Posted on April 2nd, 2011
The Barkan Pinotage from Samson is the second wine from Israel I’ve had in a month, this one courtesy of the commercial section of the Israeli embassy in Dublin.
I haven’t had too many Pinotages since Vaughan Johnson’s in Temple Bar closed down a few years ago. The last one which suitably impressed was from New Zealand, The Muddy Water Pinotage, available from Curious Wines.
I previously described Pinotage as a bit of a whipping boy of the wine world. It has its detractors (despite Peter May’s evangelical The Pinotage Club).
So, I was more than surprised when a Pinotage from Israel came across my desk. A much maligned grape from an “unproven” wine producing country. Interest piqued.
Superb. Succulent fruit, rich damson & plums, almost Merlot-esque. Velvety smooth. Great texture and length. A quick Google search prices this wine at around £8.99 in the UK. I think it drinks far far better than that in terms of quality.
Barkan is one of Israel’s largest wineries, with an annual production of over 7.5 million bottles.
One of the winemakers there is Australian born Irit Boxer-Shank, one of the youngest winemakers in Israel.
She’s passionate about Pinotage, a grape she believes has a bright future in Israel.
Wine is Israel goes back thousands of years. More recent investment at the turn of the 19th centrury saw a certain Rothschild investment in some vineyards.
For many years, the focus had very much been on kosher wine, appealing to Jewish wine drinkers the world over. Outside these circles, it was always more of a novelty and in many respects still is. That’s part of the challenge in many ways.
In the last 10-15 years that’s changed. While most of the wine may be still kosher (there’s no difference in how the wine is actually produced nor the quality, just who can handle the grapes), the emphasis has shifted to making great wine.
In the eighties, “terroir” has been more closely analysed with grapes being planted in more suitable plots. The local market, like everywhere else has developed and become more discerning. Hebrew wine magazines, more speciality wine shops and wine education have all fuelled the demand for higher quality wines.
There are over 200 wineries in Israel (Israel is around 30% the size of Ireland) with many large wineries like Barkan producing 1 million+ bottle per year. There is also the new generation of boutique wineries which have been springing up for the last 15-20 years.
The future for Israeli wine in Ireland?
Israel is clearly producing great wines and in an ideal world we’d see some of them on Irish shelves.
With the times that are in in, I’m not sure that will happen, no importer or retailer is going to take the “risk”. However, how much of a risk is it really? I’ve counted no less than five Lebanese wines in my local wine shop recently. Surely there’s some shelf space for a wine of similar terroir of this quality.
What about you? What’s the most unusual wine from the most surprising of places you’ve had?