The gem is called Domaine du Castel Gran Vin 2003. The owner and self taught winemaker, Eli G Ben-Zaken, planted a small vineyard in 1988 on a hill top near his house in the Judean Hills. The first vintage of the Gran Vin, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, was in 1992. The first "experiment" brought very good critics and one in particular by Serena Sutcliffe (Master of Wine and head of the International wine department of Sotheby's). That review backed Eli's belief in the possibility to make a great wine. He decided to turn the old hen house and the stable in a state of the art underground cellar facility and plant more grapes in what he called the Haute de Judee. Now they have 13 Hectares of vineyards at an altitude of 700 meters above the sea level (more or less 2100 feet). They manually pick the grapes and ferment them in temperature controlled Stainless steel vats, maceration on the skin for as long as 30 days depending on the vintage. The wine than is refined for 24 months in new French oak barrels made exclusively for him by Seguin Moreau in Cognac. All Castel wines are unfiltered and meticulously made respecting the highest quality standards in wine making.I had the wine on three different occasions so far. The first I had it with Tsvika, which actually introduced me to the estate. I remember being so surprised by it that I felt like a little kid after having discovered a hidden treasure. The nose was filled with raspberries, black liquorice and herbal hints of something in between of Rosemary and sage; in the mouth was explosive, warm, but still balanced and elegant. Firm notes of dark berries, sweet hints of vanilla, black licorice and unique notes of Rosemary and time (typical from that area are the balsamic flavors of mint and licorice and the notes of aromatic herbs, other great examples of that are the wines of Chateau Musar and Massaya both from Lebanon).
I was so surprised by the wine that I've decided to invite few wine friends over the shop few days later and blind taste them on it and because I was sure that nobody will have an idea of the origin of it, I asked them to just guess the country were the wine was made. Most of them laughed at me saying that that would be too easy. Now my guest were all acculturated winos, but I was ready to bet on the fact that nobody would be able to tell me the origin of the wine. Sure enough after few saying Perth in Australia some other looking at the eastern Italian border and the north part of California they finally gave up and remained speechless for few minutes after learnig that it was from Israel. Same thing happened on the third occasion, this time the victims are people that work in the wine business here in New York. Again nobody could tell and then believed that the wine was Israeli.
I must say Bravo Eli for the great job he is doing showing the world that also Israel should get some attention.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti