Israeli wines (finally) get their due


recanati_cabsavFor the first time, an Israeli wine has been included in the Wine Spectator magazine’s annual list of this year’s “Top 100 Wines.” It is quite an honor since the magazine’s editors sample more than 18,000 wines from around the world before selecting their favorite 100 wines of the year based upon “quality, value, availability and excitement.” To the Spectator’s list of numerous seasoned, well-established wineries, and wines costing in some instances hundreds of dollars per bottle, can now be found the Recanati Galilee Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($17).

A few years ago the Recanati Galilee Shiraz 2010 ($15), was named a “best buy” by the Wine Enthusiast magazine (a competing U.S. wine magazine). So, all things considered, it is about time that an Israeli wine has finally made the Spectator’s Top 100 list.

As kosher wine consumers, our faithful readers and more discerning and open-minded wine geeks know by now, Israeli wines have been on a roll for a couple of decades now. Israeli wines have garnered critical global acclaim and increasing consumer acceptance, and all despite often poor marketing, dreaded “kosher shelf” placement in most fine wine shops, and typically less than competitive pricing. Yet talented and innovative winemakers, steady investments in modern technologies and a greater appreciation of the local growing conditions have all combined to help produce some stellar, world class wines. The Israeli wine industry is thriving with new wineries appearing seemingly every month (by last count there are something like 400 wine producers operating now).

The Wine Spectator’s specialist covering Israeli wines, Kim Marcus, described the 2012 Recanati Cab as: “A rich red, showing good power to the mineral infused dried blackberry, dark plum and currant flavors. Engaging dried herbal notes emerge on the focused finish.” He scored it 90 points (out of 100). To our tastes, Mr. Marcus did a decent job. We additionally got some red cherry and floral qualities.

Located in the Hefer Valley, the Recanati Winery was founded in 2000 by Lenny Recanati. It is Israel’s sixth largest. Recanati’s current winemaking team, Gil Shatzberg (formally from Amphorae and Carmel wineries) and Ido Lewinsohn, create wines from merlot, zinfandel, barbera, petite syrah, cabernet franc, carignan, viognier, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc under four labels: Yasmin, Recanati, Reserve and Special Reserve.

Sure, these “luxury” and “wine geek” publications are fairly niche, but this is in fact an honor, and a well-deserved one at that. We fully expect that future such lists will feature wines from the many other outstanding Israeli wineries, too.

Spirits-wise, we thought we’d revisit a classic distillery: “The Glenlivet.” “The” in the name is trademarked as many Scotch distilleries had for years appended “Glenlivet” to their names in an attempt to boost sales.

The Glenlivet bills itself as “the single malt that started it all,” because distillery founder George Smith was the first licensed distiller under the Excise Act of 1823. The law was the brainchild of the Duke of Gordon, and within a decade it succeeded in taming the Scottish Highlands by putting whisky smugglers and illicit stills out of business, while making legal distillation profitable.

George Smith, one of the duke’s tenants, was the first distiller to take the plunge and go legit (the family had been illegally producing spirit there since 1774). Smith’s whisky, though illicit, was highly regarded for its quality. Even King George IV requested it on a state visit to Scotland in August 1822. At the time, this caused a bit of a scandal, though a semi-staged one as Sir Walter Scott, the novelist (of Rob Roy, Ivanhoe, and Lady in the Lake fame), poet, and playwright, was working assiduously behind the scenes to make it happen in his ongoing promotion of all things Scottish. Some have even suggested that this visit led directly to the Excise Act the next year, thereby creating a legal and profitable path for whisky production.

At any rate, The Glenlivet distillery has been in almost constant production since its founding, and is remains currently the biggest-selling malt whisky in the United States, experiencing 6.6 percent growth last year (385,000 cases sold in the United States annually, according to Impact Databank). Selling around 11 million bottles a year, The Glenlivet is the number-two single malt brand in terms of global sales (they still trail Glenfiddich in overall sales). The Glenlivet is owned by Chivas Brothers which is owned by the French drinks company Pernod Ricard.

While their excellent and elegant 12-year-old expression is the flagship of the brand, its ubiquity in bars and restaurants has earned it little favor among Scotch snobs. Even those who eschew so “common” a dram, however, have mostly tended to recognize, even if begrudgingly, the quality of much of the rest of The Glenlivet lineup. Of course, no brand can get to be number one in the United States and number 2 globally without offering something actually worthwhile.

Here are three expressions to consider:

The Glenlivet 12-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $38): Justifiably one of the two best-selling single malts for decades, this offers one of the original, classic profiles of single-malt Scotch whisky and remains elegant, excellent, and lovely – Scotch snobs be damned. With full aromas and flavors of sweet vanilla, banana, pineapple, pear, cooked apple, orange blossom, a touch of anise, oatmeal cookie, baking spices, the slightly drying heat found mid-palate belies, somewhat, the sweet nose. The whisky wraps up with a long and warming finish of vanilla, cream, almonds and a bit of green apple and white pepper. Sophisticated, graceful and tasty – and a bargain, too.

The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Batch OL0614 (60.7 percent abv; $79): This rich, sweet, powerful whisky offers aromas of dried fruits, cherries, sultanas and apricots, vanilla, a slight hint of sulfur (though not in a bad way), and cinnamon heading towards caraway seed, with a little time it grows sweeter and cleaner, and a bit coconut driven. This develops onto the palate with flavors of licorice, black pepper, cinnamon, sweet orange and blood orange, dark chocolate, cream and a hint of mint, ending in drying finish of dark chocolate, orange marmalade, roasted coffee bean and cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper spice. A superb and most welcome new expression.

The Glenlivet 18-year-old Single-Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $100): A very fine example of truly great whisky from The Glenlivet. This pale copper-colored spirit offers aromas of flowers (peonies?), sultanas, fruitcake, honeycomb, barley, ripe plums and dark oranges, followed by flavors of panna cotta, honey, vanilla, prunes, a touch of fudge, a hint of smoke, subtle coconut and some chocolate nuts edge their way in, ending with a long, dry, spicy oak finish in which the various flavors dance gently on the taste buds. A lovely and absorbing dram. L’Chaim!

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here