Published in The Jerusalem Post, March 2, 2018.
To mark Purim in Jerusalem today, I offer my semi-annual guide to good drinking of current kosher Israeli wines. Read about some great/favorite Israeli wines from Arza, Teperberg, Tabor, Covenant, Tura, Bat Shlomo, Shilo, Gvaot, Netofa, Psagot, Binyamina, and Castel. Also: Tzafona icewine from Canada!
To mark Purim in Jerusalem today, I offer my semi-annual guide to good drinking of current kosher Israeli wines.
Any of these wines will do a fine job of blotting out the memory of Israel’s enemies such as Viceroy Haman or Ayatollah Khameinei, and in transporting your consciousness to the primordial Garden of Eden – where there is no confusion between good and evil, no darkness and daylight, and no hiding from responsibility.
- Moti Shor’s Arza Winery has a label of quality wines called Hayotzer, under the supervision of French-born winemaker Philippe Lichtenstein. The 2014 “Winemaker’s Choice Virtuoso” Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Virtuoso Merlot in this same series were scored 93 and 92 points by Wine Enthusiast magazine and selected as “Editor’s Choice” wines. Bravo! I also like Hayotzer’s Lyrica Syrah 2012, aged for 24 months in French oak.
- Teperberg Winery’s mid-level Inspire series of wine continues to be a best buy recommendation. The Meritage (Cab-Merlot) blend is good, and the Devotage (Malbec-Marselan) blend is outstanding – one of my favorites. When you can splurge for a special occasion, buy the high-end, award-winning Legacy Cabernet Franc, in the heavy bottle with a gold sash.
- Tabor Winery’s 2014 Malkiya is a smooth but expensive pure Cabernet Sauvignon (oaked for 24 months), as is Livni Winery’s Sdeh Calev 2012 Cabernet (oaked for 12 months). Livni’s vineyards near Hebron and Moshav Carmel are the most heavily fortified vineyards in the Land of Israel. Local Arabs have sought to destroy his crop dozens of times.
- Jeff Morgan’s famous California-based Covenant Winery has now released some Israeli-produced wines, including a rich and firm 2015 and 2016 Syrah from the Tel Faris vineyards, and “Blue C Adom” Syrah-Cabernet. They are a bit too high in alcohol for my taste (15.4%) and are expensive, but are round, smooth and worthwhile.
- Erez and Vered Ben-Saadon’s Tura Winery in Rehelim, near Nablus, is a highlight of any tour in Samaria. Its top-level wine is the Mountain Peak, blended from Bordeaux varietals grown on Har Bracha. Its newer Mountain Vista Rose is crisp, sweet and fruity; a pleasure for the summer months.
- Eli Wurtman and Josiah Rotenberg’s Bat Shlomo, a boutique winery overseen by Napa Valley winemaker Ari Erle (who also is working with Covenant in Israel), makes a buttery-smooth Chardonnay, and in some years a superb, full-bodied Bordeaux blend called Betty’s Cuvee. But the latter wine is hard to find.
- Amichai Luria’s Shiloh Winery has been well-awarded by Wine Spectator magazine for his wines. His Legend series 2014 “Fiddler” (a Petite Sirah-Petit Verdot-Shiraz blend) is round and satisfying, with a berry, chocolate and cigar nose.
- Shivi Drori’s Gvaot Winery has a flagship Cabernet blend, called Masada, sourced in vineyards that are 800 meters above sea level in the Ephraim and Samarian mountains. I recently tasted his experimental Jandali wine too, which is one of the indigenous varietals from ancient times that Shivi is researching at his experimental micro-winery at Ariel University.
- Pierre Miodownick’s Domaine Netofa Winery in the lower Galilee makes a great high-end pure Syrah wine called “Dor” (made from grapes grown in the Ein Dor Valley). His has the most stunningly-appointed tasting room (in Mitzpe Netofa north of the Golani junction), and is definitely worth visiting.
- Ya’acov Berg’s Psagot Winery in Binyamin, north of Jerusalem, is set in a beautiful stone structure overlooking Wadi Kelt and the mountains of Jordan. I recommend his 2014 “Edom” Cab-Merlot blend, and the “Peak” blend of Rhone Valley varietals (Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Mourvèdre).
- Binyamina Winery’s Chosen series – a play on words for the precious stones, avnei ha-choshen, in the High Priest’s magical breastplate – is one of my favorites, especially the Bordeaux blend called Yahalom (diamond). The new 2014 Meirav Vineyard wine in this series (a blend of Petite Sirah, Marselan and Shiraz) is delicious too. They are beautifully boxed wines, available at reasonable prices.
- Eli Ben Zaken’s Domaine du Castel at Yad HaShmona in the Jerusalem hills – the most beautiful winery in the country! – has a new series of light wines called ‘La Vie’, including a mildly-oaked, easy-drinking red blend (Cabernet-Merlot-Petit Verdot) that I like very much. Rumor has it that Eli is starting another winery at his old location in Ramat Raziel to produce champagne…
Finally, let me tell you about a super-unique non-Israeli wine: The first and only real icewine in the kosher world, made in Canada! Toby Berkel and Avi Gislason of Tzafona Cellars of the Niagara Peninsula (tzafona.com) have produced a true cold climate icewine, where the grapes are left to freeze on the winter vines before being crushed, certified kosher by the Kashruth Council of Canada (COR).
At first, Tzafona made a creamy-sweet, golden Vidal dessert icewine, then a Cabernet Sauvignon icewine with a thinner texture and plum-raspberry hints. (I preferred the first wine).
The Golan Heights makes a similar dessert wine, called Heightswine, by mechanically freezing picked grapes before crushing them. But there is nothing like Tzafona’s real icewine in the kosher world.