Move over Manishevitz
Written and Photographed by Karen Loftus
If you’re jet-setting lesbian in search of a wine soaked adventure steeped in history, Israel is just the spot. The modern state of Israel has a long and ancient history in winemaking. Wine has been in and out of fashion and favor. In Biblical times it was referred to as the fruit of the vine, enjoyed by Jesus and a few famous friends. It was ruled out during the Islamic conquest, brought back with Christian crusaders, out again, in again, yada, yada. If you want to learn about Israeli history, follow the Biblical vine.
During Roman Times the wines of Israel were exported to Rome. Then the indigenous grape varieties were virtually wiped out under Islamic rule. A rabbi in the early 19th century resurrected a short-lived modern winery, which didn’t last long.
Just leave it to the French to remedy the situation and finally bring it back in fashion. French Baron Edmond de Rothschild of the Bordeaux estate, Château Lafite-Rothschild Rotcshild brought over French varietals in the late 19th century and planted them in Israel’s Carmel Mountains.
The ancient art was resurrected, but it was years before it was refined. Kosher wines were long known for quantity not quality. Manishevitz anyone? One did not sip for the love of the liquid luminary. It was about keeping Kosher. That has seriously changed in recent years.
This sophisticated side of this modern wine phenomena started up again as recently as the early 1990s with boutique and large-scale wineries in Israel garnering international awards.
There are now six prominent wine regions throughout a country the size of New Jersey. There is a wide range of production from boutique to Titanic wineries producing as many as 10 million bottles per year. This is no shrinking industry.
Carmel Winery, Domaine de Castel and Golan Winery make up approximately 80 percent of the business. Expect major global expansion in the coming years due to this change and the growing global demand.
One smaller, yet important Israelis winery to note is Tishbi Vineyards in the Carmel Mountains. They’re producing French style Kosher wines under Golan Tishbi, fifth generation winemaker. The irreverent and impassioned Golan studied wine at famed Hawkes Bay University in New Zealand.
This outside influence is not uncommon as the Australian, California and French have contributed to Israel’s growing wine industry in recent years and are largely responsible for the recent change in quality and expansion.
Golan of Tishbi Winery’s got the French flair, influence and passion, yet the Kiwi sensibility that keeps him from being too precious about the process. For him it’s about making this old world wonder, the wine, yet keeping it accessible to both his local and his global patrons.
Tishbi is one of the wineries behind the recent boom of agri-tourism in Israel, which means there is more to do than buy a bottle. Get your tour and your taste on while enjoying some of their home baked breads, cheeses and preserves in their casual homespun restaurant and outdoor patio. The small bites and perfect pairings are so good; you will want to and probably will slap someone.
Enjoy a humor infused tour by Golan, if he’s around. You’ll learn a lot about his family’s history with winemaking, which dates back to 1882 and their award winning wine and cognac, as he has a stunning vintage still on site, inherited from the French. You will also leave well versed on the long and local history of winemaking in the area.
What has changed in recent centuries is that many Israelis, he and his family included, once were farmers harvesting the grapes. What has since changed is their role, as is the case with Golan, who is now an esteemed winemaker as his many wines have won awards and garnered attention at home and abroad.
In New York, the way he gets in to top shelf restaurants is by popping by and simply pouring the proprietor a glass at their busy bar mid-rush. Now that takes chutzpah. But one reluctant sip and they’re in. It’s that simple, yet sophisticated. He has turned many a modern head with his new twist on an old classic by sticking to good old-fashioned business, selling door-to-door, pour by pour.
I loved his full portfolio of wines. His Chardonnay is 100 percent Chardonnay grapes with a full peach and apricot bouquet complemented by caramel, honey and vanilla notes from the oak casks after stainless steel fermentation.
I was especially won over by his French style reds. They are wildly competitive on a financial front, yet no less decadent or elegant than their French competitors.
His Cabernet Sauvignon was a blend of 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 perce Merlot. It’s an earthy mix of rich dark berry notes with a hint of cedar and a smooth long finish.
You’ll find their award winning wines, their Sde Boker, Reserve Chardonnay, Late Harvest Reilsling, Cabernet, Merlot, Muscat and others top wine shops on the east coast and several city restaurants. In New York, pop by Astor Wines, Top Chef Tom Coleccio’s Craft Restaurant, Grammercy Tavern and Gotham Bar & Grill. No word on any west coast outlets. Don’t worry. The request has been made for a Western presence. Stay tuned vino enthusiasts.
When in Israel...
Wine – Fear not the kosher! Explore and go forth my friend. If in need of a break from the great grape, you can explore Israel’s cocktail culture at Bar 223 in Tel Aviv, the Rio or Barcelona of Israel as it is often coined. This spot is pitch perfect for the progressive landscape of Tel Aviv where there is a thriving gay community and the country’s best Pride. This local hotspot feels like the East Village with a thriving cocktail culture and the low-key cool that comes with it. Ask for Y&Y straight up. It’s an indigenous spirits made by two local mixologists. Trust that the red-hot chili pepper will make for avery hot Israeli night.
Dine – At nearby Muscat Restaurant in Relais & Chataux Property, Mizpe Hayamim in Israel. Their menu celebrates local and sustainable with produce, pastries, cheeses, meats and their own spirits sourced and made daily on site. You’ve never seen or experienced anything quite like it. It’s both healthy and hedonistic and a great way to pair your newly purchased local wines with the thriving local cuisine. It’s simply divine. (mizpe-hayamim.com)
Stay - Mizpe Hayamim. Grab a Tishbi Late Harvest Riesling or a Muscat and soak in your tub begging for love or sit on your balcony at this Relias & Chateaux property with panoramic views of The Hermon Mountains, Golan Heights and The Sea of Galilee. It’s a spiritual thing. If you are venturing to other wine regions or the many can’t miss historical spots, stay at The Dan in Tel Aviv, Hilary did. The beach bar in front of the hotel will have you clicking your holiday heels saying, There’s no place like The Dan.
Play – There is so much to see and do in Israel. It’s endless and epic at every turn. This old world wonder with modern amenities and conveniences is the destination must for foodies, enophiles and of course cultural, religious and history buffs. It’s so rich and interesting on countless levels.
A few of my faves were soaking in the Dead Sea, walking around Old City in Jerusalem, snorkeling in Caesarea with a lost city in the sea and Masada, which was by far one of the most amazing moments. It’s an otherworldly and literally takes you back to another time. It’s simply stunning. (goisrael.com, visitisrael.com)
Come fly with me, Israel’s El Al Airlines (elal.co.il)
Blogger Bio: Karen Loftus is a Comedian, Writer, Producer and Travel & Lifestyle Writer focused on Fashion, Food, Wine, Spirits & Golf.
After globetrotting through The Middle East, Europe and Asia, entertaining Expats, execs, US troops abroad and theater savvy audiences around the globe at international theaters and festivals, award winning playwright, Tennessee Williams Fellow and international comedian Karen Loftus took a break from touring, slipping in to journalism, putting on the page what she once delivered onstage. www.karenloftus.net
As a journalist, Karen found her definitive niche in travel writing, covering vino trends in travel and culinary and cocktail tourism. It was a coming home as her Irish grandparents ran a speakeasy, distilled their own spirits and ran many a famous pub.
This fashion forward foodie takes great risks and goes to extreme journalistic measures on the global road, parasailing, bungee jumping, four tracking and canyoning in search of the story. Karen is a travel addict and is most at home when she is away from it.
Follow Karen on Twitter: @LAKarenLoftus or find her On Facebook.