Last evening, the Israel Wine Lovers Club hosted an evening of white wines. The wines were made from three types of grapes: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.
It’s been said that if Chardonnay didn’t exist it would have to be invented. No other grape, red or white, ever achieved international recognition as effectively as this grape. It possess chameleon like adaptability to almost any climate and terroir. Compared to the rest of its sisters, this grape is a cinch to grow and thrives at both climate extremes of the viticultural spectrum (and in-between!), but unlike so many other grapes it is also very easy to work with at the winery. It’s harvested in almost every wine producing country. If unoaked its taste will remind you of a tart apple, lemon and even pears. When lightly oaked, it brings out the tastes of melting butter, baked apple, nutmeg, oatmeal. When heavily oaked one can taste vanilla, lemon curd, chocolate or woodsmoke.
After Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc is the world’s most popular white grape. Unlike Chardonnay, which barely has any aroma, Sauvignon Blanc has a very distinctive strong aroma. It’s wine is paler and somewhat light but acidic. One can detect almost any fruit in this wine’s flavors, from sour greens to melon, passion fruit or mango. It often has a very definite black currant hint. It also can bring to the fore vegetable flavors like green peas, asparagus and – occasionally – sweet red peppers. Other times it brings out far more earthy flavors. At times it even shows a faint smokiness.
Viognier is a relatively new grape in the international market, the average consumer may never have heard of it before the early 1990s. It’s often been blended with Chardonnay, but more and more are we starting to see it stand out on its own. It is a great alternative to Chardonnay, with a nice pleasant aroma. Its most obvious flavor is apricot in all its range, you may also detect faint notes of cinnamon, cardamon and ginger. At times it may resemble a honey-lemon lozenger.
Raffi Sutton who used to write for Globes (Israel’s equivalent of our Wall Street Journal) on Israeli wines and later was the editor of an Israeli food and wine magazine, before becoming an investment banker in the US, did the wine presentations. He was ably aided by Avi Ashman – the Club’s President and founder – and Eran Elhalal, a graduate of the presitigious Culinary Institute of America, chef and consultant whose recipes and wine pairings have already graced our pages.
The tasting started with a 2009 Dalton Unoaked Chardonnay. This wine was fermented without any barrel influence and aged over the deposits of dead yeast that forms after fermentation. This Unoaked Chardonnay is fruity wine with well-balanced acidity, bursting with citrus and tropical fruit flavours. This particular aging process is known as “sur lie,” greatly enhances the complexity and flavor of the wine.
We continued with a 2007 Binyamina Unoaked Chardonnay. Light golden straw in color, a simple wine showing some citrus and tropical fruits but lacks the crisp minerality one hopes for in an unoaked Chardonnay. Unfortunately I found it past its prime.
The third wine of the evening was the 2007 Domaine du Castel C (Chardonnay) Blanc du Castel. Full-bodied, elegant Burgundy style white, showing citrus, pineapple, green apple, toasted bread and fig aromas. While quite promising this wine was certainly “before its time.” It hasn’t fully matured and the chardonnay flavors were still battling with the alcohol which hadn’t fully blended in. Yet, this white wine was robust enough to be consumed with almost any red meat, thus destroying the myth that white wines should only be paired with fish or delicate white meats.
Next came the 2006 Tishbi Special Reserve Chardonnay. Very fruity, lighter, citrus. it’s a full bodied dry white wine is made grapes grown in the Gush Etzyon vineyards and harvested by hand. This chardonnay carries the exotic aromas of apricot, melon and peaches. Though considerably cheaper than its predecessor I liked it far better!
That fourth selection was followed by 2007 Yarden Odem Chardonnay. Made entirely from Chardonnay grapes grown on the Golan Heights Odem organic vineyads. Barrel fermentation and sur lie for seven months, produced a complex wine balancing fruit and floral notes with hints of butter and vanilla. Chef Eran suggested an unusual pairing for it… Café Brulé!
The sixth selection was the 2008 Recanati Sauvignon Blanc. With Fresh hay and bell pepper notes, typical of fine Sauvignon Blanc, develop and linger in the bouquet. It had an initial bite almost like a sparkling wine. Outstanding when paired with fish, sushi, risotto and grilled vegetables.
Next came a 2009 Tabor Chalk Sauvignon Blanc. Citrusy, pleasant and light, with a bitter aftertaste. It wotld make a great selection for a hot summer day.
The eighth selection was the 2007 Galil Mountain Viognier. It displayed a clear lemon yellow color. The wine is extremely aromatic with flavors of ripe apricot and nectarine set against hint of oak and honey. Well balanced with delicate acidity, medium body and a long, velvety finish.
The last wine was the 2008 Dalton Reserve Viognier. It starts with a certain smokiness, showing intense, vibrant and complex with spice, floral, fig and melon aromas and flavors. Deep and rich with a long, broad finish. Chef Eran suggested pairing it with desserts that are not too sweet. This wine is by far much better than its price range would suggest!
The participants, enjoyed an evening of Chef Eran’s selections of sharp kosher cheeses by Danablue, Gilboa, Shahat, marmalades and grapes. The conversation was great, well worth many a repeat visit.