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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

I’ve long been a huge fan of Givat Harel’s Gvaot Winery, founded in 2005. Its location “over the green line” in Israel’s Shomron (Samaria) is one reason I regularly buy it for my table, as the winery and its owners are dedicated to bringing Jewish life back to the ancient Jewish communities of Shiloh and the rest of the West Bank. The second reason I like it is because I have never had an average glass of wine when opening a bottle from Gvaot. All the wines from Gvaot truly offer enjoyable experiences and the inspired blends of varietals are outright delightful.

Before I descend too much into my personal fandom, I will add that another reason I buy from Gvaot is because, as many of my readers already know, I like science and the underlying principles behind good winemaking; Gvaot was founded by viticultural agronomist Shivi Drori, a subject matter expert who teaches plant molecular biology at Ariel University after receiving his PhD at Hebrew University. One of his well-known projects over the last decade has been working toward identifying heritage grapes and ultimately recreating the types of wines that would have existed in the region during Biblical times. He, like many of Israel’s great winemakers, is using the science and technique they’ve learned in the new and old worlds to help craft and uplift Israel’s wine profile on the world stage.

It’s clear when one tastes any Gvaot wine that the grapes in the bottle have not just been grown and sourced well; there’s a joy in tasting from a bottle that is designed to create a particular experience. I hesitate to explain this in over-enthusiastic terms, but Gvaot wines are blended in a way that I don’t find in most other Israeli wineries. While some even in my own wine-tasting group find Gvaot wines somewhat overpriced, it’s my opinion that there are justifiable reasons for the extra cost. First, it simply costs more to produce wine in the West Bank; second, the wines benefit from Drori’s approach and offer the best possible combination of varietals, resulting in a true experience for the wine drinker; and third, sampling Gvaot wines help the drinker celebrate each varietal’s distinct attributes, which is unique. Here’s our breakdown:

Gvaot Dances in White 2016 (also available in 2017) is a unique blend of 75% chardonnay and 25% gewurztraminer. In our tasting, members of my wine group who described themselves as “not generally liking chardonnay,” like Ari, liked this wine, probably due to the sweeter honeyed spice notes of the gewurztraminer softening the harder edges of the chardonnay. “This is a non-traditional blend that I don’t know if I’ve ever had,” said Greg.

“This wine is smooth, crisp and light,” said Miriam, noting its refreshing qualities and its smoothness, and the ever-so-slight essense of tropical fruit but without any significant acid. The wine is aged in tanks so there’s no oak at all in this wine. The 2016 run is great to drink now; the 2017 can also be drunk now or stored for a year. It retails for approximately $29.

Gvaot Vineyard Dance 2017 is 46% petit verdot, 31% cabernet sauvignon and 23% merlot. This wine needs to breathe at least a half hour before drinking, but when it opens up, the warmth and plummy aroma are beaten only by its velvety mouthfeel and thick viscosity. It has a beautiful deep purple color. This is a more typical Israeli “fruit bomb wine,” and I know a lot of critics might say these wines lack the restraint of the European burgundies, but this is, for me, just the best kind of fruit bomb wine available. Vineyard Dance is the first Gvaot bottle I ever tried and I think it remains my favorite, likely because of the generous touch of merlot that adds such intense warmth and spice to the blend. It was aged 12 months in French oak, but the oak is not overpowering; it only adds to the intensity of the fruit. “Anything from Gvaot with merlot in it is great, because the merlots from the Shomron are all so good,” Daphna said. This wine can be drunk now and will only get better for the next five years. Also most wines don’t get such a descriptive, evocative name; this wine really tastes like a vineyard dance. The wine retails for approximately $28.

Speaking of merlot, it was a fascinating juxtaposition to also try the Gvaot Merlot 2017 in the same tasting as Vineyard Dance. The merlot had the most floral, lovely aroma of all five reds we tried in this tasting. The “merlot” comprises 85% merlot, 10% cabernet and 5% petit verdot. Isn’t it interesting how the winemaker made a completely different wine from Vineyard Dance just by using different amounts of each of these three varietals? “This wine has a nice body and intensity,” said Jake. “Reminds me a little of the Shiloh wines,” he added. It is also priced similarly to Vineyard Dance at around $28 with beautiful color as well.

We tried two Gvaot Cabernets, the Gvaot Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 and the Gvaot Gofna Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. This was another truly fascinating comparison because the Gofna Reserve bottles are aged longer, 18 months in French oak, and is one of its reserve line, one of the more higher-end offerings that Gvaot has, retailing around $70. The “regular” cabernet sauvignon, however, offers an excellent experience as well, at nowhere near the reserve’s price range. Aged 12 months also in French oak, it should not get short shrift here; the depth of color, the aroma of dark berries, sweet spices and intensive lingering mouthfeel abounded. In fact the Gvaot Cabernet was one of the better wines of the tasting for the moment. We thought the reserve was still too young and a bit sweet; it would benefit from a few more years of aging. “It needs a little more time to age in the bottle,” said Greg. “This [the Gofna Cabernet] is a wine to buy now and put away. Drink the regular cab now,” he recommended. “For readers who have cellars, the Gofna Cabernet 2016 would be a great investment to save for two or three years.” The regular cab retails for approximately $33.

Both cabernets should be opened at least an hour before serving. While Gvaot Winery consistently wins awards for its wines, the Gofna line always does particularly well: Decanter World Wine Awards awarded the Gofna Cabernet a 95 score in 2019.

Finally, we had the pleasure of trying the Gvaot Gofna Pinot Noir, which had the more typical lighter red shade typical of this varietal, with aromas of raspberry, ripe strawberry, black pepper and flowers. It had a rich, elegant, robust flavor and retails for around $46. This wine was transferred to French oak barrels from a boutique barrel maker in the Burgundy region, which is widely considered ideal for pinot noir aging. It was aged for 12 months. “This pinot has more body than normal pinot noirs. A fuller taste than what I’ve had before with pinots,” said Miriam.

“A pinot from a hot place like Israel is really different from the other pinot noirs that are made in colder climates like Oregon and the rest of the pacific northwest. There, pinots taste different; more austere, less fruit,” said Greg. “In Israel in the hotter climate, the fruit ripens much faster and there’s a lot more fruit. It’s a completely different product,” he added.

“The pinot is excellent. A really good wine,” said Ari.

By Elizabeth Kratz