A visit and tasting at Israel’s Dalton Winery.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers May 21, 2008
Londoner Alex Haruni recognized that Northeastern Israel needed a new economic base. During a visit to the area — which had been a fiscal sinkhole for years, with unemployment approaching 60 percent and families leaving in droves — Haruni had some surprisingly good wine made from local grapes. An examination of the vineyard convinced him that the Upper Galilee could produce world-class wine.
In 1995, Haruni established the Dalton Winery as the area’s first large-scale facility. Its grapes are sourced from volcanic soil 800 to 900 meters above sea level where cool nights and warm days create intensely flavorful wines. Nearly 10 square kilometers of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and other varietals surround the winery, which reduces the transportation time from harvest to crush. Trained in Australia and California, and one of Israel’s few female winemakers, Na’ama Mualem’s wines have won critical acclaim and numerous awards.
‘‘We feel very responsible to the area,” explains CEO Moshe Haviv. ‘‘It is best when everyone can make better wine. That is why we have the other winemakers from the Galilee come here to train and why we give away the computerized fermentation program we developed. We share our experiences with everyone.”
The commitment to quality is reflected in the decision not to release the most recent vintage of the very popular Moscato because it did not meet their high standards.
‘‘Some people said we should just sell it,” says Haviv. ‘‘But even though it will cost us a lot of money, we couldn’t allow it to be sold. Selling a poor wine would affect everyone.”
Haruni’s venture is a clear success and his dream of economic renewal is being fulfilled. Dalton is a leader in the rapidly growing Israeli wine industry. Many new wineries have opened, local unemployment has fallen to 1.2 percent and the nearby villages are filled with families. Dalton’s current production of 800,000 bottles per year is sold out until 2011, with nearly 75 percent consumed in Israel.
A recent tasting began with the delightful, off-dry Dalton Rose 2007. Made from Cabernet Sauvignon with floral, strawberry aromas, raspberry and dried cherry flavors, crisp acidity and a long finish, it is perfect for sipping poolside on a hot day. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling, the medium-bodied Dalton Canaan White 2006 is delightful with lovely white peach, pineapple and citrus fruits, good balance and a lingering finish. A gold-medal winner, the Dalton Sauvignon Blanc 2006 has grassy aromas, green apple and pear flavors, with crisp acidity, while the Dalton Fume Blanc 2006 is more complex, with beautiful floral and apple aromas, pineapples, lychee and soft oak notes, and a long finish.
The Dalton Merlot 2005 is rich and mouth-filling, with red berry fragrance, plum and cherry flavors, touches of spice and chocolate with moderate tannins that will allow it to be enjoyed now or savored for the next five to eight years. A well-structured powerhouse is the excellent, full-bodied Dalton Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005; it has layers of black fruit, currants and spicy, toasty oak, along with firm tannins and a hint of mint at the end. Made with 10 percent Viognier, the Dalton Syrah Reserve 2005 is stunningly elegant. Floral aromas almost explode from the glass and progress into complex spicy plum, raspberry and dark fruit flavors with a dash of white pepper. The balance is nearly perfect, and the finish prolonged, ending with a bit of licorice. A truly gorgeous effort and I purchased a magnum to enjoy with friends back in the U.S.