Israeli wines are big in Asia


Yamazaki Sherry cask 2016According to a recent report by the Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute, Israeli wine and spirits exports in 2015 grew by 6 percent, to about $39 million.

Globes, Israel’s financial newspaper, reported that “most of the increase in Israel’s exports of wine and other alcoholic beverages were to Asia”, which rose by 16 percent (amounting to about $2.6 million). By contrast, Israeli booze exports to North America grew by only 8 percent (about $25 million).

“Israeli wines have gained global recognition in recent years from many international parties,” IEI’s Yaara Shimony told Tazpit Press Service (TPS), noting a “boom in exports to Asia, where the kosher market is negligible, shows the global progress of the Israel wine brand.”

I heard the same thing only yesterday in an email from Victor Schoenfeld, head winemaker of the Golan Heights Winery: “You might be interested to know that Japan is our second-largest export market (I will be going there again this year, which will be my seventh visit to Japan).”

The recent annual Sommelier wine exhibition in Tel Aviv reportedly attracted representatives from the wine and spirits industries of several Asian countries, including Japan.

Exactly how much growth Israeli wines can expect in Asia is anybody’s guess, but I ponder the prospects while sipping the delicious Yarden Malbec 2012 ($30), a recent addition to Yarden’s lineup. This full-bodied, supple wine has light tannins but good concentration, with fresh, ripe, bright, sweet berry fruit notes, and subtle hints of tobacco and tea. Drinking well now, but should keep and improve with age over the near term.

Keeping with this Asian theme, I had the good fortune to sample the expensive and limited release Suntory Whisky Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 (suggested retail price is $300; 5,000 bottles available globally), which hit the U.S. market in early February.

This is the follow-up to their Cask 2013, the whisky named “World Whisky of the Year” by Jim Murray in his annual “Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible” after it had already sold out everywhere.

Japanese whisky has been making use of sherry casks (oak barrels that previously contained sherry wine from Spain) for many decades. Apparently Shinjiro Torii, the guy credited with starting the Japanese whisky industry, had previously been using imported Spanish sherry casks to blend a sweet wine, and so repurposed the casks once he ventured into distilled spirits.

These days, as with most of those Scotch whisky distilleries that also use sherry casks for primary maturation, the barrels are now specially ordered. Shinji Fukuyo, Suntory’s chief blender, regularly visits Spain to select the Spanish oak that will be made into casks for producing Oloroso Sherry, specifically to season the wood for later use in maturing his whiskies. After three years of seasoning through sherry production, the casks are shipped to Japan’s Yamazaki distillery.

The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 is a vatting or mixture of more than 100 Yamazaki malt whiskies, some of which had been aged more than 25 years. For those with money to burn, I recommend it.

Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Single Malt Japanese Whisky (48 percent abv; $300): the first impression of this dark, syrupy whisky is of raisin and dark fruit leather notes, which develop further as it opens, bringing into caramel, vanilla and sweet, aged rum flavors into the mix, evolving to a more sweet and sour profile, with cocoa seeds, cardamom, a touch of iodine, and a long, bittersweet, complex finish. This is sweet and fruity, in a brooding, mercurial sort of way. Wonderful and multifaceted, but oh-so-expensive and in such short supply. L’chaim!

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