Adam S. Montefiore


Mr. Durif was born in France but never really succeeded there. He changed his name and travelled to far off lands where he achieved great success in the eyes of a small number of followers, but mass appeal and fame still eluded him. He never had the popularity of Mr. Cabernet or Mrs. Chardonnay. Also his new name provided constant confusion with his more famous parent Mr. Syrah.

Of course, I am referring to the Durif grape variety, created in the late 19th century by French botanist Francois Durif. In his nursery he had plantings of Peloursin and Syrah, and hey presto, one thing met another, and a new grape variety called Durif was born.

The Durif never took off in its homeland in the South of France, but when it became known as Petite Sirah, (it is sometimes spelt Petite Syrah) and was planted in California and Australia, the wines it made did gain a following amongst the wine anoraks and people who appreciated its qualities.

Despite its name, until the late 1990’s, Petite Sirah was thought to have nothing to do with the more noble variety, Syrah. However in 1997 its parents were finally identified by the University of California.

As it started life in Mediterranean France, it is no surprise that this variety is extremely well suited to Israel’s Eastern Mediterranean climate.

The Petite Sirah grape variety was a new immigrant to Israel in the 1970’s. It was brought over here purely to provide color, structure and body to inexpensive blends. That is exactly the role it played for nearly thirty years. Few people were even aware they were drinking it.

Incidentally the other varieties bought over at exactly the same time were Emerald Riesling and French Colombard! They all came on the same boat, brought over by the legendary French born Director of the Israel Wine Institute, Charles Loinger, who is in his 95th year. Emerald Riesling became for a time the largest selling wine in Israel producing semi dry white wines and Colombard became the main blending white variety (like Carignan amongst the reds.) Interestingly both are now in decline at the time when the renaissance of Petite Sirah is well under way.

The change in Petite Sirah’s fortunes began when winery owner Yair Margalit decided to use 15% Petite Sirah in his rare, strictly allocated Special Reserve. He insisted that this addition, to 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, was what made the wine ‘special.’ His was the first quality boutique winery in the country and his special reserve was arguably Israel’s first cult wine. It was the first time the wine intelligentsia in Israel took notice of Petite Sirah.

Then two boutique wineries began to make Petite Sirah varietal wines in the early 2000’s. They were the Sea Horse Winery at Bar Giora in the Judean Hills and Vitkin Winery, situated at Kfar Vitkin in the Sharon Plain. Both wineries decided to specialize in more unusual, less fashionable varieties. The respective winemakers Zeev Dunie and Assaf Paz saw the potential and understood the special affinity Petite Sirah had with the Israel climate. They were the pioneers.

The larger wineries which took the Petite Sirah idea on board were Carmel and Recanati. They decided to rejuvenate the variety.

A large proportion of the Petite Sirah vineyards in the country were Carmel’s, but it had previously been used for entry level blends. However they chose a 40 year old vineyard in the Judean Hills, with thick trunked, low bush vines, almost on the ground and drastically reduced yields. The results were that the unfashionable Petite Sirah was found to produce wonderful wines, which were totally original.

Recanati Winery has become a flagbearer for Mediterranean style wines, and they initially introduced their Petite Sirah blended with a little Zinfandel. Now they continue with a varietal Petite Sirah under their Reserve label.

Petite Sirah produces very dark, inky wines, with concentrated black fruit and a tantalizing whiff of violets, with a backdrop of black pepper. Can you imagine a big dark wine with the most delicate flowery aroma The wines are tannic, with a plummy, meaty, earthy flavor. They are usually full bodied and suitable for the largest steak or a selection of grilled meats. Petite Sirah is a wine for carnivores. You won’t get an elegant wine, which is refreshing with good acidity from this variety, but you will get a real mouthful of wine with more flavor, added complexity and the true taste of Israel.

Israeli Petite Sirahs have received international recognition. The Appellation Petite Sirah was awarded four stars in Decanter Magazine and was also made Wine of The Month in the same magazine.

The Recanati Petite Sirah was listed by Berry Bros. of London, maybe the most famous and certainly the most historic wine shop in the world. A massive compliment.

The Carmel Vineyards Petite Sirah was selected by Mark Squires and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate as ‘The Best of Israel in 2014.’ Furthermore it was selected in the Best Value category.

The Dalton Petite Sirah scored 93 points in the Wine Enthusiast Magazine, equaling the highest score for an Israeli wine.

If we are talking about the grape variety Israel may become known for, both Carignan and Petite Sirah are often mentioned in the same breath. Both had a pretty poor image for a long time, but winemakers have learnt to make quality wines from these traditional varieties by being very selective, working where possible with older vines and reducing yields dramatically at harvest.

Certainly the Carignan grape variety is more part of the Israeli story having been here from the beginning. However Petite Sirah really grows well here and the best wines are outstanding. It is perfect for our climate and produces wines of great power, depth and complexity.

Wine connoisseurs are more interested in tasting an old vine Petite Sirah, rather than yet another Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. If Israel is looking for regional identity, then Petite Sirah is a wine that is reasonably unique, and the wines produced are original with strong regional character.

The finest Petite Sirahs in Israel are the Carmel Vineyards Petite Sirah, Dalton Petite Sirah, Recanati Reserve Petite Sirah, Montefiore Petite Sirah and Vitkin Petite Sirah. Any of these are great examples if you are looking to sample a Petite Sirah wine for the first time.

Petite Sirah remains a superb blending grape, which over the years has been its primary use. The best blends incorporating Petite Sirah are the Shilo Legend Red, a blend of Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Shiraz. This wine also achieved the score of 93 points in the Wine Enthusiast.

Also the Tabor Sufa, (Storm), produced by Tabor Winery, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah with great complexity and a long flavorful finish . Furthermore the Sea Horse Winery uses Petite Sirah in a number of its creative, unusual blends, which are always full of character and individuality.

In California, Petite Sirah has gained a loyal following. It even has its own marketing advocacy group, ‘PS I Love You’, created to promote, educate and share information with other lovers. Petite Sirah is also appreciated in Australia and Mexico, but I believe the expressions of this variety here are particularly interesting.

So next time you meet Mr. Durif, give him a chance. Try something different and sample a true expression of the Israeli climate, earth and terroir. The effect on your palate will not be as small as his pseudonym would imply.



The Covenant Kitchen is a newly published book, for the ‘new Jewish table’. It is a fun read and a great cookbook filled with the flavors of Italy, Provence, North Africa, Asia, California and Israel. It is written by Jeff & Jodie Morgan, co-owners of the Covenant Winery in Berkeley, California.

Jeff Morgan has a twinkle in his eye with the look of someone who has seen it all but still lives life to the full, and his wife Jodie is charming and vivacious. They are veterans of the food world having written no less than seven cookbooks, but this is their first on the kosher kitchen. Jeff Morgan is also a veteran of the wine world, which he has straddled as a customer, writer, critic and producer. Their winery produces some of the finest kosher wines in the world.

I particularly like the book because a fair bit is devoted to wine. I think every cookbook should have wine in it somewhere, but it rarely happens if ever. However, the Covenant Kitchen offers an introduction to wine which will interest both the wine lover and the person new to wine, who wants to learn. It is pitched exactly right.

Furthermore, every recipe has a wine matched to it. So if you wanted to know which wine goes with hummus, you need look no further. At the same time, for those uptight about matching food with wine, the Morgans explain that the perfect match does not exist and that it is all to do with personal taste.

I particularly liked their advice about whether it is worth buying expensive or cheap wines: “If you can tell the difference, then it is worth paying for. If not, buy something inexpensive”.

Another comment I picked out was: “Wine is like real estate, where value is often measured by perception of quality.” Smart, and so right.

For those who hoard special bottles for some special time in the future, the Morgans urge “Why not tonight” and explain “wine does not need to age to taste good.” The wine section is full of information and advice with a few gems thrown in.

The meat of the book is its recipes. Each is clearly marked pareve, meat or dairy. There are all the standards including their own take on kosher classics like ‘Cowboy Cholent’. But it is also a cookbook that will be attractive to the keen cook whether Jewish or not. For instance the Lavender Goat Cheese Tart, Grilled Sardines, Spiced Lamb Tagine and Orange Olive Oil cake are particularly enticing.

I always consider wine, food & good company is a holy trinity and if one part of the three legged stool is missing, the experience is not the same. The Morgans add a fourth leg. The spiritual aspect.

It was kosher winemaking that bought Jeff Morgan, a lapsed Jew, back to Judaism. He was driven by the urge to make, in his words, the best kosher wine in 5,000 years.

Well he more than succeeded. The king and queen of wine critics are of one mind. Robert Parker referred to Covenant as “the finest kosher wines on planet earth.” Jancis Robinson MW referred to it as “maybe the best kosher wine I have ever tasted.” Praise indeed from the doyens of wine criticism.

I was fortunate to be invited to a very rare vertical tasting of his Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley from the 2003 to the 2012. It was held in Jaffa in a beautiful setting, overlooking the Mediterranean. I have to admit they were an outstanding range of wines. The 2003 is still drinking well. For what it’s worth, my favorites were the Covenant 2004, 2008 and 2012.

Jeff Morgan had a Barmitzvah at the ripe age of 54, goes regularly to Shul and tears up when explaining how making kosher wine has bought him to Judaism. Just in case you don’t get the importance to him of being Jewish, the names of his wines make it quite clear. Apart from Covenant, his other labels have names like Red C, (with a bid red C on the label), The Tribe, Mensch and Landsman. This is a message of someone who has a pride in his Judaism and does not mind who knows it.

The Morgans were in to food and wine before immersing themselves in kosher wine through the Covenant Winery, and now kosher food through this great new book. Next stop Why, Israel of course! Seems like a natural progession.

They have had a great excuse to become regular visitors. Their daughter Zoey has come to live here and they have recently bottled the very first Covenant Israel wines. There is a delicious, refreshing rosé (in another life Jeff Morgan was Mr. Rosé, but that is another story), virtually sold out on release. There is also a red to be released in September. This is a Syrah, which will keep drawing you back to take another sip.

The labels have the characteristic Morgan wit. In this instance, the word Covenant written in blue on a white silhouette of the map of Israel. It is not for nothing that the Covenant from California is a Cabernet Sauvignon, and Covenant Israel is mainly from Syrah. He believes that is the variety to follow here.

What’s next Maybe a Covenant Israeli Kitchen! We will just have to wait and see.

Mira Eitan is a person with as much experience of bars as you would want for someone writing a book on spirits and cocktails. She has literally worked in every facet of the industry. Working as a barmaid, running a bar, participating in professional tastings, not forgetting a lifetime of frequenting bars, drinking with friends. Whichever bar she will be in, she is the one with the biggest smile and the most people around her.

She has an enormous amount of product knowledge, but also knows the stories and folklore surrounding the brands. This encouraged her to start to write for a crowd hungry for information.

There are hundreds of books about wines of every type from anywhere and everywhere. Articles explaining the secrets of the bar were few and far between. However she does not just know the theory. She also knows the context in which drinks are served and the type of things customers and enthusiasts yearn to know. She took to her new career as a journalist like a duck to water.

Eventually she reached the top of her profession, becoming the number one female journalist specializing in wines and spirits in Israel. Then she edited the magazine Wine, Gourmet & Alcohol, the county’s leading drinks magazine in the country, for many years. A long time in the drinks industry has not dulled her passion and little girl excitement. She is a long standing friend, but I am not alone. Everyone knows and likes Mira.

She has now distilled all the years of bars, drinking, shmoozing with drinks people into an excellent book called Happy Hour. It is beautifully presented, handily compact and well balanced between the story or anecdote and the practical. If you want to understand the difference between whisky and whiskey, learn about what is Al Namroud, or need to learn how to make a Margarita, this the book for you. Regrettably it is only as yet in Hebrew, but there are not so many books like this around and I thoroughly recommend it for professionals or amateurs alike.





I was standing proudly on the Israeli stand at the Prowein wine exhibition in Germany, when I heard someone say: “Well, I suppose we are all here because of you!” I wheeled around, and saw the remarks were directed at Shimshon Welner.

Welner was the first managing director of the Golan Heights Winery, who founded the winery in 1983. Somehow from a background in growing apples on the Golan Heights, he was able to cajole a number of growers to get together to create a winery. He was smart enough to import expertise and aim for the maximum quality with no compromise. How did he do it Because he was smart, intelligent, feisty, canny, eager to learn and totally focused on the objective. He took on the wine establishment and conventional way of doing things and came out on top due to bloody minded perseverance.

Partly because Israelis have very short memories, Welner’s contribution to Israeli wine has largely been forgotten, and yet, credit where it was due, it really was the beginning of the revolution in Israeli winemaking. Arguably Welner was at the time the most influential figure since Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who founded the Israel wine industry a hundred years previously.

Think where we were then. The big sellers were Grenache Rose, Hock and Adom Atik. Carmel was the dominant winery. Stock and Eliaz were the next biggest. The best Israeli wines were the Carmel Special Reserves of 1976 and 1979, the first Israeli wines aged in small oak barrels. The big guy receives a lot of knocks, and Carmel was frequently the target of criticism, but they do deserve credit for establishing the infrastructure of Israeli wine and for keeping the industry going for a 100 difficult years of austerity and strife.

However at the time, the wine and food industries were driven by the need for production and distribution, rather than branding and marketing. There was no perception of quality. A farmer grew grapes and sent them once a year to the winery. Israeli wine was made at the winery. A winemaker rarely visited a vineyard. Wines generally lacked varietal character and white wines were often yellowing and oxidized on the shelves.

So what did Shimshon Welner do that was special?
Firstly he imported expertise. Peter Stern from California was employed as wine consultant and he chaperoned a series of UC Davis trained winemakers who worked on the Golan. That’s how it was until 1992 when Victor Schoenfeld became the first permanent chief winemaker. For the first 15 years at least, Stern’s contribution was influential and crucial. No-one can take away what he did for Israeli wine.

In the vineyard, the changes were most apparent. The importance of the vineyard was given its rightful place for the first time. With vineyards up to 1,200 meters above sea level and the volcanic tuff and basalt stone, people started talking about the importance of terroir for the first time. Welner understood you could not make good wine from bad grapes. The new idea was that you grew wine and not grapes.

This was the first time altitude was understood to be important. It was realized we are North Africa in terms of latitude, and it was important to climb to produce a longer, cooler and more balanced growing season. Today whether it is the Golan Heights, Upper Galilee, Judean Hills, Central Mountains or Negev Highlands, it is appreciated that the best wine is made from high elevation vineyards.

One of the most important changes was that all decisions in the vineyard, passed from the grower to the winery for the first time. The winemaker was therefore the key decision maker of how to prune and when to harvest. The concept of making wine in the vineyard began here.

In the winery, new world technology came to Israel for the first time. Strict temperature control and cold fermentation techniques, allowed for production of quality wines in a hot climate.

Welner was as revolutionary in marketing as he was in the winery and vineyard. The label became something aesthetical for marketing an image rather than just imparting information. The original gold foil, colorful mosaic and ancient oil lamp gave the first label a style and quality which has lasted the test of time. The Yarden label has barely changed over the last 30 years. That is a great compliment to the design.

The label and logo were chosen by Peter Stern. When I worked at the Golan Heights Winery, he gave me the folder explaining how they chose the logo, brand names and labels. It was a priceless historical memoir of the time. When I left, I obviously left it behind. I hope it is not lying forgotten somewhere.

The wines themselves were priced up, well above the norm, bringing wine into the aspiration and luxury category, rather than being a mere commodity.

Furthermore, the wines were sold on strict allocation to certain customers only. They were initially sold only to the King David Hotel and then at the Hilton Tel Aviv too, as well as in export. Nothing like scarcity to drive demand!

Welner also set up the deals with important distribution partners included Magash Shaked in Israel, House of Hallgarten in Britain and Royal Wine and Winebow in America. These companies became partners in developing the brand.

Recognition was swift. In 1984, Yarden wines, particularly the Sauvignon Blanc, were referred to in America as Israel’s first world class wines. In 1985 Tom Friedman wrote a complimentary article in the New York Times. He referred to Shimshon as irrepressible. This was a turning point in the fortunes in America.

In 1987, the Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 1984 won the Gold Medal and Winiarski Trophy at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London. A sensation.

Then in 1989 at Vinexpo in Bordeaux, the Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 1985 won the Grand Prix d’Honneur. Confirmation. Israeli wine was on the world wine map.

I was in England at the time, (in the mid 80’s), purchasing wine for a hotel chain.  I remember putting Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, Gamla Cabernet Sauvignon, and Golan Mount Hermon White (yes, then it was Golan. Later it was sold under the Yarden brand. Today the label is Hermon!), on the wine lists in restaurants throughout the chain. This was my introduction to Israeli wine.

Today, in his mid 70’s, Shimshon still appears driven.  He runs Welner Wines, a family business with his wife Liora and son, Yahav. He makes best value kosher wine at eleven different wineries, in seven different countries. Sounds like a logistical nightmare to me, but Welner controls everything from harvesting, production through to marketing and sales.

He markets to twenty countries, including giants like Trader Joe’s in America and Tesco in Britain. He targets a shelf price of $8 or under. He knows most sales of wine around the world is under $10 a bottle. Incidentally, most Israeli wine in export markets is priced above this.

Shimshon Welner can often be seen today at international wine shows. He is usually bent slightly forward, walking quickly, dragging a bag on wheels. My main job in the days I worked at the Golan Heights Winery was knotting the ties of the successive CEO’s on visits abroad. Shimshon has never benefited from my expertise. He wears a tie Israeli style, with a large knot and at half-mast. He always has mischievous twinkle in his eye and he always talk to you as though he is in a rush. Usually he is.

The success of Welner Wines is apparent on the shelves abroad. However that is another story. For now, we should appreciate the changes he introduced in the viticulture, winemaking and marketing of wine here in Israel, that influenced a whole industry for the better. The quality wines of today owe a great deal to those beginnings. How many things which we take for granted today, were first introduced by this enterprising pioneer!