Tip Toe Through the Tulips – Israel’s Inspirational Tulip Winery

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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