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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Visit to Pelter Winery

Pelter Winery, located on the Golan Heights, was founded in 2002 by Tal Pelter after studying viticulture and enology in Australia. He cultivates a number of varieties of grape including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Tempranillo, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. In the beginning he produced about 4,000 bottles and has continued increasing output to 85,000 bottles annually. The winery’s three cornerstones are vitality, quality and family.

Three of us drove up to the Golan and found Kibbutz Ein Zivan easily enough. This location is the present home of the winery, though not an economic part of the kibbutz. Once through the main entrance gate and after turning right, according to the instructions on the Pelter Winery web site, we lost our way. Actually we drove right by the winery, not realizing that the industrial looking building was the place we were trying to find. We continued on, and on, and on. We had obviously lost our way, so we finally called them on the phone. They said they were in the “hangar which was really easy to find.” If you know what you are looking for this is true. Once there, we were greeted by Tal and who graciously gave us a tour of the facility, explaining their production techniques.

Tal with Naftali & Michal in barrel room

Primary fermentation in steel vats

Then we sat down and were served two cheeses made by Tal’s wife.

Tasting area inside winer

They were light and tasty and went well, especially with the white wines including Chardonay,  and our favorite, the Gevurtaztraminer. All of these are fermented in stainless steel vats and then directly put into bottles.

The reds we tasted were Shiraz, Trio, Cabernet-Shiraz blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. I look forward to the release of the new, unusually named “I”, flagship wine of the winery, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in approximately equal parts. We also did not taste their sparkling Blanc de Blancs so I must return to the winery soon.

The Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in French oak barrels for 20 months and was especially good. I agree with the description of the wine on their website, “rich in herbal, mint and eucalyptus flavors laced with chocolate and a rich, lingering finish.” Price 140 shekels/bottle ($40).

The Cabernet Franc, aged in oak for 14 months, “reflects optimal extraction of the unique spice and blackberry flavors of this grape variety.” Price 160 shekels/bottle ($45).

For me the winner was the varietal Petit Verdot which is usually blended in small quantities with Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties to give the final wine an herbal flavor. Here at Pelter, they bottle it as a varietal. This wine has an extremely big body and a tartness. It is full of aromas of the fields with a complex taste of strong fruits and nuts with a long finish. It is rich in tannins and could be aged for a number of years in the proper conditions, the late Daniel Rogov gave this wine a  score of 93 in his annual visit with tasting notes. This is a very unique and special wine. Price 160 shekels/bottle ($45).

I will return to these wines again when we drink them at home at dinnertime. I can then concentrate on them one at a time allowing me to share with you a more detailed description of how these wines titillate my senses without being confused by tasting other wines. Nurit, who was not able to join us in our visit to the winery can also contribute her outstanding ability to transform tastes and aromas into words.

Meet Nurit