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June 20, 2009June 20, 2009  1 comments  Uncategorized

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


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


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

 


March 1, 2009March 1, 2009  1 comments  wine

    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.

 

 

 

 


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 8, 2009March 8, 2009  1 comments  wine

Reds

 

Barbera

 

Cabernet Franc

 

Cabernet Sauvignon

 

Carignan

 

Gamay

 

Grenache

 

Malbec

 

Merlot

 

Nebbiolo

 

Petit Verdot

 

Petite Sirah

 

Pinot Noir

 

Pinotage

 

Sangiovese

 

Syrah/Shiraz

 

Temprinillo

 

Zinfandel

 

 

 

 

Whites

 

Chardonnay

 

Chenin Blanc

 

Colombard/ French Colombard

 

Emerald Riesling

 

Gewurztraminer

 

Muscat

 

Riesling/White Riesling

 

Sauvignon Blanc

 

Semillon

 

Viognier

 

 

Tags: israel wine grapes 

March 9, 2009March 9, 2009  1 comments  wine

Cabernet Franc: Dad Deserves his Props

     OK, here's a good trivia question for you wine geeks: What two grapes have been proven to be the genetic parents of Cabernet Sauvignon?

Answer: Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc

      No one knows exactly when this marriage took place yet it's without question that Cabernet Sauvignon has outshined it's parentage in reputation and demand.  That shouldn't discourage anyone from enjoying both of these noble varietals.

      Anyone within earshot knows I've been a big fan of Cabernet Franc and I think it has the opportunity to become a focal wine grape for Israel.As one of the five Bordeaux red grapes (with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petite Verdot) and as the noted principal grape in many Loire Valley wines, Cabernet Franc can be found as a part of many of Israel's finest Bordeaux style blends. However, it's a single varietal or principal grape that I believe Cabernet Franc shows it's potential for making a place for Israeli wines on restaurant wine lists around the globe. Where there are thousands of Cabernets and Merlots being produced, Cabernet Franc offerings are slim and few between and no one international region has grab onto it's coattails to get on wine shop shelves and restaurant wine lists. 

     As Sauvignon Blanc opened doors for New Zealand's wines including their Pinot Noir and albec opened up doors for other Argentenian wines (including their Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot) Cabernet Franc might just be Israel's spearhead off the kosher wine shelf to  being situated in more prominent and greater frequency in the highly competive wine list/ shelf placement arena.

    One place that is well acquanted with Cabernet Franc is Long Island, New York. On Long Island, there is some well regarded Cabernet Franc producers who sell mostly to the local population and tourists but the grape is well respected in the region and not just a blending partner and since many Israeli wineries do the majority of their US exporting (which can be as much as 70% of their total exports) to the greater New York/New Jersey market (because of the highist concentration of Jewish residents in the US and the hightest concentration outside of Israel) it seems a natural fit.

Notable Israeli Cabernet Franc Producers: the Chateau Golan, Ella Valley, Gush Etzion, Margalit, Pelter, Psagot, Recanti, Tishbi, Tulip, Vitkin, Yatir, Zemora wineries all provide splendid well reviewed examples of how this grape is coming into it's own in Israel.

Tabor makes a well reviewed Cabernet Franc Rose

 

 

Fruit Flavors & Aromas: black currant, plum, cherries and raspberries

Vegative Flavors & Aromas: herbs, green vegetables: green peppers, green olives, eucalyptus

Food Pairings: Cabernet Franc has many of the same flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon with a lighter body and higher acidity that makes it a much more food friendly choice for the table.  Matches well with grilled vegetables & eggplant, zuchinni, and tomatos as well dishes flavored with thyme, saffron, rosemary and sage.






March 23, 2009March 23, 2009  1 comments  wine

 


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

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


Recanati Line-up

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

 

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

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


 

2008  Recanati Sauvingon Blanc 44 NIS (about $10.50)

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


2008 Recanati Chardonnay 52 NIS ( about $12.50)

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


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


Award Winning Chardonnay

Award Winning Chardonnay


2006 Recanati Shiraz 52 NIS ( about $12.50)

these grapes come from Ezrael and famed Ella Valley vineyard

14.5% alcohol 8 months in French and American oak barrels

exhibiting lots of black fruits: Plum and Black Cherry

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


David Enjoying Recanti

David Tasting & Enjoying the 2006 Recanati Shiraz

 

2006 Recanati Reserve Merlot

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

14.5% alcohol


Gil, David and the Rabbi

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


2006 Recanati Reserve Petite Sirah-Zinfandel

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


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

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


Recanati Winery

POB 12050

Industrial Zone, Emek Hefer

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

Tel: o4 6222288  Fax: 04 6222882

info@recanati-winery.com

www.recanati-winery.com

 




March 30, 2009March 30, 2009  1 comments  wine

Here's a partial list of the winners of the Israel Wine Awards, presented at a gala event Sunday March 30th, 2009 at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv (across the beach from the Eastern Mediterranean).


I didn't find out about the event until the night of the event which is a shame since it was also a charity event raising money for troubled adolescents, which I would have liked to get people to attend to donate or particiapte in the wine auction.


The Awards were decided by a panel of 20 judges, many of them wine writers, but were limited to wineries who submitted their wines to the competition so even though the award winners deserve credit and congrats for their award winning wines; these results and similar results from other events need to take that not all of israel's wines were represented into consideration.

i'll post all the winners as the official results are published and I'll give you some of my insights of the event


Sauvignon Blanc


3rd Place Carmel 08


2nd Place Galil 08


1st Place: Gamla 08


Chardonnay


3rdPlace:  Recanati 06


2nd Place: Ella Valley 07


1st Place:Yarden 06

 

Read the separate blog on the Recanati winery


Special White


2nd Assaf Viognier 06


1st Vitkin Riesling 07


Blend White

2nd Yasmin Recanati

1st Avanim Galil


Cabernet Sauvignon

3rd Asaf Reserve 06

Tie  2nd Place: Evigan reserve & Alexander the Great 05

1st Place: Ella Valley Reserve 05


read the separate blogs on the Alexander Winery and on the Cabernet Sauvignon grape


Merlot

3rd Yarden 04

2nd Place Ella Valley 06

1st Place Recanati Reserve 06


read the separate blog on the Recanati winery


Syrah/Shiraz

3rd Place

2nd Place


1st Place


Cabernet Franc

3rd Tulip

2nd

1st


Read the seperate blog on the Cabernet Franc grape

Special Red

3rd Recanati Petite Sirah Zinfandel 06

2nd place malbec Teperberg 07

1st place Petite Sirah Carmel  05


red the separate blog on the Recanati Winery




Blend

Ist Place Amphorae 05 (Gil Shatsberg: Wine Maker)



Dessert Wines



3rd Place:  Moscato Golan 08


2nd Place:


1st Place:  Carmel Gerwurtraminer


May 4, 2009May 4, 2009  3 comments  wine

     If you try enough wine and venture to enough wineries in Israel or most New World wine regions you'll get your full of Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay. Hmmn, maybe C.M.C. should be an acronym for "can't make choices". At the the Vitkin Winery in Kfar Vitkin, however, they've chosen to buck conventional wisdom with their varietal choices: Carignan, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah and Pinot Noir for reds and Gewurtztraminer and Riesling for whites.  Vitkin Wines are doing what few wineries in Israel dare to do and they're doing it well. They are not making Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Chardonnay. Hat's of to them.

    Don't get me wrong.  There's nothing wrong with making Cabs, Merlot and Chard. Israel has several great examples of each and I'll applaud them as I find them; but, does Israel's future as an exporter lye with these stand-bys or with more "unique-selling point" wines such as Carignan, Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah? Vitkin makes as extraodinary examples or what innovation is availble with alternative varietals in Israel under the supervision of a gifted winemaker such as Assaf Paz.

The Vitkin Family

Sharona, Doron & Assaf: The Vitkin Team

   By visiting Vitkin and it's CEO, Sharona Paz-Belogolovsky, I got a chance to experience many varietals and their flavors and aromas that I haven't yet had a chance to write about. As a writer and a wine taster, it was a welcome opportunity (this doesn't mean I'm swearing off Cab Sauvignon, Merlot or Chards... there are justifiable reasons for the demand). It's just that when you taste as many wines as I try to taste other "Varietals are the Spice of Life."

    Since their first vintage in 2001, which released only 200 bottles (or one small barrel worth of wine), the "Vitkins" (less of a mouthful than saying the Paz-Belogolovsky's) have been steadily increasing their production and diversifying their offereings. Starting with Cabernet Sauvignon, (as most garage wineries here seem to do) their departure has established their niche in the ever increaing competitive Israeli marketplace. Producing about 40,000 bottles now they're hoping to sooner than later expand to 100,000 bottles at which point they'll probably make accomodations to become a Kosher winery which would only require them to hire a Sabbath-observant Jew to handle the wine according to Rabbinic stipulations. The increased production might mean a move to new facility and building an attached tating room/visitor center.


    It's worthy to note here that many of Israel's best wineries, which ae smaller wineries, dont have conventional tasting rooms. It's not by choice. Many of them, by where they are located on community or collective farms, aren't allowed to have attached tasting rooms by restrictive zoning practices. I hope to help advance getting Israel's Knesset to help pass new zoning to help provide zoning exemptions. In California, for instance, most boutique wineries sell 50% of their wines retail in their visitor center which is much more profitable than selling wholesale to restaurants and distributors.  The tasting rooms also become great toursit destinations. At this visit, I was kindly received by Sharona in the family kitchen which has a certain charm of it's own.

   Back to the wines... as they establish their own niche, the Vitkin wines are also proving some nay-sayers wrong about what wines can be made well in Israel. Take for example, their 2007 Pinot Noir which produced 3,000 bottles with 13.8% alcohol. It's been very well received with a lot more color and body than traditionally expected from Pinot Noirs but it retains those strawberry and cola flavors that are so sought after.  This wine uses 100% Pinot Noir grapes (as is the Burgandy style) from vineyards adjacent to Gush Etzion and Jerusalem at an altitude of 700 meters. This same elevated vineyard and microclimate accounts for their Viognier and Riesling grapes.  This wine reaffirms that Pinot Noir can be well crafted at lower latitudes around the globe at higher altitude vineyards. This coveted vineyard is exclusive to Vitkin. The vineyard is 10 degrees celcius lower in temperture than the surrounding area and actually expereinces frost in the winter which is indicative of a vineyard more apt for Pinot Noir than many other parts of Israel such as the coastal plains.  The wine is oaked in 350 liter barrels for 10 month before bottle aging and release.

   Another red varietal that hasn't received it's proper respect in Israel (as well as the rest of the world) is Carignan.  Carignan has long been Israel's most planted red grape, as it was in France until recently. Of course few avid wine drinkers and almost no casual wine consumer has heard of Carignan because it was mostly a blending grape or bottled as a non descipt table wine. You probably drank some under the label "red wine" without even knowing it. As in France, in Israel has had a history of growing Carignan as a bulk grown grape.  As a bulk grape, it did what was asked of it and delivered a mass of high-alcohol non-notable red wine.  However, when treated and tended to like a fine wine, harvested from older and/or well manicured vines producing up to one tenth of the over produced vines, the Carignan is quite capable of delivering a shock of a black raspberry fruit bomb with crisp acidity with oak infused notes of cinnamon, clove and sandlewood.

   Their Carignan currently hails from three vineyards in Binyamina, Zichron Ya'acov and the Carmel Mountain.  The vines range from 25 to 40 years old, a rarity in Israel as many Carignan vines were getting pulled as they aged because they would produce far fewer grapes (desirable fro a fine wine though detrimental if you were seeking bulk production which most Carignan growers wanted).  The Vitkin 2006 Carignan (released August 2008) retails for about 95 NIS (about $24) and is oaked 14 months in both 300 and 350 liter barrels. The wine is almost sold out.  100% Carignan grapes grown on 25 to 40 year old vines in Binyamina, Zichron Ya'acov and Carmel Mountain.

one of Vitkin's Cherished Vineyards

 

    Another red varietal that Vitkin is assisting to get in proper place in the mindset of israeli wine consumers is Cabernet Franc.  Cabernet Franc has been showing great promise with several producers here in Israel including Margalit and recently Tishbi.  This Bordeaux varietal demonstrates a far fruiter alternative than French releases. It's intrinsic higher acidity than Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot might make it better suited for Israel where warmer climes can challenge the acidity levels of grapes. Typically, warmer climes produce higher sugar in grapes and thereby when fermented higher alcohol where in cooler climes, lower alcohol and higher acidity is expected.  The acidity of Cabernet Franc also makes it more food friendly than it's Bordeaux brothers and is suggested as good company to herbal sauces, tomato based dishes and savory eggplant offereings.

    If you've been following my wine explorations, you should know by know, I think Cabernet Franc has the potential to be Israel's signature grape for several reasons. First, it's a Bordeaux varietal and there's a certain mystique, romance and respect that comes with that. Even though Malbec isn't used that extensively in France anymore, Malbec's status as a Bordeuax grape helped get Argentina on the world wine map. Second, Cabernet Franc isn't being exported in any significant quanity from anywhere other than France. France typically only exports it with the region it's from on the label and doesn't even mention Cabernet Franc on the lable.  Israel could brand Cabernet Franc as it's own. 

  Additionally, since most Israeli wine exports go to the United States and most of those go the Northeast and Mid Atlantic states, it should be helpful that Cabernet Franc is well planted in well regarded Long Island vineyards in New York State. As mentioned before, it food friendly acidity should be a blessing for those selling the wines to accompany home cooking or for placement on restaurant wine lists. As a little side note Malbec is Israel's least grown Bordeuax varietal rarely making a single varietal appearance and most often relagated to blends.

The Vitkin Cabernet Franc 2006  is comprised of 86 % Cabernet Franc and 14% Petite Verdot ( a common complementary blending grape in Bordeaux as well as in finer Israeli wines) with 14 months in small oak barrels and 14% alcohol.  The Petite Verdot helps provide color, structure and tannins to the elegance of Cabernet Franc. This Cab Franc is bigger, bolder and deeper in color than most Cab Francs with black raspberry and with subtle green pepper and herbal aromas with the crisp acidity desired by most Cab Franc advocates.

 

Dave drinking Vitkin Cab Franc

A glimmer in Dave's eye as he ehjoy's Vitkin's 2006 Cabernet Franc

    Another "bastard" red grape Vitkin fosters into a splendid wine is Petite Sirah. Though a grape from France where when it's used at all it's almost always used for blending , it's more widely known from it's use in California as a single varietal.   The Vitkin Petite Sirah 2006 (with 14% alcohol) was just recently released in 2009, two months ago. This wine was oaked 16 months in 300 and 350 liter barrel.  The larger barrels expose less wine per liter to oak than smaller barrels would.  The Petite Sirah is so heavy that the fruit be would overwhelmed by more oak. Their Carignan gets a similar treatment for the same reasons.This example of Petite Sirah exhibits cherry, heavy tannins (which should serve it well as it ages) with noticeble but pleasant acidity with red plums as it opens up. To the eye, it appears, as expected from Petite Sirah, as deep purple octopus ink.

     Ironically, Vitkin exports this wine to France where Petite Sirah isn't typically available as a single varietal.  Vitkin harvests these grapes over two days to help balance the acidity and sugar (alcohol) levels. One of Sharon's duties as CEO is to hire the pickers for harvesting. It's seasonal work so the wineries hire crews to come in and typically need to order them a few days in advance to secure them from working for another winery. It's a critical process as Sharona explains "if you miss by even one day, picking at the right time, you can end up having a wine missing out on having an acidity at all".   This obviosly wasn't an issue with this Petite Sirah wine which has been very well received and is expected to sell out within two months. With so many of Vitkin's wines selling out so soon after release it's no wonder they want to expand production.

 

   Vitkin also offers what they call their entry level wines, the Israeli Voyage series but they compare well in quality to other wineries premiere wines. Released as food friendly table wines, their price of 65 NIS might shy away a casual drinker but their white just received an award as a Best Value wine at the Israeli Wine Awards in Tel Aviv.  The 2008 Israeli Voyage White is 65 NIS and is a mix of Viognier, French Columbard & Gerwurtzraminer with 12.5% alcohol. Apricot, peach, grapefruit, orange and leechee come in full force due to the mix of ABC (anything but Chardonnay) grapes which shine with hearty helping of acidity. Some of the Viognier gets oaked in Vitkin's Pinot Noir barrels to add body and enhance the flavors.

Israeli Voyage White

The award winning 2008 Vitkin White Israeli Voyage 

Their Red Israeli Voyage is also a value at 65 NIS and is comprised of Syrah, Carignan & Cabernet Franc.  The earthiness of a Syrah is out front on the nose and the wine is only aged in 10% new oak which keeps it fruity and easily accessable. Black Cherry comes to mind swooshing it one's mouth and at 13.5% it's not a kick in the teeth that many israeli reds deliver. Sharona suggests serving the wine slightly chilled like a Beujolais and that it's an ideal wine to accompany BBQ fare.

 

 

Late Harvest White

Riesling, Viognier and Columbard grapes were harvested in November to produce a wine with 150 grams of residual sugar/liter and 10 1/2% alcohol released in a 375 ml bottle (a "split") common to dessert wines retailing for about 90 NIS or $22.50


The Vitkin's suggest this wine as an apertif as well as a dessert wine and that it could be served as an ally of Fois Gras or Onion Marmelade and I suggest that a Peach Melba, a slice of Apple Pie al la mode or a Goat Cheese Napoleon might do justice to this wine as well.

 

Let's all look forward to tasting their other upcoming wines for their diversity, quality and reasonable prices. A triple threat in the Israeli wine market.


Contact Information:


Vitken Winery 

68 Derech Hakfar

on the Rottenberg-Belogovsky Farm

PO Box 267, Kfar Vitkin, Israel 40200


Telephone:
972-09-866-3505

Fax:            972-09-866-4179

e-mail: vtknwine@vitkin-winery.co.il

website: www.vitkin-winery.co.il




May 17, 2009May 17, 2009  6 comments  wine

      If as what's been suggested that Israeli wine is going through a cultural and technological revolution, how can you tell when the revolution is successful. Maybe it's when the powers to be, the guardians of the status quo, come full circle and agree with their critics.  So when the Carmel Winery, Israel's largest winery by far, admits that it has had a well deserved reputatation for making wines of low regard and little character and lots of it and they've launched a game changing amount of measures to salvage its image by striving to be not only the biggest but one of Israel's best wineries, it deserves the attention of the wine drinking public and wine writers like me.

 

Carmel Zichron
Carmel's Historic Winery in Israel's most famous wine village Zichron Ya'acov

 

     Now many wine writers tend to shy away from writing about big wineries.  It's challenging on several different levels. First, a winery like Carmel in Israel has so many labels there's no way to practically taste them in a day. Second, larger corporate wineries can often lack the charm and romance of "boutique" wineries. Additionally, it can be far more difficult to talk directly to the winemaker or owner of the winery  which with smaller wineries is often the same person.  A lot of times you get shuttled around by a well meaning Public Relations spokeperson whose knowledge of wine doesn't much exceed that of any internal corporate literture. Additionally, larger wineries often have received so much previous attention what angle does a writer take to make their story fresh, relevant and appealing to the reader.

 

dave tasting carmel

So Much Wine, So Little Time: David tasting the large portfolio of Carmel

 

      So with some initial trepidation, I went to tackle the task of covering Carmel, not only Israel's largest winery but at about 15 million bottles producted yearly, they're responsable for 30 to 40% of Israel's wine production on any given year. As recently as 20 to 25 years ago Carmel was producing about 90% of Israel's wine. So in writing about Israeli wines, there's no way to avoid Carmel coming up in the context of talking about other wines so it was important at some stage for me to take on the challenge of exploring their portfolio. "On the Road Less Travelled" of wine writing, better sooner than later. That being said if Carmel had been making the same wines they were making ten years ago, I may have found a good reason to avoid this story just the same.

    When wine magazines such as Wine Spectator and Decanter & wine writers like Robert Parker and Mark Squires talk about Israeli wines making a revolutionary change in quality, they were talking about in contrast to the lowly regarded 90% of Israeli wines Carmel used to make. Carmel today says they too are part of that revolution but as a student of history I like to see it as a counter-revolution since when you are the wine establishment and one of the last wineries to make drastic changes, it's hard to say you're leading the revolt. To Carmel's credit though, it's been a Herculian endeavor and an investment of ten of millions and ten of thousands of man hours in the vineyards and wineries to have made the dramatic changes that they started almost ten years ago that is just in the last few years starting to show results. 

    As an example of it's commitment to change, they've managed to halve their production from a high of 30 million bottles to 15 million bottles, a great indicator that "the monster of the Israeli wine marketplace" is reigning in the beast of bulk wine making and mending their ways and is starting to seriously attempt to stress quality over quanity.  Much of this transition was enacted by shying away from flooding the kosher wine market with mass quanities of not very profitible "kiddush wine" (sacramentel wine for Jewish holidays and rituals). A de-emphasis on other food products such as grape juice and olive oil also has allowed it's upper management to focus on the task at hand of making better wines. The significance is that if Carmel can redeem an image of it's wines as sweet, syrupy liquid religion to that of a large producer with a wide range of price points with relative quality and value,  it's place as Israel's largest producer can only improve the image of all Israeli wines.

     Carmel has also made significant changes in it's selection of vineyard location and how it manges the grapes it harvests.  First, it's made huge investments in planting new vineyards in the Galiilee, considered onr of Israel's premier grape growing appellations.  Historically, they were getting most of their grapes from lower alitude regions that were suitable for high yield bulk wine production.  In fact, according to Carmel they are now the largest grower of grapes in the Galilee and this has given them the flexibility to make better wines and a to make awider variety of wine single varietal wines.  Their affiliated and renown Yatir Winery with vineyards in the Judean Hills and the Negev, two other respected wine regions, also provides Carmel with choice grapes that weren't available as recent as ten years ago.

 

Carmel's Kayoumi Vineyards

Carmel's Well-groomed & Valued Kayoumi Vineyards in the Upper Galilee

   Carmel started off and continues in many ways as a collective of as many 250-300 growers with a management team directing winery and marketing efforts. Lior Laxer, the chief winemaker of seven who work at their wineries, explained it was an uphill battle for the wineries management to convince the growers to switch to lower yield grapes for higher qulity wine than the bulk producing yields they had been accustomed to. On e way was to pay per dunam, about a quarter acre lot, rather than pay per ton. another was to pay the grower on the quality of the grapes being produced. This merit system linked what which Carmel series the winemaking team decided the grapes quaified and the higher the value of the wine (and the more the winery could charge) the more the grower got paid. Some of those families have been tending to high-yield vineyards for over 100 years.

     Yet, many of the lowland vineyards were more suited to bulk production so new vineyards in the Upper Galilee, the Golan Heights, the Jerusalem Hills and the Negev desert (yes, the desert) have been planted and now are producing higher quality grapes. Additionally, much of the wineries equipment was suited for bulk wines so it was a huge expense to invest in equipment that was better suited for smaller higher quality production. Where as recently as 10 years ago Carmel barely made any wines with a smaller production of 50,000 bottles they are often making wines of just a few to several thousand bottles in the top three premium levels (compared to their three entry to mid level wines).  An additional winery facility (Carmel's fourth if you include it's premeir sattleite Yatir) gives it the capacity to get the grapes form the field to a nearby winery anywhere it grows grapes. This protects the flavor, sugar, acid, tannin profile the winemaker's expected before harvest that could be disrupted through long hauls from a remote vineyard to one central winery.  The additional facities and fermentation tanks allow each single vineyard harvested to get it's own tank and treatment and allows the winemakers the ability to monitor how each field was managed and how that manifests in the wine. This allows for informed changes in future vineyard practices and more refined blending options as well picking the best as special single vineyard releases.

    First, let me say that my recent visit at the Carmel Winery in Zichron Ya'acov exceeded my expectations on several levels.  The only wines I had from Carmel previously were their entry level Selected and Private Collection wines that most people have had, wines many Jews have had at a Sabbath dinner or Passover dinner or Bar Mitzvah.  Those "supermarket" wines, at best, may have been considered good value wines but represent what Carmel wants the public to believe were their the bulk wines of Carmel's yesteryear. This day I tasted the wines Carmel hopes will change it's image of being a bulk, Kiddush (Jewish sacremental) and table wine manafacturer to that of a winery that doesn't make just make kosher wines as good as they can but rather  great wines that just happen to be kosher. Of course this mantra is now being touted by every kosher winemaker I've talked to in Israel. But with the mass of Carmel's postion in the marketplace, as they change their image for the better they can't help but but bring the image of Israeli wines in general into a more flattering light.

     

 

   I asked Lior about the one vineyard Carmel has in the Golan Heights since they've invested so much more into the compatible climate of the Upper Gaililee. Carmel claims through recent efforts to have become the largest wine producer in the Galilee when previously their holding were focused on the southern coastal plains near Tel Aviv and the northern coast aaround Zichron Ya'acov.   I wondered if the government had been talking to the wineries who are some of the largest employers in the Golan what would happen to their investemets in their vineyards if the Golan is returned to Syria in a peace agreement. Lior confirms my suspicion that "no one in the government has talked about it" and suggests about planting vines and building facilities in the Golan that "it's a big risk." A sentiment that other wine executives in Israel share regardless of their political inclinations whether Israel should return the territory captured in 1967 and recaptured in 1973.

 

Carmel's Lior Laxer
Carmel's Chief winemaker Lior Laxer tasting the fruits of his labors

 

Appellation

Carmel Ridge

Single Vineyard

Limited Edition

 

 

Late Harvest Gerwurtzraminer


Lior explains about this dessert wine that "it's not the most profitable wine for the winery" because dessert wines in general don't sell as well as table wines and that this wine has such high expenses. The high expenses are mostly due to the low yield of these late harvest grapes are 450 to 600 kilos per dunam (about one quarter of an acrea) compared to up to 5 tons an acre for sone table wines. That's about one-tetn of a yield in just the weight of the grapes. Then Lior explains "there's also less juice that's pressed per ton because so much of the water/juice is already gone. There's so much sugar in the grapes in contrast to juice that you can hear the presses straining to get the juice out".

There's so much sugar that this wine when finished has 120 grams of residual sugar after fermentation compared to as much as only for 4 grahms or less for a dry table wine.

 

Carmel Winery

Zichron Ya'acov   Telephone: 04 6390105

Rishon Letzion    Telephone:  03 9488888

www.carmelwines.co.il

 

 


May 17, 2009May 17, 2009  1 comments  wine

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

 

The Bible of Israeli Wines by Michael Ben Joseph


The Wine Route of Israel


Rogov's Guide to Israeli Wine 2009

 

other suggested Wine Books

 

The Wine Bible by Karen Macneil

 

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

 

The University Wine Course by Marian W. Baldy

 

Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine by Mark Oldman

 

any wine book by Jancis Robinson

 

 

 


May 22, 2009May 22, 2009  1 comments  wine

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

Bistro de Carmel

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

 

Carmel Indoor dining room

Indoor Dining at Bistro de Carmel

 

 

Carmel function room

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

 

 

 


June 14, 2009June 14, 2009  2 comments  wine

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

ventura

 

 


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

 

 

 

 


September 17, 2009September 17, 2009  0 comments  wine

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

 

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


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

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


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

 

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

 

 

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


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


October 20, 2009October 20, 2009  0 comments  wine

 

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

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

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

 

Assaf Margalit measuring fermentation

Winemaker Asaf Margalit observes his

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon during fermentation

 

 

pumping over 2009 Margalit juice


Margalit's 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon juice

being "pumped over" as it ferments into wine


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

 

tasting 2009 marglait cab franc

tasting Margalit's 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

beating 99.9 % of you to the punch,

jealous... you should be!!!

 

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

 

dsr at margalit 10 19 09

observing the "pumping over" process

 

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

 

 

Asaf cooking lunch for DSR 10 19-09


as you might expect many winemakers are also good cooks

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

 

 

 


November 8, 2009November 8, 2009  0 comments  wine

 

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

 

Roni Saslove

winemaker Roni Saslove takes great pride in their premium oak barrels

 

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

 

  Barry Saslove

founder and winemaker Barry Saslove at Jerusalem Wine Festival


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

 

Roni Saslove tasting their Adom Cabernet

Roni enjoys drinking Saslove wine as much as making it

 

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

 

David at Saslove

David enjoying the hospitality of the Saslove Winery

 

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

 

 

 

 


November 11, 2009November 11, 2009  0 comments  wine

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

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

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

 

baby

Binyamina's 2009 Baby

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

 

Golan Gamay Noir

Four different labels for the 2009 Golan Gamay Noveau

 

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

 

Tishbi's Junior Event

My last bottle of Tishbi's 2008 Junior

 


January 13, 2010January 13, 2010  0 comments  wine

 

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

 

dsr and Golan Flam

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

 

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

 

Flam Winery

entering the Flam Winery in the Judean Hills

 

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

 

dsr israel flam

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

 

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

 

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

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


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


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

 

flam classisco 

2008 Flam Classico, 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot

 

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

 

flam super

2007 Flam Superiore Syrah/ Cabernet Sauvignon

 

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

 

2006 flam merlot

2006 Flam Merlot Reserve

 

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

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

 

2009 flam rose

2009 Flam Rose Cabernet Franc/Merlot

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


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
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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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