One of the first boutique wineries in Israel, Margalit has set high standards for delicious well-educated red wines. Yonatan Sternberg visits the winery for a special showcase of some of this year's specials.
Much has been written and said about the Margalit Winery. Established in 1989 as one of the first boutique wineries in the country, this family-owned winery produces between 15,000-20,000 bottles per annum, currently focusing on the production of red wines and drawing grapes from the winery’s own vineyards situated on the costal plains (Binyamina) and in the Upper Galilee, adjacent to the ancient village of Kadita. The Binyamina vineyard is plated with Cabernet Franc vines while the winery’s northern vineyards grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a small plot of Petite Sirah. Margalit recently purchased additional land between Binyamina and Zichron Yaakov and will review the option of planting “white” grape varieties. The last white wine by Margalit was a 2001 Chardonnay and, after consistently producing excellent red wines, it will be interesting to sample a white wine produced by the winery. Dr. Yair Margalit, who served as Margalit’s first winemaker, founded the winery. Beginning his oenology career in the academia, Dr. Margalit literally “wrote the book” on how to properly establish and operate a boutique winery. Today his publications are studied in oenology schools and courses across the globe. Asaf Margalit, Yair’s son, currently serves as head winemaker; with the assistance of his father and co-winemaker Ramie Livne, is in charge of production at Margalit.After changing several locations, the winery relocated to its current facilities in the Hefer Valley. Margalit does not have a lavish visitor’s center and is not usually open to the public; however, during three weekends every spring (usually pre-Passover), Yair and Asaf invite wine aficionados to sample their new offerings and purchase them at special prices before officially being released to the wine stores.
Last week, I made my way up north to meet with Asaf and sample their new vinos. “We attempt to produce wines that are more elegant and not as bombastic in style while reflecting and working with the local terroir ,” says Asaf, “From the vineyard to the number of bottles we produce, we focus on quality not quantity: we do not have any intention of increasing production levels. At the current production rate we feel comfortable and are able to maintain the high standards we set for ourselves.” While this may sound like a gimmick and something that every winemaker would say about their winery, when it comes to Margalit, this is not a gimmick, but rather a way of life and a work standard. When asked about the aging potential of the Margalit wines, Asaf replied that “If the wine is good, it should be consumed and enjoyed. We do not produce wines and tell the customer to wait 20 years before drinking the bottle. If you are celebrating a special occasion or if you are enjoying a good meal with good company, that calls for a good bottle of wine. Of course some wines benefit from additional, even long term, cellaring and others require a year or two in the bottle before they come together, but my approach is that good wines should be enjoyed.”
Margalit’s new releases include the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, a red blend entitled “Enigma” and the Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve (S.R.), all from the 2009 vintage. My favorites were the Cab Franc and the S.R. The Margalit, Cabernet Franc 2009 is blended with 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, full bodied, the wine suggests various red berry fruits, spices, fresh herbs and distinct green notes associated with the Cab Franc on both the nose and palate. Many wineries use this grape for blending and tend not to produce varietal Cabernet Franc wines. While still a bit firm, Margalit’s version is both enjoyable and interesting and I look forward to tasting it again in a couple of years. Margalit Special Reserve 2009 - Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Petite Sirah come together nicely to create a full bodied, complex, concentrated and elegant wine. The S.R. is a real treat and judging from the rate in which participants at the event were buying up cases I am not sure how long they will last on the shelves.