Yesterday (Wednesday, 13 Jan), I made my way quite early in the morning to the Beit Shemesh railroad station there to be met by Ze'ev Dunie of Sea Horse Winery. So early was it when my train arrived that the local cafes had not yet opened so we made our way immediately to the winery, there to start as all civilized people should, with coffee and conversation. From there on to barrel, advance and re-tastings and, after that I made my way to two other wineries – Katlav and Bar Giora - for tastings (those to be posted in separate threads).
My thanks to Ze'ev Dunie for his courtesies during my visit and to the pleasure of his company later that day when we dined at HaMidbach shel Rama (Rama's Kitchen) for a sophisticated country style meal in an unbeatable countrified setting. More about this extraordinary restaurant when I formalize my notes for a column in HaAretz.
Established by Ze'ev Dunie in 2000 on Moshav Bar Giora in the Jerusalem Mountans, this boutique winery has his own vineyards planted in Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah. The winery also draws on Cabernet Sauvignon and other red grapes from the Upper Galilee.
The winery’s initial production, from the 2001 vintage, was of 1,800 bottles and current annual production is about 20,000 bottles. Dunie has a passion for naming his wines after people he admires. Current 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 are also two blends, Gaudi and Romain.. James, the winery’s first white wine, a Chenin Blanc, was released from the 2007 vintage and is now a regular release.
Sea Horse, Chenin Blanc, James, 2009 (Barrel Tasting): My second barrel tasting of this wine. Dedicated to winemaker Ronnie James, destined to spend eight months sur lie in 2nd and 3rd year barriques. Showing fine balance between crisp acidity and fruits, a rich and stylish wine with peach, mango and apricot fruits, those supported nicely by notes of cloves and green tea and on the long finish notes of candied ginger. An enticing wine. Drink from release-2014, perhaps longer. Tentative Score 90-92. (Re-tasted 13 Jan 2010)
Sea Horse, Romain, 2008: Dedicated, as the winemaker enjoys doing to his intellectual heroes, in this case to author Romain Gary. A blend of 40% Grenache and 30% each Syrah and Mourvedre. Medium- to full-bodied (leaning to the full), dark cherry to brick red in color, reflecting its 14 months in 2nd and 3rd year barriques with gently gripping tannins and an overtone of spicy cedar wood. On first attack red berries and freshly cut Mediterranean herbs those parting to make way for backberries, black cherries, Oriental spices and a clear hint of mocha. Long, round and generous. Drink from release-2014. Score 91. (Re-tasted 13 Jan 2010)
Sea Horse, Camus, 2007: The now traditional blend of Syrah and Petite-Syrah, this year for the first time sub-labeled as"New Camus" because the grapes now come entirely from the winery's own vineyards. Intensely dark garnet in color, full-bodied and intense but offering soft tannins that give a round and gentle touch to the wine. Opens with clear notes of raspberries, those parting to make room for juicyplum, wildberry and floral notes. Gripping tannins and wood well in control here giving the wine fine balance and structure. Drink now-2014. Score 90. (Tasted 13 Jan 2010)
Sea Horse, Camus, 2008 (Barrel Tasting): A dark garnet blend of Syrah and Petite Syrah, distinctly tannic and concentrated but with fine balance and structure that bode well for the future. On first attack blackberries and bitter herbs, those yielding to wild berries and roasted coffee and then to a long finish on which you will find notes of ripe plums. Delicious and with the stuffing for cellaring. Best 2011-2018. Tentative Score 91-93. (Tasted 13 Jan 2010)
Sea Horse, Munch, 2008 (Barrel Tasting): 100% Petite Syrah made from 35 year old vines. Almost inky black in color, firm and intense, almost inky black in color, a wine with muscles but that seems to know how to behave like a gentleman. Rich and deeply concentrated, opens with wild berry, and chocolate notes, goes on to reveal minerals, anise and sage, all on a gently peppery background. Finishes with the tannins rising together with persistent notes of espresso coffee. Best 2011-2017. Tentative Score 90-92. (Tasted 13 Jan 2010)
And then on to two mini-verticals, those of Antoine and Elul.
Sea Horse, Antoine, 2008 (Barrel Tasting): A tentative blend at this tasting, that of 66% Syrah, the balance of equal parts of Mouredre and Grenache. Both the deepest, softest and most elegant Antoine to date, showing silky smooth tannins and hints of sweet cedar wood. On opening attack blackberries and eucalyptus, the wine opening in the glass to show blueberries and currants, those supported nicely by notes of dark chocolate and freshly tanned leather. Long and mouth-filling. Best from 2012-2018. Tentative Score 91-93 (Tasted 13 Jan 2010)
Sea Horse, Antoine, Tete de Cuvee 2007: Showing every bit as nicely as at barrel tastings. A medium- to full-bodied blend of 76% Syrah, 17% Grenache and 7% 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, it 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. Best from 2011–2015, perhaps longer. Score 90. (Re-tasted 13 Jan 2010)
Sea Horse, Antoine, Tete de Cuvee 2006: My recent tasting note holds firmly. 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, blueberry and currant fruits. A blend of 74% Syrah and 13% each of Grenache and Mourvedre, with an appealing herbal hint rising on the long and so-far muscular finish. Drink now–2015. Score 91. (Re-tasted 13 Jan 2010)
Sea Horse, Antoine, 2005: Made entirely from Syrah grapes, this full-bodied wine spent 16 months in used French barrels. Shows dark garnet in color, with once gripping tannins now integrated nicely and in fine balance with spicy oak. Not an aromatic wine but one rich in flavors, those including purpkle plums, blackberries, spices and red licorice. Long and fresh, with an appealing hint of bitterness on the finish. and generous. Drink now–2012. Score 91. (Re-tasted 13 Jan 2010)
Sea Horse, Antoine, 2004: Showing somewhat more full-bodied than in its youth, with once firm tannins now integrating nicely with wood and fruits. Developed in Burgundy style barrels, opens to show traditional Syrah aromas and favors of plums, blackberries and licorice on a background of near-sweet oak. On the finish now showing spiced meat and leather. Continuing to drink nicely but showing first signs of age and thus not for further cellaring. Drink up. Score 90. (Re-tasted 13 Jan 2010)
Sea Horse, Elul, 2008 (Barrel Tasting): Potentially the best yet from Sea Horse. A blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% each Syrah and Petite Syrah, showing a black fruit and floral nose, opening in the glass to show generous blackberries and cassis, those supported nicely by notes of dark chocolate and licorice and, on the long finish hints of green olives and Mediterranean herbs. Best 2012-2018. Tentative Score 92-94. (Tasted 13 Jan 2010)
Sea Horse, Elul, 2007: Deeply aromatic, dark garnet towards royal purple, with still firm tannins waiting to settle down but already showing fine balance and structure. The traditional Elul blend of Cabernet Sauvgnon, Syrah and Petite Syrah, showing a tempting array of blackcurrant and black and red berries, those on a generously spicy background and coming to a long, caressing finish. Best 2011-2016. Score 90. (Re-tasted 13 Jan 2010)
Sea Horse, Elul, 2006: Developed in French and American oak for 20 months, full-bodied, with generous firm tannins and cigar-box notes in fine balance with fruits. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Sirah (75%, 20% and 5%, respectively). On first attack blackberry and black currant fruits, those opening to reveal notes of Oriental spices, mocha and cigar tobacco. Look for a long, tantalizing near-sweet finish on which tannins, fruits and notes of roasted herbs rise nicely. Drink now-2014, perhaps longer. Score 91.(Re-tasted 13 Jan 2010)
Sea Horse, Elul, 2005: A blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Syrah and 9% Petite Sirah, developed for 20 months in French and American oak, and showing dark garnet towards still youthful royal purple, medium- to full-bodied with firm, near-sweet tannins integrated nicely and now gently mouth-coating. Opens with currant, kirsch and black cherry fruits, those yielding to hints of licorice, spices and berries, all leading to a long and complex finish. Drink now-2011. Score 91. (Re-tasted 13 Jan 2010)
Finally a surprise, a limited edition of 600 bottles, a cooperative effort by two wineries – Dunie's Sea Horse and Orna Chillag's Chillag winery.
Sea Horse-Chillag, 60-60, 2008 (Advance Tasting): When asked to suggest a name for this cooperative effort, Orna Chillag suggested "60-60", saying that "after all it was an effort half of one winery, half of the other". Chillag may not be very good on calculating percentages but between her efforts and those of Dunie a quite successful collaboration. Based on 50% Cabernet Sauvignon supplied by Chillag and 45% Mourvedre and 5% of Syrah from Dunie, a super dark garnet, full-bodied, generously tannic and spicy wood-rich wine with its elements waiting to come together. Already showing generous black fruits, purple plums and blueberries on a background of spiced green olives and notes of licorice. Long and mouth-filling with tannins rising on the finish. Best from 2011. Score 90. (Tasted 13 Jan 2010)