It’s as well that I live in Karmiel – The Almighty’s private vineyard in the Galilee – as I may otherwise have never got within sniffing distance of Zichron Ya’acov - let alone the town’s famous Carmel Winery.
It is also fortunate that our hosts for the delectable wine tasting there this week included Adam Montefiore – labelled ‘The Ambassador of Israeli Wine’ – and a great-great-grandson of the heir to Sir Moses Montefiore, the Victorian Anglo-Jewish philanthropist.
From Moses to Adam, there’s no-one quite like a Montefiore and accompanied by Valerie Hecht, the company’s Scots-born Wine and Culture Manager, former Londoner Adam showed an enthusiastic crowd from ESRA - the English Speaking Residents Association – not just why the winery has survived an appropriately Mosaic 120 years but how best to enjoy its produce at home.
- Forget using exquisite cut-glass goblets. If you want to enjoy your wine you need to see it. Plain glassware is best.
- Wine choice is mostly about personal preference with the flavours of foods and any accompanying drink best complementing one another, often by contrast.
- Montefiore demonstrated how to open a bottle of sparkling wine without spills – or injury to guests!
- He also revealed how to chill wine at top speed and suggested that red wine may be refrigerated for short periods.
- Occasionally using language every bit as earthy as some his best reds, Montefiore dismissed wine snobbery, gave screw caps the thumbs up and suggested water or lager may be good with spicy food.
- Smart restaurants? If you don’t mind being chucked out, he quipped, take your own wine - but be prepared to pay very high corkage rates.
- Our crowd was treated to a wide range of Carmel’s favourite tipples from a pleasant sparking aperitif on arrival to a sip of the very best dessert at close. We also noshed loads of very good bread and cheese on the way.
- To begin, we watched a short documentary about the history of the Camel Winery which first opened in Rishon-Le-Zion in 1882.
- A stroll to the cellars followed where we learned some of the intricacies of wine-making and the astronomical costs of items like oak barrels. These are made from 250-year-old wood and must be replaced every few years. The need to ensure wine is kosher and also suitable for Passover adds to this rich and complex ‘recipe’.
- Hot climates like that in Israel are not ideal for good wine production but modern wine-making processes, synthesising traditional methods with stainless-steel, computerised wine vats now makes this possible, we were told.
Someone who must remain nameless, kept filling my glass during the lecture and by the end of the session I was very gently sozzled and so forget exactly what I drank.
I’m sure it wasn’t ‘Palwin No. 4’! Montefiore expressly distanced himself and Carmel from the old-fashioned image of saccharine sweet sacramental wines for which Israel was once known.
So while I don the dunce’s-cap and throw myself, shame-faced into the murkiest corner of of the barrel room, I’ll conclude with a little blurb:
The winery was founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of Château Lafite. As a Zionist, Rothschild provided financial and moral assistance to the early chalutzim (settlers). His first vineyards were planted near Rishon LeZion.
The winery at Zichron Yaacov (the town is named after his father, Jakob) is used for wine production and the blending of olive oil. This was built in 1892, also by Baron Edmond de Rothschild and is the largest winery in Israel in terms of grapes received at harvest. It includes a new boutique winery built in 2003 and a pilot micro-winery for research and development.
No wonder Montefiore insisted during a recent interview with the Huffington Post: “Israel is making some of the finest wines in the eastern Mediterranean today and the largest and best quality kosher wines in the world."
* See Adam Montefiore in The Jerusalem Post on ‘Wine Talk: Laws of the Land’.