Rothschild & Montefiore At Carmel

The Baroness Ariane de Rothschild visited Rishon Le Zion as guest of the Mayor, Dov Tzur. The visit marked 80 years since the death of Baron Edmond de Rothschild and 132 years since the founding of Rishon Le Zion. The Mayor presented her with Honorary Citizenship of Rishon Le Zion.

Montefiore presents Rothschild with Carmel WineShe also visited Carmel Winery’s Rishon Le Zion Cellars. She was hosted on a brief tour by Adam Montefiore, who presented her with a bottle of Carmel’s prestige wine, Carmel Limited Edition 2008.

Montefiore told the story of how Baron Edmond de Rothschild insisted on bringing the Bordeaux varieties to Israel back in the late 1880’s. He wanted to make an Israeli Grand Vin. All his agronomists and viticulturists were against it, but he insisted. He sent cuttings from Chateau Lafite and the varieties were duly planted. Unfortunately the initiative failed for a number of reasons.

However when the Carmel Limited Edition was launched, it was based on the five Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. So in the end, the Baron’s dream came true but it took over one hundred years!

The Carmel Limited Edition is one of Israel’s finest Bordeaux style blends. The 2008 scored 91 points in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, and the wine has scored 90 points or more in five years out of a possible six.

The Baroness is very wine knowledgeable and asked many questions. She is the wife of Benjamin de Rothschild, who is the great grandson of the original Baron Edmond de Rothschild.

Roths meets mont The Rothschild’s are the world’s number one wine family, and like the Lafite & Mouton Rothschilds, Benjamin and Ariane de Rothschild have their own wine interests. They own the ‘Companie Vinicole Baron Edmond de Rothschild’ that makes wine in Bordeaux (Chateau Clarke, Chateau des Laurets), Argentina (Flechas de Los Andes), New Zealand (Rimapere) and South Africa (Rupert & Rothschild). They are now also making wine in Spain.

The meeting between Rothschild and Montefiore was also the meeting of two families. Baron Edmond de Rothschild and Sir Moses Montefiore were major historical figures in the development of Israel in the 19th century.

Be a Part of Israel’s Startup Winery

Israel’s Startup Winery, Jezreel Valley Winery, co-founded by high tech entrepreneur Jacob Ner-David and Yehuda Nahar, is looking for funding.

Using a new innovative funding model called crowdfunding, they are giving supporters of Israel and lovers of wine an opportunity to contribute to building this new, amazing winery.

Crowdfunding is a way in which many people can contribute a small amount to support a cause.

Jezreel Valley is seeking to raise $50,000. Contributors can receive (depending on the level of contribution) anything from permanent discounts to wine tchotskies to wine parties and hosting as well as a trip to Israel or lifetime supply of wine.

Jezreel Valley Winery is Israel’s first start-up winery, it uses modern technology and Israeli agriculture to create unique (and amazing!) wines. They are seeking a physical extension of their facility and operations in Israel. They have already done amazing stuff, renovating an abandoned garage into a modern winery, all while contributing to the revitalization of Kibbutz Hanaton.

Contributors receive a variety of benefits (depending on the level of contribution). To contribute to Jezreel Valley Winery, click here to go to Indiegogo.



Launch of New Wine Guide

The New Israeli Wine Guide has been launched at the new branch of Derech Ha’Yayin in Tel Aviv. The authors, Yair Gath and Gal Zohar, presented their selection of the ‘Best Seventy’ wines in Israel. Guests gathered from every part of the wine business, to receive a card with two QR codes on it. One was to download the Hebrew version, and the other was for the English one.

Yair Gath is the wine critic for Israel Hayom and Gal Zohar is a sommelier of international renown. Both tasted over 300 wines blind to arrive at their selection. The New Israel Wine Guide fills the void left by the passing of Daniel Rogov, whose annual wine guide became a regular purchase for wine lovers. Since his death in September 2011, there has been no guide, publication or critic that has managed to replace him.

The new Derech Ha’yayin wine store is situated on Hashalom Road, in Tel Aviv, just off the Ayalon Highway. It is tenth branch of Derech Ha’Yayin and it is the newest, largest and most impressive of the chain of wine shops.

At the event, Adam Montefiore introduced the authors. He said true success would be measured if the project was continued. Then Yair Gath and Gal Zohar said a few words. Zohar mentioned how Gath had originally approached him with the idea to produce the guide. Finally Uri Shaked spoke and introduced everyone to the new Derech Hayayin.

In the guide, only thirteen wines succeeded to receive 89 or more points and they are listed below in alphabetical order. Most successful was Tzora Winery, with three wines receiving 89 points or more.

Carmel Kayoumi Shiraz 2008 90 points
Flam Noble 2008 90
Lewinsohn Garage de Papa 2010 90
Tzora Shoresh 2012 90
Yatir Forest 2009 89+
Adir A 2010 89
Clos de Gat Ayalon Valley 2008 89
Golan Heights Yarden Syrah Avital 2008 89
Margalit Cabernet Franc 2010 89
Montefiore Red 2012 89
Tzora Misty Hills 2010 89
Tzora Neve Ilan 2011 89
Vitkin Petite Sirah 2009 89

To receive the full list of wines, contact: [email protected] or visit: The New Israeli Wine Guide was designed by Ron Yadlin & Adam Montefiore wrote the introduction. Assaf Dudai edited the English version.

The New Israeli Wine Guide

When Daniel Rogov passed away there was a real void left in the Israeli wine world. Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wine was one of the most important books in the Israeli wine world, providing a comprehensive guide to hundreds of Israeli wines, including tasting notes and scores – notably in English (Rogov was raised in New York).

The New Israel Wine Guide ReviewSeveral writers tried to take Rogov’s place and taste and score wine but none have succeeded.

A new contender, however, is trying to take a place. Yair Gath, a wine writer for the Yisrael HaYom daily newspaper, and Gal Zohar, a sommelier and IWC judge, are currently working on both an English and Hebrew version of the New Israel Wine Guide.

The New Israel Wine Guide features some of Israel’s top wines but, unlike most writing on Israeli wine, is intended for a global audience. Unlike Rogov, there is a specific focus on kosher wines and wines available outside of Israel. As the description notes:

We decided to focus on the best wineries, predominantly on the kosher wines that are also available outside Israel, without neglecting some of our favourite ones which we thought couldn’t be left out. All tastings were strictly blind, so what you get is our unbiased, independent recommendations. Clear and simple.

While not all wines are kosher, kosher wines are much more clearly identified than in other Guides to Israeli Wine. However, the best wines are included regardless of whether they are certified kosher or not. So, for example, in the list of top wines not only are the wines from Yatir, Carmel, Yarden, and Castel listed but also wineries such as Lewinsohn, Clos de Gat, Pelter, and others that have recent non-kosher vintages.

This focus on kosher wine is certainly one major difference from Rogov.

The wine guide is very comprehensive, listing the grapes that are included (if a blend), the region in Israel in which the winery is based, if it is unoaked or oaked, and how long it was oak-aged, whether kosher wine or non-kosher wine, as well as its alcohol content. In addition Gath and Zohar provide a tasting note, with a quirky summary (“Southern exposure,” “Classicism,” “Young and exciting” are just a few) as well as a tasting note and score (on a 100 point scale).

The preview edition is also well typeset with attractive imagery.

If you’re interested in the New Israel Wine Guide you can also find out about it on Facebook.

Since Rogov’s death such a guide has been missing. It remains to be seen whether this will fill the void but I, for one, really look forward to seeing the rest of the guide.

Montefiore Winery: The Tradition Continues

The history of the Israeli wine industry is an illustrious story, beginning with the Bible and continuing today. But, the modern Israeli wine industry owes tremendous debt to the Montefiore family.

Sir Moses Montefiore was the first to urge the Jews in Israel to work the land and plant vines. He made tremendous contributions to Israeli agriculture. Descendents of his business partner’s family, the Rothschilds, founded Carmel Winery. Moses Montefiore was a lover of wine, and when he visited Israel, he was often presented with wine. His extended family and associates, the Rothschild family, was heavily involved in founding Israel’s wine industry.

Moses Montefiore purchased the first plot of land outside the Old City of Jerusalem in 1855. This area was later renamed Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Yemin Moshe. Montefiore did not have children and so his legal heirs became his sister and brother-in-law’s family, Joseph Sebag Montefiore. Sebag Montefiore’s great-great grandson is Adam Montefiore, who made aliya in 1989 and has worked at both Golan Heights Winery and Carmel Winery. He has also helped tell the story of Israeli wine to the global audience, earning himself the title ‘The Ambassador of Israeli Wine.’

Montefiore WineryIt appears the next generation is continuing the family tradition of promoting wine in the land of Israel.

Adam Montefiore’s children, David and Rachel Montefiore, along with Arnon Geva (previously affiliated with Carmel Winery and Domaine du Castel), have begun Montefiore Winery (Kerem Montefiore).

Kerem Montefiore was founded to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, where the winery is based, by Moses Montefiore.

According to the website, the winery released its first wines in 2013 and include a red blend, white blend, Syrah, and Petite Sirah.  The flagship wine, Kerem Moshe, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Syrah, as well as an olive oil will be released in the future.

You can learn more about Kerem Montefiore at or on Facebook.



Crème de la Crème – The Best Wines of 2012

This post includes the best Israeli wines I tasted in 2012 (for a more comprehensive list, including non-Israeli wines, check out my website). As with prior years, in addition to the “best” wines of 2012, I have also included a list of the most interesting and exciting wines I tasted this year – many of which give more pleasure than some of their “near-perfect” brethren who are included in the more prestigious list. The “Exciting/Interesting” list is also an indicator of the many new and exciting varietals with which Israeli winemakers are experimenting to make success. As someone who tastes a fair number of wines every year, it is the ones that are truly different that stand out and make you pay attention – a desirable quality in a world of wine that can sometimes be palatably mono-vino-tistic…

While obviously not news to any reader of Yossie’s Wine Recommendations, after tasting over 700 different wines this year, I can safely say that the world of Israeli wine continues to improve and there are great things ahead for the industry. The kosher wine consumer continues to develop and evolve and is learning to appreciate good wine for what it is. While there remain many challenges and not all the existing wineries will be around for much longer (much more on both these topics in my 2013 Crystal Ball newsletter), things are looking good. Tasting so many wines over the past year did make winnowing down the list of 2012’s best wines excruciatingly painful and nearly an exercise in futility. My dislike and disregard for scoring wines made the process even more difficult (and slightly more subjective) as scores would have enabled me to compile the list rapidly, simply choosing the highest scoring wines of the past year.

Before we delve into the best wines of 2012 and as would behoove any attorney worth his salt, a few appropriate qualifiers and explanations to the lists below. Given that my day job limits the amount of time I have to dedicate to wine and my limited wallet puts a damper on the number of wines I get to taste each year, despite my best intentions I don’t taste every one of the approximately 1,700 kosher wines released every year. The list includes only wines I tasted for the first time this year and excludes barrel tastings of not yet final wines (like the Yarden El-Rom 2011), advance tastings of wines not yet released and newly released wines I haven’t yet had a chance to taste (like the Yarden El-Rom 2009). As a result of these exclusions, there are plenty of terrific wines released that are not included on this list.

Best Wines of 2012 (in alphabetical order)

Domaine du Castel, Grand Vin, 2009: In a manner quite different from past vintages, the wine is extremely approachable right out of the bottle with the traditional toasty oak taking somewhat of a backseat to the rich fruit and the tannins surprisingly well-integrated at this early stage. A traditional Bordeaux blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, fleshed out with 5% Petit Verdot, the wine is delicious. Exhibiting Castel’s trademark balance, the wood, fruit and acid component meld together harmoniously, creating a really elegant wine. Plenty of rich black fruit on the aromatic nose accompanied by tobacco leaf, a nice green streak of eucalyptus and mine and layered with good dark chocolate, spicy wood and supple tannins. As the wine is really drinking amazingly right now, the only reason to wait would be to enjoy its development over the next five or six years, as the wine will evolve a bit more.

Ella Valley Vineyards, Vineyards Choice, Petite Sirah, 2008: After a highly successful launch of the varietal with the 2007 vintage, Ella Valley elevated thier Petite Sirah to thier top label – Vineyards Choice. While the accompanying price hike is unfortunate for the consumer, the quality of the wine certainly merited this promotion. Made from 90% Petite Sirah with 10% of the winery’s famous Merlot blended in, this inky black colored wine is big and powerful. A big nose of black fruit with some red and blue notes mixed in for good measure. The 17 months in oak lends some espresso and dark chocolate notes, together with some cigar box and a hint of roasted herbs. Much of the same follows on the full bodied palate, with spices, cracked black pepper and more chocolate joining the rich fruit and slightly toasty oak. Huge and muscular tannins that still need some time to integrate hold everything together nicely, all in fine balance and with the elegant structure for which Doron was known (this wine was made under his reign, prior to Lin coming in).
A long finish of more oak, baker’s chocolate and tannin rounds this one out. While enjoyable now, I’d wait 12 months before enjoying through 2016 [Shmittah].

Gat Shomron, Viognier, Ice Wine Style, 2009: Gat Shomron is another small Israeli winery located in the winery-rich Shomron area (some of its more famous neighbors include Psagot, Shiloh and Gvaot), and one that is very rapidly improving. Gat Shomron actually has two Icewine styled wines – the included Viognier-based ones and a spicier version that is based on the Gewürztraminer grape (a more traditional base for dessert wines) that is delicious as well. This full bodied wine has an explosive nose loaded with characteristically true Viognier notes of blooming flowers, tropical fruit and citrus and is joined by pungent honey and mineral notes. A rich and viscous palate is loaded with ripe tropical fruit, lemon and more honey and nicely tempered by sufficient acidity to keep the intense sweetness in check. Plenty of spice, oak and floral notes keep things interesting, leading into a lingering and intense finish of spice, honey and blooming flowers. A limited edition wine well worth seeking out (as is the Gewürztraminer version which makes for a great side-by-side comparison).

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Blanc de Blanc, 2007: The 2005 vintage of this wine was a monumental improvement of past great vintages and highly recommended by me. Insanely enough, yet representative of the winery’s undisputed position as Israel’s best, the 2007 vintage rises above the amazing 2005 (stay tuned for coming sparkling delights from the winery including a 2000 Yarden Blanc de Blanc late disgorged version and a sparkling rosé). Easily one of the best kosher sparkling wines and one that could compete even with some of the French Champagne wines available these days. Yeasty notes of brioche join plenty of rich citrus, tart apple and summer fruits. Tightly focused and delightfully concentrated bubbles live on and on and the bracing acidity helps keep all the fruit and toasty notes lively on the amazingly refreshing palate. A wine to stock up on and drink for years to come.

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Katzrin, 2008: After almost 20 years at the top, Israel’s top wine doesn’t show any sign of slowing down or relinquishing its crown. Victor Schoenfeld worked his magic with a terrific vintage and providing us with liquid gold that embodies all a Moshiach Wine should be. A blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Merlot from the winery’s best vineyards (including Ortal, El-Rom and Yonatan), I was eagerly anticipating given the accolades earned by the 2008 vintage. The blending components spent 18 months in new French oak before being blended together and returned to the barrels for another 6 months. While many of the Yarden wines tend to be a bite on the ripe and oaky side (while maintaining elegance and amazingness for the most part), this wine is deep, complex, layered and powerfully elegant with some much promise wrapped up in its lovely package of rich back and red fruit, cassis, oriental spices, black pepper, rich chocolate, gripping tannins, hints of orange peel, Mediterranean herbs, cedar, tobacco leaf and freshly brewed espresso that seems to go on forever with every 20 minutes bringing fresh notes and aromas. Surprisingly approachable now (although I’d open it half a day in advance if enjoying now), this wine shouldn’t be touched for at least two years and, retaining its place as Israel’s best aging wine, should cellar through 2028, maybe longer. Given the wine’s historical aging ability I am not planning on opening any of my bottles for at least five years. Despite a hefty cost, this wine is probably the best oenophilic investment available for the kosher wine consumer (especially in large-format bottles) [Shmittah].

Gvaot, Gofna, Pinot Noir, 2010: Following on the success of the extremely limited run of the 2009 Pinot Noir, Gvaot once again produced a magnificent wine, well worthy of your attention and certainly included in the incredibly short list of available quality kosher Pinot Noir. Blended with 10% Merlot and aged in French oak for 12 months, this medium bodied wine is simply delightful. 550 bottles were made in 2009 and 650 for the 2010 vintage, making it an extremely limited run that was terribly tough to lay your hands on. Given the 2010’s success, the 2011 vintage will comprise 1000 bottles, hopefully at least partially alleviating the scarceness of the wine. The wine has a rich nose loaded with wild flowers and ripe red fruit, plenty of controlled toasty oak and cedar. The delicious and mouth filling palate had plenty of raspberries, cherries and plums with hints of spice, espresso and cigar box all leading into a lingering finish of more fruit, forest floor and toasty oak. Drinking delightfully right now, the wine should cellar nicely through 2015.

Psagot, Single Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009: After the success of thier inaugural 2007 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and piggybacking the recent trend toward single vineyard wines (although many wineries tend to forgot the point isn’t to create the “best” wine in thier portfolio but rather to showcase the special characteristics of a certain vineyard or plot), Psagot had a 2009 and 2010 version, so we shall see if it becomes a regular part of the portfolio or only made in “special” vintage years. A nice nose and full bodied palate of black fruit, cassis, spicy oak, baker’s chocolate and Mediterranean herbs, with hints of mocha, vanilla and blackberries. A muscular wine that is finally coming into its own and with rapidly integrating tannins that bod well for the continued development of this wine. Drink now through 2016, maybe longer.

Tzora, Or, 2008: In addition to all its other successes, Israel produces a significant amount of top-notch dessert wines including the Yarden Botrytis (which is unfortunately not being produced anymore – the 2007 is the last vintage), Late Harvest Gewurztraminer wines from Binyamina and Carmel, Ice Wine style wines from Gat Shomron (see below) and an increasing number of Port-Style wines. To this illustrious list, I can happily add this incredible treat from Tzora, one of Israel most significantly improving wineries. The 2006 Or was Eran’s first wine that was all “his” and the 2008 is a limited edition wine (1625 bottles) that is only sold at the winery and was made in the “icewine style” (for more of the process and other awesome Israeli dessert wines, please see this post). Made from 100% Gewurztraminer grapes from the Shoresh vineyard and with a surprisingly low 13% alcohol level, this medium bodied wine is loaded with rich notes of tropical fruit including pineapples, mango and guava with a nice note of pear, together with honey and heather, some lychee notes and a pleasing, characteristically-true, spiciness. The wine has enough acidity to keep the sweetness in check and light mineral undertones that add some additional complexity to this deliciously sweet treat. While the wine will continue to improve through 2018, it’s pretty hard to resist opening and enjoying right now [Shmittah].

Yaffo, Carignan, 2009: Another relatively newly kosher winery from the Judean Hills, which makes very noteworthy wines. A rich a deep purple color as benefits the varietal, this medium bodied wine has a rich nose of blackberries, black cherries and purple plums together with some spiciness and rich tannin. More of the same dark fruit on the palate along with a hint of spicy oak, some cedar and warm crushed herbs lead into a medium finish that lingers nicely with some pleasing bitterness. Enjoyable now, the wine should cellar for another year or so.

Yatir, Forest, 2009: The flagship wine of one of Israel’s best wineries. ‘Nuff said. Despite 2009 not being the most amazing vintage year Israel ever experienced, as would be expected from the country’s better wine makers, this is a supremely elegant and delicious wine – an iron fist in velvet glove, powerful with years of cellaring improvement to come. A blend of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Petit Verdot and 10 Merlot, this wine lives up to the expectations one has from one of Israel’s top wineries. A rich and voluptuous nose of ripe black fruit with some red notes as well with plenty of toasty oak and rich gripping tannins that have already started to integrate and bode well for the future development of this wine and some spicy notes from the oak. Much of the same on the palate with the added benefit of plum, cassis, cigar box and some pungent notes accompanied by a bitter hint of green that pleases, all leading into a velvety and lingering finish, rich with fruit, oak and hints of dark chocolate. A really special wine that was recently tasted by Mark Squires and awarded 91 points from the Wine Advocate. Drink now through 2020.

Most Interesting & Exciting Wines of 2012 (in alphabetical order)

Adir, Blush Port-Style, 2010: One of three dessert wines made by the Adir Winery, the wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, with a clear and gorgeous salmon color, this wine is a bit lighter on the palate than the “regular” port-styled wine, with refreshing acidity keeping the jammy fruit, near delicate sweetness and 18.5% alcohol from becoming overpowering. Nice stewed fruit, raisins, warm spices and dark chocolate contribute to a uniquely delicious wine.

Alexander, Alexander the Great, Amarolo, 2007: As more and more Israeli wineries experiment with varied forms of fortified wines (mostly sweet, Port-like concoctions, some of which are great, some substantially less so), Alexander took a slightly different route with this wine intending to emulate the famed dry Amarone wines of Veneto, Italy (Gat Shomron also has an “Amarone style” wine). Given that, to my knowledge no kosher Amarone wines exist, I cannot comment on whether this is true to its kind but simply that it is a delicious wine and a welcome addition to Israel’s growing and respectable portfolio of “experimental wines”. A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to which Petit Verdot (7%), Cabernet Franc (6%), Shiraz (4%) and Grenache (3%) were added, this deeply extracted wine spent 40 months in a combination of new and used oak, earning its place within Alexander’s Alexander the great line, now garnished with an extremely distinctive gold and silver colored metal label. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were left to dry in the sun traditional manner, spending over two months on mats spread around the winery. An extremely full bodied and plush wine with a rich, near-sweet nose bursting with ripe blackberries, plum and cassis together with strong notes of raisins, plenty of rich oak, dates and prunes. Big and muscular tannins keep the nose in place and exercise their control on a palate loaded with much of the same ripe and dried fruit from the nose, together with more oak, cedar and tobacco leading into a long and concentrated finish that keeps you coming back for more. Drink now through 2015, maybe longer.

Barkan, Assemblage, Eitan, 2008: Named for the nearby Eitan Mountain, the grapes for this wine are grown at altitudes of 700 meters in the Southern Judean Hills near the aptly named Kiryat Anavim (literally “village of the grapes”). Despite their good intentions, this wine ended up being a single vineyard wine. A blend of 45% Syrah, 40% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, each aged separately in mostly used French oak for 12 months before being blended and bottled resulting in a 13.5% alcohol wine. A delicious and distinctly Mediterranean nose of tangy red fruit including cherries, plums, cassis, crushed thyme and other Mediterranean herbs, cigar box and tobacco leaf, chocolate and a hint of spicy oak. The medium to full bodied palate has a little less acidity than I would have liked (a common problem with wines from hot climates like Israel), well integrated tannins, red fruit, mocha, tobacco leaf, baker’s chocolate, more spicy oak, hints of smoked meat and some flinty minerals all culminating in a long and caressing finish with a pleasing bitterness rising on the finish. A pleasing and elegant wine that is eminently drinkable now and which should cellar comfortably through 2015 or even longer [Shmittah].

Carmel, Single Vineyard, Kayoumi, Riesling, 2010: Riesling is one of those magical grapes that seems to have been made to enjoy with food and this wine, with a touch of residual sugar and plenty of balancing acidity is sure to please. The last release of this wine was back with the 2006 vintage but our parched palates can now be slaked again with this release. As with every other wine, Carmel’s winemaker Lior Lacser coaxes out of the magical Kayoumi vineyard, this wine is a nearly a perfectly-crafted wine, with a very aromatic nose, generous acidity. Ever so slightly off dry with plenty of peach, apricot, grapefruit, blooming flowers and hints of minerals on a crisply acidic background that lends itself to great food-pairing. A really delicious wine and definitely worth seeking out.

Lueria, Gewürztraminer, 2012: Officially released in Israel last week, the 2011 is also worthy of being on this list and was previously reviewed by me. Recent years have seen a slight proliferation of dry (or semi-dry) versions of the grape with two notable versions being the 2011 offerings from Binyamina and Lueria – both enjoyable and worthy first attempts by both wineries. Following on the success of the 2011 vintage, the 2012 wine is a semi-dry medium bodied wine made from 100% free-run Gewürztraminer grapes with plenty of white peaches, some tropical fruit, traditional lychee, floral notes and a pleasing hint of spiciness along with a pleasing bitter citrus notes with much of the same of the same on the light to medium bodied palate loaded with bracing acidity with a nice touch of residual sugar and 12.5% alcohol. Highly recommended as a refreshing quencher. Drink over the next 12 months or so.

Ramot Naftaly, Barbera, 2010: Ramot Naftaly’s winemaker – Yitzchak Cohen – considers his Barbera to be “hi baby” and rightly so. A tiny boutique winery (~10,000 bottles annually) that specializes in making less common varietals including Malbec, Petit Verdot and the Barbera (in addition to the Cabernet Sauvignon required for any winery and often representing nearly half a winery’s production). For the first time, the winery is exporting its wine to the US and we should expect to see some of the wines on our shores in the next few months. A rich and delicious wine that spent 10 months in French oak. Plenty of ripe fruit, bramble and black pepper on the nose and palate with a hint of baker’s chocolate and roasted herbs and plenty of restrained oak and a caressing finish of oak and spice that lingers. A tremendously pleasing wine, well worth seeking out. Drink now through 2015.

Shiloh, Legend, 2009: Following the trend popularized by Carmel with their eponymously named Mediterranean blend, Shiloh launched their own Israeli blend – Legend, with the 2009 vintage with much success. An interesting blend of 45% Shiraz, 40% Petit Sirah, 9% Petit Verdot and 6% Merlot, yields a delicious wine that is very enjoyable right now due to its smooth and well integrated tannins and will continue to provide enjoyment for some years to come. Each varietal was aged separately in French and American oak for eight months before being blended, and the blend spent an additional eight months in oak prior to bottling. A delightfully aromatic nose redolent of red, near sweet fruit, light chocolate notes, lavender and floral notes with some black plums, blackberries and currants edging in later on. A rich, round and mouth-coating medium bodied palate has more of the fruit, some nice spiciness, tanned leather, lead pencil and herbs that leads into a plenty long finish loaded with the wine’s essence including herbs, chocolate, nice minerals, tar, forest floor and tobacco leaf. Drink now through 2015. As with many of Shiloh’s recent wines, this was produced in mevushal (by way of the winery’s new and secret method) and non-mevushal versions, this tasting note is for the mevushal version.

Divine Vintage

‘Divine Vintage’ is a newly published book which provides a window into the ancient world of wine, and ends up in modern times. It follows the biblical wine route, and includes Canaan, Ancient Israel and the State of Israel. It delves into the area where wine culture was born and examines the recent quality revival in the historic but newly dynamic wine region of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Eastern Mediterranean was the cradle of the grape. Over two thousand years ago, this was the France and Italy of ancient times. The book colorfully explains the wine cultures of the Israelites, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It discusses the use of wine in the burial rites of the Egyptians, and gives an explanation of the Greek Symposium, which was a glorified wine tasting and the Roman Convivium, which was a feast or banquet.

Interwoven in the book are some of the major figures of the Bible who all feature in the story of wine. It all begins with Noah, the first person to plant a vineyard. He must have taken some vine cuttings into the Ark along with all the animals. He was also the first person to drink too much wine. The first person to be blessed with bread and wine was Abraham. Lot was also infamous for becoming inebriated. Moving on to Egypt, there is the story of Joseph and Pharaoh’s Cup Bearer, who was the first sommelier. The most enduring wine related image of the Bible is of the spies sent by Moses to the Promised Land. They returned with a bunch of grapes so large that it had to be held on a pole by two men. All this was to illustrate that Israel was a land flowing with milk and honey. This image is kept alive in the logos of Carmel Winery & the Israel Ministry of Tourism.
Isaiah’s Song of a Vineyard provided an illuminating description of the viticulture of the time.
There is the story of Naboth’s vineyard. He came to a sticky end at the hands of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Then there is Nehemiah, the Cup Bearer to Ataxerxes, King of Persia. He was the first Jewish sommelier and paved the way for the return of the Israelites, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and a revival of winemaking. King David was also a wine lover who had vineyards and cellars so vast that he needed officials to look after them.
Galilee is brought into focus in the story of Jesus, who took on the role of winemaker at Cana (in the Galilee), when he changed the water into wine. This provides a connection to Israeli wine today, because two thousand years later, the Galilee is arguably Israel’s finest quality wine region. The Jewish roots of the Last Supper, which was basically a Passover Seder Night, are also discussed.
For 2,000 years the Eastern Mediterranean was known for fairly dire wine. The first steps to create modern winemaking industries were taken in the mid to late 19th century. This was when wineries like Carmel in Israel, Ksara in Lebanon, Achaia Clauss and Boutari in Greece revived winemaking in their respective countries. In Turkey, Kavaklidere & Doluca were to follow suit in the early 20th century.
In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Golan Heights Winery (Israel), Château Musar (Lebanon) and Domaine Carras (Greece) were the first wineries to show that it was possible to make world class wines. They acted as a quality catalyst in their respective countries. In recent years something close to wine fever has taken root throughout the region. Numerous new boutique wineries suddenly appeared and the larger wineries changed direction and invested in quality. The wine revolution gathered pace in Greece and Israel in the 1990’s and continues until today. In Lebanon and Turkey the new winery boom has been more recent, getting under way in the 2000’s.
The two authors are the ideal people to tell this fascinating story. In a way, both have dabbled in the other’s field. Randall Heskett Phd is an expert on the Hebrew Bible, who has also worked in wine. Joel Butler MW has a degree in history and has devoted his life to wine education.
Dr. Randall Heskett is a Biblical Scholar and author, who has taught at the University of Toronto, Queen’s University and Denver Seminary. He is presently founding president of Boulder University in Boulder, Colorado. Quite apart from his expertise in the Old Testament, he is also a wine lover and wine importer. His scholarship makes a fascinating read as he delves into the sources to give a rich background spanning from the origins of wine to the ‘Roman Wine Empire.’
Joel Butler MW is currently the president of the Institute of Masters of Wine, North America Ltd. He was one of only the first two Americans to become a Master of Wine. He is one of the most experienced people one could hope to meet having worked in every aspect of the wine trade. He is a highly respected wine judge in competitions from as far away as London and Australia and writes regularly about wine in international publications. Currently he is the owner of WineKnow, a wine education company in Seattle.
Joel Butler took the time to painstakingly travel the Biblical wine route, driving many thousands of miles. He visited Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Greece, faithfully recording what he saw in the many hours he spent in the company of winery owners and winemakers. His descriptions of wineries and expert tasting notes bring to life the dynamic story of the region’s revival as a quality wine producer.
Divine Vintage clearly positions Israel as being a central part of this modern, but ancient wine region. Israel is a little schizophrenic with regard to where it positioned. Politically it is considered part of the problematical Middle East. In sporting events it competes as part of Europe. In wine competitions it is regarded as being in Asia. Visit the wine shelves in some countries, and it would appear Israel is part of a wine country called ‘Kosher.’ Culturally it is nearer to being the 51st State of America. The cuisine is a fusion of North Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Mediterranean. However as far as wine is concerned, Israel is an integral part of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Mediterranean Sea runs along much of the west coast of the country, and the climate of most of the country’s wine growing regions is Mediterranean.
Decanter Magazine would appear to agree. A recent feature article on Israel was headlined: ‘Israel – Eastern Med, not Mid East.’ If only wine retailers were encouraged to display the Eastern Med countries together, it would mean Israeli wines were not left languishing on the kosher shelves, disregarded by most of the general wine drinking world.
Therefore it would make sense if the wines of Carmel (Israel), Kavaklidere (Turkey), Kourtaki (Greece) and Ksara (Lebanon), appeared together under the heading ‘Eastern Mediterranean’ on the shelves of wine & liquor stores. Likewise on restaurant wine lists, whenever wines are listed by region, the neighboring wines should be bracketed together. It would be ideal if, say, Gaia or Gerovassiliou (from Greece), Musar or Massaya (Lebanon), Corvus or Kayra (Turkey), and Yatir or Yarden (Israel), were all listed as being part of the same region.
There are many similarities and differences in the Eastern Med. It is an area where matters of wine, war and religion permeate every aspect of the countries concerned. The Greek and Lebanese winemakers tend to be Christian, the Israelis are mainly Jewish and the Turkish are Moslems. Also Greece & Turkey and Israel & Lebanon have each had a turbulent even violent history, even in recent times. However eat the mezze or drink the coffee in these countries, and you begin to see the regional similarities.
It is a region with so much variety. The Greeks have their indigenous varieties. The Turkish wine roots go back to the beginnings of civilization and they also have some unpronounceable grape varieties of their own. The Lebanese wine industry is very Francophile, with strong French winemaking influences. Israel is more New World with state of the art technology in the wineries and very advanced agricultural & viticultural techniques in the vineyards.
The uninformed observer may have in the past considered wines from these countries to be only suitable for the ethnic market. That is to say, Israeli wines only for the religious Jewish (kosher) market, Greek wines for ex patriot Greek Cypriots, Turkish wines for Turkish communities and Lebanese wines for Lebanese restaurants. This outdated idea is misguided as each of these countries is producing their best quality wines for 2,000 years. Furthermore the wines of today are winning trophies and gold medals in the major wine tasting competitions and receiving high scores and quality recognition from international critics.
This is a book not only to read and enjoy, but also to study and learn from. It will explain the beginnings of the world’s wine culture, and the importance of wine in Judeo Christian society. It will also introduce the reader to the exciting modern world of Eastern Mediterranean wine. It is the ultimate guide to the wines of the Eastern Mediterranean, past and present. It will appeal to historians, scholars, wine lovers and connoisseurs alike.
Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age is published by Palgrave Macmillan. Price $ 26.


Wine Route of Israel – New, Revised & Updated

The third edition of The Wine Route of Israel has been published by Cordinata. The book is the most comprehensive overview of the Israeli wine industry to date. This coffee table book contains over 250 pages in full color, with photographs of wineries, winemakers, vineyards and wines. It will be an excellent gift to the wine lover, the connoisseur and to those wishing to get to know the Israeli wine scene. The book is dedicated to Daniel Rogov, z”l, Israel’s most famous wine critic, who passed away last year.

The forewords to the new edition are written by Adam Montefiore from Israel, Peter Stern from California and Dr. Peter Hallgarten from the United Kingdom. Adam Montefiore is an industry insider for both the Golan Heights Winery and Carmel. Peter Stern is the winemaking consultant largely responsible for the quality revolution. Peter Hallgarten, a wine importer, who was the first to market Israeli wines outside the kosher niche. All three have played important parts of the wine revolution that has taken place in Israel from the 1980’s until today. They summarize the benefits of the book as follows:

The quality and variety of Israel’s wines remains one of its best-kept secrets. You can really get to know Israel through its wine regions, wineries and wines and may choose to explore Israel wine country at your leisure through the pages of this book.” Adam Montefiore

One of the most heartening changes is the youth, professionalism and drive of Israel’s winemakers. The wines are better every year and this book provides the information needed to sample their art.”Peter Stern
The dedication to quality ideals and the success of the products, has not only changed the face of wine drinking in Israel, but has spawned the new wineries described in this book.” Dr. Peter Hallgarten

The introductory essays have been written by Adam Montefiore, industry veteran now with Carmel, who is also the wine writer for the Jerusalem Post. There are also contributions by Dr. Arkadi Papikian, Professor Amos Hadas, and Michal Dayagi-Mendels. The section on the wineries was edited by Cordinata owner, Eliezer Sacks. Yaron Goldfisher was the project manager. The last English edition was published 4 years ago, in 2008. Most of the articles have been updated or rewritten, and there are new ones too. The subjects covered include:

The Wine of Israel, an essay on Israeli wine from 3000 BCE to 2011

Wine Culture in Antiquity

Wine Roots in the Old City

Wine Authorities and Statistics

Grape Varieties

Wine Regions

Kosher Wine

International Recognition

The wineries listed range from A to Z, or Adir to Zion, covering Israel’s largest wineries to small garagistes. They also cover the map of Israel from Odem Mountain in the northern Golan, to the deepest Negev. There are maps and the wineries are listed geographically to make it useful for the wine tourist.

The Wine Route of Israel, published by Cordinata, Tel Aviv, will retail at: NIS 149. The books will be available in Steimatzky, the Duty Free bookshops at Ben Gurion Airport and in the visitors’ centers and shops of local wineries. To be sure of receiving the new edition, be in direct contact with Eliezer Sacks at Cordinata. Email: [email protected]; Tel. +972 50 569 3777 or +972 3 5226855.


The Ultimate Rogov Guide

Buy The Ultimate Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines

The following is printed with permission of the author

The ultimate, and final, Rogov Guide has been published. It contains nearly 687 pages. Last years version had a mere 603 pages! This year there is no International kosher wine Guide, nor a version in Hebrew. The book is published by Toby Press, the publisher, which has provided a wonderful service to Israeli wine over the years. Rogov’s Guide was first published in 2005 and the last in the series will be the 2012 edition.

It will be the final edition because of the untimely death of the author, Daniel Rogov, z”l, just over a month ago. Daniel Rogov for thirty years had been Israel’s most famous wine critic and the voice of the Israel wine renaissance. His mouthpiece was firstly the Jerusalem Post, then Haaretz and Rogov’s Wine Discussion Forum. However it was the annual Rogov’s Guide To Israeli Wines, which really made Rogov a household name.

The book contains 175 Israeli wineries. For this reason alone it is worth purchasing, because it is the most comprehensive list of Israeli wineries available anywhere, and that includes Israeli wine websites and even the country’s official wine bodies! So it is a valuable source of information. It also contains a data base of wine tasting notes and scores for older wines making it a complete source of information.

The eagerly awaited winery rankings by Rogov were increased this year from the usual ‘Top 10’, to a Baker’s Dozen, allowing the addition of three more wines to the standard list. The top wineries were:

  1. Golan Heights Winery (Katzrin, Rom, Yarden, Gamla)
  2. Margalit
  3. Yatir
  4. Castel
  5. Clos de Gat
  6. Flam
  7. Chateau Golan
  8. Pelter
  9. Carmel (Limited Edition, Mediterranean, Single Vineyard, Appellation)
  10. Sea Horse
  11. Recanati
  12. Tzora
  13. Vitkin

The top wines released in the last 12 months were:

  • Golan Heights Rom Yarden 2007 95 points
  • Margalit, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve 2009 95
  • Yatir Forest 2008 95

Tom Stevenson, the author of the Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia and editor of The Wine Report, wrote: “……thankfully sommeliers and consumers of Israeli wines everywhere can turn to Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines. The Guide ranks with Platter’s Guide in South Africa as head-and-shoulders above every other national wine guide.” A compliment indeed from one of the world’s most respected wine writers. The The Ultimate Rogov’s Guide is the biggest and best ever. It remains a fitting final memorial to Daniel Rogov’s giant contribution to Israeli wine. His memory is a blessing.

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Bottom Up or Top Down? How the Israeli wine industry promotes itself

The Jerusalem Post blogger Levi Shapiro has a new post about my two favorite Israeli wine folk: Daniel Rogov, Israel’s premier wine critic, and Adam Montefiore, Israel’s premier international wine marketer, often referred to (though he humbly laughs at the claim) as “The Ambassador of Israeli Wine.” Not surprisingly, the two most important figures for promoting Israeli wine to an international audience are also olim, immigrants to Israel, from North America and the United Kingdom.

As Levi writes:

Unlike venture capital, the Israeli wine industry has adopted a bottom-up approach.  A few individuals are helping introduce the Israeli Wine “brand” to an international audience. In particular, there is Daniel Rogov, author of Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines, and Adam Montefiore, Wine Development Director for Israel’s largest winery, Carmel and Yatir.

Rogov, as he prefers to be known, is someone who I first made acquaintance via his original Israeli wine forum, in which Rogov – who calls himself a curmudgeon and is no technoevangelist practices the most important rule of social media and content marketing (not sure he would appreciate that compliment, though!) which is simply to be open, accessible, informative, and welcoming. This premier critic always answers the questions of his forumites, always is available for tasting notes, and usually shares his views. More importantly, a man of integrity, he calls ‘em as he sees ‘em and doesn’t let his personal opinions get in the way of his tasting notes. Originally from Brooklyn, Rogov has lived in Israel for several decades.

Rogov helped popularize Israeli wines for a global audience. Now prominent wine critics Robert Parker, Hugh Johnson, Mark Squires and Oz Clarke feature sections about Israeli wines in their books. Even web sensation Gary Vaynerchuck tasted Israeli wines with Rogov on Wine Library TV.

The other important figure mentioned is Adam Montefiore, currently the Wine Development Director at Carmel. Since the 1980s, Adam has been marketing Israeli wines (not just Carmel and his former employer, Golan Heights Winery, but really promoting the entire industry) to a global market.  As a marketer myself, Adam has taught me a lot about marketing – notably the first rule: be responsive to your customers. I first met Adam having criticized something at Carmel (since changed and now at world-class standards) and since then he has truly become a mentor . A true man of integrity and Zionist, Adam cares about the whole wine industry and really helping to promote the real Israel to the global audience — a true passion of mine as well.

“My career and hobby is the same- advancing Israeli wine”, says Montefiore. He contributes the Israeli wine section for several of the most famous wine guides and writes about Israeli wine for the Jewish Chronicle (UK) and Jerusalem Post.

“The best resource we have is the wine itself. Doing tastings- with sommeliers, wine press, retailers- is the way to get the message across. While the symbol of Israel was once the Jaffa orange and the kibbutz, today it is quality wine and high-tech. We want people opening a bottle of Israeli wine to think of ingenuity, climate, technology and Mediterranean sunshine. Our industry can symbolize all that is good about Israel.”

For more about Rogov and Montefiore, read the article.

Getting to Know Israel’s Wine Country: Wine Spectator

Wine Spectator featured an article about Israeli wine in September.

Getting to Know Israel’s Wine Country

With more than 200 wineries, five wine regions and a new focus on quality, Israel has plenty to explore. Learn more from three of its leading winemakers

Read  the article on Wine Spectator’s website