This week’s Seder supper with the Zivkovic family and local friends gave me the opportunity to investigate several Kosher wines from Israel. My local wine merchant, Wine Authorities, has been carrying several Israeli wines for over a year but I’ve only tasted one and have unfortunately lost my notes on that one. You can read descriptions on the four they are currently offering: go to this link and then click on “Israel.”
Co-owner Craig Heffley tells me that he and his partner, Seth Gross, have tasted about 40 wines in the last year with 20 being quite reasonable and 10 outstanding.
Briefly, people like me who grew up in the northeastern United States are most likely to equate Kosher wines with the sweet, Concord grape-based offerings such as Manischewitz. But over the last 20 or 30 years, Israel’s wine industry has focused increasingly on dry, premium quality wines made from fine wine grapes (Vitis vinifera).
Three of the four wines offered at Wine Authorities are from Barkan Winery’s “Classic” series from the Tel-Safit (or Tel-Zafit) vineyard. I picked up a bottle each of the 2007 Barkan Shiraz and 2007 Barkan Chardonnay ($13.99 USD each). Barkan is the second largest winery in Israel and it was established back in 1889 so there is an extensive wine tradition in the country of which most people are not aware.
Our wines are produced from high quality grapes from all the wine growing regions in Israel, from the the Lebanese border in the Galil and the Golan in the North, to the Jerusalem mountains and the coastal plains in the center of the country, to the mountains in the Negev, where our Mitzpeh Ramon Vineyard in the South with its unique climate produces some amazing wines, and whose potential is still being explored.
However, I never got to taste either. The Shiraz was down at the opposite end of the table and never made it down to me. And since we went right for the reds, we never opened the Chardonnay. So, readers will have to ask Bora and Catherine Zivkovic how that one is.
Instead, I feasted upon two reds selected by Catharine:
2002 Yarden Galilee Syrah
2004 Gamla Galilee Cabernet Sauvignon
I couldn’t find a website for Gamla, but here is a post on their method champenoise offering.
In general, the styles are fruit-forward with little or no oaking. So, if you’re looking for a California-style, licking-the-barrel-style cab, you won’t find this here. Bitter tannins were, somehow, also not very prevalent. Instead, the Israeli wines taste more, I don’t know, in touch with the land like true agricultural products instead of chemically-manipulated concoctions.
The Yarden Syrah was my absolute favorite because of the very pleasant earthy flavors and aroma. Given that this was a 2002, it is quite possible that the Yarden had been more tannic at one time but it was now soft and medium-bodied.
Both the Yarden Syrah and Gamla Cabernet went well with everything, including the gefeltifish. There was just a touch of sweetness that stood up to the two kinds of fresh horseradish served but also didn’t overpower the charoset.
I would broadly characterize these wines as ones for people who never thought they would like a red wine. The two I tasted were well-rounded and low on the aggression scale. As I said, they were not going to blow you away like a big California cabernet or even an Oregon pinot noir. Instead, the Israeli wines were humble yet delectable offerings, just like the traditional foods we enjoyed at Seder. And while I am not Jewish, I can imagine the additional appeal these wines might have for Jews who wish to have a true piece of Israel at Pesach.
For a more detailed discussion of Israel’s wine history and wine growing regions, there is a nice medium-length article at PostcardsForYou.com.
I also neglected to check in with my colleagues, Erleichda and Anjou, for their recommendations as I am certain they will have something to offer – please do so in the comments. (And many thanks to Erleichda and Anjou, and several of you, on last weekend’s birthday wishes!)