The founders behind the project, hi-tech industry tycoons, built this winery not only to make good wine, but also to be a sanctuary, a little like the family-run tourist wineries abroad.
The winery and building was planned in the Italian style, and looks like it was taken in its entirety from Tuscany. It is set in one of the most beautiful locations on the Carmel, in the river bed in Makura ranch, near Kerem Maharal.
Winemaker Gil Shatzberg, a UC Davis graduate, worked for Carmel Wineries for five years, mostly at their Zichron Ya'acov winery, before joining the Amphorae team becoming the winery's first and only winemaker so far. In his five years at Carmel, he was among the initiators of the winery's "boutique" wine making facility, which makes most of Israel's largest winery's quality wines.
I visited Amphorae on one of the coldest, rainiest, days of the year. It was raining cats and dogs on the way, but miraculously, the rain had dissipated just as I arrived at the winery, most of it having already migrated south to the center of the country.
During the tasting, Shatzberg and I happened to be joined by Dr. Eli Heiman, an owner of one of Israel's best vineyards. It was thrilling to see Dr. Heiman looking for all of those terroir characteristics in the wines he was tasting, comparing “northern” Cabernet with wines originating from his vineyards, growing in the Shimshon - Seidon area, in the center of Israel.
The first wine we tasted was a Merlot barrel tasting of Heiman's Seidon (Gezer) vineyard. The wine, which is from the 2005 harvest, was full of red and green bell pepper aromas. Shortly after them rose the colors of the barrel, with plenty of chocolate.
In the mouth the wine is excellent and smooth. It is still tannic, but those are very delicate. The wine has the warmth of warm spice, and it is almost chewable. In comparison, we tasted a wine which was blended partly from Heiman’s vineyards, and partly from Malkia in the north. The nose was more closed, but Heiman’s wine undoubtedly came out and took over the entire scene.
The second tasting was also a barrel tasting, a 2004 Syrah from a vineyard, also in the plains area, planted on lime. This wine was very floral, with plenty of violets and roses. In the mouth the wine is very delicate and round. The 2004 Syrah will spend a total of two years in the barrel, so it still has a way to go until it reaches the market.
The 2005 harvest Syrah, in comparison, was from Manara and aged in an American barrel. It shows plenty of vanilla and, once again, typically, flowers. The mouth and finish were both very peppery, and the overall feeling was of a dynamic wine. The same wine, from the same vineyard but from a French barrel was flowery and peppery in a similar fashion, but was smoother and more pleasant; it was somehow less harsh.
After a few more barrel tastings we moved on to tasting bottles which will be soon marketed.
2003 was a great year…
Most of the wines were from the 2003 harvest, which is beginning to look like one of our best harvests. It was a classic year, long and steady, and this reflects on quality wines from other wineries as well, which are on sale now or were already on sale before:
Carmel Limited Edition, Barkan Reserve (Altitude) and Supirieur, Flam’s Merlot and the Golan Heights Winery Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon. There are more wines on the way, most notably those of Clos de Gat, which will be very interesting once they are out in the market.
We can also think way back to the 2003 Amphorae Chardonnay, which was excellent: “sweet tropical fruit. Full body, buttery, and leaves the mouth just as dry as it should be.”
All of the following wines were recently bottled, and will be available for purchase soon. In general, throughout, they are all excellent:
Rhyton 2003 - a blend of 80 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 percent Petite Syrah, 4 percent Syrah and 4 percent Merlot. A seductive high quality wine: A chocolate nose, with warm spices and a some flowers. It is well seasoned in the mouth, with a slightly acidic finish. Will be priced at around 90 NIS.
Amphorae Merlot 2003 – from Dr. Heiman’s Seidon vineyard. Very elegant, pleasant and of a high standard. Very chocolaty nose, plenty of pepper. In the mouth the wine is smooth and velvety, with good tannins. Very enjoyable, long, finish. This is not a heavy or chewable wine, but definitely excellent. Flam’s excellent Merlot is from the very same vineyard. It will be priced at around 90 NIS.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 – 50 percent of the grapes are from Malkia, in the North, and 50 percent originate from Eli Heiman's vineyards in the center. Other than dark fruit, it has aromas of vanilla – pudding or crème brule. The mouth is round and very pleasant. Long and tannic finish, and overall a very successful wine. It will be priced at around 120 NIS.
Amphorae Reserve 2003 – the last time the winery released a reserve wine was in 2000. Between then and 2003 the quality of the grapes just wasn’t high enough for Gil. This time it is a blend of 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 percent Merlot and 10 percent Cabernet Franc. After the wines are aged in separate barrels, Shatzberg selects the best barrels, makes the blend, and continues aging them.
Happy times are here again. The color isn’t very opaque but has a very classic, elegant, beautiful tone. You can easily sense aromas of red fruit and dark fruit, leather, mint and more. The wine is spicy, but despite 14.5 percent alcohol, there is no flavor of alcohol or bitterness in the finish.
1200 bottles of this wine were bottled in total, not including 100 magnum bottles. I think that if Shatzberg would donate a bottle of this wine to some auction, “Eshkol Hazahav”, for example, it will not remain unclaimed.