Adam S. Montefiore
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THE WINE PHILOSOPHER-PROPHET

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

I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet Bruno Quenioux, barely known outside France but whose influence has spread around the winemaking world. He is a terroir’iste, which means he likes to bring the terroir, or a sense of place, into the taste of wines. He is a guru to many producers in France.

I met a dapper, immaculately dressed man, slightly tense and outwardly reserved. Only the flashing eyes betray the fire that burns in his soul. When he starts to talk you begin to understand. He is a crusader against wine globalization.

This is a spreading disease whereby wines from different parts of the world begin to taste the same wherever they are made. Overripe fruit, high alcohols and over use of oak are other manifestations. He compares the difference of a sculpture as being like a modern wine made from nothing, as opposed to the stone Bibovinomason who molds something that is exists. In his terms, the vineyard, climate and grape variety.

He was born in the Loire Valley, virtually in a vineyard. His was a farming family. He knew vineyards, but it was a red Burgundy that caught his imagination. He drank a Corton 1976 which he describes as a magical encounter, almost a religious experience and his calling was sealed.

The upshot of his message is that wine education is the scourge of wine because it teaches people to taste and analyze with the brain, when people should be encouraged to taste with the heart. He believes wines today are too pornographic and in your face, when they should be more erotic. He wants to bring a spiritual approach back into wine enjoyment. In his view, the essence of wine has been destroyed by the tasting note, which has killed the spirituality and conviviality of wine.

This does not mean he does not have a scientific approach. He used science to hone his craft, learning to get the most out of a vineyard and gained great insights by studying the wine styles and wine culture of the Ancient Greeks and the Bible.

He was a sommelier in one of the top wine stores in France and eventually graduated to run the wine department in Lafayette Gourmet. There was a paradox in this man of the soil with the passion of a prophet, working in one of Paris’ symbols of luxury. However, he succeeded in influencing a generation of winemakers back to the soil. He became their guru, gave them a place to show their wines pour encourager les autres.

He does not see growing organic or biodynamic vines as an end in itself, but believes in both to enhance the taste of dirt in the wine. Clean, sterile technically made wines are not for him.

He recommends tasting with the eyes closed and gently chewing the wine rather than sucking in air as one is taught. Whilst holding the wine in one’s mouth, he illustrates that first you taste the wine and later the place where it is made. A tasting note for him is the feelings of a poet rather than the contents of a fruit basket. He won’t talk about forest fruits, berries and cherries. He wants wine to be less-complex, reducing the ceremony but giving more undiluted pleasure.

He believes the key is choosing grapes suitable for the terroir. For instance he does not think Cabernet Sauvignon is right for Israel and does not think much of Syrah at all. He suggests Carignan and Cinsault as grapes suitable for a hot climate with a water shortage. Of course Carignan has been the mainstay of Israeli wine for 130 years, and thanks to Carmel, Recanati and Vitkin wineries, has undergone a revival in the last ten years. Cinsault was originally planted in Israel in the 1880’s but disappeared a long time ago. However not far from here, it became Lebanon’s most planted variety.

Quenioux does not know Israel well but is eager to learn more. He thinks the Golan Heights is a quality region. The wines of Yarden and Castel featured in Lafayette Gourmet at different times. Recently he tasted the James Chenin Blanc produced by Sea Horse Winery, which he says reminded him of home. (Chenin Blanc is at its best in the Loire Valley.)

The reason he was here was for the launch of the first BiBoViNo wine shop in Israel, an initiative launched by three French entrepeneurs. This is bringing Bag in the Box wines to Israel. Thirty years ago, Bag in the Box represented the cheapest, nastiest wine you could buy. Carmel used to sell a three liter box until comparatively recently. However technology has improved and the younger wine drinker is less locked into the idea of a glass bottle with a bit of tree bark as a stopper.

Quenioux has a number of protégés who make highly individualistic wines by following his creed. Equal contributions by winemaker, terroir and climate influence the final result, rather than the winemaker and winery manipulations being too dominant. His selections make up the BiBoVino wine list.

The wines all come in three liter wine boxes which are in the same bright purple color. I asked him how the similar packaging conveyed the individuality he sought to convey. He was ready and waiting with an answer! He explained that this was the whole idea: To make the wine talk instead of the packaging. ‘Ignore how it looks, don’t start checking the grape varieties, just enjoy the wine’.

The wines take you on a tour of the regions of France. Many will be new to the average drinker. They work out at between 50 to 100 shekels a bottle. A box open will last up to four, maybe six weeks. Ideal for the couple of glasses a night merchant.

Bruno Quenioux is riveting and the concept is interesting and innovative. If you are curious, go and see for yourself at BiBoViNo, 48 Ibn Gibrol, Tel Aviv. There you can taste and then buy the wine of your choice. You will be received by French sommeliers in matching purple aprons ready to guide you. Though the wines are not kosher, they would like to introduce a kosher wine sometime in the future.

If you want a bite to eat along with your glass of wine, the Salade Nicoise is a feast for the eyes and I can also recommend the Matias Herring. You can sample Bag in the Box and experience French chic in the middle of Tel Aviv! A votre santé!

I tasted the wines. My favorites were as follows:

Bourgueil Les Grandes Rangs 2012

This is my best buy: Cabernet Franc at its best and most refreshing. Medium bodied, aromative black fruit flavours, a touch of attractive greenness, mouth-filling flavor and a great balancing acidity.

Price: 235 ILS for three liters (equivalent of 58.75 shekels for a bottle)

B-418 2012

This is a unique wine made from a parcel (plot) of pre-phylloxera, very old vine, Carignan grapes. It is a big wine, quite full bodied with soft tannins, a mass of plums and cherries with a herbal hint in the background.

Price: 280 ILS for three liters (equivalent of 70 shekels for a bottle.)

 

Coteaux des Travers, Rasteau 2013

A blend of Grenache , Syrah and Mourvèdre. It is wine made in the southern Rhone, with a wonderful sensual nose of elegant raspberry and strawberry fruit, with an elegant finish and long length.

Price 325 ILS for three liters (equivalent of 81.25 shekels for a bottle)

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

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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SCIENTIST MEETS ARTIST

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

Moises Cohen was born in Casablanca, Morocco. His wife Anne Aleta came from Toulouse in France. Through an accident of fate, they both ended up in Catalonia in Spain. It was there they met, created a family and also decided to make wine.

Moises is the dry scientist type. He is quiet, academic and analytical, reasonably shy and frighteningly intelligent, but with the logical, step by step approach of the scientist. Anne is more outgoing, arty, emotional and vivacious.

He was born in Casablanca in Morocco. At 17 years old, he came to Israel to study at the Alliance French School. He then went on to the Technion in Haifa where he studied Agricultural Engineering.

He ended up in Catalonia in the mid-eighties working in agriculture and water management. His expertise took him towards viticulture and viticulture took him to wine. Amongst other things, he developed a plant sensor that measures stress in plants. He became a consultant to a number of famous wineries like Osborne, Marques de Grinon and Mas Martinet.

If you really want to see Moises animated, let him talk to you about plant sensors, vine stress, water regimes & humidity in vineyards. This is his world and he is in demand as a specialist in his field. He has been involved in projects all over, from Egypt to Chile.

Now, many growers, viticulturists and agronomists remain wedded to the vineyard but it does not necessarily translate to a love or understanding of wine. They are often connected but can be oceans apart. There was a catalyst that helped Moises make the transition and that was Anne.

She had studied History of Art and became a qualified sommelier. Sniffing and getting excited about a particular wine was part of her character. When they met, it was her passion for wine that took Moises over the bridge from vineyard to wine, from scientist to wine lover.

At home they speak three languages. These are the language of their youth, which is French, the language of their adopted country, Spanish and the language of their proud region, Catalonian. This is not including other languages different members of the family speak, like Hebrew, for instance.

It was love of Catalonia, and more specifically excitement that this was the time of the quality wine reincarnation of Priorat, that encouraged the Cohens to enter the wine business. To succeed they were able to combine the expertise, the passion and the contacts.

They bought a lovely property with a walled vineyard, which they called Clos Mesorah. The vineyard has 105 year old Carignan vines. These are knarled, thick trunked and close to the ground, like bushes. Old, yet brimming with character. The name Clos Mesorah combines the French word for enclosure and the Hebrew word for tradition.

Carignan has a special ring for Israelis. It’s a grape variety that covers over 130 years of wine in Israel and it tells a story of Israeli wine, from volume to quality. It came here in the 1870’s, bought over by the Mikveh Israel Agricultural School, even before Rothschild founded a modern wine industry. The first vineyards planted in 1882 included Carignan.

Unfortunately it did not have a good image, but that did not stop it. In the 1970’s more than 50% of Israeli grapes were Carignan. It grew well in the hot climate, gave good yields and was versatile. A winemaker could use it to make inexpensive reds, Kiddush wine or grape juice. What it did not make was quality wine.

In the early 1990’s Priorat showed for the first time what old vine, low yield Carignan could do. Here it was at its best and started producing great wines.

In the early 2000’s Israeli wineries understood the recipe of using old vines and low yields and started producing wonderful Carignans. The ugly duckling became a swan. Carmel Vineyards Old Vines Carignan, Recanati Wild Carignan and the Vitkin Carignan are three of the best.

The Cohens set up in the region where Carignan is the benchmark. They formed a company called Elvi in Marca, Priorat, to produce wines in different appellations. The company name combined the word El (G-d), with the letters Vi, short for Vino (wine). They used the contacts Moises made as a consultant, formed joint companies with the local wineries and rented the parcels of vineyards they chose.

The company had a principle: To work with local grapes from different individual regions. The wines where possible were to be natural, bio-organic and kosher. So they make kosher wines in the appellations of Rioja, Priorat, La Mancha, Alella and Cava.

The name of the very popular Spanish sparkling wine, Cava, is well-known to Israelis. The word has become the generic slang for sparkling wine in Israel. Someone asking for a glass of cava in a restaurant is as likely as not to be asking for any sparkling wine.

The Cohens have possibly become the first Jewish Sephardi vineyard landowners to make wine in Spain since the inquisition in the 15th century. There is another very famous non-kosher winery nearby to them in Monsant, called Capcanes. They make some very good kosher wines. However Moises Cohen is committed to bringing wines from different regions of Spain to the consumer. Like all quality kosher wine producers, he says his objective is to make quality wines with typicity for their region, which ‘just happen’ also to be kosher. Seemingly he has more than succeeded in his objective.

Elvi Wines has gone from strength to strength. They now produce 80,000 bottles a year and have garnered some pretty impressive third party recognition. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave five of their wines scores of between 90 and 92 points and wrote: “Kudos to the Cohens for this remarkable array of kosher wines.” In the most important Spanish wine guide, Penin, their Rioja Herenza Crianza was ranked as the ’Best Rioja Crianza’ in Spain. The Clos Mesorah recently scored 93 points in the Ultimate Wine Challenge. Kosher they may be, but they are certainly high quality Spanish wines, regardless of the K word.

Elvi’s wines are imported to Israel by wine & spirits distributors, Hacarem. My favorite Elvi wines are as follows:

Elvi Herenza Rioja 2011

Lighter, more purple in color. Nice drinking wine with juicy aromas of cherries and strawberry notes. A great summer wine if served slightly chilled. Good acidity. Refreshing, but with the structure to stand up to food.

Elvi Herenza Rioja Riserva 2009

Made from the Tempranillo grape. The wine is deep colored with delicate aromas of strawberry, cherries and plum. Nice acidity, soft tannins and a long, well balanced finish. A fine Rioja in a more elegant style, with clever use of oak, kept in the background.

Clos Mesorah 2009

Deep colored blend of their own old vine Carinena (aka Carignan), blended with Garnacha, (aka Grenache) and Syrah. It is from the Monsant region, near Priorat. The wine has aromas of black fruit and cherry and is well defined with good balancing acidity. Good length.

Elvi EL 26 2006

This is a blend of Garnacha, Syrah and Cabernet sauvignon from Priorat. Rich, with aromas of blackberry, ripe plum and a hint of spice. The oak gives a cinnamon, spicy vanilla backdrop. There is an attractive sour cherry finish. The label is the color of the slate covered vineyards.

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