Drink Netofa, Bat Shlomo, Tura, Teperberg, and Tel Shifon – all premium kosher Israeli wines – for the five cups at the Pesach seder.
With Shushan Purim upon us and Passover just one month hence, it seems apt to survey a selection of superb Israeli wines.
My Purim wine cache was broad and varied. This included the Petit Castel from Domaine du Castel Winery (an outstanding Israeli Bordeaux-style blend: concentrated and complex with blackberry, blackcurrant, plum, and spice aromas and flavors); Carignan from Jezreel Valley Winery; Darom from Yatir Winery (a creative blend of Shiraz, Merlot, Malbec, Zinfadel, and Cabernet); and a delicious Cabernet-Shiraz-Grenache blend called Galilo from Dalton Winery.
I also enjoyed a fantastic Barbera from Lueria Winery; MAIA Mare Red (a Mediterranean-style SCM blend), and the flagship Black Tulip (another classic Bordeaux blend: complex, balanced, black and tart fruit, dark chocolate finish), both from Tulip Winery; Chardonnay from the up-and-coming Pinto Winery in the Negev; and Petit Sirah from Vitkin Winery.
Looking ahead here are my suggestions for the Passover seder’s requisite four cups of wine, which famously are set to parallel the four phrases used in Exodus 6:6-7 to celebrate Divine redemption.
For the first cup at the seder (kiddush), pour wines from Pierre Miodownick’s winery called Domaine Netofa.
For decades, Miodownick was the chief winemaker in Europe for Royal Wines, overseeing kosher wine produced in five countries, including some of most rarified French chateaus like Rothschild’s Chateau Laffite.
He began planting his own vineyards in the Lower Galilee around Mount Tabor in 2006, with an emphasis on varietals native to Spain, Portugal, and the Rhone Valley in southern France—like Chenin Blanc, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, and Roussanne. Pierre argues that these grapes are more suited to Israel’s Mediterranean climate than the classic Bordeaux or Burgundy varietals.
His winery in the town of Mitzpe Netofa (north of the Golani junction) offers a unique tasting experience, pairing five small food dishes developed by celebrity chef Yaniv Gur-Aryeh with five Netofa wines.
This is high-end culinary joy, where the food brings out the best in the wines and vice versa. Among the food/wine pairings are toast topped with an eggplant spread and smoked cheese (delicious!) accompanied by Netofa Latour (a 70/30 full bodied Syrah/Mourvèdre blend); and chocolate and mascarpone-creme desserts (wow) accompanied by Netofa Fine Ruby Port dessert wine.
The flagship Netofa Dor Syrah wine is remarkable (made from grapes grown in the Ein Dor Valley), but this wine may be too heavy for the first cup of wine at the seder. Try the Netofa Tel Qasser Moursyr 2018 or 2019, which is an exhilarating medium bodied Mourvèdre, blended with a small bit of Syrah.
For the second cup of wine (Maggid), pour wines from Bat Shlomo, a winery named for Betty Salomon (Shlomo), Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s mother.
The winery was established by American immigrant and prominent entrepreneur, Elie Wurtman. Bat Shlomo’s Napa Valley-trained winemaker Ari Erle makes a velvety Chardonnay (scored at 90 points by Robert Parker), and a full-bodied, smooth Bordeaux blend called Betty’s Cuvée. If you prefer a lighter wine, try the winery’s Rose.
As this newspaper’s celebrated, senior wine expert Adam Montefiore has written (Adam is the champion of Israeli wine in the wider world!), a visit to the winery’s sleek new tasting room is mandatory. It lies in a beautifully refurbished old home (now luxury guest house) in the quaint Bat Shlomo village near Zichron Yaakov on the coastal plain.
For the third cup of wine (Grace after the Meal), pour wines from Tura, a boutique winery in the town of Rechelim in the Samarian highlands, owned by Erez and Vered Ben-Saadon.
This young couple started out growing grapes in 1997 on Mount Bracha, near Nablus. That vineyard is now considered one of the finest in the entire country, producing bold and fruity grapes in excellent conditions of viniculture (850 meters above sea level: hot and dry during the day, very cold at night), and it supplies grapes to many wineries across Israel. After a while, it became clear to the Ben-Saadons that they should produce their own wines, and olive oil too.
Erez is the winemaker, and Vered the marketing and public-affairs manager—a job that she does with great flair and charm. Part of any visit to their tasting room involves hearing Vered’s remarkable personal story. Her grandfather was a Nazi. As penance for his sins, she along with her mother and sister, converted to Judaism, inspired by the return of the Jewish People to their ancient homeland.
Vered is a high-profile activist for Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. She was a driving force behind the publication of the Comprehensive Guide to Israeli Wines 2016, which makes a point of including Israeli wineries in the “territories.”
For Passover, drink the high-end Bordeaux blend called Tura Mountain Peak, or the peppery Mountain Heights Shiraz. These big, bold, and smooth wines from the heights of Samaria will beautifully accompany the hearty meat dishes traditionally served at the seder. If you are preparing lighter fare, pour the Tura Mountain Vista Snow, a dry white wine that blends Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay.
For the fourth cup (Hallel), pour the wines of Teperberg, the country’s oldest winery.
Teperberg produces over eight million bottles a year, including several hundred thousand high-end wines, under the auspices of its erudite and universally beloved winemaker, Shiki Rauchberger, who studied viticulture and enology at UC Davis (one of the top schools in the world for this) and at the Hebrew University’s faculty of agriculture in Rehovot. Everybody in Israeli winemaking consults with, and admires, Shiki.
You have many fantastic choices here, depending on budget. Teperberg’s Legacy series Cabernet Franc is world-class (Decanter World Wine Award score 96); the Essence series Malbec is unique (and less expensive); and the Inspire series Devotage (a Malbec-Marselan blend) is a quality-for-price star. They are great wines that should grace the table of any serious connoisseur and can accompany your Passover meals throughout the week.
For the fifth cup (Elijah’s Cup), drink the wines of Tel Shifon, a newly kosher boutique winery on Kibbutz Ortal in the Golan Heights.
What? Drink a fifth cup at the seder? Well, yes!
The prevalent custom is to pour but not drink wine for the fifth cup, leaving it to the spirit of the biblical prophet Elijah to waft in the open doorway, “drink” from that centrally placed cup, and herald future redemption.
But there is an Israeli custom, advanced by the great rabbinical scholar Menachem Kasher of blessed memory, for seder participants to drink the “Cup of Elijah” – in celebration of the modern State of Israel. This parallels a fifth phrase from Exodus 6:8, “And I will bring you to the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
In the Bible Elijah is known as “the Gileadite,” from the ancient name for the Golan Heights, so drinking Golan wine is most appropriate for this cup.
The Tel Shifon vineyards and winery are located just below Mt. Bental on the Israeli-Syrian border. Three army tank buddies bought out the old Ortal winery and turned it kosher. The winemaker is a young, talented Israeli-trained Chabad chassid named Yossi Sidon. I recently tasted his first three wines while walking through the adjacent vineyards.
The Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc white blend; a Rose blend; and a Red blend (Cab Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and Cab Frank) were super crisp, fresh, and exacting wines. Their bottles are adorned with a whimsical painting of pioneer farmers playing accordions in the vineyards while winged babies and tractors fly in the skies – meant to pay tribute to early kibbutz days.
Finally, for dessert at the meal itself (which precedes drinking the ritual third cup), sip one of these wonderful, sweet dessert wines: Dalton’s incredible “Anna” (tastes like the purest and finest Canadian maple syrup); or Ya’acov Oryah’s Old Musketeer 2008, a wine barreled for twelve years and made from late-harvest Muscat of Alexandria blended with some Chardonnay. An absolute treat.
The author studied oenology through the London-based International Wine & Spirit Education Trust and leads wine tastings and tours for koshertravelers.com. His next guided tour of Galilee and Golan wineries is May 9-11.