Judean Hills Wine Festival – Part I

Inside the tent before the crowds arrived

I had been looking forward to this event for most of the past year, especially because I heard about a road race held in conjunction with the wine festival. But this year the race, instead of the day after the evening of presentation of wines, is one week later. This would necessitate two trips down to the Judean Hills wine region of Israel, and after today’s gruesome journey, is more than humanly possible. In order to arrive in time for the 7 PM start of the Festival, we left home at 4:30 for the usually 2 1/2 hour ride. But after the first 30 minutes we hit a wall of traffic trying to navigate the road from Kfar Yasif to Tamra. But you don’t want to hear about our travel trials and tribulations. About now I hear you asking, “How about the wine festival?”

Well that’s another story. We arrived 45 minutes late, but that was still before the peak of attendance. Many more came after us, including our friend, Gabe Geller, proprietor of The Wine Mill in Jerusalem, a good place to start your orientation to the wines of Israel. Parlez vous Francais? So do they. He is extremely knowledgeable in the field of wine, but that is for another article when we get to visit his shop for a tasting. There were 24 wineries represented and we tasted two wines from each of a number of them, before running out of steam and heading to Tel Aviv for a visit with our daughter, Shirah. When we arrived we were pleasantly serenaded by a strolling violinist to compliment the tasting of wine. We also knew it was time to leave when the violin was replaced with a rock band replete with massive speakers powered by a strong stereo system. Class was replaced, unfortunately, by crass. The loudness of the rock & roll precluded any attempt at conversation and exchange of information from the vintners to the visitors.

It was so loud it clouded vision too.

The venue of a huge tent open to the brisk fall air was perfect. However, I cannot tell you anything about the aromas of the wines, as the acrid odors  from the cow shed overwhelmed any of the gentle aromas from the wines. Somehow or other, there was no interference with the fine and delicate tastes of the wines. Any explanations?

Our first stop was to the Tsora Winery (variously spelled Tzora Winery) whose tasting booth was adjacent to the entrance.We enjoyed tasting two of their blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The first was called Judean Hills from the 2010 vintage and it was filled with earthy flavors and a medium finish. It sells for 90 shekels. The other, called Shoresh, is similarly a blend of these three varieties, but is a single vineyard wine aged longer in the barrels, 16 months instead of 12 months. It is more expensive and sells for 110 shekels. It is more full bodied with a longer fine finish.

The second winery we visited was Katlav Winery, where we tasted a unique wine, their blend of Petit Verdot and Merlot. It was a pleasure to be introduced to this wine by the vintner who invented it, Yossi Yittach. He recalled that back when Merlot varietals received such bad press by the 2004 movie, Sideways, he said to himself that he would have to find something new to do with his Merlot that was in production. He thought of Petit Verdot and said, “Why not?” He calls this 50%-50% blend Nes Harim and it is aged 3 years in oak barrels. It is a really delicious complex and full bodied wine and sells for 135 shekels. For a more usual fare, they make a more usual blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 15% Petit Verdot (though their web site says Syrah and not Petit Verdot). It sells at a premium of 160 shekels.

We then moved over to Teperberg 1870 Winery which is called that because it was founded by Rabbi Avram Teperberg way back in that year in the Old City of Jerusalem. The winery is located on the grounds of the kibbutz where the Festival is held. We tasted their Viognier from the 2012 vintage and it was lively and fruity with pleasant flavors. It sells for 65 shekels.

This is the end of Part I of this article. The rest will be published later.

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