Mediterranean Bookends: Ribero del Duero and Beit Shemesh

I recently had the opportunity to
participate in two tastings of wines from either end of the
Mediterranean. The first featured Spain‚€™s Ribera del Duero, an area
familiar to any U.S. wine enthusiast for its deep, massive Tempranillo
wines. Ribera‚€™s wines are extensively imported into the United States
and highly sought after. The second tasting offered wines from
Israel‚€™s Beit Shemesh, a little-known wine area whose winemakers were
in the States trolling for importers.
What struck me most about the second tasting was how much the Israeli
wines (which were predominantly Bordeaux varietals) resembled the Duero.
There was the same inky color, ripe to overripe fruit (think prunes),
high alcohol and high price tags. There was also considerable style and
finesse.
But I digress. The Ribera del Duero tasting featured Gerry Dawes, a wine
writer who lives most of the time in Spain and is a noted expert on its
wines. He spent much of his breath railing against ‚€œParkerized‚€
wines, which Dawes called ‚€œD.O. Monkton, Maryland,‚€
for the home town of √ľber-critc Robert Parker. Dawes complained of
wine writers who follow Parker‚€™s example and give ‚€œautomatic‚€ high
scores to wines that are so dark you cannot see the bottom of the
glass, high in alcohol, low in acidity and sappy-jammy-fruity-tootie. I
found myself nodding in agreement until I looked in my glass and could
not see the bottom, then nearly singed my nostrils on the alcohol fumes
wafting from the wine.
In fact, many of the 11 wines tasted that day displayed the exact
characteristics that Dawes complained of, and most of them succeeded
quite nicely, mind you. That‚€™s because they had the fruit to back it
up. Most wines made by that model don‚€™t.
Some of the Israeli winemakers at the second tasting were virtually
shouting, ‚€œTry my wine! It‚€™s not kosher!‚€ This was puzzling to me,
but I‚€™m in the wrong demographic anyway. The wines ranged from
interesting to delicious (all were expensive) and made me wonder what
they could do with those vines if they can ever live in peace over
there.
Some of my favorites from these two tastings:
From the Ribera del Duero:
Valsardo 2001, $14.
100% Tempranillo. That wine party bore,
Brett Barnyard, makes an appearance here, so this might not be for
everyone. I liked its earthy nose with hints of leather and licorice,
plus its bright cherry and plum fruit. Long finish. Brett was noisier as
the party wore on.
Hacienda el Monasterio 2001, $30, 75% Tempranillo, 15%
Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot. Deep color, meaty nose, deep dard fruit
and some spice. Big oaky and intense (14.5% alcohol), but quite huge and
lovely. Young ‚€“ it needs 3-5 years.
Vi√Īa Valdeuro 1998, $24, 100% Tempranillo. Meaty, berry some earthy flavors on an intriguing brandy nose. Sweet and lovely, long finish.
Pago de los Capellanes ‚€˜El Pic√≥n‚€™ 1999,
$Youdontwanttoknow, 100% Tempranillo. I‚€™ll never be able to afford
this wine, so I was glad to experience its aromas of pencil and dried
orange peel, and the caress of its soft, voluptuous fruit on its
loooooong finish ‚€¶. Sigh.
From Beit Shemesh:
Flam Syrah 2003, $30
. Spiked with 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, this
offers classic Syrah olive-smoke flavors with Cabernet backbone.
Winemaker Golan Flam also makes a nice Merlot Reserve 2003 ($45) that
could pass for Bordeaux. Flam wines available at Wine for All in New
York City.
Ben Hanna, Shelem Cabernet-Merlot 2003, $n/a. A 50-50 blend with nice aromatics and currant flavors, though a tad pruny and overripe.
Domaine du Castel ‚€œC‚€ Blanc du Castel 2003, $32. A Chablis-style Chardonnay, quite good and rich. The Petit Castel 2003, $30,
is 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, with a jammy nose and delicious
spicy, brambly fruit. I did not care for the top-of-the-line Grand Vin 2002, which was port-like and hot.

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