Bazelet HaGolan Merlot Reserve 2006

I was in the wine shop in Machaneh Yehuda, just before Sukkos looking for a suitable wine for one of the Yom Tov kiddushim in the Sukkah and was recommended this Merlot. The salesgirl informed me that the Merlot Reserve 2007 was NIS 99 and the 2006 was NIS 130. Of course when I heard that it was a winery from the Golan Heights I became very excited and really wanted to try this wine. However, they were out of the 2007 and the 2006 was above my price limit of NIS 120. Because I wanted to buy three other wines the salesgirl said that I could have this Merlot for NIS 110. I readily agreed. If this winery was anything like its neighbours, Har Odem or Ramat HaGolan then we were in for a real treat.

Founded by Yoav Levy in 1998, this perfectly situated winery specialised in Cabernet Sauvignon, applying and receiving a kashrut certification in 2004.

It’s a medium sized boutique winery producing more than 50,000 bottles a year. The winery is one of five inside Moshav Kidmat Tzvi which is situated half way up the 9098 road, a 10 minute drive North from Katzrin.
Today, as well as their award winning Cabernet Sauvignon, the winery produces Merlot, Chardonnay and a luxury blend.
It produces its basic range called the Bazelet HaGolan Bronze series, sold to restaurants as table wines. Their top range series is called Bazelet HaGolan Reserve.

A word or two about the label. The first thing you notice is the Greek style image on the label. It wasn’t until we had opened the bottle and said Kiddush that we looked at the back label and learnt the significance of this.  The label proudly explains that the Greek head is an image of the so called Greek god of the wine harvest called Dionysus. I don’t suppose the winery sees any contradiction whatsoever between this Avodah Zara image and the Teudat Hechshir also displayed on the label. Some experts even claim that Dionysys was the very model or inspiration for the half man/half god of the earlyI Xtians that became “Yoshki Poski” himself.
You know, thinking about it, a so called Jewish winery placing the Greek god of wine harvest on their label sounds pretty sick to me! Yes it’s true that we are not bowing down to the wine but bearing in mind that wine has always had a very close association with Avodah Zarah (idol worship) and because of this, the Rabbanim have always been extra machmir (strict) when it comes to the kashrus of wine, I’m actually quite surprised that the winery managed to get away with this. The label shows the hechshir of the American "OK" as well as the Israeli "Badatz Igud Rabbanim", both of which are respectable authorities. Maybe the Rabbanut didn’t even realise as I must admit, neither did I before I bought it!
This is a rough translation of the back label:
“The fertile basalt soil of the Golan Heights, the special climate and a natural production process are the secret to the charm and quality of Bazelet HaGolan wines. The wine is kept unfiltered in oak barrels for 8 months to enhance the flavour and aroma. The wine is rich and has a unique strength.
The logo of Bazelet Hagolan Winery is an antique coin impressed with the image of Dionysus, god of Wine.”
The Merlot 2006 was their first attempt at another grape. I’m really no expert but overall impression was that this Merlot seemed to have been made by the same methods used for producing Cabernet Sauvignon which has resulted in a rather heavy aggressive, I’d say, clumsy Merlot. According to the back label, this Merlot Reserve was matured in oak for just 8 months which is surprising as smelling the wine gives the impression of a heavy, well matured Merlot.

Tasting notes: Hefty and full bodied. Plenty of rich but rather aggressive cooked raspberries and blackberries with a hint of unsweetened chocolate and a concoction of stale spices. Then comes the totally unprovoked assault on your taste buds. All fruitiness is completely obliterated by a most unpleasant rough tannins finish leaving a sensation in the mouth similar to having just gone through root canal treatment.
This is without doubt one wine to avoid for Kiddush. We made that mistake and suffered the consequences. We left the rest of this  Merlot until the start of the main course. Being that it was a Yom Tov meal and we say in our tephilos (prayers) that Sukkos is “zman Simchaseinu”, a time of great joy,  we always try and purchase “basar De’Orisa” - “real” meat (that is, not chicken) in order to fulfil the words of Chaza"l,  ein simcha elah b’basar veyayin” – there is no Yom Tov joy without Meat or wine.
Accordingly I brought a delicious slab of French brick Roast Beef to the table (Fleish meat with the excellent OU hechshir) cooked slowly in a sauce of Efrat Zinfandel Blush wine, tomato puree, basil and mushrooms.

I served this with Sweet potato and a spicy vegetable mix. The Merlot was obviously a lot more suited to this environment but I don’t see this as particularly a compliment.
An example photo I took from Google Images. (Not the actual roast beef we ate).
In my opinion, if you are given this wine as a present or see it for sale on special offer, take my advice and treat this Merlot like a heavy Cabernet Sauvignon when deciding when to drink it.
Being that this is the winery’s first attempt at a Merlot, perhaps I should give their 2007 a try. I say I should but I won’t. Not if they insist on that quite sick label I won’t! It doesn’t deserve to sit on my Shabbos Kodesh table.  Another very good reason why this wine is unsuitable for Kiddush.
Price: Around NIS 130

UPDATE:
I just spoke to my Rav about this wine label. He was of the opinion that the wine was certainly not treif or even pagum for the mitzvah of Kiddush. However, being that the winery goes to the trouble to proudly declare on the label that their company emblem is the Greek god of wine harvest, he certainly would not put the bottle on his Shabbos table and would instead, decanter the wine first.

UPDATE 2


I've just received an email from a Miriam Wudowsky, Consumer Inquiries, OK Kosher Certification. She informs me that as from 2009, Bazelet HaGolan have removed the Greek symbol from their labels. I went to check this out on the winery's Internet site.


http://www.bazelet-hagolan.co.il

The first thing you notice is that that Greek symbol is prominently displayed as the winery's emblem at the top of every page.

Now clicking on any wine from 2008 or earlier, you get a photo of the bottle with the Greek symbol on it. However, clicking on any bottle from 2009 and there is no image at all, just a missing image link! It could be that they have not as yet taken photos of the new style labels to put up on their site. I'll have to check back in a few months and see if they have updated the site.

Update 3.

I've just come across the 2009 vintages in a shop in Givat Shaul. I managed to snap a few photos of the bottles on the shelf with my phone.



The shop's shelf label, as you can see, tells you that they are 2009 vintage but it's difficult to make out the "2009" on the label from this photo as the lettering is in shiny gold. However, it is descernable if you look closely.
As you can see, the front label has not changed.
The back label still tells you that the logo is the image of Dionysus although it no longer tells you that he is the god of wine harvest. Is this an improvement?

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