Rosh Hashanah 2011 Selections

It’s been an exciting summer for Leket Israel. The 2011 “Presidential Citation” was recently presented to Leket Israel’s Founder and Chairman, Joseph Gitler, during a ceremony held in early July at the Israeli President’s residence in Jerusalem. The award is the highest honor an Israeli charity can receive. To date, Project Leket (gleaning) has rescued 60 different types of produce from over 1,000 fields throughout Israel—including three million potatoes from one farmer, to be distributed for Rosh Hashanah. Tons of other food items and some 6,000 healthy holiday food packages will also be distributed in time for the holiday. Your support will enable needy Israelis to have sweeter New Year than they would have without Leket Israel.

While Israel doesn’t yet have a controlled appellation system similar to that used in major grape-growing countries around the world such as Italy and France, there are currently five recognized grape growing regions in Israel which include the Galil (Galilee), Shomron (Samaria), Shimshon (Samson), Jerusalem Mountains (Judean Hills) and the Negev Dessert. For many years, the Golan Heights (included as part of the Galilee appellation) was the main source for premium grapes which yielded Israel’s best wines but beginning in the mid- 1990s, vineyards planted in the high-altitude and relatively chilly Jerusalem Mountains started to yield top notch stuff. Leket Israel delivers tons of nutritious rescued meals, manufactured goods and produce to worthy nonprofit organizations in the Jerusalem area at least twice a week , so for our Rosh Hashanah shipment, we have included four wines from wineries in the region (while the new boutique winery 1848 is located in the Jerusalem Mountains and sources much of its grapes there as well, the grapes for the Cabernet Sauvignon included in this shipment were actually from vineyards in the Upper Galilee).

Among the many wineries located in this expanded appellation are some of the countries best and most exciting medium and small wineries including the kosher Castel, Agur, Ella Valley, Bustan, Bravdo and Flam with the non-kosher Clos de Gat, Pelter and Sea Horse being located in this appellation as well. Located in relative close proximity to one another, many of them quite beautiful in their own right and surrounded by breathtaking scenery, the area is developing into quite a route de vins (Wine Route), well worthy of multiple visits.


With many new wineries cropping up in Israel on a near-weekly basis quickly returning to relative obscurity due to mediocrity (or worse), it is always a pleasure to find first releases from new wineries being well-worthy of our attention and 1848 is exactly such a winery. As may be deduced from the name, the winery draws on over 160 years of the Shor family’s winemaking experience, first utilized in 1848 with the opening of Israel’s first commercial winery in the Old City of Jerusalem. First known as the Zion Winery, the winery produced mainly sacramental wine for most of its existence, only recently expanding into quality table wine. The winery was first located so close to the Western Wall that the large oak barrels were visible to the Kotel’s worshipers. During the British Mandate, the winery was forced to relocate a number of times and only recently settled in its current home of Mishor Adomim.

With three other wineries under their belt (Zion, Arza and HaCormim), the addition of 1848 comes with little surprise but much pleasure. Owned by Yossi Shor with his brother Tzvika as the winemaker, after eight generations of wine making, the family has picked up a few tricks of the trade, evident in this 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon release. Located just outside Jerusalem and utilizing grapes grown from Tel Shachar, the winery qualifies as a Jerusalem Hills winery, even if the grapes from this particular wine were sourced from Har Tabor in the Galil. The winery has two other wines on the market in addition to the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve provided in his shipment, a 2009 Chardonnay and a 2006 Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

1848 Winery, Reserve, 2007: A full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 10% Merlot and 3% Petite Sirah which spent 25 months in French Oak. Despite the long cellaring time, the wine is remarkably lacking the heavy wood one would expect and presents, after 15 minutes or so in your glass, with a nice nose of blackberries, currants, lavender, cherries and plums with hints of smoky oak on both the nose and palate where hints of Mediterranean herbs, cracked black pepper and raspberries make themselves felt on a solid backbone of well integrated tannins and more wood and a medium finish with some earth and tobacco. A respectable 13.9% alcohol and only 6,725 bottles produced, I look forward to the winery’s next released vintage.

Ella Valley

While, from an historical point of view, the aesthetically stunning Ella Valley is primarily known for the monumental showdown between David and Goliath, housing the Ella Valley winery is nearly as great a claim to fame. From day one this winery knew what it wanted to be – the very best in Israel producing high-quality, unique wines. The first vineyards were very carefully planted in 1997 after extensive research as to best location and plots of land and used techniques imported from Napa Valley. To quote the late Daniel Rogov, Ella Valley “has vineyards that might well serve as a model of efficiency and beauty anywhere in the world”. The winery was built in 2001 and is located on Kibbutz Netiv Halamed Hey in the Judean Hills in close proximity to their 800 dunams of vineyard, far more than they currently need resulting in Ella Valley keeping the best third of their grapes and selling the others to many of the other, local wineries.

The first vintage was in 2002 and despite it being a relatively poor vintage year in Israel their first offerings were a resounding success. Starting with the 2003 vintage the winery created its reserve series – Vineyard’s Choice, and is currently producing excellent wines in three series: Vineyard’s Choice, Ella Valley and Ever Red. The Ella Valley wines are always great and their regular series is very well priced making it an extremely under valued winery. Unfortunately they are not as well known as some other wineries, both as a result of their size and their distribution process, which is truly a crying shame as they produce some of the best and most interesting wines out there and are well worth your time, effort, palate and wallet.

Ella Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, 2007: Obviously no winery could contend for a favorite of mine if they didn’t produce a rockin’ Cabernet Franc (my favorite varietal), and Ella Valley comes through wonderfully on this front. Classic aromas of blackberries, raspberries, tobacco leaf (delightfully pleasant whether you are a smoker or not) and those lovely green vegetal notes so characteristic to the grape on the nose with a palate packed with juicy fresh blackberries and tangy raspberries melded nicely with velvety tannins and wood leading to a long and mouth filling finish with more of the fruits together with wild anise, forest floor and espresso. With a Cabernet Franc this delightful, I can only hope and dream that the winery will produce a top shelf version for their Vineyard’s Choice series.


After growing grapes for other wineries for a few years, Yaakov Berg founded Psagot in 2002, located in the Northern Jerusalem Mountains. Berg professes a deep commitment to and bond with the land and even lives in the midst of his vineyards in an ancient rail car. Since I first wrote about the winery in 2006, the quality and consistency of the winery has exploded over the past few years, with the 2009 vintage being a prime example and this Merlot a worthy bearer of the Psagot name. During the winery’s construction a cave was discovered underneath the vineyards and, once excavated, turned out to contain an ancient wine press dating back to the Second Temple. Today the cave serves as a majestic barrel room where Psagot’s wines age gracefully in near perfect natural conditions (the cooling system is rarely used – temperature remains constant – between 12 C in the winter to 18 C in the summer – with humidity at 90%). The cave houses the modern stainless steel tanks and other winemaking equipment making for an interesting juxtaposition of ancient and modern winemaking facilities housed under the vineyards, arduously planted in rocky limestone.

The winery produces a flagship Bordeaux blend named Edom and regular varietal wines in the Psagot series. For the 2007 vintage, the winery also produced an incredible single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. The varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Viognier and Chardonnay but skipped some vintages in which they did not produce the Chardonnay and Viognier. While they own a significant amount of the sourcing vineyards, they also rely on grapes from the local Dolev and Har-Bracha vineyards. Production from the 2008 (Shmittah) vintage was of about 80,000 bottles and for the 2009 vintage, approximately 90,000 bottles.

Psagot, Merlot, 2009: A medium bodied with well-integrated tannins making for a delicious, round and slightly earthy wine. Plenty of raspberry, cherry and red plums tinged with subdued white pepper, leather and some cedar wood. Some chocolate and spicy wood creeps in on the mid palate leading into a round and mouth filling finish with some more fruit, earth and dark chocolate. Delicious right now, the wine should cellar nicely for four years or more.


One of my favorite wineries, which consistently produces excellent wines, Yatir is located in the south of Israel at the tip of the Judean Hills, in an area with a history of wine-making dating back over 2500 years. Founded in 2000 as a joint venture between the Carmel Winery and a number of regional winegrowers, this was one of the first kosher boutique wineries to produce spectacular wine which could compete with the then king of Israeli boutique wineries – the non-kosher Margalit Winery. Head winemaker Eran Goldwasser is assisted by the winery’s manager, Yonatan Ben Dor, and all the wines they have produced to date have been magnificent – truly a tough feat for any winery.

For many years, the only wines produced by Yatir were the Forest (Ya’ar Yatir) and a delicious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz. In 2004, Yatir introduced an incredible Sauvignon Blanc that became an instant hit and the following year introduced a single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and a Shiraz that were just as successful. 2006 brought another major hit with a varietal Viognier (included in this shipment). After this long string of amazing wines, I can only hope that Eran will take some of his Cabernet Franc currently used for blending to make a new single varietal out of my favorite varietal – Cabernet Franc.

Yatir, Viognier, 2009: I love Israeli Viognier which has a personality all of its own with somewhat atypical creamy notes. While I can only hope and pray for a kosher Condrieu to come my way, for now I am happy to make do with this wine along with the Viognier offerings of Yarden and Dalton. Following the worldwide trend of unoaked wines that has happily ensconced itself in Israel, this wine was not aged in oak, resulting in fruit and floral aromas that quite literally burst out of the glass as soon as the cork pops. The promise of all that deliciousness lingers on a palate loaded with tropical fruits and citrus and curbed by generous acidity that keeps all the fruit nicely in check.