Wine Talk: A learned opinion

Distinguished wine writer Hugh Johnson has just published next year’s guide, which includes his ratings of Israeli wineries.

Yatir winery  311 (photo credit: Courtesy )
Yatir winery 311
(photo credit: Courtesy )
The 2012 edition of The Pocket Wine Book has arrived. It is published by Mitchell Beazley, part of the Octopus Publishing Group.
First published in 1977, this is an annual mini-encyclopedia written by Englishman Hugh Johnson, one of the world’s most distinguished and prolific wine writers. Translated into many languages, this is the world’s largest-selling wine book.
For Israelis it is like a Michelin guide in that it gives a rating to Israeli wineries. Johnson is helped by an editorial team, some of whom are well-known wine journalists. Israel is found in the eastern Mediterranean section that includes Cyprus, Lebanon and Turkey.
In this new edition, there are 32 Israeli wineries listed, which is a record number for the country in this book. The wineries added this time are Gvaot, Lewinsohn, Psagot, Yaffo and Shvo (as yet without a rating).
Four stars is the maximum a winery can receive. Both Domaine du Castel and the Yatir Winery have held on to their four-star rating. This puts them among some of the finest wineries in the world.
Wineries that have improved their rating since last year are Tzora, Chillag and Dalton.
Barkan-Segal, Carmel, Galil Mountain and Tabor receive recognition for having goodvalue wines at all price points.
The Margalit Special Reserve receives a personal endorsement for being particularly enjoyed by Johnson himself.
In his introduction to the Israel section, Johnson writes that Israel is a country with a chronic shortage of water, lack of rain and a hot climate. Yet, he goes on to say, the country is making the best wine produced in Israel for 2,000 years.
He notes the up-to-date viticulturists, the winery technology and dynamic winemakers. He reports that the red wines, especially Bordeaux blends, Shiraz, old-vine Carignans and Petite Syrahs seem to be improving each year.
On the eastern Mediterranean, Johnson writes “Lebanon… and Israel are taking giant steps forward.” He also comments that the eastern and southern Mediterranean is an old vine paradise. “The new desire to make quality wines from low-yielding, old-bush vines is presenting some interesting surprises.” He recommends: “Look out for old-vine Carignans from Israel and Tunisia, Cinsault from Lebanon and Grenache and Syrah from Morocco.”
In last year’s edition, Johnson summarized his view on scores. “This book doesn’t do wine-by-wine judgments.
No scores. The one-tofour star code is my take on the winery… as a presence in the market.” He therefore differentiates his worldview from the American style of scores out of 100 as represented by Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator.
Johnson is well known for his books The Story of Wine (on history); The World Wine Atlas, which he now co-authors with Jancis Robinson MW; The Wine Companion, which was recently updated by Stephen Brook; and The Art and Science of Wine about winemaking and viticulture, which he authored with James Halliday. Each of these are classics, which form the basis of any wine lover’s library.
He has also written his autobiography, Wine – A Life Uncorked.
Johnson visited Israel in the late 1980s for his TV series The Story of Wine.
In the last 12 months alone, Israeli wine has enjoyed some remarkable successes. Carmel Shiraz won the International Trophy at The Decanter World Wine Awards. This was followed by the Golan Heights Winery’s receiving the Gran Vinitaly Special Award as the best producer. These were unprecedented awards for Israeli wine in two of the world’s most stringent wine competitions.
Then Castel Grand Vin, Clos du Gat Syra Muscat and Margalit Special Reserve each received scores of 93 points in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
These equaled the previous achievement of the Yatir Forest.
Ninety-three points remains the best score for Israeli wines in the newsletter of the world’s most famous wine critic.
Together, these represent sustained third-party recognition at the very highest level for Israeli wines and wineries.
Star selection
The ratings of Israeli wineries in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2012 are: 4 STARS
Domaine du Castel
3 to 4 STARS
Yatir Winery
Clos de Gat, Margalit, Yarden (Golan Heights) 2 to 3 STARS Carmel, Chateau Golan, Flam, Pelter, Tzora
Barkan-Segal, Chillag, Dalton, Ella Valley, Gvaot, Lewinsohn, Recanati, Saslove, Tulip, Vitkin
1 to 2 STARS
Agur, Avidan, Binyamina, Chillag, Galil Mountain, Psagot, Sea Horse, Tabor 1 STAR Alexander, Tishbi, Teperberg
Shvo wine talk
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in both Israeli and international publications.

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