It’s in Israel‘s north, along the borders with Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, where you realize that you’re definitely notin Kansas anymore, Toto, viticulturally-speaking. Actually, let’s correct that – it’s not just viticulturally-speaking, it’s just-about-everything-speaking.
Certainly the rocky hills in the Golan Heights and Galilee speak to Israel’s unique location as a transition zone between the Sahara and Europe, with the requisite variations in soils (from volcanic, to terra rossa, to chalk, to te dessert-like Les), climate, and elevation; you know, the standard grape-growing stuff.
But while that sort of geological and climatic scene is mirrored in many wine regions across the globe, there aren’t many that are surrounded by imposing barbed wire fencing, dotted with even more imposing signs warning of land mines, and sporting the occasional airfield patrolled by very imposing drones.
Welcome to wine-growing, northern Israeli-style. It wouldn’t be for the faint-hearted even without the explosives.
As a wrap-up finale on Israeli wine, here are highlights from my not-so-recent media tour there, which culminated in trips to some of the most promising producers in the Golan Heights and Lower Galilee…
Well, for those in the know when it comes to Bordeaux, this Pauillac producer was dependable for decades… in that one could usually depend on it to under-perform.
Established back in 1810 by the wine broker who gave it its name (Pierre Urbain Pédesclaux), Pédesclaux rose to prominence rather quickly by Bordeaux standards, being classified as Fifth Growth in 1855. The 20th Century saw successions of ownership and neglect; at one point in the 1950s, the estate was tagged for demolition.
In 2009, Pédesclaux was picked up by Françoise and Jacky Lorenzetti (owners of Chateau Lilian Ladouys), who, according to current manager Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen (with whom, through the miracles of modern technology, I had a nice remote online chat) set about to “legitimize” the estate. This started with the vineyards, which were replanted, reworked, expanded, and eventually given a treatment so detailed that they are now classified into nineteen different terroirs (ranging from gravel to limestone to clay), vinified into 116 different tank fermentations, and aged in barrels from nine different coopers, all to make about 270,000 bottles of just two wine labels.
The aim now is to surprise with a bit of over-performance, even at the $50/bottle price tag. Bache-Gabrielsen put it this way: “The idea is to have freshness, tannins that are just mature, and to make you salivate and want another glass.” Pédesclaux now puts a borderline-obsessive amount of effort into their Grand Vin’s texture. “We want precision in our tannins,” Bache-Gabrielsen explained. He describes their harvest as “al dente” (now my new favorite term for picking ripeness).
Lirachas a bit of a troubled middle child syndrome on its hands. Being a middle child myself, I can relate.
Look at it this way: if I asked you to tell me about some killer Southern Rhône reds (which is 85% of Lirac’s output), you’re probably going to start waxing poetic about Châteauneuf-du-Pape. You might even mention Vacqueyras or Gigondas, which are offering up CdP levels of quality at about 30-40% lower prices. But Lirac? Not happening unless you’re seriously geeky.
The interesting thing is, the main difference between Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Lirac reds is… uhm… well, after touring the place on a 2018 media jaunt, I’m still trying to figure that one out.
Lirac is a small appellation of five villages that sits just on the other side of the Rhône river from its more famous older brother CdP. Like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Lirac gets a metric crap-ton of sunlight (2700 hours annually), employs nearly 15 grape varieties, uses low training for old vines (average age – about 45 years) due to the windy conditions, and sees Summer vineyard temperatures that can get into the 50s Centigrade (“every year we lose one percent of the vine” due to the dryness and heat, noted Domaine Maby‘s Richard Maby).
The similarities are sibling-level; hell, they’re more like fraternal twins level. Saying that Lirac and Châteauneuf-du-Pape have “similar” soils is like saying that all humans have “similar” DNA. As Château de Montfaucon proprietor Rudolphe de Pins put it, “we have exactly the same soil you can find in Châteauneuf.” That would be galets, stones that are probably larger than your head.
Hell, much of the Lirac wines are even vinified in neighboring CdP (or Tavel). The fact that Lirac is the birthplace of the Côte du Rhône historical designation probably only adds to its sense of being in CdP’s shadow. If there is Lirac typicity, one could probably encapsulate it as “balance.” There’s power to the wines, but also a freshness that even CdP can lack. “We have a natural freshness in our wines,” de Pins told me. Another Lirac promoter, Jean-Baptiste Lafond of Domaine Lafond, summed it up this way: “the main difference, vintage by vintage, is acidity.” And as you know, we like acidity here at 1WD. On that note, here are my vinous thoughts on Lirac’s specialness…
I recently had the honor of judging at the 2019 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge (now in its 37th year!), the results of which have been published, allowing me to share some of my thoughts on a few surprises that my panel had the good fortune of tasting during the competition. When I wasn’t feeding errant seagulls who begged at my hotel room window, that is. It’s a long story.
Anyway, seasoned 1WD readers will recall that I’ve been infecting the Stay-Classy-San-Diego-based Critics Challenge competition for the last few years, but this was my first time joining much of the same well-heeled, finely-tuned crew for the SD Challenge. I’m happy to report that the SD incarnation is every bit as fun and professionally-executed as CC, and I’m already crossing my fingers that I’ll be back next year. [ By the way, if you’re curious about how the details on these competitions go down, listen to head honcho Robert Whitley dish on it over at the Wine Biz 360 podcast. ]
One of the most interesting – and fun… and humbling – things about judging wines blind is that occasionally some items surprise you, busting up your preconceived notions and turning you on to things you might otherwise overlook. The 2019 SD Challenge proved particularly generous in that regard. Here are a handful of vinous items that impressed my panel (Platinum medal winners all), the majority of which are over-achieving budget lovelies, tailor-made for Spring sipping by the San Diego seaside in a manner that would make Ron Burgundy himself beam with pride. Okay, before we start, let’s go over the ground-rules… No touching of the hair or face… And that’s it. Now FIGHT!…
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