From the website of the brilliant Israeli winery, Psagot…
“The Psagot Winery is located in the northern region of the Jerusalem mountains, an area ripe with awe-inspiring remnants of biblical-era vineyards and wineries. During the vineyard’s construction, an ancient cave from the Hasmonean Dynasty period was discovered, and in it, a coin dating back to the Great Revolt of 73–66 BC. The coin’s front face is stamped with the words “For Freedom of Zion” and adorned with a vine leaf, while the back face reads “Year Two” (to the Revolt), alongside an image of an amphora – an ancient container used for storing wine. That coin embodies the essence of our story, and its image is born upon a selection of our wines. For us, the coin is a reminder of our deep connection to the earth and to our roots. As we walk through the vines, we hear the echoes of our ancestors, experts in their time, who made the finest wines for the temples of Jerusalem and emperors of Rome as early as two millennia ago.”
Most people think Israel is all desert and the very idea of wine from such a place would be waaay down the list of things they’d connect with such an ancient, arid landscape. But, as a matter of historical fact, the Mediterranean basin was arguably the first wine region on the planet and sweet, strong wines, both red and white, were being made there even before the point on our modern calendars where B.C. becomes A.D.
I love the description above of where the beautiful gold coin that adorns each bottle of Psagot wine comes from and why. Take that, fledgling Lodi or Walla Walla winery, with your “About Us” page that dates back to 2002. Psagot is sitting amidst a cluster of vineyards that were producing fruit two thousand+ years ago. Kinda makes the commonly-accepted California designation of “Old Vines” as fifty years or more look like a Pop Tart, doesn’t it? But the reality is that, despite the fact that Israel was producing wine back when Leif Eriksson wasn’t even a twitching under his daddy’s loincloth, about 98% of all Americans would identify “Israel” and “wine” as nothing else but those Kosher things you find on the bottom shelf of the supermarket…most of which are made in California.
Twenty years ago, I thought the same thing thing about the entire Middle East…until, one day, my employer, Town & Country Markets, sent me to Bellevoid to attend a lecture and tasting by the great Lebanese vintner, Serge Hochar, whose family business, Chateau Musar, has been one of the world’s most celebrated wineries for over sixty years. His vines grow in the same sort of soil and climate as Psagot’s and I was so totally stunned by what I tasted on that day that I began a quest to discover Middle Eastern wines that continues to this day.
Serge Hochar tragically died by drowning, in 2014, while swimming off the shores of Acapulco, Mexico, and the fact of his absence has, irrationally, ached in me ever since. But I get some of the same spirit and sense of Mission as I saw and heard from Serge, that cloudy April day in the Seattle ‘burbs, in Ya’acov Oryah, the winemaker at Psagot, whose astounding red blend, “Edom”, landed on my doorstep several months ago.
I am VERY late in reviewing this wine and I humbly BEG the forgiveness of the folks who shipped it to me because I did a short and effusive review of it on my Facebook page for The Pour Fool and then forgot that I hadn’t done it here, in the actual Pour Fool. This is one wine that I absolutely meant to review because chances are very good – almost certain, in fact – that you would otherwise miss it, unless you were to stumble upon the name and have a bit of amateur detective in ya.
It was, in fact, my wife who caught this omission and called out to me, one morning while dressing for work, saying “Hey, Hon? I looked in The Pour Fool for that review? Y’know, of that wine from Syria that I loved so much?”
“You mean Israel?” I replied. Nobody is sending me wines from Syria. They probably have larger fish to fry.
“Yeah, that area, anyway. What was it called…?”
“Psagot Edom?” I said.
“YES! Yeah, that’s the one. Can you send me the link to the review. I told everybody at work about it and they all want to try it.”
“Will do!” I said, perkily…and then found that it wasn’t here.
Getting old sucks.
Psagot “Edom” 2013 is a blend of 63% Merlot, 16% Cabernet, 11% Petit Verdot, and 10% Cab Franc. It is sourced from Jerusalem Mountain, just outside of – surprise! – Jerusalem, and specifically from the Psagot estate vineyards, coincidentally named…the Jerusalem Mountain Vineyards. (Nice to know that the winery’s energies are going into wine and not catchy marketing gimmicks, eh?) The mountain chain, of which Jerusalem Mountain is a part, is called – wait for it – The Edom Mountains. Saw that coming, didn’t ya?
That’s the dry facts. Here’s the filet of the matter: this is one of the best blended wines I’ve tasted from anywhere in the past five years. That is no exaggeration at all.
Edom is a strikingly constructed, perfectly seamless, impeccably balanced bottle of every red grape virtue we’ve all come to expect from that overworked quartet of Bordeaux varietals. Has anything, in any area of either agriculture or manufacturing been as done to death as Merlot? Or as the “classic” (Translation: “omnipresent”) Cab/Merlot “Bordeaux blend”? No. This is the zenith of group-think wine blending and the addition of the Petit Verdot and Cab Franc, while adding some interest, is also not uncommon. I’d venture a guess that maybe 70% of all blends I’ve been sent for review, over my 27 years in wine, have been slight variations on this Bordeaux theme. I have, on occasion, sat down to taste with another wine professional and told them what the wine would taste like, right down to the flavor descriptors, before even pulling the cork.
This one shocked me down to my soles. If it had just tasted as good as a better quality Napa or Red Mountain blend, I would have sat up and barked, just because of where it comes from. But, within ten seconds, I had to stop and recalibrate my thinking about it because, origins be damned, this was better than a “better quality” American Bordeaux blend. This was verging on Insignia/Qunitessa/Opus One territory. The defining characteristic of Edom, however, is an unapologetically unsweet profile, showing a glorious transparency that relies on the emphatic dark berries and leather and chocolate and graphite and coffee and black currants and plums to deliver that intimation, that mesmerizing suggestion of sweetness that far too many wineries rely on residual sugar to evoke.
Edom is inky and deep and a little mysterious and black as the pit of hell and complex as an eight-sided Rubik’s Cube and perfectly, unerringly balanced, which, for me, is a lot of the ball game in wine. Nothing in this wine is out of scale or out of whack. I would describe it as “singing” but, if it is, echoes of those ancient cantors who chanted over those B.C.-vintage sweet reds would be the prominent melody. There is a depth and completeness in this wine that approaches, for me, the sense of history and time and patience that I usually only find in great whiskeys. We hoarded this bottle, gassed it before bedtime, doled it out by mere ounces, and talked about it for hours. Good God, in a house where one of us evaluates wines and beers and booze by the dozens, every month, when does that ever happen?
“Explain to me why this is so…so different!” my wife said, a note of pleading in her voice, “I want to understand.”
I took it as a challenge and tried the old terroir spiel and the effects of sunlight and air and soil and when it’s picked and blah, blah, blah, and how grape vines frequently do better when they struggle…and finally just gave up, “I don’t really know, honey,” I shrugged, “If I had to stake a kidney on a guess, I’d say Ya’acov Oryah is a fucking brilliant winemaker and he had great grapes.”
I wish I did know why Psagot “Edom” is this great. If I knew, I’d damned well pay somebody to do it here. Even beyond that, if I just knew where to BUY it, without driving to Chicago or Vladivostok, I’d run out and grab a couple of cases because I’d bet BIG $$$ that this stuff, at four years old now, will be enough to make even some cranky old fart like Steven Tanzer (or, worse, me) break down in tears in maybe five to seven more years. It’s been a long damned time since I’ve been as beggared for adjectives as this about a wine and somehow, in the past six months, I’ve had this and two other wineries render me almost mute with shock and wonder. Ledger David Cellars, Psagot, and the upcoming review of Tony Rynders’ Tendril wines have made me rethink a lot of what I’ve thought I knew about wines of their types, recently, and having my ravening curiosity and passion for wine rekindled like this is akin to having an amputated limb magically regrown. And of those three shocking wineries, Psagot has been the nicest surprise, both for what it tells me about the modern-day evolution of Israeli wines and just for the dazzling juice contained in this one bottle.
Psagot Winery and Ya’acov Oryah are The Real Deal and “Edom” is a blended red that outruns that prosaic description by miles. 99 points