It’s been that long since I had my feet on the ground among the vines in Israeli wine country, and until now I’d yet to write a word about the experience, apart from a few social media updates and the odd mini-review.
The mistake I’d made over that period of waiting? Thinking that there would be an appropriate time during which the political maelstrom that is Middle East politics would present a low-key time for me to simply be able to focus on the region’s wines themselves, without the specter of centuries upon centuries of conflict rearing its ghostly head obtrusively behind. And it’s just difficult to do that when you have visited vines that grow among former Lebanese army bunkers, or are surrounded by land mine warning signs, or that have turned up with the occasional IED among them. In that context, waiting for a quieter period of Israel in the national news before focusing on something as simple as vino doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
Buuuuuut… Fat chance. I may never see that time. And so I suppose this is the start of me trying to do a (very) small part of in taking matters into my own hands with giving Israel a bit of media focus that isn’t packed to the gills with cringe-worthy tales of damage to pride, property, and lives. Well, perhaps the writing will be cringe-worthy, but hopefully that’s the extent of it.
Fortunately, Israel’s winemaking history surpases its history of conflict, both in terms of longevity and in interest. There is evidence of winmaking and (particularly along the Mediterranean coast) wine export dating back at least five thousand years. About seven hundred years of Muslim Ottoman influence slowed things down, buy by the 1880s a wave of Zionist immigrants, focused on farming, renewed and rejuvenated the region’s wine industry. Investment from the Rothschilds in France helped to modernize the industry here, and another wave, starting in about 2008, focused the fine wine scene mostly on Mediterranean grape varieties, and saw the development of more modernized marketing approaches.
And despite all of that, as Recanati winemaker Gil Shatsberg told me, “Israeli wine is not really defined yet…”
“It only took me… eleven years!” remarked Ron Yates, owner of the family-run Spicewood Vineyards, which produces about three thousand cases from about forty acres in the about-as-unlikely-as-they-come-at-first-but-upon-further-review-kind-of-inevitable fine wine region of Texas Hill Country.
Yates was speaking about the fact that he and Texas-native winemaker Todd Crowell can now offer an all-estate tasting list. Getting there, apparently, wasn’t all that easy; or, at least, not straightforward. Yates was studying law and working in the record label business (High Wire Music, once home of Toad the Wet Sprocket front-man Glen Phillips, a personal 1WD fave), when he caught the fine wine bug. In unlikely-but-inevitable fashion, his cousins Ed and Susan Auler own Fall Creek Vineyards; but that’s not really what got him into wine. That would be… Spanish Tempranillo. Of course, right?
“That’s my favorite grape in the whole world,” Yates told me when I visited his tasting room in Spicewood, TX (as part of a media jaunt). While a student in his twenties at the University of Texas, Yates spent a semester in Spain, living with a host family whose son just happened to be grape grower in Ribera del Duero (see what I mean about kind-of-inevitable?). A love affair with that region’s signature red grape thus ensued. “A good bottle of Tempranillo was as cheap as a bottle of water back then” Yates recalled.
Years later, in 2007, thoroughly enthralled with things vinous, Yates began courting then Spiwood’s then owners Edward and Madeleine Manigold, eventually buying from them. The vineyards, sandy loam with a well-draining limestone bed, had potential; the vines, though, needed some work. They reduced the `92 plantings, removing “stuff that just shouldn’t be here [in Texas] with the heat.” Yates’ grandfather helped him with the lease and purchase; “he was so excited that his long-haired, hippy grandchild was leaving the music biz and getting into agriculture!” Turns out, it was a pretty good move after all…
No one could accuse the Southern Rhône cru Cairanne of rushing into things.
For much of its history, Cairanne seems to have been metaphysically hiding from the fine wine world behind its own rocky outcrops. While technically part of the Côtes du Rhône designation since 1953, it took Cairanne 87 years to reach cru AOC status, the aim that originally brought together several of its local growers to establish a regional Cave Coopérative back in 1929.
In the last three years, however, Cairanne’s best producers have been making up for lost time. In a first for France, their cru regulations specify sulfite maximums, along with banning the use of herbicides, and requiring hand-harvesting of the grapes grown from its garrigue-surrounded, clay-and-stone soils. “Now we are lucky,” noted Domaine Brusset‘s Laurent Brusset when I visited the area on a media tour, “it’s a nice picture for the next generation.”
You probably have yet to hear much about Cairanne, but if you’re a lover of Southern Rhône Grenache-based reds (which must encompass 50% of the blend), or even the occasional Clairette-based white sipper (a mere 3% of the area’s production), you owe to yourself to get more closely acquainted. Cairanne has a defining quality, but it’s something almost ethereally illusive.
“There is something common [about Carianne with respect to the S. Rhône]; different, but common” noted Domaine Roche‘s Romain Roche. Denis Alary of Domaine Alary describes it more succinctly: “Cairanne is elegance and finesse, always.” Generally speaking, I agree, as you’ll see below…
Smack up against the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range sits Gigondas, a former ancient Roman soldier retirement home area and Southern Rhône cru that, technically, contains more woodlands than vineyards. And that’s after a killer frost in the 1960s wiped out a good portion of olive tree plantings, ushering in a shift towards more vine plantings. All in all, Gigondas is about one third the size of its more famous, direct-competitor cousin, Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Terroir here is “like a layer cake,” noted Domaine Pierre Amadieu’s Henri-Claude Amadieu when I visited on a media tour last year. “A layer cake of limestone and clay, limestone and clay…” While Grenache is the name of the game here, there are a few main differences between Châteauneuf and Gigondas, excluding the fact that Gigondas’ slightly warmer climate has a tendency to make their reds even more powerful than CdP.
The entire Gigondas AOC has a North-Northwest orientation, and it’s plantings are almost exclusively at elevation – in some cases, upwards of 500m. It’s rugged, hillside farming on soils that range from marls, to sandstone, to Miocene sand, to Cretaceous limestone rich in fossilized marine life.
The short version when it comes to Gigondas: height matters (see what I did there?). The higher elevation makes for stout reds that might be compact, but pack a big, tall punch…
This site is licensed under Creative Commons. Content may be used for non-commercial use only; no modifications allowed; attribution required in the form of a statement "originally published by 1WineDude" with a link back to the original posting.