Adam S. Montefiore
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BE A MONKEY, NOT A PIG

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

Though the Jewish people are steeped in the history of wine, spirits and liquor, the consumption has always been modest. Jews throughout history have been regarded as an abstemious people. A people that don’t drink. If you arrive at a Scottish wedding the guests will all be congregated at the bar. At a Jewish wedding, the bar is empty, because it is the food which is the attraction.

popular as the wine and many tasters arrive to taste your best and most expensive cuvée, balancing a wine glass with an overfilled plate of food. The heady bouquet of wine mingles with the wafting aromas of salt beef.

Drunkenness is not regarded well in Judaism. Noah tarnished an unblemished reputation by becoming drunk from the wine he produced. Also the story of Lot and his daughters is another Biblical story where over indulgence is an issue.

The Talmud says: When a man eats the fruit of the vine he is as gentle as a lamb; when he drinks wine he believes himself a lion; if by chance he drinks too much he grimaces like a monkey; and when he is drunk he is nothing more than a vile pig.

I suppose whereas the Ancient Greeks regarded wine and over indulgence as a divine state, and even creating a wine God called Dionysus, (Bacchus to the Romans), wine in Judaism was always measured by caution and respect.

However on Purim, you have the permission to let loose. Purim is really the only time Jews are encouraged to get drunk and it is all in the name of religion. You need to become so drunk that you can’t tell the difference between the words: ‘Blessed be Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed be Haman’.

Even in Israel where we have developed a drinks culture in the last 20 years, consumption remains pitifully low. Wine consumption is as low as 4-5 liters per head, compared to nearly 50 liters a head in some European countries. The Israeli beer industry has really developed recently with a blossoming of new microbreweries and an expanding of imports. However Israeli consumption remains a paltry 14 liters per head, which pales when compared with the144 liters per head in the Czech Republic.

Even though the slogan ‘Jews don’t drink’ has less validity these days, (certainly the vodka culture amongst young Israelis would imply otherwise), it was certainly true historically. However, conversely, Jews have always been deeply involved in the drinks trade.

Wine is an ongoing thread throughout our history, from Noah who planted the first vineyard, through Rashi, a vintner in France in the Middle Ages, to Baron Edmond de Rothschild, founder of the modern wine industry in Israel. Wherever Jews reside there has been domestic winemaking. Always. So those who talk about Israel’s first boutique wineries in the1990’s, forget that the Jewish household has always made wine to allow the family to make Kiddush. In the Old City of Jerusalem in the middle of the 19th century, there were no less than 26 wineries. The revival of wine in Israel is nothing short of a revolution, but it is not new. They were making wine in Ancient Israel 2,000 years before the vine reached France and Italy!

In the Middle Ages, Jews were forbidden to do many jobs, but to be distillers, brewers or Tavern keepers was not only permissible, but it almost became the preferred profession for Jews in Poland and Russia.

In America, when the country in an act of self- flagellation decided to introduce the period of Prohibition (of alcohol), it was the new immigrant Jews who became bootleggers importing and producing alcohol to break the ban. In those days the Jews were the producers and traders and the Italians were the drivers. Together they sowed the roots for the rebirth of an alcohol industry in the United States.

Seagram which became the largest spirit company in the world was founded out of the ashes of Prohibition by the Bronfman family. Sam Bronfman, the founder, was a prominent bootlegger. The whole American distribution network of Wines & Spirits is today peppered by Jewish owned companies, led by the mammoth Southern Wine & Spirits, the largest drinks distributor in the world.

For a people where drinking quantity is rarity, the association of wine with Judaism is particularly deep. For those in the wine trade, what a wonderful religion it is that encourages the purchase of wine every week in order to sanctify Shabbat. The requirement to drink four glasses at Passover, and the extra Seder Night in the Diaspora, make Passover the equivalent in sales to Christmas in the western world.

And then there is Purim when this people so associated with wine and restraint, are encouraged on one day of the year to drink with abandon.

I recommend inexpensive wines firstly because their value is better than ever. Look at the downward spiral of prices in supermarkets. Anyone who says Israeli wines are expensive should do a tour of supermarkets. Secondly they are generally easier drinking. Carmel Selected’s red wines are light, fruity, with cherry berry aromas. Barkan Classic have slightly more body and structure. Teperberg Silver has a rounded, full fruit, juicy sweetness. Hermon reds are flavorful.

I am generalizing, but these wines are better than ever, even if I agree they are wines to drink and enjoy, not taste! Not every wine has to be tasted with the intense concentration of a sommelier or winemaker. There are wines than can also be enjoyed and drunk with relaxed abandon.

The Selected Merlot, Classic Cabernet Sauvignon and Mt Hermon Red are favorites, but you will also find great value from Binyamina, Segal and Teperberg. However, there is a full range of wine styles, so dry and semi dry whites and sweet wines may also be found under some of these labels.

Regarding Mishloach Manot, the traditional gift packs given at Purim, I see wine as good option. It adds value to what you give, and how much chocolate can you give anyway However I would suggest choosing which wine according to the label. An attractive and original label, would raise the perceived value and improve the look of the gift.

So enjoy yourselves, but always remember even on Purim, to drink with respect. Maybe become a monkey, but a pig That would not be kosher!

 

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TOP OF THE LINE

This article first appeared in the Wine Talk column in the Weekend Supplementof the Jerusalem Post.

I have been pondering which have been Israel’s most influential wines over the last twenty five years. I list a personal choice of a top ten. This is not a list of the best wines, but each one contributed to the advance of Israeli wines in some way and been a stepping stone in the improving image of Israeli wine.

The first two wines are mentioned for their influence on the local, Israeli market and the remainder, are made up from those wines that have drawn attention to Israel through awards or recognition.

Selected Emerald Riesling (1989- 1999) – Freddie Stiller/ Israel Flam

This was by far Israel’s largest selling wine of the 1990’s in the days when most of the consumption was white wines. Aromatic, spicy and semi dry, it performed the same job in Israel as Liebfraumilch in the UK and Lambrusco and White Zinfandel in the USA, in that it introduced many new drinkers to the joys of wine. The wine is still one of the leading white wines sales wise, but its dominance has been eclipsed somewhat by the rise of Geurztraminer and Moscato.

Mount Hermon Red (2000- today) – Victor Schoenfeld

This wine was originally sold under the Golan brand, then Yarden and has lately settled under the name Hermon. Mount Hermon Red, the largest selling wine of the 2000’s represents the move to red wine consumption in Israel. Light, fruity, easy drinking with mouth filling flavor, it showed that red wines could be made in a non- astringent style, almost like white wines. It was the forerunner of a new style of red wine and it remains the largest selling Israeli wine.

Yarden Katzrin 1990 – Winemakers: Peter Stern/ Victor Schoenfeld

Yarden Katzrin was Israel’s first super de luxe red wine. The first vintage was 1990. It was Israel’s first ever $50 bottle of wine and later vintages were Israel’s first ever $100 bottle of wine. Usually made by a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, it is only produced in especially good vintages. This wine took Israeli wine onto a new plain.

Castel Grand Vin 1992 – Eli Ben Zaken

This wine was famous because it was Eli Ben Zaken’s first vintage, but it was also the one ‘discovered’ by Serena Sutcliffe, Master of Wine and Head of the Sotheby’s Wine Department. She referred to it as the best Israeli wine she had ever tasted. This encouraged Eli Ben Zaken to build his beautiful winery and it inspired the whole boutique winery revolution in the 1990’s.

 

Margalit Cabernet Sauvignon 1993 – Yair Margalit

Yair Margalit gained a reputation as the first really international class boutique winery being founded in 1989. He was Israel’s best known winemaker at this stage. However it was the 1993 that was regarded as his greatest wine. The wine drew attention to the quality of a smaller, less commercial style of winery and gave notice of the coming boutique winery explosion that was to follow. Recent tastings show the wine is still going strong.

Yarden Blanc de Blancs N.V. – Victor Schoenfeld

In 1996 this champagne method sparkling wine became the best bottle fermented sparkling wine winning the Trophy at the IWSC in London. The wine was then non vintage, but today it is made as a vintage sparkling wine. This showed that Israel could triumph on the world scene with alternative wine styles. The Yarden Blanc de Blancs won this same Trophy on two subsequent occasions too.

“C” Blanc du Castel 1999 – Eli Ben Zaken

Though Israel as a country became mainly known for its red wines, this wine was the first white wine to be noticed. It became a Decanter “best new release’ giving rare focus to Israel’s white wines. Later vintages were the first Israeli dry white wine to receive high scores in both the Wine Spectator and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

Yatir Forest 2003 – Eran Goldwasser

The flagship wine of Yatir Winery made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, grown in the high altitude Yatir Forest vineyards in the southern Judean Hills. This wine finished in first place in the first ever tasting of Israeli wines held by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. It was awarded 93 points, which at that stage equaled the highest score ever given for an Israeli, kosher or Eastern Mediterranean wine by Robert Parker, the world’s most famous wine critic.

Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 – Victor Schoenfeld

This was the first Israeli wine listed by the Wine Spectator’s as one of the top 100 wines of the year. It was a big breakthrough for Israel to be recognized on this prestigious list. The Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon has been the most consistent winner of international awards over the years and it was appropriate that this was the first Israeli wine to make it onto the Wine Spectator’s prestigious list.

Carmel Kayoumi Vineyard Shiraz 2006 – Lior Lacser

Carmel Winery’s single vineyard Shiraz from Kayoumi Vineyard won not only the Regional Trophy in the Decanter World Wine Awards, but it was the only Israeli wine ever to go on to win the International Trophy beating the finest French Syrah, Australian Shiraz and southern Rhone blends like Chateauneuf du Pape. Decanter themselves referred to it as a sensational result.

Recanati Wild Carignan 2012 – Gil Shatzberg/ Ido Lewinsohn

The Recanati Special Reserve won more prizes, but this wine was the first Israeli wine to be selected by Berry Brothers & Rudd, arguably the world’s most famous and historic wine retailer. The 2011 also scored 92 points in the Wine Advocate. This wine represents the return to Mediterranean varieties in Israel and the revival of traditional varieties.

These may not be of the best wines Israel has produced – even though many of them are – but their influence in spreading the word of the quality and variety of Israel wines cannot be underestimated.

I have also allowed myself to select five of the most influential people of the last quarter of a century, carefully avoiding selecting anyone from my own company.

Daniel Rogov, z”l, the wine writer and critic, who worked for Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post and wrote his annual guide to Israeli wines, was the most prominent media figure in Israeli wine. Since he died in 2011, he has never really been replaced. He was the voice of the Israeli wine renaissance.

Uri Shaked, importer, distributor and retailer brought international standard wine retailing to Israel with the opening of Derech Hayayin in 1993 and the development of the chain of wine stores. His family company also set the standards for the importing and distribution of wine.

Segev Yerovam was CEO of the Golan Heights Winery from 1988 to 1998, and the first manager of Galil Mountain. He set the standards for winery management in the nineties for the whole industry. The attention to detail, pursuit of excellence in wine quality, the importance of asthetics in wine, wine tourism and wine education and the production of quality and innovative wine events.

Yair Margalit, winemaker and wine educator, owned the first quality boutique winery in modern times. He acted as consultant to other producers at the start of the boom, wrote the standard reference work for making wine in small wineries and turned his hand to education. Wine courses at the Technion and the Tel Hai Cellar Master course, were massive contributions to the development of wine culture.

Avi Ben Ami, sommelier and events organizer. Avi Ben Ami was Israel’s most celebrated sommelier working in Israel’s finest restaurants. He then devoted himself to organizing Israel’s most professional wine tasting competition and the most respected wine trade show.

Ten wines and five people that have positively influenced Israeli wine during my first twenty five years in Israel. I now look forward to my next twenty five years with optimism and anticipation.

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

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LOOKING BACK WITH PRIDE

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

I came to Israel in 1989. After twenty five years in the wine trade here, and I think it timely to look back at the progress since then. Certainly a revolution took root and Israel began to produce world class wines.

One of the major changes has been in winery names. Back in 1989, Carmel Mizrahi, WEST- Stock, Eliaz, Efrat, Askalon – Carmei Zion and Baron featured. Today these wineries are known by other names, which will be far more familiar: Carmel Winery, Barkan, Binyamina, Teperberg, Segal & Tishbi.

There have also been massive changes in the ownership of wineries. WEST went bankrupt, and was reincarnated under new owners as Barkan. The Segal family sold their Askalon-Carmei Zion operation to Barkan, who in turn were sold to Tempo, Israel’s largest brewery. Binyamina went through a few owners before being bought by the supermarket chain, Hezi Hinam. Carmel, a co-operative for 107 years, was purchased by a consortium of private investors.

Then there were a maximum of twenty or so wineries. Today there are more than 300 and many more garagistes and domestic wineries. Back in 1989, there was just one large winery. Carmel had no less than 75% of Israeli wine production. The cellars at Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov were by far the two largest wineries in Israel. Today, three large wineries, Carmel, Barkan and the Golan Heights, together account for nearly 70% of the wine market.

In the last fifteen years, the large wineries have all invested in new wineries and renovated existing wineries. Carmel built boutique wineries at Ramat Dalton (Kayoumi Winery) & Tel Arad (Yatir Winery) and refurbished its Zichron Ya’acov Winery. Now the historic Rishon Le Zion Winery is to be closed, and a brand new winery is being built at Alon Tabor.

Barkan built a new winery at Hulda, next to the largest vineyard in the country & Golan Heights Winery planted a leg in the Upper Galilee, with a winery called Galil Mountain at Kibbutz Yiron. Teperberg built a new winery at Tzora and Binyamina refurbished its existing winery.

Out of the top 10 wineries by size today, five of them did not exist in 1989, but the biggest change has been in the boom of boutique wineries.

Yonatan Tishbi was the first grower to decide to make his own wine instead of supplying the large wineries. In this sense he was a trend setter, because many other growers in the 1990’s followed suit. Most of the new boutique wineries either belonged to vineyard owners like Tishbi or were simply self-taught domestic winemakers, like Eli Ben Zaken of Castel.

There were only two boutique wineries in 1989, Meron and Margalit, but they

heralded the growth of small wineries in the 1990’s, which has accelerated in the 2000’s. Some like Castel gained a worldwide reputation. Others like Dalton & Tzora, and later Tabor, started small & grew very fast.

The most positive change has been the new pursuit of quality. In 1989 all the main wineries, apart from the Golan Heights Winery, sold sacramental wines, spirits & liqueurs as well as table wines. Today wineries are far more focused on wine.

 

Efrat & Eliaz, (now Teperberg & Binyamina), were selling mainly sweet wines to an almost exclusive religious clientele. Today they are producing good quality table wines. Zion and Arza are two other traditional wineries with a long history that twenty five years ago barely sold any table wines. They too have made impressive strides in the last 5 to 6 years.

The biggest turn around was Carmel which went through a quality transformation. I don’t believe there is one winery that existed in 1989 that does not make better quality wine today.

When I arrived here, Israel’s finest wines were the Carmel Special Reserves of 1976 and 1979, Israel’s first international style wines and Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 1984 & 1985, Israel’s first award winning wines at the highest level. The leading quality labels were Rothschild and Yarden. Askalon (Segal) was known for its reds and innovative labels and Baron (Tishbi) for its clean fresh whites.

The market was weighted towards white wines. The largest selling wines were Selected Emerald Riesling and Carmel Grenache Rose. Selected remains the largest selling brand in Israel as it was then, but the largest selling wines today are Hermon Red, Selected Cabernet Sauvignon, Selected Merlot and Segal Red. Red wine dominates.

Fantasia was then a well-known brand of fun and flavored wines. Today the Moscato craze has taken its place. Brandy, in particular Stock 84 and 777 were extremely popular then. The youth of today prefer vodka or whiskey.

In the eighties only the Golan Heights Winery was winning major awards in international competition. Export was confined to Carmel and the Golan. Today many, many more Israeli wineries are exporting and winning prizes around the world.

In 1989, Mount Carmel and the Judean Shefela were by far the largest wine growing regions. These days, the fastest growing vineyard areas are the Golan Heights, the Upper Galilee and the Judean Foothills. The Golan and Galilee is already the largest wine region in the country.

The main grape varieties then were Carignan and French Colombard, which comprised 61% of the harvest in 1989. By 2013 their contribution had shrunk to 22%. They were replaced by the noble, classic varieties.

In the 1980’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc were the main varieties for quality wines, but quantities were small. Merlot and Chardonnay had just arrived and Shiraz and Gewurztraminer were to come later on. Today Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz rule.

Funnily enough, Israeli wine was built on the bricks of Mediterranean varieties, but the wine revolution occurred on the back of Bordeaux varieties. Today Mediterranean varieties are coming back in, as well as white wines.

Stylistically red wines are becoming more elegant and less bombastic whilst white wines are becoming lighter and fresher.

In 1989 only the Golan Heights Winery had internationally trained winemakers. These initially were Americans, who studied at the University of California at Davis.

By 2014 most of the commercial wineries & the better small wineries had internationally trained winemakers. Not only this, but they were all Israelis, who had traveled abroad to study & gain experience. Another difference is that the place of study is not only California today, but also Australia, France, Italy and New Zealand.

In 1989 most of the country’s wine was sold in supermarkets and dusty kiosks. The shelves were untidy and old vintages of oxidized white wines prominent. There were a few pioneers like Super Drink in Ramat Hasharon, Avi Ben in Jerusalem and Israel Assayel’s shop in Rehovot. In the 1990’s, Derech Ha’Yayin opened, and now it seems as though every medium sized town has its own wine shop. Many have more than one!

There were barely any imports in 1989. The wines that did arrive were almost exclusively for duty free or diplomats. There were hardly any imported wines in restaurants and none in supermarkets. By 2014, up to 20% of the market was imported wine. Many of the world’s most famous international brands are now sold in Israel and the supermarket shelves are groaning with imported kosher wines from countries like France, Italy, Chile & Argentina.

In 1989 there was one famous restaurant with a truly international wine list. This was the legendary Mishkenot Sha’ananim Restaurant in Jerusalem’s Yemin Moshe. It had arguably the best cellar in the Middle East, however elsewhere it was a wine desert.

Thirty years ago, Bernard Levin of the London Times, moaned on visiting Israel: “Doesn’t anyone here have a Jewish mother”, because the food was so bad. He would not be so disappointed today. There are hundreds of quality restaurants with quality wine lists. The culinary and wine awakening happened at the same time.

We should not beat our chests and claim we have arrived. France and Italy need not worry. The point is not that we are so good, but we are on an exciting journey. Compare where we were twenty five years ago and where we are today, and the progress is impressive. Let’s hope the upward curve continues.

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in both Israeli and international publications. adam@carmelwines.co.il<span style=”vertical-align: bottom;”> (mailto:adam@carmelwines.co.il)