Wine bridges cultures and brings the world closer. Israel gives us a sip of its finest, from across its fabled regions, in an exclusive wine tasting, organised for UpperCrust, that takes us back to our sojourns to the Holy Land

Eloquent, refined and succinct, such was the night of wine and dine, to
rein in the cultural exposition of Israel in the city. To learn of wine is to know the world. And never ceasing is this quest once you indulge yourself in all its glorious knowledge from varietals to food pairings, methods, techniques, houses, labels and etiquette in between.

An exclusive wine tasting on the vast selection of top-class Old World wines was especially arranged for Editor/Publisher of UpperCrust, Farzana Contractor and her discerning friends by Consul General David Akov at his contemporary chic residence. And you have the Grape Man himself, Haim Gan to introduce over 10 labels of wine from Israel’s finest cellars.

Gathered around the table with a platter of cheese and olives, the ‘audience’ for the night – inclusive of David and his wife Tamar, Deputy Consul General Nimrod Assouline, Director of Alliance Francaise Alain Zayan, veteran thespian Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal, Monica Correa, artist and wife of renowned architect late Charles Correa, artist Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee, MD of Permaweld Pvt Ltd Bunty Pasricha and others – were regaled with tales of the grape while experiencing the taste of Israel first-hand. Did you know that wine is mentioned in the Bible 136 times? Neither did we, though the very fact that wine is an integral part of the Jewish culture – whether at the Passover festival, a wedding, in ancient scriptures that tell of wine served at the altar as libation, at a circumcision, and very much, in Christianity, where it symbolises the blood of Christ – has not skipped us.

As we sip on the opener for the night, notes of un-oaked fruity goodness redolent of the fresh air surrounding the Judean Hills strikes us. “This, my friends, is the Flam Blanc 2016 a wine by the boutique winery Flam, established in 1998, producing some of the highest quality wines,” begins Haim, the founder of Grape Man, Israel’s first wine institute. An institute much the need of the hour, for knowledge of wine is paramount and increasing day by day. In a country like Israel, you have wines produced on such a high scale yet it is an industry still in bloom. ‘With roots that date back 3,500 years to the biblical times, and modern cutting edge agriculture and advanced technologies, the Israeli wines bring to the table great taste and quality’, we are told, and the history of wine in Israel thus proclaimed.

“Going back to the holy texts, the first thing God told Noah was, ‘Go plant your vineyard’, and wine is the first sip of liquid a baby in Jewish culture must consume,” shares Haim. “In ancient Israel, there were 350 indigenous varieties of grape. However, during the Ottoman rule, there was complete control over the manufacture of wine; while ‘alcohol’ was allowed to be consumed, wine was not! The Turks destroyed the forests and an integral part of the culture.”

With that you have the acclaimed Carmel Mediterranean 2011 brought out, with its hints of raspberry, fennel, lavender and more. This is one for our Indian tables, to perfectly accompany the robust fare that our Northern states are known for. States Haim, “Indian food goes well with a host of Israeli wines given its soft tannins, dry and aromatic feel that work to complement.” But when you have the 18-month-oak-aged Teperberg 1870 Legacy Petit Verdot – prized, rich, intense red, near enough to a black wine, it can be a challenge. Says Bunty Pasricha, “This full-bodied delight is strong for the Indian palate, will take some adjusting to. Wine, in my opinion, is still a luxury here.” As we nursed the ‘luxury’, the revival of the ‘adult grape’ industry in Israel was discussed, beginning with the short-lived Zion Winery in 1848 moving on to the establishment of the pioneering Carmel by French Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of the Bordeaux estate Château Lafite-Rothschild. French grape varieties and technical know-how were gifted to the region and a trend towards producing dry, premium kosher wines was set in motion.

Kosher wines, produced in keeping with the laws of Judaism, religious and dietary, are grape wines that require a rabbinical seal of approval and have seen an extensive rise in popularity across the international spectrum. USA being the leading producer of kosher wines, FYI, with the Big Apple deemed Israel’s biggest wine export market. While none of the ingredients inclusive of sugars, acids and alcohol is considered irreligious or not permissible, the kashrut laws involving wine are concerned more with who handles the wine and what they use to make it. This implies only Sabbath-observant Jews may handle it, through the entire process right till it reaches the table. What else, we ask, intrigued to know more. ‘Wine that is described as “kosher for Passover”’, we’re informed, ‘must have been kept free from contact with chametz which would include grain, bread and dough’.

In this global exposition of wine and its varietals, our Israeli connoisseurs present a good case indeed. Take the Kerem Kishor Rose 2016 by the decade-old Kishor Winery nestled in the Galilean hills – an integral part of the Kishorit village, refreshing and a delight with a light salad of herbs, lettuce and Feta. “Israel is an island,” Haim continues his discourse, “You cannot make wine from just one variety of grape. Hence, everything is imported. But as you know, we have been blessed with an optimum climate from different zones, and today the industry records 58 million bottles a year, from big commercial and boutique wineries alike.”

Talking boutique, we sip and savour the Maia Mare 2014, a medium-bodied, pleasant red by the sister brand of Tulip Winery, under the slogan Mediterranean Approach Israeli Art. Mediterranean was well represented further by Israeli staples in the falafel, tabouleh and the Mediterranean Lentil Salad. And talking big, our Israeli wine exposition ended with the 2015 Yarden Gewutzraminer by the third largest winery, Golan Heights in northern Israel. Made entirely from the Gewutzraminer fruit, this dessert wine is smooth and rolls off the tongue with its floral and honeyed notes, delicious, we finish off.

“I liked the Golan Heights wine,” the Director of Alliance Francaise, Alain Zayan puts it simply. “Regarding Israel wine in general, I sincerely think they can compete with anyone else. Some of them are exceptional although not always available for purchase in stores. Tasting wine is in my culture of course and I will certainly visit Israel sooner or later, if only for this reason”! And visit Israel one must! .

While Tamar guides her guests to the dining table, Haim, a sommelier and wine expert in the business for three decades now, enjoys our vast land and this being his second visit, looks forward to more. He concludes, “Israeli wine is an experience but now we want to make it an establishment, bring about a real change.”

Home is truly where the wine is, Israel is calling you home. L’chaim, l’chaim.

This feature story was published in the Apr-Jun 2017 issue of UpperCrust with permission from the publisher. Photographs courtesy UpperCrust magazine.