A Rising Star in Israel

Cabernet Franc, with its deep aroma, spicy and earthy finish, as well as food friendly nature is often crafted into top varietal wines in Israel.  Having the distinction as being one of the first vines to be brought to Israel in the 1880’s by the Rothschilds Cab Franc is here to stay. Psagot, Teperberg, and Tulip are amongst the top producers and bring you some of the best this grape has to offer.  As one of the most increasingly planted varietals in Israel this is a grape that has an intensely bright future.

A Beautiful Food Wine

Cabernet Franc has the added advantage of working wonderfully with many traditional Kosher dishes.  Its dark fruit and herbaceous notes elevate many meals and provide excellent pairing opportunities with all types of cuisine.  Try this with herb encrusted chicken, fish, gamey meets or a traditional brisket!

Cabernet Franc is easily one of the world's most underrated and finest red wine varietals.  In Israel the grape finds happiness due to its early ripening nature and affinity for Mediterranean climates.  This often utilized blending grape produces excellent varietal reds here.

Made of Cabernet Franc grapes, harvested in the Judean Hills
Fascinating wine with dark fruit flavors and beautiful complexity
The wine has a dark crimson color with black pepper, tobacco, licorice, walnuts and chocolate notes.

wine regions of israel: enjoy complex, rare varietals from the judean hills and shomron

Moving southward in our tour of the wine regions of Israel, we move out of the amazing Galilee region and into the Judean Hills and Shomron. These are big wines, made old-world style but by people with new-world (mainly California and Australia) experience, with the grapes from this deeply varied region giving wines incredible depth and complexity. One of the challenges with this tasting was choosing representative wineries that help display the uniqueness of these appellations, and I think we succeeded with the wide variety of wines we chose. Thanks to Scott Maybaum of Wine Country for again curating the selection, and for providing these wines at such deep discounts for our readers to try in advance of the Chanukah holiday.

As discussed in the last article, Israel has five legally defined regional appellations: Galilee, Judean Hills, Shomron, Samson and Negev. In this installment of two we are doing on “middle Israel,” we are focusing on the Shomron and Judean Hills (also known as the Jerusalem mountains) region, but the next article will also include some of the more famous wineries (Flam, Domaine du Castel) from other subregions of the Judean Hills as well as Samson, which is located between the Judean Hills and the coastal plains.

Although only about 20 percent of Israeli wine is produced in the Shomron, it is considered a very traditional wine region. Altitudes reach 2,850 feet and many believe it is this high altitude combined with the very temperate climate that makes shiraz (also known as syrah) shine here. The petite syrah grape (completely different from shiraz/syrah) also does well in this climate, as do older specialty wine grapes such as viognier and gewurztraminer, as well as newer grapes, such as marselan. The Judean Hills, where altitudes reach 2,400 feet, and which lie between the Mediterranean Sea and Jerusalem, enjoy similar temperatures as the Shomron, enabling a long growing season. The central coastal plain southeast of Tel Aviv leads to the rolling hills of the Judean Foothills.

Barkan Assemblage Tzafit 2010 and Reserve Chardonnay 2016

Barkan’s Assemblage series from the Judean Plains are wine blends that seek to offer a new perspective on the potential of Israel’s wine regions. Barkan Tzafit Assemblage 2010 is a “rare red blend,” as opposed to the more traditional Bordeaux or Côtes du Rhône blends. It comprises 53 percent marselan (a cross between cabernet sauvignon and grenache), 20 percent caledoc (a hybrid between grenache and malbec), 12 percent carignan and 15 percent pinotage. It is because of wines like the Barkan Tzafit Assemblage that the Judean Hills are considered an exciting, emerging wine region with significant viticulture prospects. Each grape’s wine was aged individually in 25 percent new French oak and 75 percent on their second use. The wine has a strong nose of tobacco, chocolate and creme brulée. It has weak tannins and a pleasant mouth feel, with a round, sweet finish. “I taste the vanilla and berries,” said Randi.

“The nose and the color would not have interested me,” said Brooke, referring to the dark, murky purple color of the 2010 wine, but “I really enjoyed this; it’s dry but not too heavy on tannins, but this is quite unique and very pleasant.” Wine Country is placing this wine on sale for $28.97.

Barkan Reserve Chardonnay 2016 is aged six months in new oak barrels and this certainly contributes to its pleasant nose; round, buttery fullness; and pleasant mouthfeel. “I don’t usually like chardonnay, but this wine is not as dry as others; it’s inviting. This is not a classic chardonnay,” said Brooke. “A solid choice for a nice white, with a pleasant finish,” she added. “Interesting and unique for a chardonnay,” said Randi. This wine is on sale for $13.97.

Psagot Merlot 2014

Wine Enthusiast gave the Psagot Merlot 2014 a 91 score out of 100. “Blackberry and rose petal with touches of salinity. It is smooth and silky at first sip, with flavors of black plum, cherry, chocolate, lavender and freshly roasted coffee. As it makes its way around the mouth, stern tannins make their presence known and then recede into a finish notable for a lingering espresso bean flavor,” said the description in Wine Enthusiast.

Psagot Winery’s location is at the highest point of the limestone-filled Judean Hills. This fruit-forward merlot offers a complexity of aromas, from red raspberry fruits to black licorice, supported nicely by flavors of red berry, minerals and hints of dark chocolate and cedar spice. The nose is very strong. “I would not describe these tannins as soft,” said Randi. “A very spicy wine, but pleasant to drink,” said Allyson. This wine is on sale for $24.97.

Jerusalem Vineyard 4990 Series Petite Syrah 2014 and 4990 Series Reserve Shiraz 2014

Jerusalem Vineyard’s reserve range is made from grapes growing along the Coastal Plain. The grapes are brought from vineyards on Mount Carmel near Zichron Ya’acov, Carmei Yossef on the Judean Plain and Lachish in the southern part of the Judean Hills. The heavy soil on Mount Carmel abounds in organic material with high levels of rock, which improves ground porosity.

Around Carmei Yossef the soil is lighter and mixed with low quantities of sand.

Petite syrah is a black-skinned grape, and it yields dark, inky, fruity wines. These grapes come from Ktar Uriah in the Judean Foothills near Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Vineyard 4990 Series Petite Syrah 2014 has aromas of ripe, sweet plums, with contrasting but pleasant meaty and vanilla notes. This wine was aged for 24 months in French oak barrels and that shows in its smooth, delightful viscosity. The palate follows through with rich, fruity, firm and gripping tannins and lovely warmth. “Beautiful, appealing color and non-acidic, pleasant nose,” said Michelle. “I feel the tannins in the back of the throat,” she added. “Very rich and inviting. This would hold up well with a steak or a lamb chop,” said Brooke. This is on sale at Wine Country for $19.97.

Dark pomegranate red color, the Jerusalem Vineyard 4990 Series Reserve Shiraz 2014 has scents of cigar box and vanilla following through with fleshy, vibrant fruit framed with elegant tannins. This wine received an amazing 93 score from Wine Enthusiast. It was aged for 18 months in French oak. “The tannins are pleasing, and not overpowering,” said Randi. “Spicy; this a deeper drier wine, and I can even smell the tannins. This smells like a traditional red,” said Brooke. “The color is nice; it has nice, balanced acid, and it’s more typical of a classic red, and easy going down, thick and rich,” said Michelle. This wine is on sale for $19.97.

Tishbi Estate Gewurztraminer 2016 and Viognier 2016

Tishbi Estate Gewurztraminer 2016 is a perfect wine to bring as a gift for Chanukah. It’s light and enjoyable and it has a fruity sweetness that presents on the nose like a dessert wine, but does not taste like a dessert wine at all, even though it has little to no tannin. “This is well rounded, with a lot of depth, and I could drink this throughout the meal,” said Brooke. “What a delightful surprise,” said Allyson.

“The scent is not too strong; pleasant and smooth going down. Because I am a red wine drinker, I would drink this just for dessert,” said Michelle. This wine offers scents of pineapple, lychee, white peach, passionfruit and jasmine. The grapes were hand harvested from the Judean Hills region. This particular area is characterized by its white, chalky and rocky virgin soil, producing grapes that possess cassis and cranberry aromas. This wine is on sale for $12.77.

The Tishbi Estate Viognier 2016 comes from grapes also grown in virgin soil, where vines had not been cultivated previously for 2,000 years. This wine is made of 50 percent viognier and 50 percent riesling. A fruity, rich and fresh wine, this wine has a nose of white peach, green apple and bitter melon. This wine has a lovely mouthfeel that would go along well with dairy dishes at Chanukah parties. Chill it and serve it, as our tasting group did, with soft goat cheese or with ripe brie and Camembert. This wine goes down easy, so watch how fast you drink. “I like the seductive nose; it draws me in,” said Brooke. “This is more than your typical dry white wine, but it’s gentle and a little different,” said Michelle. “There is a scent of a fruit here that I don’t recognize,” said Randi, who later identified the bitter melon as a fruit note. “There is sustaining acid, inviting, and it makes you want to keep drinking,” said Allyson.

“This would be great for someone who likes white wine but might be ready to move on to the next level. This is not your basic chardonnay or moscato,” said Brooke. Try this wine for $12.77.

Special thanks to Wine Country for curating the selection of wines for this article. All the wines mentioned are on sale for the next week at Wine Country in Bergenfield, 89 New Bridge Road. Contact 201-385-0106.

wine regions of israel: classic flavors of the northern golan and galilee

It’s somewhat shocking to consider that a country the size of New Jersey has such wide variety in its winemaking terroir (the soil, topography and climate in which grapes are grown) that it has at least four distinct regions. Israel actually has five official, legally defined wine region appellations: Galilee, Judean Hills, Samson, Desert and Shomron. We are dividing our article slightly differently because the broadest swath of interesting kosher vineyards in Israel is concentrated in the Galilee, Shomron and Judean Hills regions.

With thanks to Tzvi Silver of our Jewish Link/Israel offices, we will discuss the regions as north (comprising the Golan Heights and the Upper Galilee), "east" (comprising Gush Dan, Samson, the coastal and Judean Plains), west (comprising the Jerusalem area, Judea & Samaria/Shomron) and south (the desert/Negev region).

Israel’s broad variety in terroir is likely one of the reasons why the winemaking world generally has not yet characterized with any certainty the unique nature of the “typical Israeli wine.” While a typical wine likely doesn’t entirely exist, in this series we are looking at both classic and new wines that have characteristics that have already or may yet become defining wines for Israel, in both the kosher and the secular world. “The fact that kosher wines from the Shomron’s Tishbi Winery, for example, are now on menus in restaurants and hotels as ‘a wine from Israel,’ and is not specifically listed on menus as kosher, is a sign of a growing trend for importers to market good-quality, high-end wines from Israel to the general population, rather than only to kosher-keeping consumers,” said Ami Nahari, CEO of The River Wine. This represents an important step in the growth of Israel as a winemaking region, he told The Jewish Link.

For this part one of four planned articles, my tasting group sampled both a white and a red from three vineyards in the north of Israel, with wines coming from the Golan Heights and the Northern Galilee. Notably, these are wines from the most temperate/coldest region of Israel; meaning the grapes experience extreme temperatures between the day and nighttime hours as they grow. Temperatures can reach close to freezing at night and can be very hot in the daytime. This results in wines similar to the Burgundy region in France, and for these reasons, the winemakers tend to riff off of French winemaking rather than California styles to bring out the best in their grapes.

Hayotzer Virtuoso Chardonnay 2016 and Genesis Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Hayotzer is a brand-new boutique winery formed as a spinoff of Arza, the oldest winery in Israel, founded in 1847, and has been known for more inexpensive sweet wines and juices. The Shor family, the original owners of Arza, are still the owners of Arza and Hayotzer today. Hayotzer has begun exporting wines from its first vintage just this fall, with many wines placed under its aptly named Genesis label. Hayotzer’s French-trained winemaker, Philippe Lichtenstein, was the winemaker for Carmel’s Zichron Ya’akov wine cellars for many years.

The Virtuoso Chardonnay, made with 100 percent chardonnay grapes, has “an extremely cool bottle design,” said Aaron, but the nose was even more impressive. “Clean. Grapefruit on the nose but the citrus wasn’t as strong in the flavor of the wine,” said Brooke. Rather, upon tasting, some spice notes of vanilla and sugar cookie came to light. For that reason, we found it paired well with sweeter foods and would recommend it with lighter fare such as white fish, root vegetables and baked apples. It’s on sale at Wine Country in Bergenfield, as are all the wines in this article, for $19.99.

Hayotzer’s Genesis Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 is an extremely accessible wine. While it’s a rich red with a full nose of red berries, it’s also light in viscosity. My opinion on this wine, and the other Hayotzer reds I tasted this past Yom Tov season, is that Hayotzer is making “red wine drinker’s red wines,” meaning that people who love red wine will love Hayotzer. “There is that typically slight metallic nature and acid with this red,” said Jen. “This wine grew on me,” said Brooke, noting that her first opinion of it changed after the second taste. “Very drinkable,” she added. Wine Country’s sale price for this wine is a great deal at $14.99. I recommend the entire Genesis line as new wines to try along with Thanksgiving dinner.

Matar by Pelter Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2016 and Stratus 2014

Matar is the kosher winery spinoff of the non-kosher Pelter winery. Pelter, headed by Tal and Nir Pelter, is based in Tzofit in the Golan Heights. The award-winning non-kosher winery was established in 2005, and Matar, its kosher line, was established in 2012 to make Pelter’s “invigorating and elegant” wines accessible to a wider variety of customers.

The gold-skinned semillon grape is most commonly blended with sauvignon blanc and is classically grown in France’s Burgundy region or in Australia’s Margaret River region. There are very few semillon wines available that are kosher. The Matar Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon is an easy-to-drink crisp wine that “I just want to keep drinking,” said Allyson. “It’s smooth; I like the clean and subtle flavor,” said Shoval. It’s citrus and green melon notes along with its light green color makes the wine inviting and contributes to its overall pleasant and easy quaffability. Wine Country’s sale price for this wine is $29.99.

The Matar Stratus 2014, which is 90 percent syrah and 10 percent petit verdot, has a smooth, plummy nose with flavors of cocoa, red cherries and fall spices, like cloves and nutmeg. “It’s a dry red wine, which I don’t generally like, and I not only drank this but enjoyed it,” said Aaron. It has multiple layers of full-bodied flavor, which is attributed to the grapes coming from multiple low-yield vineyards in Ramot Naftali in the Upper Galilee. This was was aged 14 months in new French oak. Like the white we tried, it is also on sale for $29.99 at Wine Country.

Yarden Katzrin Chardonnay 2014 and Golan Heights Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Yarden and Golan Heights Winery are among the most recognizable brands of Israeli wine, mainly because the Golan Heights Winery has a beautiful tasting room and touring facilities, which are part of many visitor itineraries on their first visit to Israel.

Yarden’s Katzrin line of high-end, sophisticated wines are known for their complexity and drinkability. The Katzrin Chardonnay, which retails for $28.99, did not disappoint. “This wine has a thicker viscosity than all the whites we tried,” said Brooke. Shoval noted the wine’s significantly darker color than the other whites in our tasting as well. The golden color of the wine is the result of nine months of aging in French oak, which results in smooth flavors of spice, vanilla and apple. This is a special-occasion wine that is sure to impress; it will certainly enable all kinds of wine drinkers to enjoy it. “I can’t imagine anyone not liking this,” said Allyson. Though kosher whites tend to not age well, this 2014 wine is tasting beautifully now and can also be cellared and saved for at least three to five more years.

The Golan Heights Cabernet Sauvignon was similar to the Katzrin in that it was balanced and smooth, with beautiful viscosity, and was easy to drink. “There are not-too-strong tannins here; the tiny bit of acid hits the back of the throat in a good way,” said Allyson. “This wine balanced; it isn’t too sweet or too dry,” said Jen. Brooke noted its rich flavor would go well with main courses, but also with desserts including berries or chocolate, as both of those deep flavors were present in the nose. The sale price is $24.99.

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