restaurant review

Old-world wines, new-world grapes: Flam at 20


At Noi Due Carne, a kosher Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side, a 20th-anniversary dinner showcased the work and style of Flam Winery — a high-end, family-owned boutique winery in the Judean Hills just outside Jerusalem.

While 20 years is a milestone, the winery considers itself young. Israel is considered new in terms of wine. “When we are talking about the terroir, the climate, altitude and soil, we are looking at the relationship between the winemaker and the land. We have to watch, learn and study; it takes a lot of years,” said Gilad Flam.

Flam’s reputation for elegance and quality preceded the dinner. Since attaining kosher certification in 2010, Flam’s wines have been on every kosher wine list of note annually, though they are generally not served in restaurants as Flam is not mevushal. I’ve especially found their stunning, refreshing rosé — blended from cabernet franc and Syrah — and Classico, Flam’s entry-level Bordeaux blend, to be heights above other wines in their class (particularly the Classico, which retails for around $30).

Flam’s wines, while at the higher end in terms of price, are consistently impressive from year to year. Gilad’s brother, Golan, who trained as a winemaker in Italy, and their father, wine legend Israel Flam of Carmel — have said that their wines are meant to be served with food. The fall flavors that Noi Due’s Chef Beau Houck utilized in his Mediterranean seasonal dinner were right on point.

From the rosé we tasted as an apéritif all the way to the reserve Merlot, and especially in their blends, the wines’ overall style of balanced acidity, with a restrained, more European sensibility showed through. These are old-world wines made with new-world grapes.

Flam spoke of the winery’s location and the benefit the grapes gain from cooler Mediterranean climates, as well as the higher elevations of the Judean Hills relative to the rest of Israel, especially in years like 2016, where a rainy winter was followed by a mild summer. “The higher altitude leads to more elegant wines with less sugar, which gives them better acidity. We are looking for less ‘fruit bombs,’ ” he said.

He explained that there are hectares of the vineyards literally “boxed in” by the hills, leading to mistier mornings that retain their cool temperatures for longer into the day.

Some stellar pairings

For the first course, Houck served a salad of tuna crudo with orange sections and sea salt, topped with scallions, serrano peppers, julienned radishes and halved olives, with a touch of herb and lightly roasted whole pistachios on top. The raw tuna was so fresh the imaginative combination of fruit, vegetables and nuts elevated it to a triumph. This is a dish I could eat every day. Flam Blanc 2017, an unoaked blend of Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay, was the perfect accompaniment. The wine has subtle notes of citrus, so it was snappy but didn’t overpower the delicate tuna. This wine is a smart pairing for salads.

Next, Houck presented a house-made merguez sausage, with incredible natural lamb casings, with cannellini beans, Calabrian hot chilis and Italian oregano. Classico 2016 and the Merlot Reserve 2016 were served alongside. While the Classico is one of my all-time favorite Bordeaux blends, the Merlot stood up better to the hot sausage and was a much better fit. The Classico is a beautifully spiced, warm wine with strong notes of vanilla, while the Merlot’s more bracing acidity with slightly less intense spice cut through the heat of the sausage.

The third course offered a single (and enormous) homemade raviolo, stuffed with melty shredded beef short ribs and an egg yolk that broke as one sliced into it. It was served in a red wine reduction with diced root vegetables. It was also served with two Syrah Reserves: the 2010 and 2016. Both were wonderful balances with the red meat and pasta. The Syrah itself, which Flam describes as “a little more funky,” was floral and a bit more fruit-forward, with some background of oak, giving it a lighter viscosity.

The main course, a za’atar-rubbed lamb chop on a base of parsnip purée and a pomegranate reduction, was served alongside a trio of great wines: the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2016, the Merlot Reserve 2012 and the Noble 2014, a higher-end Bordeaux blend. All of the wines were beautiful accompaniments, and every taste was a near-perfect bite followed by a near-perfect sip. The Noble contained that old-world scent of “barnyard,” which I spoke with Royal Wine’s Gabriel Geller about at some length. I have tasted this note in the background of older wines from France and Italy. He explained this is a desirable quality in a wine that newer tasters like me sometimes aren’t as quick to appreciate. In younger, California and other new-world wines, these flavors — the product of the wine’s aging — come through as leather or tobacco.

All in the family

With the group having enjoyed truly impeccable wines with a meal as well planned as it was presented, Flam noted that the “family aspect” of his winery was one of the most important factors in its quality. With his brother as lead winemaker, his father as a senior-level consultant and visionary, his sister Gefen as art and graphic designer, and his mother as CFO, the family members take pride in their roles — all of which contribute to the winery’s success.

“When it’s your name on the bottle, it makes all the difference,” he said.

We could tell that Chef Houck made the most of fall flavors. The meal ended with a bruléed meringue-covered miniature pumpkin, filled with a cold-pudding-flavored pumpkin and vanilla creme.

Definitely unique and a fun way to end the dinner, and a wonderful toast to Flam’s next 20 years.