Adam S. Montefiore


If the 1980’s heralded the birth of the quality revolution in Israeli wine, and the 1990’s the development of boutique wineries, the first decade of the 2000’s has witnessed the revival of the historic & traditional wineries of Israel. Large wineries have responded to the industry’s advances by rejuvenating themselves. These famous wineries, part of the history of Israel, are today, without exception, making some pretty good wines. Quality is the new name of the game and in the competitive wine industry of today, wineries have no alternative but to sink or swim.

The change began with a newly expressed wish to reduce the dependence on kiddush wine and grape juice. This is what I call liquid religion. However they not only expressed the desire to focus more on table wine, but they were also determined to go for quality.

Internationally trained winemakers were employed, new wineries built, existing wineries refurbished and for the first time ever, these wineries started to focus on their vineyards in a more serious way realizing that quality wineries ‘grow wine’ and not grapes. The most visual result of the change, was the new names that were introduced. Carmel Mizrahi, Eliaz, Efrat and Askalon, were consigned to the dustbin of history, to be replaced by the names we are familiar with today such as Carmel Winery, Binyamina, Teperberg and Segal.

The original names are important, because they are a reminder that the modern Israeli wine industry did not begin in the 1980’s. Yet the advances these wineries have made in the 2000’s, has shown that it is not only the new & boutique wineries that can produce quality wine.

More recently three more wineries, deeply imbedded in the liquid religion market, have also began their own revolutions. They are: Arza, Jerusalem and Zion. These are big wineries, comfortably in the list of the top ten largest in the country.

Arza is a winery founded by the Shor family in 1847/8. It was the first recorded winery in Israel, though in those days it was a tiny, domestic winery specializing in sweet wines for a religious market. The miracle is that 170 years later the Shor family still exists and is still making wine. As the family has grown, they have split into three separate wineries, all situated in the same street of Mishor Adumim.

Arza is managed by Moti Shor, the seventh generation. They are a large operation specializing in grape juice, Kiddush wine and inexpensive supermarket wines. Yet they have decided to break away from the traditional image by forming a new boutique winery called Ha’Yotzer. They appointed an internationally trained winemaker and a new CEO to lead the new winery to the promised land.

The winemaker Philippe Lichtenstein is tall, bespectacled, born in France and studied in Montpelier. He has a thick French accent, which is an asset to anyone in the wine trade. But he is also a very good winemaker with an excellent palate. He is best known for being winemaker and later manager of the Zichron Ya’acov Wine Cellars.

His story, of bringing the tastes and flavors of Provence to the hills of Jerusalem, has been adopted by the winery and the name of the winery itself, (author or creator), reflects on the importance they place on their winemaker.

The wines with brand names like Bereshit, Virtuoso, Lyrika, come in quite a flashy presentation that certainly stands out from the shelf. The labels feature a silhouette, not dissimilar to Opus One, one of the most famous and iconic wine labels.

The Jerusalem Wineries situated in Atarot, northern Jerusalem, is another undergoing a kind of quality renaissance. Founded in 1976, also by a member of the Shor family, it was acquired by the Guetta family in 2006. They ploughed the same furrow as Arza, but have decided to invest in quality. They appointed a new CEO, Col. Erez Weiner, who was better known as senior aide to the Chief of Staff of the IDF, Gaby Ashkenazi, and a new winemaker, Sam Soroka, one of Israel’s finest.

Weiner, (what a great name for someone in the wine trade!), is an impressive figure. Calm, authorative and frightfully organized, he has taken to wine like a duck to water. A bottling crisis must be insignificant to the sort of situation he is used to. He seems to relish the sheer variety of the job which takes in the agricultural aspect in the vineyard, production at the winery, and marketing and sales throughout Israel and overseas.

Sam Soroka must be one of the most experienced winemakers in Israel. He studied wine in Adelaide and has made wine in Australia, California, Canada, France and Israel. He first came here in 2003, worked for Carmel and then Mony. He is also consultant winemaker to Montefiore Winery. Ever the artist, he has certainly become known for making award winning wines at these three wineries.

Jerusalem Wineries celebrates being the only winery within Jerusalem by having a series of wines identified by significant dates of winemaking history using the Jewish calendar. So you will find wines named 2900, 3400, 4990 and 5600. Innovative, even interesting for the wine historian, but slightly complicated. Their new look artist collection labels are brighter and easier to like. Some of the wines are already good and this is a fast improving winery to be watched.

The last winery to have a makeover is the Zion Winery. This is another branch of the Shor family situated in Mishor Adumim, also managed by the seventh generation. In this instance, it is Moshe Shor who is steering the new direction. What they have done quite frankly blew me away. They have made enormous changes, largely unseen, all to the end of investing in quality. They have refurbished the winery totally, introducing the latest technology and the winery is spotless. This is the example for any winery wanting a makeover, but thinking they can cut corners. Others should take heed. Changing a label and a introducing a new name alone is not enough.

However they have done that too. A few years ago they introduced a small winery called 1848 for their new quality table wines. Each label represents a different generation, and the boutique winery is the brainwork of the dynamic Yossi Shor, the eighth generation. The wines are beginning to receive the credit their investment deserves, and more plaudits are most likely on the way.

The three wineries are in the process of making changes. They have all decided on the quality route. Don’t be put off by the confusing nature of their labels, something they share. However, the wines are good and most are very reasonably priced. Farewell liquid religion; Welcome quality and value!

Adam Montefiore has been advancing Israeli wines for over 30 years. He is known as ‘the ambassador of Israeli wine’ and the ‘English voice of Israeli wine’.

Out of the wines I tasted, my favorites were:

Ha’Yotzer Virtuoso Shiraz 2013
Fruity, easy drinking with good balance and a satisfying freshness. Good value. PRICE: 50 ILS

Ha’Yotzer Lyrika GSM 2012
A wine made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Aromas of strawberry, raspberry, light in the mouth with a good acidity. PRICE: 80 ILS

Jerusalem Wineries Marselan 2014
A blend of Marselan, with a little Petit Verdot and Merlot. Marselan is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. It has settled well in Israel. The wine has aromas of bramley fruit, with the oak quite apparent and has a refreshing finish. The label features a painting by David Gerstein. It is part of a limited edition offer of four wines. PRICE: 55 ILS

Jerusalem Wineries 4990 Petite Sirah 2013
Perfumed aroma of violets, with sweet ripe fruit, wrapped in vanilla with a long finish. Good wine. PRICE: 75 ILS

1848 Winery Fourth Generation Barbera 2013
Fresh nose of wild berries and cherries, lively flavor, with a surprisingly tannic finish. Best served lightly chilled. PRICE: 85 ILS

1848 Winery Seventh Generation Merlot 2011
Made mainly from Merlot with a little Syrah & Petite Sirah, the wine has delicate aromas of plum and blackberries and a rounded flavor with a long finsh. A fine wine. PRICE: 120 ILS

The Jerusalem Post Heb

Farewell Liquid Religion 17



67 Wine is one of the iconic wine and spirit stores in Manhattan. It was founded in 1941 by Joel Weiser and it is still a family owned business. His son owns it today. There is an inventory of over 8,000 bottles. They have a first class selection of aged and current wines, a well-oiled site for internet sales<span style=”vertical-align: bottom;”> (</span> and a very efficient distribution service. There are two floors of good value wines mingling with the jewels. At one end of the upstairs section there is a super new stainless steel tasting table with a spittoon and ice bucket built in. An impressive operation, however it is as a retailer of Israeli wines that they caught my interest.

It is one of the first liquor stores in the city, to create an Israeli section separate from the Kosher wine section. So whilst the Kosher wines can be found downstairs, of course along with a good selection of Israeli kosher wines, the non-kosher Israeli wines may be found in the more generously spaced upstairs, in its own section.

I always believe that the Israeli brand should stand on its own, whether kosher or not kosher. Kosher is not a country and Israel is not an island, so our true place must be be alongside the wines of the Eastern Mediterranean countries like Greece, Cyprus, Lebanon and Turkey on both wine lists in a restaurant and on the shelves of wine shops. You can add to that North Africa, if Moroccan or Tunisian wine is present and even the Middle East, if Syrian and Jordanese wine are listed. Don’t mock, they all have good wines, but realistically we are talking about the Eastern Med countries, and in particular Greece, Lebanon and Israel. To me that makes a fascinating region, with the history of the birth of wine culture in its midst.

The Israeli wines at 67 Wine are situated next to Californian Merlots for some unfathomable reason, instead of being part of their region. However Liquor stores in New York City are notorious for a lack of space. They are not that big and suffer from enormous inventory. This is undoubtedly the reason.

However as a symbol and an example to other stores, 67 Wine should be frequented, praised and encouraged for it is at the forefront of a change in the way Israeli wines are marketed in this top heavy kosher wine market economy. Despite the advances of Israeli wine, it has been well-nigh impossible to get out of the Kosher section, especially in East Coast America where the Kosher consumer is so dominant. The Kosher section is normally at the back of the store by the toilets or rest room and the quality table wines often mingle with Kiddush wines like Manischewitz, Mogen Dovid and Kedem. Over fifty percent of Israeli exports go to America. It is the country not only with the most sales and but also with the most potential for future, incremental sales. However Israeli wine is submerged by Kosher which kind of defines our image.

However, now 67 Wine believes Israel should be considered like every wine producing country.

The person, or rather the pioneer, responsible for this change is Sadie Flateman. Curly, frizzy haired, with large bright, intelligent eyes and a shy smile, she is the modest and quiet buyer of wines from Portugal, the Loire, Beaujolais, Californian Whites and Merlot, Sake and dessert wines…and Israel of course. With a B.A. in Art History and past experience in Art Marketing, Production and Curation, she now has a B in her bonnet about advancing Brand Israel and making Israel known as a wine producing country like any other.

She is professional and well qualified. She has earned The Sommelier Society of America Certification Diploma and the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 3 Award in Wines and Spirits. She is also a certified Sake Specialist. The specialist buyer in 67 is also a marketer and seller as she works seamlessly with the other experts on the floor. I noticed no customer waited long and the expertise in this store is thorough yet modestly used. The knowledge here is well above the Manhattan norm. Sadie puts it well: “I am honored to be a Buyer at one of New York’s oldest and most historic wine shops. It is a privilege to be in the presence of this caliber of wine professionals and customers, who teach me so much daily.”

This slight, rather delicate looking woman must have steel running through her veins. She recently went a step further. She organized an Israeli Wine Symposium, which was three years in the planning. She visited Israel, talking up her unlikely dream, but this impressive lady, through passion and determination, not through a position of authority or with any budgets to speak of, made it happen. She persuaded the Temple Emanu-El Skirball Center to host it. In short no less than 300 people purchased the tickets and attended the symposium. First there was a lecture and presentation. Then eleven importers of Israeli wines offered tastings from over fifty wineries. What was particularly notable, it was an occasion when specialist kosher importers mixed with general market wine importers and kosher wines intermingled with non-kosher wines. As such it was a unique event. It was totally Sadie’s initiative and it was only her drive and determination that made the event a success.

When one meets Sadie one begins to understand. Her love of art, production and curating comes together at the table. She is a real foodie. She fell in love with Slow Food concept at the age of 17 years old. Eating out with her parents was part of growing up. She really sees the food and wine business as an art form with their enjoyment as a kind of production offering entertainment. She loves to educate, inform and elevate the wine drinking experience.

It was only in 2011 that she began to work at 67 because she wanted a job. She only took on Californian Merlot and the Kosher section because no-one else wanted them. By 2014 she was moving Israel out of the Kosher section. When she visited Israel for the first time she visited twenty five wineries. This is not a lady that does things by halves. She paid her respects to the Golan Heights Winery “where it all started” and particularly loved the quirky, edgy, more individualistic wineries, like Clos de Gat and Shvo.

She returned frustrated at how Israel sold itself in America and wanted to create change. In her words she “decided to do something and be a bridge.” And she did. Now she is already planning the next step.

Brand Israel is critical to the advance of Israeli wine. The word itself is more important than Yarden, Carmel, Castel or any individual winery name. This calls for more support from those government and wine authorities with budgets and for the wineries to put aside ego and self interest, to work together for the greater good. Israeli wine is such a positive ambassador for Israel…and you can’t give a bottle of hi tec as a present. However wine organization here, is dysfunctional, to say the least. All the positive developments so far have been individual winery led. So until we get our act together, we need to support the Sadie Flatemans of this world. They can teach us how it is done.

As an afterthought, I can’t resist passing on another tidbit about the 67 Store, which tickled and amused me. Apart from the professionalism and the smoothness of the 67 operation, my favorite part of the store is the sign outside saying dogs are welcome. If they come in they will get a treat. When you enter the store, you see why. Two small dogs are resident in the store and run the roost. In fact I believe they are the true managers. If you visit, Mookie and Shay may not be able recommend the best Cru Beaujolais, but they will definitely provide a warm welcome and a wag.



Wherever the soil is poor and unfertile throughout the Mediterranean basin and the Levant, vines and olive trees have always been planted. They both thrive where other trees and crops don’t grow. The vine and olive tree have a rugged beauty that is as old as time. Yet their fruits, the humble grape and olive, produce super enhanced products, which people thought were gifts from the Gods in ancient times. I am referring to wine and olive oil.

Many Jewish festivals have wine associated with them which certainly helps when struggling to think of an article for the next deadline.  When arriving at Hannuka, it was a difficult decision. I feel moved to write about hearty red wines because we are in December, but the weather just does not feel wintery. 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 salt and pepper 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 later appear on the same table together as olive oil and wine.

Olive oil and wine go back to the very dawn of the Jewish people in Israel. Deuteronomy refers to a land of olive oil and wine. Thucydides wrote that man became civilized when he 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. The wine and olive oil quality revolutions in Israel were forerunners and are now standard bearers of the culinary revolution here.

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 & even 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 West Bank 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 exactly 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 humus 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.

Israeli olive oils are considered to be more aromatic, characterful & strongly flavored, than the more delicate European olive oils. For a more authentic Hannuka experience this year, why don’t you light your Hannukia with olive oil this year Of course, as with all festivals, there should always be a glass of wine nearby!

Never forget that wine and olive oil grown and produced in the land of Israel, are the essence of modern Israel. Yet they are perhaps the only products that also connect us, as if by a thread, to our forefathers in ancient and Biblical times, when these two elixirs were revered, maybe even more than today.

The Jerusalem Post Heb

More than just Kosher