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Tags - pinot noir
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.
If you try enough wine and venture to enough wineries in Israel or most New World wine regions you'll get your full of Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay. Hmmn, maybe C.M.C. should be an acronym for "can't make choices". At the the Vitkin Winery in Kfar Vitkin, however, they've chosen to buck conventional wisdom with their varietal choices: Carignan, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah and Pinot Noir for reds and Gewurtztraminer and Riesling for whites. Vitkin Wines are doing what few wineries in Israel dare to do and they're doing it well. They are not making Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Chardonnay. Hat's of to them.
Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with making Cabs, Merlot and Chard. Israel has several great examples of each and I'll applaud them as I find them; but, does Israel's future as an exporter lye with these stand-bys or with more "unique-selling point" wines such as Carignan, Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah? Vitkin makes as extraodinary examples or what innovation is availble with alternative varietals in Israel under the supervision of a gifted winemaker such as Assaf Paz.
Sharona, Doron & Assaf: The Vitkin Team
By visiting Vitkin and it's CEO, Sharona Paz-Belogolovsky, I got a chance to experience many varietals and their flavors and aromas that I haven't yet had a chance to write about. As a writer and a wine taster, it was a welcome opportunity (this doesn't mean I'm swearing off Cab Sauvignon, Merlot or Chards... there are justifiable reasons for the demand). It's just that when you taste as many wines as I try to taste other "Varietals are the Spice of Life."
Since their first vintage in 2001, which released only 200 bottles (or one small barrel worth of wine), the "Vitkins" (less of a mouthful than saying the Paz-Belogolovsky's) have been steadily increasing their production and diversifying their offereings. Starting with Cabernet Sauvignon, (as most garage wineries here seem to do) their departure has established their niche in the ever increaing competitive Israeli marketplace. Producing about 40,000 bottles now they're hoping to sooner than later expand to 100,000 bottles at which point they'll probably make accomodations to become a Kosher winery which would only require them to hire a Sabbath-observant Jew to handle the wine according to Rabbinic stipulations. The increased production might mean a move to new facility and building an attached tating room/visitor center.
It's worthy to note here that many of Israel's best wineries, which ae smaller wineries, dont have conventional tasting rooms. It's not by choice. Many of them, by where they are located on community or collective farms, aren't allowed to have attached tasting rooms by restrictive zoning practices. I hope to help advance getting Israel's Knesset to help pass new zoning to help provide zoning exemptions. In California, for instance, most boutique wineries sell 50% of their wines retail in their visitor center which is much more profitable than selling wholesale to restaurants and distributors. The tasting rooms also become great toursit destinations. At this visit, I was kindly received by Sharona in the family kitchen which has a certain charm of it's own.
Back to the wines... as they establish their own niche, the Vitkin wines are also proving some nay-sayers wrong about what wines can be made well in Israel. Take for example, their 2007 Pinot Noir which produced 3,000 bottles with 13.8% alcohol. It's been very well received with a lot more color and body than traditionally expected from Pinot Noirs but it retains those strawberry and cola flavors that are so sought after. This wine uses 100% Pinot Noir grapes (as is the Burgandy style) from vineyards adjacent to Gush Etzion and Jerusalem at an altitude of 700 meters. This same elevated vineyard and microclimate accounts for their Viognier and Riesling grapes. This wine reaffirms that Pinot Noir can be well crafted at lower latitudes around the globe at higher altitude vineyards. This coveted vineyard is exclusive to Vitkin. The vineyard is 10 degrees celcius lower in temperture than the surrounding area and actually expereinces frost in the winter which is indicative of a vineyard more apt for Pinot Noir than many other parts of Israel such as the coastal plains. The wine is oaked in 350 liter barrels for 10 month before bottle aging and release.
Another red varietal that hasn't received it's proper respect in Israel (as well as the rest of the world) is Carignan. Carignan has long been Israel's most planted red grape, as it was in France until recently. Of course few avid wine drinkers and almost no casual wine consumer has heard of Carignan because it was mostly a blending grape or bottled as a non descipt table wine. You probably drank some under the label "red wine" without even knowing it. As in France, in Israel has had a history of growing Carignan as a bulk grown grape. As a bulk grape, it did what was asked of it and delivered a mass of high-alcohol non-notable red wine. However, when treated and tended to like a fine wine, harvested from older and/or well manicured vines producing up to one tenth of the over produced vines, the Carignan is quite capable of delivering a shock of a black raspberry fruit bomb with crisp acidity with oak infused notes of cinnamon, clove and sandlewood.
Their Carignan currently hails from three vineyards in Binyamina, Zichron Ya'acov and the Carmel Mountain. The vines range from 25 to 40 years old, a rarity in Israel as many Carignan vines were getting pulled as they aged because they would produce far fewer grapes (desirable fro a fine wine though detrimental if you were seeking bulk production which most Carignan growers wanted). The Vitkin 2006 Carignan (released August 2008) retails for about 95 NIS (about $24) and is oaked 14 months in both 300 and 350 liter barrels. The wine is almost sold out. 100% Carignan grapes grown on 25 to 40 year old vines in Binyamina, Zichron Ya'acov and Carmel Mountain.
Another red varietal that Vitkin is assisting to get in proper place in the mindset of israeli wine consumers is Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Franc has been showing great promise with several producers here in Israel including Margalit and recently Tishbi. This Bordeaux varietal demonstrates a far fruiter alternative than French releases. It's intrinsic higher acidity than Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot might make it better suited for Israel where warmer climes can challenge the acidity levels of grapes. Typically, warmer climes produce higher sugar in grapes and thereby when fermented higher alcohol where in cooler climes, lower alcohol and higher acidity is expected. The acidity of Cabernet Franc also makes it more food friendly than it's Bordeaux brothers and is suggested as good company to herbal sauces, tomato based dishes and savory eggplant offereings.
If you've been following my wine explorations, you should know by know, I think Cabernet Franc has the potential to be Israel's signature grape for several reasons. First, it's a Bordeaux varietal and there's a certain mystique, romance and respect that comes with that. Even though Malbec isn't used that extensively in France anymore, Malbec's status as a Bordeuax grape helped get Argentina on the world wine map. Second, Cabernet Franc isn't being exported in any significant quanity from anywhere other than France. France typically only exports it with the region it's from on the label and doesn't even mention Cabernet Franc on the lable. Israel could brand Cabernet Franc as it's own.
Additionally, since most Israeli wine exports go to the United States and most of those go the Northeast and Mid Atlantic states, it should be helpful that Cabernet Franc is well planted in well regarded Long Island vineyards in New York State. As mentioned before, it food friendly acidity should be a blessing for those selling the wines to accompany home cooking or for placement on restaurant wine lists. As a little side note Malbec is Israel's least grown Bordeuax varietal rarely making a single varietal appearance and most often relagated to blends.
The Vitkin Cabernet Franc 2006 is comprised of 86 % Cabernet Franc and 14% Petite Verdot ( a common complementary blending grape in Bordeaux as well as in finer Israeli wines) with 14 months in small oak barrels and 14% alcohol. The Petite Verdot helps provide color, structure and tannins to the elegance of Cabernet Franc. This Cab Franc is bigger, bolder and deeper in color than most Cab Francs with black raspberry and with subtle green pepper and herbal aromas with the crisp acidity desired by most Cab Franc advocates.
A glimmer in Dave's eye as he ehjoy's Vitkin's 2006 Cabernet Franc
Another "bastard" red grape Vitkin fosters into a splendid wine is Petite Sirah. Though a grape from France where when it's used at all it's almost always used for blending , it's more widely known from it's use in California as a single varietal. The Vitkin Petite Sirah 2006 (with 14% alcohol) was just recently released in 2009, two months ago. This wine was oaked 16 months in 300 and 350 liter barrel. The larger barrels expose less wine per liter to oak than smaller barrels would. The Petite Sirah is so heavy that the fruit be would overwhelmed by more oak. Their Carignan gets a similar treatment for the same reasons.This example of Petite Sirah exhibits cherry, heavy tannins (which should serve it well as it ages) with noticeble but pleasant acidity with red plums as it opens up. To the eye, it appears, as expected from Petite Sirah, as deep purple octopus ink.
Ironically, Vitkin exports this wine to France where Petite Sirah isn't typically available as a single varietal. Vitkin harvests these grapes over two days to help balance the acidity and sugar (alcohol) levels. One of Sharon's duties as CEO is to hire the pickers for harvesting. It's seasonal work so the wineries hire crews to come in and typically need to order them a few days in advance to secure them from working for another winery. It's a critical process as Sharona explains "if you miss by even one day, picking at the right time, you can end up having a wine missing out on having an acidity at all". This obviosly wasn't an issue with this Petite Sirah wine which has been very well received and is expected to sell out within two months. With so many of Vitkin's wines selling out so soon after release it's no wonder they want to expand production.
Vitkin also offers what they call their entry level wines, the Israeli Voyage series but they compare well in quality to other wineries premiere wines. Released as food friendly table wines, their price of 65 NIS might shy away a casual drinker but their white just received an award as a Best Value wine at the Israeli Wine Awards in Tel Aviv. The 2008 Israeli Voyage White is 65 NIS and is a mix of Viognier, French Columbard & Gerwurtzraminer with 12.5% alcohol. Apricot, peach, grapefruit, orange and leechee come in full force due to the mix of ABC (anything but Chardonnay) grapes which shine with hearty helping of acidity. Some of the Viognier gets oaked in Vitkin's Pinot Noir barrels to add body and enhance the flavors.
The award winning 2008 Vitkin White Israeli Voyage
Their Red Israeli Voyage is also a value at 65 NIS and is comprised of Syrah, Carignan & Cabernet Franc. The earthiness of a Syrah is out front on the nose and the wine is only aged in 10% new oak which keeps it fruity and easily accessable. Black Cherry comes to mind swooshing it one's mouth and at 13.5% it's not a kick in the teeth that many israeli reds deliver. Sharona suggests serving the wine slightly chilled like a Beujolais and that it's an ideal wine to accompany BBQ fare.
Late Harvest White
Riesling, Viognier and Columbard grapes were harvested in November to produce a wine with 150 grams of residual sugar/liter and 10 1/2% alcohol released in a 375 ml bottle (a "split") common to dessert wines retailing for about 90 NIS or $22.50
The Vitkin's suggest this wine as an apertif as well as a dessert wine and that it could be served as an ally of Fois Gras or Onion Marmelade and I suggest that a Peach Melba, a slice of Apple Pie al la mode or a Goat Cheese Napoleon might do justice to this wine as well.
Let's all look forward to tasting their other upcoming wines for their diversity, quality and reasonable prices. A triple threat in the Israeli wine market.
68 Derech Hakfar
on the Rottenberg-Belogovsky Farm
PO Box 267, Kfar Vitkin, Israel 40200
Located on Kibbutz Eyal (on the outskirts Kfar Sava) within a few steps of the well-established and prestigious Saslove Winery is Avidan. Less well known than it's neighbor, Avidan is rightfully and rapidly gaining it's own notoriety for the quality and unique character of their wines. Like it's neighbor, Avidan is a family affair.
Shlomo Avidan, who was the initial winemaker and studied under the iconic Ya'ir Margalit now manages the vineyards. Tsina Avidan, his wife, has grown into the role of winemaker. Their daughter Shira focuses on marketing but all three work as a team and make many of the decisions together. Seemingly, its a formula that works well as their wines get rave reviews that might incite envy from many larger or longer established wineries. Shlomo's position as one of the managers of Discount Bank gives them the financial freedom to make wines the way they want to and not just to satisfy market demands. That being said they've grown from a garage winery started in Ra'anana in 2000 to a viable commercial boutique winery in 2004 when they moved to Kibbutz Eyal. Avidan now produces about 25,000 to 30,000 bottles a year.
Avidan's wines are a delight for a wine geek like me and anyone who wants to see traditional wines made with a flare or non-traditional wines made well enough to draw the praise of often jaded wine critics and sommeliers. Newcomers may shy away because of the price (which considering the quality is a steal compared to similarly lauded wines) or because some of the wines are non-traditional blends but the truth is in the tasting and many of their wines could convert the uninitiated into aspiring connesoirs.
The wines are split into three series and the make-up of each wine can change from year to year.
The Blend des Noirs is typically their biggest selling wine and is a blend of various grapes used in their other wines. In 2008, they made two blends, the Tag Segol ("the Purple") and the Tag Katom.
From an outsider, it seems like it might be two different approaches to making a similar wine.
The 2008 Tag Segol is 40% Merlot, 25% Shiraz, 20% Petite Sirah and 15% Carignan. Merlot tends to have softer tannins than the other three grapes would seem to add structure and firmer tannins as well as complexity. It's an unusual blend so the combination of flavors should be a refreshing change for many drinkers and the Shiraz and Petite Sirah also contribute the Deep Purple of Octopus Ink that those grapes typically imbue into wine. Blackberries and Blueberries come through for fruits. Black Pepper is a Petite Sirah trademark that shines through with chocolate and vanilla coming through from the Merlot and through the combination of 12 months aging in American and French Oak.
The 2008 Tag Katom is 40 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 25% Grenache. Starting with a base of Cabernet Sauvignon, a meaty wine with firm tannins it's softened with the addition of Merlot and gregarious Grenache ( a grape Avidan is helping proving worthy of further attention from other Israeli winemakers in blends and as a single varietal). Also aged in French and American Oak for 12 months. The 2007 scored an 88 from Robert Parker.
The Fringe series offers a glimpse of the potential of Avidan as a game changer in Israeli winemaking. These wines, too, can change by name and grapes year to year. In fact, that's one of the most redeeming an couragous aspects of the winery that maintains their artisinal approach over commerical concerns. Each year, they make wines they want to make the best wine that their grapes allow. Tsina told me it's like a sculptor who might say the stone dictates how they sculpt the rock that the grapes often dictate how she makes the wine and what wine she makes. she sees her role as sort of a mid-wife for the wine and Avidan wines often display this Old World perpective of winemaking. Even though many of their wines are marketed as single varietals they don't seem to have an attachment to building a brand for customers to follow as much as earning the faith that their wines will be interesting and the best wines they can deliver.
The 2007 Avidan "Fringe" Prio has become a pride and joy of the winery after receiving special attention from some revered sommeliers at a small tasting recently in France. A blend of Carignan, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot this wine along with other boutique wines from `Vitken, Somek and Smadar show a growing affection by Boutique winemakers for what was once a reviled grape that was a victim of neglect and abuse of high yield harvests from younger vines rather than inherent flaws of the varietal.
The 2008 Avidan "Fringe" Full Wine is a more traditioanl blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and Petite Sirah (40%). This wine might show the influence of the Margalit clan on Avidan since Margalit's Cabernet Reserve is about 85% Cab and 15% Petite Sirah but the differences in blends and vineyard locations (as well as several other winemaking variables) result in two dramatically different wines (though by many both highly desirable).
This wine could be called a "New World" wine made with Old World sensabilities. A Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah blend wouldn't be that uncommon in California but Petite Sirah never caught on its home of France (or anywhere else in Europe) before it finding favor in winemakers and consumers in America before coming to Israel. Although, part of a blend here and in other Avidan wines it's also becoming more popular as a single varietal as it gets more TLC in the vineyards which give it the character to get top billing as part of a Carmel Appelation wine or at the notable Chillag Winery (where winemaker Orna Chillag has been a role model for other Israeli women winemakers).
The Avidan Winery is open Friday and Saturdays 11am to 4 PM but is open by appointment on other days.
Mobile Post Central Sharon, Israel 45840
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