Back in contact.
Sorry for the delay since my last post, but the Israelis have been keeping me busy and the internet connections been a bit sparse. In fact, I’ve been in some pretty wild places; just the other night, I was serenaded by at first jackals (the local version of coyotes) and then by their domestic cousins in a small village called Agur, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
As I wrote previously, this is my second trip to Israel to investigate the wine scene. In 1998, on my first trip, one of the major stops was at the nation’s largest winery, Carmel. Back then, and now, it is Israel’s largest vineyard owner, but the percentage has dropped from almost 60 percent to 30 percent of the land planted to vines. By the way, by my best reckoning, there are about 10,000 acres of vineyards here. That’s a significant amount for a nation the size of New Jersey, but by comparison, it is just one quarter of the vineyard land in all of Napa County.
My ’98 visit to Carmel was informative, but trying at times. I remember sitting in a large conference room with what must have been two dozen wines in front of me. I also remember that perhaps I could stretch it and recommend maybe three or four to drink. When the bevy of Carmel representatives asked me what I thought, I took a moment to collect my thoughts and let them down as gently as possible. And you think it’s fun tasting wine all day long!
So it was with some trepidation that I approached my latest visit to Carmel. The tasting was held in Israel’s “wine town” Zichron Ya’akov, which is located south of Haifa. This time my tasting was much, much more pleasurable. Most of the wines were very fresh, fruity and well-structured, thanks to the effort of head winemaker Lior Laxer. It was also due to a change in philosophy by the Carmel management that revolves around the kosher question. It’s a complicated issue, which you'll have to wait for my article in the magazine in the coming months to fully explore. Let’s just say that 10 years ago, Carmel spent a lot of time defending the protocols of mevushal winemaking, which utilizes flash pasteurization to make wine kosher, so that non-observant Jews can serve it. Uniformly in my tastings, mevushal equals cooked, which equals little taste or freshness.
Today, Carmel says it makes little, if any, mevushal bottlings. “For 100 years, Carmel made wines that I call liquid religion – but then it decided to join the winemaking revolution,” said spokesman Adam Montefiore during the tasting. Amen to that. “One of the fascinating things is that we are a new territory, and in a learning process,” said Laxer.
So far it appears that Carmel, and most of the Israeli wine industry, is learning the right lessons.
Miriam Morgenstern — February 25, 2008 11:35am ET
Yaron Zakai Or — Israel — February 25, 2008 12:43pm ET
Yaron Zakai Or — Israel — February 25, 2008 2:41pm ET
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