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March 1, 2009March 1, 2009  1 comments  wine

    The Tishbi Winery, located in Binyamina, is one of Israel's better known wineries. With a history of grape growing and winemaking going back for five generations, it's wines have mirrored the trend of improving quality since it's inception in 1985. 

     Jonathan Tishbi, the founder of the winery grew grapes for the the Carmel collective before launching his own commercial winery.  Even though his son Golan Tishbi oversees most of the winemaking details, Jonathan stills steers the helm, chairs marketing meetings and supervises many of the day to day business affairs.  This kind of  father/son team work has been proven sucessful at other notable wineries in Israel such as Domaine du Castel in the Judean Hiills and Margalit south of Hadera. Each winemaker son interned or studied overseas and upon their return grew into the winemaker while their fathers continued on as mentors and cheif executives.    Even though Jonathan is clearly in charge of a staff of 50 employees no job is too small for him or other family members.  Golan modestly says 95% of a good wine's quality comes from good grapes and few grapegrowers have more experience or family tradition in their pocket than Jonathan Tishbi.

    Jonathan can often be seen driving the forklift or even filling bottles at the Visitor Center or dining with guests at the vistor center. This isn't the kind of hands on involvement you typically see at Israel's more corporate wineries and the Tishbi's present themselves as Israel's largest family owned winery producing about 1 million bottles/year. They claim their persomal involvment helps them keep the standards they've attained and kept on track for future improvements in their wines as well as their dining facilites.

 

Daughter Oshra Tishbi has introduced a line of fine foods to the family's product line that compliment the efforts of the winery including Extra Virgin Olive Oil and  Wine Jellies and Jams.  The sold out of last years production, are dramatically increasing this years and our making many of their jams kosher for passover this year.  She's managed to secure a place in Israel's culinary scene and founded the wineries thriving restaurant/wine shop ion the main thoroughfare of neighboring Zichron Yaakov to the north.

 

The winery has a wide range of selection for the buyer to choose from with four lines. The entry level Tishbi series include a Cabernet-Petite Sirah blend which has been a year to year staple of the winery and as a table wine wine has been a driving force in the winery.  At 25-32 NIS or about $ 6-8/bottle  it's an unoaked, drink now red that's priced to move and popular for large parties and is available like many of their entry-level wines as mevushal wines when the mevushal process is required by certain kosher consumers.

The mid-range Vineyard series offers some of their best bang for the buck (or sheckel) wines though at every level their wines match well with others in Israel for the same price. This is where their Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc singe varietal wines are offered with reds selling at about 43 NIS or $11/ bottle with the whites at about 32 NIS or $8.

 

The Estate series is where we start to see some of Tishbi's award winning wines.  With hundreds of dunams ( an Ottoman measurement used in the Middle East which equals about 1/4  acre) to choose from, the finest grapes are often chosen for the Estate wines. Since many of these grapes are grown at much lower yields than other grapes for other wines the cost needs to be reflected in the bottle price.  The reds in this series sell for about 85 NIS or $21.

Their best grapes of the year go into their Jonathan Tishbi Reserve series of wines. Though not released every year for the winemaker, Golan wants to make sure this series is exceptional and if the grapes don't warrant it or somewhere in the production process the wine falls even slightly shy of his highest standards for this series.  Their 2004 Sde Boker Reserve, a classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc is well worth the 169 NIS (about $42) charged at the winery. It was written up this year by maybe the world's most famous wine blogger, Gary Vandechuk, as his favorite kosher wine and his 4th favorite wine in his book on his favorite 101 Wines. As praised as the 2004 Reserve has been, I was lucky enough to taste the 2007 Reserve from the barrel and I think it might even have more potential to bring even more attention and acclaim to Golan who has only been a winemaker for less than ten years (relatively a few years for a winemaker in charge of such a large winery).

The winery has several special events throughout the year a the visitor center attached to the winery in Binyamina ( a short bus ride from the Binyamina train station)sincluding a Jazz series that host about 100 guests and a grander Junior party every November featuring a Beaujolais Noveau style wine catered to about 600.

The Visitor Center features a kosher restaurant to complement the kosher wines.  As kosher restaurants either feature meat or diary dishes, the restaurant offers only dairy dishes including breakfast dishes such as omelets, Shashuka (a traditional Morracan dish featuring eggs on top of stewed tomatoes) and lunch dishes such as pasta, salads and pizza. The pizza oven has a special meaning for the winemaker, Golan, as he made the oven himself and I've kidded him he's so proud of it he should have a picture of in his wallet. I have to admit as someone born in the States, Israeli pizzas don't ussually impress me that much but these pizzas are a welcome exception with dough made on the premises and the freshest toppings to choose from.  Since they serve dairy dishes they also serve great cheese plates serving local israeli gourmet cheeses and the cheeses are also available to go by the kilo.  The Visitor Center is open 8-5PM Sunday through Thursday and Fridays until 3PM with the restaurant being open until 3PM Sunday through Friday. All kosher restaurants are required to be closed on the Sabbath:  Friday Sunset to Saturday Sunset.

 

Anyone wanting a later wining or dining expereince with Tishbi wines should visit their Tishbi Wine Shop/ Bistro in Zichron Ya'acov just a few kilometers north of their winery. At the entry way into the town's main boardwalk, it's a great starting place touring one of Israel's most scenic towns or a last stop out of town as it's open to midnight everynight but Friday. It has a similar but more extensive menu than the Wineries vistor center with all their wines for sale though it's a much more happening eatery with a sidewalk cafe feel that reminds one of any other Mediterranean thoroughfare. This restaurant is also kosher but there's nothing about kosher food that should intimidate non-Jewish diners as you wouldn't even know if it wasn't mentioned.

 

 

 

 


May 4, 2009May 4, 2009  3 comments  wine

     If you try enough wine and venture to enough wineries in Israel or most New World wine regions you'll get your full of Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay. Hmmn, maybe C.M.C. should be an acronym for "can't make choices". At the the Vitkin Winery in Kfar Vitkin, however, they've chosen to buck conventional wisdom with their varietal choices: Carignan, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah and Pinot Noir for reds and Gewurtztraminer and Riesling for whites.  Vitkin Wines are doing what few wineries in Israel dare to do and they're doing it well. They are not making Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Chardonnay. Hat's of to them.

    Don't get me wrong.  There's nothing wrong with making Cabs, Merlot and Chard. Israel has several great examples of each and I'll applaud them as I find them; but, does Israel's future as an exporter lye with these stand-bys or with more "unique-selling point" wines such as Carignan, Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah? Vitkin makes as extraodinary examples or what innovation is availble with alternative varietals in Israel under the supervision of a gifted winemaker such as Assaf Paz.

The Vitkin Family

Sharona, Doron & Assaf: The Vitkin Team

   By visiting Vitkin and it's CEO, Sharona Paz-Belogolovsky, I got a chance to experience many varietals and their flavors and aromas that I haven't yet had a chance to write about. As a writer and a wine taster, it was a welcome opportunity (this doesn't mean I'm swearing off Cab Sauvignon, Merlot or Chards... there are justifiable reasons for the demand). It's just that when you taste as many wines as I try to taste other "Varietals are the Spice of Life."

    Since their first vintage in 2001, which released only 200 bottles (or one small barrel worth of wine), the "Vitkins" (less of a mouthful than saying the Paz-Belogolovsky's) have been steadily increasing their production and diversifying their offereings. Starting with Cabernet Sauvignon, (as most garage wineries here seem to do) their departure has established their niche in the ever increaing competitive Israeli marketplace. Producing about 40,000 bottles now they're hoping to sooner than later expand to 100,000 bottles at which point they'll probably make accomodations to become a Kosher winery which would only require them to hire a Sabbath-observant Jew to handle the wine according to Rabbinic stipulations. The increased production might mean a move to new facility and building an attached tating room/visitor center.


    It's worthy to note here that many of Israel's best wineries, which ae smaller wineries, dont have conventional tasting rooms. It's not by choice. Many of them, by where they are located on community or collective farms, aren't allowed to have attached tasting rooms by restrictive zoning practices. I hope to help advance getting Israel's Knesset to help pass new zoning to help provide zoning exemptions. In California, for instance, most boutique wineries sell 50% of their wines retail in their visitor center which is much more profitable than selling wholesale to restaurants and distributors.  The tasting rooms also become great toursit destinations. At this visit, I was kindly received by Sharona in the family kitchen which has a certain charm of it's own.

   Back to the wines... as they establish their own niche, the Vitkin wines are also proving some nay-sayers wrong about what wines can be made well in Israel. Take for example, their 2007 Pinot Noir which produced 3,000 bottles with 13.8% alcohol. It's been very well received with a lot more color and body than traditionally expected from Pinot Noirs but it retains those strawberry and cola flavors that are so sought after.  This wine uses 100% Pinot Noir grapes (as is the Burgandy style) from vineyards adjacent to Gush Etzion and Jerusalem at an altitude of 700 meters. This same elevated vineyard and microclimate accounts for their Viognier and Riesling grapes.  This wine reaffirms that Pinot Noir can be well crafted at lower latitudes around the globe at higher altitude vineyards. This coveted vineyard is exclusive to Vitkin. The vineyard is 10 degrees celcius lower in temperture than the surrounding area and actually expereinces frost in the winter which is indicative of a vineyard more apt for Pinot Noir than many other parts of Israel such as the coastal plains.  The wine is oaked in 350 liter barrels for 10 month before bottle aging and release.

   Another red varietal that hasn't received it's proper respect in Israel (as well as the rest of the world) is Carignan.  Carignan has long been Israel's most planted red grape, as it was in France until recently. Of course few avid wine drinkers and almost no casual wine consumer has heard of Carignan because it was mostly a blending grape or bottled as a non descipt table wine. You probably drank some under the label "red wine" without even knowing it. As in France, in Israel has had a history of growing Carignan as a bulk grown grape.  As a bulk grape, it did what was asked of it and delivered a mass of high-alcohol non-notable red wine.  However, when treated and tended to like a fine wine, harvested from older and/or well manicured vines producing up to one tenth of the over produced vines, the Carignan is quite capable of delivering a shock of a black raspberry fruit bomb with crisp acidity with oak infused notes of cinnamon, clove and sandlewood.

   Their Carignan currently hails from three vineyards in Binyamina, Zichron Ya'acov and the Carmel Mountain.  The vines range from 25 to 40 years old, a rarity in Israel as many Carignan vines were getting pulled as they aged because they would produce far fewer grapes (desirable fro a fine wine though detrimental if you were seeking bulk production which most Carignan growers wanted).  The Vitkin 2006 Carignan (released August 2008) retails for about 95 NIS (about $24) and is oaked 14 months in both 300 and 350 liter barrels. The wine is almost sold out.  100% Carignan grapes grown on 25 to 40 year old vines in Binyamina, Zichron Ya'acov and Carmel Mountain.

one of Vitkin's Cherished Vineyards

 

    Another red varietal that Vitkin is assisting to get in proper place in the mindset of israeli wine consumers is Cabernet Franc.  Cabernet Franc has been showing great promise with several producers here in Israel including Margalit and recently Tishbi.  This Bordeaux varietal demonstrates a far fruiter alternative than French releases. It's intrinsic higher acidity than Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot might make it better suited for Israel where warmer climes can challenge the acidity levels of grapes. Typically, warmer climes produce higher sugar in grapes and thereby when fermented higher alcohol where in cooler climes, lower alcohol and higher acidity is expected.  The acidity of Cabernet Franc also makes it more food friendly than it's Bordeaux brothers and is suggested as good company to herbal sauces, tomato based dishes and savory eggplant offereings.

    If you've been following my wine explorations, you should know by know, I think Cabernet Franc has the potential to be Israel's signature grape for several reasons. First, it's a Bordeaux varietal and there's a certain mystique, romance and respect that comes with that. Even though Malbec isn't used that extensively in France anymore, Malbec's status as a Bordeuax grape helped get Argentina on the world wine map. Second, Cabernet Franc isn't being exported in any significant quanity from anywhere other than France. France typically only exports it with the region it's from on the label and doesn't even mention Cabernet Franc on the lable.  Israel could brand Cabernet Franc as it's own. 

  Additionally, since most Israeli wine exports go to the United States and most of those go the Northeast and Mid Atlantic states, it should be helpful that Cabernet Franc is well planted in well regarded Long Island vineyards in New York State. As mentioned before, it food friendly acidity should be a blessing for those selling the wines to accompany home cooking or for placement on restaurant wine lists. As a little side note Malbec is Israel's least grown Bordeuax varietal rarely making a single varietal appearance and most often relagated to blends.

The Vitkin Cabernet Franc 2006  is comprised of 86 % Cabernet Franc and 14% Petite Verdot ( a common complementary blending grape in Bordeaux as well as in finer Israeli wines) with 14 months in small oak barrels and 14% alcohol.  The Petite Verdot helps provide color, structure and tannins to the elegance of Cabernet Franc. This Cab Franc is bigger, bolder and deeper in color than most Cab Francs with black raspberry and with subtle green pepper and herbal aromas with the crisp acidity desired by most Cab Franc advocates.

 

Dave drinking Vitkin Cab Franc

A glimmer in Dave's eye as he ehjoy's Vitkin's 2006 Cabernet Franc

    Another "bastard" red grape Vitkin fosters into a splendid wine is Petite Sirah. Though a grape from France where when it's used at all it's almost always used for blending , it's more widely known from it's use in California as a single varietal.   The Vitkin Petite Sirah 2006 (with 14% alcohol) was just recently released in 2009, two months ago. This wine was oaked 16 months in 300 and 350 liter barrel.  The larger barrels expose less wine per liter to oak than smaller barrels would.  The Petite Sirah is so heavy that the fruit be would overwhelmed by more oak. Their Carignan gets a similar treatment for the same reasons.This example of Petite Sirah exhibits cherry, heavy tannins (which should serve it well as it ages) with noticeble but pleasant acidity with red plums as it opens up. To the eye, it appears, as expected from Petite Sirah, as deep purple octopus ink.

     Ironically, Vitkin exports this wine to France where Petite Sirah isn't typically available as a single varietal.  Vitkin harvests these grapes over two days to help balance the acidity and sugar (alcohol) levels. One of Sharon's duties as CEO is to hire the pickers for harvesting. It's seasonal work so the wineries hire crews to come in and typically need to order them a few days in advance to secure them from working for another winery. It's a critical process as Sharona explains "if you miss by even one day, picking at the right time, you can end up having a wine missing out on having an acidity at all".   This obviosly wasn't an issue with this Petite Sirah wine which has been very well received and is expected to sell out within two months. With so many of Vitkin's wines selling out so soon after release it's no wonder they want to expand production.

 

   Vitkin also offers what they call their entry level wines, the Israeli Voyage series but they compare well in quality to other wineries premiere wines. Released as food friendly table wines, their price of 65 NIS might shy away a casual drinker but their white just received an award as a Best Value wine at the Israeli Wine Awards in Tel Aviv.  The 2008 Israeli Voyage White is 65 NIS and is a mix of Viognier, French Columbard & Gerwurtzraminer with 12.5% alcohol. Apricot, peach, grapefruit, orange and leechee come in full force due to the mix of ABC (anything but Chardonnay) grapes which shine with hearty helping of acidity. Some of the Viognier gets oaked in Vitkin's Pinot Noir barrels to add body and enhance the flavors.

Israeli Voyage White

The award winning 2008 Vitkin White Israeli Voyage 

Their Red Israeli Voyage is also a value at 65 NIS and is comprised of Syrah, Carignan & Cabernet Franc.  The earthiness of a Syrah is out front on the nose and the wine is only aged in 10% new oak which keeps it fruity and easily accessable. Black Cherry comes to mind swooshing it one's mouth and at 13.5% it's not a kick in the teeth that many israeli reds deliver. Sharona suggests serving the wine slightly chilled like a Beujolais and that it's an ideal wine to accompany BBQ fare.

 

 

Late Harvest White

Riesling, Viognier and Columbard grapes were harvested in November to produce a wine with 150 grams of residual sugar/liter and 10 1/2% alcohol released in a 375 ml bottle (a "split") common to dessert wines retailing for about 90 NIS or $22.50


The Vitkin's suggest this wine as an apertif as well as a dessert wine and that it could be served as an ally of Fois Gras or Onion Marmelade and I suggest that a Peach Melba, a slice of Apple Pie al la mode or a Goat Cheese Napoleon might do justice to this wine as well.

 

Let's all look forward to tasting their other upcoming wines for their diversity, quality and reasonable prices. A triple threat in the Israeli wine market.


Contact Information:


Vitken Winery 

68 Derech Hakfar

on the Rottenberg-Belogovsky Farm

PO Box 267, Kfar Vitkin, Israel 40200


Telephone:
972-09-866-3505

Fax:            972-09-866-4179

e-mail: vtknwine@vitkin-winery.co.il

website: www.vitkin-winery.co.il




May 17, 2009May 17, 2009  6 comments  wine

      If as what's been suggested that Israeli wine is going through a cultural and technological revolution, how can you tell when the revolution is successful. Maybe it's when the powers to be, the guardians of the status quo, come full circle and agree with their critics.  So when the Carmel Winery, Israel's largest winery by far, admits that it has had a well deserved reputatation for making wines of low regard and little character and lots of it and they've launched a game changing amount of measures to salvage its image by striving to be not only the biggest but one of Israel's best wineries, it deserves the attention of the wine drinking public and wine writers like me.

 

Carmel Zichron
Carmel's Historic Winery in Israel's most famous wine village Zichron Ya'acov

 

     Now many wine writers tend to shy away from writing about big wineries.  It's challenging on several different levels. First, a winery like Carmel in Israel has so many labels there's no way to practically taste them in a day. Second, larger corporate wineries can often lack the charm and romance of "boutique" wineries. Additionally, it can be far more difficult to talk directly to the winemaker or owner of the winery  which with smaller wineries is often the same person.  A lot of times you get shuttled around by a well meaning Public Relations spokeperson whose knowledge of wine doesn't much exceed that of any internal corporate literture. Additionally, larger wineries often have received so much previous attention what angle does a writer take to make their story fresh, relevant and appealing to the reader.

 

dave tasting carmel

So Much Wine, So Little Time: David tasting the large portfolio of Carmel

 

      So with some initial trepidation, I went to tackle the task of covering Carmel, not only Israel's largest winery but at about 15 million bottles producted yearly, they're responsable for 30 to 40% of Israel's wine production on any given year. As recently as 20 to 25 years ago Carmel was producing about 90% of Israel's wine. So in writing about Israeli wines, there's no way to avoid Carmel coming up in the context of talking about other wines so it was important at some stage for me to take on the challenge of exploring their portfolio. "On the Road Less Travelled" of wine writing, better sooner than later. That being said if Carmel had been making the same wines they were making ten years ago, I may have found a good reason to avoid this story just the same.

    When wine magazines such as Wine Spectator and Decanter & wine writers like Robert Parker and Mark Squires talk about Israeli wines making a revolutionary change in quality, they were talking about in contrast to the lowly regarded 90% of Israeli wines Carmel used to make. Carmel today says they too are part of that revolution but as a student of history I like to see it as a counter-revolution since when you are the wine establishment and one of the last wineries to make drastic changes, it's hard to say you're leading the revolt. To Carmel's credit though, it's been a Herculian endeavor and an investment of ten of millions and ten of thousands of man hours in the vineyards and wineries to have made the dramatic changes that they started almost ten years ago that is just in the last few years starting to show results. 

    As an example of it's commitment to change, they've managed to halve their production from a high of 30 million bottles to 15 million bottles, a great indicator that "the monster of the Israeli wine marketplace" is reigning in the beast of bulk wine making and mending their ways and is starting to seriously attempt to stress quality over quanity.  Much of this transition was enacted by shying away from flooding the kosher wine market with mass quanities of not very profitible "kiddush wine" (sacramentel wine for Jewish holidays and rituals). A de-emphasis on other food products such as grape juice and olive oil also has allowed it's upper management to focus on the task at hand of making better wines. The significance is that if Carmel can redeem an image of it's wines as sweet, syrupy liquid religion to that of a large producer with a wide range of price points with relative quality and value,  it's place as Israel's largest producer can only improve the image of all Israeli wines.

     Carmel has also made significant changes in it's selection of vineyard location and how it manges the grapes it harvests.  First, it's made huge investments in planting new vineyards in the Galiilee, considered onr of Israel's premier grape growing appellations.  Historically, they were getting most of their grapes from lower alitude regions that were suitable for high yield bulk wine production.  In fact, according to Carmel they are now the largest grower of grapes in the Galilee and this has given them the flexibility to make better wines and a to make awider variety of wine single varietal wines.  Their affiliated and renown Yatir Winery with vineyards in the Judean Hills and the Negev, two other respected wine regions, also provides Carmel with choice grapes that weren't available as recent as ten years ago.

 

Carmel's Kayoumi Vineyards

Carmel's Well-groomed & Valued Kayoumi Vineyards in the Upper Galilee

   Carmel started off and continues in many ways as a collective of as many 250-300 growers with a management team directing winery and marketing efforts. Lior Laxer, the chief winemaker of seven who work at their wineries, explained it was an uphill battle for the wineries management to convince the growers to switch to lower yield grapes for higher qulity wine than the bulk producing yields they had been accustomed to. On e way was to pay per dunam, about a quarter acre lot, rather than pay per ton. another was to pay the grower on the quality of the grapes being produced. This merit system linked what which Carmel series the winemaking team decided the grapes quaified and the higher the value of the wine (and the more the winery could charge) the more the grower got paid. Some of those families have been tending to high-yield vineyards for over 100 years.

     Yet, many of the lowland vineyards were more suited to bulk production so new vineyards in the Upper Galilee, the Golan Heights, the Jerusalem Hills and the Negev desert (yes, the desert) have been planted and now are producing higher quality grapes. Additionally, much of the wineries equipment was suited for bulk wines so it was a huge expense to invest in equipment that was better suited for smaller higher quality production. Where as recently as 10 years ago Carmel barely made any wines with a smaller production of 50,000 bottles they are often making wines of just a few to several thousand bottles in the top three premium levels (compared to their three entry to mid level wines).  An additional winery facility (Carmel's fourth if you include it's premeir sattleite Yatir) gives it the capacity to get the grapes form the field to a nearby winery anywhere it grows grapes. This protects the flavor, sugar, acid, tannin profile the winemaker's expected before harvest that could be disrupted through long hauls from a remote vineyard to one central winery.  The additional facities and fermentation tanks allow each single vineyard harvested to get it's own tank and treatment and allows the winemakers the ability to monitor how each field was managed and how that manifests in the wine. This allows for informed changes in future vineyard practices and more refined blending options as well picking the best as special single vineyard releases.

    First, let me say that my recent visit at the Carmel Winery in Zichron Ya'acov exceeded my expectations on several levels.  The only wines I had from Carmel previously were their entry level Selected and Private Collection wines that most people have had, wines many Jews have had at a Sabbath dinner or Passover dinner or Bar Mitzvah.  Those "supermarket" wines, at best, may have been considered good value wines but represent what Carmel wants the public to believe were their the bulk wines of Carmel's yesteryear. This day I tasted the wines Carmel hopes will change it's image of being a bulk, Kiddush (Jewish sacremental) and table wine manafacturer to that of a winery that doesn't make just make kosher wines as good as they can but rather  great wines that just happen to be kosher. Of course this mantra is now being touted by every kosher winemaker I've talked to in Israel. But with the mass of Carmel's postion in the marketplace, as they change their image for the better they can't help but but bring the image of Israeli wines in general into a more flattering light.

     

 

   I asked Lior about the one vineyard Carmel has in the Golan Heights since they've invested so much more into the compatible climate of the Upper Gaililee. Carmel claims through recent efforts to have become the largest wine producer in the Galilee when previously their holding were focused on the southern coastal plains near Tel Aviv and the northern coast aaround Zichron Ya'acov.   I wondered if the government had been talking to the wineries who are some of the largest employers in the Golan what would happen to their investemets in their vineyards if the Golan is returned to Syria in a peace agreement. Lior confirms my suspicion that "no one in the government has talked about it" and suggests about planting vines and building facilities in the Golan that "it's a big risk." A sentiment that other wine executives in Israel share regardless of their political inclinations whether Israel should return the territory captured in 1967 and recaptured in 1973.

 

Carmel's Lior Laxer
Carmel's Chief winemaker Lior Laxer tasting the fruits of his labors

 

Appellation

Carmel Ridge

Single Vineyard

Limited Edition

 

 

Late Harvest Gerwurtzraminer


Lior explains about this dessert wine that "it's not the most profitable wine for the winery" because dessert wines in general don't sell as well as table wines and that this wine has such high expenses. The high expenses are mostly due to the low yield of these late harvest grapes are 450 to 600 kilos per dunam (about one quarter of an acrea) compared to up to 5 tons an acre for sone table wines. That's about one-tetn of a yield in just the weight of the grapes. Then Lior explains "there's also less juice that's pressed per ton because so much of the water/juice is already gone. There's so much sugar in the grapes in contrast to juice that you can hear the presses straining to get the juice out".

There's so much sugar that this wine when finished has 120 grams of residual sugar after fermentation compared to as much as only for 4 grahms or less for a dry table wine.

 

Carmel Winery

Zichron Ya'acov   Telephone: 04 6390105

Rishon Letzion    Telephone:  03 9488888

www.carmelwines.co.il

 

 


September 15, 2009September 15, 2009  0 comments  wine

    One of the more successful mid-size wineries in Israel is the Recanati Winery located in Efeq Heziq. Drawing upon vineyards from the Upper Galilee, the Jerusalem Hills and about Zichron Ya'akov, the Recanati Winery has grown from about 200,000 bottles in in first year to about 1,000,000 bottles expected in 2010. This success can be measured by the growth and production of the winery as well as the recognition of the quality of the wine. Under it 's founding winemaker, Lewis Pasco, the  Recanati Winery gained a reputation for making powerful but pleasing award winning wines. After 8 years together, Lewis Pasco went on to become a consultant for wineries in California.

 

Lenny Recanati

Lenny Recanati and a bottle of his praise-worthy 2008 Recanati Rose.

 

   This could have been a crisis for many wineries, but under the leadership of owner Lenny Recanati, this change became an opportunity. Israeli born Lenny had been a fan of winemaker's Gil Shatzberg's efforts at the nearby Amphorae Winery and brought Gil over to take the helm. There have been subtle changes in the wines as Gil and Recanti's other winemaker Ido Lewinsohn have stressed more Old World techniques than Lewis Pasco's wines may have exhibited.

 


October 28, 2009October 28, 2009  0 comments  wine

October 28th, 2009

      Today, I made my way back to the Recanati Winery located in Emek Hefer, Israel. Recanati is celebrating a banner crop this year exceeding 1,000 metric tons of grapes in the 2009 harvest in contrast to about 800 tons harvested for the 2008 vintage.  Higher yields were evident throughout Recanati's Upper Galilee & Jerusalem vineyards. Higher yields are typically more preferable in grapes destined for their value Recanati and Yasmin series wines than grapes destined for their higher quality wines. Although, these higher quality grapes still experienced higher yields, the yields were still within the spectrum of yields desirable for flavor, color and tannins expected of their quality wines (about 1 ton to 1.2 tons per dunam... a dunam is about 1/4 of an acre... and not the 4 tons per dunam destined for bulk wines). An increase in the quanity of quality grapes assures better Recanati wines through their whole series as much of this juice filters as free-run juice in their higher series to additional pressings in their lower series. So if the winery commits to keeping production of their higher series at about the same most of the 2009 wines should benefit. Recanati consumers should look forward to enjoying these wines as they hit the shelves in 2010 and beyond.

 

Recanati winery

the Recanati Winery in Emek Hefer, Israel


   Increased sunlight on their vines last year is suspected to contributing to greater yields for Recanati.  As well,  grapes from new vineyards and varietals coming into their pipeline contributed to the significant increase in production.  This has increased the quanity, quality and variety of grapes available to Recanati's winemaking team of head winemaker Gil Shatsberg and winemaker Ido Lewinsohn.  Gil was until last year the winemaker at the well respected Amphorae Winery. Ido continues in a similar role to that which he served under Recanati's founding winemaker, Lewis Pasco, spending a lot time monitoring and assessing the progress of Recanati's many vineyards although Gil has utilized Ido more as junior partner in the whole process than Lewis who may have regulated Ido to serving as an underling.  This dynamic duo of winemakers is already showing to be strong team in their first full year of releases together and Recanati's wine buyers are sure to take notice as demand increases for the fruits of these winemakers' efforts.


Gil Shatsberg

Recanati's head winemaker Gil Shatsberg barrel tasting their 2009 old vine Carignan

 

      A 2009 Recanati Carignan Reserve will be one of the newest stars of the winery. Expect a 2010 or 2011 release depending on how the wine matures in the bottle. The wine will probably undergo less oak aging than other Recanati Reserve reds in respect to the Old Vine's Carignan already deep concentrated flavors, tannins and color.

dsr at recanati


David following Gil's lead breathing in  and tasting Recanati's promising Carignan

 

    Although their 2008 Cabernet Franc Reserve is expected to be quite popular upon it's release in 2010, as a testament to their taking their reserve labeling seriously, a  2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve will not be made and the grapes will be mostly used for blending. The 2009 Cabernet Franc lacked an intensity of flavors (by the standards of the Gil & Ido) to be released as a single varietal but still retained some value to blend into other wines as it adds complexity and and a boost of acidity often lacking inherently in warmer climate wines.

Recanati's 2008 Cabernet Franc

Recanati's 2008 Cabaerent Franc


    As new grapes and vineyards mature in future vintages, expect the winery's entry level Yasmin series' reds and whites to more closely resemble Rhone blends. New Italian varietals are also coming online though the winery prefers their idenity to be kept secret at this time. I can assure the reader that these grapes show promise as grapes well suited to Israel's various microclimates and desirable for adding complexity to blends and potentiallly offering unique single varietals as the vines mature and become able to offer more concentrated,complex and varietal specific flavors.  Grenache grapes will become available to the winemakers next year but they are expected to be used mostly for blending as it's predicted it will many years before they are dynamic enough to be able to anchor a single varietal offering.

Ido inspecting vines

winemaker Ido Lewinsohn in one of Recanati's Upper Galilee vineyards

 

     Gil intends every year for the overall quality of all Recanati's wines to improve. For instance, the Yasmin wines could become " a Geshem for the people" giving homage to Chateau Golan's revered yet pricey red & white Rhone blends.  The Yasmine red had been Carignan based with Syrah and Petite Sirah added as frequent contributors. A possible future Yasmine red might be a classic Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre red wine grapes.

      One reassuring assertion by Shatsberg is that Recanati must keep pace with the Israeli consumers' demand for better and better wine and this must carry through to all their series of wines, "first, our goal is to make a good wine without flaws and then make sure that wine offers a lot of flavors and complexity".  With a bumper crop such as 2009 provided, making their wines better is far easier. As their marketing division tells the winemakers what orders need to be filled in a year with higher yields of better grapes, Gil can continue to make his Special Reserve and Reserve wines from free-run juice with some potentially left over to bolster the flavors of the Recanati series of wines with the final press making it's way to the Yasmin series.

   So what kind of differences can the consumer expect as Recanati's wines show the influence of a their new winemaker. Well, according to Gil, "Lewis (Pasco) was and is an extremely talented & technical winemaker and his winemaking knowledge exceeded my own and I work with my heart".  Now, anyone familiar with the accolades he accumalated at Amphorae will know this is a modest characterization of Gil's wine acumen and what might occur with Recanati wines under Shatsberg's supervison. He's also incorporated Recanati's other winemaker Ido into the harvesting and winemaking decision making process though Gil retains final say in all matters.

  This team of Gil & Ido might be the strongest of any two winemakers for a winery it's size in Israel. Gil spent extensive time in studying and training in California before applying his training to Israeli wines. Ido trained in Milan before spending years training in Italy, France and far off Tasmania.  This merging of  many vintages across an extentive cross section of the winemaking world have given the scope, confidence and perspective necessary to make the best wine possible.  Each winemaker has more than enough skill, talent and passion to oversee a winery but as it stands now the Recanati team is stronger than the sum of their parts.
   The two discernable differences that this new team will bring to Recanati wines will be generally lower alcohol wines and a decreasing amount of new oak barrels used to age the wines.  This is more in line with Old World wine preferences and should result in wines that are more food friendly wines and wines more affable to drinking in a warmer climate like Israel's (it's still like summer here in Israel late in October). Gil is confident that by using less new oak less vanilla, cinnamon and toast will be apparent and their wines will have more of an emphasis on fruit and elegance."  The lower amount of alcohol, some of it attributed to earlier harvests, should also contribute to a wine more balanced between alcohol, fruitiness, acidity, body, tannins and color.

 

Lenny Recanati

Lenny Recanati, proud owner of the Recanati Winery

 

     The one wine that might remain closest to it's pre-Gil roots is Pasco's creation: Recanati's Petite Sirah/Zinfandel Reserve. It will continue to be aged in American oak though Gil won't commit to a set percentage of Petite Sirah or Zinfandel and will every year assess what makes the best blend.  This wine has won the winery several awards and since the grapes are more popular in California than anywhere else it only makes sense to continue it's producton in a New World style as a highly alcoholic fruit bomb. The high sugar content of these grapes lends itself to this style regardless of a winemaker's intentions.

    As a relatively new winery that has found relevance in the Israeli marketplace, the staff and ownership of the Recanati Winery seems determined to make their award-winning wines better and better every vintage. By fine-tuning their wines they're already making by honing their viticulture practices, bringing new vineyards and grapes into play, trying out new oak barrels, developing a dynamic duo of winemakers and making sure that they don't grow so fast that quanity outpaces quality, Recanati wines should be worthy of a curious palette for many years to come.

 

Recanati winery's awards

just some of Recanati Winery's ever growing collection of awards

 

 


November 11, 2009November 11, 2009  0 comments  wine

     Well, the third Thursday of November has come and gone and as many wine lovers around the world are aware that means it's time for the release of France's Beaujolais Noveau. This wine's release has become a big hit in the United States as this tradition has been tied into Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season. Beaujolais Noveau isn't thought to be one of the world's premier wines (selling for about $12 or 35 NIS/bottle)  but they are the first release of every year and it's more about a celebration of the harvest and drinking a fruity youthful uncomplicated yet fun wine than a wine meant to impress wine snobs.

      In Israel, on Thursday November 19th three of Israel's largest wineries released their version of a Beaujolais Noveau style wine released as the first 2009 vintage release of their respective wineries just weeks after the grapes were harvested. All three wines are kosher and available only in Israel.  Each winery has it's own take on how to make a young, fun & fruity red wine meant to be drunk now and not later and chilled, yes a red wine designed to be chilled.  Being a light but fruity yet chilled wine these wines will be tend to match well with fried fare, lighter cheeses, tomato based dishes, grilled vegetables and roast chicken. In the US it's a natural match for Thanksgiving Day dinner as Beaujolais Noveau wines (from the Gamay grape)  are known to pack cranberry aromas and flavor profiles.

    Binyamina (Israel's 4th largest winery) makes their Binyamina Baby a wine maybe best described as a "Beau-Jew-lais Noveau" (please excuse the pun sometimes I can't resist). It's made from 100% Carignan grapes (Israel's most planted red wine grape) embracing the carbonic maceration method that is used in Beaujolais to make their Noveau wines. 8,000 bottles were produced. It's relatively light alcohol (12%) for an Israeli red and it's fruitness might make it more ideal match with Asian dishes than most red wines.

 

baby

Binyamina's 2009 Baby

    The Golan Heights Winery (Israel's 3rd largest winery) makes the most traditional Beaujolais Noveau style wine and the most of it producing 18,000 bottles a year. Released under their Golan label (their label for their youngest wines) they make their Golan Gamay Noveau from 100% Gamay Noir grapes, the traditional red wine grapes used in Beaujolais.  The wine will be released with four different labels designed by four different Israeli art students and the winery plans on making this just the first year of a new tradition.  In light of their artist derived series of labels, the Golan Heights Winery held a pre-emptive party Wednesday, November 18th 2009 at 9PM at the Urbanix Gallery at 45 Sheinkin Street (Corner of Melchett) in Tel Aviv. There was also a party at the winery in Katzrin (in the Golan Heights) the next day and like the other two wines will be the focus of parties at restaurants and bars across Israel.

 

Golan Gamay Noir

Four different labels for the 2009 Golan Gamay Noveau

 

    Last, but not least, is the Tishbi's Winery's Junior wine maybe the most Israeli of these Israeli wines because it bucks all traditions. It is a wine that celebrates the harvest like the other wines but it neither uses carbonic-maceration during fermentation or Gamay Noir grapes. To instill the fruitiness expected, Golan Tishbi winemaker and heir apparent to Israel's largest family owned and operated winery (Israel's 6th largest winery), this wine uses free-run juice from selected Carignan grapes from their choice of family vineyards. The winery hosts their Junior Party every year on the third Thursday of every November.  (In 2009 it falls on November 19th). It's only 150 NIS for what comes out to be an evening of all you can eat and drink and a bottle to take home as well at the end. A DJ spins music for the night in their unique brandy distillery for the over 600 guests who attend. About 6,000 bottles will be produced and as with the Gamay Noveau and the Baby, Junior is expected to be drunk within a few months of release and before next year's harvest produces it's own Noveau wines.

 

Tishbi's Junior Event

My last bottle of Tishbi's 2008 Junior

 


December 20, 2009December 20, 2009  0 comments  wine

Like in most world wine regions there's a host of themes of how people get into winemaking. There's the industrialists who make oceans of wine, there are the artists who make small but often amazingly well crafted batches of bliss and then are growers who evolved into winemakers after seeing their crops being utilized for much higher profits than they ever realized just selling their grapes.

The Red Poetry Winery is one of these grower launched ventures. Located on the windward side of the Judean Hills, the vineyards of the winery sits among fields of figs, peaches, nectarines, olive groves and a variety of table grapes.

 

2007 Red Stains

100% Carignan from 30 year old vines

aged with 1 year old barrels for about 18 months

 

very fruity and very expressive with apparent yet fairly soft tannins showing great aging potential

 

2007 Aronson

Mourvedre 75% & Syrah 25% reminiscent of a southern Rhone Valley blend

a much lighter earthier wine with Syrah being predominant on the nose which seemingly is becoming a common element in blends in this region

 

2007 Erlich

Syrah 40%, Merlot 40% with the remaing 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot


coconut on the nose from the oak aging

 

1-2,000 bottles produced

 

2007 Red Poetry Merlot

made from 100% Merlot

 

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon

very fruity with soft tannins showing enough character to age nicely

 

 

 


December 21, 2009December 21, 2009  0 comments  wine

I love finding wineries off the beaten path. By off the beaten path for me I mean wineries that haven't had much publicity in English or have been underrated by other writers who've written up their wines. The Alona Winery is one such Israeli winery.  Located just southeast of Zichron Ya'acov (Israel's most well known wine village) in Givat Nilli in it's namesake Alona valley, this small winery has been making it's impact known with Israel's Hebrew speaking wine connoisseurs .  For a winery that only bottles about 6,000 individual units of liquid joy, it's garnered several meaningful accolades by pretigious wine judge panels that trancends mediocre reviews by a any individual critic or reviewer.

Starting less than a decade ago (established in 2001) , the winery's Alona Merlot won a gold medal in 2006 at the annual international Terravino competition held in Eilat.

The next year, 2007, their Merlot, won a double gold and propelled the winery to win  "Best Small Boutique Winery in Israel"


This year, 2009,  their Cabernet Sauvignon was recognized with a silver medal showing that even though this region has gained a reputation for making Merlot wines with distinctive quality that desirable Cabernet Sauvignon's are still possible.

The wines are quite affordable for an award winning boutique wines selling at 75 NIS (about $20 as of this writing) for the three releases now available. The current line-up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a Merlot Rose should have great compnay this year with Cabernet Franc,  Syrah and Carignan wines being released iin the near future from their first vintage in 2009 and Grenache being planted for future harvests to be used as it generally is as a blending component as befits the wines from the Southern Rhone Valley in France.

 

One of the keys to their success for making well appreciated wines is that they are the growers of all their grapes.  Most wineries big and small might have control of their vineyards with long term contracts but few actually till all their fields themselves. Additionally, many wineries source grapes from far corners of israel. For instance some wineries access grapes from the Golan heights, the Judean Hills and the Negev. The Alona vineyards are all either adjacent to the winery (quite atypical in Israel) or just a tractor's ride away so family growers can check on the vineyards frequently and conviently. I've travelled with other winemakers who sped hours driving to their vineyards and not only do they drive far to check on the vineyards but the grapes need to make the same ride back during harvest which isn't ideal for getting the berries in the most ideal state before pressing.


February 1, 2010February 1, 2010  2 comments  wine

    After over a millenium of Islamic rule,  Zichron Ya'acov became the launching point of Israel's resurgence as a modern wine growing region back in 1882 when Baron Edmund Rothschild supported Jewish Romanian immigrants to move to the region to work vineyards for the Carmel Winery, a collective of growers which became and remains Israel's largest winery (producing 15 million bottles of the 50 million bottles or about 30% of what Israel produces every year). The Carmel collective consists of over 300 independant growers and some of them like the Dahan family, owners of the Somek Winery, has gone on to create their own wineries in addtion to grapes they grow that they sell to Carmel or other wineries.

 

Somek sign

The Somek family has been growing grapes in Israel since 1882

 

The Somek Winery is located on a residential lot in the center of Zichron Ya'acov ( as are a few other boutique wienries). Their family has been growing wine grapes as well as other fruit in Israel since arriving in the first wave of Aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) in 1882 (many of which were Jews escaping systematic massacres or pogroms occurring in Eastern Europe).

Barak Dahan, the husband, is the fifth generation of grape growers in his family and manages the vineyards for his winery as well as the grapes he grows as part of the Carmel collective.

Hila, Barak's wife, is the winemaker of the family. She met Barak while interning for Carmel while studying agriculture and attaining her Bachelor's Degree in Rehovet. She went on to receive a Master's degree in Australia studying Viticulture and Oenology.

 

Barak at Somek

Barak, the vineyard manager and owner at the Somek Winery

 

the first vintage for commercial release was in 2002 and they're currently producing about 10,000 bottles last year due to a bumper crop that was common across most of israel's vineyards

during harvest and then at the winery, they try to use as little mechanical processes. They harvest all their grapes early in morning, hand picking the grapes and using no pumps while processing the wine.

the winery has no current desire to grow as they want to stress quality over quanity


the wines only go through minimal filtering

 

DSR in the Somek barrel room

your hero, David, in the Somek barrel room

 

 

2007 Somek Chardonnay

13.5% alcohol aged one year n oak and another year in the bottle   sells for 80 NIS/bottle

they make about 1000 bottles/year and the wine exhibits a lot of tropical flavors which is more typical of warm weather Chardonnays where cooler vineyards might demonstrate more citric flavor

the wine went through a malolactic secondary fermentation and remained on it's sur lees for the full year it was in the barrel

 

wine press at Somek
Somek's artisan wine press

 

2005 Somek Merlot

14.9% Alcohol

100% Merlot grape

the Merlot wines in this region are very well regarded by winemakers across Israel. They tend to be quite robust and easliy mistaken as a Cabernet Sauvignon to those not in the know

 

Somek tractor

the vineyards for the Somek Winery is only a short tractor ride away

 

2005 Somek Carignan

15% Alcohol   sells for 90 NIS/bottle

made from 40 year Old Vine vineyards these grapes only yield 400 kilos per dunam (1/4 acre)

exhibits Black Cherry, Cassis, Dark Plum and Cedar flavor


the Someks also grow Carignan from 30 year Old Vines that are used in Carmel's Appelation Carignan wines

in contrast, these plots produce 700 kilos per dunam

besides growing Carignan for Carmel, they also grow French Columbard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay for the collective on the 200 dunams the family owns

they use about only 10% of their grapes for their own wine

 

somek carignan

2005 Somek Carignan

 

2005 Somek Bik'at Hanadiv

15.2%

24 months

1 1/2 years in bottle

60%  Cabernet  Sauvignon   35% Merlot  5%  Petite Sirah

 

they blend their wines in a "french style" whereby they blend the wine before putting into the barrel so the different wines have a long marriage together and intergrate more intrinsically than aging seprately than blending before bottling

 

"the Petire Sirah is so strong with peppery tones that any more of it in this blend would overwhelm the wine"

 

a barrel of fun...

a barrel of fun...

 

 

2004 Somek Bik'at Hanadiv

 

15.6%

30 months  2 years in the bottle

 

40% Cabernet Sauvignon   40% Merlot  15%  Carignan   5%  Petite Sirah

 

 

Somek Winery

16 Herzl Street

Zichron Ya'acov, Israel
04-639-7982 (in Israel) 972-4-639-7982 (from the US)


February 4, 2010February 4, 2010  1 comments  wine

    As one enter's the wine village of Zichron Ya'acov on Richov (street) Hameyasdim there's a treat for those who plan ahead. The Smadar Winery is small and quaint as well as set back off Zichron's main street with little signage to tell a tourist there's a winery to visit nearby. But it's more than just a winery. For those interested, it's an all encmpassing experience, The winery is adjacent to a spa & a bed and breakfast that the family manages. So not only can you taste their wines (well worth the visit) but you can also stay overnight, swim in their heated pool or get a massage.

    The family has been living in this spot since they moved to Israel in 1882 when a wave of Jewish Romanian immigrants oved to the area specifially to works vines to produce wine. The family now is on their fifth genreation of growers and winemakers though commercially having been making wine in 1998. Motti, the owner and winemaker, is the great-grandson of the original growers who settled here and his daughter,Smadar, runs many of the tests in the winery's lab. Motti studied winemaking under Yair Marglait for 1 year in 1998 in Tel Hai.

The family manages 30 dunams of vines, about 8 acres, that are just a few minutes ride from the winery.

The winery only typically makes three wines a year and those might vary from year to year. The 2006 vintage, the latest release, features a single varietal Carignan, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a red blend. The red blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carignan, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc.

    The family's bed and breakfast has only four rooms and their quite spacious by Israeli standards. The vaulted ceilings were quite noticeble as many Israeli rooms (and elevators) tend to tests one's resistence to claustrophobia.  During the off-season they have deals on rooms during the week. Buy two nights and get a third night free. The rooms are 1000 NIS an evening (about $275/evening).

Whatever way you plan to visit the winery or stay in one of their rooms, it makes a lot of sense to call ahead.

 

 

 


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DavidRhodes
Posts: 54
Comments: 59
David Rhodes worked at wineries in California & Israel, hosted over 100 wine parties.as a sommelier & adviser for the SDSU Business of Wine program. He speaks weekly about wine on Rustymikeradio.com & writes for ESRA magazine. Israeliwineguy@gmail.com

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