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May 5, 2009May 5, 2009  1 comments  Uncategorized

 

 

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


March 1, 2009March 1, 2009  1 comments  wine

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.

 In Israel:

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).


Expected Characteristics:

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

 

Food/Flavor affinities:

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


March 4, 2009March 4, 2009  3 comments  wine

     The Tishbi Family isn't playing fair. In 1996, when they released their Cognac style French Colombard brandy they won a gold medal at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London praising their brandy as "the world's best". Well, how do you beat that? Well, how about releasling the same vintage, the 1993, as a 16 year brandy. Now, I admit my expereince with brandy is more limited than with wine however I've had many fine brandies, armanacs cognacs and fortified wines and can appreiciate the delicate balance between delivering sweet nectar and a heavanly kick in the ass.

     Now this wasn't a bottled brandy yet but a barell tasting in the stage before water is added. So instead of the smooth finished 40% alcohol expected of most brandies, I was treated to  70% power punch to my palette with no complaints.  The tight grained Limousin forest oak barells from France imparted an envelope of majestic honey, vanilla which i found to be a carmel apple and honeysuckle motiff.

 

One of the reasons the brandy is so worthy of distinction is that all the brandy passes through a distinctive alembic two-chamber distlliery made by the famous Remy Martin family of 100% copper in the Cognac tradition in 1912.

This upcoming release of 16 year old brandy i's expected to fetch 1500 NIS or about $364 in current exchange rates which seems reasonable compared to its quality and what other world class brandies form France get on te open market.

 

 


March 31, 2009March 31, 2009  1 comments  wine

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

 

The Alexander Winery as seen by the road

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

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

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

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


     
Dave at work... really I'm working

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

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

 

A glass of 2006 Merlot     

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Alexander Winery

POB 8151

Moshav Beit Yitzhak 42970

Tel: 09 8822956 Fax: 098872076

a_wine@netvision.net.il


currently exporting to Canada, Holland and Germany

 

 

 



April 19, 2009April 19, 2009  0 comments  wine

 

 

      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.

 

 

 

 

 


July 7, 2009July 7, 2009  2 comments  wine

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

Annual Israeli Wine Festival

 

Art Garden at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

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

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

60 NIS for the tasting including the glass

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


and non kosher Avidan, Pelter, Saslove

 

 

Israel Museum: 02-6708811

 

 

 

 


July 19, 2009July 19, 2009  1 comments  wine

Buying Wine, Liquor and other Spirits in Israel can be dramatically different than say in the United States or even most other countries.  There are far more outlets, as Israeli businesses typically aren't restrained from seling liquor by coomunity zoning restrictions or prohibitively available or expensive liqour specific liscening.

Kiosks, the closest equivilent to an American convenience store in Israel, usually carry wine but only a sparse selection of a few bottles and at a ridiculous mark-up. For instance a botlle that might sell for 27 NIS might sell for 80 NIS. It's an outlet best suited for unknowing tourists, late night revelers and those in a rush.

Supermarkets in Israel tend to have much larger selections but typically carry only entry level wines. For instance, many larger wineries have 4 to 6 series of wine graduating in quality. The supermarkets typically only sell the first two levels sometimes carrying the third tier but rarely premium wines.


Some wineries intentionally block sales of either all their wines or their higher tier wines being sold in supermarkets because they believe there's a stigma associated with selling wine in the supermarkets and that many finer restaurants do not want to place "supermarket" wine on their wine lists.

With over 5,000 wine labels in Israel few if any wine shps come close to offering all the wines available in israel. Vino Cigar, a prominent wine shop in the Azriella Center in Tel Aviv, estimated they carry about 1,000 bottles and shy away from carrying low-end wine that is extremely price competitive and offers for the retailer low returns per bottle for valuable shelf space.


It's also not that uncommon for many retail outlets to only carry Kosher wines (which many of Israel's best wines are). Over 90% of the wine produced in israel is kosher as the top 30 commerical producers are kosher. Yet, about 80% of the wineries are not kosher since so many smaller wineries don't bother seeking Kosher supervision and approval and the added cost of hiring only sabbath observant Jews to work with the wine until the winery in question is producing more than 100,000 bottles a year (the often quoted plateau wineries believe warrant the additional costs involved).


One of the more enjoyable options is to shop at the source. The only place you'll typically find the complete selection of a winery is at the winery itself. In Israel, most of the wineries offer their wines at reasonable prices compared to other the supermarkets, kiosks and wine shops that carry their wine. There is often exclusive deals not offered elsewhere and sometimes exclusive distribution of some limited edition wines. If one's lucky a barrel tasting of a still aging wine or an unreleased bottled wine might be in the cards as well.

Another interesting option is the ecological friendly refilling station a winery might offer, something unheard of in the highly regulated United States. For example, at the Tishbi Winery in Binyamina, they offer their entry level Cabernet Sauvignon/Petire Sirah wine that retails for 32 NIS/bottle for only 19 NIS a liter which translates into 14.25 NIS a standard 750ml bottle (about $3.50). Repeat customers or those in the know bring in old wine bottles, vodka bottles even plastic water bottles of all sizes and shapes to take advantage of these rock bottom prices.


July 22, 2009July 22, 2009  1 comments  wine

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


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


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


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


Thursday August 20th, 2009     Brazlian Music Night

 

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

 


August 30, 2009August 30, 2009  6 comments  wine

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

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

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

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

 

 

 


September 17, 2009September 17, 2009  0 comments  wine

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

 

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


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

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


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

 

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

 

 

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


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


November 11, 2009November 11, 2009  0 comments  wine

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

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

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

 

baby

Binyamina's 2009 Baby

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

 

Golan Gamay Noir

Four different labels for the 2009 Golan Gamay Noveau

 

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

 

Tishbi's Junior Event

My last bottle of Tishbi's 2008 Junior

 


November 25, 2010November 25, 2010  1 comments  wine

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Other wines currently available in their line up include their:

2008 Tzuba Shiraz

2007 & 2008 Tzuba Merlot

2008 Tzuba Sangiovese


2007  Tzuba Pinot Noir

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


David Rhodes can best be reached at

052-702-9463 (mobile in Israel)

israeliwineguy@gmail.com

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

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





October 7, 2010October 7, 2010  0 comments  wine

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

David Rhodes

052-702-WINE (9463)

israeliwineguy@gmail.com

 


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

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