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Tags - merlot
Not only does the Saslove Winery make some of Israel's best wines, they also throw some of the most hospitable tastings. On Friday,December 11th they hosted their yearly preview of what wines were maturing in their barrels. There was a lot of treats for their club members and those lucky few to get invitations (like me). Israel's most notable father/daughter winemaking team, Barry & Roni Saslove, were both captiviating speakers as they seemed to enthrall the attendees interchangebly in Hebrew and English.
Barry's been making wine in Israel since 1991 and his middle daughter Roni has been involved in every vintage since with her contributions becoming more and more signifcant as the years have gone by. The last seven she's graduated from being a helper to that a contributing winemaker and last year she took a year's sabbatical from the winery to further her studies spending a year in Canada at Brock University in an advanced oenology and viniculture program. So now even at the relatively young age of 32 her 17 years of experience
Fridays and Saturdays
The Tishbi Winery, located in Binyamina, is one of Israel's better known wineries. With a history of grape growing and winemaking going back for five generations, it's wines have mirrored the trend of improving quality since it's inception in 1985.
Jonathan Tishbi, the founder of the winery grew grapes for the the Carmel collective before launching his own commercial winery. Even though his son Golan Tishbi oversees most of the winemaking details, Jonathan stills steers the helm, chairs marketing meetings and supervises many of the day to day business affairs. This kind of father/son team work has been proven sucessful at other notable wineries in Israel such as Domaine du Castel in the Judean Hiills and Margalit south of Hadera. Each winemaker son interned or studied overseas and upon their return grew into the winemaker while their fathers continued on as mentors and cheif executives. Even though Jonathan is clearly in charge of a staff of 50 employees no job is too small for him or other family members. Golan modestly says 95% of a good wine's quality comes from good grapes and few grapegrowers have more experience or family tradition in their pocket than Jonathan Tishbi.
Jonathan can often be seen driving the forklift or even filling bottles at the Visitor Center or dining with guests at the vistor center. This isn't the kind of hands on involvement you typically see at Israel's more corporate wineries and the Tishbi's present themselves as Israel's largest family owned winery producing about 1 million bottles/year. They claim their persomal involvment helps them keep the standards they've attained and kept on track for future improvements in their wines as well as their dining facilites.
Daughter Oshra Tishbi has introduced a line of fine foods to the family's product line that compliment the efforts of the winery including Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Wine Jellies and Jams. The sold out of last years production, are dramatically increasing this years and our making many of their jams kosher for passover this year. She's managed to secure a place in Israel's culinary scene and founded the wineries thriving restaurant/wine shop ion the main thoroughfare of neighboring Zichron Yaakov to the north.
The winery has a wide range of selection for the buyer to choose from with four lines. The entry level Tishbi series include a Cabernet-Petite Sirah blend which has been a year to year staple of the winery and as a table wine wine has been a driving force in the winery. At 25-32 NIS or about $ 6-8/bottle it's an unoaked, drink now red that's priced to move and popular for large parties and is available like many of their entry-level wines as mevushal wines when the mevushal process is required by certain kosher consumers.
The mid-range Vineyard series offers some of their best bang for the buck (or sheckel) wines though at every level their wines match well with others in Israel for the same price. This is where their Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc singe varietal wines are offered with reds selling at about 43 NIS or $11/ bottle with the whites at about 32 NIS or $8.
The Estate series is where we start to see some of Tishbi's award winning wines. With hundreds of dunams ( an Ottoman measurement used in the Middle East which equals about 1/4 acre) to choose from, the finest grapes are often chosen for the Estate wines. Since many of these grapes are grown at much lower yields than other grapes for other wines the cost needs to be reflected in the bottle price. The reds in this series sell for about 85 NIS or $21.
Their best grapes of the year go into their Jonathan Tishbi Reserve series of wines. Though not released every year for the winemaker, Golan wants to make sure this series is exceptional and if the grapes don't warrant it or somewhere in the production process the wine falls even slightly shy of his highest standards for this series. Their 2004 Sde Boker Reserve, a classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc is well worth the 169 NIS (about $42) charged at the winery. It was written up this year by maybe the world's most famous wine blogger, Gary Vandechuk, as his favorite kosher wine and his 4th favorite wine in his book on his favorite 101 Wines. As praised as the 2004 Reserve has been, I was lucky enough to taste the 2007 Reserve from the barrel and I think it might even have more potential to bring even more attention and acclaim to Golan who has only been a winemaker for less than ten years (relatively a few years for a winemaker in charge of such a large winery).
The winery has several special events throughout the year a the visitor center attached to the winery in Binyamina ( a short bus ride from the Binyamina train station)sincluding a Jazz series that host about 100 guests and a grander Junior party every November featuring a Beaujolais Noveau style wine catered to about 600.
The Visitor Center features a kosher restaurant to complement the kosher wines. As kosher restaurants either feature meat or diary dishes, the restaurant offers only dairy dishes including breakfast dishes such as omelets, Shashuka (a traditional Morracan dish featuring eggs on top of stewed tomatoes) and lunch dishes such as pasta, salads and pizza. The pizza oven has a special meaning for the winemaker, Golan, as he made the oven himself and I've kidded him he's so proud of it he should have a picture of in his wallet. I have to admit as someone born in the States, Israeli pizzas don't ussually impress me that much but these pizzas are a welcome exception with dough made on the premises and the freshest toppings to choose from. Since they serve dairy dishes they also serve great cheese plates serving local israeli gourmet cheeses and the cheeses are also available to go by the kilo. The Visitor Center is open 8-5PM Sunday through Thursday and Fridays until 3PM with the restaurant being open until 3PM Sunday through Friday. All kosher restaurants are required to be closed on the Sabbath: Friday Sunset to Saturday Sunset.
Anyone wanting a later wining or dining expereince with Tishbi wines should visit their Tishbi Wine Shop/ Bistro in Zichron Ya'acov just a few kilometers north of their winery. At the entry way into the town's main boardwalk, it's a great starting place touring one of Israel's most scenic towns or a last stop out of town as it's open to midnight everynight but Friday. It has a similar but more extensive menu than the Wineries vistor center with all their wines for sale though it's a much more happening eatery with a sidewalk cafe feel that reminds one of any other Mediterranean thoroughfare. This restaurant is also kosher but there's nothing about kosher food that should intimidate non-Jewish diners as you wouldn't even know if it wasn't mentioned.
Cabernet Sauvignon in Israel, like most of the wine world, is the king of red wine grapes. One of the five blending grapes used in many of the world's most sought after wines in it's original home of the Bordeaux region in France. It's typically the principal grape blended with any one or more with the other four (Merlot, Caberent Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot).
In the New World of wine, defined as anywhere outside of traditonal European wine regions, Caberent Sauvignon has broken through the shroud of obsticating French wine labels that most often display the region or vineyard but not the grapes on the label. Used in Israel and other "New World" wine regions most often on it's own to make wine's that are fruit bombs and less nuanced than it's traditional roots in France. FYI: Many wine regions define a blend as any wine with less than 75% or 85% of one principal grape. So a wine for instance with 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot and 5% Petite Verdot might not be considered a blend but marketed as a single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon while a wine with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon 35% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc would be a blend.
Many notable Israeli wineries are making Bordeaux-type blends as their top-tier reserve wines (such as Domaine du Castel's Grand Vin, Carmel's Limited Edition, Yatir's Yatir Forest and Tishbi's Jonathan Tishbi Reserve Sde Boker ) while others are making Cabernet principals their top tier wines (such as Margalit). Either way, Cabernet plays a major role in most Israeli premier wines.
It is questionable whether in the future for Israel to create a bigger niche in the world wine market if Cabernet Sauvignon will remain the grape most widely associated with Israel although right now Cabernet and Cabernet blends are accounting for the majority of world recognized wines (for now).
Fruit Flavors: Black Fruit such as Black Currant/Cassis, Blackberries, Black Cherries and Plum
Herbal/Vegetative: bell pepper, olive and green bean
Other flavors: pepper, cinnamon, chocolate, coffee, vanilla and cigar box
Apple, pear, blackberry, elderberry, shallot, domestic and wild mushrooms, wild rice, fresh tarragon, basil, mint, green peppercorn, cinnamon, nutmeg,
allspice, nuts with stronger tannins like hazelnut, pecan and walnuts Most People find tomato or orange sauces clash with Cabernet Sauvignon maybe try Cabernet Franc instead which has higher acidity. * Adapted from Wine & Food Affinities by Karen Johnson
Other Notable Wine Regions: Bordeaux, France, Tuscany ( Super Tuscans) , Italy, California, Washington State, USA, South Africa and Chile
There's a few different doors through which people enter into working with wine. Many come into wine through the hospitality industry. Caterers, hotel and restaurant workers and owners have many opportunites to learn about wine through tasting the wines they serve. The wineries and distributors will often go to great effort and expense to give their staffs training (Eli Ben Zaken at Domaine du Castel for example was the owner of the Italian restaurant Mamma Mia in Jerusalem before making his fiirst wine). In Israel, many children were lucky enough to have their parents catch the bug before them and have had a winery to set their sights on early in life. (Assaf Margalit and Golan Tishbi are examples of such winemakers who followed in their father's footsteps). Many winery owners switched from wine successful career paths in unrelated industries to the more romantic venture of winemaking (count Dalton and Recanati amoung these Israeli wineries). Some others entered through their curiousity while following academic pursuits ( I first studied wine through my college's geography department and Yair Margalit was a research chemist at UC Davis, which hosts one of the world's most famous wine programs). Much more rare but becoming more common is when a child paves the way for a parent. Ido Lewinsohn and his father Amnon are such a pair of aspiring wine entrepeneurs.
Ido has gained an immense amount of diverse winemaking experiences in a relatively short span of time. Besides launching his new and promising winery, Ido serves as a winemaker at the award winning Recanati winery under the tutelage of noted winemaker Gil Shatsberg. Ido has been been there for about two years so he was there when the winery went through it's transition from Recanati's founding winemaker Lewis Pasco in 2008 to Gil who had come over from the pretigious boutique Amphorae. Amnon Lewinsohn, had a long and fruitful career as a mechanical engineer before partnering with his son on making fine wines. For a small winery, a mechanical engineer is an asset of immeasurable value. There are so many devices that need tinkering and many processes that can benefit from a trained eye especially in the limited space starting wineries often inhabit. Incidently, Ido mother's maiden name, Winezoff, loosely translates from Polish into "wine taster" so maybe a recessive gene is partly responable for Ido's devotion to oenology.
Unlike many of the previous generation of Israeli winemakers, Ido and many of his contempories have had intensive training and work expereince in international wine schools, vineyards and wineries. Ido started quenching his curiousity about wine at the University of Milan where he studied oenology and viticulture. Since his initial studies, his practical experience has been bountiful and well traveled. From the "Old World"of European origin, he worked at the 2002 vintage of Domaine Haut Lirou in the Pic St. Loup appelation in the Languedoc region of France. In 2004, he returned to Italy to the Sassicaia Winery, in Tuscany, a producer of of notable "Super Tuscans." In 2005, he gained valuble expereince creating a new winery in France's Rhone Valley, the Mas du Notaire in appelation Costieres de Nimes. He continued there the following year as well as crafting the wines at the Haut Lirou.
Though his wines show an evident respect for Old World traditions of lower alcohol, less oakey, more nuanced wines, Ido isn't without his New World winemaking expereinces. In 2003, he worked with the Margalit family in Israel (who themselves are noted for merging the best attributes of Old World and New World winemaking) and has maintained a close working relationship with the Margalit's ever since. In 2007, Ido went to the far reaches of the winemaking world when he ventured to spend that vintage year at the Domaine A on the Austrailian island of Tasmania. This immediatley preceded his return to Israel and his start at Recanati. This was also the stage at when Ido transitioned from a student of wine into a teacher as he became the director of the winemaking course at Ariel University in the West Bank. These winemaking courses are evolving into a one year program for those aspiring to establish boutique wineries.
The Lewisohn line-up is typical of many Israeli boutique wineries offering 3 wines: two reds, a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon and a for the one white a Chardonnay. Though all of his wines equal or surpass the quality of many of Israel's other reserve wines, there is a barrel of Cabernet which might be later released as the winery's first reserve. Although the choice of varietals is not surprising, the special care he has taken in nuturing these wines manage to convey qualities rarely seen in their Israeli peers and could compete for bragging rights against well recognized international offerings.
There are few distinct steps that Ido credits for his wines unique appeal, to me and to the select few who've been treated to his first vintage and a sneak preview of the the 2008's. First and most importantly is Ido buys only the best grapes including some from the Margalit family's Galilee vineyards. He pays a premium to secure grapes he knows makes the highly sought after Margalit wines from their Kadita vineyard in the Galilee. Many winemakers will admit that you can only make great wine from from great grapes and I've heard some credit what happens in the vineyard accounts for 85 to 95% of the quality of any given wine.
Not only does he secures great grapes he picks them at a lower than usual Brix level (sugar level) which provides for higher acidity than usual and lower alcohol levels. The lower alcohol and higher acidity levels allows for a wine that can convey more balance, a longer finish and more complexity unmasked by higher alcohol. The lower brix picking has also been adopted by the Margalit's and that's good company to be keeping.
Warmer weather regions typically have shorter growing seasons than cooler regions because the fruit ripen quicker which can give more dependable harvests but don't allow for more complex flavors and acidity to develop. In Israel altitude can often make up for latitude and hilly and mountainous regions such as the Galilee, Golan and Judean Hills can produce grapes associated with more northern climes (or southern if you think of southern hemisphere wines in Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand for example).
Even more unique than harvesting lower brix grapes is how Ido implements gravity in processing his wines. Gravitation winemaking is when the winemaker at every stage or even at critical stages uses gravity to assist the crushing, fermentation and even bottling processes. During crushing the Lewinsohn's can accompish this by using a small crusher/destemmer that can process about a ton of grapes an hour but can be placed directly over the tank the juice is intended for. This allows the grapes to avoid being being pumped to the tanks as most wineries do. During pumping, the skins, stems and seeds are handled more harshly according to gravity proponents and this translates into more bitter tannic tasting wines with more vegetative aromas. To complement this, instead of pumping over the juice to let the grapes slowly gently open up Ido uses open top tanks which allow for "punching down" which he asserts is even more gentle with the potentially problemeatic seeds, stems and skins (oh,my).
Another suggested advantage of gravity processing is that the less pumping and other mechanical manipulations of juice from the grapes to tanks to barrels to the bottles, the less mechanical energy transferred to the grapes and the juice and the less interference with the natural tastes emerging from the wine. Some winereies have gone to making 4 or 5 story wineries that allow every stage of the processing to use gravity to assist in the wine migrating from one stage to another. However, Ido considers "100%" gravtity assisted winemaking a marketing ploy and and an unnecessary extravagent expense and that it's only in certain stages (crushing,fermenting and bottling) that these efforts translate into noticeble differences. Never the less, no Israeli competitors are 100% gravity assisted and few if any are known to be using it to the extent he's adopted. If his wines gain the respect they deserve, look forward to others to follow though it's far more manageble on the smaller scale of a boutique winery than a larger more industrial producer.
An even more unique innovation Ido is introducing is sur lees aging to his reds. Now sur lees aging, aging the feremented juice with the already spent yeast, is quite common with white wines, but seldomn used with reds and almost unheard of with for aging up to the year Ido is aging his reds. The sur lies provides another nuance to the taste and feel of the wines as the yeast cells impart a certain flavor but also as they break open impart a fuller body as they release polysaccarides into the wine. Polysaccarides by definition area long chain of sugars which give way to a fuller body to the wines can provide balance otherwise lost to lower alcohol levels due to the lower brix harvesting.
Though his efforts supporting Gil Shatsberg at Recanati are more easily accessable in Israel and overseas, Ido has secured a few placements with Israeli restaurants that have been buying up his whole production of Lewinsohn Wines at between 4 to 6,000 bottles a year so far. Al Ha'mayim, Messa and the Metushelach Wine Bar would be worth investigating just to try Lewinsohn wines and if they have sought out such a high quality winery for their list, it wets one's imagination what else they might carry and what food they may serve to complement their wines. Currently, the 2007 Chardonnay is selling off the wine lists for 220-240 NIS/bottle (about $55- $60/bottle which isn't bad for a premium Chardonnay over dinner). The wines are retailing for 110 NIS for the Chardonnay and 130 for the reds (about $26 and $30 respectfully).
Besides enjoying the fruits of his own labor with Lewinsohn's and Recanati's line-up of wines, he indulges in Margalit and Clos de Gat wines. His days in Europe weren't for naught and he does like to invest in Italian Piedmont wines when and where they're available.
Fans of Israeli produced wines should be enthusiasic that Israel is nuturing and producing skillfull and concientious winemakers like Ido Lewinsohn and I hope they find ways to supports his efforts at Recanati or his own Lewinsohn wines less he be recruited to once again ply his craft overseas.
I'll be looking forward to tasting his soon to be released 2008 Chardonnay which relied on grapes from Red Poetry vineyards.
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'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.
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 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 Chief winemaker Lior Laxer tasting the fruits of his labors
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.
Zichron Ya'acov Telephone: 04 6390105
Rishon Letzion Telephone: 03 9488888
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 Cabernet Sauvignon (Judean Hills)
Valued Vines of Yatir's Cabernet Sauvignon
Yatir Forest (Judean Hiils)
Yatir's premier label Yatir Forest after being hand-labeled
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Winemaker Asaf Margalit observes his
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon during fermentation
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 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.
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.
as you might expect many winemakers are also good cooks
as Asaf proved with tasty chicken stir-fry we shared for lunch
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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, 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.
just some of Recanati Winery's ever growing collection of awards
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. .
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.
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 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 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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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, 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
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
Somek's artisan wine press
2005 Somek Merlot
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
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
2005 Somek Carignan
2005 Somek Bik'at Hanadiv
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...
2004 Somek Bik'at Hanadiv
30 months 2 years in the bottle
40% Cabernet Sauvignon 40% Merlot 15% Carignan 5% Petite Sirah
16 Herzl Street
Zichron Ya'acov, Israel
04-639-7982 (in Israel) 972-4-639-7982 (from the US)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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