(By Gabriel Geller)
I recently visited Domaine du Castel, one of Israel's most renowned wineries, where I was warmly hosted by Ilana Ben Zaken, daughter of Eli the founder and senior winemaker and sister of Ariel and Eytan, handling respectively the business and winemaking duties at the winery. I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize again to Ilana for announcing my visit on such short a notice and thank her for welcoming me and my friend who accompanied me and for ensuring that I'd taste all the wines I wanted to try.
Since 2002, the year in which the winery released its Grand Vin for the first time (the winery became fully kosher in 2003 and released then also its first kosher Petit Castel), the winery has added 2 wines to its portfolio : The "C", a Chardonnay made in the Beaune style, the region of Burgundy where Eytan Ben Zaken was trained and graduate as a winemaker and, more recently, with the 2009 vintage, a classic rosé made with the saignée (bleeding) method like most rosés of Tavel and Bordeaux.
While 2009 and 2010 have been somewhat difficult years for wine growing and making in Israel due to some pretty hot weather conditions (well above the already quite hot average temperatures), Castel have managed to still produce some quite fine wines, for the most part. Now with the 2011-2013 vintages, 2012 and 2013 having been some of the best years for wine in Israel, Castel has released some truly great wines that I cannot but highly recommend.
This time I was there to taste the 2011 Grand Vin as well as the 2012 Chardonnay, Petit Castel and 2013 Rosé.
Following are my notes for the aforementioned wines:
Domaine du Castel, Rosé du Castel 2013: A blend this year of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec its color is a light pink with orange reflections featuring aromas of fresh strawberries, cherries and grapefruit. The wine is light in body and very refreshing with flavors of tart pink grapefruit, sour cherries and strawberries, pomegranate, with a hint of minerality and fine acidity. Albeit short, the finish is refreshing with plenty of tart red fruit making this a very nice summer wine to enjoy with BBQ, or outdoors on a hot afternoon, preferably until November 2014. I liked it very much and it is an improvement from the 2012 vintage. 13% Abv.
Domaine du Castel, Blanc du Castel "C", Chardonnay 2012: This is a wine that spent 12 months in new French oak barrels. Light gold in color, the nose features notes of toasted oak and butter as well as baked apples and fresh brioche. Medium bodied the palate displays flavors of apple pie, hints of lemon fraiche with a creamy mouth-feel and moderate acidity, the finish is buttery with notes of crème brûlée and vanilla-spiced apples. In recent years I don't anymore enjoy the buttery style in my Chardonnay as much as I used to but those who like that style will like this wine very much. Usually the Castel Chardonnay has a respectable ageing potential of 6-7 years however, and while I might well be wrong, I believe this release should be drank by the end of 2015. 13% Abv.
Domaine du Castel, Petit Castel 2012: A Bordeaux-blend this year of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot flushed out with small portions of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc and aged for 16 months in French oak barrels. Bright cherry red towards purple with a nose of sweet cherries, ripe cassis and toasted oak. Medium to full-bodied and showing fine yet gentle extraction this wine shows plenty of black fruit such as black cherries and cassis, followed by touches of pencil lead with very good acidity and tannins that rise and coat the mouth with notes of chocolate on the long finish as the wine opens up in the glass. One of the best releases for this wine, I liked it a lot. While highly enjoyable now I recommend putting it away for a year or two as the outcome should be rewarding. 14.5% Abv.
Domaine du Castel, Grand Vin 2011: Another winner for Castel here. Classic left-bank style Bordeaux blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 19% Petit Verdot with a bit of Cabernet Franc and Malbec adding roundness and spiciness, aged a bit over 20 months in French oak barrels tannic. Dark purple in color with on the nose intense aromas of cassis, blackberries, toasty oak and dark chocolate with a hint of green pepper. Full-bodied with on the palate layers of black fruit, herbs and spices with notes of graphite and green foliage, the acidity is bracing with well-balanced tannins that have yet to integrate and notes of cigar tobacco and dark chocolate on the long finish. This wine is approachable now but quite austere at this point and has great potential to improve and develop for years to come, well-done. 14.5% Abv.