Rare, but Great When you can find It!

The future is decidedly bright for Israeli Malbec as more and more producers are trying this potentially excellent varietal at higher altitude vineyards.  In general, the early results have been very good.  Yarden and Barkan have succeeded in making excellent Malbecs and you can’t ignore what Argentina Kosher producers are doing with their signature grape.

One of the Best Everyday Wines

Malbec is so easy to drink!  Juicy, fruit forward with soft tannins and an unmistakably crowd pleasing nature, this is always a safe bet.  What’s more?  It’s often extremely affordable and over delivers for its modest price!  Plenty of excellent Kosher examples are available both from Argentina and Israel.

Argentina’s primary grape may be Israel’s secret weapon.  Malbec loves heat as well as cool nights and Israeli’s climate is perfect for this.  Plantings are increasing and the celling with this varietal is very high!  It’s origin as a Bordeaux varietal speaks volumes for it’s potential in Israel.

A high intensity ruby red wine with attractive violet blendings.

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.

robust, rich tishbi reds: perfect with cheese and crusty breads

When I was asked to try a few of Tishbi Winery’s most elite selections before Shavuot, it was with a considerable thrill that I asked the winery’s importer, The River Wine’s Ami Nahari, to help me reach the winemaker, Golan Tishbi, and get his advice on how best to decant and serve the wine for my tasting team. With his father, Jonathan, 77 years young and still active in the day-to-day running of the winery, this father-and-son team is a true legend of Israeli winemaking.

In 1882, Golan Tishbi’s ancestors, the Chamiletzkis, started working the land in Zichron Yaakov, which was first claimed by Baron Edmund de Rothschild. They planted and developed vineyards in the area for Rothschild, and the family settled nearby. In 1925, as the story goes, the family hosted the famous poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik. In honor of their warm hospitality, the poet proposed a new, Hebrew family name for them: “Tishbi” is an acronym standing for “a resident of Shefeya in Israel.”

At the beginning of the 1980s, the wine industry underwent a severe crisis and the price of grapes dropped drastically. As a result, Jonathan Tishbi decided to open a small winery of his own in 1984 in the same Judean Hills. Golan Tishbi, now part of the fifth generation of family members working these fields, has been winemaker since 1991. He studied wine science and viticulture at Hawkes Bay University in New Zealand, which has extensive coursework for continuing generation winemakers. “These are people who are coming from the industry who need a certain type of information to become their winery’s winemaker. New Zealand has a lot of these people, family members who care for their family vineyards,” he said.

Turning to his wines, Tishbi told me that his favorite wine was the Tishbi Single Vineyard Ruby Cabernet. Ruby cab is a graft made at University of California at Davis’s viticulture lab, of the carignan and the cabernet sauvignon grape. “I drink this in my house; The color is very deep and thick,” he said. Tishbi has been bottling it as part of their ‘Single Vineyard’ series since 2010, and it was the 2013 wine, aged for 12 months in new American oak from Lebanon, Missouri, that my team was given to try.

As with all his reds, Tishbi recommended I decant his ruby cab, and let it breathe for at least 10 to 15 minutes before serving; this would allow for the wine to begin aerating. Tasting a four-year-old bottle of wine should be an enjoyable, unrushed process, and we tasted it along with The Cheese Guy’s bastardo del grappa cheese, ‘Yummy’ brand asiago and some Shelburne Farms aged kosher cheddar made by a member of our tasting team, our own “cheese guy,” Mark Bodzin of Muncle Ark’s Gourmet. Mark brought several different aged cheddars to our tasting, as well as another from Ludwig Creamery’s called Jacob’s Dream, which he has also distributed through his online shop. Tishbi also recommended we taste the wines with crusty bread, like sourdough or spelt, dipped in good quality olive oil.

In addition to the Ruby Cabernet 2013 Single Vineyard, we were asked to try the Tishbi Estate Gewürtztraminer 2016, the Tishbi Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, and the Jonathan Tishbi Special Reserve 2010.

Joining our tasting for the first time were a few members who, for the first time, brought their spouses, so our now clearly legendary tasting team was quite a bit larger than its usual size. Tasting the Tishbi wines were Eliana, Deena, Chana, Ari, Allyson, Shoval, Michal, Yeruchum, Brooke, Jen, Michelle and Mark.

Starting with the only white wine in our tasting, the Tishbi Estate Gewürtztraminer 2016, everyone immediately noticed its sweet, apple-scented nose, and we all expected it to be of syrupy viscosity and ultra-sweet. But the nose belied little about the taste. “It comes off like a chardonnay, it tastes like a cold fall day, not at all as sweet as you would expect,” said Shoval. “It’s nothing like the Late Harvest Gewürtztraminers from Baron Herzog,” commented Yeruchum.

The Tishbi Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 was our first red, and arguably prompted the most varied reaction around the table. It was aged 12 months in American oak and made of 85 percent cabernet and 15 percent merlot. “It’s complex, but lacks viscosity,” said Mark. “The raisin color put me off; it’s garnet, when it should be ruby,” said Chana. Chana, who, with spouse Ari, opened another bottle of the same wine the next day, continued to comment on the color, which we debated long and hard. “It still has a slightly acerbic nose; the body is still lacking in viscosity; and the taste is still reminiscent of raisin,” she reported. The plum notes and forest berries feel were surprising for a cabernet, and the thinner viscosity was surprising for a 12-month oak aged wine. We recommend you grab the last few bottles of this vintage now and drink it for Shavuot. The 2011 vintage is set to be released on Rosh Hashanah.

We also noted that this was the most inexpensive of the reds we were tasting, and that for $25, a kosher wine still tasting good from 2010 is an absolute steal. “This is a good wine for this price point,” said Yeruchum.

Turning to the Ruby Cabernet 2013 Single Vineyard, I reported to the group that Golan Tishbi had been bottling ruby cabernet as a single vineyard estate selection since 2010. The original goal of the ruby cab graft was to obtain the superior quality of a cabernet wine, and the resistance to heat of the carignan, to combine into an inexpensive table wine. Tishbi had been using ruby cab in its wine well before 2010, in its blends.

“I like this one,” said Deena. “The color is deep; it’s a true ruby,” said Ari. “I can taste the terroir here; the tannins are not very strong. This is earthly, and this is what Israeli wines should taste like,” said Yeruchum.

“This wine is true to its name,” said Shoval. I agreed. “Just the name, Ruby Cabernet, makes me want to buy it, relax and enjoy it,” I said.

“It’s smooth going down. It has that good cabernet warmth, but not that much of an alcohol taste… It got smoother as I tasted it again. This is my favorite,” said Michelle.

Moving on to the biggest, most robust wine of the evening, I reported what the winemaker had told me about the Jonathan Tishbi Special Reserve 2010. “It’s our most complex vineyard selection, and 2010 was the most worthwhile putting it in the bottle. I have not done since yet, to put my father’s name on it,” Golan Tishbi told me.

The Jonathan Tishbi is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon and aged 24 months in American oak. “Its density and aroma, the axis of volatile acidity, when properly aerated, that’s what you will notice,” said Tishbi.

“This wine has a thicker viscosity, with a more aggressive, sweeter nose,” said Chana. “The first taste is a little sweet, but it transitions and finishes off drier. It has the mouthfeel of merlot at the end,” said Mark. “I have not tasted a wine this complex, this smooth, this well-constructed, in a long time,” I told the group.

“I think the underlying taste is chocolate,” said Eliana, as she described the wine’s richness. “At first I liked the Ruby better, but this is growing on me. But, if I had to choose, I would pick the Ruby, because with the Jonathan, there are so many flavors going on, it’s hard to keep up,” said Deena.

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