Wines of the Week: Beyond Cabernet
This week I’d like to address an “issue” or at least a topic that’s been bothering me for quite some time and that, IMHO, should bother all of us.
I’m not talking about taxis, Uber or Lyft. I’m talking about Cab as in Cabernet Sauvignon, or CabSav. The grape variety, the wine.
First of all, let me just clarify. I have absolutely nothing against Cabernet Sauvignon.
Some of the best wines in the world are Cab or based on Cab. In fact, my favorite red wine ever (Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac, 2003) is based on Cabernet Sauvignon. However, for many years the kosher wine market and particularly the average kosher wine consumers have been literally obsessed with CabSav, to a point folks won’t try nor even hear about trying other varieties. For many, wine is just Cab. They often claim they don’t like Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Carignan (say what?), Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc. And don’t get me started on their total dismissive attitude towards white wines, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc… I could go on and on, they won’t hear it.
Cabernet Franc… Sauvignon Blanc…
Let’s talk just a little bit about history.
Where does Cabernet Sauvignon actually originate from? A study conducted at UC Davis in 1996 established that, as a matter of fact, CabSav is the result of an accidental breeding of two grape varieties in the 17th century. Which varieties? Well, a red and a white: Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon (Blanc). CF and SB are the daddy and mommy of CabSav. UC Davis has also discovered that Cabernet Franc is the parent variety of Merlot, as well.
Wine lovers have lots to gain by expanding their horizons and trying more types of wine, different styles and varieties. There is a lot of other grape varieties besides Cabernet Sauvignon that are no less good or worthy and which often are the base of many great wines. Wines that happen to be more versatile and easier to pair with food (besides a tomahawk steak). In this article I decided to focus on Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
I would like to first discuss the unusual story of Matar winery. Matar is an Israeli boutique winery located in Kibbutz Ein Zivan in the Golan Heights. It was started in 2012 by brothers Tal and Nir Pelter whom have gathered awards as well as an excellent reputation since the early 2000s with their non-kosher Pelter winery. Pelter is one of very few Israeli non-kosher wineries that has been successful in exporting their wines and selling them to the non-kosher market abroad.
Tal is the winemaker while Nir handles the administrative side of the business. Tal Pelter, like many of his peers, is a very talented and passionate winemaker. He loves being hands-on in the winery, crushing the grapes, filling the barrels, stirring the lees, etc. When Tal and Nir wanted to expand their business and make kosher wine, Tal was not very enthusiastic about leaving most if not all the manual work to kashrut supervisors as it would take away a huge part of his own enjoyment in the winemaking process.
So the Pelter brothers decided to take a radically different approach than other wineries such as Flam and Tulip when those went fully kosher in 2010. They created a brand-new winery right next to Pelter with its own equipment and facility to produce strictly kosher wine. There, Tal would make all the winemaking decisions which would be executed by kashrut supervisors, Sabbath-observant Jews having the rabbinical approval to handle those tasks. And in parallel, Tal would himself keep making his non-kosher-certified Pelter wines next door.
Matar, Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon, 2014
Tal Pelter studied and was trained in winemaking and oenology at Perth, Australia. Therefore it comes as no surprise that he is making a wonderful blend of Sauvignon Blanc (80%) and Sémillon (20%). While these two varieties constitute the base of most the great white wines from Bordeaux in France, including the sweet dessert wines of Sauternes, Australian winemakers have adopted them and produce some terrific, complex, sophisticated and crisp white wines.
Hunters Valley, among other Australian regions, is becoming famous all over the world for these wines. And this wine from Matar certainly compares with those excellent Australian wines. It features delightful aromas and flavors of lime, straw, tangerine, with some grassy undertones as well as bracing acidity which makes it a perfect pairing with salmon and tuna sushi as well as with poultry dishes, such as lemon-confit chicken. And with only 11.8% Abv., it is a perfectly refreshing wine for the summer and all year round.
This is one of those white wines that tend to fly under the radar and that’s really too bad as it is a darn good wine!
Domaine du Val Brun, Saumur-Champigny, 2011
Cabernet Franc is another grape that rarely gets a fresh look. Cabernet Franc is the main red variety of the Loire Valley in France where it is the star of several appellations, such as Chinon and Saumur-Champigny. There, it typically yields wines that are not as heavy as the Israeli or California Cab Franc, and is rather more subtle and delicate. This one has a medium body with notes of red berries, earth, tobacco and spices.
It is not a very complex wine but rather a wine to enjoy with a barbecue, grilled chicken or turkey skewers, hot dogs or deli, even a nice charcuterie platter with beef jerky, salami etc. It is so easy to drink that you have to be careful not to finish the entire bottle all by yourself!
L'chaim to all!
Photography by Tzvi Cohen.