Israel wineries I visited in the Judean Hills and the Shomron during my second week and the The Wine Mill wine shop

Wine Mill wine shop in the center of Jerusalem

The Wine Mill wine shop

Last week I posted that I was in Israel for three weeks over the month of December, and in that first post I wrote about the wineries I saw in the Galilee wine region (the north of Israel). What I failed to talk about was Gabriel Geller and his wine shop in the middle of Jerusalem. I spoke about the Wine Mill wine shop in a previous post, it is located smack dab in the middle of Jerusalem, close to the city center, and to many hotels and restaurants. The address for the Wine Mill wine shop is 8, Ramban Street, 92422 Jerusalem, Israel, it is a shop that I can say is stocked with wines that I would be happy to enjoy and is the main wine shop that I use when in Israel. Why? Because Geller knows his wines, sells only wines he or his customers like, and knows the wines he sells. His shop is filled with wines that are often only sold at the winery itself, like Midbar Winery wines (see below) or Herzberg Winery wines (see below). His shop is also filled with small winery wines, like Weitzman Petite Verdot, or Gat Shomron Winery, and many others. Please do not think that this is a paid advertisement or something – LOL! I do not take money from people. I bring up Gabriel Geller and the Wine Mill, because during my three week stay in Israel, I was either in Geller’s store, with Geller himself, or calling Geller everyday, including Friday day and Saturdays (Saturday night of course)!

As I ended the previous posting – I wrote about my take on the Israeli wine scene, and I would like to add some more thoughts to the thread:

  1. If I had to give a color or fruit that best describes the 2010 vintage in Israel – it would blueberry! YES blueberry! No, I am not talking about malbec or Syrah or Petite Verdot. What I am talking about is all of those and more shockingly, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot! Try it out and see for yourself. When I asked the wine makers about it, they said that the growing conditions of 2010, hot and then cool led to the blue flavors.
  2. 2010 and on can well be the year of the small wine maker. Wineries are coming and going – that is for sure, but it is also a fact that small production wineries, like Herzberg Winery and Gat Shomron winery are popping up and staying afloat – because they do not have that much wine to move. Time will tell.
  3. Finally, more and more high level and high quality mevushal is occurring in Israel. Shiloh winery has been doing it for a few years now, as is Binyamina on its reserve series and cave, and others. It is not widespread or low quality. The process is being done at great cost and at great effort – bringing forth quality wine that happens to be mevushal, much like Herzog and Hagafen. While this is true of the few that I have listed above, Recanati has started doing it to some of their diamond label wines and the outcome is not that great. The 2010 Shiraz tasted cooked while the non-mevushal bottle in Israel did not have that taint – time will tell how these experiments will turn out.
  4. If you must pick a single varietal that shines in the Shomron – it would be Merlot. All the Merlot wines we tasted from the Shomron (whether made from a winery in the Shomron or wineries that source their grapes from the Shomron – like Teperberg) – the winners were always the Merlot! If it is the cooler weather the higher acidity – who cares – it is great wine!
  5. Wineries are getting the message – making more old-world wines with Israeli fruit. What that means to me is to make ripe and sweet wines that are controlled without the overripe date and raisin bombs that were so very prevalent some 5 years ago. In its place I find that Israeli wineries are producing wine with sweet and ripe fruit, while all the while showing clear control of both the sweetness of the fruit and the amount of oak used.
  6. Israel residents are finally starting to understand that they live in a Mediterranean country (with one of their borders on the Med) with blazing hot summers and therefore need to start appreciating white wines! I know, Jews like to drink red wines, something to do with the whole kiddush and shabbos thing. Still, white wine is lovely and is a wine that can be done well in Israel. Take the Midbar winery as an example. A winery that was built on the premise of making GREAT white wines in Israel! It took a long time for the perfect storm to occur, the nexus point of Israeli residents wanting white wines and for wineries to excel at the production of good white wines. Maybe it was a chicken-egg thing between the wineries and the residents, or maybe it was the whole culture thing – but Israeli wineries are figuring it now. More and more every winery is making a Rose, a Chardonnay, and many are doing Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling wines, and many others. So keep a look out for very solid Israeli white wines – they may actually remove them from Israel’s endangered species list!
  7. The main high end red wines being poured at wineries in Israel are shmitta wines, wines from the 2008 vintage. I say this simply as a warning and no more than that. If you care, than skip the wines. If you do not worry about it – than do what you wish. I simply state it here as an informational notice.

My first day in Israel I actually was in Jerusalem and met Elchonon Hellinger (the monster that we created) and his nice chef friend; the Mendelnik (who rumor has is even crazier of a driver than the rest of Israeli drivers). We enjoyed a bunch of wines from David Edri’s Kinor David Winery – a winery based in Hebron and one that Elchonon has been raving about for months. We had the chance to taste some of the reds, which were not very good, as they were older wines. We got to taste his mythical ports and sherry wines! Those wines were in indeed crazy good and quite enjoyable, while some of his newer red wines were OK (we tasted them later in the second week).

Another fact that I need to repeat, Yossie Horwitz’s Israel winery mash-up map was a lifesaver when needing to lookup addresses and contact info for each and every winery that I visited!

Hamasrek Winery

Nachum Greengrass and Gabriel Geller at the Hamasrek WineryOn the Friday that I returned from my trip up north, I visited Geller and we tasted the 2009 Niakanor Merlot, Reserve and the 2011 Ruth Dessert wine, which we spoke about in a previous post here. On the following Saturday night Geller and I went to Hamasrek winery, after lighting the Hanukkah candles and it was nice meeting with the winemaker; Nachum Greengrass and tasting a bottle of the winery’s flagship wine; 2006 Hamasrek The King’s Blend, Limited Edition, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel. The wine was nice, though it is not a wine that Royal imports anymore, so if you want some, it is available at the winery in Israel.

Tzuba Winery

Eiton Green and the Mashgiach at Tzuba Winery's Wine tasting bar-smallOn Sunday I spent most of my day scheduling the week of wine tastings and I was able to swing by the Tzuba Winery, though I came too late to spend time with Paul Dubb, the winemaker, like in the past, but I did spend time with Eiton Green, the General Manager of Tzuba and the nice Mashgiach who put up with my late timing and was willing to stay around and pour me some really nice wines. The 2011 Tzuba Chard is really nice, along with the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, but the Metzuda wines (the flagship labels of Tzuba) were the WOW wines for sure. The 2009 Tzuba Metzuda (70% Cab, 15% Merlot, and 15% Cabernet Franc) was a very ancient wine press at Tzuba winery-smallclose WOW wine, and a wine that I liked more in New York last year than at the winery, but that may have been more about not letting the wine open up properly. The 2010 Tzuba Metzuda blend (44% Cab, 44% Merlot, and 12% Cabernet Franc) was a clear and present WOW Wine – very solid and well done wine with blue, green and black notes, big muscles, heavy spice, and great acid. Finally, the 2010 Tzuba Syrah Metzuda was the best wine there and one that is truly really nice and one that could be easily mistaken for a northern California Syrah – Bravo! Many thanks to the Tzuba winery, Paul, Eiton, and the Mashgiach, who put up with my late arrival and were still kind and happy to share their wonderful wines with me.

Ella Valley Winery

Ella Valley Winery Tasting Room-small

On Monday, I picked up Gabriel Geller and we started a very long day of wine tasting. The first winery we visited is Ella Valley Winery, where I had hoped we would meet Lin Gold, the new winemaker that took over for Doron Rav Hon, in 2011. I really wanted to meet her, but she was out of the country when we visited and we missed her by a few days – such is life. We did meet with Ilan Bezalel, VP of Ella Valley Vineyards, and we tasted through some of Gold’s new wines and some old wines from Doron. The 2011 Ella Valley Sauvignon Blanc and Rose are clear shift in Gold’s approach with sweeter and riper notes, gone is the lemon peel and herb. Instead the fruit is ripe, expressive, but fully controlled without overbearing ripe notes. It is a fine line to Ella Valley Winery Tasting Bar-smallwalk and one that will be harder to implement in the red wines. I look forward to trying Gold’s red wines to se if her approach is the same in red as it is in white and if it can be done with equal control. We enjoyed the 2011 Ella Valley Everred Rose’s salmon pink color and fruit. The 2007 Ella Valley Merlot was quite nice, but the star of the tasting was the 2009 Ella Valley Cabernet Franc. Yes, I like Cabernet Franc, get over it, but this wine was a solid A- to A wine and worthy of the WOW award! One of the saddest things I heard in Israel, was at Ella Valley Winery, when Ilan told me that there will be no more Pinot Noir after the 2008 vintage – I am not sure why – but that is what I was told. It is a real shame as the Ell Valley Pinot Noir was quite impressive. Many thanks to Ilan and I hope next time we visit we will have the opportunity to meet with Lin Gold.

Teperberg Winery

Olivier Fratty, 17 bottles, and a platter of Fricassee sandwiches-smallFrom there we went to one of the clear highlights of my trip – Teperberg Winery. The last time I wrote about Teperberg Winery was after a tasting at the 2012 Gotham Wine Extravaganza, where the Chief Winemaker Shiki Rauchberger of Teperberg Winery came to the tasting and poured many Teperberg wines, including a few barrel samples, and the still unreleased and unnamed premium label for the winery. At that time, I sad that the winery was on the correct course and was a winery that was clearly improving year over year. I was looking forward to visiting the Teperberg winery because I wanted to see if this path to improvement was continuing or not, and indeed the upper level labels have truly improved their trajectory towards being a top level wine producer. Fricassee sandwiches at Teperberg Winery-smallWe arrived on time and were met by Olivier Fratty, Teperberg’s French oriented winemaker, who happens to also be Tunisian! The winery is massive to say the least, producing many not so interesting wines for the sugary drinking crowd and some very nice higher-end wines for the wine drinking crowd. They make 1 million bottles of wine a year and 35% of that is sold under the Teperberg label, and that percentage is slowly moving up. The winery is planting vineyards like they are going out of style. 120 dunam in the Galilee, and 1700 dunam in the Shomron, with 2500 dunam overall planted or being planted throughout Israel. After showing us around, Olivier took us to a trailer where we were blown away by the number of wines that littered a conference room sized table! Olivier told us that Teperberg was Olivier Fratty and Gabriel Geller enjoying Fricassee after tasting 17 bottles of wine at Teperberg Winery-smallworking on building a new visitor center and until than this was where he greeted and tasted wine with visitors and colleagues. When I entered all I could smell was fried chicken! I looked around and I asked – do you guys also make fried chicken? Olivier replied that the smell was wafting out of the box of fricassee sandwiches! Fricassee is a Tunisian sandwich, which is so Tunisian in so many ways! When I talk about Tunisian recipes, they start and end with oil – it is the framework for all Tunisian recipes – fried food covered with oil and tasting – OH so good! Well, these fricassee sandwiches are essentially stuffed doughnuts! The doughnuts are commonly stuffed with tuna fish, egg salad, and other such sandwich fare.

A picture of the 17 bottles of wine enjoyed at Teperberg Winery-smallWe enjoyed tasting some 17 wines at the winery and the take away I had was that many of the newer vintages were solid to very solid wines with a few WOW wines sprinkled in. The wine tasting started with a surprising pair of close to WOW and absolute WOW wines; the 2012 Teperberg Sauvignon Blanc, Terra and the 2011 Teperberg Viognier, Terra. There is a person on the Israeli and Kosher Wine forum who craves acid and all I can say is that the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc is as close as you can get to biting into a ripe raw lemon and truly enjoying it! The Sauvignon Blanc is a shocking and screaming citrus 2011 Teperberg Viognier, Terra-smallexplosion with crazy ripe and beautiful fruit – BRAVO. The 2011 Viognier is crazy nice and is equal in nature to the old Dalton Viognier and the new 2012 Dalton Viognier. However, both of them are not quite up to Midbar’s Viognier (more on that below) – but they are two of the best kosher Viognier wines out there. Many of the wines we enjoyed at the tasting were either recently bottled or not yet bottled, so not only do I not have many pictures, many of these bottles will not be available immediately. The 2009 Teperberg Malbec is a lovely and medium bodied Malbec with big beautiful blue and black fruit. The 2010 Malbec is as good as the 2009 vintage – but the 2011 is CRAZY FILTHY and WOW (by now I hope you know that is a compliment – right?), quite a lovely wine. Rich, layered, and in your face, but controlled and ripe. The Merlot Terra wines were nice, the 2009 was OK in a classic green and red way, while the 2010 Terra Merlot was unique and more rich, with blueberry, boysenberry, green and black fruit and floral notes – nice! The 2009 and 2010 Terra Cabernet were OK, with the 2010 showing elegantly, but the shocking QPR 2010 stole the pairing by far! The 2010 Terra Cabernet is massive freight train with power, muscle, and fruit to spare, a highly extracted and expressive wine.

2009 Teperberg Merlot, reserve-smallThe next wines were the reserve wines and the differences between the tasting at Gotham (of these wines a year ago) and the wines now are quite interesting. The next wines were the 2009 and 2010 Merlot reserve wines from the Shomron. At the Gotham tasting the 2009 Merlot reserve was tight as a drum and showed little expression. WOW! What a year makes! This wine is a clear WOW wine and a fantastic example of what a Merlot can be. The 2009 is a filthy, expressive, green, black, and red monster with huge shoulders, rich body, and ample fruit to spare. The 2010 Merlot reserve is also nice and rich and a solid showing for this winery! The Shiraz reserve from 2009 is a wine we liked more at the tasting in Gotham than in Israel. I tasted its brother (the 2010 vintage), at the Terravino dinner and the 2009 vintage at the winery. The 2010 vintage seemed hollow or short while the 2009 was nice but did not blow me away. Still nice wines and maybe they will fill out in the future. The Cabernet reserve is a wine that is a blend of 2009 Teperberg Cabernet Sauvignon, reserve-smallfruit from the Shomron, Galilee, and Judean Hills. From what I saw of Shomron Cabernet Sauvignon – this is a really good idea. The Shomron Cabs, that we tasted, showed greener and redder than this lovely black and balanced wine. The 2009 Cab Reserve is anotehr wine that showed tight and closed at the Gotham wine tasting that at the winery a year later was KILLER! The 2009 Cab reserve is a massive, extracted, and rich Cabernet – rich and expressive, black, red, and full of vigor. The 2010 vintage is well – blue! Like I said in my trends for 2010, Cabernet fruit from Israel in 2010 shows blue fruit! It is unique, not expected and quite lovely. It helps to round out the wine. The wine is not as extracted as its older brother but is equally spicy with good richness and mouth cover, both are solid A- wines. The 2009 Merlot reserve and Cabernet reserve did not show well at the Gotham wine event – no matter how hard Shiki tried with decanters and god knows what else! But waiting a year and letting god take care of the aging – the wines now show beautifully! Another great example for why age rather than technology is the way to enjoy a wine!

The final dry red wine was the 2010 Cabernet Franc – and yes – I LOVED IT! It is still a solid A- wine and tasting very much like at the Gotham wine event! What a green, red, and tobacco monster it is! Rich, layered, and elegant all at the same time. At this point we were hurrying to get out and go to the next winery, but Olivier was not going to let us go before we had a taste of his new bubbly sweet moscato wine, which was OK, and the Teperberg Nevel Port Style wine – which though I know will get me in trouble with Adam M, is still an OK port to me. At this point I was starving and I helped myself to a few of the wonderful fricassee, but man by the time we were done the platter was gone and someone, who will go unnamed, left with some of them stuffed in his pocket – LOL!!!! It was a truly enjoyable tasting and one that shows how much this winery is growing and learning about its fruit. Thanks so much to Shiki and Olivier.

Flam Winery

Gabriel Geller Holding down fort at Flam Winery-smallFrom here we drove to Flam Winery – where Golan Flam affirmed for me what many have been saying for years – that Flam Winery is a European powerhouse in the Judean Hills. The winery, while producing awesome wines for years, only recently turned kosher in 2010, and so the reserve 2010 wines are finally bottled and are being shown in the winery for those in the know and they were quite lovely! The winery’s decor is styled in a comfortable yet stylish European family setting. The table upon which we did the tasting looks like it was pulled from a Italian home in Tuscany. The china cabinet that faces the other wall looks like it came out of a French villa in the 1900s. The styling is very reminiscent of what the family ants to project – a family run European winery in the middle of Israel. The wines and the winery follow this theme to a tee and it was a real joy to be ion the winery again.

Flam Winery's European look and feel-smallWe arrived a bit late but Israel Flam, the patriarch of the family, was more than kind to sit down with us and allow us to taste through the wines that are currently available, along with a few wines that are not yet available. Flam Winery recently received high praises from Mark Squires of the Wine Advocate, when he gave 90 to the 2011 Flam Blanc. We were graciously accepted even though we were late, with Israel Flam sitting down with us to start the tasting. As, I previously explained in my past post about Flam Winery, Israel Flam is one of the superstars in the Israeli wine scene. Mr. Flam was originally head wine maker at Carmel winery and never imagined his kids would get into the business. However, after Golan went to wine school and Gilad went to business school – things looked like Golan would be in the wine business sooner or later. However, the real shocker was when Gilad spoke with his father and asked him if the wine business is a Israel Flam, Gabriel Geller, and Golan Flam at the Flam Winery-smallgood idea? Israel replied, that if you want to make money quickly – than go start a start-up or go into banking. If you want to lose money quickly or maybe make money very slowly – go into the wine business. With that kind of resounding reply – Israel was surprised to hear soon after that Golan and Gilad were going into the family business and they did both ideas! They started a winery – the family owned and operated Flam Winery, and they started a wine and liquor start-up, involved in the import and export of alcohol throughout Israel and abroad. Proof positive that it is always a good idea to listen to your elders!

2011 Flam Blanc-smallSoon enough, after we started tasting the 2011 Flam Blanc, which was a nice A- wine, Golan Flam was very kind to come and join us, not withstanding are out of control tardiness. After the Flam Blanc we tasted the 2010 Flam Classico, and it reaffirmed for me that I did not love it as much as I did the first time I tasted it last year. You see, last month we did a tasting of many kosher blends and the 2010 Flam Classico was one of them, and it did not go over well on the table, a B++ wine, rather than the A- wine I tasted a year ago at the winery. So, I was looking forward to seeing if it was the wine or my storage/transportation. In the end, it is a nice wine, but not the same A- wine I remembered, even after tasting it again at the winery. However, all of this is irrelevant in comparison to what we tasted next. It was the reserve wines that we have been waiting for an entire year to taste, that fully explains the mad cult following that Flam reserve wines have in Israel, even before they were kosher.

2010 Flam Syrah, Reserve-smallAfter we tasted the Classico, we were given the opportunity to taste the recently released 2010 Flam Syrah, reserve. This is a wine that is a pure WOW wine in every way, with blueberry, blackberry, power and finesse coursing through its veins. This is a bull/powerhouse of a wine that can easily do a pirouette in a china store on one foot – finesse and elegance all wrapped in a blue, black, licorice and espresso coffee body – BRAVO! The mind melting thing here was that this was just the start, the next two wines were equally mind melting, with perfect balance and control, the fruit is Israeli in every way, sweet, bright, and ripe, yet the wine is controlled and kept in its European style – quite a hard thing to implement, and Golan Flam has done it with aplomb. The great news here is that this wine is available now in Israel and will be available for tasting at the Kosher Food and Wine Experience (KFWE) in NY and at the International Food and Wine Festival in LA, Golan told me he will be at both events!

2010 Flam Merlot, Reserve-smallThe next wine was the 2010 Flam Merlot, reserve and it too was a WOW wine, deep and rich with a classic style, green notes, red and light black notes with many layers of deep extracted fruit, lovely tobacco and insane mouth coating tannin that is mineral based with graphite and loamy dirt. Quite a lovely wine that does not shy away from its searing tannin, concentrated fruit, and deep fruit extraction. Double WOW and BRAVO!

2010 Flam Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve-smallThe final wine was the craziest wine of the bunch, the 2010 Flam Cabernet Sauvignon, reserve with you guessed it – blueberry fruit! The 2010 Flam Cabernet Sauvignon, reserve is crazy rich and layered with blue, black, and red fruit. The mouth is rich, layered, and insanely complex, with massive rich tannin, crazy black and blue fruit and deep rooted mineral. The finish is long, spicy, and luscious with crazy tannin, all while dressed in a long leather trench coat, holding a piping hot cup of espresso coffee, while taking a long pull on a fat stogie with a side of chocolate mocha java. Double WOW and BRAVO again!

The three reserve wines show the true potential of Israeli wines. Wines that are distinctly Israeli, with big ripe fruit, all while controlled with good mineral and dirt, nice cedar, and oak extraction. Anyone who has enjoyed these wines can see why Daniel Rogov continually gave them high scores and why Mark Squires also loves them a bunch. Thanks so much again to Israel Flam and Golan Flam for taking the time to met with us and to share their liquid gold with us as well – I am sure the wine will sell well whether we wrote about it or not – so again many thanks to everyone from the Flam Winery.

Herzberg Winery

herzberg winery entranceOnce we left the Flam Winery we made our way to Herzberg Winery a winery that is owned, run, and operated by a single man – Max Herzberg. It was pouring rain as we made our way to his lovely home – which doubles as his winery and vineyard. Yes, he reminds me of my good friend Benaymin Cantz (from four gates winery), another of those home bound Vignobles who live, breath, and eat winemaking in and around their very abode!

Max Herzberg is a world famous biotechnologist who has single-handedly created and sold more companies than many of us even know or can keep track of. Max immigrated to Israel from France and quickly became a world class biotechnologist and a leader in his field and in the corporate world!

Max Herzberg at his winery – Herzberg Winery

However, after getting his fill of running biotechnology departments at universities and running and starting companies, Max decided he would plant a vineyard. One day Max approached his clearly intelligent wife (who happens to be a Tunisian – so that helps a lot of course) and asked if she minded if he planted a few vines? His wife replied, you mean you want to plant the entire field – right? Sure enough, in 2005, by the time Max was done, the entire 3 acre field, right next to his home in Moshav Sitrya was planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec. It is not clear if this particular location within the Judean Hills is well situated for Malbec, but as Max puts it – time will tell. Max also makes use of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from a neighboring vineyard. The first true year for the winery was in 2008, though there was some 300 bottles from the 2007 vintage.

herzberg vineyardsAs usual, Geller knows everyone and him and Max hit it off really well. It helps that Geller speaks a perfect French (so jealous), the native tongue of the French born Max Herzberg. It was with this knowledge that we arrived at his home and he showed us around the winery – though by this time it was pitch dark and we were walking around very carefully. We soon made our way to the well lit tasting room, that is adjacent to the winery and that is where we tasted through the winery’s entire line. A few weeks after we visited, Max had a winery tasting at his winery to show off the new 2009/2010 red wines and from what I can see on his Facebook pageit was a smash! Max is one of those honest, down to earth, humble and talented wine makers that enjoy what he is doing and it shows in his wine and in his passion for his craft.

2009 Herzberg Malbec-smallWe started the tasting with the 2009 Herzberg malbec, the very wine that made Max and his winery famous. I was told by many that this was a must taste wine, and so I bought a bottle at the Wind Mill for Shabbos. The bottle I got was lacking in many ways, so I was hoping it was just a bad bottle and that I would be enjoying the true version of the malbec. Sure enough the 2009 Herzberg Malbec that we tasted was indeed quite lovely. The wine was not a OW wine, but to be fair I have yet to taste a WOW Malbec, with the possible exception of the 2009 Tishbi Malbec, but that is for another post. I would score the wine a B+ to A-. The malbec was not blue, but rather red and very spicy with a perfumed nose, a medium body with good tannin structure and good usage of oak. The 2009 Merlot is very much in the same ilk of the Malbec with plenty of red fruit, along with nice green notes, heaps of floral notes and a solid medium bodied structure. The mouth is well balanced with aggressive almost mouth drying tannin, near sweet cedar, and ripe red and black fruit. The finish is packed with mineral and charcoal – a unique and lovely Merlot. The next wine was the 2009 Reserve, a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 20% Malbec. The nose is unique with 2009 Herzberg Reserve-smallsugared and candied plum, mineral, green notes, and ripe fruit. The mouth is medium plus in weight with good tart fruit, more mouth drying tannin, and sweet cedar. The finish is long with more mineral and chocolate covered tobacco. The next wine was from the 2010 vintage – the 2010 Herzberg Asado Blend, which is a blend of 50% Malbec, and 25% each of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Asado was a dirtier more earthy wine than the 2009 wines, with deep rooted green notes, loamy dirt, mushroom, red and black fruit, more mouth drying tannin, good red and black fruit, and wonderful balance. The finish is long and spicy with green, vanilla, and crazy spices like cinnamon, cloves, and tobacco. The Asado name is a nod to Argentinians who have clearly made a name for themselves in the wine world with their version of the Malbec fruit.

Max was very kind to share with us his 2010 wines and those are a clear bump up from the 2009 crop. The 2010 Merlot and Reserve wines of course continue the 2010 theme with huge amounts of blue fruit, but they are also broader, deeper, and more concentrated wine with weight and fruit that can carry the strong handed use of oak. The fruit is dark, brooding, rich and truly complex – in a manner that makes you stop and take notice. Are they WOW wines? Not quite, but they are solid A- wines and ones that I would have bought if they were available.

Herzberg winery on crush dayThe 2010 Herzberg Cab fruit is ripe and jammy, full, with crazy floral notes and blueberry, followed by black fruit, and currant. The mouth is medium to full bodied with tannin that goes forever, concentrated fruit, and deep layers of blackberry, cassis, sweet cedar, and mouth drying tannin. The 2010 Herzberg Reserve is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% each of Malbec and Merlot. Once again the nose is ripe with ribbons of blueberry, blackberry, violet, licorice, and controlled spice. The mouth is rich and full bodied with softening yet aggressive mouth drying tannin, sweet ripe fruit, and a concentrated mouth that is coming together nicely. The finish is long, balanced, and sweet and spicy at the same time with chocolate covered tobacco, with vanilla and spice.

We had a few other wines and stuff that is undocumented and it will stay that way – but the entire tasting was a true joy and one that gave me the chance to see a man who has nothing to prove in this world. A man that has made his mark on it and yet a man that decided he wants to strike out in a different direction, one that he loves and cares about and is willing to spend his retirement years doing! I say bravo to you sir and best wishes for another successful vintage! Thanks so much for making time for the two of us!

Well, when one is on a winery hunt – a few wineries a day is really not enough – it is kind of like castle hunting for folks who visit Scotland. For me, in Israel, it is all about winery hunting. So, it was a brisk Tuesday morning that I realized that I was late to pick up my nephew who was joining me for my mad adventure – half way across the world! I soon parked at Lod Airport, in the pouring rain and parked the car in short term parking.  There waiting for me was my nephew and the start of a whirlwind adventure for him – I think more than he knew he was getting himself into! The day was young and after stopping for some coffee, sandwich, and pastries, it was off to the first of two wineries; the Yaffo Winery and the Gush Etzion Winery. They are both right next to each other, some 10 kilometers or less away from each other, and the Yaffo Winery is literally right next door to the Ella Valley Winery, a winery we visited two days earlier (see above 🙂 ).

Yaffo Winery

Yaffo Winery-smallWe rolled into the Yaffo Winery on time, but from the wrong direction and from a very soggy and wet dirt road. We took the wrong entrance and it was a miracle that we could get the car up the steep and short incline, but blessedly we succeeded and smartly decided not to try that on the way out!

As we rolled up to the winery, Moshe Celniker, the owner and original winemaker of Yaffo Winery, greeted us. Soon after his son Stephan the current winemaker at the winery joined us. The rain had passed and the crisp clean air and almost cloudless skies made for a quite picturesque setting in the winery surrounded by vineyards for as far as the eye could see.

Yaffo Winery sign from the street

Yaffo winery was started in 1998 by Moshe Celniker in his basement, when he made some 2000 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. From there, the winery has grown to 40,000 bottles in the most recent 2012 harvest. At the start Moshe was the winemaker, owner, and all around “guy” who ran the company. However, in time his son Stephan decided he wanted to join the family business and went to study agriculture at Hebrew University in Rechovot and then went on to study wine making in Bourgogne, France. He then worked in Bordeaux for a couple of years before rejoining his father and taking over wine making duties a few years ago.

Stephen Celniker (winemaker of Yaffo Winery) pouring a glass for the seated Moshe Celniker, owner of Yaffo Winery (from the winery’s Facebook page)

In 2007 the winery moved to its current location, at the edge of Ella Valley (Emek HaElla), not far at all from the Ella Valley Winery. It is also very close to the winery’s 40 dunam of grapes. The vineyards surround the winery and they are comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, along with a bit of Mourvedre, and Carignan. The winery takes in 40 tons of fruit and uses it to make 6 labels; Rose from Cabernet, a varietal Carignan, Chardonnay, Merlot/Syrah blend, varietal Cabernet, and their flagship Bordeaux blend called Heritage.

As we sat in the lovely winery, I could not help but wonder about this and the other small wineries I have visited, and smile at how far the industry has come here in Israel. Here was another small family run winery that worked hard to create solid wines in an appealing and old world style, while still letting the Israeli fruit shine through.

Yaffo Winery - inside 2-smallThe tasting did not include the Chardonnay or Rose as they were sold out of both of them, but we did taste the other red wines and while the first two were not WOW wines, they were very solid B+ and B++ wines. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon was a solid wine with good old world characteristics in the nose, showing herb, red and black fruit. The mouth was medium weight with good balance, unique butter characteristics, sweet cedar, and dark fruit, all supported by nice mouth coating tannin and vanilla, with green notes, tobacco, and tannin lingering. The 2010 Syrah/Merlot blend is a 50/50 blend of the two grapes and showed lovely roasted animal notes, blueberry, mounds of black fruit, earth, and rich tilled dirt. The mouth is medium 2009 Yaffo Heritage-smallin weight but showing concentrated blue and black fruit, along with wonderful control of the sweetness along with good tannin structure that supports the wine through its long and spicy and mineral based finish. The wine was another solid B++ to maybe A- wine. The Heritage is as close to a WOW wine that you can come without being on. The 2009 Heritage is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, and 15% Syrah. The nose is big, rich, and perfumed with black and red fruit, all covered over by a lovely canopy of green foliage with a side of toffee and graphite. The mouth on this massive and full bodied wine is layered with concentrated black and red fruit, sweet cedar, and a mouth coating tannin structure that lingers long. The finish is classically balanced and so Israeli with tobacco, chocolate, mineral, graphite, along with unique butter coated tobacco, herb, and mineral. They also sell a Carignan and we did not have time to taste it so they were very nice to give me a bottle and I will taste it in the near future and write it up in a future blog posting.

Yaffo Winery from the other side-smallAfter we drove off, I missed the chance to get a picture of the sign for the Yaffo Winery that is on the road. It is a small sign that points to a road that looks like you need a 4×4 to get through. But actually, the dirt road is very solid, even after raining for a few days straight and was easy to navigate, as long as you knew where to enter. We entered through the back way and we were very happy to make our way back to the main road, using the correct and easy entrance point. When visiting – keep your eye out for the small and hard to see sign – it points to a lovely winery and one that is on the road to solid growth.

Gush Etzion Winery

Gush Etzion Winery sign from the roadThe next destination on our winery hunt was the Gush Etzion Winery, a short distance from the Yaffo Winery, once you join up on route 60. We have written before about the Gush Etzion Winery in this post, and one that we really like in many ways. The winery has been around for quite some time, some 18 years actually! The building we visited was built in 2005 and the restaurant where we enjoyed a few cups of coffee was built in 2007, along with the massive tasting room anchored by an S&P 500 corporate sized table in the middle of it! For more on the winery and its background please look at our in depth posting of the winery from last year.

Gush Etzion tank roomThe funny thing was that I did the write-up last year before I had ever visited the winery (I did note that in the posting). It was great to actually walk into the winery and take in the ambiance and see the cool steel decking that wraps around the massive tank room.

Once we had walked through the winery and waited for a large group to lave the tasting room, we were shown our way to the tasting bar which at the back of the tasting room. It was here where we started our assault on a long list of wines, 10 to be exact. There were more but many of the red wines are from the 2008 vintage, a shmitta year and I do not drink shmitta wines in Israel – not for this post.

Gush Etzion tasting room and tasting tableThe first thing you will realize is that Gush Etzion is one of those new up and coming wineries that is more than happy and proud to make solid to very solid white wines in Israel! Of the 10 wines we tasted, six of them were white wines. That is not to say that Gush Etzion does not have many red wines, it only means that the current crop of red wines at wineries today is the 2008 vintage – which causes me some consternation, but such is life. The nice man who was pouring for us, did go out of his way to go get us 2009 vintages for a couple of wines, so many thanks for that and many thanks to the entire Gush Etzion winery people for making us feel at home and showing us a great time!

Gush Etzion tank room with Doron and our wine pourerThe white wines were all B+ to B++ wines with the blessed white being a solid B+ to A- wine, along with special mentions to the Gewurztraminer and white Riesling, for their rich and good varietal flavors. The remaining red wines were really quite lovely, including the 2007 Nahal Hapirim (A-) a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 9% Petite Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc, and the 2007 Blessed Red Valley (A-) a blend of 77% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Franc. The WOW superstar wines in the tasting were the 2009 Gush Etzion Syrah, Lone Oak and the 2009 Gush Etzion Cabernet Franc, Reserve. The real adjective for the Cabernet Franc is filthy, in all the right ways, with the Syrah being WOW! The Cabernet Franc is one of those wines that is so true to its varietal roots that if you do not see it is a Cabernet Franc, just give up and walk away! The nose explodes with Gush Etzion tasting room and tasting barfloral notes, rich and perfumed red fruit notes, all under a canopy of herb and green notes, with a hint of date. The mouth is wow, with massive, yet controlled mouth coating tannin, layers of ripe and concentrated black and red fruit all presented in an elegant box of cedar planks and integrated tannin. The finish is long, and mineral in its core with graphite, leather, crazy spice, and good oak influence- BRAVO!

The 2009 Gush Etzion Syrah, Lone Oak is another of those Northern California Syrah wines that happen to be popping up all over Israel. The wine is big, bold, Spicy, blue, red, and black all over – just the way a proper Syrah should be built (in my opinion). This was another Bravo wine for sure.

Visiting Yaffo and Gush Etzion winery was a great way to break in my nephew for the what faced him in the coming days, taking the winery hunt to a whole new torturous level!

Psagot Winery

Psagot winery logo in tasting room-smallThe next day we started out early and were headed into the Shomron wine region of Israel. The Teperberg Winery sources much to most of its grapes from this region, and it is essentially defined as anything north of Jerusalem, meaning many of the wineries that I stated as being Judean Hills wineries, like Tanya Winery and Psagot Winery are actually Shomron wineries.

One of the clear things we saw at Teperberg and a theme that continued through the third week – was that Merlot rains supreme in the Shomron. Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz/Syrah works as well, but the best grape in the Josh Hexter, Doron Bennett, and the wines and cheeses enjoyed at Psagot Winry-smallShomron has shown to be the Merlot grape, after many tastings. The wineries we visited on Wednesday were only Shomron wineries, but we did visit more in the third week with Geller. I picked up my other nephew who was studying in Jerusalem and made our way to Psagot Winery. We have posted here a few times about the wonderful Psagot Winery in the lands of Binyamin, how it continues to improve its product and how I continue to find out how much I really appreciate the wine they make. We have posted a few times already about the Psagot Winery, so check here for more information on the winery. Josh once again was so very kind to share his wines with us, and we had the opportunity to taste through the entire line of 2010 wines along with a surprise 2011 glass of wine as well.

Wine and cheeses enjoyed at Psagot Winery-smallThe winery has some 40 dunam of grapes, consisting of; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, (from Mata), Chardonnay, and Petite Verdot. The winery started in 2003 with 4000 bottles and in 2012 they made 200,000 bottles, so it has been quite a ride – to say the least! The grapes are sourced from Judean Hills, a bit from Ben Zimra vineyards, and the majority from the Shomron area. After Josh Hexter (the wine maker of Psagot Winery) showed us around the winery and then sat us down upstairs and brought over a plate of lovely cheeses and crackers and lineup of 7 wines to taste, the current lineup that is available in Israel and in the USA.

2010 Psagot Cabernet Franc-smallThe 2011 Psagot Chardonnay was a nice B+ to A- wine with lovely tropical fruit, butterscotch, and slight burnt wood. The 2010 Cabernet Franc continues Josh’s success with this varietal! The A- wine showed great varietal characteristics, with dark red fruit, green notes, and a perfumed nose. The mouth is medium in body with red and black fruit, soft and caressing mouth coating tannins that meld together beautifully. The finish is long and tobacco based with lovely mineral and graphite influence, with a hint of leather and nice spice. The 2010 Merlot was not quite the hit that the 2009 was, with slight oxidation that blows off or slides to the back with ripe candied fruit, graphite, and green notes. The mouth and finish 2010 Psagot Shiraz-smallshow black fruit soft caressing tannin, sweet cedar, with good acid, vanilla, chocolate, and butter. The 2010 Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon is a lovely perfumed wine big black fruit, with green notes, and light date. The mouth is ripe, rich, and mouth coating with big black concentrated fruit, with sweet fruit. The mineral based finish is long and leathery with hints of chocolate and flint (A-). From here, the next wines were all WOW or very close to them, starting with the 2010 Psagot Edom, a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 15% Petite Verdot, and 12% Merlot. This is a wow mouth wine with great sweet but controlled wine, rich, concentrated, layered and dark with black and red fruit, sweet cedar, and rich mouth coating tannin. The finish is long and spicy with green notes and good oak influence, with crazy tobacco, and burnished toast notes.

2010 Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon, single vineyard-smallThe next big winner was the 2010 Psagot Shiraz, though it showed light oxidation it also was lovely with big black and blue fruit, crazy spice, and lovely licorice. The mouth is rich and in your face, ripe and powerful, with big black, blue, and red fruit, that are supported by mouth coating tannin, that is surrounded by a candied fruit orchard with nice cedar layered, rich, and concentrated. The finish is long and crazy with rich mineral, spiced fruit finish, that lingers with sweet fruit, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and white pepper, with hard core black licorice and butter finish.

The final crazy winner was the 2010 Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon, Single vineyard wine. It is a big and aggressive wine with massive broad shoulders, with tons of dense fruit, layers of concentrated flavors and 2010 Psagot Edom-smallaromas, while holding back on date and raisin notes – BRAVO! This is a beast of a wine that will be appreciated by hardcore fans and a wine that I absolutely rave about – WOW and Bravo!

I asked Josh if her could share the 2011 Cabernet Franc with us and he was very kind to grab some of it from a barrel and let us taste it. The wine is a bit sweeter and shows more strawberry than the 2010 raspberry. The wine also shows lovely notes of cut green grass, currant, and green foliage. The wine is green and red and lovely all over. A clear A- wine that will evolve a bit more in oak and be ready for the bottle soon.

Thanks so much to Josh Hexter and the entire Psagot Winery for making time for us and making our trip a true joy.

Beit El Winery and the Lewis Pasco Winery

Doron Bennet and Hillel Manne the winemaker of Beit El Winery-smallThe next winery on the hunt was the Beit El Winery, in Beit El, a 20 minute drive from Psagot. I have had the chance and opportunity to taste Beit El wines in the past, and I was not so impressed. However, with the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, a very solid B++ wine, I was intrigued to see more about the man. I met Hillel Manne in the bay area, of all places, when he came to see his mother! This is a man who grew up in my backyard and though the meeting was short, it planted another seed that made me think I need to get more information about this winery and the man behind it. However, if that was not enough, Lewis Pasco, the head winemaker of Recanati Winery through the 2006 vintage, contacted me and told me that he was making wine again in Israel at Beit El winery! That was it – I had to see Hillel Manne and Lewis Pasco side by side (enough said)!

Beit El's Carignan vineyard planted by hand on the side of a rock mountain - close up-smallBeit El winery was started by Hillel Manne in 1998 in his house and has grown bit by bit. It started by Hillel selling the grapes he grew in his vineyards and then slowly moving from a vineyard manager and grower to a winemaker. His vineyard that is right next to his newly created winery is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Hillel recently planted a new vineyard of Carignan – that is built on a rocky mountain slope and one that is breath taking given its surroundings, and one that made crazy good wine in 2012!

In 2010 the winery produced some 10,000 bottles and with more of the Carignan coming on line and getting better, expect that or a bit more going forward. We met Hillel and his wife Nina at their house, where Lewis Pasco hangs out when he is in Israel, and after a lovely lunch, they drove us to the winery.

Hillel Manne taking maasrot from his wine at the Beit El Winery-smallIn 2012, Hillel Manne reached out to Lewis Pasco and asked him to help him, in a hands on manner, with Beit El’s 2012 vintage. The 2012 wines we tasted were a clear evolution from the 2010 wine we tasted to a classic Lewis Pasco wine – big, broad, aggressive, but maybe a bit more tempered than the old Lewis Pasco. Who knows, maybe experience or maybe the environment created these 2012 wines that almost perfectly mimic the Lewis Pasco of old, but with a bit more herb and control on the insane fruit forward wines of the past. In no way, am I in any way criticizing Lewis Pasco – I have no right, knowledge, or ability to do so! It is more what I sense from the wines he made in the past to the wines he has created in 2012 – they are lovely and with Hillel Manne’s fruit and fruit that Lewis has gathered from the Har Bracha area – they are lovely!

Lewis Pasco at the Beit El Winery-smallWe had the chance to taste through the 2012 barrels and I do not score barrels as they evolve and though I can clearly get a sense for where the wine is and where it is going, I cannot score them like Rogov has done in the past. That said, the two wines that Lewis made for his winery; 2012 Lewis Pasco Merlot from Har Bracha, follows the my strong belief that the Shomron and especially Har Bracha’s merlot is some of the finest Merlot in all of Israel. This particular wine is the perfect combination of Lewis Pasco and Har Bracha Merlot, great acid, fantastic fruit, and sure a hint of date and prune in the background, from sweeter fruit. Still, the wine is full bodied, controlled, broad, sweet, and deep with concentrated fruit and bracing acid – so prevalent in Har Bracha fruit. Time will tell where this wine will go, with leather and more fruit showing over time, and butter, marzipan going to the background.

Lewis Pasco's barrels in Beit El Winery-smallThe next wine is a blend 64% Cabernet Sauvignon from Gvaot, 31% Merlot from Har Bracha, and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon from Shiloh – clearly Shomron grapes, and it shows in the mouth with less black and dirty fruit and more clean and dark red fruit. The wine is huge and unctuous and deep and ready to brawl, but also controlled with ripe fruit and good balance.

The next wine was the 2012 Beit El Cabernet Sauvignon, but before we could taste it, Hillel had to take off masser and terumah, tithing of fruit from Israel produce. Beit El Winery tanks-smallOnce that process was complete we enjoyed two wines that Lewis was part of making with Hillel, the 2012 Beit El Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2012 Beit El Carignan. The 2012 Beit El Cabernet Sauvignon showed from Lewis Pasco’s touch. Where the 2010 was very old world and herb driven, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is new world with dark red and black sweet and candied fruit, along with some nice green notes, but all supported by nice body lines, acid, and great structure. The wine shows long and spicy finish with her, rosemary, and spice showing. As this wine gets oak age on it (not in oak yet), it will round out and show with nice chocolate, quite nice!

Hillel Manne by his Carignan vineyard of Beit El Winery-smallStill, the killer wine of the tasting was the 2012 Beit El Carignan! WOW! What a crazy and insane wine! We had the chance to taste the 2011 Beit El Carignan and the 2012 Carignan. Sure the 2011 vintage was VERY different than the 2012 vintage, but you could still see the new 2012 Lewis Pasco all over this wine. It was sweet, ripe, but controlled and WOW, did I say WOW yet? This wine was dense, rich, layered, blue/black/red and crazy all over. This wine is a MUST buy when it comes out. If I could buy the wine now I would! It tastes awesome now, and I am sure it will only get better with a year of oak – BRAVO!!! The wine is filled with blueberry, boysenberry, and blackberry, along with crazy root beer, dried sweet ginger, and lovely dead animal doing a backstroke in my glass! The mouth is full bodied with deep unctuous crazy mouth coating tannin, huge body and great fruit. The finish is filled with cloves, cinnamon, heavy spice, and ripe balanced fruit – BRAVO!

My two nephews and Hillel Manne and Lewis Pasco-smallWe left the winery and went to see the beautiful Carignan rocky vineyard with Lewis Pasco, Hillel Manne, and his wife Nina Manne. Hillel planted this vineyard by hand on the slope of a lovely and rocky hillside. Hillel being an agriculturalist by profession pointed out many lovely plants that were popping up in rock walls and on the path, all over the place. MANY thanks to Hillel and his lovely wife for taking us in and sharing their story and wines and food with us, it was a joy and treat! Also many thanks to Lewis Pasco for being back in the game – the wine world missed you man- we need good wine makers to continue to push the envelope in Israel and evolve the country to the next level – thanks again.

Tanya Winery

Tanya Winery visitor center-smallOnce we jumped back into our cars we went on the road to the last Shomron winery for the day- Tanya Winery. We have spoken about Tanya winery twice on this blog here and here as well. What can I say; Yoram Cohen is one unique individual winemaker, to say the least! He makes some great wines, wines that are richly oaked, with crazy mouth drying tannins, but one that has more lore about him than he even lets people know about. As I have written about before, Yoram is always the life of the party, and he is also makes some awesome wines. So we were super happy to hear that though Yoram would not be there to greet us, his nephew would be there to show us the visitor’s center and let us taste some of the wines.

Tanya Winery tasting room-smallI was really happy that we got the chance to do this because it has been a year since we have tasted through some of the Tanya’s wines and we were very interested in seeing what the winery was doing with the 2010 and 2011 vintages. We met Yoram’s nephew, who is the winery’s mashgiach, at the winery and from there we made our way to the visitor’s center. When we got there we were graciously served many wines, and at the very end of the tasting – we had a surprise visit from Yoram and as usual it was a true treat.

Tanya Winery outside tasting area-smallTanya winery has been around since 2001 by Yoram Cohen as a family owned and run winery. In 2007 one of Chaim Feder’s friends tasted Yoram’s wines and was sure that Yoram was the next big thing in wine. Chaim and his partners met Yoram and the rest is history. They upgraded the winery’s future productivity by purchasing new equipment, plantings new vineyards, and leasing more space for the winery. The Winery is named after Yoram’s daughter Tanya, and the labels are named after his other children. The winery currently has 60 dunam of vineyards in and around Ofra, the city where Tanya winery has its winery.

Tanya Winery outside tasting area - party 2-smallOnce we came to the visitors center, we seated ourselves in the tasting room and we started to enjoy a bunch of wines. The first wine we tasted was a barrel sample of the 2010 Tanya Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was clearly out of the barrel for sometime, but the wine as still quite lovely.

We had a chance to re-taste the 2009 Tanya Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Halel, the sad thing is that we did not like the wine as much as we did the last time we had it, but it is still a solid red and black wine, dropping to a B+ to A- with rich tannin and obvious oak influence. The next wine was a new label for the winery, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Shiraz, Reserve, Ivri, a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 15% Shiraz. The wine is unique and lovely, though it is a bit lower level than the Halel, it is still a very solid wine. The wine is filled with dried and candied red and black fruit, kirsch cherry, mouth coating tannin, lovely acid and great balance with leather, cinnamon, and insane spice bringing up the end on the rise.

Yoram Cohen head wine maker of Tanya Winery in his tasting room-smallIndeed the labels for Tanya are now, Ivri, Halel, Eliya, and Enosh. The next wine was the 2009 Tanya Shiraz, Reserve, Eliya. The wine is crazy good, blue, red, black, and animal all over. It is a classic Shiraz with blue and black fruit, with great spice and licorice. The Mouth is full and aggressive, with blue and black fruit, blackcurrant, earth, and dead animal, with cedar, and mouth coating tannin that is concentrated and attacking. The finish is long and with light hints of bitterness, chocolate, leather, tobacco, and licorice. A lovely wine but not a WOW wine.

The final wine is not a wine as much as it is a dessert port style wine that I thought was OK, but the real joy of this part of the tasting was the sighting of Yoram Cohen who joined us at the end of the tasting. It was great seeing the man who continues to seem to produce solid to great wines and to get a chance to better understand what makes the man tick and how he integrates his two passions into a single quest – his family and his wine.

Let me say thanks to Mr. Feder and his family and to Yoram and his family for letting us come so late in the day, during his Hanukkah vacation. The visit and tasting were a true kick as usual.

Well that wrapped up Wednesday but I cannot close this day off without reminding people about the mad drivers that hog the roads in Israel and make driving feel like a game of bumper cars or far worse. On our way back from the wineries we were literally forced off the road and into oncoming traffic by non other than an EGGED BUS! The public transportation company that takes Israeli from here to there. Well in this case they took us from here to the other side of oncoming traffic and did not even blink an eye. I have never been so horrified while driving in my life and was another example of how many times I was freaked out for my life while driving the roads of Israel. Of course this was one crazed driver and in no way am I trying to throw the entire Egged bus driver union under a bus (sorry I could not help myself – Doron you are rubbing off). Thank God I survived this and many other harrowing experiences that really should never had occurred, but who am I to dictate how people drive in Israel. This is more of a warning to Americans when driving in Israel, keep your distance and ignore the madness because it is something you cannot control. With that PSA completed, we now return to your regularly scheduled program, already in progress.
Doron seating in fron of Ein Gedi waterfall_The next and final day on this week, started off as a simple idea, go to two wineries and head back home, but it turned into a lot more than that rather quickly. The day started off pretty innocently, with me telling my nephew about this wonderful place on earth called Ein Gedi and the dead sea, which really had nothing to do with my agenda – again that being wineries and wine and more wineries. However, as I am oft to do, I fell for the – we can do it slogan, and we tried to slam a quick trek to the main water fall of Ein Gedi into our travels to the most southern section of the Jerusalem Hills – called Arad. We have often spoken about the sensational winery called Yatir! I do not normally drink their wines given their price and all, however, as we spoke at the winery with the head wine maker of Yatir, Eran Goldwasser, Yatir is one of those wineries whose kosher product can stand on its Doron by the small waterfall of Ein Gedi_own in the worldwide wine community, without the needing to bow to conventional wisdom and limit themselves to solely selling to the kosher community. More on that in a moment. Anyway, as is the case often, man plans and god laughs, I was hoping to get in and out and sure enough we got in – but it took forever to get OUT!!! I blame my nephew 100% on this one! First of all, it was not on the plans. Second of all, we went the wrong way! Yeah the walk actually has a direction to manage the human foot flow! Either way, we were doomed the second we stepped out of the car. With the number of humans going through there at the same time – it was inevitable that we would run into a Pkak Tnu’a in the middle of a national park – bad idea!!

Once the detour was completed and we returned to the car we knew we were going to be late no matter how fast we drove. Of course, I forgot that the last 10 miles of this drive were up and down a mountain side, from negative sea level (the dead sea is one of the lowest places on earth) to thousands of feet above sea water and than back to sea level – yeay!!! By the time we arrived at our first destination we had to be a good 20+ minutes late and that meant we skipped wines later on – more on that soon.

Midbar Winery

Doron outside the Midbar Winery-smallSo, I have teased about this winery long enough, and because it was way too long I posted it in a separate thread on all things Midbar Winery and Yaacov Oryah. Of course I cannot help but state that the entire time we spent there I was in awe of the man and his abilities. Still, I hope my wine notes are unbiased as much as possible. Also, I have too great a picture of my nephew in front of the Midbar Winery to not post it! Also, the fact that there are no red wines in the post is not a reflection in any way on Yaacov, but rather a reflection of our tardiness – hint, hint? Enough said?

My many thanks to Yaacov and to the Midbar winery for taking his time to share his knowledge with us and sharing his hard work with us as well.

Yatir Winery

Yatir Winery's high tech wine tank farm-smallFrom there we drove the 3 kilometers that separate the Midbar Winery (in the outskirts of Arad) from Yatir Winery (in Tel Arad). You can find out more about our Yatir antics in my other posting here. They truly are one of the most consistent wineries in Israel and one whose product does not ail from the lack of high-end product. All their wines are solid and impressive and can match up well against non-kosher wineries – the world around. Proof was the collection of guy-trip wine lovers from Finland! They love Yatir wines and had to visit the winery. We felt so honored to have the entire tour and then the full tasting of the current Yatir line of wines with the winery’s head winemaker Eran Goldwasser. He was the consummate gentleman and such a humble man – what a breath of fresh air, when compared to some other egomaniac winemakers that incorrectly think they are close to his equal.

It was a grand time and many thanks to Eti, Eran Goldwasser, and Adam Montefiore.

It was at this point that my phone rings – I am not lying, which was constant in Israel, either it rang or buzzed (text message). Gabriel Geller was calling to tell me that there was a wine event in Ashdod! Hey! That is along the way home, unless we wanted to go to Livni, which was not an option, as he was not in the country at that time. So, Ashdod it was! We had a heck of a time finding the event hall, which was actually the gymnasium of a college – there in Ashdod. However, once we found the place we were hooked! There was nothing but kosher wines and it was lovely! I really cannot go through all the wines I had there – that would be another 1000 or more words, as if this is not long enough already! The highlights were:

  • 2009 Assemblage wines – the 2009 Orange rind riddled Tzafit was indeed nice, but its 2009 brethren, the Eitan and Reichan we so-so.
  • 2011 Recanati Rose – I felt tannin, toast, and animal on this wine. Gil Shatsberg (the head winemaker at Recanati) was shocked and said it was a bad bottle. Personally, I liked it that way and more complex and real Rose – wonder what others have thought of this wine?
  • 2004 Ben Haim Merlot, Heritage – best Ben Haim I have ever had, A- score, and really the only real drinkable wine I have ever tasted from this winery. Maybe I have tasted over the hill vintages or bad bottles, but this old vintage was perfect, alive, and lovely. Very tannic, but losing steam in the fruit category – so drink now!!
  • The Ugav wines and the Nikanor reserve wines from Jerusalem Gold Winery. All of these are VERY SOLID B+ or B+ to A- wines that all rate for both QPR and quality – Bravo! A small winery showing that good wine can be made at a reasonable price. These are not Yatir wines, but they do not cost that much either. Solid wines for a great price!
  • Kinor David wines – this requires a more involved posting. David Edri is one unique individual! His 8 year port (really sweet wine not a port) was lovely! The dry red wines were OK.

There you have it! My second week in Israel – whew! I will expand on some of these wineries in follow up posts with more tasting notes (that is not a threat do not worry).

Posted on January 31, 2013, in Israel, Israeli Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher Rose Wine, Kosher Semi Sweet Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting, Winery Visit and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Dear Mr. Raccah – Thank you for the kind words about my little start up and even more about the Beit El Winery’s new baby shouting for attention – the Beit El 2012 Carignane.

  2. Hi David, i am so happy that you liked our wines. Thank you for your nice comments.
    Hopefully, we will be able to ship to the US in the near future.
    All The Best

  3. hi.

    Me and my friends are always looking to find wines that keep all מצות התליות בארץ including shmitta.
    we cannot verify it by most wineries as they buy grapes from vendors and they dont look after if they keep shmitte.
    we bought the bet el wine that states “מצות התלויות בארץ נעשה בשמחה ובהידור רב” and we are looking for other wineries to follow suit.
    please let us know if know of any other wines that we can know definitely that they keep shmitte and tithing for the poor etc

    • Hello Eli,

      I am not that familiar with wineries or wines that follow true Shmitta rules. It is an issue I talk about often during my year in review. Sadly, no real change has come to the Israeli kosher wine industry, in this regard. I would state that the majority of the wineries use heter Mechira and a far fewer than before use Otzar Beit Din. Be well

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