As I've been saying after the past several tastings, second-tier Israeli wines have taken a big step backwards, coming out of several spotty vintages. The great winemakers at the top-tier wineries continue to make fabulous wines and a couple formerly amateur wineries have moved firmly into the top tier, with a solid lineup (e.g., Psagot), but the vast majority of the smaller wineries' wines have been weak, with either unripe, thin green, or over-ripe, stewed sweetness. This showed even more so at the Jewish Week/City Winery tasting, which allows the smaller distributors (i.e., not Royal) to showcase some of the smaller wineries.
When I arrived, I made a bee-line to the Red Gardens, which had by far the biggest lineup of new wines, which I had been looking forward to tasting. Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed. Perhaps the Red Garden truck hid a pothole on the way over, or maybe the wines were just having a bad day--wine can be moody like that--but the wines were not exciting. The Tel Arzas are nice varietals, although not terribly exciting; the Mediterranean Blend is strange,with nothing Mediterranean about it. The Tanyas were really weak, which is particularly disappointing, as I've been a big fan of Tanya in the past. The Auteur I never liked--WAY over the top. The Turas were way too sweet--especially the Cabernet Sauvignon--although the Mountain Peak blend was nice (B++). Lueria were also rather not as exciting as I had hoped, although the Rosso is a nice Sangiovese based blend (B+); the Yinon is a simple, rather sweet table wine, while the Grand Vital was over oaked. The Adirs were all thin and unbalanced and not to sound like a broken record, too sweet. The Livni wines were perhaps the biggest disappointment, as I had heard so much about them--particularly the Sde Kalev Cabernet Sauvignon. Unfortunately, I just couldn't get excited about them. They seemed quite green (not in a good way), with mouth-drying tannins. They also had a couple of French wines that were OK but nothing to get excited over. I feel bad panning Red Garden's wines, as I have to give them credit for putting it all out there and pouring so many new wines.
Happy Hearts had a big table, but barely anything new. The '07 Hevron Heights Reserve (A-) was a nice treat-nice--firm tannins, candied fruit but not too sweet, long finish with tons of chocolate. I was delighted to see that Happy Hearts picked up Ventura and is importing all of their wines--not just the Cab and Merlot that Victor had. The '10 Cab Franc was delightful (B++), although not as good as the '09, as was the Reubens (B++)--a classic Israeli take on a Bordeaux (think Castel Grand Vin).
I stopped by the Royal table to see if there was anything I had missed from KFWE. I couldn't resist the Drappier Carte D'or, but unfortunately, it wasn't chilled enough. I tried the '10 Red C, which I had missed, and it was nice (B+) but still not as great as some of the early vintages; in addition to the spices you expect from this wine, I was surprised by strong lemon, turning to lemongrass on the finish--unusual notes in a red wine. The Weinstock Zin was a nice round easy-drinking crowd pleaser (B).
Moving on to Allied, they were pouring very few wines, with almost nothing new. A few tried and true Daltons, with the '09 Reserve Shiraz showing especially well. The '11 Gvaot Gofna Pinot Noir was utterly closed--no matter how much I swirled, I couldn't get a damn thing out of it. It'll be interesting to see how it opens up, but I don't see this having the potential of the incredible '10. The '11 Teperberg Terra Sauvignon Blanc (B) was bright and refreshing. They were also pouring the Vignobles David Reserve I love, but I didn't taste as it's a wine I drink regularly at home.
The Israel Direct table had some wines I really wanted to taste (Ramot Naftoli and Agur) but the gentleman pouring wasn't wearing a yarmulke, so I wasn't sure if he's shomer shabbos. (Generally, the kashrus is a problem at this tasting, as there's no hashgocho and you need to rely on the distributors to have shomer shabos pourers, make sure no one touches open bottles, etc. Red Gardens did a good job of this, with closed bottles in front of all the open bottles (like at KFWE), so if someone wants to read a bottle they can pick up the closed bottle. They also make sure to take the glass from your hand before pouring. Unfortunately, some of the other distributors were rather lax about that.
Unfortunately, I got to The River table rather late in the event, and they brought FAR TOO LITTLE wine! The Shirah wines were all gone by the time I got there. Someone told me the Kadesh Barnea Petite Verdot is good, but I didn't like it at all. I have never tried a Kadesh Barnea that I didn't find undrinkably sweet.
Now to get to the interesting stuff: the City Winery wines were far and away the most exciting at the event. The Ein Sof Pinot Noir was the 1 disappointment, as it was too thin and watery for my liking--even for a pinot. The '09 Bettonelli Vinyards Nappa Cab (A- to A) was showing spectacularly, with beautiful acid elegantly balancing out a full, fruity body. The '10 (A- to A) is much less restrained, with even more acidity and big, bold fruit. Unfortunately, it will be more expensive than the '09 when it is released. The '09 Obisidian Ridge cab (B++) was also really nice but hasn't developed quite as nicely as the Bettonelli. The '10 Alder Springs Syrah (B+ to A-) was also quite nice, with lots of blue fruit and nice oaky vanilla. The '10 Alder Springs Cabernet Franc (A-) is beautiful, varietally true with nice green notes and lots of acid making it very food friendly. The '09? Reisling Shmeisling(B++) was really delicious, with all the acid and character of a dry riesling, plus the sweetness of a sweet riesling (it was made by full dry fermentation and adding sweet juice pressed for ice wine). I had a few very interesting barrel samples, including a delicious Malbec that was pure roadkill and a very interesting, different '11 cab from Fore Vineyard that was deliciously green, with high salinity. To me it screamed seaweed!