Israel’s wine culture has never been that of Italy or France. For generations, wine was a weekly Shabbat treat. But many Israelis are starting to appreciate the gift of a quiet glassful at the end of the work day — and more and more they’re making this wine in their homes. It would be easy to assume that this trend is limited to young, secular Israelis taking part in the current obsession with maker culture but religious Jews are just as involved, buying grapes from nearby vineyards and making wine in their homes.
I caught the winemaking fever from home-brewing friends whose Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon convinced me that I too could make good wine. 300 kilos of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Reisling grapes, to be exact. I couldn’t have gotten them on my own. I joined a wine club, a Haredi neighborhood co-op organized by a family in Beit Shemesh. Israeli vineyards contract their harvests early in the year, usually to the big wineries, but the co-op organizer had wangled two tons of grapes from a small vineyard. The crates were to be delivered to his building when they’d reached their peak, one September evening.
It was late afternoon when I drove up to the parking lot. A cluster of bearded men in the standard Haredi dress of black trousers and white shirts stood waiting for the grapes to arrive. The rented electric crusher rumbled gently, rigged up to power cord let out from someone’s apartment window. The truck from the vineyard drove in, and the men began unloading crates full of small, juicy black grapes. I was the only woman present; the men jokingly called me “Rebbetzin.”
Twilight drew in. A light bulb cast a yellow light over the figures of the men tipping grapes into the hopper, cleaning stems away, filling barrels. A lightening storm in the distant Judean Hills threw its incandescent forks down and blew a cool wind in our direction. I thought of the stone winepresses carved into those hills, where our fathers pressed the grapes with their own feet in ancient times, and how the trees and cold rain were the only visitors there now. I felt a frisson that had nothing to do with oncoming storm. Those centuries have passed, but we’re still here, still making wine.
Walmart is helping Americans get shickered this high holidays season. The multinational retail corporation will soon be distributing L’Chaim kosher vodka and wines in a number of their stores across the country The Drinks Report announced this week.
The team behind L’Chaim is hoping to target men and women who are between 21 and 55 who “live fun and active lifestyles.” So don’t expect to see this popping up on Shabbat tables at your bubbe’s in Boca. While we can’t vouch for the company’s wines and don’t expect them to be in Wine Spectator anytime soon, they’re helping Americans get their drink on this Rosh Hashanah.
And to that, we’ll say L’Chaim.
Misconceptions about Israeli wine that remain isolated to Manischewitz should only happen to those living in a vacuum. Israel is definitively part of the emerging new world winemaking scene. Making sun baked and ripe wines still constitute the majority of wines from the Holy Land, but from big companies on down, it is clear that some Israeli producers are looking the other way. They are now beginning to define their wines by freshness and restraint.
On June 4th, 2013, fifteen Israeli winemakers descended upon Manhattan’s City Winery for an intimate showcase of their portfolios. After attending IsraWineExpo a few years ago in Tel Aviv, I was excited to taste new releases of familiar bottles, while hoping to find new producers and styles.
What set the tone was a transparent pre-tasting discussion between Alex Haruni of the Upper Galilee’s Dalton Winery, and Josh Wesson, founder of wine retail empire Best Cellars. Through his humor and gentle quips at kosher wine stereotypes, Josh was able to inspire Alex to speak on behalf on the Israeli industry as a whole. Alex’s openness regarding winemaking practices exhibited the kind of confidence one gains over time. “Eighteen years ago, we were making the best wines we knew how,” Alex said, “and over the last five years our wine making is now less interventionist.” Older vines, understanding terroir, and honing techniques have allowed the winemakers to do less manipulation and yet yield better results.
You’ll be glad you bookmarked this one: 25 creative ways to use matzo, from s’mores to spinach and matzoh pie. [Buzzfeed]
New Yorkers, Knishery NYC is taking orders for three kinds of Passover knishes. You can pick them up at Malt & Mold on the Lower East Side or have the “knish bike” deliver to you directly. [Knishery NYC]
Looking for the perfect Seder wine? Here are a dozen kosher bottles to consider, starting at $16. [The New York Times]
Is that kosher? OU Kosher answers consumers’ most common Pesach questions. Coconut oil? Kirkland salmon? They’ve got you covered. [The Yeshiva World News]
The Gins-burg Passover cocktail at San Francisco’s Brasserie S&P isn’t named for Allen, but it looks mouthwatering nonetheless. [Zagat]
For Israeli wines, it has been an uphill battle to gain recognition in the world wine community. But a recent announcement gave it a big leg up. Wine Enthusiast, the leading wine magazine, named Golan Heights Winery as the New World Winery of the Year.
In the late 1970’s a young, ambitious winemaker, Victor Schoenfeld, moved from California to Israel. Schoenfeld received his degree in viticulture from the University of California Davis and worked at the Robert Mondavi Winery and Chateau St. Jean in France before moving to the Golan Heights. Once he arrived, he realized the potential for grapes to grow in the rich soil. He worked with local kibbutzs to plant his first vines for classic varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. In 1983, Schoenfeld was part of the team that founded the Golan Heights Winery.
Today he is still the Chief Winemaker and is one of the most influential leaders in the Israeli wine industry. We chatted with him about his inspiration and his favorite wines.
Amid Buenos Aires’s Once-Abasto area — a tight knit urban oasis of kosher restaurants, stores, butcher shops and synagogues — sits the large but crowded flagship store of the wine producer Tariag 613. Fighting for shelf space are crates of matzo, kosher food stuffs and wines from the San Juan area, a lesser known wine region close to the more famous Mendoza region in the shadows of the Andes Mountains. The various crates are marked by their varietals — Malbec, Torrontes, various blends and sparkling wines. Here I met Ariel Hurtado, the young son of one of the owners of the wine company which launched in 2006. Hurtado tells me, “the whole idea of this enterprise, this business, is to introduce the Argentine culture of kosher wine to the whole world.”
At first glance, Irving Langer’s “The Kosher Grapevine” would seem to be just another wine primer. Langer guides the novice through the usual wine primer topics: Which grapes make what kind of wine, how it’s done, how to taste wine, what kind of stemware to pour it in, how to match wine with food, and even how to face down a snobby restaurant wine steward. And, of course, Langer explains what makes wine kosher. It’s the sort of “how-to” guide of which there seem to be a jillion on the shelves of Barnes & Noble — some worse, some better than this one.
But Langer, a retired real estate maven, is up to much more than plodding through the basics one more time. He’s got an agenda, and an unusual one at that. Langer wants to show that the traditional “sacramental” wines, loaded up with sugar, are not what observant Jews (like himself) should consume. It’s dry, modern wines that are called for, and the more nuanced the better. “I am convinced,” he says, “that the fine kosher wines being produced today provide us with an opportunity to relearn the skill that the sages of the Talmud certainly possessed: the ability to experience pleasure as uplifting and edifying.”
The most divine interpretation of a blintz we have ever heard of — Orange Ricotta Pillows With Lillet Kumquat Compote. [Food 52]
A great primer on single malt scotch. Just in time for Purim. [Serious Eats]
Borscht no longer comes just in a bowl. Here are some recommendations for beet and dill ice cream as well as a beet-horseradish pie. [Fork in the Road]
Incase you missed Prince Charles’s seminal speech on healthy, sustainable farming last year, you can now read excerpts of it from his new book. [the Atlantic]
Cook the book makes “Kosher Revolution’s” Be-All, End-All Chicken Soup. Check out the recipe. [Serious Eats]
Two Jewish brothers are heating up the kitchens at some of Brooklyn’s hottest restaurants. [Jewcy]
Microbrews for Hanukkah and some Jewish beer history. Bottoms Up! [NPR]
You may not be familiar with many of the authors of this year’s top Jewish food books, but don’t let that keep you from devouring their delicious books. They preserve the recipes of the classic Jewish bakery, provide an easy primer for Persian Jewish cuisine, explore global vegetarian fare and chronicle the path of America’s only Jewish beer. Each would make a great addition to your cookbook collection or the perfect Hanukkah gift. If you’re giving them as a present, consider preparing one of the recipes or purchasing a bottle of wine or beer from the book to go along with the gift.
This week’s annual Sommelier Wine Expo in Tel Aviv brought dozens of Israeli wineries under one roof at the Nokia Arena. From tiny boutique producers to large companies, and from the northern Golan Heights to the Southern Negev, the mostly Israeli wines spanned a range of styles, offering something for everyone. After somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 wines were sampled, it was found that these five wines represent that spectrum, while standing out in the crowd with a distinctive product. All five are kosher, and most should be available in the United States.
Galil Mountain 2008 Avivim
One of only four white wines from Galil Mountain winery, Avivim is a blend of 25% Chardonnay and 75% Viognier. Although their straight Viognier is a pleasant wine, this blend offers more complexity in each sip. Viognier, which is a grape originally from the Rhone Valley in France, is a white wine varietal that has become quite popular in Israel. Aged for nine months in new French oak barrels, the dry white is golden in color and has notes of tropical fruits and honey with nice acidity. A joint venture between Kibbutz Yiron and the large Golan Heights Winery, Galil Mountain Winery has been producing wine in the Upper Galilee since 2000. It produces 1,000,000 bottles annually, only 10% of which are white. Galil wines are widely available in the United States.
Pair with: Fish or pasta.
About 30 miles outside of downtown Portland, Oregon in the heart of the Willamette Valley, is the AlexEli Vineyard and Winery, home to Oregon’s only kosher wine producing vineyard. Vintner Phil Kramer, 28, who co-owns the vineyard with his mother, Anita, purchased the 18-acre estate four years ago and has been producing wine ever since.
This October, he bottled his first kosher variety, a Pinot Noir. Inspired in part by his extended family, who keep kosher, Kramer said he has been thinking about producing a kosher variety for a couple of years, but wanted to get a good bearing on wine production before he started.
Daniel Rogov, who passed away recently, may have gained notoriety for putting Israeli wine on the map, but it was as a food writer that he got his start. And while he will likely be most remembered for his impact on viticulture, his influence on the Israeli culinary scene was no less profound.
“He played an important role in our industry and [for] chefs,” says Jerusalem chef Michael Katz, owner of Adom, Colony, and Lavan at the Cinematheque. “Daniel Rogov was a very controversial person. Some people said he had no idea; some said he is a professional; some said he should have stuck to wine only; some said he had no idea about [being a] food critic; some said he was the best — what I am trying to say [is] that among the professional people there was no one idea or thought about the man…. Our opinion does not really matter [since] the public respected him and listened to him.”
This piece is cross-posted from JTA.
Daniel Rogov, who helped develop Israeli wine and food culture and thrust Israeli wine into the international spotlight through decades of sharply written critiques, died Sept. 7 in Tel Aviv. He was in his 70s, by several accounts, but his exact age has not been made public. In addition, the name Daniel Rogov was a pseudonym and few knew his real name.
Rogov, widely regarded as Israel’s leading food and wine critic, died a revered figure in the world he helped create. A week before his death, Rogov was treated to a celebratory tribute in his honor attended by hundreds of Israel’s leading food and wine professionals and fans at a Tel Aviv hotel.
For the small but budding wine community of Israel (and many local revelers), The Israel Wine Festival at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem is the pinnacle event of the year. Friends and celebrities — close to 10,000 of them — mingle outside between the museum’s buildings and trees. Wines from around the country were poured, as guests munch on locally made cheeses from places like Jacob’s Dairy.
The festival, which started on Monday and ends tonight, is in its eighth year and was started by owners of two Jerusalem wine shops, by Avi Ben and Smulik Shahar. The winery lineup consists of 40 Israeli wineries. This year’s newcomers included: Bazelet ha’Golan, Kitron, Ella Valley, Katlav, Gva’ot, Har Bracha, Chillag and others. More established wineries like Carmel and Golan Heights were there as well, as was Tishbi Winery and Binyamina Winery. And some of the boutique Israeli wineries like Tzuba Winery, Odem Mountain Winery and Yatir Winery also made appearances.
While wine is a crucial element of Jewish religious practice, kosher consumers are not known for their expertise in vino. The stereotype is that Jews prefer sweet wines to the more sophisticated dry wines favored by oenophiles. And, according to Beckey Richards, sommelier at Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard, Calif., there’s some truth to that.
“I was surprised when I started working here to see the demand for sweeter wines,” she said. Herzog Special Reserve (the company’s higher-end label, which includes more aged wines) sells three versions of late harvest wines, which are made with sweeter grapes — a Chenin Blanc, Zinfandel and Riesling. Usually, wineries will make just one late harvest variety.
“But I do think there’s a lot of interest in experimenting more,” Richards said. “We sell a Chardonnay and a Cabernet a little hint of sweetness. I call them ‘training wheel wines.’ They get people to transition from sweet into drier wines.”
In Spain, the amount of garbage on a bar floor attests to the quality of the establishment’s fare. Local tradition dictates that an accumulation of dirty napkins and food scraps shows that patrons are having too good a time to be bothered with such mundane matters as cleaning up. Legs of ham are sliced in cafes, delis and bars; whole pigs hang proudly in store windows, and copious amounts of local red wine flow everywhere. Even in this milieu, however, kosher travelers do not need to go hungry.
Long before the infamous expulsion of the Jews in 1492, Jewish culture thrived in Spain. The country was home to Jewish scholars, poets and philosophers, such as the great Maimonides and Judah Halevi. The once numerous and prosperous Sephardic population almost completely disappeared after the expulsion, but recent years have seen a steady increase in Jews, now estimated to be a population of 40,000. A small number of Jews from Western Europe arrived in Spain in the mid-19th century. The 1950’s and ’60s saw waves of Jewish emigration from Morocco, and since the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, Jews have been arriving from Argentina, Chile and Israel.
For serious wine collectors, wine auctions are nothing new. Fine bottles can go for hundreds or even thousands of dollars at auction houses like Christie’s in New York. But for the most part, the kosher wine collector has been left out of this world. This will start to change this summer as Kestenbaum and Company, a New York City-based auction house that specializes in fine Judaica, hosts its first wine auction, showcasing some of more exceptional kosher wines which have been made in the past 15 years.
The inaugural auction will include vintage Capcanes, a Spanish wine made about 100 miles south of Barcelona; a horizontal (wines from the same year) of 2000 Bordeaux, France; and a seven bottle vertical (a single wine tasted throughout a number of vintages) comprising every vintage of Covenant (Napa, California) made. The sale will also include a 1.5 L Magnum of Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Solomon Lot 70, one of only six magnums produced. The Israeli wines that will be auctioned are a variety of exceptional examples of Yarden’s Katrzin and El Rom wines in the Golan Heights, a Carmel vintage from 1976 and an Imperial of 2002 Castel wine.