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May 5, 2009May 5, 2009  1 comments  Uncategorized

 

 

The white French Columbard grape (often called just Columbard elsewhere) plays many roles in Israeli wine production. It is the most planted white wine grape in Israel and noted for being suited to warmer climates. It's used in many white blends, as the base for sparkling wine or even brandy but has yet to make a name center stage such as a featured single varietal like it's white counterparts: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Muscat of Alexandria, Viognier or Gerwurztraminer.


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June 20, 2009June 20, 2009  1 comments  Uncategorized

   The Golan Heights Winery, for the last twenty years, has been one of the most influential wineries in Israel. Having been cited as the winery that sparked the quality wine revolution in Israel, Golan Heights has grown into the third largest producer of wine in the Holy Land but maybe should be rightly known as the largest producer of consistently good wines.  Under their flagship label Yarden (Hebrew for "Jordan" as in the Jordan River), this winery has paved the way for Israeli wines into more resturants' wine lists internationaly and more wine magazines than maybe any other Israeli winery. That's not to say necessarily that they make the best wine in Israel. They might but there's now plenty of competition to that elusive prize  however, the case can easily be made that make more well respected wine than any other Israeli winery and that for the last 25 years they blazed the trail for many smaller producers by showing the potential for which grapes could make great wines in Israel.


   Additionally, Golan Heights under it's various labels, may account for the largest selection of varietals being made by one winery in Israel. It's vineyard locations situated at a wide range of altitudes in Israel's most northern wine growing region, gives it the flexibility to plant and prosper with a range of grapes that many international winemakers might envy.  Visiting their Visitor Center adjacent to their winery in Katzrin, the impressive size of  their tasting room rivals that of many smaller wineries complete facilities. It's takes a large room to display all their labels and when I was last passing through, a bus load of Eastern Euorpean tourists easily could work their way around the shelves without overcrowding anyone travelling alone.


   On my first visit, I was treated to a tasting of about dozen wines and there was still at least a dozen more that I wanted to try before time constraints and palette fatigue (the bane of any wine writer or critic) convinced me another tasting would have to be in the cards at a future date.

 


March 23, 2009March 23, 2009  1 comments  wine

 


Israel is a small country, about the size of New Jersey; but, the world of wine here is even smaller. There's many migrations of winery workers and even winemakers between wineries. Gil Shatzberg, the currrent head winemaker at Recanati Winery, since 2008, previously served as the winemaker at Amphorae wines for seven years , which was considered one of Israel's most promising wineries due to his efforts. Before that he worked at Carmel, Israel's largest winery and at two wineries in California including the reknown Jordan Winery.  Ido Lewinsohn, Recanati's other winemaker, previously interned at the prestigious Margalit Winery under Asaf Margalit and at wineries in Europe and Australia. 

The red wine being sold now is that of founding winemaker, Lewis Pasco, but the whites are all Gil's and both recently won recognition at the Israeli Wine Awards at the David Intercontinetal Hotel in Tel Aviv on March 30th, 2009.


Recanati Line-up

Some Stars from Recaniti Wines including their Award Winning Petite Sirah-Zinfandel

 

The Recanati Winery offers four series of wines: The Yasmine series, the Recanati series, their Reserve and Special Reserve series. All of Recanati wines are made dry with no residual sugar.

Their 2008 whites I tried were a good entry point into understanding what their new winemaker is crafting at Recanati. Although he's 's continuing with the same vineyard program as under Pasco ( growing the same grapes in silmiliar ways), Gil will be pushing for more Old World style (more nuance, less fruit forward) than the wines once offered by Recanati.  It will take a couple of years before all the wines, particualrly the reds show his influence. The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, however, are subtle yet savory wines bridging the gap between Old World and New World styles. Less mineral than a Chablis, the Chardonnay shows off a good wine at a good price and why Chardonnays are becoming more and more popular in Israel as they have worldwide (though I think Viognier, Gewurtztraminer, Muscat or French Columbard have greater export potential to bust off the Kosher wine shelf to the International or Eastern Mediterranean shelf).


 

2008  Recanati Sauvingon Blanc 44 NIS (about $10.50)

sweet on the palette with expected grapefruit, smooth but with crisp acidity 13% alcohol no oak aging as expected of most Sauvignon Blancs.


2008 Recanati Chardonnay 52 NIS ( about $12.50)

these grapes come from Kibbutz Manara in the Upper Galilee overlooking the border of Lebanon


with 13% alcohol the tropical fruit the nose matches well pear on the palette and hints of coconut brought on by a few months in oak


Award Winning Chardonnay

Award Winning Chardonnay


2006 Recanati Shiraz 52 NIS ( about $12.50)

these grapes come from Ezrael and famed Ella Valley vineyard

14.5% alcohol 8 months in French and American oak barrels

exhibiting lots of black fruits: Plum and Black Cherry

don't be surprised if in the future these same grapes are offered as a Syrah and with less American oak to suit Gil's preference for Rhone varietals.


David Enjoying Recanti

David Tasting & Enjoying the 2006 Recanati Shiraz

 

2006 Recanati Reserve Merlot

with grapes coming exclusively from the Ella Valley, this wine was treated to the wineries finest grapes and it's newest barrels. Both French and Hungarian oak was used for 16 months to produce a wine with lots of black fruit and a sweetness that doesn't come from any residual sugar but what the winery claims is a reflection of the Hungarian oak. This a wine sure to please fans of Merlot and maybe make a few new fans along the way.

14.5% alcohol


Gil, David and the Rabbi

Kosher Supervisor Rabbi Weiss, Wine Journalist David Rhodes & Winemaker Gil Shatsberg


2006 Recanati Reserve Petite Sirah-Zinfandel

This is what I would call a "California-blend" since these two grapes are more popular in California than anywhere else. This was one of Lewis Pasco's pet projects and maybe is a reflection of his time studying wine at UC Davis. Since Gil also studied there it's not suprising that this wine will continue in their future line-up.


This wine showed the best of both varietals, the octupus ink purple and busty body of Petite Sirah with the raspberry jam fest Zinfandels fans come to expect. The tannins are smooth for such a heavy hitter and easily accessable now.

With only 14% alcohol, a little less alcohol than one might expect from a California version but that is what might make it feel a bit more balanced.


Recanati Winery

POB 12050

Industrial Zone, Emek Hefer

(south of Hadera about a 10 minute walk off a Route 4 Bus stop)

Tel: o4 6222288  Fax: 04 6222882

info@recanati-winery.com

www.recanati-winery.com

 




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




March 31, 2009March 31, 2009  1 comments  wine

      While I make an effort to taste every wine from every winemaker in Israel, I'm getting lost quite a bit.  It's OK I'm embracing the humor of it and knowing there's wines I've never tried (mostly amazing) waiting for me at my eventual arrival helps me deal with the proliferation of bad directions, signage and bus drivers who have no idea where to drop me off. Many of the smaller wineries are very poorly marked and barely noticeble from the roads they're on and many of them are hidden away on back roads on communal (kibbutzim) or collective (moshavim) farms.  Following Israel's most popular, if only wine map, led me to the vicinity of the Alexander Winery in Beit Yitzhak but it was still more than an hour walk for me from the maps closest refence point and I passed by the winery before I was directed back to this no-sign, low profile facility. Did I mention my backpack had my laptop and a bunch of wine books and camera equipment too?

 

The Alexander Winery as seen by the road

....9 Barrels to Lead the Way... the only street side clue to the location of the Alexander Winery

        Before getting started I had to first quench my thirst with water. Wine at this point would have been gulped and not tasted and probably would have made a short day for me.  I first met with Assistant Wine Maker Shalom Amzleg.  Shalom is one of many observant Jews across Israel who assist non-observant owner/winemakers to assure that their wines are eligible for kosher certification by a supervising rabbi.  Shalom has only been at Alexander for less than 10 months and previously has worked at Carmel, Tishbi, and Recanati (three of Israel's top producers). When he isn't drinking Alexander wine, Shalom's fond of downing Dalton wines which he finds as good value wines for everday drinking. His favorite Alexander wine is the Cabernet-Merlot blend, by which I believe he meant their Sandro series.

    Several minutes after recovering from my hike, owner/winemaker Yarom Shalom pulled up in his company truck and trailer. The timing was perfect as I was just getting my wine glands glowing with excitement by what many told me would be a special treat.   I was a little apprehensive about this winery visit more than any other I've been on so far. My Hebrew skills are slowly progressing and Yarom was fairly insistent on the phone that I try to converse in Hebrew. So I came into thinking I might taste a few wines and get a lousy interview. Well turns out, it was one of my favorite days wine spelunking in Israel.

     When I make these forays into wine, I give a whole day to the prospect I'll be following the winemaker around and being patient until they basically go home or get swamped. I don't end the interview. I let them set the pace and give them a chance to wow me.  Not only that there's typically other interesting winos who make cameo appearances. Yarom turned out to be much more hospitable than out initial conversations led me to believe I should expect.  We both speak wine as a common language and between his English and my Hebrew we did a fine job asking and answering each other.


     
Dave at work... really I'm working

David Rhodes at work... really, he's working, taking one for the team as it were...

       This time of year a lot of Northern Hemisphere wineries are apt to be bottling wines (a convenient time when the winemakers aren't dealing with vineyard or harvest/crush issues). As I arrived, a new worker Yuda, was bottling the 2006 Wine of Alexander Merlot.  Well, that got me my first taste of Yarom's craft and I was impressed by the wine's smooth tannins brought about by it's 2 years in 90% French Oak and 10% American barrels. I picked up some dark cherry, a preceived sweetness, and a mouthful of plums. There was a slight hint of a fair amount of acidity which should help this fruity offering age gracefully if not distinctly.

 

A glass of 2006 Merlot     

...the last moments of a glass of delicious wine Alexander's award winnning 2006 Merlot

 

     One of my favorite parts of visiting the wineries and meeting the winemakers personally is I usually gather tidbits if not chunks of "insider information" about Israeli wine not published in articles or wine books. I embrace the strange as well as the nerdy wine "roots and vines" as well as the "grapes" and like getting to the dirt of what going on in the winery and the industry. For instance, Yarom and I got to talking about Grappa production in Israel.  Grappa is one of my pet projects. For those not familiar with Grappa, and many Anglos are not, Grappa is traditionally a peasant's spirit in the Mediterranean region (Greece, Italy... where it originated, Spain and elsewhere) where the leftovers of wine production ( stems, seeds and skins) are further pressed and the crushed fluid is distilled as a liquor (rather than fermented as a table wine).

     As an aromatic brandy like beverage, with an alcohol level anywhere around between 40 to 60% or 80 to 120 proof, Grappa can knock your socks off and is typically drunk after the meal as a digestive aid to help dissolve heavy and hearty dinners.  Traditionally, it was thought of a poor man's drink and often an underground moonshine but producers now have taken an oportunity to upsell it publicly and make some fine high-end well sought after bottles.  I'm fond of the idea of Grappa if not the reality becuase i see it as it as a "green" carbon frinedly drink using the waste of one process to produce another product.

   So, it was with this in mind I told Yarom about my desire to seek out or encorage grappa production by Israeli winemakers. To my surprise and delight he did tell me ther eis some being produced on the quiet. Distributed by some owners off the market to friends and good clients or amoungst the workers, I hope I come across some and will let you what I find when i do. It will most likely be featured as a seperate blog posting. (Since, this visit I came across a Grappa prouduced by the Tulip Winery in Israel.  I'll be doing a follow-up essay on Tulip, it's wine and Grappa (non-kosher) and any other Israeli Grappa I come across).

   Another one of my favorite parts of the winery visits are the guided tastings by the winemakers. For two reasons, no one knows their wines better and they'll often serve up what their proudest off aging in the barrel.  At Alexnader's on this my first visit, Yarom fed into one of my guiltiest pleasures. He took a vial from a barrel and poured me a taste of a familar looking wine that sparked immediate salivation. Without initailly recognizing it, I was having sme kind of Pavlovian response to sense memories of what has been one of my favorite wine styles. I think I resisted believing it because I've been suggesting to winemakers to try but most seemed resistnt to make Armarone.

     Armarone, like Grappa, is a bit of a cult drink. Not every or most wine drinker is familiar with it. It's price, typically, starting at least $50/ bottle keeps out of the reach of many and it's rarely ever served by the glass in restaaurants or wine bars.  Yet, if you get into wine, go to wine events and hang out without adventerous winos someone will eventually slip you a glass and say "you gotta try a glass of this"!!!  Armarone is a style of Italian wine making where the grapes are dryed into raisins and then pressed for their juices for making wine. The drying is important to the efffect of Amarone because it reduces the water content of the grapes and concentrates the flavors and aromas of the wine eventually produced.

    Yarom's creation was that kind of a concretrated pleasure punch to the palatte. Having been aged already for two years and not being expected for release for another two, we were catching the wine in still it's early stages but it showed more than it's fair share of indications it was going to be a market changer and once trying it other winemakers in Israel might do the same.

 

 

 

Alexander Winery

POB 8151

Moshav Beit Yitzhak 42970

Tel: 09 8822956 Fax: 098872076

a_wine@netvision.net.il


currently exporting to Canada, Holland and Germany

 

 

 



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

 

 


May 17, 2009May 17, 2009  1 comments  wine

This is the short list of wine books exclusively dedicated to Israeli wine printed in English.

 

The Bible of Israeli Wines by Michael Ben Joseph


The Wine Route of Israel


Rogov's Guide to Israeli Wine 2009

 

other suggested Wine Books

 

The Wine Bible by Karen Macneil

 

Gary Vanderchuk's 101 Wines Guranteed to Inspire, Delight and Bring the Thunder by Gary Vanderchuk

 

The University Wine Course by Marian W. Baldy

 

Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine by Mark Oldman

 

any wine book by Jancis Robinson

 

 

 


May 22, 2009May 22, 2009  1 comments  wine

      At my recent visit at the Carmel Winery with Adam Montefiore and Lior Laxer, I had the opportunity to see the newly renovated restaurant & wine bar, Bistro de Carmel and Carmel's new adjacent Visitor Center, a much more dynamic and satisfying alternative to what was there before. In the near future, I'll be returning to  Zichron Ya'acov to talk to the Visitor Center's Sommelier Rutti and the Bistro team to talk about all the changes, what's brand new and why the Carmel Winery and Z-town (as I like to call Zichron Ya'acov) will now be a much more attractive tourist destination than in the past.

Bistro de Carmel

Outdoor casual seating at Bistro de Carmel under the shade of palm & eucalyptus trees

 

Carmel Indoor dining room

Indoor Dining at Bistro de Carmel

 

 

Carmel function room

One of the many private rooms at Carmel Zichron Ya'acov winery, this one seats ten

 

 

 


May 25, 2009May 25, 2009  3 comments  wine

 

     Few, if any wineries, in Israel have gained as much notoriety as fast and widespread as the Yatir Winery at the northeast edge of the Negev Desert. Adjacent to the ancient ruins of Tel Arad, a Canaanite settlement dating back over 3,000 years, the winery lies at the southern base of the Judean Hills while all of it's vineyards, except their Sauvignon Blanc, lie amoungst the Yatir Forest at about 900 meters above sea level.  In less than ten years, Yatir has managed what would almost be impossible in more established wine regions, to launch from it's first vintage to be among the first mentioned when critics and winemakers talk about the best wineries in Israel.

 

yatir logo
The 3,000 year old ruins of the Canaanite settlement of Tel Arad

 

    An initiative by the Carmel Winery since it's inception in 2000, Yatir has operated fairly independently as a unique and distinct brand from Carmel. This was done evidently for at least two reasons.  Primarily, even though the weight of Carmel's place as the largest producer of Israeli and kosher wine could help secure Yatir's exposure in the marketplace, Carmel's previous reputation as a producer of principally bulk wines wouldn't tarnish Yatir's lofty and seemingly now fulfilled aspirations to make some of Israel's best and most sought after wine. Additionally, as Carmel attempts to reinvent itself, Yatir was allowed to focus on establishing and maintaining consistently high standards of viticulture in their dedicated vineyards as well operating with it's own winemaker, staff  and first rate facilities with a focus on exploring every possible avenue in making the best wine it could from day one.

 

                   

Conifer trees of the Yatir Forest in the southern Judean Hills        

 

     Ya'acov Ben Dor, the manager of the winery and previous manager of the Yatir Moshav, gives a lot of credit to the terroir of the vineyards to the quality and uniqueness of Yatir wines. As he led me on a personal tour from the Negev lowlands up into the Judean highlands, Ya'acov took special care to point out the unique vegetation in this area compared to the other premier Israeli wine regions such as the Golan or Galilee or the northern reaches of the Judean Hills.  Here there are many spicy, herbaceous xerophytic (drought-resistent) plants whose intense flavors are a defense mechanism from grazing animals who might find their intensity suitable for a nibble but not a whole meal.  Ya'acov implies that this intensity of flavor found in the native flora might be finding it's way to the grapes. The distinctive flavors a terroir imparts can be such a mecurial quality but it's something Ya'acov has obviously considered.  As someone who managed many crops in the area (pistachios, almonds, apricots, apples and cherries are grown nearby) there are few people who know this area and it's agricultural potential than Ben Dor. He was one of the original growers who had the foresight to plant vineyards in the Yatir Forest in 1994 that would become the backbone of Yatir wines. 

Yatir Forest drinking

Yatir Forest Cherries

    Of course, Yatir's vineyards might never have been planted if the Yatir Forest hadn't brokered the way to show that this arid area had botanical possibilites. David Ben Gurion, Israel's first, most influential and longest serving prime minister was a persistent advocate of developing the Negev and is buried at the Negev's Kibbutz Sde Boker where he had eventually retired and is now buried. It was he who insisted against scientific advice to plant trees in this region. The Jewish National Fund collected donations from around the world to plant conifourous trees in Israel and started planting in the Yatir in 1964 and now it's israel's largest planted forest. As such it plays a part in Israel being the only country in the world to have a net gain of trees in the 20th century.

 

David and Wine Press


David and Ancient Wine Press in Yatir Forest:

1) On the left grapes were stomped

2) the juice flowed to the smaller chamber on the bottom and filtered through herbs such as capers, dates and honey

3) the wine fermented in about 5 days and was stored until "bottled" in clay jars, amphorae

 

     Students of history, however, should have known that the Yatir area could have great potential to be a wine producing area.  there are over 180 ancient wine presses scattered through the Yatir region that had the capacity to produce 3,000 liters or about 4,000 of today's bottle of wine each. in theory that means if all were operating about the same time, these presses could have been producing 720,000 bottles a vintage or even more if there were grapes like today that had staggered seasons so that if there were multiple harvestings 3-4 times as much is concievable as well. Of course climates can change dramtically in decades never mind millenium so a better indicator of the Yatir Forest's potential for sheltering vineyards would be the other crops that have prospered here. The cherries and apricots, almond and pistachio trees that were succesfuly being harvested here prior to the first modern vineyards being planted here must have given confidence that grapes could do well here as well.

 

The southern Judeans Hills overlooking the northeast Negev Desert


     At 900 meters altitude, about 2700 feet, in the Judean Hills and at the northeast tip of the Negev desert, Yatir's grapes get hot dry summer days and cool summer nights, which has proved an ideal nursery for many of Yatir's planted wine grape varieites.  Frequent mountain winds also help keep the grapes from suffering in the sun and the adjacent Yatir Forest which borders their vineyards on all sides helps cool the area by taking in CO2. The trees have had a side effect of leaching off some of the much needed precipitation, only about 100mm year or about 4 inches falls here, so irrigation is required for the grapes to get their fill. The winds, which are valued for their cooling effect, also increase the evaporation rate and increase the need for irrigation.  Fortunely for Yatir, Israel has been at the leading edge of drip-irrigation technology and water conservation and Israel has exported this technology worldwide including to other regions such as Yatir that were thought previously unsuitable for wine grape production.

 

water reservoir in yatir forest

a reservoir in the Yatir Forest with pistachio trees in the distance

 

 

    Even though Ben Dor comes to Yatir as a grower, it's Yatir's wine maker Eran Goldwasser who overesees the viticulture practices in the vineyard.  Having studied Viticulture & Oenology at the University of Adelaide in Australia, Eran is just one several Israelis to have studied winemaking "Down Under". Having returned to Israel from Australia after workering three vintages, Eran credits just being "lucky at the time that few israelis at the time had been studying (winemaking) overseas" and he was hired from Yatir's inception as it winemaker.  It's without doubt that few winemakers have succeeded so fast to make a name for himself and his wine.  The first wines were released in 2004 and since then Yatir wines have been appearing on every wine writer's list as one of the best wines if not the best wine in Israel.

 

dave & eran

David & Yatir's Winemaker Eran Goldwasser

 

   Much of what they have accomplished at Yatir is believed to be on how they manage the vineyards before harvesting as much as the special care  given to the grapes once they reach the winery. 

 

Yatir Sauvignon Blanc (Negev)

100% Sauvignon Blanc grape

Ramat Arad vineyard in the northeast Negev. A portion of the wine was oaked for 3-4 months in oak barrels.

pale straw with a greenish tinge

 

"citric grapefruit, (I like to think of as pomelo) and cut grass with a hint of minerality that comes through from it's limited oak agiing " vibrant, epressive and well-balanced with less of a pucker factor than many Sauvignon Blancs.

 

 

 

Yatir Viognier 2008 (Judean Hills) Semi-dry 7 grams of sugar

Yatir Forest vineyards

The grapes that contributed to this 100% Viognier wine had enough acidity that Eran decided not to color within the lines and he created a distinctly balanced barely sweet wine.  Alltough, Viogniers in California and Contreau might age in oak Eran is convinced that this can easily overwhelm the  varietal flavors of Viognier. Even more succinctly Eran affirms "many of them just don't work". Yatir's 2008 Viognier does work and at 13.5% alcohol (less than the 14-15% Viogniers often exhibit) the lower alcohol level gives  room for using some of the residaul sugar to create what Eran believes and I affirm is something special.  When discussing how Viogniers have become popular with some of Israel's winemakers, Eran provides a disclaimer that it might be unrealistic to grow Viognier as extensively as French Columbard with great results because "better Viogniers are grown in cooler areas, they're very fussy vines and the grapes can exhibit elusive aromas'."

Expected Flavors and Aromas:

 

"green apple, apricot, peach and nectarines an almond /marzapan "  " refreshing acidity, a lot of body with a pleasantly long finish

 

 

Yatir Merlot-Shiraz-Cabernet (Judean Hiils) this blend was first introduced as a Cabernet-Merlot-Shiraz but as Eran says he decided that "if people wanted a big, bold Cabernet Sauviignon I was alreaady making one so I decided with the blend I'd make something a bit different. Eran says the Merlot-Shiraz- Canernet is a brand more than a list of the ingredients and Merlot coming first should give a hint to a softer wine. As well, the Cabernet on the label doesn't always refer to Cabernet Sauvignon as in this case it refers to Cabernet Franc which lends to a more food friendly wine with less tannins and more acidity.

yatir-merlot-shiraz-cab

 

Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon (Judean Hills)

 

yatir cab vines

Valued Vines of Yatir's Cabernet Sauvignon

 

 

Yatir Forest (Judean Hiils)

 

 

yatir's Yatir Forest

Yatir's premier label Yatir Forest after being hand-labeled


June 14, 2009June 14, 2009  2 comments  wine

    Even though over 200 wineries are known to exist in Israel, what's exciting to me as a writer about wines is how many small wineries are blossoming from harvesting and producing their first vintages into release and how many of them are really good or great wines. One winemaker whose wares are showing great potential is David Ventura's Domaine Ventura.

ventura

 

 


June 22, 2009June 22, 2009  1 comments  wine

     Some times the most remote wineries give up the most prized treasures, along the Jordanian/Syrian/ Israeli border intersection along the Golan Heights is an island of vines in the sky, Chateau Golan. Sure it's a bit of an exaggeration to call the Chateau "an island of vines in the sky" yet one of Israel's highest elevated wineries and vineyards gets frequent visits from helicopters shuttling guests up to it's lofty environs, sometimes four choppers a week. In fact there was a helicopter sitting on the front lawn on my first visit.

Chateau Golan

The distinct design of the Chateau Golan is a harbinger of it's great wines within

 

   Not only does the winery reside in a lofty domain but the winemaker, Uri Hetz, has lofty aspirations for his wines and his winery. Uri seems determined never to sacrifice the quality of his wines in favor of the quanity and profitability of the winery.  Not that the crew at the Chateau don't want to make a living but they don't seem to be simply put "greedy". In fact, they hand label their bottles which helps keep two of their workers employed full time instead of part-time laborers even though it would be more cost-effective to do otherwise.

 

     Producing about 70,000 bottles a year, the winery has surpassed the margins at which they feel they can now be a manageble and sustainable winery. Private investors gave the winery a little more liberty to experiment and remain relatively modest in it's commerical aspirations compared to depending on bank funding.  That being the case they have no immediate plans to grow and no desire to become a kosher winery that like how mostly every larger Israeli winery started or evolved. They do supplement their income by managing and growing grapes for other larger wineries in Israel.

 

Chateau Golan exports about 15% of it's wine overseas much of that is individual orders by consumers. The winery has no US importer bringing in large quanities as of yet (hint, hint). 

 

     The Chateau also delivers their owns wines throughout Israel which also helps the winery remain more profitable and makes their service more personable with wine shop and restaurant managers and staff. It also serves wine writers well as on my first visit, in a whirlwind of traveling around Israel and the excitement of drinking some fabulous wines, I forgot my cherished MacBook in their breakroom. I was a 2 hour drive away when the fog of that great tasting lifted and realized that my computer was now a four hour round trip away. A phone call later and the manager of the winery arranged to hand deliver it to me the next day at a local wine shop close to my apartment in Ra'anana. I don't suggest this trial of hospitality for the feint hearted but these grand acts of kindness seem routine to Israelis.

Travel Advisory:

One note of warning to those wanting to visit Chateau Golan. There are two routes leading up to the winery best descibed as the southern way and the northern way depending on whether you're coming up from the southern end of the Knerret/Sea of Galilee. I strongly suggest the more northern approach coming up route 789 that turns left to route 98. The southern approach might seem more direct on the map or a more interesting alternative but it's much longer and seemingly perilous coming up what seems a never-ending series of switchbacks at insanely steep angles that my 4-cylinder Daihatsu gasped to overcome.  It also straddles the Jordanian and Syrian borders and some tourists can do without seeing all that barbed wire and what I'm told is heavily land-mined vistas. The northern way is quite scenic enough with better views of Sea of Galilee.


That seldomn used section of the 98 coming off the 92  (who would ever go up or down it twice) seemed like one of the top ten places in Israel I'd least like to get stranded at or revisit though I have to admit the angle of ascent provided for some amazing views (though part of me was thinking I should take it in because it just might be the last thing I see).  My traveling companion had much more graphic & derogatory commentary on the experience that are best left to one's imagination.

 

Chateau Golan Winery
Moshav Eliad

Golan Heights 12927


Telephone:

011-972-4-6600026 (from the USA)

04-6600026 (in Israel)

 

 

 

 


June 28, 2009June 28, 2009  2 comments  wine

Israel's First White Wine Festival

(from the first night's response this should be the first of many...)

at the Herzliya Marina (located at the far end next to the TV 24 studio)
Wednesday & Thursday July 1st and 2nd 2009 starting at 6PM

Late Night at the Herzliya White Wine Festival

The  first night of Israel's first White Festival attracted thousands of white wine tasters

 

The event was organized by Chaim, the Grape Man, notable Israeli wine educator who hosts functions in the artist colony in Old Jaffa

Chaim the Grape Man

Chaim, "the Grape Man," organizer of the event mingling with tasters

there was thousands who came by the first night and I think tonight even might be busier with the buzz from the first night

there was also vendors of various wine related products including wine fridges, free sparkling water (great earlier on before the sun set) and as a break in between wines, and an incredible backdrop at the marina

several popular restuarants nearby

free parking in the Mall's garage

entrance is free with tasting cards available for a fee for 6, 12 or 18 tastes starting at 39NIS (about $10!!!)

small cheese plates will be availble as one of the tastes

there are plenty of great restuarants within walking distance nearby

Wines being offered will be of the following styles:

Champagne-style sparkling wines

Roses including Recanati's newly evolved and exceptional Rose featuring 80% Barbera grapes and Dalton's newly released 2008 Rose

aged (oaked) whites including Yarden's Katzrin Chardonnay and Domaine de Castel's "C" Chardonnay

 dry still whites including several crisp Sauvignon Blancs such as Yatir, Tishbi and Carmel's.

sweet & aromatic whites including several yummy Gerwurtztraminer's such as Yarden's and several imported selections

 

rose's on ice white wine festival

iced, scrumptious Roses ready to squelch parched palates at the Herzliya Festival

 

each had their own bar section in the main bar (sculpted from ice) for easier selection

 

 

and there are wines from all over the world with about 2/3 from Israeli wineries (including many of Israel's best) and the rest representing wines imported into Israel

 

Alex Haruni of Dalton Wines

Alex Haruni (on the right), owner of Dalton Wines, with a friend enjoying the Festival

 

call the Grape Man at 03-5180533 for more details

 


tell them David the Israeliwineguy sent you!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


June 30, 2009June 30, 2009  3 comments  wine

         There is much skepticism from wine writers in Israel and abroad if Israel's warm Eastern Mediterranean climate can produce the grapes required for making great white wines. Cooler climates such as the Rhine Valley in German and France's Graves, Champagne, Alsace and Burgandy regions provide vintners with longer growing seasons. Cooler climates also provide for lower alcohol levels and higher acidity levels which give a great white crispness and a clean finish and allow whites to age without the tannins found in the skins of red wine grapes. Never the less, against conventional wisdom many Israeli winemaker's are making great efforts to make "Great Whites" and some are showing tangible results in the process.

Lewinsohn Winery

        One such winemaker new to the scene is Ido Lewinsohn. I've previously discussed Ido's unique style of making his red Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and how his garagista might be making some of Israel's best made reds. Well, lightining has struck twice. He's also making some of Israel's best white wine in his 2008 Lewinsohn's "Garage de Papa" Chardonnay. In it's only second year of production, the Chardonnay is gaining a cult following as it's mostly sold through just a few of Israel's most renown eateries. Selling for about 225 NIS to over 300 NIS or about $55 in restaurants or about 175 NIS retail (if you can find any) it's definitely priced as one of the best white wines in Israel.

 

Lewinsohn 2008 Chardonnay

The 2008 Lewinsohn Chardonnay under the new "Garge de Papa" label.

     Of course, one reason for the higher than average price is the rarity. Only 880 bottles of the 2008 Lewinsohn Chardonnay was only made or about 3 barrels worth. About the same amount of the 2007 was produced and the winery sold that out completely and only a handful of those bottles remain in circulation on resturant wine lists. Few garagistas (garage wineries) just producing a few or several thousand bottles a year even tackle making white wines. Whites can be such "little princesses" that require so much attention to detail and extra stages to make it commercially appealing (compared to a reds) that many starting winemakers wait until they're making wine on a larger scale before they invest their time, effort and their blossoming reputation.  The time investment for whites can be much more intense and more suited for larger production runs.

    After tasting any of the three Lewinsohn labels it's quite apparent Ido isn't the typical garage winemaker.  First, he's no beginner. He's been neck deep in winemaking for almost a decade working on vintages in great wineries in France (where he opened a winery), Italy (where he attended the Univeristy of Milan), Tasmania and Israel. He's one of the two winemakers at the frequent award-winning Recanati Winery having worked there under its founding winemaker Lewis Pasco and now under Gil Shatzberg who came over from Israel's notable Amphorae Winery. Second, although he admts you learn something new every vintage, he 's not merely a student. He teaches and directs a winemaking program here in Israel to aspiring boutique winemaker's and seems to challenge himself not to just make wine he likes but to take his vast and varied experiences to make in theory what he thinks it takes to make the best wine in Israel.

     Having worked at the revered Margalit Winery in 2003, Ido seems to follow the lead of that father and son team of winemakers: Yair and Assaf Margalit. This prestigios winery that's been around now for almost 20 years only makes about a modest 20,000 bottles a year but it's on almost everyone's list of Israel's best wines. 20,000 bottles isn't the ideal level of production to be commercially viable so both Yair and Assaf have become prolific, respected and even adored instructors teaching how to make wine in classes from Tel Aviv to Tel Hai. Barry Saslove, another esteemed instructor has also gone on to create the well regarded Saslove Winery. As Ido and his contempories exemplify, the old American adage of "those who can't, teach" surely dooesn't apply to it's winemakers.

    The 2008 Chardonnay under Lewinsohn's new Gargage de Papa label might easily be mistaken for a Burgandy white than a "New World" Chardonnay. With stoic mineralitly up front, crisp acidity, hints of vanilla and bartlett pears on the finish this is a Chardonnay for those who don't like how Chardonnay'shave mutated in the last 20 years into buttery oever-oaked alcohol bombs. Ido thinks as this wine evolves it will even engender stronger Old World components. Currently, he's sur lees aging this wine for 8 mnths with only 2/3 of the wine in new French oak. He intends to use old oak as hs barrels mature to lessen the oak flavors interferring with the varietal purity of the choice Chardonnay grapes he contracts.

Ido at his

Ido at his "day job" at the much larger Recanati Winery as one of its two great winemakers

   With Ido's small production and focus on quality he's been able to carefully select distribution to those outlets that he believes have the conviction and know how to talk about his wines enthusiastically and intelligentllly.  At about 160 NIS ($35) retail and 220 to 240 NIS ($55-60) in restaurants, this Chardonnay ranks as one of Israel's most expensive white wines and I agree with Ido that it might take an educated staff to sell this wine against New World Chardonnay expectations but the informed consumer should be pleasantly surprised and even elated consuming this wine in contrast to similar or even higher priced international Chardonnays. Get it now before everyone else catches on to what I'm saying and what magic Ido's is making in his state of the art micro-winery in his father's modified temperture-controlled garage.

Lewinsohn Winery's Mascot

Every fan of the film Mondovino knows many great wineries have a loyal mascot

 

 

Ido Lewinsohn

can be contacted at:

idolewinsohn@gmail.com

 

 


June 30, 2009June 30, 2009  3 comments  wine

    As I make my rounds to Israeli wineries, I've visited some wineries more than once. My schedule of visits is  based on a few factors: Finding a good time that works well with me and the winemaker, new developments and releases by the winery and the convenience of visiting any one winery in relation to where I am on any given day in Israel. Of course, it helps if I like their wines and enjoy talking wine with the winemakers. Additionally, wineries that stand out as harbingers of what is coming up in the country or as an example of the potential of winemaking in Israel have a special attraction. The Recanati Winery is one such winery.

Recanati Winery Emek Hefer

Recanti Winery in Emek Hefer

       Recanati has just started releasing it's second generation of wines as the wines of Gil Shatsberg are coming into maturity.  As founding winemaker Lewis Pasco moved to America, Gil was brought over from Amphorae to fill Lewis's big shoes. Since their Reserve & Special Reserve reds can take a few years to make before release and even more before their fully appreciated it will be 2-5 years beofre Gil's impact on the reds become evident to the public and critics at large. Though, the 2007 & 2008 whites and roses are  examples of the change in leadership. The 2008 Recanti series reds are being released which might give a hint of what's to come but the jury is still out until their higher end 2008 reds start appearing in the marketplace in 2010 and 2011. 

       It's a matter of opinion if the wines will be better than Pasco's award winning years but they seem destined to be different and worthy of attention from a different segmant of wine drinkers than before. I did get to taste their 2008 Recanati Cabernet Franc Reserve that was still maturing in the bottle and it reaffirmed my belief that Cab Franc's have a great potential to be a flagship wine for Israel.

Recanati 2008 Cab Franc

Rich and Expressive 2008 Recanati Cabernet Franc

 

     Their 2009 Carigan also shows great potential as it ages it continues to age in the barrel. This will be Recanati's first release of Carignan and it's slated for release as a Reserve wine. It's shows a lot of concentrated black fruit flavors, intense colors and tannins and indications that this wine has the potential for


     One reason I call what's happening a new genration in wines at Recanati is an evolution in style. Under California trained Pasco, Recanati had been one of the better producers of "big, New World Israeli wines."  In fact, a Recanati just won "best Israeli wine" and a gold medal at the VinExpo in France (Barkan also won a gold medal tying Israel with France for the two medals in the compettion. No small feat considering Israel makes less than 1% of the wine of France). It was one of Pasco's wines that won so it's brave change to make wines that deviates from critical and commercial success.  Gil seems to favor Old World preferences for lower alcohol though still flavorful wines that shouldn't disappoint Recanti's loyal base and even attract an even wider following.

     Another asset of the Recanati Winery that shouldn't be overlooked is the presence of winemaker Ido Lewinsohn. Serving under the leadership of Gil Shatsberg, for a winery it's size Recanati might have the best one-two winemaker combo in Israel. Ido trained principally in Italy at the University of Milan but also had worked several vintages in France, Israel and far off Tasmania before landing at Recanati. He even has his own garagista wine "Garage de Papa" that has been gaining quite a cult-following.


    The winery offers a four series of wines much like other medium and larger wineries in Israel. This gives the winery flexibility in offering different levels of quality and pricing depending on the quality of grapes available and used and the efforts at the winery expended.


     The Yasmin Series is their introductory series and comes in the Yasmin White and the Yasmin Red.  It's an irony of winemaking that blending of varietals in New World wines typically happens at the highest and lowest ends of production.

    The Recanati Series is their second tier of wines and as for most wineries it's where quality and value seem to coincide.  A  Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay make uo the Whites with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah available as Reds. A commitment to make a Rose every year has proven to be successful as well.

    Where their Rose in the past had been made from their Cabernet Franc (like many wineries) , it's now being made exclusively from Recanati's Barbera grapes, an Italian variety known for it's high acidity and fruitiness. This has lent itself to Recanati's 2008 Rose as being one of the best if not the best Rose in Israel. Winemakers Gil

2008 Recanati Rose

Winemaker Ido Lewisnsohn stands behind Recanti's 2008 Rose featuring 80% Barbera and 20% Merlot grapes

    The top two tiers are made up of their Reserve and Special Reserve series and offer mostly expected varietals with a few pleasant surprises.

    In the Reserve series, a Chardonnay is the only white offered. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cabernet Franc make up their single varietals with a unique award winning Petite Sirah/Zinfandel blend pioneered by founding winemaker Lewis Pasco rounding up the mix. 

Their one Special Reserve offered each year is reminiscent of popular Cabernet/Merlot Bordeaux blends

 

Recanati has no current plans to make any dessert or sparkling wines.

 


Recanati Winery

POB 12050

Industrial Zone Emek Hefer

telephone: 04 6222288


the winery is off Rt 4 north of the Kfar Vitkin turn off and south of Hadera (though much of their grapes come the Galilee)


go west into the Emeq Hefer Industrial Park and take the first right going North

at the end of the road go left (west) and it will be dow nt e oad about 100 meters on the north/right side of the street

give onself about an hour and a half driving from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv


as for most Israeli wineries for best results call ahead of time for the best experience.


July 7, 2009July 7, 2009  2 comments  wine

I'll be attending tonight (Tuesday) and probably Thursday, if you want to meet the man behind the words... 052-702-9463

Annual Israeli Wine Festival

 

Art Garden at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

August 4th, 5th and the 6th (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday)

19:00-24:00 (7PM-Midnight)

60 NIS for the tasting including the glass

with over 30 wineries participating including kosher Recanati, Yatir, Alexander, Segal, Tishbi,Tzuba,Tepererg,Tabor, Psagot, Tzora, Dalton, Barkan, Binyamina and Galil Mountain


and non kosher Avidan, Pelter, Saslove

 

 

Israel Museum: 02-6708811

 

 

 

 


July 19, 2009July 19, 2009  1 comments  wine

     One of the secrets frequent wine drinkers indulge in is bringing their own wine along when they eat out at a favorite or new restaurant. It's called paying a corkage fee referring to the fact the waiter is merely uncorking the wine for you, decanting if necessary and providing the guests with wine glasses. This is a very common practice in many Western countries but it's a much rarer practice in Israel but growing in popularity as the wine industry and culture matures.

      The advantage for the wine drinker becomes obvious when the numbers are crunched. Let's take a bottle of wine that retails for about 40 NIS. I know one restaurant that sells the wine to diners for 130 NIS. This is a common mark-up for wine in restaurants. The restuarant charges 30 NIS for a corkage fee. So if you brought in a simiiar wine it would cost you  40 plus 30 equling 70 NIS almost half the price of buying it on premises.  The savings even get more dramatic when you consider 100 NIS bottles might go for over 300 NIS when dining out.


      Some restuarant owners, managers and waiting staffs are dumbfounded when you ask about corkage fees but there are some traditional customs about corkage fees that the consumer should expect to comply with including:

1) Most corkage fees are per bottle and I've seen them range from 10 NIS to 50 NIS in Israel. I've heard a few restaurants charge per person which is saying they really don't want to encourage the practice. Some restuarants who wanted to encourage new customers have completely waived the charge for those ordering entrees.

2) It's customary not to bring in wines that are already on the wine list.  Restuarants realize that even with a list of hundreds of wines (which isn't uncommon in the US or Europe but very uncommon in Israel) that they can't stock every wine for every customer's taste (though some make a better effort than others). So, if you have your heart set on a wine it's sort of a way of the restuarant saying we'd rather you eat here if you have the wine we don't carry. Call ahead and check if you're unsure.

3) It's customary to offer a small taste to the waiter, sommelier or manager.  Many will refuse but still it's a noble gesture and it should typically be less than a half a glass.  It's a way of educating the staff and sometimes if they're  appreciative on being introduced to a new exciting wine they haven't tried they'll waive the corkage charge. It's one of the easier things not to ring up on your bill since no one typically tracks corkage fees as they do food and beverage orders.

4) Some wine shops and wineries have special relationships with restaurants that will waive corkage for bottles brought in to encorage being referred by the shop or winery.

     As you begin to become a corkage fee practitioner, you'll find yourself becoming more comfortable with what at first might seem a bit awkward and not for the faint of heart but the savings might help you drink better wine and more frequently as you dine out.



July 22, 2009July 22, 2009  1 comments  wine

Harvesting began yesterday at the Tishbi Winery as they started to bring in their Sauvignon Blanc grapes from the vineyards.  For fans of the winery, that also means it's time for their yearly tradition of Summer Musical Evenings. Located in Binyamina, (along Road 652, on the way to Zichron Ya'acov) the Tishbi family will be hosting a series of four distinctly different Summer Music Evenings. For 140 NIS (about $35) the ticket will include wine, appetizers and featured live music.


Thursday  July 23rd, 2009        Jazz Singer Karen Friedman presents her vocal versions of American and Israeli Jazz standards.


Thursday August 6th, 2009       Esti & Effi Israeli Folk Music


Thursday August 13th,2009      Avivit-Ezzria old school French and Israeli songs


Thursday August 20th, 2009     Brazlian Music Night

 

Call 04-6288195 and ask for Tal or Valerie to make reservations. Directions are available at their website at www.tishbi.com

 


August 10, 2009August 10, 2009  2 comments  wine

    About 30,000 attendees are expected this year in Jerusalem at what promoters assert is Israel largest beer festival. Over 100 international and Israeli beers will be featured available by the liter and half-liter. There should be about 10 main bars and some smaller bars. The event will go from 6PM until midnight and the promoters suggest that those who come early around 6 or 7PM will most likely get the most pleasurable experience.

Jerusalem Beer Photo

Throngs of Beer Lovers to Gather Again in Jerusalem...


The event is being held at Independance Park in Jerusalem to accomodate the expected throngs of beer drinkers.

Live bands will play throughout night and all food stands will be certified Kosher (El Gaucho will be the focal food provider but look for Asian food and other treats as well).

The admission price is 20-25 NIS with discounts for students.  Beer and food is additional to the modest price of admission (someone's go to pay for the bands... they say some of Israel's best).

Jerusalem Beer Stage

To Keep the Peace, keep the pickled people pleased with live performances...


Beer's should cost about 15-20 NIS per half-liter and about 35-40 per liter.


August 24, 2009August 24, 2009  1 comments  wine

      So, when you work in the wine industry, everyone thinks you must be some kind of a drunk and though I might get intoxicated time to time I can assure I probably drink less in quanity but maybe more in quality than many of my readers or friends.  One way this happens is many times when I'm near wine I'm talking business or tasting wine (which usually includes spitting) and other times when I'm drinking wine it's with other wine people and we savor what were drinking and I can enjoy smelling a great wine as much as drinking it. I also like enjoying letting a wine open up in the glass a half hour or and hour tasting it as it opens up.

Recently, I had a chance to drink with some of my favorite wine geeks in Israel (and meet a few new ones). This is heavan for me. If there's an afterlife I hope they're serving good wine accompanied by good food, good company and good conversation. Such was this day at Ido Lewinsohn's Lewinsohn Winery as about a dozen of us dined with his family and tried a verticle and horizontal tasting of his ever more popular cult status "Garage du Papa" wines.

    There's some winemakers and wineries that have been extremely generous with their time and wine as I journey through and journal about Israeli wines: the Tishbis, the staff at Carmel & Yatir, the Margalits, Eli at Domaine Castel and Ido with his wines and those of Recanati.  There are others who have been as generous but time after time the forementiond have been great mentors and from time to time I should thank them publicly as much as I hope I do privately. 

 

 


    So, I mention this because when Ido asked me to come to a tasting at his family's house/winery, I didn't have to think twice about booking a spot at his table. Another reason is that Ido much like his mentor and friend Assaf Marglait are wine mavens who have many of Israel's most interesting, influential, dynamic and curious winos in their gravitional orbit so when I meet with them it can often lead meeting another chain of wine contacts and if I keep my ears open and my taste buds ready I'm bound to learn a thing or two more about winemaking and what makes these wizards of wine and their tick.

   Those of us lucky enough to be invited weren't only rewarded by his fabulous wines but his mother cooked us crepes (maybe to bolster our tolereance levels) and there was some treats set as we drank 2007, 2008 and the still fermenting 2009 Lewinsohn "Garage du Papa" Chardonnay. This wine has been selling out due to the efforts of just a few outlets. Granted only a few barrels were bottled but still at about 150 NIS to 175 NIS retail ($45 to $55 two to three times that price in Tel Aviv restuarants where it's mostly sold.  This "Old World" style Chardonnay is making some noise in the marketplace as one of the most expensive and hard to find (but worth every penny or argarot) Israeli white wines.

 

 


August 26, 2009August 26, 2009  1 comments  wine

Manfred & David Rhodes


Yours truly, David Rhodes, trying local Israeli micro-brew, Manfred

 

 

     The 5th Annual Jerusalem Beer Festival is over at Gan HaAtzmut (Independence Park) in the center of the city.  From 6PM to Midnight, over 100 beers available here in Israel were served throughout the two night brew bash.  Several of the beers are made by local breweries big and small (including my favorite Dancing Camel's Leche del Diablo) yet there are many nations and styles available including lagers, ales and stouts and beers from Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy and Japan.

dancing camel

israel's aspring 3 year old micro-brewery Dancing Camel caught my attention...

     As I cruised for amiable beer vendors willing to sample their beers to a humble (or not so humble) wine writer, I managed to coax about two dozen beers to taste (there's goes my diet for the week). Most were distinctly different from the next partly do to the variety offered and my preference to sample more obscure brands I hadn't tried before than indulging in the larger commercial brands such as Israel's Goldstar or Japan's Asahi (though I've had the occasion to enjoy both with shwarma or sushi repectively). One thing about beer (compared to wine) is that to taste it doesn't lend itself to sipping and spitting. A gulp or two or three under the summer sun seems the best way to judge a brew rather than a sip and spit at wine festivals (in fact no spit buckets were offered and no spitting was observed).

 

5 Beer Bottles

5 English & Belgian Beers & Ciders Beckon Thirsty Beer Festival Patrons

     As a disclaimer as a "wine guy" I do try to drink wine on every occasion that liqour is being served. I see it as an educational opportunity that with so many tens of thousands of wines available on the marketplace that each time I might drink some other beverage it's a missed opportunity to explore an untasted wine. Yet there are a few exceptions when wine isn't my first choice of fermented or distilled beverages. One exception, for instance, is when the wine offered is dreadful. This is often the case when the wine list gives a choice simply of one white, one red and one rose without even naming the vintage, winery and region. Chances are then that a beer or almost any other beverage on the menu might be more pleasing. Another situtaion I might not prefer wine is when there might be a dish that is a better match with something other than any wine available. Additionally, being in the industry I can also often spot when a vendor is gauging their customers with their pricing and I don't have to have a drink with every meal. It keeps the calorie count down and my pocket full of a bit more shrapnel.

mongozo banana beer

Banana infused beer, you may ask why? Read on !!!

     The other time I drink liqour that isn't fermented juice of the vine is when it's an educational experience such as a festival of this kind and I can meet the makers and learn the craft as it were.  There's a nexus of information between booze makers and I respect craftmanship that transends preferences of wine over beer or other libations.  Besides, there's an old saying "it's takes a lot of beer to make a good wine" as many winemakers are closet or even outed beer lovers and like to have some brew during the workday or while they wait for their wine to mature. Additionally, I know many a winemaker who dabbled in beer making either before or after the wine bug first bit.

    There are times I must admit I'd rather have a beer like at a sports game when the stimulus can be overwhelming for me to savor what's in a glass seem more beer worthy than a glass of my favorite vino. A beer at the festival, the Belgian Mongozo with it's banana infusion seemed like it was waiting for some coconut based Thai curry for a perfect match. or a wine glass isn't even available. On a sailboat when I'm crewing a can or bottle is easier to handle than a glass though it might be one of the exception when swigging from a wine bottle isn't the worse idea. eating certain foods beg for a beer as well. Mexican, Indian, Texas chili or even pizza and certain casual snack dishes such as chips with dips, pretzels, burgers or hot dogs and other BBQ fare (though wine matches do exist here as well).

t-shirt vendor

t-shirt vendor chilling before thousands spill into the Festival

     Back to the festival, this was an article about the Jerusalem Beer Festival (any Alice's Restaurant fans out there?) I had a great time and wouldn't hesitate to come back year after year.  It's just not a beer festival but a rock/reggae jam and great BBQ too. Some of the same bartenders from the Jerusalem Wine Festival, hey Gabi and the crew from Mia, were at both events so it almost becomes like a family outing for me as most of my best friends in Israel are food and wine (and soon to be beer?) people.

   For the record, my favorite beer at the 5th Annual Jerusalem Beer Festival was Israel's very own Dancing Camel's Liche del Diablo (" Milk of the Devil"). It might have been the first time I ever had a spicy hot beer and they pulled it off well. Just like I enjoy an acidic wine with fish (instead of getting the acidity from squeezing a lemon) it was great to get that kick to my senses from the beer instead of a plate of spicy BBQ or a bowl of fiery chili. I wouldn't suggest the beer with spicy food because it might cause sensory overload but maybe with fried food the heat and alcohol might cut through the grease to tease the taste buds. Beer-battered fried chicken, fish and chips  or onion rings semed like a perfect match.

two fisted beer drinking

Two-fisting beers (reminds me of college days long gone by) my festival favorites

Dancing Camel's Liche del Diablo ("Milk of the Devil") & Belgian banana Mongozo

 

 


August 30, 2009August 30, 2009  6 comments  wine

    In going from winery to winery, wine event to wine event and talking to winemakers, employees and wine customers in Israel, one of the names that frequently comes up in conversation about wine is food and wine critic Daniel Rogov.  His critiques in Israel pick apart the idiosyncracies of a restaurant's food, service and atmosphere with high praise, mixed feelings or maybe just desserts for the restuarants efforts or offenses. His wine reviews analyze the complexity, balance and expressiveness of a wine (or the lack there of) and describe a profile of flavors one might expect if they bother to take the time to savor and not gulp down their next glass or two. Every Wednesday, readers of the English version of the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz (Tuesday in the Hebrew edition) can read his wine reviews. Every Thursday, they can read a resteraunt review. Since Haaretz is the Israeli affiliate of the New York Times (the International Herald Tribune), these articles can have widespread impact.

   As Israeli wines and even it's restaurant scene have improved dramatically it's only natural that his reputation and stature have improved as well. It's almost as if you were selling people on Yugo's and Yugo's all of a sudden (or over 25 years) started to make a product that competed with BMW and Infiniti, they're bound to take someone more seriously or even just take more notice of the guy who was speaking about the potential of Yugo's all along. Not that his reputation has depended strictly on the performance of Israeli wines, he also has a small apartment in Paris and Florence that allows him to travel and write about European wines for other publications. As much as he's tied to Israel, he grew up speaking Russian, English and Yiddush, three languages not too uncommon for a kid being raised in the 40's in Brooklyn, New York.

daniel rogov
Daniel Rogov at a cafe on Basel Street in Tel Aviv

 

   Having moved to Israel, Christmas Day, 1976 he got to Israel well before the wine revolution started in Israel. He started to write about food and wine in Europe before starting to write in Israel in 1982 (just as vintages were being picked would find their way into game changing Golan Heights wines and soon after Tishbi wines). These two wineries started the dry wine revolution against kiddush wine and insepid bulk wine that then dominated the Israeli wine marketplace.

   So, he has much perspective about Israeli wines as almost anyone having tasted each of these wineries evolve, older wineries revamp and newer wineries emerge. Yet, he's a very controversal figure in Israeli wine. Why, well to start he's a critic and critics give their opinions and the better the critic the more opinionated they might be.

   Now opinions are subjubctive in nature even if some criticisms are more fact based than others. But additionally, the taste of food and wine is subjective as well, and rating the service or atmosphere of a restaurant maybe even more so. Having expressed his opinion thousands of times over almost three decades he's had the opportunity to engender praise and gratitude for positive reviews as well as scorn and antipathy for negative reviews. After 27 years he might even have several genrations of families who love him or hate him but if you're in either the restuarant or wine business it's diffcult to ignore his influence.

   That being said, I have had the recent opportunity to debate Daniel Rogov on a few issues on another site about various issues about Israeli wines. It shouldn't have come to my surprise that he, like me, has a background in philosophy. Criticism is actually, like logic, a common theme in philosophy and our arguments online were poignant yet often dialectic. I can't say if either of us ever convinced the other of our views but we drew a lot of other parties into the discussions and at least brokered some debates that were interesting to follow and participate in (one was about the quality and perceived quality of mevushal wines and another was about whether a site promoting Israeli wines or Israeli wine writers should review Lebanese wines since they've been at a continuos state of war with Israel since 1948). I won't say who was on what side and how the discussion played out (so as not to rekindle the same debate) but the views others brought to it and their reasons were as much as interest to me as of Rogov's and mine but it's his participation in debating the merits of food and wine issues that gives a certain gravitas and magnitude to these discussions for his articles in newsprint cause people to stand up and take notice.  Agree with him or not, I don't think Robert Parker is spending the time online engaging his readers the way Rogov does.

    With my only contact at this point with Rogov (as he often signs his correspondance) being online, it was a result of a cancelled meeting one day in Tel Aviv recently that I followed up on an opportunity to meet this iconic figure in Israeli food and wine.  We met at a local coffee shop on Basel Street (or Bazel Street... Tel Aviv maps and street signs are infamous for having multiple inconsistent English spellings of the same street on different street signs... I think Ibn Givrol might be the worst offender). Of course he preferred sitting outside, he's a reknown smoker (more about that later) though it was a dripping hot sticky humid summer day. We sat for about an hour with Rogov interviewing me at first as much as I interviewed him.

 

Daniel Rogov and David Rhodes at a coffee shop in Tel Aviv: Where's the wine at?


    Although he is incredibly active on various internet sites, he says it's disturbing how anonymous some people remain in discussion forums and how cowardly it is to attack others who post their real identity while the attackers often hide behind screen names. So I guess, the fact that I not only posted my name and my contact information and that in our online discussions/debates my opinions may have seemed less based on conjecture than others, he agreed it would be good to put a face to who we were talking to online.

    Now that being said, I was inately curious about how the meeting might progress. I had mentioned to him about how I had wanted to interview him for this site but I thought by our discussion on the phone it might be a pre-interview introduction more than anything else. Yet, the casual get together quickly gave way to the give and take of an interview and he was very careful to say what was on the record and what was not for publication. He often would interject with personal antecdotes that made for a quicker sense of familarlarity than otherwise might have happened at our first meeting and made for a less stuffy start to my afternoon.

     Rogov has a certain charm about him that is disarming even though he can't seem or doesn't care to censor his comments for affect on how it might offend others. For instance, when I made contact with him and I asked him where he lived, he repsonded with "the Holy City", (then a pregnant pause) Tel Aviv. Now I thought it was funny but he didn't know me and I could see how it could offend others the wrong way and maybe as someone who's been a critic for decades his work and habits of expressing comments and opinions have given him a poetic license to always say what's on his mind. Friends of mine may say that I might exhibit a similar trait but maybe that's why writers need editors.  In fact, some of his most vocal critics seem to be religious Jews living in Israel who wished he would refrain from reviewing non-kosher wines and non-kosher restaurants. Maybe his new book about strictly, the best kosher wines in the world will be seen as an act of contrition to the kosher consumer. With over 1300 kosher wineries in the world (there's only about 2-300 Israeli wineries many of them which are non-kosher) writng about world-wide kosher wineries might be even a more daunting task than writing exclusively about Israeli wines and Rogov does propose that he has probably tasted more kosher wines than anyone else in the world.

       Now with only an hour or so for our first meeting (and I hope one day I'll be able to sit and actually drink wine with him instead of meeting over coffee) there was a lot of questions left unasked for another day but Rogov was good at cutting to the chase. In explaining what he saw as the role of the critic, he asserted that a critic should write "what you percieve as the truth." This opened up to the disclaimer that "...critics are not always right. We make mistakes. We're human". Yet, he proclaimed his "only boss is the readers" of what he writes.

 

 

 


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.

 


September 17, 2009September 17, 2009  0 comments  wine

There are currently four producers of traditional sparkling wines in Israel. Carmel and Yarden's Gamla label are the largest and longest producers with mid-size Tishbi and boutique Pelter more recently adding to the list.

 

These four wineries offer sparkling wines reminiscent of a Champagne, Blanc de Blanc or Cava type sparkling wine while they and others also offer up frizzante wines as well.


Carmel offers two sparkling wines made in the Charmat (secondary fermentation) method and are the least expensive way to get a big pop at a party.

Gamla Brut, produced by Yarden, is the only Champenoise method wine (where the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle) that uses the traditional Champagne blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes to make their wine.


Pelter makes maybe the best received Blanc de Blanc (white wine from white grapes in contrast to other sparkling wines that might use red grapes such as Pinot Noir)

 

The newest sparkling wine on the market is Tishbi's Brut made from French Columbard grapes. French Columbard is a popular choice for sparkling wines in warmer regions (as well as a common base for Cognac brandy in France). Typically, French Columbard wines are made into sparkling wine using the Charmat method but Tishbi uses the more expensive and labor intensive Champenoise method.

 

 

David Rhodes, CBW is a California trained food & wine expert now living in Israel. David is the wine writer for Israel's ESRA (English Speaking Resident's Assocaition) magazine as well is the regular weekly guest commenting about wine & spirits on RustyMikeRadio.com. He currently is writing a book about Israeli wines.


David can be reached at IsraeliWineGuy@gmail.com or in Israel can be reached at 052-702-WINE (9463)


October 20, 2009October 20, 2009  0 comments  wine

 

    Once again, I had the distinct honor and priviledge to spend the day with noted winemaker Asaf Margalit from the renown Margalit Winery. Over the last year, I've met with Asaf about a dozen times and each time I walked away more impressed with Asaf as a winemaker and Margalit wines are etched into my mind as some of the most expressive and dynamic wines I've ever tasted.

    One of the primary reasons Margalit wines are so good is their source materials.  The vineyards the Margalit's have acquired in Binyamina and especially their Kadita vineyard in the Upper Galilee are some of the most envied vines in Israel.  As most winemakers will tell you, 75% to 95% (it's a very subjective estimation) of what makes a wine good or great started in the vineyard. As the saying goes "you can make bad wine out of good grapes but you can't make good or great wine out of bad grapes." And the Margalits have built an amazing reputation over 20 vintages by starting each wine from great grapes.

     The quality of the grapes the Margalit family uses to make their wines shouldn't discount the talent of the father & son team of Ya'ir and Asaf Margalit. Ya'ir, who studied high speed fermentation at UC Davis, has written three technical texts on winemaking that are used extensively internationally & he was the first wine maker at the 1,000,000 bottle/year Tishbi Winery in 1985 before opening his own winery in 1989. Asaf who also spent time in California studying wine making before returning to Israel teaches aspiring winemakers in Tel Hai and has mentored many students who have gone on to work in larger wineries or open their own boutique wineries.  Even though they produce a modest 20,000 bottles, the demand for Margalit wines elicits a price in the marketplace that enables them to be commercially viable and they have long term goals of eventually building a more visitor friendly facility once they can find a location that navigates around Israel's byzantine real estate laws (possibly adjacent to their vineyard in Binyamina which produces their Cabernet Franc grapes).  Additionally, Asaf insists that his non-irrigated vines have not only survivied the drought of last winter but have thrived and produced amazingly concentrated color and flavors.

 

Assaf Margalit measuring fermentation

Winemaker Asaf Margalit observes his

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon during fermentation

 

 

pumping over 2009 Margalit juice


Margalit's 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon juice

being "pumped over" as it ferments into wine


    On this visit with Asaf to the family's modest facility in a grapefruit grove in Hadera, Asaf was checking on how his crushed grapes were going through various stages of fermentation. We tasted all the componnet wines, in various stages of fermentation, that would be the base for his future 2009 world class red wines. The Cabernet Sauvignon was still going through first stage fermentation and this year Asaf was experimenting with a late harvest Cabernet Sauvignon harvest as well that produced super ripe, complex and colorful grapes that he'll process and monitor seperately to see how they'll be used as a component in one of Margalit's five wines.

 

tasting 2009 marglait cab franc

tasting Margalit's 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

beating 99.9 % of you to the punch,

jealous... you should be!!!

 

  At this stage Asaf was monitoring the sugar levels of some wines to see how well the sugar was being fermented by digesting yeast. Since the solids in grape juice are 95% sugar as the sugar turns to alcohol and carbon dioxide the sugar levels can be measured by it's viscosity as the liquid becomes less dense as the alcohol level increases. In a dry wine, almost all of the inherent sugar in the crushed grapes is fermented where as in a sweet wine, the process would be either stopped leaving a desired amount of residual sugar or added sugar could be used to sweeten a wine.

 

dsr at margalit 10 19 09

observing the "pumping over" process

 

   We also tasted Margalit's Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah. The Cabernet Franc is made into a single varietal (and Margalit's Cabernet Franc is one of the reasons I see potential as Cabernet Franc being a signature grape for Israel) and its used as part of Margalit's Enigma (a traditional Bordeaux blend). The Petite Sirah is used to add some punch and color to Margalit's Cabernet Sauvignon though after tasting it i wished he grew and produced more so he could release it as a single varietal as well.

 

 

Asaf cooking lunch for DSR 10 19-09


as you might expect many winemakers are also good cooks

as Asaf proved with tasty chicken stir-fry we shared for lunch

 

 

 


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

 

 


May 7, 2010May 7, 2010  0 comments  wine

The Levahn Festival  (Levahn is Hebrew for white) is returning to the Herzliya Marina for it's second year. Last year, israel's first and only wine festival focusing on white wines, roses and sparkling wines attracted about 6000 people over two nights. This year their expecting more visitors so they've doubled their space. Instead of bartenders manning pouring stations seperated by wine types, each winery this year will por tastings and sell their own wines


November 8, 2009November 8, 2009  0 comments  wine

 

    All over the wine world, it's very common for wineries to pass from one generation to the next from father to son. What's far less common but becoming less of a surprise is a winery passing down from father to daughter.  Roni Saslove, the middle daughter of Barry Saslove, is one such prodigy. Though the winemaking today is a team effort between Barry and Roni, she has secured her place as the Saslove Winery's heir apparent and every vintage she manages to make the Saslove Wines as much of a reflection of her own passion for wines as that of her father. .

 

Roni Saslove

winemaker Roni Saslove takes great pride in their premium oak barrels

 

    Barry Saslove, a Canadian immigrant to Israel, started the winery in 1991. It was a humble beginning processing only 100 kilos of grapes it's first vintage compared to 80,000 bottles/year they make today. In 1991 their low tech non-commercial effort involved pressing their grapes through stomping the grapes.  Barry was a computer programmer whose curiousity had him flirting with winemaking. As his interest peaked, he took wine courses at UC Davis that would spark 18 vintages of fine wine making each year better than the last.

 

  Barry Saslove

founder and winemaker Barry Saslove at Jerusalem Wine Festival


   Barry would transition from an aspring student to a well saught after lecturer about winemaking and wine appreciation. Thousands would listen to Barry talk about wines yet no one was listening with more interest than his daughter Roni. Roni had participated in every one of the winery's vintages ( except 2008) since 1991 when she was 14. After graduating college, she went on to become a vetinarian nurse but became disillusioned believing at first that she would make people happy healing and helping animals under their care but found that the job was more often than not dealing with people and their animal wards in a state of despair. Roni didn't have to look far to find a more joyful vocation.

 

Roni Saslove tasting their Adom Cabernet

Roni enjoys drinking Saslove wine as much as making it

 

   Roni feels she made the transition from assistant to winemaker during the 2002 vintage. Since then her contributions have become more and more significant. Although, Barry continues as the senior winemaker, Roni is evolving into a respected winemaker in her own right. Asked if her winemaking philosophy differs that much from her father's she says no. Roni says it's hard to disagree with her father's success in making very good wines, wines that she loves to make and drink and share with others. 

 

David at Saslove

David enjoying the hospitality of the Saslove Winery

 

      Then what does does Roni add to the Saslove team one might ask. Roni spent her last year at Brock University in Canada quanitifying her 17 years of experience and honing her craft through a one year, ten course program intended for those already working as winery professionals that included course and lab work including wine chemistry and microbiology, vineyard managment, vineyard biology, vineyard pest management, sensory analysis and wine marketing. Though she and her father make most decisions in concert, Roni says her contributions are most strongly felt in the choice and use of barrels, the blending of which wines from which grapes and then from which vineyards and barrels and the choice of which yeast strains work best with each grape and even which grape from which vineyard.  Until the day she eventually takes over as the winery's sole winemaker maybe decades from now, what Roni provides the winery most is immeasurable. Her father Barry and the Saslove Winery's patrons should be confident that the winery will be in good hands for many more vintages to come.

 

 

 

 


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.


December 22, 2009December 22, 2009  0 comments  wine

        It's less challenging to write about a winery no one has heard of rather than one that comes up as one of the first in any serious conversaton about wines. In Israel, Domaine du Castel is one of those well discussed and written about wineries and at the top of most critics lists for having some of Israel's best world class wines. Now writing about a well written winery does make it  easier during initial research on your subject but the tricky part is how to make it fresh and interesting in the final proof for a reader who may have read a previously published article and still engage a novice who remains one of the few and fewer who've yet to become acquainted with the winemaker and his craft.

   I was anxiously awaiting my return to Castel as locals call the winery. It had been about a year since I first visited as a producer/interviewer with a TV crew from NTDTV, an international TV network out of New York that broadcasts throughout Asia and North America by sattlelite in English and Chinese mainly to Chinese expatriates (there's 100's of millions as it so happens).  We had spent two days filming and hours each day doing interviews so we each had an opprtunity to become very familiar with each other. At that time I had creditials as a journalist and a wine expert but not too much as a wine journalist and the piece we did with each other probably opened up more doors for me than for the winery. Who knows Israeli wineries are selling more and more wines to Far Eastern markets every day.

   Since our time together, I started this column for Travelujah.com and have written over 50 articles. Also, I became the regualr wine writer for ESRA magazine (the bi-monthly English Speaking Residents Association magazine for English speakers living in Israel) and I've starting writing and being featured on a  weekly 10 minute radio segment on israeli wine on Rustymikeradio.com which at the time of this writing I've recorded and aired 18 episodes available as podcasts. I say this as a matter of disclosure to thank them for helping me open up doors in the Israeli wine trade and also to display my affection for the folks at the winery as much as I have for their wines.

   Back to Castel, after all, this is an article more  about them and their wines and less about me (except for my observations that is).  The Castel Winery only releases three wines for sale to the public every year. From just three labels they produce about 100,000 bottles a year. The three wines are their Grand Vin, Petite Castel and "C."  The C is their Chardonnay recognized not only as one of Israel's best Chardonnays but as one of it's best white wines. That's quite an accomplishment from a winery at 33 degrees latitude since at this latitude most quality wine that will emerge are reds where closer to 40 towards 45 degrees and even 50 degrees the finest whites are to be found (with vineyards in the middle latitudes having the most flexibility between being ideal for red or white wines).  

   The reason being is  that cooler areas bring out acidity in wine grapes that lend themselves to making the best and most sought after white wines like the prized Rieslings of Germany. Warmer areas tend to create riper fruit that produce more sugar that result in more alocohol but less acidity that can produce fruit bomb reds but unremarkable white wines. The higher than average alitude of the Castel Winery and it's vineyards (above 700 meters) in the Judean Hills provides for cooler nights in the growing season that add that  tiny bit of needed luster to what other wise might otherwise be a lesser than ideal white wine offereing if produced at lower altitudes at this latitude.  As I like to say altitude gives you latitude to want grapes you can grow and what wines you can make well.

   A winery only producing three labels might be satisfied with having just one it's wines being heralded as one of it's country's best but as good as the Chardonnay is Castel's Gran Vin is the wineries most talked about wine. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon it's a classic Bordeaux blend.Including, Cabernet Sauvignon each year the perfect combination of  Bordeaux red grapes is attempted typically with great applause by critics and consumers.   Merlot and Cabernet Franc are typicaly always added to contribute softer tannins and acidity as well a greater spectrum of flavors.   Petit Verdot and Malbec aren't added every year and the exact % of what grapes are decided as winemakesr Eli Ben-Zaken and his son Ariel deem warranted.

   The Petite Castel is more of a Right Bank Bordeaux than the Gran Vin with its blend using any of the five Bordeaux grapes that the Gran Vin does but with Merlot taking the lead role. Though it may not get the press of the Gran Vin many other wineries would be pleased to have a wine of it's quality as their flagship wine.

   Each of the red grapes after harvested are fermented and then aged seperately for their first year so that Eli can gauge how to best blend the components of the Gran Vin and the Petite Castel. Once decided the wines are split between new and one year and two year old French Oak barrels.

 

 

 

 


January 13, 2010January 13, 2010  0 comments  wine

 

    Behind every good winery there's typically a good story.  Since the Flam Winery is considered one of Israel's best wineries, it's only natural it has one of the most compelling stories. The winery was started humbly in 1998 by brothers Golan & Gilad Flam. In their first vintage they only made a couple of barrels of wine, one of Cabernet Sauvignon and one of Merlot.  Now that's how many family wineries start and many if not most never get too much bigger although this wasn't any average family of vintners.

 

dsr and Golan Flam

David Rhodes becomes a fan of winemaker Golan Flam and his wines

 

    After graduating with a degree in agricultural studies at Hebrew University Rehovet, Golan Flam furthered his studies as a winemaker while becoming a Master of Wine in Piacenza, Italy and then while serving a full year's intership at the Carpineto Winery in Italy's romantic Tuscany witnessing and participating in a grapes evolution from the vine to wine.  He extended his studies abroad taking a year to spend a full season in Australia at the Hardys Maclaren Winery.  Now that's not too unusual. Many of Israel's best winemakers have spent a year or two overseas gathering expertise before coming back to apply their knowledge and experience to an Israeli vineyard and/or winery.  Assaf Margalit, Gil Shatsberg, Ido Lewinsohn and Roni Salove, to name just a few, all interned overseas well before they gained recognition as great winemakers here in Israel. And the fact that his brother Gilad started the winery with him applying his acumen and education in business and law to managing the Flam Winery's business affairs isn't that extraordinary as well. What makes the Flam Winery's story unique is the cache the Flam name had when they first opened their winery and why it still does today.

 

Flam Winery

entering the Flam Winery in the Judean Hills

 

The reason the winery's name had a lot of gravitas when they started in 1998 was that at the time their father Israel Flam was the chief winemaker for the Carmel Winery, Israel's largest winery.  He had worked at the Carmel Winery since 1971 and would continue to do so until 2005, seven years after his sons had substantiated their following his passion for making wine.  Israel Flam has been a pioneer in Israeli winemaking in many ways. After serving as a paratrooper in the Israeli Defense Forces in the 60's, Israel Flam became the first notable Israeli winemaker to pursue expertise overseas and would become the first of many to study at California's UC Davis, one of the world's most pretigious university programs focused exclusively with viticulture and winemaking. 

 

dsr israel flam

Wine Pioneer Israel Flam... could I ask for a better tour guide?

 

    Israel served as chief winemaker at Carmel when it was undergoing many of its market shaking changes from being a big bloated giant producing tens of millions of bottles of cooked/ mevushal winery to a winery half it's former size sacrificing quanity to insure better quality.  Israel Flam had also been the winemaker when Carmel first launched it's Yatir sattleilte. As well, Israel Flam was at the helm when Carmel's Limited Edition, Single Vineyard and Appellation series of wines started showing a finer side to Carmel. As Carmel attemted to shed the baggage of decades of flooding the market with ton after ton of "liquid religion" and bland bulk wine, Israel capped a 35 vintage career at Carmel with inertia in what almost everyone agrees is an appreciated direction.  Considering he was a major player spearheading a reformation towards quality at Israel's largest winemaker (which now produces about 30% of Israel's wine... about 15 million bottles of Israel's 50 million bottles), the Israeli wine drinker and the industry as a whole owe Israel Flam more than most people a measure of gratitude for the amount of quality wine now being produced with "Made in Israel" on the label.

 

   The fact that Israel Flam fathered a pair of sons who would go on to establish one of Israel's most beloved boutique wineries is a testament to him (and his wife) as well. Though Golan and Gilad have surely made the Flam Winery their own triumph in winemaking and marketing success, having their father available as a consultant must have surely provided levels of confidence and experitese that most starting wineries could only envy. 

    By most measures, the Flam Winery makes some of Israel's best wines.  Golan supervises each wine from it's early days as grapes in the ninety plots they contract (in the Upper Galilee and the Judean Hills) to a wine's fermentation, aging and bottling.  Most of their vineyard plots have long term contracts with growers insuring they have access for up to 25 years. The growers are paid by managing the production designated per dunam (about a quarter of an acre) rather than by the tonnage of grapes each plot produces. This practice is fairly standard with wineries seeking quality over quanity and it can at least triple to quadruple the cost of the grapes they're pressing into wine by restricting the yield by at least 2/3 to 3/4 or more of a higher yield attempt.


   Even though their winery has steadily grown from it's initial 600 bottles to about 95,000 bottles/year, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who'd say they've sacrificed quality along the way.  They've made measured steps each time they've sought to get expand production and by limiting their offering to a select few wines they've added a new offering here and there but haven't ever tried to bite off a bigger bite than they were seemingly able to chew. It's typically at about this level that most wineries have sought kosher certification if they hadn't already. The Flam Winery hasn't but Israel Flam insists that they're doing everything a kosher winery would be doing anyway and that his wines are "kosher but just not certified kosher."  Asked if they ever will seek certification, he responded "never say never," but there are no current plans.


    Their biggest selling wine is their entry level Classico series. This one wine series is about a 50/50 "Bordeaux blend" of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It's got more New World punch than the typical Bordeaux but not as heavily oaked as a California or Australian 50/50 blend might be. It's become extremely popular as a wine by the glass in trendy Tel Aviv wine bars and restaurants and ages only 6 months in the barrel and then 6 months in the bottle before being released. This wine retails for 74NIS at the winery. The Classico accounts for about 60,000 of the 95,000 bottles/year they're currently delivering to the marketplace.

 

flam classisco 

2008 Flam Classico, 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot

 

   Their second tier wine is their Flam Superiore wine. This wine is typically about 75 % Syrah and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon though it varies from year to year. The intention which might be soon realized is to make this wine an exclusiving Syrah wine. As their French clone vines have matured year after year, they've supported the flavor, backbone and complexity of the wine with older Cabernet Sauvignon stock. The feeling is sooner than later the Syrah will be ready to stand on its own though possibly it might find it's way into a blend with Mouvedre, another red Rhone grape they've been cultivating.  This wine matures for 12 months in the barrel before resting another 6 months in the bottle before release.

 

flam super

2007 Flam Superiore Syrah/ Cabernet Sauvignon

 

   The two top tier wines from Flam are their Merlot Reserve and Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. These two wines have consistently been two of the best received wines in Israel year after year.   The 2006 Flam Merlot Reserve is 90% Merlot from Upper Galilee and 10% Petit Verdot from the Judean Hills.  The 2006 Flam Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon 10% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot.  This wine received 90 points from Robert Parker,  a high score for an Israeli wine from an internationally recognized wine critic.  In this series of wines, they're aged for 18 months in oak before an additional 6 months in the bottle.

 

2006 flam merlot

2006 Flam Merlot Reserve

 

   In any given year, red wines typically make up about  85 to 90%  of the Flam Winery's production. About 10% of their production is comprised of an immensly popular white wine that is a Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend. It's in such high demand that it typically sells out from the winery within two months of release.

  This year the winery is also realeasing a 2009 Rose. More and more Israeli wineries are releasing roses. It's a sensible market to explore as warmer regions tend to lend themselves to making better received red than white wines though the heat of summer might tempt one to a chilled glass white or rose rather than a big tannic glass of red wine.  Their initial rose will be a Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend. The Cabernet Franc juice was in contact with the skins for a lengthy six and half hours giving the wine a deep strawberry hue. The Merlot juice was added strictly for flavor and was not left for any time with the skins.

 

2009 flam rose

2009 Flam Rose Cabernet Franc/Merlot

Although the Flam name speaks loudly to the last 30 years of winemaking in Israel and all the changes that have happened along the way, their wines being crafted by Golan Flam speak to a rewarding future as more and more great Israeli wineries emerge with an ever increasing selection of interesting and delicious wines.


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.

 

 

 


February 23, 2010February 23, 2010  0 comments  wine

When you visit Israel, explore the idea of trying out the local wines. Israeli wine has been undergoing a revolution lately and have received great reviews by many internationally recognized wine magazines (such as Wine Spectator in the US and Decanter Magazine in the UK) and critics (Hugh Johnson, Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson). One affordable way to try several Israeli wines is to have a personal tasting at your hotel or during a dinner along your travels here in israel.

Having a tasting at dinner or at your hotel can help you save time to visit other historical sites while in Israel (as there are so many) and can allow you to try some of Israel's best wines that don't have vistor centers.

Another option is to travel to a winery or two or three here in israel. There's over 256 although many don't have interesting visitors centers some do and I have many relationships witht the wineries to get you VIP treatment on these visits.


If you enjoy wine and want to make it part of your trip. Let's explore how we can do it together.

You can listen to my weekly wine show on Israeli wine on Rustymikeradio.com as well as listen to my more than 30 podcasts.


Or check out my over 50 articles on wine here on Travelujah,com

 

Did you know the first recorded mention of a wine in the world was that of Noah planting a vineyard in Genesis?

 

Did you also know that in Robert Parker's new wine book there's as many pages about Israeli wines as South African?


David Rhodes

israeliwineguy@gmail.com

052-702-WINE (9463)


November 25, 2010November 25, 2010  1 comments  wine

   There are usually unsong heros in most wine regions: winemakers and grape growers whose reputation and reknown haven't yet met the level of their contributions to the scene.  One such unsung hero in Israeli wine is Paul Dubb. He's not unknown in Israel among other winemakers but he's not the first name mentioned in wine circles overseas or among Israeli wine consumers when Israeli wine is mentioned. He should be more often than not. Paul is making some impressive wines at reasonable prices at the Tzuba Winery located in the Jerusalem Hills on the outskirts of the "Holy City". Paul has not only has made an impact at Tzuba but has made a ripple in the Israeli wine pond as he's matured as a winemaker and vintner.


  Paul was trained as vitaculturist in his native South Africa and helped Kfar Tzuba plant its first vines in the 1997. It was several years later in 2005 that the winery opened on the same named kibbutz (collective farm) its is located on. Paul was managing the vineyards from the start but after a kibbutznik served as the initial winemaker for the first two years, Paul grew into that role and proved to be a great fit. Even though Paul was never formally trained as a winemaker, he had been making dry wines since he was 16 and had always studied periphial studies that led him towards becoming a remarkable winemaker.  For instance, Paul's training as a chemist alows him to do all the lab work at the winery and not have to send samples of wines for testing to outside labs. He did a brief stint at the Tisbhi Winery (as many Israeli wine people have including yours truly, Yair Marglait, Adam Montefiore and Assaf Paz...good company to be in) and was the vineyard manager for the Castel Winery from 2000 until 2004 (when he left to become winemaker at Tzuba). Kfar Tzuba actually grows most of Castel's grapes under Eli Ben Zaken's direction. Tzuba grows for a few other notable Israeli wineries so they must be doing something right in the vineyard and as most week geeks know what makes good wine mostly goes in the vineyard. A winemaker can do more harm than good when great grapes are in play. Yet Paul handles his grapes adeptly and he plays a major role getting the grapes ready the way he sees fit to make the best wines from his vines.

   The first Tzuba wine that should come into play at a tasting of their wines is their only white dry wine in production, their Chardonnay.


The 2009 Tzuba Chardonnay is aged 50 % in new French Oak barrels for 4 months on the sur lees (the yeast after it has died after fermentation) and 50% in stainless steel.  No secondary malolactic fermentation is implemented to avoid the big body and creaminess that can overwhelm the fruit in many Chardonnays. Paul thinks malolactic ferementation in white wines make them too much like a red and strips away what makes a good white wines special: that crispiness that reds lack.

Paul likes the red grapefruit that emerges in his Chardonnay that he fears can be surpressed by over oaking in other's white wines and that's why he only commits 50% of the wine to oak which Paul says adds that classic Chardonnay aroma.

For 79 NIS or about $22 (at November 2010 rates of exchange) the wine is a great deal for one of Israel's best Chardonnays.


    Tzuba's Chardonnay is made from 100% free-run juice with the pressed grape juice going towards their Chardonnay fortified dessert wine.  This is currently Tzuba's only dry white wine although they've made other white wines in the past. Paul had found making a few white wines too labor intensive and logistically challenging for a small boutique yet wants to maintain at least one white wine in their portfolio to give a full range of wines to Tzuba's loyal fanbase.

    Right now, Paul only uses 100% French Oak for all of their wines and maintains that most of Israel's best wines follow suit though he is experimenting with American Oak that is designed to mimic French Oak and is interested in seeing how Amercan Oak can contribute to the complexity of their wines though he doesn't think there's a privation of complexity in Tzuba's wines but as an industrious winemaker he always experimenting on making his wines the best he can. He does concur with me that often the best winemakers are the one who can adaptly stay out of the way of their grapes and act as a midwife to delivering them into the best wine they can be with as little tinkering as possible.

    Previously the winery released Semillon, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc in different incarnations but now Tzuba sells off these grapes to other wineries. They do have access to them for future wines as they grow one can imagine they may come back to familiar grapes.  Originally, the winery made about 15 wines but under Paul they've culled themselves to 10 wines for now to regroup and focus on quality rather than quanity of labels though they want to continue to increase their production at about 15% to 20%  a year reaching 150,000 bottles in about six years from their current 40,000 bottles.


   Their 2008 Tzuba Cabernet Sauvignon shows a glimpse toward the potential bliss awaiting a Tzuba imbiber featuring 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with only 13.5% alcohol (14% on the label... laws allow a 1% deviation from the label). 13.5% is significantly lower alcohol for an Israeli red which typically flirt with 15% alcohol levels.

    This Cab features 100% free-run juice with pressed juice being used for less expensive offerings. The grapes are harvested at a lower brix (sugar in the grapes before harvest) level to insure lower alcohol level and to avoid prune flavors Paul says become more prevelant in more alcoholic Cabs.  The earlier harvest also provides added acidity that lessens the need for tinkering with the wine's acidity at the winery which is fairly prevelant in warmer New World wineries.  Its a reasonable 89 NIS (about $25), a more than fair price for a Cabernet Sauvignon of this quality and though Paul thinks the wine might age for another ten years he suggests the wine will be best drunk within the next 4 to 5 years as Paul believes most Israeli reds don't age as long as their overseas rivals as the grapes ripen faster here and don't develop sufficient aging compounds to get longer shelf life. Since most people drink wine the night they buy a wine or at latest within 6 months it should more than adequately satisfy the wants and needs of most buyers. Only about 5% of wine consumers cellar their wines, so having wines that are easier to drink from day one is more of a marketing boon than a bust or at least it should be.

    HaMetzuda is Tzuba's top tier wine. Like many other flagship reds worldwide it's a Bordeaux derived grape blended wine.  The 2007 Tzuba HaMetzuda featured about 75 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Malbec.  This wine features 100% free-run juice and retails at a more than reasonable 115 NIS. It easily meets or even surpasses it's price point's built in expectations by most consumers at this range.  It's full-flavored and well balanced with consisitent body from start to finish.  Aged for 24 months in all French Oak (60% new and 40% one year's vintage), this wine doesn't present as being overoaked though oak is present in the flavors. Black currant, black and red raspberries and cherries and a dark plum finish meld with some green pepper,  fruit cake, mocha, slight tobacco and lingering leather undertones.

   The yet to be released 2008  HaMetzuda shows even greater promise commercially than the 2007. Paul aged the 2008 for only 18 months and a lesser reliance on Cabernet in this blend may have paid dividends as well. The fruit shines through ore brilliantly here than the 2007 (though I appreciate the 2007 in it's own right as being different and not inferior in any way other than not as fruity as most Israelis seem to crave.  The 2008 is 60% Cab Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. The wine exhibits deeper color than the 2007 partly from being younger and partly to what Paul attributes to the addition of the Cabernet Franc. It's nicely balanced as well and the Cabernet Franc lends a bit of floral aroma to the mix of flavors evident in 2007. The mocha seemed a little less prevelant and maybe less oak and no Malbec contribute towards these ends.

 Either way, these wines are great values for buyers who often pay 50% to 100% more for wines of this quality at other Israeli wineries.  I look forward to returning to trying the rest of Tzuba's ten wines and future vintages (though trying previous vintages would be a treat as well).


Other wines currently available in their line up include their:

2008 Tzuba Shiraz

2007 & 2008 Tzuba Merlot

2008 Tzuba Sangiovese


2007  Tzuba Pinot Noir

Whichever wine you try from Tzuba be rest assured that they are making great wines for a more than reasonable price and that even though a lot of critics haven't caught on to their wines you can be the first of your friends to sing their praises. After the critics wake-up expect their prices to eventually climb as demand soars.


David Rhodes can best be reached at

052-702-9463 (mobile in Israel)

israeliwineguy@gmail.com

Davids hosts the world's only English language radio show and podcast about Israeli wines at Rustymikeradio.com  and is available for tours, lectures  and private tastings about Israeli wines for those living or visiting in Israel.

David also acts a consulting sommelier for restaurants and a cellar consultant and broker for those seeking qaulity wines at the bests prices in Israel.





September 30, 2010September 30, 2010  0 comments  wine

       Italian food for many is comfort food when traveling overseas. Although trying local cuisines appeal to many tourists, many are easily discouraged and steer towards more familiar fare. Italian food is a staple for American diners and can be a safe bet for them dining out in Israel. Pasta aficionados will even find selections at many Israeli coffee shops but they will need to be more selective to experience a memorable meal.

      One place sure to illicit interest and a return visit is the Italiana Nella Stazione (which also goes by Italkia Ba'Tachana... the Hebrew transliteration literally meaning "Italian in the station"). Specializing in Southern Italian Cuisine and Seafood, this new restaurant offers a lot of promise for tourists who want a delicious meal in a scenic local. The aforementioned station is a new development renovated from what was a historic railroad station and industrial park in Tel Aviv, a short walk south to Jaffa, the newly gentrified Neve Tzedik neighborhood and Tel Aviv's ritziest hotels along it's southern beachfront. Showcasing fashion boutique, custom jewelers art galleries and other destination tenants, the station is like a premium outdoor mall and well worth exploring. The restaurant is nestled right in the middle of the complex in what was presumed to be a converted residence. It's a rustic building that seems to date back to Tel Aviv's earliest days.

       The food may resemble many traditional Southern Italian dishes but there's a modern twist on several. The highlights for many will be found amongst the well conceived selection of first courses/appetizers which include standard fare such as Caeser and capri salads or minestrone soup as well a spectacular chicken liver pate. The entrees include several pasta selections, steak for those who insist on getting meat where ever they dine but the restaurant takes great pride in its fresh seafood including an israeli specialty Sea Bream, a light white fish, served several ways. Five pizzas round out the menu which makes the restaurant more family friendly but the prices and ambiance lend itself more to dates and business meals. Business lunch specials which include a first course or dessert and choice of several entrees are very popular with the local regulars and are served until 6 PM which makes for a good early bird dinner choice as well.

      An extensive wine list offers some of Israel's best reds and whites as well as some expected Italian selections. A 40 NIS (about $10) corkage per bottle is charged if you choose to bring your own wine (but remember the custom is to call ahead and make sure it's not on the list of what they carry). Traditional Italian desserts, speciality cocktails and a full bar round out the possibilities for a pleasurable afternoon or evening of fine Italian dining just meters away from the Mediterranean Ocean. The  Southern Italian menu is the creation of well known Israeli Chef Amir Marcovitz.

 

     Open for business 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Weekdays opening hours are from 9:00 AM till midnight. On Saturdays open at 10:00 AM. On weekdays the business menu lunch is served between noon to 6:00 PM.
 Parking is available adjacent to the Old Train Station . Italkia Ba'Tachana, Ha'Tachana , Call 03-5222664 for directions or reservations.


October 7, 2010October 7, 2010  0 comments  wine

    Last night I attended for my first time, the Ramit Aviv Wine Festival at the Haaretz Museum (just north of Tel Aviv). It's the largest annual festival in Tel Aviv slated specifically towards the public attending. The musuem gardens, accented by lit olive trees, provided the perfect back drop for dozens of wineries offereing more than 100 wines for guests to sample. The event goes on for two evenings culimating this evening from 6 until 11PM. The cost is 59 NIS (about $17) for unlimited tastings.  Several food vendors were selling fresh sushi, piping hot and tasty pizzas to order, pretzals and best all a wide assortment of gourmet kosher cheese plates.

    The experience is well worth the price of admission. Several of Issrael's largest wineries are participating. The Carmel Winery , Israel's largest, is offering their appelation series wines which in their several series is situated in the lower end of their high end or the high end of their lower but definetly provide some  of their best value wines. Their Cabernet Franc is one of favorites in this series because it's onr of the least expensive Cabernet Franc's in Israel but still provides the drinker with enough varietal characteristics to develop a taste for this ever more popular Israeli version of a Bordeaux varietal. 

The Barkan Winery, Israel's second largest, alsp offered a decent amount of wines and their Pinotage (a South African varietal) is a wine fairly unique to them. They were also offering their Altitude series (412, 624 and 720) of Cabernet Sauvignons which differrentiate from each other by listing the altittude of each winery on the label and are a popular series with israeli consumers seeking to learn more about this powerhouse varietal.

 

Israel's 3rd largest Winery was also in attendance, the Golan Heights Winery. serving mostly their entry level Gamla series of wines, these wines represent some of the best value single varietal wines in Israel. Their sister winery, the Galil Mountain Winery was situated nearby and their Viognier seemed very popular with people as I walked by.

The Binyamina Winery, was affably serving several of their Reserve wines and their Late Harvest Gewurztraminer was a welcome to all dry wines.  They have a great winemaking team that's bringing this winery into the fore front of well respected Israeli wineries.

The Tishbi Winery, Israel's largest family owned and operated winery, are offering several of their Estate wines and were giving an advanced tasting of a promising 2007 Petite Sirah (which would be their first release of Petite Sirah as an Estate wine).

For larger wineries the Dalton, Recanati and Tabor wineries were noticebly absent from the mix but wineries need to pick and choose which events to attend and how big of a footprint they wil make so they're probably mashalling their resources for a bigger presence at an upcoming alternative event such as the Sommelier in November.

There were several noteworthy smaller wineries ranging from those producing 5,000 too 80,000 bottles. The Mond Winery seemed to be a fan favorite and their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the better wines at the whole event. Their Red Blend was possibly the best value wine at only 49 NIS (about $14). It was more expressive and balanced than many wines selling for almost twice as much.

Red Poetry is an interesting boutique winery who also grows grapes used by other wineries big and small. Their wines are typically unique foten offering atypical blends such as Sangiovese and Merlot or unusual but deirable single varietals such as Mourvedre yet they don't just survive on the fringes and make a highly quaffable Cabernet Sauvignon.


David Ventura's Domaine Ventura is one of Israel's newest and more interesting up and coming boutiques. Located on the outskirts of Jerusalem, French born David is making many French style wines with an Israeli twist. Making mostly reds, he made his first white for relaese a delectable Chardonnay.  His reds vary from tradtional Bordeaux single varietal Cabernet Sauvgnon and Cabernet Franc to an unusual blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.

Another new face on the scene is the Mount Blessing Winery. A little off the beaten path, located east of the green line, Mount Blessing might have people beating down their doors sonner than later once the word gets out how interesting their wine can be.

The Psagot Winery is also one not to be missed and their Cabernet Franc captured my attention and imagination of who I might share my next bottle with.

Overall, even though the festival wasn't as wild as other's I've attended, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, the attendees as well as the presenters and I look forward to going back tonight for more of the same.

 

David Rhodes

052-702-WINE (9463)

israeliwineguy@gmail.com

 


October 21, 2010October 21, 2010  1 comments  wine

Mostly every winery has a story worth telling. I'd venture to say that wineries with the most interesting stories often make the most interesting wines.  One winery whose story pulls on the heart strings as well as pleases the palette is the Tulip Winery. Located in Kfar Tikva ( Hebrew for "village of hope"), this family owned winery is gaining more and more fans for their wines every year; yet, sometimes their inspiring story overshadows their delicious wines.

Kfar Tikva is a village founded about 40 years ago dedicated to assisted living for disability challenged adults. All residents are over 21 and have employment opportunities in the village. Their primary employer is a Sabbath candle factory although the Tulip Winery also employs 5 residents (or about half their staff) in various roles about their facility.

Regardless of who is working at the winery, purchasing their wine shouldn't be seen solely as a charitable act unless your taste buds are your favorite charity. 

Founded in 2003 by the Itzhaki family (who lives nearby) they've secured the services of Israeli winemaker Tamir Arzy.

They currently have about four series of wines (depending on how you count them) and comparitive value can be found at each level.

Their introductory (less-expensive wines) are their Just Series. The Just wines are 100% single varietals so they're great educational tools for wine newcomers who want to learn individual grape varietals. Wine veterans will find this series a good cross between value and quality for everyday drinking rather than raiding their stash of aging premium wines.  They're only oak-aged for eight months which allows the fruit flavor and aroma profiles to really shine  through.


Tulip's Just Cabernet Sauvignon and Just Merlot at 67 NIS (about $19)  a common enough price point for Israeli boutique wines yet there's more there there than many lesser offereing from many other wineries at the same price point.

Their only white wine is White Tulip, also 67 NIS, and is an interesting blend of 70% Gewurztraminer and 30% Sauvignon Blanc (which are becoming more popular blending partners in Israel as well as popular single varietal wines). It nicely blends the expected white fruit flavors of Gewurz such as peach, apricot and lychee with citric, grassy, kiwi flavors of Sauvignon Blanc.

Many smaller boutiques don't even make white wines as they require aditional equipment and a different set of skill sets than making red wines. I often refer to white wines as "little princesses" because they tend to show every flaw where the deep dark color and viscoisty of red wines can hide  minor transgressions. Most Israeli boutiques that approach 100,000 bottles a year eventually add a white or a few to their portfolio as it gives them better market penetration. Roses also are also more common with larger wineries as well though Tulip doesn't currently offer one.


With their 2010 vintage, Tulip plans to become certified kosher and their grapes and wine from this vintage were handled in a way to  prepare for this evoluntionary change. There are added expenses to making wine kosher so most Israeli boutiques don't make this change until they approach 100,000 bottles as the economy of scale helps defray that cost over many more bottles than say a 10,000 bottle/year winery. The 2010 White Tulip which isn't oak aged should be their first kosher release hopefully in time the 2011 Israeli summer.

Their next tier of wines is their Mostly series featuring a Mostly Shiraz and Mostly Cabernet Franc. At 79 NIS (about $22) , it's not staggering leap in price from the 67 NIS (about $17) Just series but an experienced wine taster might find the Mostly wines more expressive, balanced and complex with a longer finish than the younger Just wines. The Mostly Cabernet Franc is 85% Cab Franc and !5% Cab Sauvignon which adds some body, structure, complexity and most likely tannins to the wine. The 85 % threshold of a single varietal is important for labeling wines a single varieatal for potential export to the US and EU. These wines are also barrel aged in French and American oak for 14 months which helps justisty the marginal cost difference with the Just series.

Mostly Shiraz is 65% Shiraz, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. The addition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot seeminly add a lot of complexity that is lacking from other bombastic fruity Shiraz's appearing more frequrntly in wine shops. Flavors of Black Cherries, Plums and Blueberries were most evident to me at this tasting.

 

The most accessable of their top tier wines are Tulip's Reserve series. At 95 NIS (about $27), their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Reserve Shiraz are oak aged for 18 months and they have enough fruit to med with the additional tannins and oak induced flavors to age gracefully. The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is enhanced with 10% Cabernet Franc which typically is added to add acidity (which often is lacking in warmer region reds) and softer tannins.

The 2008 Syrah Reserve is 90% Syrah and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Even though Syrah and Shiraz are actually genetically the same grape, different clones exist which emphasize different styles. Often the Shiraz varieties can be jammy fruiit bombs that could remind drinkers of an Australian bottle where Syrah tend to emulate French Rhone or Caliifornia Syrah which can be more nuanced and earthier than wines labeled Shiraz.  The wine is as dark and deeply purple as octopus ink which often indicates the intensity of flavor and breath of body in Syrah/Shiraz as well as Petite Sirah. In Petite Sirah though this backbone often overwhelms the nuance one expects or desires from a premium wine although more sophsiticated Peitie Sirah's in Israel and California are becoming more common..

 

Their highest tier is their Black Tulip wine and at 175 NIS is a typical price point for many wineries' most limited released dry red wine although a few wineries recently launched new "Ultra-premium" wines at almost twice that price.  Black Tulip is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 % Merlot, 13 % Cabernet Franc and 7 % Petit Verdot which might be catergorized as a Bordeuax style blend (Malbec being the only possible component grape not present). With only 3,000 bottles made it's scarcity helps justify the cost but it also receives 2 /12 years in oak which is extensive compared to most Israeli wines.

Currently, the winery offers free tasting to the public on Friday and Saturdays (though that might change once the winery is serving kosher wines) and the winery typically gives free tastings of one white and two red wines though more elaborate tastings are available at an additional cost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


October 29, 2010October 29, 2010  0 comments  wine

Located on Kibbutz Eyal (on the outskirts Kfar Sava) within a few steps of the well-established and prestigious Saslove Winery is Avidan. Less well known than it's neighbor, Avidan is rightfully and rapidly gaining it's own notoriety for the quality and unique character of their wines. Like it's neighbor, Avidan is a family affair.

Shlomo Avidan, who was the initial winemaker and studied under the iconic Ya'ir Margalit now manages the vineyards. Tsina Avidan, his wife, has grown into the role of winemaker. Their daughter Shira focuses on marketing but all three work as a team and make many of the decisions together.  Seemingly, its a formula that works well as their wines get rave reviews that might incite envy from many larger or longer established wineries. Shlomo's position as one of the managers of Discount Bank gives them the financial freedom to make wines the way they want to and not just to satisfy market demands. That being said they've grown from a garage winery started in Ra'anana in 2000 to a viable commercial boutique winery in 2004 when they moved to Kibbutz Eyal. Avidan now produces about 25,000 to 30,000 bottles a year.


Avidan's wines are a delight for a wine geek like me and anyone who wants to see traditional wines made with a flare or non-traditional wines made well enough to draw the praise of often jaded wine critics and sommeliers. Newcomers may shy away because of the price (which considering the quality is a steal compared to similarly lauded wines) or because some of the wines are non-traditional blends but the truth is in the tasting and many of their wines could convert the uninitiated into aspiring connesoirs.

The wines are split into three series and the make-up of each wine can change from year to year.


The Blend des Noirs is typically their biggest selling wine and is a blend of various grapes used in their other wines. In 2008, they made two blends, the Tag Segol ("the Purple") and the Tag Katom.

From an outsider, it seems like it might be two different approaches to making a similar wine.


The 2008 Tag Segol is 40% Merlot, 25% Shiraz, 20% Petite Sirah and 15% Carignan. Merlot tends to have softer tannins than the other three grapes would seem to add structure and firmer tannins as well as complexity. It's an unusual blend so the combination of flavors should be a refreshing change for many drinkers and the Shiraz and Petite Sirah also contribute the Deep Purple of Octopus Ink that those grapes typically imbue into wine. Blackberries and Blueberries come through for fruits. Black Pepper is a Petite Sirah trademark that shines through with chocolate and vanilla coming through from the Merlot and through the combination of 12 months aging in American and French Oak.


The 2008 Tag Katom is 40 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 25% Grenache. Starting with a base of Cabernet Sauvignon, a meaty wine with firm tannins it's softened with the addition of Merlot and gregarious Grenache ( a grape Avidan is helping proving worthy of further attention from other Israeli winemakers in blends and as a single varietal). Also aged in French and American Oak for 12 months.  The 2007 scored an 88 from Robert Parker.

The Fringe series offers a glimpse of the potential of Avidan as a game changer in Israeli winemaking. These wines, too, can change by name and grapes year to year. In fact, that's one of the most redeeming an couragous aspects of the winery that maintains their artisinal approach over commerical concerns. Each year, they make wines they want to make the best wine that their grapes allow.  Tsina told me it's like a sculptor who might say the stone dictates how they sculpt the rock that the grapes often dictate how she makes the wine and what wine she makes. she sees her role as sort of a mid-wife for the wine and Avidan wines often display this Old World perpective of winemaking.  Even though many of their wines are marketed as single varietals they don't seem to have an attachment to building a brand for customers to follow as much as earning the faith that their wines will be interesting and the best wines they can deliver.

 

The 2007 Avidan "Fringe" Prio  has become a pride and joy of the winery after receiving special attention from some revered sommeliers at a small tasting recently in France.   A blend of Carignan, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot this wine along with other boutique wines from `Vitken, Somek and Smadar show a growing affection by Boutique winemakers for what was once a reviled grape that was a victim of neglect and abuse of high yield harvests from younger vines rather than inherent flaws of the varietal.

The 2008 Avidan "Fringe" Full Wine is a more traditioanl blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and Petite Sirah (40%). This wine might show the influence of the Margalit clan on Avidan since Margalit's Cabernet Reserve is about 85% Cab and 15% Petite Sirah but the differences in blends and vineyard locations (as well as several other winemaking variables) result in two dramatically different wines (though by many both highly desirable).

This wine could be called a "New World" wine made with Old World sensabilities. A Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah blend wouldn't be that uncommon in California but Petite Sirah never caught on its home of France (or anywhere else in Europe) before it finding favor in winemakers and consumers in America before coming to Israel. Although, part of a blend here and in other Avidan wines it's also becoming more popular as a single varietal as it gets more TLC in the vineyards which give it the character to get top billing as part of a Carmel Appelation wine or at the notable Chillag Winery (where winemaker Orna Chillag has been a role model for other Israeli women winemakers).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Avidan Winery is open Friday and Saturdays 11am to 4 PM but is open by appointment on other days.

Contact Information:


Avidan Winery

Kibbutz Eyal

Mobile Post Central Sharon, Israel 45840


e-mail: Avidanwine@walla.com

Telephone: 09-7719382

Fax:           09-7712679

 

 

 


February 23, 2011February 23, 2011  1 comments  wine

       Today, I got to visit for my old friends (comparatively speaking in Israel) at Recanati. I thoroughly enjoy talking about wineries of their ilk because Recanati does a great job making great wines at different price points and their wines seem to get better year after year ( and they're only 20 minutes from where I live ttoo). This visit had some special significance because it was my first official tasting of their 2008 premium wines outside of tasting at events when there's too much additional stimulation to appreciate a wine without distraction and with the insight from the winemakers how they got to what your tasting in the glass. 

      The 2008 vintage wines have a special meaning at Recanati because the team of winemakers changed and this was their first vintage to see how the change reflected in the wines. The entry level reds of 2008 have been out a while but the higher end 2008's (Reserve now and the Special Reserve Red not too far down the road) which were aged longer are now on the shelves and there are noticable differences from previous incarnations.

      Gil Shatsberg and Ido Lewinsohn make up the current dynamic duo of winemakers at Recanati. Even though Gil holds the title of senior winemaker, it's very much a collaborative effort and that seems to make for better wines as each brings a different background to the winery. Gil had training at UC Davis, the most preeminent wine school in the USA and worked at Carmel, Israel's largest winery and was the sole winemaker at the Amphorae Winery before taking over from founding winemaker, fellow UC Davis grad Lewis Pasco. Ido has studied extensively in Italy, France and Australia and interned at Israel's prestigious boutique Margalit Winery and worked with Lewis before Gil took the helm. Between them they literally have a world's experience of winemaking.

    So, how are things different in their newest wines from Recanati's and most other Israeli wines?

    First, there's a difference in the white wines. Let's look at their two different Chardonnays the 2009 Recanati Chardonnay and 2009 Recanati Chardonnay Reserve. They differ less from each other than most Israeli or other "New World" (outside Europe) Chardonnays. They both avoid the malolactic ferementation process that has become so common with New World Chardonnays. Malolactic fermentation is a seconday fermention process (the primary turns sugar into alcohol and CO2). The process turns the prevelant astringent maliic acid in wine into a smoother silkier creamier lactic acid.  Lactic acid is the acid prevelant in dairy products. The drawback of this process is much of the fruitiness and varietal character is lost in this process. This also gives many Chardonnays the weight people associate with the grape alhtough oak aging also adds to this equation as well.  But, both Gil and Ido have developed an aversion to bombastic wines and strive to make more elegant wines. So one way to still give a body to the wine but bypassing the malolactic conversion is to age their Chardonnay sur lees or with the yeast after its died after fermentation. This is common enough in European whites but rarer in New World Whites. Preserving the acidity also preserves a crispness that is more true to the varietal and helps good Chardonnays age into great Chardonnays. A few other Chardonnays in Israel also have embraced this technique including the Tzuba and Tzora wineries.

 

Recanati 2009 Whites

2009 Recanati Special Reserve White

2009 Recanati Chardonnay

2009 Recanati Chardonnay Reserve

 

    Although Ido wouldn't say he thinks their 2009 Chardonnay is better than their 2009 Reserve Chardonnay he does admit it suits his personal taste of a less oaky Chardonnay where the Reserve should be popular with American drinkers who generally have a quencihng thirst for heavier oaked Chards.

   In the 2008 reds and beyond some noticeble changes have also arrived. One of the major changes happens in the vineyard where in the past the wineery may have harvested as late as possible to get the most ripe or even overripe grapes to insure maximum sugar and therefore  higher alcohol ...) Gil & Ido have been favoring harvesting as early as possible to get added acidity from the grapes and more nuanced, greener (i.e. more Old World) less sugar i.e., less alcoholic wines. Additionally, they're favoring using less "New Oak" (unused barrels) for older oak and shorter exposure times in many wines and seeking preservatives from the acidity rather than from more traditional oak tannins. Now, it's not a long stretch of rational thinking because acidity is what most notable white wines depend on for their longevity but to rely on it for a red wine is fairly innovative and counter conventional wisdom where the tannins from the skins or barrels are more often relied on.  Time will tell as this new generation of Recanati wines age but if Gil & Ido got it right (and I suspect they did) it could be a game changer in how most quality Israeli wines are made.

   Another change which may or not be noticable is that almost all of the Recanati Reserve wines except the Petite Sirah/Zinfandel are Single Vineyard wines). This may not make any of the wines better per se but it will make them more unique and an expression of terroir rather than market driven more homeginized wines.   Recanati does have some impressive plots in the Galilee and the Judean Hills so this Single Vineyard approach I think will help promote the appelations the wines derive from as well. 

    There's been a bug push in the last few years as more and more big and mid size Israeli wineries make their higher tier wines single vineyard wines. Many boutique do it easily because their small production warrants a single vineyard (or less and sell of the remaining grapes) or they have limited access to grapes as they buy on the open market and haven't the long term contracts that more established wineries secure to insure a long term supply.

 

Dave at Recanati 2/23/11

OK the white wine's were a great start...now on to the reds

Enjoying Recanati's 2007 Special Reserve Red

 

     If that wasn't enough of a change on the macro scale another major change is happening on the micro change as the wines are going through a dramatically different filtration system. Filtration is a big factor on how the finish product presents itself. Filtering through a filter with larger holes allows for more color and body to remain in the wine. Recanati uses extensive and more labor intensive racking the wines to help clarify the wines that a more exacting filtration would accomplish. It's a lot more work but to avoid a more precise yet body/color robbing filtering, Recanati and many other wineries insist on taking that extra measure. To illustrate the point the winery's current filtration is about 1/3 to 1/4 as exacting as previous measures but when compensated for in racking that's plus and not the cosmetic and textural minus it might be otherwise.

I'll revist the winery sooner than later to try their remaining wines like their Cabs, Merlots, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc as well as their Yasmin entry level blends and their highly regarded Rose.

 

 

 

wines tasted today 2/23/11

 


2009 Recanati Chardonnay


2009 Recanati Chardonnay Reserve


2009 Recanati Special Reserve White


2008 Recanati Cabernet Franc


2008 Recanati Petite Sirah/Zinfandel


2007 Recanati Special Reserve Red

 


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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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