Home Sweet Rhone – Move over Cab

Syrah is nearly perfect for the Israeli climate, hot days and cools nights lead to the very best expressions of this grape.  Relatively new to Israel, only arriving in the 1990’s, it is clearly here to stay. This continues Israeli’s trend of discovering that Rhone grapes love the climate there and need to be planted more.  Syrah might one day edge out Cabernet Sauvignon for the title of Most Noble Israeli Wine Grape.  With most of the vines being relatively young, and showing great results almost everywhere, Rhone proponents of Israeli wine cannot wait to see what they get in the future!


Do we go to France or Australia?

Syrah or Shiraz can be a varietal that can be taken in any direction which the winemaker chooses.  Does he or she want to go for a full bodied, peppery, almost viscous Australian style or a more reserved, fresher, classical French Interpretation?  Either way, Israel has the climate and the knowhow to do it!  For a more daily indulgence without food there are plenty of Aussie examples, but also to experience a more food friendly reserved style we can find that too!

An emerging clear winner for Israel, Syrah, or as it is most often called there, Shiraz will be soon be counted amongst the very best red grapes for the entire country.  It is unmistakably meant for Israel!

A deeply rich and elegant wine, Yatir Syrah is replete with aromatic zest.
750ml
$46.00   
The nose explodes with spicy notes of blueberry, plum and bramble. A Big Wine!
750ml
$16.99   
Well balanced, with lots of dense flavors on the palate.
750ml
$32.99   
Produced from 100% Shiraz grapes grown in the Galilee.
750ml
$31.99   

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.



kosher wine and food pairing

One of the most frequently-asked questions is with respect to finding the “right” wine(s) to go with any number of specific dishes and/or holiday meals.  The general belief is that wine is a beverage that can and should bring pleasure and therefore one should drink the wines you like with the food you like. That said, there are some pretty easy-to-follow tips that can bring an even higher level of enjoying to your meals.

Even though a fair amount of wine is enjoyed without the accompaniment of food, food and wine are soulmates that should rarely be separated.  Similar to the Torah’s description of man and woman’s ability to compliment each other, wine and food belong together, with each bringing something to the table that enhances the other.    

Our general philosophy is that when it comes to enjoying the nectar of the gods – do with your wine that which brings you (and yours) pleasure and enjoyment, regardless of the prevailing common wisdom or opinion of so-called experts  

Drink the wines that bring you the most pleasure, whether mouth-puckering and acid loaded Sancerre, oak-aged ripe Cabernet Sauvignon wines or full-bodied buttery Chardonnays.  Bring them to the table regardless of what culinary fare is being served.  

There is a ton of legitimate science behind food pairings and a highly successful pairing has the power to elevate dining to a transcendental experience.  The majority of science relates to the manner in which different food compounds interact with those in the wines (and in the other dishes with which they are served).  In order to help make your meals more enjoyable, here are some general tips and helpful suggestions for thinking about your food and wine in a slightly different way; a way that will make it easier to create a more harmonious combination of foods and wine.

Before getting into specifics with respect to the individual characteristics of the wine and food in question, one should first consider whether the goal of the pairing is to complement or contrast.  If a complementary pairing is desired, focusing on the dominant flavors in the relevant dish can be helpful in finding a matching wine.  Pairing the 16 ounce aged ribeye in pepper sauce with a spicy Syrah or Zinfandel will provide complementary nuances as will a buttery Chardonnay with a sea bass poached in farm-fresh French butter.  Other examples would be to pair a meat dish sweetened by a fruity sauce or glaze with a red wine that is very fruit-forward or utilizing the savory and earthy notes in a classic Bordeaux to match with a dish redolent with pungent mushrooms or other umami-heavy foods.  If your goal is to showcase the uniqueness of either the food or wine, you might prefer to use the textures of each to showcase a contrast between the two.  Utilizing texture leads to many of the more well-known pairings including matching the grease-laden traditional Chanukah latkes and sufganiyot with a crisply acidic Sauvignon Blanc or sparkling wine (that has the added grease-cutting abilities drawn from its bubbles).

One of the most important things to consider are the characteristics of the wine and food in question, with the wine’s “weight” or how it feels in your mouth (heavily influenced by the alcohol content) being the most important piece of the puzzle and the easiest to understand – lighter wines go with lighter food and heavier wines make better pairings with heavier dishes.  The rationale being that one wants the food and wine to complement each other as opposed to one overwhelming the other.  The nuanced beauty of a delicate and complex Pinot Noir could be obliterated by a perfectly constructed beef bourguignon, whereby a rich and slightly spicy Shiraz would provide the needed heft to match the dish round for round.  The need for proper balancing of the weight is the genesis of the now-infamous “white with fish and red with meat” rule, but given the dizzying array of possible weights for fish (think of lighter white fish versus heavier tuna and salmon), poultry (lighter chicken versus heavier turkey or goose) and meat (veal is significantly lighter than beef), the simplistic cliché is not really relevant.

While the alcohol level plays a big part in the weight of the wine, a dizzying array of other wine components all have a say in how well a wine will pair with any particular food or dish.  Any list of factors to be taken into consideration when thinking about wine and food pairing will include the levels of acid, alcohol and sugar in any particular wine, along with the oak influence and strength of its tannins.  Similar to salt’s role when flavoring food, acid acts as an enhancer, highlighting the primary flavors in any particular food.  As long as the wine is balanced, the higher the acidity levels the better the wine will pair with food.  A white wine’s acidity levels, together with its level of dryness (i.e. lack of residual sugar) will contribute to its “crispness”, which can serve as a lovely balance to fatty foods.  While acid can be (and is) added to any wine (a practice especially prevalent in hotter-climate wine-growing regions, where the wines ripen too quickly for their natural acidity levels to be sufficiently preserved), some grape varietals are more natural acidic then others including Barbera, Sangiovese and Sauvignon Blanc.  

In addition to their influence on a wine’s weight (and the resulting food-compatibility), higher alcohol in a wine can overwhelm delicate flavors in a dish by creating a bitter sensation, but can play very nicely with sweeter foods (e.g. most dessert wines are relatively high in alcohol).  In addition to their über-importance in a wine’s structure, balance and aging ability, a wine’s tannins can be softened by pairing them with fatty and high-protein foods like steak and certain cheeses.  However, when paired with sweeter foods, the tannins can have the negative impact of diminishing the sweetness and making the food seem dry and bitter (e.g. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and rich chocolate fudge cake are not the best pairing).  Keep in mind is that a dish’s sauce or glaze will often provide the dominant flavor in a dish so make sure to take the flavors and textures of the sauce when thinking through any wine pairing scenarios.  Another tidbit is to ensure that any dessert wine you are serving should be sweeter than the dessert it is expected to accompany.

Especially when you are contemplating a multi-course meal with numerous dishes and/or dominant flavors in each course, the thought of coming up with a “proper” wine pairing can seem significantly overwhelming (especially on top of actually cooking all that delectable food).  If the thought causes you stress just stick to some generally food friendly wines, that manage to pair nicely with a wide array of different flavors. Chief among such wines is Champagne (or other good sparkling wines), whose crisp dry acidity, typically low(er) alcohol level and refreshing bubbles ensure a wine-range of pairing opportunities and make it the go-to pairing partner (besides providing you with the welcome opportunity to significantly up your sparkling wine consumption).  Other options are crisply dry Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Riesling and Cabernet Franc.  While they can certainly provide magnificent pairings with a little bit of thought and advance planning, bigger and bolder Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are not wines that can be relied on to safely pair with anything you put in front of them (with tannin likely a food pairings worst enemy).  One of the kosher wine world’s many ironies is that these two varietals are the best-selling wines for a consumer base whose primary method of wine consumption is during Shabbat and Chag meals where the need for versatile wines is the greatest.

Despite all of the above, the awesomeness of any particular pairing hinges on whether you like the wine or food in question.  Sauternes and foie gras may be a classic (and insanely divine) pairing, but it won’t be enjoyable to you if you don’t like  Sauternes or foie gras. 


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