Adam S. Montefiore
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ITS ALL GREEK

This article first appeared in the Wine Talk column in the Weekend Supplement of the Jerusalem Post

Once, this country had a love affair with Turkey and Israelis went in droves on holiday there. Then the situation changed and all of a sudden, Greece has become our new friend. People have returned from Rhodes, Crete and Santorini raving about Greece as a holiday destination.

In the last few years some good Greek style restaurants have opened in Israel. Suddenly Greece, amid all its economic problems, has become a symbol of greek1the Eastern Mediteranean life we aspire to.

The Ancient Greeks had one of the world’s great wine cultures. They even had a God for wine, Dionysus. They mixed what was then considered by Jews a toxic cocktail of wine, philosophy and hedonism. This was highly frowned upon by the Israelites of the time and considered a threat. It was in the shadow of the Greek raison d’etre of good living, that the Jewish attitude to wine was forged.

The rabbis set up the safeguards that built a fence of Jewish law around the subject of wine to avoid inadvertently drinking Yayin Nesech (wine that may be used for idol worship) and Stam Yeynam (a wine made by non-Jews). Mixing socially was forbidden for fear it would lead to intermarriage. Moderation was the antidote. These two great wine cultures, Greek & Israeli, grew side by side. One championed excess and the other focused on strict controls. One exported the vine & wine culture (for instance to Italy) and the other enshrined the importance of wine in Judeo Christian religious ritual.

There are also many similarities between the two. Despite their rich wine ancient history, both Greece and Israel made pretty awful wine for almost 2000 years. Their wine industries revived at the end of the 19th century, based on volume not quality. This was due to efforts of particular companies like Achaia Clauss, Boutari and Kourtakis in Greece, and Carmel in Israel. Some quality pioneers starting making serious wine in the 1980’s, starting with Chateau Carras in Greece and the Golan Heights Winery in Israel.

In the 1990’s there was a boutique revolution in both countries with new young internationally trained winemakers breathing life and quality into these historic, but stagnant wine industries. Then in both countries the larger wineries diversified and converted to quality. Look at Boutari & Tsantalis in Greece and Carmel and Teperberg in Israel for example.

Today these two wine countries are making better wine than ever, but despite the exciting things happening in wine quality, both countries still have major problems. Much of the world still assumes Israeli wines are sweet oxidized ‘Jewish’ wines. As far as the Greeks are concerned, the image is either Retsina (a white wine flavored with pine resin) or Demestica (a cheap brand that was ever present in kebab kiosks).

As a result both are grateful to export to ‘captive’ markets. Israel mainly sells to the Jewish market in the United States and Greece to ex-patriots in places like Germany. The potential in both countries has not been realized because of the damaging preconceived ideas honed by the 100 years of mediocrity. However, just like in ancient times, these two countries have revived the Eastern Mediterranean. Now it is a new world of wine, in one of the oldest wine growing regions on earth.

In Israel, there has been a distinct move to Mediterranean style wines. This trend was started by Carmel and Vitkin wineries just over ten years ago. They were the pioneers. The baton has since been picked up by Recanati too. Lately Arza Winery came out with a label called ‘i-med’. Now Tulip Winery has taken it a step further by launching MAIA Winery, with the slogan ‘Mediterranean Approach Israeli Art’.

Not enough for them the Mediterranean flavor, these wines have a distinct Greek look. The winery has a Greek consultant and not just anyone but Yiannis Paraskevoulos, one of the heroes of the modern Greek renaissance. The stylish labels with a Greek look pay homage to the Mediterranean which Israel is part of. Better to be in the Eastern Mediterranean where wine culture was born than the Middle East! Maia is a super initiative, well executed, which symbolizes a new love affair with all things Greek.

I have long been a firm admirer of Greek wines. It is a country with variety approaching that of Italy with hundreds of local, indigenous varieties. As a beginners guide, you need to know about four of them.

The star is the white Assyrtiko which produces steely, citrussy white wines. The variety is at its best in the volcanic Santorini in the Cyclades Islands in the Aegean Sea. There, it is so windy that the vine is uniquely weaved into a kind of basket with the fruit nestling inside for protection. The wines have a minerality that we could only dream of achieving here. How I would love to try this variety in Israel! The finest practioners of these wines are Argyros and Gaia wineries. The Gaia Thalassitis is unique example of Assyrtiko, with a tantalizing taste of the sea. You have to taste it to understand what I mean. Gaia is a winery owned by Yiannis Paraskevopoulos.

Moschofilero is a pink grape variety that thrives in Mantinia in the Peloponnese. This produces grapey whites with aromas of rose petals and a touch of spice. One of the best is produced by the Tselepos Winery.

There are other white wines to look out for including Gerovassiliou Malagousia (made not far from Salonika) or Gentilini Robola from Cephalonia (Ionian Islands), but the Assyrtikos and Moschofileros will be easier to find.

For reds, there is the Xinomavro. This is at its truest in the Naoussa region of Macedonia in the north. The wines are real originals. They are high in acidity and very tannic, with earthy aromas of truffles, and olives. Near maybe to an older Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. Difficult to grow and an acquired taste to like, but certainly different and unique. The finest examples are produced by Boutari, Kir Yianni and Alpha Estate.

More traditional is the other great red grape of Greece, the Agiorgitiko (pronounced ‘ahiorgheetiko’). The home of this is the Nemea region in the Peloponnese. The wines are more rounded and fruit forward. The variety is capable of making fruity easy drinking or deep colored, complex wines bursting with aromas of cherries and ripe plums. The best is produced by the afore mentioned Gaia Winery. Or you can taste wines from those who blend the Greek variety with an international variety. The Skouras Megas Oenos is a good example of this fusion.

Then Greece has the most wonderful range of dessert wines. The honeyed, luscious Vinsanto made from sun dried Assyrtiko grapes on Santorini is legendary. King of all is the range produced by Argyros Winery. The best are released only after aging for 20 years. These are some of the world’s greatest sweet wines.

There are also the high quality range of Muscats from the Island of Samos in the northern Aegean, not far from Turkey and the unique Mavrodaphne, a port style wine from Patras in the Peleponnese.

I have done Greece an injustice by focusing on a few headlines, but Greek wines with a history & credibility are produced everywhere from Crete to Thrace. Maybe their whites are better than their reds. Many would say the opposite about Israeli wines. They also have all international varieties we do. The one with the best outlook is Syrah, (try the Gerovassiliou Syrah.) The Syrah or Shiraz has really become the international variety of our region. A latecomer, not yet widely planted, but it really does seem to have an affinity with the Eastern Mediterranean.

So there you have Greek wines in a very small nutshell. The wine intelligentsia in Israel has only recently discovered them. Soon they will arrive in these shores. Whether you meet them here or there, make a point of seeking them out.

 

adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine for both Israeli and international publications.

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KOSHER QUALITY

Let’s destroy some popular misconceptions: Not all kosher wine is made in Israel and not all Israeli wine is kosher! Nowadays nearly every wine producing country in the world today produces kosher wine. In Israel, just to be confusing, many of the smaller wineries make non-kosher wine. However it is true to say that the majority of wine made in Israel is kosher.

The kosher wine laws are the oldest wine laws in the world. France may boast about its Appellation Controllée and Cru Classé systems, which have roots that may go back hundreds of years, but the Kosher wine laws are measured in thousands. Some of these laws (orla, kilai hakerem) still make sound agricultural sense. Others (like shmittah, trumot & maserot) are today regarded as more symbolic. In Biblical times though, they were revolutionary, addressing the profoundest issues of spirituality v’s materialism, economic justice and ecological sustainability. One thing is for certain, not one of the kosher wine laws may be held as a reason for making poor wine.

The kosher designation should not be thought as a quality defining process. Think of kosher certification more like a quality assurance program, similar to the ISO systems. All raw materials like yeasts, barrels and fining agents have to be prepared under the strictest quality and hygiene standards. Origin and traceability are key and there is an exaggerated emphasis on cleanliness. However there is nothing which alters the basic way of making wine and traditional methods are followed throughout the process.

A kosher wine today is likely to be dry, possibly made from a classic variety like Cabernet Sauvignon, which is grown in the finest vineyards of Bordeaux, California or the Galilee. The technology will be advanced and the equipment state of the art. The winemaker will be internationally trained, just like his non-kosher winery counterpart. No difference between kosher and non-kosher. It will be harvested, fermented, aged and bottled in the same way. A well-made kosher wine is good and a poorly made kosher wine is bad. It is not good or bad because it is kosher.

Mark Squires, an expert on Israeli wines, got it right. He wrote in the Wine Advocate and Robert Parker’s Wine Guide: “Today the mainstream (Israeli Kosher) wines are more likely to be bottlings of Bordeaux varietals, Chardonnay, or Syrah that have typicity and will seem familiar to sophisticated consumers.” He went on to say: “…no one should avoid wines simply because they have kosher certifications.”

Unfortunately the word ‘kosher’, where wine is concerned, is almost a pejorative term. If it is kosher, there are those who believe it can’t be good. Regrettably, kosher wine is often confused with the Kiddush wine category. These are the sweet, red sacramental wines that have given kosher such a bad name. A quality kosher wine can be equated to other quality wines. It has nothing at all in common with the sweet, sugary liquid religion wine used as Altar or Communion wine by Christians or Kiddush wine by Jews.

Most wineries usually prefer to ignore the ‘k’ word. They want to make the best ‘Israeli and Eastern Mediterranean’ wine they can, which just happens also to be kosher.

Strict observance of kashrut, does not prohibit the possibility of either making great wine or even drinking a fine wine for purposes of religious ritual. One of Judaism’s greatest sages, The Rambam, aka Maimonides, gives some guidance here. He was an early proponent of quality wines and insisted that sweetened or pasteurised wines should not be used either for Kiddush or ‘Arba Kossot’, the four glasses at Passover.

Regrettably it is often the Jewish communities around the world, which are the most cynical with regard to the acceptance of the possibility of quality kosher wine. A lifetime of Palwin in the UK, Manischevitz, Mogen David & Kedem in the USA, King David, Yashan Noshan and Conditon in Israel at Simchas, Shabbats and Seders has had an effect.

Recent events have proved them wrong. Awards, scores and critics reviews have provided international recognition at the very highest level and destroyed forever the pre-conceived ideas about kosher wines.

Castel, Yarden and Yatir have each been awarded 93 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Yatir Forest has scored 90 or more points eight years in a row. Castel received four stars from Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book, the highest rating possible. Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon was in the Wine Spectator’s Annual Top 100 Wines. Carmel’s Kayoumi Shiraz won The Decanter International Trophy, beating the best from France & Australia. The Golan Heights Winery was adjudged the best winery at Vinitaly. Carmel Winery, Domaine du Castel, Yarden-Golan Heights Winery and Yatir Winery are proudly Israeli and their wines happen also to be Kosher.

To put this third party recognition in perspective, Robert Parker is the world’s leading wine critic and Hugh Johnson the world’s leading wine writer. The Wine Spectator is one of the world’s leading wine magazines and the Decanter World Wine Awards, one of the world’s leading competition. Vinitaly is one of the world’s leading wine exhibitions. Each of the wines was being judged on a criteria of quality alone and not on a basis of whether they were kosher or not.

Sparkling wine is made everywhere, but French Champagne is regarded as the best. In the same way, kosher wine has become international. However the finest kosher wines in the world are, in my humble opinion, produced in Israel. Likewise in the same way New Zealand specializes in Sauvignon Blanc and Argentina in Malbec, Israel specializes in kosher wine. The best range, quality and best value kosher wines are today available from Israel.

Lets face it, kosher wines have had a bad reputation because once they were pretty awful. This is no longer true, but many abroad have not caught up with the new reality. The ‘k’ word stigma still exists. Now the world’s leading wine experts have given kosher wines their approval, it is time the wine drinking public did the same.

We should not be ashamed of producing kosher wines or labeling our wines as kosher. We should be kosher and proud of it!

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine for both Israeli and international publications.

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DESERT PIONEER

This article first appeared in the Wine Talk column in the Weekend Supplement of the Jerusalem Post

The Negev is a desert area that comprises 60 percent of Israel. In historical times it was a major center of winemaking on a commercial scale. The Nabateans and Byzantines each had wine presses of a scale designed to produce large quantities of wine, much of which was sold for export. Simply visit the old wine presses at Shivta and Avdat to appreciate that even then, or especially then, Negev was a thriving wine country.

It was the fervent wish of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, that the Negev would be settled and agriculturists would learn to conquer the desert. He wanted the desert to bloom and set a personal example by retiring to Kibbutz Sde Boker when he resigned as prime minister.

He had started his career in Israel working for Carmel Winery at Rishon Le Zion Cellars. There he challenged his fellow harvest workers to see who could tread grapes for the longest time. He won his bet, but the smell of wine during fermentation made him feel so nauseous, he was not able to enjoy wine for years afterwards.

The folklore says he organized the first strike there and was eventually fired for his efforts. Fortunately, for the State of Israel that is, he was better at state building and politics.

In fact, it was Carmel Winery who were the first modern pioneers of the Negev. They planted their Ramat Arad vineyard at Tel Arad in 1988, in the northeastern Negev. I remember when Carmel first came out with their Merlot from its desert vineyard in 1992. Today the vineyard, surrounded by Bedouin and camels, is alongside an agricultural looking building housing one of Israel’s most technologically advanced wineries, Yatir.

Yatir Winery is Israel’s most famous desert winery, but their grapes come from the high altitude Yatir Forest. Ben-Gurion decided in the early 1960’s, that he wanted to plant a forest on the hills north of Arad and south of Hebron.

His advisers told him, “The scientists say it is just not possible.” Ben-Gurion retorted; “So, change the scientists!” The forest was planted in 1964 and became Israel’s largest planted forest. This initiative stopped the encroachment of the desert and Yatir Forest, a meeting place between the the Judean Hills, the Negev, and the Judean Desert, became one of Israel’s most interesting ‘new’ quality wine growing areas in the 2000’s.

Then Tishbi and Barkan wineries began using vineyards at Sde Boker and Mitzpe Ramon respectively. However, the real pioneers of the Negev wine country are Alon & Nira Zadok. They were firstly pioneers in the Sinai, and when that was evacuated for peace they moved across the border to Moshav Kadesh Barnea, near Nitzana, and became pioneers again.

The original Kadesh Barnea is where the Children of Israel camped, when Moses sent the twelve spies to scout out the Promised Land. Two of them returned with a bunch of grapes so large, it had to be held on a pole between them, and then uttered the immortal quote: “it is a land of milk and honey and this is its fruit…”

Alon & Nira helped settle the area, planting vegetables & table grapes. They looked back in history and gained strength from the agricultural activities of times gone by, and decided if the Nabateans had made wine so successfully, it was something they could do. So they became pioneers for a third time. This time wine pioneers.

They planted Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the sandy soil in 1997, and founded the Kadesh Barnea Winery in 2000. Alon took wine courses at the Derech Ha’Yain Wine Store, Sorek Winery Winemaking School and at the Faculty of Agriculture under the tutelage of Dr. Yair Margalit. In that first year they produced 3,000 bottles. The enthusiastic amateur transformed into a wine professional and fulfilled his dream of making wine in his beloved Negev.

In 2010 he passed the winemaking baton on to his eldest son, appropriately named Yogev. (The word ‘Yogev’ means a worker of the land). Now, he is an internationally trained winemaker. He learnt Italian so he could study in Florence. Most Israelis go to learn winemaking in California, Adelaide, Montpelier or maybe Milan…but Florence! Can there be a more beautiful place to study winemaking Uniquely, he was accompanied by his wife, Eden. She did not only go with him to Italy, but also into the class room and laboratory. She also took the three year course.

Both Yogev and Eden were inspired by the Italian style of reds. Good acidity, not overoaked and wines that are designed to go with food.

Today the winery has reached production of 90,000 bottles. Their grapes are harvested from vineyards all over the Negev Heights region from Haluza to Sde Boker and Ein Avdat down to Mitzpe Ramon. Not forgetting, of course, their own Nitzana vineyards.

Recently they have renamed the winery ‘The Ramat Negev Winery’. This is to emphasize their unique wine region and the labels have been modernized to reflect the needs of a more commercial winery. The wines may be recognized by the initials RN, stylishly written in metallic bronze on all their labels. They have taken ownership for this newest of the developing wine regions in modern Israel.

Yogev Zadok believes passionately in the Negev Heights. He now has the knowledge and expertise to match with the pioneering dreams and enthusiasm of his parents. He says the altitudes are high, up to 900 meters above sea level. Temperatures are hot, but averages out cooler than what you would expect, because nighttime temperatures can be very cold. There is no humidity and vine diseases are at a minimum. There is also no rain, but drip feed irrigation allows him total control.

David Ben Gurion would be proud. The Negev is sprouting vineyards. There is nothing like coming across an expanse of green vineyard in a sparse, sandy, scrubby desert where nothing else grows. See what I mean on the way down to Eilat. Look out for the vineyards at Sde Boker or Mitzpe Ramon.

Within the last 10 years, new farms have sprung up with boutique dairies, vineyards, olive groves, farm animals and horses. There are new small wineries joining in the Israeli wine boom, in this most exacting wine-growing region of all. Midbar Winery has joined Yatir in the northeastern Negev and Carmei Avdat amongst others, is off Route 40 in the central Negev. However the Ramat Negev Winery is the one showcasing the terroir of the Negev Heights and reviving a 2,000 year old tradition.

Ramat Negev has three labels. The basic label is called Kadesh Barnea. Neve Midbar is mid way blends and the Ramon label is their premium varietals. My favorite wines I tasted were as follows:

Neve Midbar White 2013

Dry White Wine

An intriguing blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. The wine is dry. It is made like a Blanc de Noir, and there is a faint blush color from the red grapes. It has tropical fruit notes and a delicate acidity. Good value.

Price: 69 shekels

Neve Midbar Red 2011

A Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Merlot. Aged in a combination of American and French oak barrels. Quite oaky & full bodied, with aromas of ripe black fruits and vanilla. A full flavor in the mouth with good length.

Price: 89 shekels

Ramon Petit Verdot 2011

This is a single vineyard estate wine from their own vineyards. It is a rare varietal Petit Verdot, but one of the best. Deep colored with a nose of blueberry, blackberry and black cherry, a chewy mid palate and a long finish that remains long after swallowing. This may well be their calling card.

Price: 120 shekels

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine for both Israeliand international publications.

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PRESERVE THE HERITAGE

This article first appeared in the Wine Talk column in the Weekend Supplement of the Jerusalem Post

I entered this world of wine through the door of Bass Charrington. It was once the largest drinks company and pub owner in Britain, the largest brewery in Europe and the largest hotelier in the world. Bass Charrington Vintners owned Alexis Lichine, Château Lascombes and a three hundred year old wine & spirits shippers called Hedges & Butler, with cellars under London’s Regent Street.
One of the companies represented by ‘H&B’, as we called it, were the Bordeaux wines of Baron Philippe de Rothschild. This was how I was introduced to

Château Mouton Rothschild, the premier wine from the same stable.

I remember being invited to Mouton to participate in the grape picking harvest. It was backbreaking work. At lunch we were encouraged us to drink too much Fine de Bordeaux (local brandy). As a result the afternoon was even more difficult.

At the end of the day, the winery showed its style and flair for public relations. The guest pickers were presented with a signed certificate and a few years later we were sent magnums of their three Château wines: Mouton Rothschild, Clerc Milon and Mouton Baronne Philippe, (later renamed d’Armailhac). Of course, of the vintage we had harvested. Not bad for a day’s work.

At dinner, we were served wine from the Baron’s famous long necked decanters, tied with a red serviette to catch drips. We drank Château Mouton Rothschild 1971. I remember the depth of color, the fruit concentration and the whiff of cigar box until today. It was my first really high quality wine and remains a reference point for me.

Funnily enough Mouton was purchased in 1853 by one of the English Rothschilds, Nathanial, who was a nephew of my distinguished forebear, Sir Moses Montefiore. He was also a first cousin of Baron Edmond de Rothschild who founded Carmel Winery.

Sadly, each of the companies that brought me to wine no longer exists. Hedges & Butler had been founded in 1667, Charrington in 1757 and Bass in 1777. Despite a past so long and distinguished, they just disappeared. Pouff! Nothing remains of their history and heritage. Across the Atlantic, another disappearing act was Seagram, founded in 1857. When taken over by the Jewish Canadian family, the Bronfmans, it became one of the largest spirits companies in the world producing global brands like Chivas Regal and also, of more interest to Israelis, Sabra. However this great company lasted just three generations of family ownership.

All these companies are part of the trash can of history, apart from the odd brand that still carries their name like Bass Ale or Seagram’s Gin. Whilst working for Carmel Winery, Israel’s oldest and most historic company, I am always conscious of how important it is to preserve the history and heritage for future generations.

This is why I want to pay special tribute to Baroness Philippine de Rothschild (1833-2014), who passed away in August. She was owner of both Château Mouton Rothschild and the negociant company Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, named after her father.

Baron Philippe de Rothschild was a poet, playboy & womanizer who loved fast cars and the theatre. He was imprisoned during World War Two and then fought in the resistance. I once wrote an article in Al Hashulchan, (the Israeli Bon Appetit), claiming he was the outstanding wine personality of the 20th century and he really was that influential.

He was the first person to introduce château bottling. He was the first to create a wine brand, Mouton Cadet. He was first to understand the label was an extension of the image & marketing of the wine. He commissioned artists such as Picasso, Andy Warhol, Chagall, Salvador Dali and the Israeli Yaacov Agam to create his labels each year.

Rothschild was the first to sign the front label as a personal guarantee of quality. He was the first to undertake a high profile joint venture when he created Opus One in Napa Valley with Robert Mondavi. He was the first to create both a dramatically lit, showroom barrel cellar and a unique wine art museum at a winery.

Finally after a lifetime of campaigning, he succeeded to raise his beloved Mouton Rothschild to a Premier Cru Classé in the historic Bordeaux classification. He fell into wine in his twenties and by the time he died in 1988, he was the most visible icon of the world’s most famous wine region, Bordeaux.

His daughter, Philippine, had it tough taking over from a legend who was both eccentric, (he held most meetings from his bed) and a dominating character. At ten years old, she had the trauma of watching her mother, who was a Catholic, dragged away by the Nazis, simply because she was married to a Jewish Rothschild. She was put on one of the last trains to the death camps, and died in the Ravensbruck gas chambers days before liberation. Philippine grew up as a successful actress. Yet, at over fifty years of age, she found herself, a woman in a man’s world, in charge of her father’s wine interests.

Looking back at her wine career, it is possible to say she built on her father’s creativity and further developed the company. She polished the jewel and advanced the business. She refurbished Château Mouton Rothschild and retained and enhanced its position as one of the greatest wines in the world. She brought in a younger winemaker up to date with modern techniques. She produced a second wine to Mouton called Le Petit Mouton and introduced a high quality white, Aile d’Argent. She built a winery for Château Clerc Milon. She brought content to the Opus One partnership. She made her own joint venture with Concha Y Toro, Chile’s most famous winery, producing Almaviva. She expanded into the Languedoc and enlarged the Bordeaux business.

She organized a travelling exhibition of the Mouton labels around the world and it has now settled in the refurbished museum at the Château. I always have the latest framed poster of all their labels in my office. I believe this is the ultimate in stylishness reminding that wine is art and so much more than just a drink.

Philippine was charming , vivacious, outgoing with coiffured hair, big junky jewelry and an outsize personality. Once we shared a podium together when she was President of the IWSC and I was representing a sponsoring winery. However the ‘always the actress’ exterior belied a finely tuned business instinct, a fierce attention to detail and a drive to be the best. Now she has been taken from us too suddenly, it is most impressive to see that she has already incorporated two of her children, Philippe (junior) and Julien into the business, so there will be a seamless continuation of her and her father’s legacy.

So when you have companies like Hedges & Butler, Bass, Charrington and Seagram virtually vanishing without trace, despite hundreds of years of heritage, it is to her credit that her Mouton Rothschild and Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA continue from strength to strength and remain beacons in their industry.

Incidentally, all the labels between 1945 and today are printed on their website, except one. The 1984 wine, with the Agam label, is not there. I don’t know why the only one missing is the one with an Israel connection. However as a nod to their Jewish roots, they do produce a kosher cuvée of Mouton Cadet. Hopefully this impressive company will continue to lead the way by being a symbol of quality, style and panache for many years to come. Bravo to the Baroness, et merci!

 

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VERY SPECIAL WINERIES

The ultimate community winery is one that is born out of a community for people with special needs, who contribute to the production. This is a wine that needs extra respect. There are two unique and special wineries in Israel that come into this category.

Tulip Winery is a gem situated to the east of Mount Carmel. It may be found in a small village called Kfar Tikvah, or the Village of Hope, near Kyriat Tivon. The village was founded in the 1960’s, designed to help those with special needs. The objective is to care for those people that society sometimes forgets or pretends do not exist. Kfar Tikvah allows them to live a full and normal life with dignity. It provides each of its residents with a home, a livelihood and the opportunity to contribute to the community. Everyone is given the chance to reach their full potential.

The Yitzhaki family started a winery there in 2003. A cynic may have said in the beginning, that it was a good hearted gimmick, but any thoughts like this have been swept away by the winery’s commitment to the village and its inhabitants, and the seriousness and quality of the winery.

The manager of Tulip Winery is Roy Yitzhaki. He is young, dynamic and good looking. He seemed to start in the wine business as a bit of fun, but became more and more drawn in as sales and recognition grew. His devotion to the winery, the principles of the village and his workers is heartwarming. He has built a team in his image and is always looking forward.

Some of Tulip’s labels are very innovative. The varietals, made from one grape variety, are name ‘Just’. So the Cabernet Sauvignon is called Just Cabernet Sauvignon. The blends are called ‘Mostly’. This is followed by the name of the dominant variety. It is all very clear and obvious when it is explained, though a little confusing if not.

They source grapes from all over but mainly from the Galilee. From the beginning, Tulip’s wines gained a name for quality and value. The wines were priced very reasonably, even when the wines were scarce. This was an early sign of Yitzhaki’s wisdom, beyond his years. Today they are no longer a small boutique winery. They produce nearly 200,000 bottles a year.

The winemaker is David Bar Ilan, who took over in 2012. He a dreamy-eyed wine lover, who, initially, wanted to do anything to do with wine, even if it meant working in sales. I got to know him when he worked for Carmel Winery in the Restaurant Division.

However he was always determined to get in to the messy side of the wine business. He travelled to Australia for a harvest and worked at Amphorae Vineyards. When needed, he has the advice of Arkady Papikian, once of Carmel Winery at Rishon Le Zion and Dalton Winery. Arkady has really been the dominant wine consultant in the 2000’s, advising a long list of Israeli wineries. He is now the winemaker at Amphorae, but spares time to keep a fatherly look over Bar Ilan’s shoulder.

For David Bar Ilan, to work in wine is fulfilment of a dream. He is at his happiest when making wine. As a result he makes happy, consumer friendly wines, which are very good quality and offer great value for money. The world’s most famous wine critic would agree. On three occasions, a Tulip wine has scored 90 points in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

Kishor Vineyards is situated at Kishorit, which is a special residential community for adults with special needs. The community was founded in 1997 by parents and professionals on the site of the Kishor Kibbutz. Members can work in a wooden toy factory, dog kennels, riding stable, organic vegetable garden, a bakery, free-range egg farm or organic goat dairy. Or they can work in the vineyard and winery.

In 2007 they planted their first vineyard. In 2010 they harvested their first grapes. They produce over 35,000 bottles a year from their own vineyards, which are 500 meters above sea level. They are cared for by the members of the community.

The winery represents a reasonably new wine growing region. When we talk about the Galilee as one of Israel’s finest appellations, the reference is mainly to the Upper Galilee. Most of the vineyards and wineries are in the Kedesh Valley on the Lebanese border or near Mount Meron and the Merom Galil region. Then there is the Lower Galilee near Kfar Tabor. However, Kishor is situated in the Western Galilee, an area already famous for its olive groves, but less so, for vineyards.

Though new, they gained immediate notice because of their very stylish, ‘less is more’ labels. They were obviously designed by someone with a good notion of ‘perception of quality.’ Yet, it is the quality of wines that has really put them on the map.

They are the responsibility of Richard Davies. He is a big guy with a rough beard and a ready smile. He has great experience in agricultural management, particularly from South Africa. He arrived at Kishorit in 2007 and started the vegetable garden and fruit orchard. Now he has the wine bug and manages the vineyard and winery.

He was savvy enough to get good advice. Itay Lahat, one of the country’s most talented winemakers and a prolific wine consultant, is there to assist when required.

The first quality recognition was almost immediate. In Eshkol Zahav 2014, Kishor had an outstanding result winning a gold, silver and bronze medal. Eshkol Hazahav, (The Golden Cluster), is Israel’s premier wine tasting competition. Not bad for a newish winery.

Tulip and Kishor both have visitors centers, (Kishor’s is new), and both are well worth a visit, though it is best to book in advance.

They are both kosher wineries. Tulip since the 2010 vintage, and Kishorit since its founding. If Kashrut had an ethical element, then these two wineries, would have the highest level of Kashrut possible. Y’shar Koach!

Tulip White Tulip 2012

A super summer wine made from Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. An attractive, enticing aroma, a touch of apparent sweetness and a refreshing balancing acidity from the Sauvignon, make this a popular wine.

Tulip Syrah Reserve 2010

This Syrah and the Mostly Shiraz are arguably Tulip’s best wines. It is a grape variety that Tulip handles really well. The Reserve Syrah is quite a big wine with aromas of blackberry, plum and spicy notes, a middle palate of chewy fruit and soft tannins. A very good, new world style example of this variety.

Tulip Black Tulip 2011

This is not an elegant wine. It is full bodied, powerful, concentrated and oaky, but it is well-balanced. It is made from the main Bordeaux varieties led by Cabernet Sauvignon. Deeply colored, it has lashings of black fruit, in a vanilla blanket. Mouthfilling flavor and a long finish.

Kerem Kishor White 2013

One of the most enjoyable young white wines I have tasted recently. It is made from Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. It is grassy, aromatic and very sauvignon, but with a little tropical fruit in the background from the Viognier. A refreshing, high quality wine.

Kishor Savant Red 2012

A Bordeaux style blend made mainly from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot grapes. The varieties were fermented and aged separately. The wine is elegant with good depth of fruit, an attractive green character that I like and a well-balanced finish.

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery & regularly writes about wine in international & Israeli publications.

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A VERITABLE WONDERLAND

The wine world is divided into four totally different worlds, which never really meet. There is a massive bulk wine market under the radar, where wines cross oceans in large container sized bags. The wines are then sold at extraordinarily low prices in cut price supermarket chains.

Then there is the more visible and more conventional mass market which is price sensitive. Most wines sold are under 40 shekels a bottle and this is where most of the wine is sold and bought. In this arena, usually a supermarket, wine is more of a commodity. The prettiness of the label, promotions or brand recognition are what prompts a purchase.

There is then the added value wine market where the winery story, the place where it was made & the people who made it, become more relevant. Wine is suddenly considered more of an agricultural and artisanal product. More often than not, these wines are sold in restaurants and quality wine shops. Most of the sales lie in the retail price range of 50 to 100 shekels.

Finally there is the hidden world where wine is a luxury item for the super-rich. We are talking Château Lafite Rothschild, Domaine Romanée-Conti, and the like. Such a wine from a rare vintage in a large format bottle, may be for speculators and investors, or the object of desire for collectors. It is designed to amuse and titillate the purchaser or to impress. Once, the British ruled the world’s fine wine market. Then America took over the mantle. Today the hub of fine wine has moved east and the Chinese are swallowing up much of the world’s finest wines.

Now in most wine shops, the expensive wines are kept discreetly far from prying eyes and touchy fingers. This in a way adds to the perceived value because the wines are inaccessible and to the most part, invisible.

Well, there is a newish wine shop in Mayfair, London, called Hedonism, (www.hedonism.co.uk), which provides a gilded window into this luxury world of wine. It flaunts its wines in such a way that it is worth a visit just to gawk and take it all in. It is beautifully designed, visually striking and covers two floors. There are over 3,500 wines and a further 1,000 spirits, and not just any old wines & spirits. Here are some of the most expensive and sought after liquids in glass on the planet.

There is, for instance, a Château Mouton Rothschild room which displays every vintage from 1945 to 2004. The amounts to sixty bottles in all and is available as a job lot for a mere £131,000. Of course it is not just the wine, but the artistic labels that make this such a unique collection.

There is a wall display of Chateu d’Yquem, the word’s most sublime dessert wine. The earliest vintage available, if you are interested, is 1811! However most impressive or outrageous, (depending on your world view), is the rare almost priceless ampoule of Penfold’s 2004 Kalimna Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon. The glass and surround are design stories in themselves. There are only 12 of these in the world. If you buy one it will cost £ 120,000, but the winemaker of Penfolds will fly over to open it for you, wherever you are! The design, rarity and unique experience are what will encourage someone to part with 720,000 shekels for what is basically 750 ml. of wine. It really is a different world.

Of course Hedonism is not just wine. If whisky is your bag, you can buy a 55 year old Glenfiddich for around £123,000.

I loved the quote from the Victoria Moore of the Daily Telegraph “If Tutankhamen had…died in the 21st century, this is what his tomb might have looked like.”

The concept of this wine shop was the brainchild of Evgeny Chichvarkin, the mobile phone tycoon. When seeking a rare cult wine, he approached in turn the leading purveyors of fine wines in London. He contacted Berry Bros. first, and then Harrods, Harvey Nicholls, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges, but his search for help & service was unsuccessful. So he decided to build his own wine shop where the emphasis was on service and where the answer ‘no’ was just not an option. He was quoted as saying: “we decided to take wine retailing to the next level. It is not just about product, but also the level of service, with nothing being too difficult.”

This is a shop for the super-rich and London is the right venue. Today there are apparently more multi-millionaire residents there, than any other city in the world. The staff at Hedonism are highly trained wine professionals equipped to guide the prospective buyer through this wonderland of wines. If you speak Russian, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, there is a likelihood someone will be able to talk to you in your own tongue.

Chichvarkin did not only have the vision and the drive and finance to implement it, he also brought in the right person to source the wines. Alistair Viner is the Head Buyer, responsible for filling this extravagant mecca with content. He was for many years the wine buyer for Harrods previously. He is a quiet, modest person, immensely knowledgeable, ultra professional and super discreet. He also has a fantastic palate.

At wine events he can be seen tasting quietly, efficiently without undue comment. He walks quickly between winery stands and tastes with absolute concentration. He does not waste time on unnecessary small talk or rely on hearsay or winemaker talk. He tastes, spits, scribbles, decides and even if some choices are unconventional, he backs his palate and with his record, it is the right way to go.

Why would this shop be of any interest to Jerusalem Post readers The answer is there is also a comprehensive list of Israeli wines. When Viner decided to purchase wines from Israel, he did not rely on second hand information. He took the trouble to visit Israel, taste a wide range of wines and he bought according to his palate, choosing wines he preferred. All the usual suspects are there, Castel Grand Vin, Carmel Limited Edition, Clos de Gat Sycra, Yatir Forest and Flam, showing the best of Israel.

However, if this is too standard for you, there are also wines from Gat Shomron, Ben Haim, Alexander and 1848 wineries. So it is an Israeli list which will be of interest, even for those who are familiar with Israeli wines.

Most of the Israeli wines happen to be kosher. (Clos de Gat flies the non-kosher flag). If kosher is what you want, there is also a selection of the finest kosher wines in the world outside Israel. Argentina, France, New Zealand, Spain and the USA are the countries featured. For instance the kosher customer can buy from Capcanes Peraj Habib, Covenant, Herzog Clone Six, or a kosher cuvée of Château Léoville Poyferré and Château Pontet Canet from Bordeaux.

The super-rich hedonistic image is not strictly fair. The Israeli wines are priced from £17 upwards (100 shekels) and there are something like 500 other wines under £30 a bottle. The staff are passionate and knowledgeable and geared to satisfying the wine collector who has everything. Yet they are neither pretentious nor patronizing, in the slightest. They give full attention to the regular guy who is simply looking for a wine to drink tonight or a gift for the boss. To their great credit, they take no end of time to explain, whatever your budget and buying potential.

If ever there was a shop to browse in. to look around and even take a selfie alongside a priceless bottle, this is it. This is also the place to get the maximum help to find exactly what you are looking for. For a special purchase, it is definitely worth a visit. In other words, it is of interest to wine tourists and wine buyers alike. Next time you are in London (3-7 Davies Street, Mayfair, London), go and submerge yourself in the world of wine luxury. You may, (we hope), even come out with a bottle of Israeli wine!

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in both Israeli and international publications.

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SIP AND SWIRL IN SARONA

Greater Jaffa of the 19th century contained the roots of Israeli agriculture. The Montefiore Orchard bought by Moses Montefiore in 1855 was the beginning of an Israeli citrus industry. It is now known as the Montefiore quarter of Tel Aviv. Mikveh Israel founded in 1870 was the agricultural school founded by Karl Netter. This was the first place to plant European grape varieties. It also trained many of the new wine growers that laid the foundations of a new wine industry. In modern times these areas once referred to as Jaffa, have been absorbed into moderrn Tel Aviv and Holon respectively. Then there is Sarona.

Sarona is an oasis of green amidst the bustle of modern Tel Aviv. It is adjacent to the Montefiore Quarter and is sandwiched in between the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, the Kyria military base and the Azrielli Towers. There in the center of Tel Aviv, it is still possible to see the remains of a winery, olive press and wine cellar. The area has been renovated and preserved. The fast growing new towers of apartments grate somewhat, seeming so much at odds with the pastoral atmosphere. However this special space retains its uniqueness and beauty.

Sarona was the community built by the Templers from Germany at the end of the 19th century. They settled there in 1871. They were innovative, being the first to build stone houses, and very advanced technologically. They were one of the first communities in Israel to use agriculture for commerce rather than just supplying their own families. Revealingly, it was engineers from the Templer community who built not only the wineries at Mikveh Israel and Sarona but also the cellars at Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov.

They planted vineyards using German varieties such as Sylvaner and built a large winery and distillery. These were connected by a tunnel. Eventually with the founding of Carmel, Sarona could not compete, and citrus gradually replaced viticulture. This resulted in the development of the Jaffa brand for oranges.

To cut a long story short, because the Templers were considered Nazi sympathizers, they disappeared by the onset of the Second World War. As a result Sarona’s fascinating story was almost air brushed from the consciousness.

The new Sarona gradually unfolding before our eyes has thankfully brought back the good memories. Furthermore, in its latest reincarnation, it has become a mecca for wine lovers and connoisseurs.

Claro

Claro is a restaurant worth visiting. It operates in the original distillery building which was built in 1886. The distillery was rented out firstly to the Teperberg family and later to the Segals for producing arak, brandy and liqueurs. Neither succeeded in making a success commercially of spirit production at Sarona, but both companies eventually specialized in wine and lasted the test of time. Teperberg is today Israel’s largest family winery and the Segal brand is an important part of Barkan’s portfolio.

The food of Claro is Mediterranean Israeli. Service is easy, relaxed yet very professional. Ran Shmueli, who needs no introduction, is the chef. However what interests me is an unusually interesting wine list. Firstly it is short and therefore easy to navigate. Secondly it is priced very reasonably.

It is divided into innovative sections. Wines are categorized as Spicy, Classic or Funky. Spicy refers to Mediterranean style wines. Classic lists wines made from the noble varieties and the Funky wines are unique, unusual and tempting. The wines I look for on a list are those offering something different.

For instance I recommend the Tabor 652 Sparkling, a rare sparkling red wine. The Cremisan Hamdani Jandali is a must if you have not tasted it. Made from the Cremisan Monastery, it is an authentic Palestine wine, fascinating for wine people, because it is made from indigenous varieties.

The Shvo Rose is a super wine for our climate. The Carmel Sumaka Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is an example of a cooler climate Cabernet. Less jammy and concentrated than many Israeli reds. Bar-Maor’s Red Moon is a great wine for the curious. I could go on.

Jajo Wine Bar

Across the way, is the old Sarona Winery, which is connected by tunnel to the distillery. It has now been transformed into one of Israel’s finest new wine bars. Wine lovers will already be familiar with the smaller, intimate Jajo wine bars in Neve Tzedek, but this new branch of Jajo is on a different scale altogether.

It is situated in the vast winery cellar. In shape, size and feel, it is not dissimilar to the cellars I am familiar with at Carmel’s Zichron Ya’acov Winery. Jajo Wine Bar is a place to see and be seen in. It is one of the ‘in’ meeting places in Tel Aviv, but be sure to book far in advance as it is usually teeming.

There is a long bar that runs the length of the cellar. The food is high quality, innovative but it is the wines that are more interesting to me. They have purchased well to provide an interesting list of 180 wines. Culled from this is a practical recommended list of thirty wines that regularly changes.

I recommend perching on the bar, watching the slick bar staff, and ordering a number of different small dishes. Alongside there is the possibility of ordering a few different wines by the glass. Of course, don’t forget to appreciate the atmosphere of being in a nearly 150 year old wine cellar.

Tasting Room

However, the most innovative new wine outlet in Sarona is Tasting Room. This is a small new wine bar that has opened in what used to be the Community Center of Sarona. Visitors can taste no less than forty wines at any one time, all kept at the maximum quality and freshness.

They can buy glasses of varying sizes, using a smart card similar to those used in hotels these days. A full glass is 125 cl, but there are also options of a half glass or a tasting measure of 25 cl. Here is a place to taste a wine you would not normally be able to afford. For example the Yarden Katzrin 2008 is offered by the glass.

Seventy percent of the wines stocked are Israeli and some of Israel’s largest wineries and highest quality small wineries are also represented. It provides a wonderful opportunity for the wine guy or tourist to taste, compare and evaluate a number of wines at one sitting.

It is also an innovative place for an evening out or a small event. There is good range of wine bar style food available for those wanting to make an evening of it. Options include bruschetta, charcuterie or a cheese platter.

Tasting Room is the brainchild of Avi (Avshalom) Cohen, who also has his own winery. The smiling face that may greet you is Roni Saslove, ex of Saslove Winery. She is the manager.

This outlet reflects the wine revolution that has happened in Israel. There is no place quite like it. Go there to sniff, swirl and sip whilst you talk wine with likeminded friends.

Of course Sarona is not just about wine. For the thirsty there is also a Molly Blooms Irish Pub and Paulaner beer garden. There is also a Little Italy section where you can thumb your nose at Tel Aviv, fill a picnic basket, sit on the grass and enjoy a picnic with easy drinking glass of Italian wine. The new Sarona is going to be very popular. However don’t forget that the wine tastes better when you take time to sit and consider the fascinating history of this jewel wedged in the middle of Tel Aviv.

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine

in both Israeli & international publications.

adam@carmelwines.co.il<span style=”vertical-align: bottom;”> (mailto:adam@carmelwines.co.il)</span>

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THE THREE FOXES

The winner of the Regional Trophy in this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards was a surprise. Firstly it was Israeli, which is always good news, but the name of the winery will be un-known to many. The winning wine was ‘Special Cuvee’ from a winery called Trio.

Other Israeli winners of this prestigious award over the years’, include wineries such as Clos de Gat, Carmel, Adir, Golan Heights and Recanati. Incidentally to date, only Carmel Winery with their Kayoumi Vineyard Shiraz has succeeded to go the whole way, managing to win the International Trophy against all comers. However Trio has joined a very distinguished group of

Israeli wineries.

The fact it is Decanter’s competition demands immediate respect. Decanter is the quality wine magazine of the United Kingdom and their annual competition is without doubt one of the most prestigious in the world. So an award in this forum carries far more credibility than many of the other competitions there are.

Trio is a winery founded in 2006 by three of the younger generation of the Shaked family, Tal, Oran and Koby. They grew up as part of Israel’s number one wine retailer and one of Israel’s leading distributors of fine wines. The young

Shakeds thought, that if you are already working in importing, distributing and retailing, why not go the extra stage and learn about production. They decided make wine for educational purposes. Simply, to learn more. It was one of the few things in wine they had not done and it was something they could create of their own.

So they initially sort help from Ronnie James, z”l, of Tzora Vineyards, a legendary figure in Israeli wine who is much missed. They produced 4,000 bottles in the first year.

The Shakeds created a winery logo which featured themselves as foxes. Three foxes. Like the foxes depicted on the labels, they are alert, swift, streetwise and shrewd.  Each of them manages to contribute by offering something different to the partnership. Tal Shaked, 38, is the quieter, more cerebral type. The thinker.  He looks after the marketing. Oran Shaked, 35 years old, is the hands on perfectionist, who is most interested in the production side. Koby Shaked, 38, is the hyperactive creative one, impatient, thinking out of the box, always onto the next deal. The three of them make a team of contrasting abilities, which are in fact totally complimentary.

They made their first wines and steadily grew the business. Their entry level wines are labelled ‘Spirit’. These wines celebrate regionality. The region from where the grapes come, is considered more important than the variety or blend.  There is a Spirit of Jerusalem wine, a Spirit of Galilee and a Spirit of Alona Valley.

The next level is their reserve wines, are called ‘Secret’. These are blends of different regions. Finally there is the Special Cuvee, which is a prestige blend.

Recently they decided to anchor the business by making some smart decisions. Firstly they moved production to the Ramot Naftaly Winery in the Kedesh Valley of the Upper Galilee. There they have their own space & equipment. 

Then they appointed Yotam Sharon as winemaker. He is one of quiet, knowledgeable types. I am not a great fan of winemakers who start to tell you what they have done and how good they are. Sharon is the antithesis of this type of winemaker, but he is someone who really does know. He studied in Montpelier France, and worked at Chateau Mouton Rothschild and in Roussillon, before joining Barkan in 1999.

There he was primarily responsible for the winery move to Hulda and for the top level wines, like the successful Assemblage label. He has great experience and would be an asset in any winery. To choose the combination of Yotam Sharon and Ramat Naftaly reflects on the seriousness & professionalism of the three foxes.

The younger Shakeds were not born into wine, but as teenagers, they were thrust into this new world as a result of their parents. Nearly thirty years ago, the Shaked family decided to switch to wine. They became distributors of the Golan Heights Winery and became an important part of the success in building that brand.

In 1993, the Shakeds changed wine retailing in Israel for ever by opening the Derech Ha’Yayin wine store, in Hashmonaim Street, Tel Aviv. Fast forward twenty years and there are now ten stores and they have just opened the biggest monster of them all at Derech Hashalom 9, Tel Aviv. Well worth a visit

They then went into importing & distributing wine both for their own stores and for distribution to restaurants. The first big success was the Gato Negro brand from Chile which for a time became one of the biggest selling wines in Israel. They now import a full range of wines from some of the finest wines in the world for private collectors, famous brands for their retail business and quality, value wines for the wholesale business.

The success of the family in wine was due to the two patriarchal figures, Uri & Eli Shaked, who are brothers. Yet it is the children that have managed to take it all to the next stage by conversing at ease & with knowledge with the wine world outside the island of Israel. Oran & Tal are the children of Uri, and Koby is the son of Eli.

After army service, whereas the usual path of young Israeli is to travel to exotic places like India or South America, the young Shakeds travelled to Bordeaux and other wine regions. They wanted to absorb themselves in wine to gain expertise and take the family business further. This they have succeeded to do, but despite the importance of Derech Hayayin and the Shaked ‘family of brands’, the importing & distribution arm, it is the small family winery owned by the next generation which has now put this distinguished wine family on the world map.

My favorite wines produced by Trio Winery, available in Derech Hayayin of course, are:

Trio ‘Spirit of Galilee’ Rose 2013

The ultimate summer wine. Quite full in color, light red, as opposed to delicate pink. It has beautiful red berry fruit, with some lifted aromatic notes, a piercing refreshing acidity and a clean, refreshing finish.

NIS 69

Trio ‘Spirit of Alona Valley’  2011

My favorite.  This is a well-focussed Carignan, made from old vines from a vineyard not far from Zichron Ya’acov. The wine has a nose of blueberry, plum with a hint of Mediterranean herbs, a touch of sweet vanilla and a full flavoured finish.

NIS 89

Trio Secret 2011

This is a blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Syrah. A third of the wine was matured in new oak barrels. The wine has aromas of blackberry, blackcurrant, and ripe plum. Soft and velvety in texture. Despite the oak aging, it is more elegant than the Spirit wines.

NIS 109

Trio Special Cuvee 2011

This is the prize winning wine. It is made from Cabernet Sauvignon from the Jerusalem Hills  and Syrah from the Galilee. The wine is understated, elegant, with good black fruit aromas and a certain smokiness. It has a soft intriguing mouth feel and a long well balanced finish.

NIS 145

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery & regularly writes about wine in international & Israeli publications.

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THE TAMING OF THE TALENT

I first met Lewis Pasco seventeen years ago. He was new in Israel, quite raw, talking non-stop in that very fast way of his. He gave an impression of being super confident, and full of himself. He certainly talked a good wine and knew how to put forward all his qualities. However, we were to learn, even though he was not a shrinking violet, that Lewis Pasco really could make great wine.

He arrived here after studying viticulture and oenology at UC Davis, with experience as a head chef and work experience at some pretty good Californian wineries under his belt. He became the winemaker for Tishbi, a veteran family of wine growers. I knew him, because in those days I worked for the Golan Heights Winery and for a few years they had a distribution agreement with Tishbi. I used therefore to be at Tishbi Winery quite a lot, bringing overseas customers or wine journalists to visit. They met this winemaker who was not slow to quote his background and achievements. One food writer from England said to him after talking to him for five minutes: “Young man, for someone who has been so little time in Israel, you have become very Israeli.”

However Pasco went from those beginnings to better things. The raw talent began to be fulfilled. He was head hunted by a new winery which was codenamed Jasmin Winery. We in the trade were all waiting anxiously to know what this was. When it was founded in 2000, Lewis Pasco became the winemaker of what we now know as Recanati Winery.

There he put his medals where his mouth was, because Recanati began winning gold medals all over the place, including some very prestigious competitions abroad. Suddenly he started to make wines that even his peers thought were good. He was most proud of the Vinexpo Gold medals when the winery also received the prize for ‘Best of Country’ on three separate occasions.

He found a wife here, and they had two beautiful children, and then he disappeared as suddenly as he had come, back to the Golden State of California.

I met him again on his return to Israel and found a calmer person, more modest and more at peace with himself. He was in fact charming, more reflective, and also generous in praise to others.

He has always been a fascinating person to meet and talk to. Warm and friendly, he is very generous with sharing his knowledge. He oozes with the passion that singles out the wine lover from the wine drinker.

I now realize I misjudged him before. He is simply an artist with an emotional artist’s temperament. When he describes his latest wine or the dish he cooked last Shabbat with all the intimate details, the reason is not arrogance. It is just a generosity of spirit that means he has to share his feelings, including decisions and reasons. He is overflowing with enthusiasm. One feels if he could not share & communicate, he would burst.

Two things brought him back, Beit El Winery and the Pasco Project. He returned to what politicians call Judea & Samaria or the West Bank, depending where they sit. I prefer to call the region from a wine point of view, the Central Mountains. These run from, again from a wine point of you, from Har Bracha down to the Hebron Hills. The country’s official wine regions are divided horizontally, which makes them confusing and meaningless, when in fact the country’s topography is vertical. There is a coastal plain, rolling hills…and then the Central Mountains, which fall away to the Jordan Valley. So it is Central Mountains for me! It does not make sense to split them in to two regions.

I was curious why he chose to come to this region for his return.

He made quite clear this was a winemaking decision rather than a political wine. He says it is simply a fantastic region for growing wine. “From my extensive experience in Israel, I knew the Central Mountains possesses ideal red soils, terra rossa on a limestone basis, along with the topography, altitude and microclimate tailor made for production of outstanding red wines.”

He went on to say he was surprised to the extent to which the area had been planted with wine grapes whilst he was away, and the dedication to quality of the wineries.

One of these growers was Hillel Manne. When he moved to Beit-El, he was already experienced in agriculture and viticulture. His analysis of the area immediately helped him see the potential. It excited him that this was the very place where Jacob wrestled with the angel, but also that there was evidence there of thousands of years of winemaking. The connection with Lewis Pasco filled the gap in his dream. He could satisfy his instinct not only to make good wine, but the best wine possible with the help of a proven internationally trained winemaker. Beith-El Winery’s has just released a Carignan which was their first wine together. Pasco believes it is the best Carignan in the country.

This is always a variety that interests me because it spans the modern history of wine in Israel. Cuttings were first brought here by the Mikveh Israel Agricultural School in the 1870’s. The first plantings of Carignan were in Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov in 1882 and 1883.

In addition to making the wine at Beth-El, Pasco also became the consultant winemaker to Mount Hevron Winery, which is the largest winery in the Central Mountains.

However it is the Pasco Project that really gets the Pasco enthusiasm bubbling over. He has chosen a catchy label with the name Lewis Pasco written on big letters on an artist’s easel. The first wine, Pasco Project No.1, has been released made from Cabernet Sauvignon from Shilo, Merlot from Har Bracha and Petite Sirah from Givat Yeshayahu in the Judean Hills. Interestingly, and this is where we benefit from the Pasco full disclosure of all the details and thought processes, he originally wanted to make two different wines, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Through tinkering as winemakers do, he found blending them together with a small amount of Petite Sirah vastly improved the wine. This was an instance in which the final blend was better quality than the individual components. He is very pleased with the results. We eagerly await further developments as his project develops.

Whilst talking to him, it was interesting to hear his views on grape varieties. He thinks Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are still the best basis for the finest Israeli wines. However he loves Israeli Cabernet Franc, believing that the ripeness achieved in Israel offsets the wine being too green and herbaceous. He is also a great fan of Petite Sirah, which he believes it is the most suited of the older Israeli varieties to the climate. He believes in aromatic whites in Israel and would love to try the revived Greek variety Malagousia here.

And, what of his peers He greatly respects the wines of Psagot, Gvaot and Shilo. He has seen a big improvement in Israeli whites since he has been away, complimenting the new Gamla Sauvignon Blanc and Shilo Chardonnay. For favorite reds he picks out the Shilo Legend Shiraz Cabernet, the Yarden El Rom Cabernet Sauvignon and Yatir Forest. He admires winemakers like Victor Schoenfeld of the Golan Heights Winery, Eran Goldwasser of Yatir Winery and Eyal Rotem from Clos de Gat.

Certainly Israeli wine is more colorful and professional for Lewis Pasco’s return. Do the wines match up to the Pasco punch You will have to taste them & see for yourselves!

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery in Israel. He regularly writes about wine for Israeli & international publications.

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WINEMAKER FACTORY

To the question how many wineries are there in Israel, it is very hard to give a concrete answer. I know that the largest three wineries have something like 70% of the Israeli wine market. Furthermore, the largest ten have well over 90% of the market. These are: Carmel, Barkan-Segal, Golan,Teperberg, Tabor, Binyamina, Tishbi, Recanati, Dalton and Galil Mountain.

There are by my reckoning about forty, what I call, commercial wineries, harvesting over 50 tons of grapes a year. Beyond this there are hundreds of boutique wineries, garagistes and domestic wineries. Literally, hundreds. No-one can possibly be up to date, as new wineries are opening every day.

The small winery phenomenon is spreading like the fiercest epidemic. It is not enough for some wine lovers to enjoy drinking wine, it seems many also want to get their hands dirty and to go through the unique experience of making wine.

There is a quiet, unassuming person in the Judean Shefela, who is more responsible for fanning the flames of this epidemic, than anyone else. This is Nir Shaham. He is a rare animal for an Israeli, being quiet and modest. Many would not know his name or recognize him. Yet he has arguably had more influence on the plethora of new wineries than anyone else. Thousands of students have passed through his hands, and 150 of them he estimates have continued to make wine.

Many people like food, but have never been chefs. I love wine but have never made wine myself. However, do you yearn to be a winemaker or to have the experience of following the winemaking process from the vineyard to the bottle Do you get excited at the camaraderie and the sense of optimism that pervades the harvest Or yearn for the smells of the fermenting wines during fermentation Or do you simply like the idea of juggling different components of a blend, and coming up with a definite result in a bottle which solely belongs to you

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then I recommend you to the Soreq Winery Winemaking School, owned and managed by Nir Shaham.

There you will learn not only to make wine, but also to enjoy and appreciate it in the most fundamental way. You will work in the vineyard, winery and laboratory. There is the necessary theory but much of the work is practical. The courses even touch on marketing and on how to sell the wine you have produced.

Nir Shaham is not a winemaking evangelist saying look at me or follow me. Rather he is more interested in finding the truth and essence in each individual wine and he is interested in helping his students to find their own truth. He wants everyone to find within themselves the wine they want to make. That is the true strength of a successful teacher. This is where his uniqueness shines.

He organizes the longest running wine course in Israel, which existed well before Tel Hai College’s Cellar Master Course or Ramat Gan College’s Wine Academy Course.

The story started in Tal Shahar, a charming moshav, not far from Latroun. There his father Yossi, owned a vineyard that grew Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The fruit was normally sold to Carmel and Tishbi. He was simply an agriculturist, who had a vineyard. However this was not a wine drinking family yearning to make wine. Shaham remembers they used to add grapefruit juice to wine to make it drinkable.

One day, Barry Saslove, another remarkable wine personality, came to his father and suggested they start a winery and hold winemaking classes. Now Saslove was also a very influential educationalist of Israeli wine and Shaham is quick to give credit to him for steering the family in a new direction.

So suddenly this family that does not really like wine, but has a very good vineyard, became a winery, almost by default. Winemaking is not something one wakes up in the morning wanting to do. Most people remember their first wine, and it is usually a simple one. The journey to become wine lovers is a gradual progression. Then they eventually work up to the stage where they actually want to make the stuff! It is a step by step process.

With the Shaham it was the opposite. The family was an antithesis of a wine drinking family. They had to learn to make wine and become winemakers and yet it was only through this process, that they learnt to love wine & appreciate it.

After Barry Saslove moved on to begin his own boutique winery, the family was assisted by the consultant winemaker Arkadi Papikian. These two people helped set Nir Shaham on his way as a winemaker and winemaking teacher from the mid to late nineties onwards. In 2004 he took over ownership of the school and winery.

There are many wine courses in Israel but none encourages the student winemaker or passionate wine lover to get so close to the earth, tank and barrel. So when they receive a wine at the end of the process and they put their own label on it, it really is their own, with their own fingerprint.

Shaham encourages individuality. He cajoles students to think for themselves. To decide what they want to do with what nature has given them. He wants wines of passion, creativity and individuality.

For example in 2013, his school harvested 48 tons of grapes, from seven separate vineyards in four different wine growing regions, ranging from the hills of the Upper Galilee down to Mitzpe Ramon, in the deepest desert. He made wine from eleven different grape varieties. This is not someone who has the luxury of teaching out of a book. Nor is it a finite learning process with an end. Shaham says: “when a student starts to learn with us, he begins a journey that lasts a lifetime.”

The unpretentious Shoham has some innovative projects. Foremost is the one where he makes wine on an annual basis for the quality restaurant chain R2M (Coffee Bar, Brasserie, Montefiore Hotel, Delicatessen etc.) The difference is that he is not the winemaker. It is the employees who make the wine from deciding on the vineyard, physically harvesting the grapes, until the final blending. Instead Shaham is the coach or conductor, encouraging and prompting the group to reach the end result they want.

He organizes an annual festival for domestic wineries. It is a wonderful day out for wine lovers and an opportunity to meet the real wine enthusiasts and the winemakers of tomorrow. It is also an opportunity for home winemakers to get feedback on their wines.

Now he is also working in a project called ‘Three Corners’ with winemakers from totally different areas of the globe, (California, Costa Rica & Israel), in a particular way.

He also has another project in the works with Japan.

No-one should forget Soreq is also a very fine winery, not just a school. It is situated at Kibbutz Nachshon. It was founded in 1994, and so is celebrating twenty years. I enjoyed having the opportunity to taste the current wines.

Soreq Rose 2013

Made from Grenache and Carignan, this rose has a beautiful, delicate salmon pink color. It has an enchanting but understated berry nose, but with a fresh, crisp acidity.

Soreq Syrah 2010

A well balanced Syrah, from the Safsufa vineyard, in the Upper Galilee. The wine has a very nice aroma of red berry fruits, cherries and an understated backdrop of oak. It has a chewy smoothness which I liked.

Soreq Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Best of all is this well balanced Cabernet Sauvignon from the Judean foothills. It has good blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, with a green bell pepper tone. There is a full mouth feel in the middle palate, and nice length on the finish. Well defined.

 

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery in Israel. He regularly writes about wine

for Israeli & international publications.