#299 – July 19, 2015

After first seeing the wines at someone’s house I reached out to Elena Zimbalista in order to coordinate tasting her wines at the Sommelier Expo two years ago (given that she wasn’t an exhibitor, we met outside of the Expo at a nearby coffee shop were we tasted through her wines as she told me the story behind the winery.  Having subsequently tasted her wines on a number of occasions, the time finally came to put pen to paper and introduce you to this unassuming and carefree winery physically located in Moshav Avigdor but with a soul hailing from Italy’s Verona.

Born Elena Guglielmi in Venice’s Mestre suburb, her family relocated early on to Verona where she grew up studying classical ballet, ultimately spending a number of years performing as a “classical ballerina” (her words) before replacing the arduous training regime behind to focus on teaching ballet and a second career in marketing.  A few days before the dawn of the millennium she attended dinner at the home of an friend whose Israeli wife had invited a visiting friend from the motherland.  Within a few seconds after laying eyes on her, the Israeli visitor informed the hostess that Elena was going to be his wife (a fact unbeknownst at the time to Elena and dismissively waived off by Anat, the hostess).  Showing the adventurous side that surely had what to do with launching the winery, within a few hours Elana had accepted an invitation to accompany Ron to Israel to celebrate New Year.  Proposing within a few days after that, Ron was told that Elena needed more time to decide which turned out to be about a week, to the chagrin of Elana’s mother who took two months before she could speak to her daughter again (with Ron being the apple of his mother-in-law’s eyes these days, this is obviously water under the bridge at this point).  After a whirlwind wedding in Cyprus, the couple settled in Moshav Avigdor and soon thereafter Elena’s love of wine, longing for the crisp and refreshing white wines of her native Italy and a conviction that Israel’s climate needed far more white wine than was then being produced (remember those were the days when white wines were decidedly unpopular which led to their overall mediocre quality, lack of choices and mostly [over-]oaked wines, with a focus on Chardonnay and barely passable Sauvignon Blanc).  The family took a fact-finding trip to Sicily in order to determine which varietals may be most suited for the relatively low-elevation terroir on the Moshav and returned home to plant their first vineyards in 2001, starting with Chardonnay and Muscat of Alexander followed up in 2008 with Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato and Gewurztraminer for a total of 40 dunam.  With a first vintage in 2006, the winery has been kosher since inception and was a trendsetter among wineries by decided to only make white varietals (while additional exclusively “white wineries” have sprung up in the interim, it remains a club with exceedingly low membership).

Elena in the winery’s viticulturist and Ittai Lahat is the winemaker.  Through the 2013 vintage the wines were made at Ella Valley Vineyards and starting from 2014 the wines are being made at Mony.  Elena plans to take a sabbatical for the 2015 Shmittah vintage (joining a select few wineries intending to make no wine next year) and intends to kick things back up again for the 2016 vintage with an intended bump to 15,000 bottles.  The winery has four wins in their portfolio – all unoaked white wines which include a varietal Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc (named for one of her two children) and Moscato along with a semi-sweet blend of Gewurztraminer, Moscato and a pinch of Sauvignon Blanc (named after her second child).  The wines are primarily sold in restaurants and hotels as Elena has found the Israeli wine stores to be a tough nut to crack, especially with her heavily accented and somewhat limited Hebrew skills, but a select few carry the wines. With her famous sculptress mother-in-law’s sculptures gracing her innovative labels (and strewn across her homestead where she hosts groups and individuals for meals and wine tastings), the wines are affordable, relatively simple, refreshing and well made.  Check them out on your next trip to Israel (they aren’t exported to the US) and let me know if you have trouble finding them.

Below are a few of Zimbalista’s recent wines I enjoyed and hope you will as well.

Zimbalista, Sauvinyali Di Zimbalista, 2013: Named for Elana’s son Yali, the wine is a crisp and refreshing 100% Sauvignon Blanc, fermented in stainless steel.  With a highly aromatic nose and loads of mouth-watering acidity on the light to medium bodied palate, the wine is redolent with fresh fruit notes of lemon, grapefruit and tropical notes accompanied by sweet summer grass and a hint of minerality leading into a pleasing and slightly bitter finish with plenty more fruit and citrus notes, the wine is a great accompaniment to those languid summer days that seem to have finally caught up with us here in New Year.  The wine retails in Israel for approximately 70-80 NIS.

Zimbalista, Chardonnay Di Zimbalista, 2013:  Despite lacking much complexity, the wine is pleasant and delicious while also filling the much-needed niche of unoaked Chardonnay whose ranks have thinned over the last few years. With plenty of tropical fruit and tart apple on both the perfumed nose and medium bodied palate, the ripe fruit is backed up with plenty of acid where it is joined by slate minerals, grapefruit, warm herbs and more slightly bitter citrus pith.  Refreshingly round and mouth-filling, tasting this blind might throw you for a loop, even if you are expecting an unoaked chardonnay.  Worth seeking out and trying for yourself; the wine retails in Israel for between 75- 90 NIS.

Zimbalista, Moscato di Zimbalista, 2013:  A semi-dry wine made from 100% Muscat of Alexandria.  Loads of rich tropical fruits on the nose and palate include kiwi, guava, melon, along with spices, a slight herbal note and a hint of sweetness all of which are kept in check by and well-balanced with gobs of crisp acidity that keeps the wine h0nost.  Don’t try this and expect a Moscato (or much complexity) – the wine is a different animal altogether, but still lovely and worth seeking out.  The wine retails in Israel for 70-80 NIS.

Zimbalista, Vino Dariolino Zimbalista, 2013:  A semi-sweet blend of Muscat and Gewurztraminer, the wine is named after Elena’s second son Dario, and is the latest addition to her growing repertoire.  It also happened to be the wine I least enjoyed, with the two grapes seemingly each trying to preserve their individual characteristics and never quite meshing together as one.