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The story goes that good wine was made in the land of the Bible for thousands of years, right up to the Middle Ages. Alas, bad wine was made for the next 14 centuries. Only in the 1980s did a modern, high-tech wine industry based on European varietals take off. The best of these Israeli wines are just gaining recognition in North America, winning prizes and good reviews. Galil Mountain’s deep maroon Upper Galilee Cabernet Sauvignon has more structure than the walls of Jericho, with a savoury, smoky, stony austerity lit up by lots of minted plum and cassis fruit. It’s especially delicious with a rich, unctuous braise of lamb shanks.
Galil Mountain, a joint venture between the pioneering Golan Heights Winery and the Kibbutz Yiron on the doorstep of Lebanon, exemplifies the new success of Israeli wines—kosher, but a far cry from the rather nasty, sweet ones of yore. Its flagship, Yiron, is built on 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 44 percent Merlot, and dashes of Syrah and Petit Verdot for a super-Bordeaux blend. Dark as red ink, the 2005 Yiron has lots of flesh on its bones—it’s ripe, rich, and seductive, tasting of blackberry, blackcurrant, and spice. This wine pairs beautifully with a big hunk of meat—ribeye steak with shallots would be just right.
March is Bruce Tyrrell’s favourite time of year. The fourth-generation Aussie winemaker loves the start of the vintage, seeing the fruit of the previous year’s hard work. In town at the end of last year to show off the range of his wines, he’s blunt about the difference between the beverage business and real winemaking. “Australian wine has become too corporate—we need to put a face on what we do.” The Tyrrell family has stamped its face most clearly on Hunter Valley Semillon: crisp, fresh, and citrusy when young; golden, toasty, and honeyed as it ages. The Lost Block 2008 ($17.95) and the landmark Vat 1 ($54.99) show off Semillon to shining advantage.