, 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 and Margalit, and, starting with the 2003 harvest, Enigma, a Bordeaux-style blend. All of Margalit’s wines are meant for cellaring. Current production is about 20,000 bottles annually.
The 2007 vintage was a good but not exciting one for Israel. Despite that, the Margalit winery produced wines that were consistently excellent, the releases earning scores of 92-94 points. 2008 on the other hand, is proving to have been a superb year and the soon to be released Margalit wines of that year reflect that in every way. My tasting notes follow. My thanks to Assaf and to those at the winery for a warm reception (including it should be noted a generously sized and great fun to eat schnitzel sandwich on a baguette) and, of course, for a fine tasting. I will, of course, re-tasted each of these wines again in my own tasting room after their official release. And then again every two years after that.
Margalit, Enigma, 2008: A full-bodied blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Franc reflecting its aging in barriques for 12 months with firm but not at all searing and almost caressing tannins and notes of spices and vanilla from the wood. On first attack raspberries and red plums, those yielding to blackcurrants, and notes of bitter-sweet chocolate. Rich and concentrated but not at all bombastic. Destined for elegance. Approachable now but best 2012-2020. Score 92. (Tasted 11 Jan 2010)
Margalit, Enigma, Special Reserve, 2007: The winery's first release of a special reserve in the Enigma line. Unlike the regular Enigma release (see the following tasting note, tasted on return from my visit to the winery), this one was aged for two years in oak, that not so much adding a feeling of wood to the wine but allowing its elements to come together while still in the barriques, that affording a certain desirable level of micro-oxidation. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc (51%, 26% and 23% respectively), full-bodied with gently gripping tannins and notes of lead pencils and earthy herbaceousness and on the super-long finish a note of licorice. Give this one time to round out and it will develop a most welcome overlay of smoked meat. Best from 2013-2025. Score 94. (Tasted 11 Jan 2010)
Margalit, Enigma, 2007: Re-tasted this afternoon in my own tasting room after my visit to the winery. Developing very nicely. Full-bodied, with gently mouth-coating tannins and tantalizing hints of sweet cedar wood. On first attack black cherries, wild berries and black currants, those on a background of roasted herbs and a notes of both garrigue and fresh forest floor. Drinking very nicely now but best 2011-2017. Score 92. (Re-tasted but not blind 11 Jan 2010)
Margalit, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008: Blended with 10% Merlot, deep ruby towards garnet, full-bodied, showing its muscles but those in a gentlemanly manner, that is to say, powerful but full of grace. On the nose and palate black and red currants, blackberries and cigar-box notes, those complemented nicely by notes of white pepper and freshly picked herbs. On the long finish a tantalizing hint of porcini mushrooms. Drink now only if you must. Best from 2012-2018, perhaps longer. Score 93. (Tasted 11 Jan 2010)
Margalit, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, 2008: Cabernet Sauvignon, as always blended with Margalit's "special" and remarkably concentrated Petite Syrah, this year 88% and 12% respectively. Intensely dark garnet, throwing purple, orange and green reflections, full-bodied and with spicy wood and still firm tannins just starting on the road to integration but showing fine balance and structure. On first attack traditional blackcurrant and blackberry fruits on a spicy background, the wine opening in the glass to reveal black cherries and then raspberries and espresso coffee. Nor is this the end for on the long, long finish tempting hints of black olives and saddle leather. Approachable by 2011 but best only from 2013-2025. Perhaps the best to date from Margalit and certainly one of the best wines ever produced in Israel. Score 95. (Tasted 11 Jan 2010)
Margalit, Cabernet Franc, 2008: Oak aged as are nearly all of the Margalit wines for 12 months, at this stage showing dark but bright ruby in color. Full-bodied, richly aromatic, rich and velvety, packed with plum, blueberry, cherry and exotic spices all on a softly tannic background and showing a tantalizing hint of garrigue. Blended with 7% Caberent Sauvignon a seductive wine that will be approachable early but will cellar very nicely. Best from 2011-2018. Score 94. (Tasted 11 Jan 2010)