Adam S. Montefiore
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PINK REVOLUTION

Once, not so long ago, the most popular wine in Israel was a rosé. After the peak years of Carmel Hock and Adom Atik and before Emerald Riesling came to the fore, the Carmel Grenache Rosé was king. Many new consumers came to wine via this wine. There was one wine writer who used to talk about a romantic meeting on a beach where this wine featured. It was an induction into wine and a coming of age on the same evening. No-one has ever referred to Grenache Rosé with such love and longing and he traced his interest in wine from this memorable occasion!

In those days rosé wines were recommended as the ultimate compromise choice. The rules then said, white wine goes with fish, red goes with meat, but rosé goes with everything and anything.

However since those heady days, perhaps because it was then a cheap wine and with a generous dollop of sweetness as was then the fashion, things changed. Rosé came to be considered passé in Israel. The new Israeli experts drank red wines.

Thankfully, the last few years have seen not only a revival in the fortunes of rosé, but a revolution. Wine drinkers have realized that this is a style of wine absolutely made for Israel’s climate and wineries have responded by making some really good quality rosés.

Rosé is a perfect Mediterranean wine conjuring up scenes of a cloudless sky, calm sea and casual dining, with mezze on the table. The range of possible styles is quite broad. The color might be a light delicate onion skin pink or alternatively it can look like a red wine that has been mixed with a glass of water. The early Bordeaux wines were named claret by the British because they had a similar light red color.

It can be bone dry, with piercing acidity or virtually semi dry to even medium. It should be fragrant, with delicate berry fruit but not too aromatic. Above all, it should be refreshing. Best served in a white wine glass, rosés are suitable for spicy food, cold meats, fish dishes, sashimi and especially at picnics and barbeques. How about matching colors and drinking a pink wine with baked salmon! Whatever you choose, be sure to serve it very cold. It is the ultimate spring and summer wine for any occasion. Just remember to drink fresh and young. Avoid older rosés on the shelves that take on an orange hue.

Undoubtedly the most developed rosé culture is in France. There a bottle of rosé on the table carries no stigma. No-one looks down on someone who prefers a bottle of rosé instead of a red or white wine.

Arguably the best rosés come from there. Rosé d’Anjou from the Loire Valley, Tavel Rosé from the Rhone Valley and Provence Rosés from the South of France, are examples of some well-known rosés.

White Zinfandel from California is another well-known form of rosé. It is known as a ‘blush’ wine, because of its delicate, paler color. It is more likely to be pink rather than light red, and will almost certainly be considerably sweeter than the French versions. White Zin, as it is known, is extremely popular as an entry level wine.

Closer to home in the eastern & southern Mediterranean, rosé wines also have a strong following. It is a popular style in Morocco, where it is known as ‘vin gris’ or ‘gris de gris’. Lebanon also has particularly good rosés especially those produced by Chateau Kefraya and Chateau Ksara.

Perhaps the most prominent rosé over the years has been the Portuguese Mateus Rosé in the squat bulbous bottle, which became popular the world over. It is medium dry and lightly carbonated. This was one of the largest selling wines in the world at one stage. I remember it was in Israel before the import boom took place. It contributed to make rosé attractive and accessible. It is still around either for those that like it or for those that want to make an innovative table lamp from the bottle.

The most famous rosé today is the one made by the actor celebrities Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The wine is Miravel produced at their French Provencal estate, Chateau Miravel. The wine has done extremely well in blind tastings and has succeeded in putting rosé wines in the limelight. With good packaging and an original, dumpy style bottle, they have made rosé chic, sexy and aspirational.

Rosés are made in three ways. The first way is separating the grape skins from the must (grape juice) early in the process, then proceeding as though it is a white wine. It is the grape skins that provide color, so the depth of the color depends on the time of skin contact. The result is basically like a white wine, pink in color, but made from red grapes. This is why wines like White Zinfandel, often have the word ‘white’ or blanc’ in their name.

The second way is the ‘saignée’ method, where wine is ‘bled’ off from the red wine making process. The effect of this both concentrates the red wine and provides a fuller flavored rosé wine, which is liable to have more character.

The third way is simply mixing red and white wines. This does not happen with table wines but is more likely to happen with champagne.

There are some high quality wines like the Castel Rosé (mainly made from Merlot grapes), Flam Rosé (Cabernet Franc & Syrah) and Yatir Rosé (Grenache & Tempranillo). These are bone dry rosés with structure, body (all relative of course), flavor and excellent acidity. The wine connoisseur will put these on their table without a second thought.

Then there are fun rosés, which have delicate aromas, a lively taste and a refreshing finish. In this category I put the Carmel Vineyards Rosé (Tempanillo & Shiraz),

Dalton Rosé (Barbera, Zinfandel & Cabernet) and Galil Mountain Rosé (Barbera & Pinot Noir).

The Recanati Rosé ( Barbera & Merlot) is beautifully packaged. It is a quality wine and looks it. It comes in an attractively different style of bottle shouting ‘I am rosé, and I am proud of it!’, so it stands out.

Newly released is its sister rosé called Recanati Gris de Marselan, an elegant and delicate rosé. Then there is the Tabor Adama Barbera Rosé, in a screw top bottle. Oh so sensible not only to preserve freshness, but also for those who can never find the bottle opener. Both are excellent.

The Selected Rosé is an Israeli example of White Zinfandel. Pink, inexpensive and semi dry. Good with pizza! Whilst we are on pink, the Yarden Rosé Brut is a really high quality sparkling wine made by the classic or traditional method. Try that with a bowl of freshly picked strawberries and you will think you are in heaven. Maybe rosé sparkling wine is the most romantic wine of all!

 

Rosé is not a wine that demands attention and merits discussion. It does not receive high scores and medals. The critics don’t write long articles about rosé. However, most wine drinking is done with wine taking a supporting role. Not only is there nothing wrong in that, I support it. That is how wine finds its best place on the table. Rosé is a wine which supports the mood or occasion.

After you get home tired, after a long hot summers day, and before the daily news depresses you further, a glass of rose is the perfect pick me up!

What better occasion or happier mood is there than on Yom Hatzmaut – Israel Independence Day! Rosés go well with Barbecues, families and parties. Somehow sitting on a patio or balcony in the early evening with a glass of chilled rosé, seems just right. I already feel better just thinking about it!

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UGLY DUCKLING

Carignan is part of the fabric of the modern Israel wine industry. Its career as an honorary Israeli started in the 1870’s when the Mikveh Israel Agricultural School, which taught many of the country’s new wine growers, planted cuttings. They chose varieties, primarily because of what they judged to be a similarity of climate between 19th century Palestine and the South of France.

In the 1880’s Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s first growers planted a grape called ‘Corignan’, and that was how they pronounced it and wrote it. Amusingly some growers six generations later still refer to ‘Corignan’. For over a hundred years, Carignan was the mainstay of the Israeli wine industry because of its high yields, suitability in our hot climate and flexibility of use.

Carignan hails from Carinena in Spain, though I like best the hypothesis that it came from our region and was bought by the Phoenicians to Sardinia, and spread from there. Though you should not spoil a good story by the truth, there is apparently no evidence for this theory!

It is known as Carignane in California, Carignano in Italy and Carinena or Mazuelo in Spain. It is most prominent in Languedoc-Roussillon, the Catalan regions of Spain, Sardinia and North Africa. Out of the new world countries, it is most successful in Chile. As for the Eastern Mediterranean, it is fairly well distributed in Cyprus, less so in Turkey and is barely seen in Greece. However it is more respected in Lebanon, where it forms part of the blend for the iconic Chateau Musar. In Israel though, it became the most planted variety from the beginning. Even now it is still the second most planted variety after Cabernet Sauvignon.

In the 1970’s over 50% of Israeli grapes were Carignan. As a result, people used to drink far more Carignan than they ever knew. It might have been in your grape juice, what your Kiddush wine was made of and also used in inexpensive blends. The only wine actually labelled Carignan was likely to be the cheapest wine under the most basic label in a winery’s portfolio.

As a result of Carignan’s dominance, many times the grapes were used for a wine masquerading as Cabernet Sauvignon. Israel has never been great for wine laws and it was not so long ago that there was not enough Cabernet to justify all the Cabernet Sauvignons on the market! I remember Daniel Rogov, z”l, saying to me wrily after sampling a Cabernet Sauvignon from a respected winery, that it was the best Carignan he had tasted!

Carignan was also the largest planted grape in France, dominating the Languedoc, but the variety was not appreciated. When there were incentives to grub up vines, Carignan was top of the list.

So what were left was old vine vineyards, which the owner cared for enough not to uproot. The revival began in the 1990’s in places like Priorat in Spain, and Fitou & Corbières in France. The first glimpse of a different way of looking at things here, was when Yair Margalit produced a quality Carignan in 1999 and also called it Carignan. His was arguably Israel’s first cult winery, so people noticed.

Then in the 2000’s Carignan began its reemergence. The small family winery Vitkin, was the first to specialize in quality Carignan. They produced their first in 2002. Carmel followed with theirs in 2004 and became the first of the larger wineries to rehabilitate Carignan. What was in common between these two wineries was Assaf Paz, Israel’s own Mr. Carignan and the real pioneer of quality Carignan in Israel. He was a winemaker of Vitkin owned by his sister and brother in law, and at that time he was also a winemaker at Carmel’s Zichron Ya’acov Cellars.

He looked at those same vineyards producing massive yields to be used for kiddush wines, identified the better plots and determined to make a quality wine. This he did by using old vine vineyards, reducing yields and hey presto, the ugly duckling became a swan.

Later, it was not surprising that Carmel and Vitkin were the first wineries to launch prestige Mediterranean style blends, in which Carignan played an important part. The Carmel Mediterranean and Vitkin Shorashim were also pioneering wines, forerunners of a new trend.

A few months ago I attended a tasting of Carignans from Israel, France and Italy organized by David Perlmutter, the wine guide extraordinaire, and led by Elizabeth Gabbay, Master of Wine, who gave an excellent presentation. A tasting of varietal Carignans is an extremely rare event. Carignan is rarely the bride elsewhere too, being hidden in regional blends. In Priorat it is usually blended with Grenache. In places like Corbières and Fitou it is often blended with Syrah, Grenache or Mourvedre.

One thing became apparent. Different Carignans speak different languages. It does not have a fruit forward character that is easy to identify. That is why it is hard to pigeonhole and gets a bad press. What is does have is good tannins and pronounced acidity.

What is clear though, is that Israel is producing some very good Carignans, which do not suffer by comparison with anywhere else. In a time when Israel seems to be awash with Cabernets, Merlots and Shiraz, the odd varietal Carignan provides welcome variety.

Carignan also represents our own history of winemaking here. The original flirtation with Mediterranean varieties, followed by a long history of winemaking where price and the kashrut certificate where more important than quality. Then a quality revolution and lately a move back to Mediterranean varieties. Somehow Carignan represents the Israeli story. It was one of the few varieties here even before Rothschild founded a modern wine industry. Now it represents a wine almost as authentically Israeli as we have got.

The country’s main Carignan specialists are Carmel, Recanati, Somek & Vitkin. Other Israeli wineries producing good Carignans are Arza, part of their i-med label, Beth-El, with vineyards at 800 meters in what I call the ‘Central Mountains’, Jezreel Valley, gold medal winner at the Eshkol Ha’Zahav Competition, Trio and Vortman Wineries.

Vitkin Carignan 2009 (NK)
This for me was the best wine of the tasting, including the overseas Carignans. It was certainly more clearly defined and elegant than the other Israeli expressions . A wine with a beginning, middle and end, but moderate in all aspects, and with everything in proportion. The fruit was from the Hanadiv Valley south of Zichron Ya’acov.

Somek Carignan 2011 (NK)
Somek wines are grown by Barack Dahan a fifth generation grower and the wines are made by his wife Hila, who studied at Adelaide University. The vineyards for this wine also come from the Hanadiv Valley. This wine was dominated by ripe aromas of black fruit and broad oak flavors, but despite this had a refreshing finish.

Carmel Vineyards Carignan 2010
Carmel is the winery most associated with Carignan over the years. This wine comes from 40 year old vines in the Shefaya – Ein Tut region east of Zichron Ya’acov. It has a small amount of Petit Verdot in the blend. Represents good value.

Trio Spirit of Alona 2012
This is a Carignan from the Alona Valley, made by Yotam Sharon for Trio Winery. Actually it is my favorite red wine of the Trio family. The wine has a nose of blueberry, plum with a hint of Mediterranean herbs, a touch of sweet vanilla and a full flavored finish.

Recanati Wild Carignan 2013
A dilapidated and run down vineyard was spotted by winemaker Ido Lewinsohn in the Judean Foothills. He had the vision to forsee the wine that could come from this. The result is the leading Israeli Carignan, recognizable by the attractively, rugged old vine drawn on the label. Recanati’s Carignan has scored 92 points with Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and is being sold by Berry Brothers, the world’s most famous traditional fine wine shop in London. Definitely, the best ambassador internationally for Israeli Carignan.

This is a big wine. The aroma is profound with black fruit dominating, yet it is encircled by a blanket of oak. The mouth feel is chewy, there is a balancing acidity and it has a long, long finish.

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DONT COMMIT TO A BOTTLE!

Visiting a restaurant is a standard procedure for many. However ordering the wine can be a big ordeal. Even people with great confidence and power in their business lives, can shudder at the prospect. It is rather like someone being honored by an Aliyah in synagogue for the first time. What is routine for many can reduce an assured CEO to jelly if he is not used to it.

You are handed a long wine list. There are rows of complicated names. Panic sets in and you go glassy eyed. What to choose Where to look Firstly decide whether you want red or white wine and have an idea of your budget. Look for a brand or grape variety you know or check out the wines at the price you want to pay. Basically it is a choice of either what you know or the conscious decision to try something new.

Ordering wine is not so much different from ordering food. You don’t have to be a big expert. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You ask for an explanation about the food without fear of retribution. Why not do the same regarding the wine The sommelier, wine waiter or waiter staff should be more informed than you are. Use their expertise. You can explain, “I like Shiraz, what do you have similar” Or you can point to wine in the list and explain: “I want something in this category.” They will then know your target price.

In fact the restaurant scene is the best place to try something new, but choosing what you know and like is okay. Don’t be pressurized into trying to match the wine with the food. Today we say: “match the wine to mood, not to food.” Anyway it is an impossible task in a big gathering. The more you ask, the more suggestions there will be and what was a difficult enough task will only become more difficult. Just ask whether people want red or white, then my recommendation is you choose what you like.

Don’t feel you have to commit to a bottle. If ‘she’ wants to start with a sparkling wine as an aperitif and ‘he’ prefers a dry white wine. Then she wants to follow up this with a dry white wine with the meal and he wants a red wine. The only way to give everyone the flexibility they want is to choose wines by the glass. You don’t have to commit to a whole bottle, you can try different things and everyone can drink what they want.

I like a restaurant with a good and innovative choice of wines by the glass. I love the opportunity to skip from glass to glass, exploring new things. You avoid the risk of having bought a bottle that may be disappointing from its first sip.

Restaurants these days take more trouble to provide interesting by the glass options. I just wish they would go to the trouble of pouring my wine by the glass from the bottle in front of me, rather than producing as if by magic, a glass full of something, which just may or may not be what I ordered! Just avoid restaurants with too many wines by the glass unless they use wine saving devices.

If you do order a bottle, the waiter will open it in front of you and then pass you the cork as though it is the crown jewels. You are meant to sniff the cork and look suitably impressed. No need. A cork smells … well, like wine soaked tree bark. So if you are handed it, you can decline or just put it down without having to feel that it will unlock the secrets of your wine.

The waiter will ask who wants to taste the wine. The honor is normally given to the person who has ordered the bottle, male or female. Wine service should not be sexist. All you have to do is take the glass by the stem, agitate it slightly (or swirl the wine by making a half circle of the glass on the table), and then put your nose in it. Take a short sharp sniff. If it smells ok, there is really no need to taste it. Tell the waiter that he/ she has your permission to pour.

Remember the theatre of wine service is not for you to say you like the wine or not. It is an opportunity for you to check it is the wine you ordered and you can decide if its temperature is to your liking but you should only send it back if it is faulty in some way.

Don’t be afraid to ask for an ice bucket for your red wine. Red wines are usually served too warm in Israel. Too warm for me is room temperature. A wine can lose its shape in our climate, especially with high alcohols we have here. I prefer my red slightly chilled which can then gently warm up in the glass.

This means for home drinking, I put even the best red wines, (maybe especially the best red wines), in a domestic fridge for at least 20 minutes before serving. If wines in a restaurant are served from a wine fridge or cellar, then they may be already chilled. However if not, do not feel embarrassed to ask for it to be chilled for you.

Just always make sure the ice bucket has ice and water in it, (not just ice, which alone will not be effective,) and that it is filled. How often are you given an ice bucket with a smattering of ice just covering its base! Don’t be afraid to be assertive. It is your right as a customer. Even if you wanted ice cubes in your white wine, a restaurant should comply with goodwill and a smile. Ever heard of the customer always being right

We all have special wines at home that we are saving for a special day. Unfortunately that day never comes and we often only finally get to drink such wines when they are past their best. So don’t hesitate to take your special bottle to your next restaurant experience. Wine is meant to be drunk, not saved like a trophy. Corkage is normally 35 to 45 shekels. There is never wine on every table in even the top wine restaurants. So, most restaurants will appreciate your custom, even if you bring your own wine.

The corkage charge is a fair deal because a restaurant will open your precious bottle, provide quality glassware, pour the wine for you and your guests, and even wash up the glasses for you! That merits a charge. Even if they ask for more outrageous 75 shekels corkage, as a few brazen restaurants do, it still pays because restaurant prices are so high.

The etiquette is not to bring a wine that is already featured on the wine list and it is a nice touch to offer a taste to the wine waiter. In any case if I bring a red wine, I will often also buy a bottle of white. If you purchase a bottle, a thinking restaurant is likely to waiver the corkage fee. Bringing your own bottle is recommended. In fact it usually pays to do so.

Check out prices and reward those pricing with seichel. A restaurant wine should never be more than double its retail price. Restaurants should mark up by no more than three times. The charge for a glass of wine should not be more than the cost price of a bottle. Avoid those restaurants with ridiculous prices. As a rough guide, you could aim to pay for a bottle what you will pay for one diner’s meal.

A personal tip. In my view chefs are always at their best and most creative with the starters. Also portions are more manageable. I would just as well order an extra couple of starters, put them in the center of the table and share with family and friends with a variety of wines by the glass. Forgo the main course, no need to commit to a bottle and tiptoe from glass to glass. And enjoy!

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GET REAL! BE PRACTICAL!

Seder Night is a banquet with a theme and tradition, and at all banquets there should be the utmost care in choosing the wine and the food. The main theme as far as I am concerned is the Arba Kossot. It has to be a good festival when have to drink four glasses of wine!

Come this time of year, I am usually recommending favorite wines I have recently tasted. It is a great opportunity to pay homage to the best wines drunk in the last six months. However, most Seder nights are large parties, often very large parties. Most likely, half the guests don’t even like wine and the other half prefer wines you would not normally drink.

It is certainly a pity to spend money on those expensive, special purchase wines for a large gathering. Also it is slightly disingenuous of people like me to write about them each year. So this time, I am getting real and facing the facts. Many people drink sweet and cheap. Therefore let’s agree to keep the expensive award winning wines for a smaller group of wine lovers and instead we will try to make the maximum number of people happy. So these are my more practical, realistic wine recommendations for this year.

Firstly your choice does not have to be limited to sweet kiddush wines. However if you want tradition and wines your children will like, then who am I to tell you different. Likewise if you are used to grape juice, then I don’t think my wine preference will sway you.

Some people even make an impromptu blend of Kiddush wine and grape juice, to as it were, gain the best of both worlds. Many say the finest wine possible should be used for the first glass as it is the most important. Others are content with sweet kiddush wines because that is what they are used to or because it is the first wine and it is drunk on an empty stomach.

For all those traditionalists, I have a newish wine for you that will solve all your problems. It is sweet but not as sweet as a Kiddush wine. It has lower alcohol than a regular wine, but is not totally alcohol free like grape juice. It is aromatic and tasty. And I guarantee the great Aunts and In Laws who hate wine, will love it. To me it is the perfect Kiddush or sacramental wine for all the family. These are wines called Moscato.

They are low alcohol (5-6% only), petillant or frizzante (ie slightly sparkling), with a delicate sweetness and the aromatic grapey aroma that you only receive from Muscat grapes. You want to be traditional and innovative at the same time Then look for Moscatos. They will normally be under 30 shekels a bottle and you will find them under the brand names such as Buzz, Dalton, Hermon, Selected and Teperberg.

These are any time any place wines. Perfect for picnics, breakfast, brunch…or as the newest most tasty type of Kiddush wine! Moscatos are made in the similar way to the Moscato d’Asti in Italy. They are the new trend in beginner’s wines, replacing past fads such as Emerald Riesling and Fantasia. They are so popular in America, they refer to the fad as ‘Moscato madness’!

Of course Moscatos are white. Traditionalists will demand red wine. (Many insist on only red wines during a Seder as being ‘more correct’, others prefer white wines because red wine invited reminders of the Passover blood libel accusations.)

However, all is not lost as both Buzz and Teperberg have a red version called Carignano and Red Moscato respectively.

Whether you choose Kiddush wine, grape juice or Moscato style, serve them very cold. Put them in the fridge at least two hours in advance, or earlier if you have space.

For the next two glasses I would delve into the price category of what I believe are the best value wines available in Israel. I am referring to those priced at ‘three for 100 shekels.’ Who knows, they might even be less expensive by the time Pesach draws near! The latest revolution in Israeli wine has been in this lesser expensive price range. On a day to day level, I proudly drink wines from this category.

For the second glass, a white wine is recommended. If this is a banquet, it is the aperitif, which is drunk with the symbolic foods on the Seder Plate. So a light, fruity white wine is ideal to prepare for the coming meal and then to drink with the first course. I would go for the Binyamina Bin Chardonnay or Tabor Har Chardonnay, two quality wines representing very good value. If the preference is semi dry, I would take the Barkan Reserve Emerald Riesling. The touch of sweetness will nullify the taste of the maror – bitter herbs, and will go well with the gefilte fish. If you do want to stick with red wines, a light, easy drinking red wine like Mount Hermon Red is fruity and refreshing and not in the least astringent.

In a banquet you reserve the finest wine for the main course. The third glass comes just after the meal, but I would open it with the main course and then continue with it. For this, I recommend the Private Collection Cabernet Sauvignon or Galil Mountain Merlot. These are two wines punching well above their weight. The Cabernet has more structure and the Merlot is more rounded. If you want a blend, the Recanati Yasmin Red is full of flavor and juicy fruit.

The fourth glass has to be drunk leisurely, after the meal. A quality sweet wine provides the correct finale. The sipping and singing go together well. The light, frothy Moscato may again be the perfect answer, being more digestible after a large meal. If not, I recommend a more traditional dessert wine such as the Teperberg Silver Riesling or Private Collection Muscat, served ice cold.

Those who always say Israeli wine is expensive should stroll around the supermarkets before Pesach. Today the main wine shops are also trying to match the prices and be competitive too. It is a buyer’s market.

If your choice is to buy only two wines, I suggest looking only for a soft Merlot and a semi dry white. If you prefer only one,…… it is back to Moscato!

My most important advice is that the best wine to buy is the wine you like. Don’t be under any pressure with your Passover purchase. It is smarter to appeal to the lowest common denominator, than to the one or two wine mavens that may be present. Then everyone has the chance to have a good Seder wine experience. Remember wine is not only there to talk about, it is also there to drink …..and on Seder Night it is a Mitzvah! Have a Kosher & Happy Passover. Le’Haim!