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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

 

 

 



October 21, 2010October 21, 2010  1 comments  wine

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

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