Adam S. Montefiore

Yatir Forest 2005

Since Robert Parker, the world’s most famous wine critic, gave the Yatir Forest 2003 93 points, Yatir Winery has turned into one of the hottest of the new boutique wineries in Israel. This was further reinforced when the Wine Spectator, the world’s leading wine magazine, awarded the Yatir Forest 2005 92 points. The only thing in common with the two tastings of Israeli wines was that Yatir Forest was the number one wine in both tastings! So the launch of the latest Yatir Forest was eagerly awaited. One Israeli magazine even referred to it as ‘Israel’s first cult wine!’

Yatir Forest is the de-luxe, prestige wine of Yatir Winery, which is situated at Tel Arad in the north east Negev desert. The vineyards lie within Yatir Forest, hence the name of the wine. This is Israel’s largest planted forest situated at up to 900 meters above sea level, in the southern Judean Hills. Yatir Forest the wine is usually a blend designed to reflect the unique terroir of the region. The mix of grape varieties changes every year, but it is always based on Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Yatir Forest 2005 is made from 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot and 10% Merlot. It was aged in small, French oak barrels, 1/3rd of them new, for 14 months. The wine has a deep red almost black color,and a rich, velvetty Cabernet nose with a hint of Mediterranean herbs in the background.

Yatir Winery was built in 2000 and first launched in 2004. It is owned by Carmel Winery but managed independently. The winemaker is Eran Goldwasser, a young Israeli who graduated from Adelaide University and worked for a Southcorp winery in Australia, before returning to israel to open Yatir.


Kosher Wine

Not all wines produced in Israel are automatically kosher. In fact there are more wineries producing non kosher wine in Israel. However more than 90% of the Israeli wine produced is kosher. This is because, without exception, the largest wineries only produce kosher wines.

Adhering to the Jewish Dietary Laws (kashrut) is essential for all orthodox Jews. The word kosher means pure. Kosher wine laws were established in ancient times, so an observant Jew could avoid drinking Yayin Nesech a wine used by non-Jews to make libations for idol worship and Stam Yayin ordinary wine made by and for non-Jews. Customs learnt over a number of years continue, making these the oldest of all wine laws.

At The Winery
For wine to be certified as kosher, the following regulations need to be followed at the winery.

1. Only religious Jews may handle the product and touch the winemaking equipment from the time the grapes arrive at the winery. The definition of a religious Jew for this purpose is one who is Shomer Shabbat who observes the Sabbath. Therefore a Jewish winemaker who is not orthodox is not allowed to draw samples from the barrels. It can be frustrating for a hands-on winemaker, but though it is a nuisance, it does not affect quality.

2. Only kosher items or substances may be used in the process. Yeasts, fining & cleaning materials have to be certified as kosher and must not be derived from animal by-products. Examples of fining agents not permitted, include gelatin (animal derivative), casein (diary derivative) and isinglass (because it comes from a non kosher fish.)
Kosher wine is perfectly suitable for vegetarians and if egg white is not used for fining, also for vegans,

In The Vineyard
Kosher wines produced in France, Italy & California, only have to observe these two criteria. In Israel Eretz Ha Kodesh (The Holy Land), kosher wine producers also have to observe the following agricultural laws which date back to the agrarian society in Biblical times:

a. Orlah . For the first three years, fruit from the vine may not be used for winemaking. The flower buds are removed to prevent fruit formation. In the fourth year the vine can bear fruity and a winemaker is permitted to use the grapes.
Interestingly most wine growers will anyway choose not to use fruit for the first few years for quality reasons.

b. Kilai HaKerem Cross breeding. Growing other fruits between the vines is prohibited. In southern Europe, a domestic winery may train its vines high, and grow its vegetables underneath. This would be prohibited, but anyone interested in quality has abandoned this practice anyway.

c. Shmittah Sabbatical Year. There is a law recorded in the Bible which states that every seventh year, the fields should be left fallow and allowed to rest. However because of economic realities, a special dispensation is given to relieve farmers of this requirement and the land is symbolically sold to a non Jew for the duration of the seventh year. The idea of resting the land or introducing a nitrogen cycle is a common practice in todays agriculture.

d. Terumot & Maaserot. This is a symbolic ceremony when over one percent of the production is poured away in remembrance of the ten per cent tithe once paid to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Categories of Kosher Wine

There are only three basic categories of kosher wine which will appear on a back label:
Kosher Permissible for Jews who observe the Jewish Dietary Laws.

Kosher for Passover Wine that has not come into contact with bread, grain or products made with leavened dough. Most kosher wines are also Kosher for Passover.

Kosher le Mehadrin Wine for which the rules of kashrut have been stringently approved.

So far it may be seen, there are rules full of ritual & tradition. Notice though, there are no regulations affecting the quality of the wine and standard winemaking procedures are followed in the harvesting, fermentation, maturation, blending and bottling.

The issue of Mevushal Wine is more controversial.

Yayin Mevushal

Mevushal wines must be flash pasteurized to 175 degrees fahrenheit or 80 degrees centigrade. The requirement relates to wine handling and service, but is only relevant to orthodox Jews and is usually only required in the context of kosher catering. If mevushal, a non-observant waiter is permitted to serve the wine to a strictly religious person.
Usually it is the lesser expensive wines used in kosher banqueting that may be mevushal, but without doubt, the best quality Israeli kosher wines are those which are not mevushal.

Israeli wine represents for the religious Jew the largest range and best quality kosher wines in the world. Many of Israels finest prestige wines just happen also to be kosher.

For the rest of the world, Israeli wines represent high quality, from an exotic region in the Eastern Mediterranean, and it is of secondary importance if the wine is kosher or not. The objective for wineries producing kosher wines remains to make the best possible wines. that just happen also to be kosher!
Kiddush Wines

The category that has done untold damage to the image of kosher wines are the infamous Kiddush or Sacramental wines. They are often used by Jewish communities or families to make kiddush the blessing over wine on Friday night. The custom grew because a sweet wine lasted from week to week and the children also liked it. Also Christian communities seeking wine from The Holy Land will also use similar wines as Altar or Communion wines


The World of Israeli Wines

However one area of great interest and a surprise to those who don’t know about it is the thriving wine industry, which is now producing wines of real interest to connoisseurs and wine lovers alike

Israel is situated in the Eastern Mediterranean or Near East an area, which in Bible times, was the France of today, leading the world’s wine culture. If the art of winegrowing began somewhere in between the Black & Caspian Seas and worked its way south, the Levant (including Ancient Israel) must have been one of the first wine producing regions (long before the Greeks & Romans got into the act.)

Today it may be said that Israel is a New World wine country from one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world.

The modern Israeli wine industry was founded in the 1880’s by a Rothschild who was no less than a part owner of Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux! Not surprisingly therefore, the initial influence was French. The quality revolution began in the 1980s with the import of expertise from California and today Israel’s young winemakers study all over the world with perhaps Australia taking over from California as the main influencing country.

Israel is already famous for its advanced technology & innovative agriculture. Both these qualities come together in Israel’s vineyards. Whether it is growing vineyards in the desert, the latest drip feed irrigation or having meteorological stations in the vineyards, Israel is a leader in viticulture. Also like many long thin countries (such as Chile & Italy), Israel has a wide range of different micro-climates from the snow covered Mount Hermon in the north to the Negev desert in the south.

As far as wineries concerned, there are over 150! Amongst these are ten wineries producing over 500,000 bottles a year and a further ten producing close to 100,000 bottles a year or more. Many of the rest are small boutique wineries and garagistes spread throughout the country.

Today it is no longer a surprise that one Israeli winery is invited to the New York Wine Experience, and another to the Decanter Fine Wine Show. These are by invitation only, to the finest wineries in the world. Yet another winery finds itself in the list of the Hundred Most Exciting Wines in the World. Other wineries regularly win gold medals in international competitions.

Israeli wine has arrived. It is exotic, high quality but largely unknown to many. This website will introduce you to the World of Israeli Wines.


New Private Collection from Carmel

Carmel have launched a new look for their Private Collection label. The new label is in a stylish black and white with a new, easy to read logo.
The first wine released with the new look is the Private Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2007. Made from 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot from the Galilee region, the wine was aged for 8 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels. One big difference from the past is that all the new Private Collection wines are not mevushal or flash pasteurised. This first wine represents the ongoing quality revolution by Carmel, the historic winery of Israel, which was first revealed with their flagship wine Carmel Limited Edition, Single Vineyard wines like Kayoumi and Appellation, a series of regional wines. It has now filtered down to wines geared to the quality mass market.
Private Collection was first launched as Carmel’s number one label in 1988. Today it features more in the supermarkets but has gained a name for representing quality, reliability and excellent value.

Another representative of the new Private Collection is a sparkling wine called Private Collection Brut NV, made for the first time and only recently released. This wine is made from 50% Colombard, 40% Chardonnay and 10% Viognier, produced mainly from the Shomron Wine Region. Five per cent of the Chardonnay was fermented in French oak barrels and the wine was made by the Charmat or Cuve Close process. The label for this wine is a striking black but it also shows off the new Private Collection logo.

These Private Collection wines are regarded as representing a great leap in quality by many critics and a break with the past. Wine lovers are eagerly awaiting the release of the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and the 2008 whites, including Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.


Biblical Heritage

The art of winemaking is thought to have begun somewhere in the triangle between the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Sea of Galilee. From there the vine travelled south through Phoenicia and Canaan to Egypt, which became the first great wine culture. The Egyptians particularly prized the wine of Canaan. So Canaan must have been one of the earliest countries to make wine ? and this was over 2,000 years before the vine reached Europe.

The Israelites? interest in winegrowing is a continual theme throughout the Bible and Talmud. Wine was seen as a symbol of happiness and out of all the books of the Bible, only the Book of Jonah contains no reference to it.
Of the seven species with which Eretz Israel was blessed, the vine was first amongst the fruits (Deut. 8:8).

The first mention of wine in the Bible is Noah, who built the ark to prepare for the flood. After the water subsided, he planted a vineyard and then got drunk on the resulting wine. (Genesis 9:20-21).

When in the Book of Numbers, Moses sent the spies to scout out the ?Promised Land?, they returned with a bunch of grapes, so large that it had to be carried on a pole, to illustrate that ?this was a land flowing with milk and honey?. This image has been used today as the logo of both Carmel Winery and the Israel Government Tourist Office.

Isaiah?s song about vineyards (Isa. 5) gives a detailed account of planting a vineyard through to the harvesting of its grapes. He likens God to an owner of a vineyard and Israel to the vineyard. Ezekiel (17:1-10; 19:10-14) also regards the vine as symbolizing the people of Israel and all the prophets use vines as a symbol of the happy state. The prophet Michah?s vision of peace on earth was ?? every man shall sit under his vine and fig tree and none shall make him afraid.?

Sixteen times the Bible mentions corn, wine and oil as representing the principle produce of the country, the base of the economy and chief blessing of the soil (Deut. 7:13).

There is no quality wine producing country in the present day that can boast such a rich history of wine production and wine culture as Israel. Almost everywhere, archeological finds have been unearthed in abundance. Coins, amphorae, wine presses, wine goblets all bear witness to a wine history, which continued unbroken until the Moslem conquest in 636 C.E.