Bordeaux in Israel

It makes sense given Bordeaux’s influence on the early Israeli wine scene that Sauvignon Blanc would be included in the very first cuttings of the vine brought to the land in the 1880’s.  However, the grape has grown into its own in Israel making mainly citrusy, fuller bodied and sometimes tropical examples akin to California due to the warmer climate.

A range of options elsewhere

Sauvignon Blanc is known for its food pairing potential, crisp acidity and grassy grapefuity notes elsewhere in the wine world and there are many Kosher examples of this type to be found from Chile to New Zealand.

One of the most popular white wine grapes in the world, making countless Kosher examples the world over.  Almost always crisp, dry and refreshing, Sauvignon Blanc is indispensable as a food wine.

A vibrant, crisp Sauvignon Blanc as only New Zealand can produce. Excellent weight and complexity that goes with many types of food.
Made from grapes grown in the fertile vineyards of Israel's Judea and Samaria.

italian reds: easy-drinking wines for summer dinners

As the weather starts to warm up, Italian herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary just call out to be served with grilled poultry, pasta and fish. And there’s nothing better to pair with that than Italian table reds: Chianti, of course, but also Montepulciano and other red blends are great lighter reds to go with light foods. My team tried a few of these types of table wines and came up with our favorites from two Italian wineries.

Cantina Giuliano

Shortly before Pesach, I had the honor to meet Eli Gaulthier, the owner of Tuscany’s Cantina Giuliano, one of just three fully kosher wineries in Europe. It is certified by the OU and the entire winery is under the supervision of the dayan of Amsterdam, Rav Eliezer Wolff. Cantina Giuliano has a farm-to-table restaurant and currently produces three types of wine and olive oil. Eli’s wife, Lara, whose family has lived in the Tuscan village of Casciana Alta for five generations, is learning the art of cheesemaking, and produces cheese for sale as well. For the restaurant, they also produce handmade jams, pasta, ice cream, croissants and bread. Half the year, the Gaultiers live in Strasbourg, France, where Eli learns in Beit Midrash full time; the other half of the year they buy grapes from the surrounding vineyards, make the wine alongside consultant/award-winning winemaker Luca D’Attoma, welcome guests to their restaurant and enjoy Tuscany.

Cantina Giuliano’s current offerings include the Chianti d.o.c.g. Primizie 2014, their first vintage (primizie means first fruits), which is a blend of sangiovese, merlot and ciliegiolo grapes. It was aged 50 percent in stainless steel and 50 percent in French oak, for nine months. D.o.c.g. stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. They refer to government guarantees of the wines’ origins and adherence to taste, alcohol levels, percentage of varietals used and vineyard yield.

“The wine has a nice complexity and construction, with a low viscosity. It’s easy to drink,” said Shoval, who took home the rest of this bottle. I found the wine pleasingly light, fruity and aromatic, and particularly easy for summertime quaffing. It is an ideal accompaniment to grilled chicken, sea bass or other white fish. It has a light minerality/funkiness that was very pleasing, and added to its complexity.

Cantina Giuliano also offers the Costa Toscana i.g.t. La Gioia 2015. Gioia means joy in Italian. The wine was aged 15 months in French oak, and has a greater depth and viscosity than the Chianti. The wine comprises 65 percent sangiovese, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon and 15 percent merlot. The wine also had a deeper color and required significantly more time to breathe before the herbal, earthy and mineral flavors came through; though some more intense cellar funk remained even then. Again, however, we noted there was complexity without a lot of viscosity, which really makes it a great choice for summer.

Both of these offerings, as well as their white wine, the Costa Toscana i.g.t. Vermentino 2016, are imported by Allied Imports, and are available at Wine Country and in many other fine wine stores. To learn more or to visit Cantina Giuliano on your summertime travels, visit

Borgo Reale

Allied’s other major imported Italian brand is Borgo Reale, which offers Chianti Vespertino 2015, Montepulchiano d’Abruzzo and Cantina del Borgo Reale Maturo. Borgo Reale does significant kosher runs under the supervision of the OU.

Borgo Reale Chianti Vespertino must be opened a few hours in advance of serving; otherwise, it seems like a very simple wine, albeit with a beautiful deep-purple color. Hours later, it opens and softens, and brings out the flavors of tart cherry, a touch of plum (without being too “plummy”), cranberry and a hint of chocolate. The wine has pleasing, balanced tannins and “would go great with chocolate mousse,” said Brooke. “This wine is palatable, still with lower viscosity than a traditional red like cabernet, simple, fruity, with a little bit of acid,” said Allyson. “This is a classic Chianti,” I thought. “This is my favorite in terms of taste,” Brooke added.

Borgo Reale Montepulciano D’Abruzzo is made from the Montepulciano grape from Abruzzo, a mountainous region east of Rome. In the kosher version, some sangiovese grapes may be added. This wine has a good aromatic nose, with notes of fresh fruit. It has round tannins, excellent structure and delicate acidity. “This has a great color, and is so mellow and balanced,” said Shoval. “Because it doesn’t have strong tannins, this is not a ‘wow’ wine, but it’s decent and easy to drink, and sometimes that’s what matters,” he added.

We also tried the Borgo Reale Maturo, which we found to be extraordinarily plummy and fruity, even though it had been aged for six month in oak. It had the essences of autumnal spice, like nutmeg, and had a significant warmth going down. “There are a lot of different flavors going on here,” said Allyson. The wine is made with 55 percent primitivo and 45 percent negroamaro grapes, providing, according to more than one wine website, “the opulent velvetiness of the great northern wines with southern warmth and earthiness.”

The entire Borgo Reale line, which also includes pinot noir and pinot grigio, is available at Wine Country and other fine kosher wine stores.

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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