(By Gabriel Geller)
If you are as much into wine in general and into Israeli wine in particular as I am, then you have probably heard of Pelter winery before. This world-class winery is located in Kibbutz Ein Zivan in the Golan Heights. Pelter winery was established by 2 brothers in 2001, Tal and Nir Pelter, very much like Flam, and released its first vintage in 2002.
Tal and Nir were born in a family of farmers and thus were raised to love hard work and cultivate the land of Israel. Almost 20 years ago, while Nir was more attracted to the world of entrepreneurship, Tal on the other hand wanted to make a living out of agriculture and decided he wanted to make wine. Once Tal returned from Perth, Australia where he went studying oenology and viticulture, Nir decided to team up with his brother so they went on to create together a state-of-the-art winery which they simply named « Pelter », Tal naturally acting as the winemaker while Nir took over as the winery’s general manager, handling the business management duties.
Pelter winery wasn’t certified as kosher from its inception and yet, it was making such quality wines that it quickly found its way to become part of the very exclusive club of boutique, non-kosher Israeli wineries comprised of Margalit, Clos de Gat, Flam, Vitkin and Avidan getting cited and collecting high scores and praise in international wine publications such as Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, la Revue des Vins de France or Hugh Johnson’s World of Wine’s Atlas, as well as successfully exporting their wines abroad to a number of countries around the globe without targeting the kosher consumers.
3 years ago, in 2012, as part of their success and the natural growth that goes along with it, Nir and Tal decided to take their venture towards the next step: going kosher. While Flam and Tulip went fully kosher with the 2010 vintage (joined by Avidan in 2013), what the Pelter bothers did to achieve that goal was quite different from their peers. As Tal is so much passionate, attached to his craft and wanted to remain literally hands-on with his wines, instead of transforming their winery into a kosher certified one which includes not being able to touch the wine from crushing through bottling for any non-observant Jew (keeping the Shabbat, kashrut etc.), the Pelters decided to build a second, brand-new winery with its very own facility right next to Pelter which would be fully kosher and called it “Matar”, which translates as « rain », so that Tal could keep being fully involved with his Pelter wines.
As well, as part of that out-of-the-box move which has already leaded the Pelter brothers to double the volume of their overall yearly production, from 80,000 to more than 150,000 bottles, Tal took a slightly different approach with Matar as he doesn’t simply makes kosher versions of his Pelter wines but rather created an entirely new line of wines which are slightly different from the Pelter ones. Indeed, the Matar wines are comprised of different varieties, blends and styles than the Pelter and are made with grapes grown and sourced both locally from the winery’s vineyards in the Golan Heights as well as from different growing areas in Israel such as the Judean Hills and the Negev Desert.
In addition to wine, Tal also makes different sorts of spirits such as whisky, date and apple brandies which he was kind enough to give me some barrel tastings of and I must say that I was very impressed as these were as much as delicious as they were unexpected, I’m really looking forward to buy some bottles if and when those spirits will be released as commercial products. Following are my tasting notes for the Matar wines currently available on the market:
Matar, S. Blanc - Sémillon 2013: A white Bordeaux-blend of 85% Sauvignon Blanc 15% Sémillon from the winery’s vineyards in the Golan Heights. Very bright with on the clean and very aromatic yet not “in your face” nose, honeysuckle, freshly cut grass and “cat pee” funk as well as lemon, grapefruit and minerals. Light to medium-bodied and herbaceous with on the palate lemon drops, citrus peels, stoney and salty minerals such as slate and flint with bracing acidity as well as a light and refreshing minty bitterness on a long and focused finish. Stunning. 11.8% Abv. 91-92
Matar, Chenin Blanc 2014: Partially aged (a small percentage of the wine) for about 3 months in oak barrels. Light yellow in color the nose is absolutely beautiful with aromas of quince, peaches and tangerines as well as orange blossom and minerals. The wine is medium in body with the oak virtually undetectable flavor-wise, the round and tart palate features notes of fresh summer fruits such as white peaches followed by tangerines and green apple peels with a crisp, well-balanced acidity, stoney minerals, green tea and more citrusy flavors rising on the long finish. This is a truly outstanding wine, blew me away. 13.1% Abv. 92+
Matar, Chenin Blanc 2013: While this wine was also partially aged in oak barrels for a similar amount of time, the oak here is significantly more noticeable. Pale yellow in color with on the nose toasted bread, quince, lemon curd, apricots as well as hints of burnt caramel. Medium-bodied and a bit austere compared with the 2014, featuring on the sharp palate notes of orange zest, quince, apricots, and fresh acidity as well as saline and spicy notes of white pepper and vanilla that lingers on the finish. A bit too oaky for me but I’m sure many will like it. 13.2% Abv. 90
Matar, Chardonnay 2013: 40% of the wine was aged for 9 months in new French oak barrels. On the nose baked apples and pears, fresh butter, lemon zest, melon, vanilla and toasty oak. Medium to full-bodied, the palate presents a slightly creamy mouth-feel with notes of ripe apples and pears, honeydew, pineapple and lemon pith with medium-plus acidity as well as notes of vanilla-flavored crème brûlée on the long, well-structured and balanced finish. A classic, very well-made, California-styled (think Russian River) Chardonnay. 12.8% Abv. 91+
Matar, Cumulus 2012: This wine is a Bordeaux-blend made of 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc and topped with 10% Petit Verdot, aged for 14 months in (partially new) French oak barrels. Dark garnet towards purple in color, with on the nose blackberries, cassis, raspberries with hints of green bell pepper, minerals and coffee. Medium, perhaps medium to full-bodied with on the palate more ripe black and raspberries as well as plums, Mediterranean herbs, graphite, slate and freshly cured tobacco leaves with bracing acidity and tannins that rise and coat the mouth alongside notes of mocha and black pepper on a long , elegant and balanced finish. This wine might well be the winner of his category, I was impressed. 14.8% Abv. 91+
Matar, Petit Verdot 2012: Made from 100% Petit Verdot grown in the Golan Heights for the most part and aged for 15 months in new French oak barrels. Very dark, inky black-purple in color with an intense nose of blackberries, boysenberries, wild blueberries and green foliage as well as freshly cracked pepper and roasted nuts. Full-bodied and concentrated and yet quite austere with on the palate rich, crushed black forest fruits, black olives, roasted almonds and nuts as well as earthy minerals, chalk, hints of charcoal, fresh oriental herbs and spices, with powdery, high and well-balancing acidity, searing tannins and dark chocolate-covered coffee beans lingering on the very long and elegant finish. While varietal Petit Verdots are pretty much associated almost exclusively as new world wines, yet, while this one features great extraction and a rather high Abv level, it’s austerity is more akin to old world wines; an outstanding effort and well worth seeking out for any self-proclaimed PV fan. 14.3% Abv. 92
Matar, “CB” (Cumulonimbus) 2012: The winery’s flagship wine and righteously so. A blockbuster blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Shiraz, 6% Petit Verdot and 6% Cabernet Franc, aged for 22 months in French oak barrels. Deep purple in color, with on the nose ripe blackberries, currants, tea leaves, freshly paved asphalt and spices. Full-bodied, extracted with layers of ripe black forest fruits, wild plums, bell pepper, roasted meat and herb, pencil shavings and graphite with notes of pipe tobacco, spicy cedar as well as baker’s chocolate, powerful structure with loads of acidity and gripping, almost chewy tannins on a long and plush finish. Needs a good couple of years to settle down for it to become more approachable and should age well for a few more years afterwards. Truly great wine! 14.3% Abv.