Had occasion to open a few from Israel over the last week or so, which included one nice surprise and one huge surprise so I figured I'd share!
Margalit 2001 Merlot
The aromatics here are enticing from the get-go, encompassing olive tapenade, savory mushrooms, and sweet fruit, and initially it offers a similar smorgasbord on the palate. As it sits, though, the fruit sweetens and turns more syrupy and delivers a milk chocolate/espresso flavor that turns the wine more anonymous and internationally styled. Still firmly structured with a bite of abrupt tannin, I would keep holding this in hopes its initial exoticism prevails.
Margalit 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve
I think this is best viewed not as a special selection of Margalit's cabernet but as a completely different wine. It's difficult to overstate the difference in character between this and the standard cabernet, which in '05 tastes very much like a claret both in terms of its flavor and its balance and poise. This, in contrast, is so intensely fruited with a pruney sur-maturite that it's almost too much for me, and at first I didn't like it. In fact, if it were a Bordeaux I would have hated it. Then I remembered the 16% old-vine petite sirah, and tried to meet it on its own terms without the prejudice of what a Bordeaux or Bordeaux blend ought to taste like. Seen that way, its scale seems less over-the-top, and it does have the structure and length proportionate to its weight and sense of dimension. Still, the primary fruit sweetness is ratcheted up pretty high, so unless this mellows out with cellar time it'll be a wine for the heartiest of hearty foods.
Tulip 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Grande Reserve
I don't know anything about this winery and picked up a single bottle at a shop in Jerusalem last year on the retailer's recommendation. Now I wish I'd gotten more because this is really astoundingly good. If tasted blind, it would be hard to believe this isn't Bordeaux with its profile of pale, restrained red fruit and lead pencils, finishing with iron and metal shavings and freshened with a nice acidity. The back label says this spent a whopping 30 months in oak, but it's already completely integrated. This actually shows more energy, more complexity, and more sophistication than the 2003 Castel right now, which is more advanced. A winery I plan to follow for sure.
Domaine de Latroun 2006 Pinot Noir
This is one of the wines made by the Trappist monks at the beautiful Latroun Monastary. As nice as a surprise as the Tulip was, this is an even bigger shock to the system given my zero expectations. First, this wine was cheap. Maybe $10-$15 if I remember right. That's not a price point that lends itself to interesting pinot noir even in the most favored locations. Second, the folks at all the other wineries I visited in Israel gave a dismissive little chuckle when I mentioned we'd picked up some wine here. But I thought it would be an interesting novelty and wanted to try some in the name of science. Besides, if there's one thing Burgundy teaches us, it's that monks know their wine. In fact, not only is this wine amazingly good, but it's an amazingly pure rendition of pinot noir in the mold of a producer like Truchot. The color is so light and rosy you could read a newspaper through it and the alcohol is listed at only 12%. The wine is correspondingly light-bodied, but it makes a serious impact with its sappiness and aromatic funk. With time in the glass the fruit develops a more candied flavor almost like a watermelon Jolly Rancher, but does so without the syrupy fat and wincing alcohol that usually accompany this quality in the California pinots where it surfaces so promiscuously. Instead, the fruit stays restrained and gracefully lightweight, and the slight candied sweetness merely acts as a nice complement in tone to the deeper, savory sap. Unquestionably not a wine for Parkerized palates, but a real gem for those who love pinot noir and don't consider the term lightweight a pejorative.