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Launch of Ben-Zaken 1996 Domaine du Castel


I rarely take part in PRed "wine events" in Israel. I don't particularly like the mingling together of the local wine 'clique', where self-appointed charlatans take advantage of the general lack of wine-drinking tradition and knowledge.
This time however I gladly accepted invitation from Eli Ben-Zaken, Israeli most serious winemaker, to participate in the 'official launch' of his 1996 Domaine du Castel wine. The venue took place at Mul-Yam, the superb Tel-Aviv seafood restaurant.
About twenty people were invited to spend what turned out to be a truly wonderful afternoon. Some very nice people that we know and love were there, and I was glad to make a few new acquaintances with honest wine-loving folks.
Though Ben-Zaken wines were the reason and the focus of the event, I cannot praise highly enough the fantastic food that accompanied them. A never-ending procession of truly delectable dishes kept arriving at the large table around which we were all seated.
Fresh oysters, red-tuna tartar, toasted vegetables, delicious red mullets, monkfish, lightly grilled goose liver with pears and scallops, creme brulee and assortment of sorbets.
Suffice for me to say that we all sat there for almost three hours tasting only three wines...
Kudos to Eli and his team and to the restaurant chef and staff for producing such a wonderful backdrop to the wine tasting.

Before getting on with the wines, I must emphasize what I've said a dozen times in the past:
I am no good at tasting unfinished or very young wines. I am even worse at trying to assess their future development!
My impressions and assessments here therefore only reflect what was in my glasses...
Chardonnay 1998 E. Ben-Zaken
This is the first Chardonnay ever made by Ben-Zaken. Only 1000 bottles will be made. Ir will be bottled in a couple of month but will not be sold until next year. The rigorously-selected grapes were picked very early (in July!) to preserve the natural acidity before the very hot 1998 summer could take its toll. 100% destemming, no skin contact and new-wood fermentation were utilized.
The golden color hints at the richness of this wine. Deep, multi-dimensional nose that boasts of minerals, buttery scents and roasted almonds. The closest thing to a good Meursault I ever tasted in an Israeli wine. On the palate, the wine is rich mouthfilling and full of flavors. A viscous wine with plenty of winyness, medium structure and refreshing acidity. A world-class Chardonnay!
MARK: 18-18.5/20.BUY MORE? Yes.

Domaine du Castel 1998 E. Ben-Zaken
This wine was from the barrel and still has to spend more than a year there. The finished wine will have some Cabernet Franc in it on top of the usual Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Somewhat lighter in color than usual. Plenty of fruit on the nose with some vegetable notes. Fruity flavors abound but not particularly concentrated. Very immature of course, but I suspect this will be one of the less successful vintages.
MARK: 16-17/20.BUY MORE? Maybe.

Domaine du Castel 1996 E. Ben-Zaken
About 15000 bottles were made of this 70% Cabernet and 30% Merlot wine. The wine will be sold to the public in two weeks time for about $32.
Very nice dark violet-red color. Impressive nose of pure fruit (black rather than red fruits) together with measured wood elements. Opulent fruit on the palate with plenty of stuffing that cannot be obscured even by the still-hard tannins that abound. Tasty and mouthfilling. Very well structured with lots of presence. Long and flavorful finish too. A superb offering that will need at least 3-4 years to get harmonized. I seriously expect this wine to become extraordinary in time.
P.S. I have tasted that wine from the barrel more than a year ago and thought much less of it. Which goes to prove how bad I am in assessing unfinished wines...
MARK: 17.5-18.5/20.BUY MORE? Yes.

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Jacob "Yak" Shaya.