Israel’s Developing Wine Culture
Reviews of Gamla Syrah 2010 and Balvenie 15 year old Single Barrel Sherry Cask.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week June 4, 2014
A recent visit to Israel has reaffirmed our enthusiasm for the Holy Land’s developing wine culture. Besides the different wineries that seen to be cropping up nearly every week, there is a palpable sense that enjoying wine is becoming as fundamental to Israelis as their love of coffee.
Wine bars are becoming more crowded, wine lists at restaurants are more thoughtful and the wine selection in supermarkets has grown.
This growing appreciation for wine among Israelis has created the predictable and wholly welcome market forces pushing producers toward better quality and reasonable prices. Since most of the commercially viable Israeli wineries eventually become certified kosher, this bodes well for both visitors and those in the Diaspora who will eventually see some of these wines on their local shelves.
An example is the Gamla Syrah 2010 which we enjoyed at Kitchen Station, a new restaurant located in Jerusalem’s renovated First Station site. Made by the Golan Height’s Winery (GHW) from grapes grown in that region, it was aged in French Oak for 12 months and opens with bright red berry and slightly smoky aromas. Medium bodied and fruity but lighter in style and not nearly as complex as many of the more familiar syrahs, it shows good balance and has well-developed blackberry and dark cherry flavors with accents of cedar, spice and earth. A fine accompaniment to summer fare and pizza.
One additional, confusing point about the Gamla wines of the GHW. Here in the U.S., these Gamla wines are sold under the Gilgal label (which is exclusive to the U.S.), so as not to confuse them with the currently still findable but now discontinued Israeli “Gamla” wines of the Herzog’s Royal Wines Corp.
Here’s the whole confusing story: GHW produces wine under various labels, one of which is Gamla. For years, GHW’s Gamla-labeled wines were imported to and distributed in the United States by Herzog’s Royal Wine Corp. When the arrangement was made, however, Royal obtained full U.S. rights for the intellectual property that is the wine brand, or label, called “Gamla.”
A few years ago, Royal and GHW parted ways, and GHW now imports its own wines into the U.S. Even though Royal no longer imports any GHW wines, they still own the U.S. rights for the Gamla label, and so decided to contract with another Israeli winery to produce wines exclusively for Royal’s Gamla label of wines.
This other winery was (unofficially) Carmel, but the wines were made there by Peter Stern exclusively for Royal under special contract (Stern originally made the GHW’s wines back in the 1980s).
So starting with the 2009 vintage, all the Gamla wines available here in the U.S. are made by Peter Stern (at the Carmel Winery) and have no connection to GHW. To further complicate things, however, GHW continues to produce wines in Israel under its Gamla label, and these (GHW) Gamla-labeled wines continue to be widely available in Israel and some 30 other countries, but not in the U.S.
Not content to lose out on sales, GHW, having lost the ability to sell its own Gamla labeled wines here in the U.S., decided to simply rebrand their Gamla wines with the name “Gilgal” for our market. Here in the U.S., the Gilgal Syrah 2010 retails for about $15.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d once again turn our attention to the latest release of the Balvenie Distillery, a distillery whose whiskies seem to be a constant among many of our friends and fellow congregants.
One of only a handful of Scottish family-owned and operated Scotch whisky brands, “The Balvenie” comes from the Balvenie Distillery, which is consequently one of the best-known Scotch distilleries in the U.S., selling more than 70,000 cases in 2012.
Owned and operated by William Grant & Sons, Balvenie was built by William Grant in 1892, right next door to the Grant family’s even more famous Glenfiddich Distillery.
Generally considered by whisky geeks to have the qualitative edge over Glenfiddich, Balvenie is capable of producing more than 5.5 million liters of spirit a year and unusually still has both its own cooperage, where the barrels are made and mended, and its own malting floor, where a portion of its malted barley is prepared for production (the rest is brought in pre-malted according to specifications). Here is its latest release:
15 year old Single Barrel Sherry Cask (47.8 percent abv; $99.99): The nose is fruity and luscious with nutmeg, cinnamon and clove, baked apple, raisin, fig, plums, prunes, toffee, dark chocolate and a most pleasing whiff of dry, well-seasoned oak. On the palate, the whisky is thick, rich and sweet with flavors of apple, plum, cherry and a touch of sweet citrus, a bit of dark chocolate, some enjoyable nuttiness, as well as lovely mid-palate spices of clove, nutmeg and cinnamon that push through the dry and long finish. Excellent! L’Chaim!