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Bienvenues Batard Montrachet..... Domaine du Castel..... Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise.....


A most enjoyable afternoon and evening spent with Israeli boutique winemaker Eli Ben-Zaken and his charming wife Monique at their beautiful country-style house situated on a steep hill some 15 miles from Jerusalem.
After spending some time in his immaculate small winery we (Dorit, myself and another wine-&-food-loving friend) went up to the house to taste some barrel samples of his 1996 and 1997 Domaine du Castel red wine. These were accompanied by two kinds of excellent salami to which we really did justice.
Among my many other shortcomings, my inability to assess barrel samples is one that I am well aware of. I simply don't enjoy it. All I can say at this point is that they both will be good wines, and that I think the '96 is slightly better than the '97. But I could be totally wrong here. I'll reserve my judgement till these wines are bottled - or better yet - until a year or two after that.
All that served as a prelude to the tasting of the recently bottled but not yet released 1995 Domaine du Castel.
The Ben-Zakens prepared the following delicious dinner:

Italian-style hors d'ouvres: Bruscheta and a sort of Caprese
1991 Bienvenues Batard Montrachet, Remoissenet Pere et Fils
Fantastic oven cooked lamb in wine sauce with delicious puree
1995 Domaine du Castel, Eli Ben-Zaken
A selection of local goat cheese and nuts
Prune pie
1996 Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Dom. Richards

As you can see, Eli 'wrapped' his 1995 Castel with two other very well thought of wines. We all had a wonderful time, extremely enjoying the wines, the food but most of all the company.

Bienvenues Batard Montrachet 1991 Remoissenet P&F

4/98. Bienvenues Batard Montrachet, the satellite of the satellite of Montrachet is still among the top five or six dry white vineyards of the world. The Beaune negociant Remoissenet Pere & Fils - though not a bad source - is not generally considered a top winemaker. As far as I know, they don't even buy grapes from others. They buy young wines and only do the elevation and bottling. 1991 was a mediocre vintage, especially for white (B).
COLOR: Medium-deep golden color, some crystal-like stuff floated around the bottle.
NOSE: Rich and complex. Lime, apples, minerals and wet stones. A touch too woody and perhaps not jumping out of the glass to fill the room. But the nose was absolutely profound and full of presence. The plethora of aromas and the concentration of the bouquet were a manifestation of the wine's high breed. Superb!
TASTE: Again, very rich and concentrated on the palate. Mouth-filling and enticing. Still, the wine lacked the fat and roundness one expects from such a Grand Cru (the winemaker?). Also, a touch of hollow bitterness accompanied the finish (the vintage?). That being said, I wish I could drink such a wine every day (week, month...)
LENGTH: Surprisingly long, vibrating and persistent aftertaste.
TEXTURE & BALANCE: Full bodied (B). Very concentrated though not in the familiar viscous and fat way. Very good grip though a bit rough-edged and lacks in roundness and elegance for perfect balance.
OVERALL: Superb!. A rare example where the vineyard overcame the vintage and the vigneron to present an extremely tasty and classy wine.
MARK: 18/20.aaaaaaaaBUY MORE? No idea how much it cost.

Domaine du Castel (Israel) 1995 Eli Ben-Zaken

4/98. One of 8000 bottles soon to be released at about $30.
This is the fourth vintage of the "Domaine du Castel". Waiting for his own superbly-situated young vineyard to become of age, Ben-Zaken still buys grapes and leases crops from choice locations to make his 70% Cabernet Sauvignon 30% Merlot 'Grand Vin'. The most conscientious and quality-driven winemaker in Israel (at least IMNSHO), Ben-Zaken uses new Allier oak barrels for every vintage. In spite of insisting on two full years in new wood, his wines never feel or taste over-oaked.
The young wine was decanted for about an hour before we got to it.
COLOR: Very nice vibrant color. Naturally, no clearing around the rim.
NOSE: Very good harmonious nose of black forest-fruit, light notes of vanilla and licorice. Surprisingly complex in spite of it being bottled just about a month ago.
TASTE: In contrast with almost any other Israeli red wine, Ban-Zaken usually manages to emphasize the finesse and elegance of his wines over their sheer power. This young 1995 is no exception. Extremely tasty with good grip, wholesome and full of winyness - the wine filled the mouth with much more than young fruit. Excellent!
LENGTH: Relatively short but very pleasing aftertaste.
TEXTURE & BALANCE: Medium-bodied, very round and surprisingly forward for such a young wine. More delicate and fine than robust. Full of flavors with good acidity and soft tannins. Excellent balance.
OVERALL: Superb! Clearly better than the 1994, maybe as good as the 1993. Too young for me to give a definite assessment.
MARK: 17.5-18/20.aaaaaaaaBUY MORE? Yes.

Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 1996 Dom. Richards

4/98. Eli told me he paid $8 for this wine in France.
My very first taste of this Vin Doux Naturel (naturally sweetened wine) from the Cote-du-Rhone-Villages commune of Beaumes-de-Venise.
Made from white Muscat a Petits Grains grapes, the wine is fortified with pure alcohol to reach anything between 15.5% and 21.5% alcohol! Being completely ignorant about these wines, I 'looked them up' when we returned home. The producer of the specific wine we had, Dom. Richards, is barely mentioned by Mr. Parker while a score of other producers are rated as very good to exceptional. If that is the case then I can only imagine how good this Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise can really get... COLOR: Extremely pale straw, almost devoid of color...
NOSE: Fragrant and delicately perfumed fresh Muscat aroma with added touch of floral tones and ripe peaches.
TASTE: Pleasantly sweet and refreshing. Not a big dessert wine and neither extremely mouthfilling. But charming, light (at 17% alcohol, hehehe) and an excellent accompaniment to the Prune pie.
LENGTH: Nothing really there.
TEXTURE & BALANCE: A monstrously alcoholic wine that doesn't feel a bit like one. Neither is it viscous like I would have expected. Fresh and refreshing both on the nose and in the mouth.
OVERALL: Very good! OK, this is not a Ch. d'Yquem and neither an Alsatian SGN. However, those nectars don't cost $8...
MARK: 16/20.aaaaaaaaBUY MORE? Yes.

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Jacob "Yak" Shaya.