In 2008 Alon was the General Manager of Agur Winery in the Judean Hills. The part he enjoyed best was showing people around and telling them about the Judean Hills region. Alon is now a certified tour guide. The Judean Hills is significantly a more well-known wine region than it was just a short 9 years ago.

In just under ten years, we have grown and we now lead more wine tours in Israel than anyone else. The first connection between a guest who loves wine and a winemaker is special and we get to witness it time after time.

Funny things that did occur to us along the trail:
1. A 19 year old Culinary student insisting on shaking the wine [like a Tequila shooter] because he had been taught this would give the wine the effect of an additional year or two worth of aging.

2. When a couple sat in front of a well known Israeli wine Consultant and insisted that a $70 magnet from BrookStone would age the wine in a matter of 30 minutes only to hear back from the consultant that they are “better off microwaving the wine”

So here we are, we are finding out about new wineries that we have not been to all the time [just under 300 active wineries throughout Israel]. We still tour the Judean Hills more often than the Carmel and the Golan. We enjoy it. We send out wine a few times a year and are always happy to tour with return guests and show them yet another great wine region in Israel. L’chaim!

Alon [right] and Barak out on the trail

wine-spector-cover

Please don’t get me wrong. Alon and I are very proud Israeli wines were featured in the October 2016 issue of the most important wine magazine in the world. We tour boutique wineries all over Israel on a regular basis; as a result we were simply not surprised by what Kim Marcus, Managing Editor of Wine Spectator Magazine had found out. This is the part where we mention that we wrote back in July that Tzora Vineyards remain the Judean Hills’s Best in Show. Tzora, for those who did not see the article placed the most wines over 90 points with Wine Spectator.

It is through friendships and acquaintances that Mr. Marcus had that led him to visit the wineries that he did while covering Israel. Again, another positive in this coverage is that Wine Spectator was actually visiting top boutiques and did not only stick to the larger wealthier operations. Wineries we visit on a monthly basis such as Agur, Pelter, Tulip, Tzora and Castel were not only covered but had also placed wines above 90 points with the WS staff.

Questions that remain unanswered post publication:

Will Wine Spectator eventually release the entire score list? There are several wineries that had only one wine ranked, we assume that every winery had at least most of their portfolio tasted by WS. Did WS give priority to Kosher Wines this time around? There were several non-Kosher wines ranked, but we wonder whether Pelter [and not just Matar by Pelter] was considered.  The Same goes for Sphera and Garage De Papa.
Finally, How come only one dry farmed Carignan made the top wines list?

Celebrating my wife’s birthday at a high end Asian restaurant in Tel Aviv last night, instigated this blog post. It seems that the markup on wine in Israeli restaurants is as steep as can be. Wines that we buy at the wineries for roughly 100 NIS a bottle, will often be priced at 260-280 nis at the restaurants. Although Tel Aviv aspires to be like Manhattan, we are not quite there yet, which brings us to the first and most important tip.

Outside wine in Tel Aviv restaurants is permitted! As long as you bring a vintage and label which the restaurant does not offer, the wine can be opened and poured for a cork fee [roughly 40 -60 Nis] If you cannot find the wine list online, it is perfectly acceptable to call the restaurant and ask. For our celebration, we brought 2 bottles [2015 Pinot Grigio from Lueria Winery and a 2010 Layam by Agur Winery] we offered a taste of both to our waiter. In general, being nice about bringing outside wine to a restaurant always helps. In the past, pouring some of our wine to the staff of the restaurant to taste has gotten us extra appetizers and desserts that were on the house.
Jerusalem is not Tel Aviv. Wine is the only beverage in the Bible that has its own blessing. Wine was and is used as part of Pagan rituals. The outcome is that religious Jews require Kosher wine. If you are going to a Kosher restaurant in Jerusalem , you need to bring Kosher wine , touring the Judean Hills boutique wineries with us , is an easy way to get acquainted with superb Kosher wines.

 

Roasted Pineapple @ Taizu TLV

Roasted Pineapple @ Taizu TLV

 

Asking for a taste before ordering a glass is allowed If a restaurant is selling a wine by the glass, it is allowed and acceptable to ask for a taste. At the price the restaurant charges for the wine, they can afford to allow a client to preview the wine before ordering it.

Israel is hot, cool your wine! Room temperature is a term that refers to 13th century Europe. These days North America and North Tel Aviv are hot! Wine simply tastes better when it is cool. If you have ordered a wine which is warm, ask for an ice bucket. Yes, even if this is a red wine. You will thank us later!

The Judean Hills Wine Festival , One of our favorite festivals of the year is taking place in 10 days .This is a good opportunity to talk a bit about the 2015 harvest which is winding down in Israel.

Things started out well. We had a cold winter, with three cases of snow in Jerusalem and five in the Golan Heights. Even the writer of this blog was enjoying 2 meters of snow on Mount Hermon by December. This was followed by a long spring and June & July that were uncharacteristically comfortable.


Mid July and beginning of August,Tzora and Tzuba Wineries in the Judean Hills were early to harvest their whites and happy with the fruit that was coming in. When we started experiencing a 3 week long heatwave in August, news of early ripening of Merlot in the Golan was coming in. With at least one boutique winery harvesting Merlot ahead of its Viognier!

Photo Credit : Ortal Winery

Ortal Vineyard ahead of Harvest . Photo : Ortal Winery

What will certainly be remembered the most from this 2015 harvest year will be the dust storm. We had a 5 day period in which everything was covered in a thick yellowish layer of dust. Speaking to the wine makers in retrospect is quite interesting.

Shuki Yashuv of Agur winery stresses the point that Israel and the Judean Hills are well known for the Diurnal Temperature Variation in the course of a single day. Allowing the grapes to rejuvenate themselves in the evening regardless of how hot the day has been.

Now that the grape leaves were covered with a thick dust, a similar effect to a brick oven was taking place. The heat was being bottled in the plant allowing the sugar levels in some cases to sky rocket in a couple days, and in some cases it lead the vine to understand it was inn deeper stress than it could handle, and for it to shut down sugar maturation all together.

Wineries handled the dust storm quite differently from one another. In the Golan, we saw wineries spraying the grapes and leaves with high pressure water to reduce the dust and cool off the berries. In Psagot, we saw Cabernet Sauvignon that was left on the vine and has only been harvested in the 2nd half of October on behalf of Amphorae, a boutique in the Carmel.

Paul Dubb, winemaker and GM of Tzuba Winery says that half of a specific plot at Tzuba was harvested the day before the dust storm and the other half was harvested immediately after, the difference in flavors between the two was quite large.

Shuki summarizes by saying the 2015 harvest is one of the most challenging harvests he has experienced, luckily for him he had 16 previous harvests to get him ready for this one. “Everyone is reallly interested about: “how was the harvest this year?” But the MOST IMPORTANT of it all is the following: never ever judge the quality of wine by how challenging the harvest was. Wine has its own ways and will always reveal itself a few months AFTER the actual harvest. A good winery should produce good wine in any given harvest. Given that most of Agur’s wine is tasted before it is bought, so if it is good and the price right- go ahead and buy it. In winter when the experienced tasters will get a chance to taste the “en premiere” or “future wine”- rush to buy, because what you can say for sure in this harvest that the quantities will be smaller than usual”

We will revisit the wines of 2015 in two years’ time and it will be interesting to see what attributes the wine will posses.

The answer to the question above could easily be answered with two words: Shuki Yashuv. Shuki is the owner and wine maker of this 20K bottle a year hidden gem of a winery. He is an eccentric, colorful and both an artist and  a farmer. This leads to a unique wine tasting experience each and every time.

Shuki suffers from somewhat of an attention deficit disorder and he is very candid with his guests about it. Because he is well traveled and very well read, the topics of conversation as the tasting is going on will always mix bible , philosophy and history with a lot of humor to top it all off. Physically the winery is in a serene and beautiful spot, well hidden from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv yet only an hour away from both of them.

Let’s talk about the wines Agur winery produces. Shuki makes blends only. He is the student of the late Ronnie James, a person who very much believed in the overall Terroir of the Judean Hills. Shuki believes that the best way to extenuate the overall spice of the region is to blend varieties that grow in this very region.

His 2012 Rossa, a Rose made from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre was snatched off the shelves in the beginning of summer and has been called the best Rose in Israel by several critics. Shuki also produces 2 Bordeaux blends called Kessem and Special Reserve which although they are produced from the same varieties, these are completely different wines. The grapes arrive from different plots and the extraction is done quite differently as well. Finally Kessem is aged for a year while the Special Reserve for a longer period, resulting in a red wine that resembles the flavors of Red fruit as opposed to the considerably darker and heavier Special Reserve.

And finally there is the baby. Shuki’ s newest creation is a Syrah Mourvedre blend called Layam which he started to produce only in 2010 a mineral yet fruity Cote De Rhone blend which is produced at very small batches and is not to be missed. Much like the opportunity to sit in with its wine maker.