I found myself discussing this topic with a wine store owner tasting wine next to me, and together we discussed the excellence of the wines, and under what circumstances we would buy them after finding neither of us typically spent more than $15 or $20 for a casual every day dinner wine.
“So when would you buy it?” I asked. “For a holiday dinner?” The wine storeowner nodded. “Yes, and also to give to collector friends who love good wine. Even if they have a lot of expensive Northern Rhone Syrah in their cellar, I know they would enjoy this Israeli wine for half the price.”
And it’s true. I thought the Merlot and Syrah wines from Israel, virtually across the board, were fantastic, especially the higher-end wines in their thirties and forties. Binyamina winery had a wine I really fell in love with called Chosen Ruby, which is 97% Syrah, 3% Viognier. I liked the 2005 more than the 2006. This wine retails between $55 and $60. According to the representatives, “Chosen” is the name of the stone or jewel worn by a high priest (hence Chosen Onyx, Chosen Ruby). Very cool.
At Dalton (located in the Upper Galilee) I met Export Manager Alex Haruni. Marshall, a man I met at yesterday’s Washington State tasting, recommended the whites, a viognier reserve with wild yeast and a fume blanc. Nice and well balanced, yet after tasting so many brilliant reds I went straight for the Dalton Alma 2006 Bordeaux blend, 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 19% Cab Franc ($21.00). Very well balanced and rich with a medium plus, satisfying finish.
I was pretty dazzled by Hevron Heights and Noah Winery in the Judean Hills. I spent a lot of time talking to Michel Murciano, who wore a beret (!) — a significant number of other men wore yarmulkes — and really responded to his Judean Heights 2005 Merlot. To be fair, this is one of the first Merlots I had at the tasting and really was impressed by the rich silky smoothness of the wine, the fruit, the vanilla and blueberry finish.