Israeli Wine: Not Your Bubbe’s Manischewitz

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Naomi Hochberg poured Israeli wine samples to attendees per her recommendations. | Photo provided

What’s more difficult: parting the Red Sea or choosing a red wine?

Some may have chosen the latter last week during the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce (PICC) wine-tasting event, which featured Israeli wines and promoted the industry.

Twelve wines from across the Holy Land were poured, offering attendees the opportunity to sample and buy bottles, ranging from $25 to $200 each.

PICC President David Allon said the event’s goal was to get people from the community involved with PICC, and to drill into their minds that Israeli wine is not just something like Manischewitz.

“Israeli wine is a premium wine,” he explained. “They really are a boutique approach.”

Benjamin Satlow, proprietor of S&C Wine Imports, laid out the shades from whites to reds, the preferred order of tasting.

“People tend to approach Israeli wine as something that’s kosher or sacramental or political,” he explained. “The goal [of the event] is to expose people to these wines and show them a quality option from an international winery they might be familiar with.”

For a lighter taste, Satlow recommended the Cremisan Dabouki. Dabouki is an indigenous Middle Eastern grape variety; Cremisan is a monastery south of Jerusalem, sitting on the crest of the Judean ridge in calcareous limestone soil.

The Cremisan monastery has made wine since the mid-1800s, preserving four native types of grapes that were thought to be extinct. The finished product is the first of its kind in over a millennium.

Although he chose a contender, Satlow said he couldn’t choose a favorite.

“They’re like children,” he joked. “They’re all interesting for a variety of reasons.”

But Naomi Hochberg, an importer for Israeli Wine Direct, noted one of interest: a vegan wine.

The red Somek variations come from Zichron Yaakov — the birthplace of the modern Israeli wine industry — operated by Barak and Hila Dahan.

The Dahan family has been making wine for more than 100 years.

In the refining process, no fish bladders or egg whites are used — usually a common practice, especially among Bordeaux wineries — making it vegan.

For the whites, she chose a different brand, the Shvo Chenin Blanc, which hails from the upper Galilee region. The vineyard is planted on top of a hill, 800 meters above sea level.

“It uses open baths and natural yeasts in the air. Usually for alcohol fermentation they add yeast to the juice. Here, he just lets the natural yeast particles circling throughout the air to ferment the wine,” she explained of the winemaker.

Unlike other types of wine — French wines, for instance, are very strict and have precise methods of fermentation — Israeli wines are free to experiment.

“[Israelis] have very deep knowledge of the soil, the terroir. They have very good technology with agriculture,” she said. “They’ve been making wines in Israel for over 3,000 years, and it’s definitely deeply rooted in the culture, but it has nothing of the restrictions that you have in the Old World. It’s a little bit more in line with the New World, but it has more of an earthiness and gravitas to it.”

Hochberg reiterated that Israeli wine is not just a syrupy throwback.

“There’s over 400 wineries in Israel. They’re all producing really great quality,” she said. “That is what the public needs to start learning about Israel, that they are a wine-producing country of very good quality.”

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