Judean Hills Wine Festival – Part II

This is a continuation of the immediately preceding article which really should be read first by clicking on this link:  Part I of the Judean Hills Wine Festival.

We then moved on to taste another “one of a kind” wine. This comes from the Mony Winery, and is their Columbard white wine varietal. None of the other 300 some odd wineries produce this varietal, though, apparently some grow it for use in blends. Sam Sokol the vintner who hails from Canada via Australia, was pleasantly surprised how good it was when he first decided to bottle it in 2009. We tasted the 2011 vintage and it is full of fruity flavors with a hint of oak. And at only 39 shekels/bottle (less than $10), it is really a bargain.

Another star of the evening was the Chardonnay varietal from Tzuba Winery. This is half aged for eight months in oak and half fermented in stainless steel tanks. The combination makes for a nice complexity of vanilla and fresh fruit flavors, and at a price of 79 shekels (about $20 at the present rate of exchange). As an added note, according to CEO Eitan “Ken” Green they make “The best wine in Israel” based, not in the least, on their 20 year experience of growing grapes for the likes of many wineries including Castel, Har-Odem, Asif, Binyamina, Kfir, Shiloh and others. It has only been the past seven years that they have been producing their own wines, and 5 years ago were joined by vintner, Paul Rudd. Their elegant flagship wine, 2009 Metzuda blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec sells for a reasonable 100 shekels (equivalent to approximately $26).

What can we say about Castel Winery’s Chardonnay? Accolades are in order. We loved it, but it’s expensive at 149 shekels/bottle, or about just under $40. We purchased some and will report to you when we open it at home for a tasting.

We also tasted three wines at the crowded Ella Valley Winery booth. Their Rose, made from Merlot and Syrah grapes, with tastes full of citrus and melon flavors, is a reasonable value at 74 shekels (under $20). It was especially enjoyed by Gabe Geller, as described in his Festival Tasting Notes published on the Israel and Kosher Wine Forum of the WineLovers Discussion Group. Incidentally, this group is open for all to participate. Ella Valley’s Vineyard’s Choice blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, part of which resides 12 months in barrels is also a “buy” at 85 shekels. Nurit described it as having a “buttercup aroma” and we both liked it. The 2007 Merlot varietal was a winner and sells at 99 shekels ($26). I didn’t write a tasting note, so I’ll quote Gabe who described it as “A beautiful and muscular Merlot… Very dark garnet, full-bodied with on the nose ripe blackberries and raspberries as well as fresh cigars followed on the palate (sic) by ripe blackberries, raspberries, ripe plums, cedar wood, cardamon, dark chocolate and vanilla with mouth-coating tannins on a long finish. Great wine.”

Thus ended our evening at the Festival. We left with the overall impression that Israeli wines are continuing to rise in the level of quality. It also seemed to us that quite a few of them are being sold at more reasonable prices. We also enjoyed meeting a number of the vintners and must come back “down south” to this Judean Hills region for a visit to some of these wineries in the near future. Hopefully we’ll do this and you’ll be reading about these visits in the near future.

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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.