Adam S. Montefiore


In 2004 restaurateur Jacques Capsouto started on a journey that brought him to Israel, to plant vines and create one of Israel’s newest wineries.

He came to for a wedding and took time to visit a few Israeli wineries. He talked to winemakers, walked the vineyards and tasted the wines. He was surprised at the quality and put a number of Israeli wines on the wine list of his Tribeca restaurant in Manhattan. He said he did it for business reasons only, “because they were good.“

Then it was extremely rare for a non-kosher restaurant to select a number of wines from Israel and it took someone of the conviction of Jacques Capsouto to make the effort and back it up. He challenged his customers to try the wines, telling them “If you do not like the wines, you don’t need to pay for them.”

He explained “Israeli wine does not have the attack of fruitiness that the new world has but doesn’t have the subtlety that the European wine has. You have a nice middle ground between the two.”

In 2006 he was invited back as a guest to IsraWinExpo and a new dream came into mind. His mother Eva had always said to him “do something for Israel.” So he decided not only to become an ambassador for Israeli wines but to make his own.

Capsouto was born in Egypt to parents who came from Turkey. He moved to France with his family aged and lived in Lyon for four years and then the family moved again to the United States, where he made his home.

In Manhattan he founded the Capsouto Freres Restaurant with his brothers, which he ran for over thirty years. The restaurant helped put Tribeca on the map. For thirty years they maintained the exacting standards in the most competitive restaurant city in the world. It is difficult enough to find a quality restaurant in Israel that has lasted 10 years!

Then came two hammer blows. Firstly his brother Albert, a constant and crucial partner in the business tragically passed away well before his time. Then came Hurricane Sandy. A life’s work was destroyed in a single storm. The restaurant was flooded, fixtures destroyed and the restaurant closed. Capsouto dusted himself down and focused on achieving his new ambition.

He scoured the land looking to plant a vineyard “not on the Golan, too problematic, but in the Galilee, as near to the Lebanese border as possible.” He could have done it the easy way, buying grapes, but no, Jacques Capsouto wanted to do things properly.

In the end he chose a site in the Western Galilee, near Pekin, “a place” he says proudly, “where Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druse peacefully co-exist.” There are surprising few vineyards or wineries in the Western Galilee.

It is not easy for a Hebrew speaking Israeli to cope with the infamous Israeli bureaucracy. Well Jacques was neither a resident here, nor did he speak the language, but he was very determined.

He badgered everyone he knew for help and believe me, Jacques Capsouto knows how to be a nudge! He particularly plays tribute today to Gaby Sadan of Shvo Vineyards, Shalom Blayer, ex CEO of the Golan Heights Winery and Micha Vardia, winemaker of Galil Mountain, amongst those that helped him

His vineyard is in a horseshoe, north facing, 700 meters above sea level, with a 90 meter difference between the highest and lowest part. It was planted in 2010 and Capsouto was there, sleeves rolled up, living the wine experience to the full.

Capsouto is convinced that Israel is a Mediterranean country and as such should plant Mediterranean grape varieties. He also believes Israel should make blends in the Southern Rhone style, “less fruit forward and less like California”.

So he planted Rhone varietals Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache Noir, Cinsault, Counoise, (a little known variety in the Chateauneuf du Pape blend), as his red grapes. The whites he planted were Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne & Clairette. He has brought Cinsault and Clairette back to Israel and Counoise was never here before.

He believes with the fervor of a missionary that though these are not indigenous varieties to Israel, the origin is likely to have been Lebanon, the Eastern Mediterranean or Middle East. He tells me they were brought to France and Spain by the trading Phoenicians over 2,500 years ago.

He employed one of Israel’s leading viticulturists, Pini Sarig and the famous Jean-Luc Columbo as a consultant. Where is he from From the Rhone of course! As a winemaking he chose the promising and talented Eran Israeli, who teaches winemaking at the Ohalo School in Katzrin. A traditionalist to the end, he ensures the grapes are handpicked and he only used oak barrels three and four years old. No new oak for him.

I tried to meet him on two occasions in September. He couldn’t because they were harvesting. So apparently the debonair restauranteur is still very hands on. He wanted to be there, like he was in the restaurant every night, instead of delegating. Suddenly you understand why Capsouto Freres was at the top in the shark infected waters of the restaurant business for so long.

Finally after his long marathon, he was recently able to show me his bottles from the 2014 harvest. The first thing I notice is the labels. The names are in French and the look is absolutely Southern Rhone. The winery is called Jacques Capsouto Vignobles and the brand is Cotes de Galilee Village.

If you are in any doubt, he then goes through wine by wine: ‘The white is like a Chateauneauf du Pape White and the young red is like a Cote du Rhone Village. The Grand Vin like Chateauneuf du Pape.” We get the picture Jacques. The Rhone Valley has firmly settled in the hills of the Western Galilee!

At 70 years of age, when most people are looking for the easy life, he has completed the first stage. As we say in the wine business: ‘It is easy to plant grapes and it is not so hard to make wine. What is difficult is to sell them!’

Jacques Capsouto never married. He said “I suppose I was married to the restaurant for thirty two years. As for these wines….they are my Grandchildren”. Now, I am a very proud grandfather. When I became one, I suddenly understood the reason why I had children. I have no doubt Jacques Capsouto will get similar pleasure from his Grandchildren.

He says to me in his thick French accent, with the usual Capsouto bravado: “I think I have done a good job” …and then pauses, suddenly less certain, seeking affirmation he adds “…no” Yes Jacques, good job! Done with style, panache, and a dollop of French chic.

When I first wrote about Jacques Capsouto I called him The Wine Zionist. Tasting the fulfillment of all his work, I am reminded of Herzl’s quote: “if you will it, it is no dream.” He will like the comparison.


The wines I  tasted were as follows. Each commemorates a member of his family. Eva his mother, Marco his father and Samuel his brother and grandfather. The Grand Vin Blanc, not tasted, will be named after his other brother, Albert. They are Kosher.

Cuvee Eva Rose, Cotes de Galilee Village, Jacques Capsouto Vignobles  2014
A rose blend made from 58% Cinsault, with 22% Grenache and 20% Mourvedre. The palest possible shade of salmon pink. Very delicate and light with the faintest strawberry fruit and a searing acidity. Refreshing. Price: NIS 80

Cuvee Eva Blanc, Cotes de Galilee Village, Jacques Capsouto Vignobles  2014
A medium bodied white wine blend made from 60% Grenache Blanc, 19% Roussanne, 14 % Clairette and 7% Marsanne. Subdued nose, slightly herbal, good complexity with nice mouth feel and a long finish. Interesting, different and very good quality. Price: NIS 95

Cuvee Samuel Rouge, Cotes de Galilee Village, Jacques Capsouto Vignobles  2014
A red blend of 40% Mourvedre, 31% Grenache Noir, 26% Counoise and 3% Syrah. An aroma of ripe berries and plums. Chewy and meaty. Full of flavor, but with an elegant finish. I loved it.
NIS 115

Cuvee Marco Grand Vin Rouge, Cotes de Galilee Village, Jacques Capsouto Vignobles  2014
Not yet released. Wait until the Spring 2016, but it is rich, concentrated but still closed. I think it is going to be very good, but it needs time. For the record it is a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah.



Sparkling wine is the wine of fashion and celebration. Whether on New Year’s Eve or at a wedding, it remains the classic wine to make a toast with. It is also a symbol of success and happiness. Just look at the winner of a Formula One race. It is always Champagne he opens at the end of a race, never any other wine.

Champagne is the byword for quality in sparkling wines. It is made in the Champagne region in northern France in the most expensive, time consuming way. That is that the second fermentation, which provides the bubbles, occurs in the actual bottle which will eventually be sold. It can be bone dry, crisp with mouth puckering acidity or rich with a bready, yeasty aroma. If it is image you want, then champagne is the only answer.

For years wine with bubbles in was a winemaking fault. The idea of putting the bubbles there on purpose by a secondary fermentation was invented, believe it or not, by an Englishmen, Christopher Merrit in the late 17th century.

Folklore says that it was the blind monk, Dom Perignon, who invented it, running and shouting : “Come quickly, I think I am drinking stars!” He perfected the method of production, but as a consolation for the story not being true, his name lives on in one of the best known luxury champagnes in the world.

As soon as the bubbles were reliably preserved in bottle, champagne became the great prestigious pick me up it has continued to be until today.

The only problem then, was that it was sweet, even very sweet. The sweetest cuvées were produced for the Russians. The British had the driest, but even they were semi dry to medium in sweetness.

It was only in the mid-19th century that the Champagne House, Perrier Jouet rather gingerly produced the first dry champagne and it took some time before it was accepted, but the word champagne still held its magic.

Champagne made by the Champagne Method, is now more correctly known as the Classic or Traditional Method, is no longer confined only to Champagne. Today many countries produce wine in this way. For instance California, Australia and New Zealand have flavorful sparkling wines that rival Champagne for quality. The best sparkling wines are produced in cooler climates and it will certainly be a surprise to many that England today has some very high quality sparkling wines. The soils of south east England and Champagne are similar.

The first Israeli Classic Method sparkling wines were made by Carmel. However it was before its time, expensive sparkling wines were not popular and it was labor intensive to produce. Eventually they stopped and returned to lesser expensive sparkling wines, producing by the Charmat Method or what I call the Coca Cola method.

In the Charmat process the second fermentation takes place in a tank and is then bottled under pressure. In the Coca Cola method there is simply an injection of CO2 gas into to the wine. However, there are still some old pupitres (wine racks for riddling) to be found at Carmel’s wineries to provide evidence of their pioneering effort.

In the 1990’s the Golan Heights Winery started producing classic method sparkling wines using a more modern production line and their Yarden Blanc de Blancs in particular was swiftly recognized as a world class wine, winning major trophies..

The language of sparkling wines can be confusing. ‘Brut’ refers to a dry or very dry wine. The word Sec or Extra Dry refers to an off dry wine. Demi Sec is semi dry to semi sweet and Rich is sometimes used to denote sweet.

A Blanc de Blancs is a sparkling wine made 100% from white grapes, usually Chardonnay. It will be lighter with a more delicate aroma than the others. Blancs de Noirs is a sparkling wine made only from black grapes, usually Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier. It will be more full bodied with some berry notes in the aroma. The three grapes together make up the traditional Champagne blend.

There are other sparkling wines particularly popular in Israel. Cava is Spain’s national sparkling wine, which is made in the Catalonian region. It provides quality, and is made in the traditional way, but at a cheaper price than the French version.

Cava is in fact so popular that it has become the slang in Israel for any sparkling wine.

Prosecco is the latest rising star. This is a light, soft, fruity and slightly creamy sparkling wine made in the Veneto region of Italy. It is usually a little cheaper than Cava, and so is attractive for those buying on price.

Asti Spumante from North West Italy has a frothy grapey sweetness and is a fully fledged sparkling wine. For those who like a more delicate fizz, try the lightly sparkling Moscato d’Asti.

Lambrusco is a semi sparkling wine, with a slight fizz. These are known as frizzante in Italian. It may be red or white and in any style from dry to semi sweet. The sweet ones are glugging wines, but the drier wines can be bracing and refreshing.

Sparkling wine is the classic aperitif and goes with all mezze, hors d’oeuvres, fish dishes, sushi and poultry. In fact champagne goes with anything and everything and there is nothing wrong with drinking it throughout a meal. It is even a good way to end a meal after the dessert wine, providing a clean, fresh finish.

The versatility of sparkling wine, is best summed up by Lily Bollinger, the legendary owner of the Bollinger Champagne House. This memorable quote, I have framed in my office:

I only drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not in a hurry and drink it when I am, otherwise I never touch the stuff, unless I am thirsty.” Serve your sparkling wine ice cold. Put it in the fridge for a few hours, or even in the freezer for a short time, as long as you do not forget it.

Opening sparkling wine should be done with the utmost care. The cork can become a dangerous missile because of the pressure in the bottle, which equals that of a tire in a double decker bus. Hold the bottle at 45 °, being careful to ensure it is not pointing at anyone. Gently undo the wire on top of the cork, always maintaining a finger on top of the cork as a precaution. Hold the cork in one hand and bottle in the other and turn the bottle, whilst easing the cork and it should come out with a light swoosh, or an erotic sigh, rather than a big pop.

Champagne glasses historically were the flat saucer glasses apparently shaped on Marie Antoinette’s breast. Now these are considered more suitable for cocktails or ice cream. More in favor are the tulip or flute glasses which concentrate the aromas and maintain the steady flow of bubbles. Actually any white wine glass is more than adequate. Israel produces a full range of sparkling wines from the lightly sparkling Moscatos to the finest Classic Method wines. For those who wish to drink blue and white instead of imported wine, these are some good quality options. .

Yarden’s sparkling wines (Blanc de Blancs and Rosé) are the best, Pelter’s is the rarest and Gamla’s is also top quality, but is less expensive than both. Carmel Private Collection, Tabor and Teperberg produce very good mid-priced sparkling wines, which are good value. Then there are fun sparkling wines like Pninim, Moscato and Carignano which are always popular.

Whatever your poison, there is a sparkling wine at every price and in every style.

Cheers! Le Haim!



Binyamina and Zichron Ya’acov are two winery towns on the southern slopes of Mount Carmel, that have witnessed a 130 years of our modern wine history. It was here that Baron Edmond de Rothschild built a modern Israeli wine industry, first by planting vineyards and then by building a large winery. Binyamina is named after Edmond de Rothschild’s Hebrew name and Zichron Ya’acov, after his father, Jacob.

Today the area represents the most traditional, compact wine route in Israel, easily accessible from central Israel. A train journey to Binyamina Station can put you in the heart of the region. Within close proximity, there are wineries founded in the 1890’s, 1950’s, 1980’s and 2000’s. These include Carmel, Binyamina and Tishbi which are amongst the largest wineries in Israel and Margalit and Bar Maor which are some of the finest boutique wineries.

It is a great wine region to visit also because distances are relatively close between wineries and there are vineyards are all around, in Shefaya, the Hanadiv Valley and in Binyamina towards Givat Ada.

Kobi Arens is a son of Binyamina. He is a tall charismatic man, with blue eyes and a receding hairline. To me he looks like a dead ringer for Prince William. Imagine he is the slightly sturdier, elder brother. He has blue eyes and a warm, engaging smile. He was born and bred a farmer. The clue is when you shake hands. His hands are a farmer’s hands; large and well used.

His grandfather, Michael Arens from Riga in Latvia, was sent by his parents to Berlin to study to be a doctor, enough to fulfill the wishes of any Jewish mother. However, Arens had other ideas. He believed that working the land was crucial to building the State of Israel, so he left the course in the middle and went to Toulouse in France to study agriculture.

He made Aliyah in 1939 and in 1944 the family bought land to the east of Binyamina, towards Givat Ada. Gradually the Binyamina agricultural village became a town and expanded to absorb the new Arens holdings. It was classic agricultural entrepreneurship of the time. The fruit orchards, vineyards and olive groves were built on the family property. You walk out of the family house and their fields are spread before you.

As a child Kobi Arens, the third generation, remembers sitting on the trailer that carried the grapes to the Zichron Ya’acov winery. The tractors would line up the hill to the entrance to the winery. As a 16 year old teenager, Kobi would rush home from school to drive the last tractor of the day to the winery.

He was someone really born in a vineyard. The secrets of the vine and vineyards, was something he absorbed with his mother’s milk. Instead of accompanying his father to the big football game, he would be out walking the vineyards, orchards or groves with him.

The wine buzz came later. His wife was an air stewardess with El Al and they got the opportunity to visit California. Here in the first wine epiphany of his life, he was blown away by Napa Valley, the home of California’s wine industry, where viticulture, winemaking, wine culture and wine tourism were all intertwined.

Eight years later, he went on a study viticulture tour to Australia with a group of growers. When he arrived at Adelaide University, there was the second epiphany. He visited the university plant nursery, and saw the new winery for students. He met with the professor responsible for the oenology school and was immediately seduced into doing a post graduate winemaking program.

He returned to Australia with his wife and two young children, spent the time and did the work and added winemaking knowledge to his vineyard experience.

He returned and joined Carmel’s Zichron Ya’acov Winery in 2004 with the immense responsibility of making wine at Israel’s largest winery. He then became responsible for their new Upper Galilee winery at Ramat Dalton (today known as Kayoumi Winery) and for the premium vineyards in the Galilee and Golan Heights.

After six years, he returned to work in the family farm. He had previously made his own wine for fun, but in 2010 he starting his own winery. (

For him, growing fruit for wine is not a matter of observing from afar and speaking to a vineyard worker a few times every year. For the grower winemaker, everything that happens, every storm or burst of sunshine is intimate and personal. It affects him and his vines, one and the same. For his mission is not just to grow grapes, but to grow wine, and not any wine, but his wine, in his place.

I often need to remind myself that wine is an agricultural product. Once I hosted a big shot from the United States. We visited 13 wineries in three days, one after the other. I thought smugly that I had done a pretty good job. On the way back to the airport my guest punctured my self-satisfaction by saying: “you know we visited thirteen wineries…but not one vineyard!”

Of course, the vineyard is part of it. The person and the place are what gives wine uniqueness, character, and what makes it different from Coca Cola.

So many Israeli wineries use vineyards far from the winery and there are very few genuine estate wineries. However the Arens Winery produces wines that reek of person and place.

I remember once seeing Kobi Arens hosting a tour of Galilee vineyards, and I thought then, that he had the presence, intelligence and communication skills to be a great teacher. It is therefore wholly appropriate that he is also the winemaker for the Shefaya Winery, where students from the residential youth village learn the rudiments of wine growing and the wine making process.

His wines are a reflection of his raison d’être. He works with varieties suitable for the area and is committed to making the most of his terroir. He likes blends believing this the winemaker’s true art. His wines are fruit led, but elegant and he recoils from high alcohol, concentrated fruit bombs.

He also makes a fantastic olive oil made from high density planted groves. The varieties used are the Koroneiki and Arbequina, which are from Greece and Spain respectively. It is one of the finest boutique olive oils here, definitely better for drizzling on salads or for grilling fish, rather than for use in frying.

He is not trying to make the best wine in the world, but is trying to make a local wine. He is an experienced grower, talented winemaker and a salt of the earth guy. He only makes 3,000 bottles, but they are authentic expression of the person, his vineyards and of the Binyamina terroir.

The wines, (not kosher) and olive oil I tasted are as follows:

Arens Estate Red 2010
A blend of 66% Syrah, 17% Petit Verdot, 12% Carignan & 5% Mourvedre. Ripe berry fruit, chewy mouth feel, complimentary oak notes in the background. It has soft tannins and great balancing acidity. In the end, it is actually a refreshing wine in what I call the new Israeli Mediterranean style. Recommended.

Arens Estate Red 2011
A blend of 44% Syrah, 32% Mourvedre & 24% Petit Verdot. This is a sharper, more angular wine. Less openly fruity, more austere. It needs more time than the others, possibly even decanting.

Arens Estate Red 2012 (not yet released)
A blend of 55% Syrah, 17% Mourvedre, 16% Carignan & 12% Petit Verdot. Fruit forward compote of ripe plums and berries, meaty flavors but leading to elegance with a refreshing finish. Similar quality to the 2010.

Arens Mourvedre 2012 (not yet released)
Mourvedre is best in blends, but this has an elegant blueberry nose, a rubber, burnt match character and a pleasing refined finish. I think Mourvedre produces texture and tannin rather than automatically recognizable aromas, but this is one of the better Israeli versions I have tasted.

Arens Olive Oil, Extra Virgin, Cold Pressed
It has a herbal grassy aroma, is spicy and flavorful in the mouth with a hint of an attractive bitterness on the finish. It is worth a visit only to top up with olive oil!



Most Jewish festivals have a wine or wine style associated with them and sometimes the calendar dictates what I write about. When arriving at Hannuka, it was a difficult decision. Do I write about hearty red wines because we are in the winter months, or dry white wines, which will go far better with the fried foods of the festival, like latkes. Instead, I have chosen to write about the product, which is at the center of the Hannuka story. I am referring to olive oil.

I believe it is appropriate for olive oil to appear in a wine article because they are partners and go together like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire or Humus and Tehina. They grow together as olive trees and vines in the same climate and conditions, are cultivated in olive groves and vineyards in the same growing regions and appear on the table together as olive oil and wine. Wherever the soil is poor throughout the Mediterranean basin, and nothing else grows, vines and olive trees have always been planted. This is true of all the Mediterranean countries. The humble olive and grape produce super enhanced products, wine and olive oil, which people in ancient times thought were gifts from the Gods.

Olive oil and wine go back to the beginnings of the Jewish people in Israel. Deuteronomy refers to a land of olive oil and wine. Thucydides wrote that the dawn of civilization was when man began to cultivate the olive tree and vine. Today, they together they are the best expression of the Mediterranean diet, and are symbols of the new quality Israeli cuisine. They are the essence of both ancient and modern Israel.

I never forget when I was a young wine buyer in England, a famous Italian winery wanted to give a gift. I was rather hoping for one of the winery’s better wines, but instead was surprised to receive a bottle of their finest olive oil. Only later when I came to Israel and began to appreciate the wonders of olive oil, did I truly appreciate what a special and personal gift it was. I learnt that the pride in a handcrafted olive oil was no less than in a great wine.

The olive was first cultivated in the Levant and Crete virtually simultaneously. From its roots in the areas of Syria, Israel & Lebanon, olive cultivation spread to Turkey, Arabia, North Africa and Spain. The Hebrew word for olive is Zayit, which is similar and the obvious root to the Aramaic Zaita, Arabic Zait, Armenian Dzita, North African Zeit and Spanish & Portuguese Azeite. Those countries using the word olive, trace their roots to Greece, not to the Levant.

The olive tree grew wild in the natural forests of ancient Israel. Olive oil, like wine, was an important commodity for trade & export. There is evidence that olive oil from Canaan was exported to Egypt and Greece over 4,000 years ago. In ancient Israel, olive oil was used for food, cooking, medicine, illumination, cleanliness, cosmetics and for anointing kings or priests during their consecration.

Archaeologists have found a wealth of information from ancient oil presses, storage jars and weights found throughout the country. It is in Israel that the earliest mortars for crushing olives and the oldest surviving vestiges of olive wood were discovered. In the Lower Galilee, they recently found residue of olive oil in clay pots dating back a mere 8,000 years!

The most complete olive oil production center was at Ekron, the Philistine capital, where 114 large olive oil presses were excavated, clearly indicating the size of the olive oil industry in ancient times.

In the Israel of today there are place names evoking the importance of the olive: Beit Zayit, Har Zayitim – The Mount of Olives and Garden of Gethsemane (Gat Shemen – an oil press) are the most famous of these. Even the emblem of the modern state of Israel depicts a menora (an oil lamp candelabra), which in ancient times was lit using olive oil as fuel, with a relief of an olive branch and leaves on both sides.

The Israeli Arab population has always grown olives for food and oil, but in the last 25 years with the development of Israeli food & wine culture, there has been enormous growth in the interest & quality of Israeli olive oil. Today the olive industry really symbolizes Israel because every community, whether Jews, Arabs, Druse or Circassians, are involved in the cultivation of olives.

Israel has a Mediterranean climate, so much of the country is suitable for the cultivation of olive trees. Olive groves cover Israel from the mountains of the Galilee to Revivim & Neot Smadar in the Negev and from the coast in the west to the hills of the east.

The biggest concentration of olive groves still lies in the Galilee, northern Israel. The Lower & Western Galilee are arguably the most famous areas for olive production. However the valleys surrounding Mount Carmel, the Sharon Plain, the Golan Heights, Judean Hills and central Negev are all now sites for the production of quality olive oil.

Unlike wine, where most of the grape varieties are international, even global, the olive varieties are more indigenous. The Souri, which is sometimes referred to as the Suri or Syrian olive, is the main local variety, particularly popular in the Galilee. It is one of the oldest varieties in the world – thought to have originated in the Lebanese town of Sur (Tyre). It is a small, oval olive producing an aromatic, piquant olive oil, which is green, peppery with a hint of honey.

Barnea is a variety developed in Israel by Professor Shimon Lavie. It has become an international variety planted in Australia & Argentina. This small, oblong olive is easy to grow, providing good yields and can be planted densely. It produces a sweeter, delicate olive oil with a light fruity taste and an aroma of mown hay.

The Nabali Baladi originated in Nablus. The improved Baladi, known as Mohsan, was introduced to Israel from the Arabs of Judea & Samaria after 1967. A larger olive than the Souri, it is easier to cultivate, and gives good yields. It is more neutral than the Souri & Barnea.

Apart from these, there a host of international varieties are also grown in Israel. These include Manzanilla and Picual from Spain, Novo & Leccino from Italy, Fishulin from France and Kalamata from Greece, and many others.

Strict quality controls are maintained by the Israel Olives Board. Only olive oils which pass their stringent tests are able use the special sticker for ‘Quality Approved Israeli Olive Oil’.

Olive oils are tasted in a similar way to wine. The reverence is the same and the vocabulary is similar. The vagaries of the climate, choice of variety and date of harvesting can affect the final product, just like wine and olive oil should be stored in a cool dark place, which is how wine should be stored.

Olive oil is so central to the Mediterranean diet that it is no surprise that it should strongly feature in an Eastern Mediterranean country like Israel. Israelis love to cook with olive oil. A fresh fish is likely to be grilled with only fresh herbs & olive oil added. In the quality restaurants, olive oil is used to enhance carpacchio or simply drizzled onto bread. A small dish of olive oil may appear on the table in place of butter. At home it will be enjoyed with hummus or labane. Pita bread dipped in olive oil and za’ater, the herb of Israel, is a popular breakfast in the region.

On salads, Israelis will add olive oil, lemon juice & parsley, instead of the traditional European salad dressing of oil & vinegar. Whereas in the southern Mediterranean the custom is to use olives in the cooking, in the eastern Mediterranean, olives are presented as a starter or as part of a mezze served on a number of small plates in the center of the table. In its love of olive oil & olives, Israel is no different from other countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, like Greece & Turkey.

Israseli olive oils are considered to be more aromatic, characterful & strongly flavored than the more delicate European olive oils. I recommend this Hanuka you pay homage to this elixir by lighting you Hannukia with olive oil for a more authentic festival experience. Of course, with a glass of wine nearby!