Over the past decade, the kosher wine scene in the US has moved away from it’s reputation of sweet sacramental red, into a more refined and attractive domain. Israeli wines have led this chance and last month, Jwines founder and CEO, Dovid Pereleman, took to Israel for a ten day tour where he visited more than 20 wineries, in search of wines he wants to share with you.
The Israeli Wine Tour began as every tour should, with a tasting and authentic shakshuka at the Gush Etzion winery’s fantastic restaurant. Owner and Winemaker Shraga Rosenberg shared a private tasting of his delicious boutique wines.
Shiloh Winery was our next stop and winemaker Amichai Lurie and Owner Mayer Chomer shared a detailed tour that highlights the dedication Amichai puts into each and every bottle There is no wonder that that Shiloh winery is producing some of the best Israeli wines known today.
Domaine du Castel next stop. The Ben Zaken family have been growing grapes and making wines right outside of Jerusalem since 1992. Our tasting was paired with fine cheese and we met some of the faces behind the brand, including Eduardo Guthartz, CEO and Ilana Ben- Zaken, export manager and daughter of Castel’s founder Eli Ben- Zaken. Ben Zaken is a pioneer of boutique wineries where attention to detail is at the heart of everything. If you haven’t tasted a bottle from Castel, I urge you to try one!
Next stop, Flam. Recently served at the White House at a state dinner attended by Israeli president, Shimon Peres. Sitting on the couch around a coffee table with Gilad Flam, co-founder and Liatte, visitor center manager, gave me the feeling that I was lounging with family. Flam is another of Israel’s family-run wineries and was founded by brothers Gilad and Golan. Their father, Israel Flam was Carmel’s former winemaker.
At the Ella Valley Winery, Dovid spent time chatting with manager Udi while sharing over fine wine and olives. Ella Valley has their own vineyards which is surprisingly rare in the Israeli wine industry but lends to the consistent flavor from year to year.
Arriving at Saslove, the Jwines time were greeted by the cows that live on the kibbutz. Winemaker, Roni Saslove gave us a warm tour of their wine collection and shared his philosophy that the vineyards work themselves organically, which we are all for – the less chemicals the better! You can taste this purity in their flavorful wines.
The next day we started at the Tishbi Winery, spending time with the owner, Yonatan. . Their visitor center has everything you would possibly need in life — great wine, a fantastic restaurant, fine cheese and a chocolate shop. The single vineyard Malbec paired with the dark chocolate had me sold to come back! Tishbi also make honey and jam infused with their wines and they are exceptional.
Down the road, we stopped at Binyamina where head winemaker Sason gave us a tour. We drove through the woods that house the wine cave where wine is aged using natural temperature to bring the wine to a different calibre.
No Israeli wine tour can skip Carmel, the country’s largest winery. Despite their size, they have kept the charm of their visitor center preserving their history that dates back to 1882. Their tanks and barrels are the largest Dovid had ever seen but that makes sense when you learn of the 15 million bottles that they produce each year.
Tulip made an impression on the Jwines crew and has become a favorite of ours. Royi is the founder and owner of the Tulip winery and we also met with Or who supports marketing and winemaker, David. They are seriously relaxed and welcoming, characteristics that you can taste in their wine – easy for even new wine drinkers. Royi chose Kvar Hatikvah as the winery’s home to employ the local adults with special needs and Tulip wines have become one of the most popular in Israel. Their motto, damn good wines holds true!
The Alexander winery was quite the experience too. Yoram, the winery’s owner and winemaker goes to all lengths to keep everything top of the line. From the metal labels to the exclusively French oak barrels used to age the wine, everything is of the best. This is reflected in his complex wines, some aged in barrels for 4 years until released. Yoram plans to build a visitor center with unique features that sound like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Traveling up north, we visited the wineries of the Galil. The wonderful views had us stopping every so often to take in the scenery. What a change from Brooklyn! Our first stop was Dalton known for their consistently great wine. Then it was off to the neighboring Adir where we enjoyed wine paired with their amazing goat milk frozen yogurt. Perfect in the Northern heat! Last stop before moving on was Galil Mountain, an authentic estate winery with their vineyards surrounding it. Simple breathtaking.
Moving on to the lower Galilee it was time for the Jwines team to meet the Domaine Netofa team, Yair, Orit and their legendary winemaker, Pierre Miodownick. We stopped at a a wonderful restaurant on a dock overlooking the Kineret. Pierre infuses his French techniques into each bottle producing wines have the same qualities of those from the Rone valley of France. Pierre was kind enough to give us a tour of their vineyards and tell us a little about the growing techniques used to influence flavorful grapes.
Gvaot came next. It was a pleasure meeting owner, Amnon Weiss and his son in law, winemaker Dr. Shivi Drori. Our first taste was a blend that I think must be a first — Chardonnay Cabernet — this was surprisingly delicious and was a great way to wrap up our time in the North of Israel.
Many of these wines have been featured on Jwines.com so be sure to find your favorite and have a taste. Use coupon code israelwinetour for 5% off your purchase of Israeli wine and leave a comment below and tell us what your favorite Israeli wine is.