Domaine du Castel (Israel) 1992-1996 E. Ben-Zaken
4/97. I've heard rumors of this miracle for some time now. But today I had my first
opportunity and privilege to see, taste and drink these wonderful wines.
Eli Ben-Zaken, the name behind the wine is a charming, intelligent and extremely
hospitable man of 53. But above all he is a uniquely dedicated winemaker set out
to create the first truly great Israeli wine. His home, winery and vineyards are
set in the most picturesque corner of the Judea Mountains, some 15 miles from
Both the wine (80% Cabernet, 20% Merlot), the vineyard & grapes management, the
winemaking techniques and the general attitude are those of Bordeaux modified to
suit the very different Israeli realities - climatic and others. Even the wine
label has the understated look of a Bordeaux label, with designations such as
'Grand Vin' and 'Haute Judea' made with at least a certain amount of tongue in
cheek (I hope...).
The winery itself is in a constant stage of enlargement and improvement. The
ground level is where the grapes are crashed and fermented in modern hi-tech
stainless steel tanks. The underground cellar is unbelievably cool compared to
the searing heat outside. There the last two vintages, '95 and '96, are
gracefully aged in neat rows of small barrique barrels at constant 55F.
Ben-Zaken keeps his wine in wood for two years and releases them in bottles some
33 months after the vintage!
His first vintage was 1992, that came to the market some two years ago. The
"current" vintage (all gone!) is 1993, the 1994 is now assembled back into
stainless steel awaiting bottling. The 1995 and 1996 are still in wood.
Ben-Zaken has pretty well-defined plans for the future. These plans require
considerable investment, so his attitude - utterly professional that it is -
strives to combine excellence with financially making-sense. His wines are
offered privately once a year at about $30 a bottle. They are also sold to a few
choice wine-shops and restaurants.
1996 - Tasted from the barrel. Still pretty untamed. Red soft fruit, wood,
tannins, acidity - all in abundance but not yet integrated. To my untrained
palate this is not yet a wine I can really appreciate. It certainly has all the
right ingredients but will have to see how they all integrate in time. Very good
MARK: 16+ to 17/20.
1995 - Tasted from the barrel. Much more "wine" then the '96 at this point. Lots
of fruit and vanilla on the nose, high but round tannins do not mask the lovely
fruit on the palate. Silky taste and texture. Long finish and very fine balance.
1994 - Tasted from the tank, where it awaits bottling. Yet more harmonized than
the 1995. Excellent, though a bit low-keyed fruity-oaky (but not over-oaked)
aroma. Smooth, flavorful taste. Fine balance. The most delicate of the lot.
After tasting the 'wines-in-the-making', Eli invited us to his home, where we
met his charming wife Monique. It appears he had decanted one of his remaining
20-odd 1993 bottles together with the '92 some three hours beforehand. They
waited for us around the kitchen table, with some bread, cheese, roast beef and
1993 - This wine we did not 'taste' - we drank it! Complex aroma of Bordeaux
cru-classe. Blackcurrents, softened by the mellowing effect of good Merlot. Add
to that a touch of perfume I couldn't name and you'll get close to the fantastic
bouquet. Mouthfilling, multi-layered and concentration on the palate.
Medium-bodied and superbly balanced. Plenty of 'winyness' yet quite delicate.
1992 - Drank side by side with the '93. Probably much better than any '92
Israeli wine I ever had, this wine however suffered by comparison to the great
'93. A bit overly acidic and discernibly less concentrated than the '93. Still
very good though.
MARK: 16/20 (Dorit says 17-/20).
In summation - a top-notch conscientious 'domaine' that deserves all the support
from true wine lovers in Israel.
Reach Me? email@example.com
Jacob "Yak" Shaya.