When you’re a wine writer, like me, and you attend several wine festivals (and dozens of wine events in general) each year, it’s easy to become a bit jaded or cynical about wine festivals. When you taste and even drink as much wine as I do for free (never really for free since the expectation of an article comes with each tasting) sometimes one needs to step back and see the value of attending a festival from the consumer’s stand point and not as a journeyed connoisseur .

At NIS 99, the Tel Aviv Wine Festival at the Eretz Israel Museum (in Ramat Aviv) might seem expensive in contrast to some other wine festivals In Israel yet an evening out (7PM to 11PM) with unlimited tasting opportunities of over 100 wines (which equates for most as all you can drink) and entertaining bands is quite a deal especially when the wine is special wine and by special I mean especially good wine.

There were many styles and varietals to choose from including those from new boutique wineries on the festival scene (Har Adar and Kfir) and veterans Tanya and Har Bracha as well as powerhouse commercial wineries Barkan, Teperberg and Dalton. So you could taste from a winery for the very first time or taste the newest vintage releases from a winery you were familiar with.

There were whites, rosés and reds made from a diversity of grape varietals harvested from all over Israel ranging from the Galilee and Golan Heights in the north to the Negev in the south.

Here are my Wine Geek’s Ten Most Interesting Wines from my first night at the festival.  By interesting, I don’t mean the best per se but the ones that give the widest perspective of what’s being made in Israel from the best of mainstream wines to types of wines rarely seen that might become trend setters.

2012 Amphorae Blanc de Noir (nk) NIS 69  89 points                            A semi-dry “white” exhibiting salmon hues from lightly pressed Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc red grapes that were immediately separated from their skins (unlike a traditional rosé that might sit with the skins for hours) from their Sha’al vineyard in the Golan Heights. Strawberry, raspberry,lime and kiwi notes make this better than the average Israeli semi-dry offering and is a nice step up for those who like slightly sweeter wines who might want a similar wine yet more refined or maybe as a fun wine for more experienced wine consumers.

2010 Barkan Assemblage Tzafit  (k) NIS 90   88 points                        a blend of Marselan, Caladoc, Pinotage & Carignan) an unusual blend of three rare grapes in Israel and one ubiquitous workhorse (Carignan). My least favorite of the three wines in this series but it’s a curiosity for me to follow to see how the wine ages and how it changes from vintage to vintage. Recanati has a 2012 single varietal Marselan that has yet to be released and I would like to taste them side by side to better appreciate Marselan’s role in Tzafit.

2008 Avidan Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (nk) NIS 120  93 points for a wine that spent 24 months in French oak, it’s not an oak monster in fact its for me one of Israel’s top ten Cabernet Sauvignons.  Opulent black and red fruit flavors of cassis and plums with notes of chocolate and spice. Does the wine’s smoothness come from the inclusion of15% Merlot or master craftsmanship, probably a combination of both as anyone familiar with the wines of the dearly departed winemaker Tsina Avidan could attest. We anxiously await her husband Shlomo’s efforts hoping the Avidan tradition of delivering great wines continue.

2007 Shoshana Cabernet Sauvignon (nk) NIS 135  93 points           rich deep black fruit marries well with integrated tannins with one of Israel’s best food friendly Cabernet Sauvignons. 100% Cab oaked 30 months.  I’m not sure why but I rarely have any bad wine by any of Israel’s women winemakers. Maybe they just try harder or they have a better sense of nuance but this wine with its silky texture and vibrant acidity is a great example why many small wineries feature a Cabernet Sauvignon as their flagship wine. 30 months oak aging added complexity and a great mouth feel but another example how long term oak aging can still deliver a balanced wine.

2012 Teperberg 1870 Rosé (k) NIS 45 88 points                                     a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon rosé from one of Israel’s largest wineries. Dry as is becoming the trend (in contrast to many less memorable semi-dry rosés of yesteryear) fruity with notes of sour cherry and cranberry. A very pleasant food friendly wine that will match well with many Mediterranean dishes. One of the few rosés at the festival but a great example of why quality rosés are becoming more popular with consumers in Israel.

2007 Kfir “Leo” Barbera (nk) NIS 100 90 points                                   It’s too bad Barbera isn’t more popular with Israeli consumers since there are some great examples by Galil Mountain and Ramat Naftali in the marketplace and this another example of how when small boutiques go off the beaten path of Cab, Merlot or Shiraz they can deliver something a bit  more interesting for those who like to drink a diverse selection of varietals. GIven structure with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon the natural acidity of Barbera was well served by only 12 months in oak offering up sour cherry, chocolate and tobacco.

2010 Har Adar “CSM “ (k) NIS 105  89 points                                             Even thought I like their 2010 Cab better (91 points) I think this wine ( a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot is an interesting example of what I call an Australian blend since its a common blend Down Under and even in Israel from winemakers who studied there or just have those grapes available to them. Fruity round cassis, raspberry and plums with hints of cocoa from 14 months of oak aging.

2010 Shiloh Legend (k) NIS 95  93 points                                             The Shiloh winery is one of Israel’s most innovate boutique wineries delivering consistently very good if not great wines every vintage. This Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Sangiovese blend was oaked for 16 months of oak and has layers of sour cherry, cranberry, blackberry and cigar box. A great wine more affordable than others of the same caliber.

2009 Tanya Merlot (k) NIS 110   92  points                                              Too often I hear people say “I don’t like Merlot” and I think it’s because they’ve tasted too many entry level Merlots that are tailored made to be accessible and are tepid bulk wines yet when made from low yield vineyards and crafted by a winemaker who wants to see Merlot get its due, for many connoisseurs a good Merlot can rival any other variety. This is a good example with its red plums, cherry, spice and cedar notes.

2010 Dalton Alma Shiraz Mourvedre Viognier (k) NIS 85  91 points     a great example of wineries trying southern Rhone blends to suit Israel’s general climate. Smooth and silky in the mouth with raspberry and cherry, a very nice wine for those who like fruit forward wines but still want a wine that’s food friendly.

WIne Scoring Key

97-100 points  A+  Best of the Best, Best or One of the Best in Recent Memory     (0.5% of wines)

93-96 points   A   Extraordinary, Recommended as Great Example of What Israel does Right.   A Wine Worth Remembering & Drinking Again and Again  (1% or less of wines)

89-92 points   A-   Very Good, Highly Recommended As interesting and Expressive  (2% or less)

85-88 points    B+  Good, Recommended as a wine that shows some merit   (5% or less)

81-84    B    Fair, But Not Recommended to Elevate a Meal or an Evening  (Most wine)

80 or less   Not Recommended or Worth Commenting About

David Rhodes can be reached at Israeliwineguy@gmail.com or

052-702-WINE (9463) with any questions or comments.