The pol­i­tics of Is­raeli wine

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY DANIELLA PELED

AT THE VI­O­LET restau­rant, per­fectly groomed women and rather red­faced men are slurp­ing a flinty Chardon­nay Re­serve 2006 while tuck­ing into a ravi­olo of shrimp and crab. Amid much lip-smack­ing and dra­matic glass-swish­ing, the cream of Is­rael’s wine writ­ers are here to taste the latest Re­ca­nati vi­nos at this bistro in Moshav Udim, near Ne­tanya.

Hav­ing sam­pled the Sauvi­gnon Blanc 2007 —“good cit­rus notes” — the bon vi­vants move on to a fruity Syrah Re­serve 2005 and lamb with but­tery bok choi and wild mush­room gnoc­chi.

Iron­i­cally, given such rec­om­mended pair­ings, all Re­ca­nati wines are kosher. But things have come along way since Pal­wins — a con­trac­tion of “Pales­tine Wine” — was pretty much the only booze on of­fer from the Holy Land.

“We have had four wine rev­o­lu­tions here,” says El­dad Levy of the On The Ta­ble culi­nary mag­a­zine, list­ing them as he chases porcini round his plate.

The first was when Baron Roth­schild founded winer­ies in Zichron Yaakov and Ris­hon le Zion in the 1880s. Some 100 years later, wine­mak­ers started de­vel­op­ing the Golan, pro­duc­ing such gems, re­calls El­dad wist­fully, as the 1985 Caber­net Sauvi­gnon. Then came the bou­tique winer­ies of the 1990s, and just a few years ago, big winer­ies, such as Markan and Carmel, be­gan in­vest­ing in qual­ity prod­ucts.

“Now we make great wine, but it wasn’t al­ways like that,” ac­knowl­edges Ido Levin­son, a wine­maker in Emek He­fer, near Hadera. “Peo­ple are learn­ing slowly.” The 29-year-old learnt his trade in Italy, France and Aus­tralia. “There’s a mar­ket here, but we need to look abroad too.”

But in Is­rael, even such bac­cha­na­lian plea­sures are po­lit­i­cal. Wine is also pro­duced in the West Bank — “most of it cat­piss,” in­ter­jects a fel­low diner. The­o­ret­i­cally, they have the best ter­roir for vini­cul­ture. But it is not so sim­ple. One wine critic hints that Barkan moved to Hulda some seven years ago af­ter prob­lems with the EU.

“They still have some wines in Barkan, but no-one talks about them,” he con­tin­ues darkly.

Pud­ding ar­rives: a Petit Syrah Zin­fan­del ’05 — “rich vanilla, spicy oak and black­berry” — and fresh mint ice­cream with in­tense bit­ter choco­late nuggets, a sweep of fri­able co­coa wafer and a crackly curl of spun sugar.

It has as much re­la­tion to the iconic Is­raeli pud­dings of Milky choco­late blanc­mange or marsh­mal­low Crembo as the Syrah has with Pal­wins No 9.

Talk turns to the wine­mak­ers of the Golan. “They are not the mes­sianic lot,” says El­dad. “For true peace, they’ll be the first to ad­mit they will have to leave. But Syr­i­ans are not such fa­nat­i­cal Mus­lims. Maybe they will let us work the land — we might get a good leas­ing agree­ment, like Hong Kong.” In any case, he con­cludes, “if they have to move, they’ll move.” He shrugs. “So we’ll drink less wine. It’s not a tragedy. Wine can never, ever be a tragedy.”

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