Galil Mountain Winery, Upper Galilee Israel
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Galil Mountain Winery

Israel's Upper Galilee mountain range is situated in the country's extreme north, east of the Golan Heights and hard by the border with Lebanon to both the north and the east. In this area high altitude mitigates low latitude; the thousand meter plus vineyards see snow in winter, a welcome phenomenon for vines that need to go dormant to get their proper beauty rest. Like many wineries in this ancient cradle of wine, Galil Mountain Winery is new, founded only in 2000 as a joint venture between Golan Heights Winery and Kibbutz Yiron. Galil sources from five vineyards north of the Sea of Galilee, each of which is either a kibbutz or a moshav, agricultural settlement movements that date back to Israel's tenuous beginnings as a nation in the 1940s. In this varied landscape, the five vineyards represent an excellent cross section of terroir. Despite differing elevations, precipitation levels, and soils, all five vineyards enjoy day-to-night temperature swings of about 15 degrees Celsius, an excellent prescription for full flavor development and good acid retention.

Most of Galil's wines are red and based on international varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Barbera and Sangiovese, with a few whites based on Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier. I tasted through six Galil wines recently, all of them mainstream dry and none of them over $24 on the American market.

The 2007 Galil Mountain Viognier, retailing for $15-$17, was my first approach; characteristic of many Rhône Viogniers this wine weighs in at 15% alcohol, though this does not obtrude. The wine is 100% Viognier of which 60% is cold fermented in stainless steel with the remainder fermenting in new French oak barrels with six months lees contact. The wine is a clear, green-tinged gold. Apricot, almond and white flowers lead the nose, with added peach, pear, a mineral element and some sweet oak on the palate. The tangy acidity melds well with the wine's medium plus body. A nice mouthful, this Viognier finishes tasty and clean.

The 2006 Galil Mountain Barbera is 100% Barbera, 15% alcohol, retailing at $17-$19. I'm a fan of Barbera and glad to see it more widely produced outside Italy. The grapes are a product of volcanic soil; the wine ages nine months in French oak. The result is a deep ruby with aromas and flavors of cherry, sour cherry, raspberry, cedar, mushroom, nutmeg, clove and toasted walnut. Acidity in this full-bodied wine is well balanced. The finish is long and nicely split between kernel and oaky notes and the persevering fruit. It's ready to drink or amenable to keeping a few years, at your option.

The 2005 Gaili Mountain Shiraz Cabernet, $17-$19, is 53% Shiraz and 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, again at 15% alcohol. Though the winery does produce wines under the label of Syrah, they decided to use the “Shiraz” designation based on this wine's affinity with Australian styles. The wine is aged ten months in American oak. It's got great berry aromas—blueberry, cassis and black plum—with additional palate notes of chocolate, vanilla, black pepper, baking spice and well toasted oak. The fine-grained tannins are extremely well integrated into this wine, a delight to experience. The finish is long and fruity, well supported by those tannins. This is fun stuff indeed, and meant to drink now.

The 2005 Yiron Syrah, $22-$24, is 100% Syrah, 14.5% alcohol, aging 16 months in French oak. The wine is a clear deep purple. The nose is a superb combination of blackberry, plum, raspberry and pepper. The palate brings jammy fruit with added sour cherry, raspberry, more pepper and cocoa. Despite vigorous tannins, the wine has a soft, highly civilized mouthfeel. The finish is a long fugue of tannin and ripe extracted fruit. Syrah devotees will find unalloyed enjoyment in this wine.

The 2007 Galil Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, 100% Cabernet, is $15-$17, 14% alcohol, and entirely oak free. The wine ages six months in stainless steel. A deep ruby, the wine has a soft nose of strawberry and raspberry with the characteristic Cabernet cassis in the background. Despite the lack of oak influence I enjoyed a toasty walnut on the palate along with solid ripe fruit. I will classify this wine as fruit forward: plum jam, black raspberry, concentrated cassis. The tannins here don't really move the meter. The finish is fruit. This wine is ready to enjoy now—at an outdoor event with a group.

The 2005 Yiron is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot, 4% Syrah and 2% Petit Verdot. The $22-$24 wine is 14.5% alcohol, aged 16 months in French oak, 25% new. The wine is an inky, nearly opaque red. The nose is a well-balanced presentation of violet, licorice, black cherry, and plum. Blueberry and sour cherry lead a range of red and black fruit with cocoa, vanilla, a hint of tobacco and clove. Both tannin and acidity are decidedly soft. The finish is long, balanced, and has a ripe slightly brambly warmth I associate with Margaux. I would like to taste this wine again in two years, and know it will reward keeping for five.

Verdict: Successful

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Upper Galilee at the northern limits of Israel produces wines that deserve a place in the American market.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

Galil Mountain Winery, Upper Galilee, Israel.

One of Galil's mountain vineyards in Upper Galilee.

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