Ring the bell! Israel now has its first ever Master of Wine and it is a truly amazing achievement. There are only 129 living MW’s in the world today from outside the United Kingdom and there are only four from the Eastern Mediterranean basin. Our own Eran Pick has now joined this distinguished elite.
A Master of Wine is part of the most prestigious wine community in the world. Anyone, who has the letters MW after his name, commands instant respect.
Think how many wine professionals there are that we all look up to, whether winemakers, critics, buyers and wine educators. Well, out of all those respected, talented people, there is only one in Israel who is entitled to truthfully refer to himself as an MW.
I have been many years in this business, but always hold the MW’s with enormous respect, even a little awe. I never thought I would see the day when we would have an Israeli MW and thought it even more unlikely that a winemaker would have the time and the exposure to wines other than their own, to succeed.
Make no mistake, it is a phenomenal achievement, but Eran Pick is a phenomenon.
He is a father of three young children, winemaker of Tzora Vineyards which he combines with being CEO of the winery. He is also the breed of winemaker who makes wine in the vineyards. As such he is a wine grower, beautifully described by the French word ‘Vigneron.’
The grower’s world is the size of his vineyard. He is intimate with his vines. His focus may be on an individual vine or a particular bunch of grapes. The world is his vineyard and the vines are his children. He meticulously plans what each vine is going to be when it grows up. The grower will nurture, cajole and encourage that vine, to be the best bottle of wine that there can be.
Then the winemaker, part artist, part scientist, receives the precious fruit, which he will endeavor to transform into a fine quality, authentic wine, which reflects the special and unique terroir and character of his vines.
To be a CEO requires a breadth of vision. You need to manage, be a strategist and the wine grower and winemaker don’t always get their way.
Not sure if it is easier or more difficult when these tasks are all handled by one person! How does Pick find the time to do all this, look after his young family and study to be an MW Obviously he has 30 hours in his day, when most of us make do with 24!
Eran Pick was born in Kfar Saba, and lives in Tel Aviv. He always wanted to be an architect but a bottle of German Riesling from the Mosel Valley opened a window in his mind.
He started off like so many with a wine appreciation course with Barry Saslove and a growing interest in wine encouraged a change of direction. He completed his B.S. degree in Viticulture and Enology with Highest Honors at the University of California at Davis. He travelled, with ears and eyes open to work in Barossa, Bordeaux, Napa and Sonoma. He joined Tzora Vineyards in 2006.
He is tall, quietly modest with a slightly old world English charm about him. His humor is very British too. Subtle, dry, not picked up by everyone, but always bang on the nail.
The world of wine is currently mourning the premature death of Paul Pontallier, the winemaker of Château Margaux. One of my proudest moments in wine was representing the Golan Heights Winery at the New York Wine Experience in 1999. This was the first time an Israeli winery was ever invited to the most exclusive wine event in the world.
I stood alone representing Israel. I looked around and saw only famous wineries. Virtually next to me was Paul Pontallier himself, pouring the wines of Château Margaux. I felt I had intruded into a private symposium (Greek wine tasting) for the wine Gods.
Paul Pontaillier, who will be sadly missed, was a role model. Quite apart from what he achieved, I am thinking more of his character. The self-sufficiency. The quiet modesty. The steely, inner self confidence that was not always visible to the outsider. The perfectionism. The curiosity. The ability to take calculated risks. The absolute professionalism. Paul Bascaules, his assistant was quoted as saying: “What I learnt from him was doubt and humility. He said many times if you don’t doubt, you don’t learn.”
Paul Pontallier’s passing was announced when I was writing this article and I make no apology, that this is an article about Eran Pick. I don’t want to diminish Pontallier’s memory in any way and Eran Pick is at a comparatively earlier stage in his winemaking career, but it suddenly occurred to me that in trying to describe Pick, I came up with these exact same phrases. I can pay Eran Pick no higher compliment.
He is quiet, a listener, who believes in his way, but soaks up information and is not afraid of taking risks. He is fascinated by all stages of winemaking. The building blocks and the process interest him as much as the final result.
Caro Maurer MW pointed out that from the first moment “his talent, his dedication, his ambition” were obvious, but she went on: “.. but…it was his sincerity which made him stand out. I assume it was a result of weighing self-doubts and self-confidence.”
I am always writing that wine is a product of a person and place. This is never more true than of Tzora Vineyards. The winery was founded in 1993 by the Kibbutznik, the much loved Ronnie James. He was a self-taught grower who tended vines. He wanted to create a winery rather than selling his precious grapes to the large wineries. He was a man of the soil, salt of the earth, with a warm smile, a ready laugh and an engaging personality. Probably the opposite of Eran Pick, apart from one characteristic, he was determined to explore the terroir of his vineyards.
James was a pioneer of the idea of wine being representative of place. His world view and character gained many friends throughout Israel. He was not to know, that arguably his most inspired decision was bringing Eran to be the winemaker in 2006, and when James sadly passed away, Pick took over.
The winery has since gone onwards and upwards, making high quality wines that reflect the specific terroir. The names of the wines give the game away: Judean Hills – the region, Shoresh – the vineyard and Misty Hills – a plot in the vineyard. It is all about place.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Tzora is at the same time one of the fastest improving wineries in Israel as well as being one of the finest wineries in Israel.
The team is professional as can be. Dor James, son of Ronnie, is fittingly the valued vineyard manager and the icon Jean-Claude Berrouet, of Petrus fame, is consultant. However Eran Pick MW, the Master Vigneron, is in charge. He is the conductor and plays the lead instruments.
The Tzora wines I tasted were as follows:
Judean Hills Blanc 2014
A blend of mainly Chardonnay and a little Sauvignon Blanc. The nose is more Chardonnay and the Sauvignon comes through in the mouth and finish. The wine has a creamy tropical fruit nose, a pleasing fatness and flavor in the mouth cut by the excellent acidity.
PRICE: 100 ILS
Judean Hills Red 2014
This is a best buy. Always performs. Made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Merlot. The nose is slightly rustic, with red fruits to the fore. There is a touch of leather on the palate, a sour red fruit finish and the wine is beautifully balanced. Flavorful and refreshing, yet restrained. A great food wine.
PRICE: 100 ILS
Shoresh Blanc 2014
The only varietal in the Tzora portfolio. It is made from Sauvignon Blanc. Many Israeli sauvignons flatter to deceive with a dancing nose and lack substance in the mouth. This wine is the opposite. There are aromas of tropical fruit, citrus flowers with a flinty, minerally mouth feel and the aromas last all the way to the long finish. PRICE: 140 ILS
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot. It has a combination of black fruit and spice with a hint of greenness, soft tannins and good acidity giving the wine a long balanced finish. It has good structure. It is still a baby and needs a little more bottle age.
PRICE: 140 ILS
Misty Hills 2013
Misty Hills is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grown in a particular plot sometimes shrouded in mists. Hence the name. I love the weight and grip of this wine. It has great up front fruit, delicate not jammy, with spicy and herbal notes, well integrated oak flavors and an almost refreshing finish. Elegant, showing depth and finesse.
PRICE: 240 ILS
There is also a dessert wine called Or made from Gewurztraminer. It is extremely limited production. Very well regarded, but I have not tasted it. It is on my list….
Passover comes around again. To me it is the main wine event of the year. A family get-together, with too much food and a lot of wine. The Seder is set up like a real Roman
banquet, and so are the wines.
Many relate the Arba Kossot, the four cups of wine, to G-d’s four expressions about how the Exodus would come about: “ I will bring out……deliver… redeem…take….” However I am told in the Mishnah, the drinking of four cups, is mentioned as fitting in with different stages of a meal, as in any banquet.
This fits in with my theory. The wine connection has its historical roots in the Greek Symposium, which was a glorified wine tasting, and the Roman banquet, in which food & wine were celebrated without restraint! The first glass is the aperitif. The second glass is with the starters and continues with the fish course. The third glass is also with the meat course and the fourth glass is after the meal.
There are no rules as to which wine to choose, so my advice is follow your own customs and buy what you yourself like, without becoming over wrought if it is the correct choice or not. Customs differ depending on the family minhag. Some people will start with sparkling or a light semi sparkling (frizzante) wine. Many use a sweet Kiddush wine for the first glass, because of tradition or because guests will be drinking on an empty stomach. Families with children may insist on grape juice. Whilst there are some who will reserve only the very finest wine for the first cup, considering the first blessing the most important. They will follow this with a dry or semi dry white wine, then a red wine and finish with a sweet dessert wine and a great deal of singing.
As for question of whether to buy white or red, there is always a view to support your opinion. Some will only use red wines believing they are more appropriate. Others may use whites, because red wines remind them of the blood libel. There is no right or wrong, just personal preferences.
I recommend for the usual large family gathering, that usually makes do with Kiddush wine and grape juice, to buy instead Moscato, Carignano or Red Muscat wines. You will find them under the labels like Buzz, Hermon, Dalton, Selected and Teperberg. These are usually low alcohol semi sweet, and slightly sparkling. They are perfect for young families and for those who drink wine as a necessity, but do not really like it. You will discover that everyone likes Moscato. Serve them cold from the fridge. These are the best Jewish wines invented for many years. They tick all the boxes.
If there is a little wine pride in your family and you appreciate a bargain, the best buy area in supermarkets is the ‘three for a hundred shekels’ sector. These are the best QPR (quality per price) wines in the market and they will be on promotion before Passover. You may even find a better offer than that.
I am referring to brands like Barkan Reserve, Carmel Private Collection, Golan Heights Hermon, Recanati Yasmin, Segal Merom Galil, Tabor Har and Teperberg Impression. My favorites in this section are the Private Collection Shiraz and Mt. Hermon Red amongst the reds. As for dry whites, the Har Chardonnay and Yasmin White give great value for their buck. If you want semi dry, you can’t beat both the Har and Impression Gewurztraminer.
Next stop for the wine loving family is the 50 to 100 shekels category. Here the wine shops offer the best range. All the large wineries have wines in this category. What is a surprise is that many smaller boutique wineries are these days also offering wines less than 100 shekels. The wine shops are a treasure trove for the wine lover looking for something different or new. You will have fun browsing and do not hesitate to ask for assistance from the staff, who should be wine knowledgeable.
I certainly believe this is a time for patriotism. I will usually only drink Israeli wines at Passover, and think this should be so if the Seder is in Jerusalem, London, Paris or New York. I believe not only that Israeli wines are the finest kosher wines in the world and but that they also provide more variety in different styles and at varying price points than anywhere else. Some believe that Chateau Something at a cut price, offers better value, because it may be from France. I disagree.
For those who constantly moan Israeli wines are too expensive, when you visit the supermarkets and wine stores in the weeks before Passover, you will find special prices, deals and promotions abound. There will be an enormous choice of wines at very attractive prices. It is a buyer’s paradise. Most of the talk about pricing is because the media, wine critics and special tastings all center around trophy or medal winning wines. However these may be the wines people talk about. They are not always the wines people actually drink!
I am always being asked what I drink and what my choice is. It is our family tradition to hold a special tasting on Seder night, based on a theme. A month before Passover, my children are asking, “well what are we going to drink this year.” They don’t ask about the food!
Two of my children and I, work in the wine trade and between us, we are proud to represent four different wineries. It is a common question: “So who wins the battle of what to drink in your household every Shabbat” The usual answer is nobody, because when we are together, we invariably taste something new.
This Passover though, we are staying close to home. Each family member who works in wine, will be asked to bring their best red and white wine to our Seder. Responsibilities have been divided up. I will bring both the Carmel Limited Edition and Admon Vineyard Chardonnay from Carmel Winery, and also the Yatir Forest and Viognier from Yatir Winery. My son, David will bring the Tabor Limited Edition and Shahar (a Riesling) from Tabor Winery and my daughter, Rachel will bring the Kerem Moshe and Montefiore White from Montefiore Winery. The reds are similar, either Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux style blends based on Cabernet Sauvignon. The whites could not be more different.
This will be our first Seder without my much missed wife, who passed away before her time. She loved port. So as a special concession against my Israel only rule, we will also be opening a Taylor’s 1980 Vintage Port. It is particularly appropriate, because this was the year we met.
Whatever your poison, remember the mitzvah in the Mishnah is that even the poorest in Israel must be given not less than four cups of wine to drink. The quality, style and cost of wine is not important. Buy within your means to allow everyone to partake in this particular mitzvah. It is obviously not economically sound to pay for expensive wines with an enormous family, where only a few souls will appreciate it. On the other hand, we have to drink, so buy something you like. The beauty of Passover is that Jews all over the world, whether religious, traditional or secular will celebrating the Seder with four glasses of wine. Let’s wish everyone a Kosher & Happy Passover …and LeHaim!