Twenty Israeli wineries gathered at the Prince George Ballroom in New York for a generic tasting of Israeli wines amidst falling snow and temperatures below freezing. The tasters were 250 wine professionals and opinion makers from the United States. The event was entitled: Wines of Israel: Mediterranean Inspiration. It was organized by the Israel Export Institute and hosted by The Israel Economic Mission to North America.
The participating wineries covered the map of Israel. Taking part were:
Bazelet Hagolan, Golan Heights and Pelter from the Golan,
Dalton and Galil Mountain from the Upper Galilee,
Tulip and Tabor from the Lower Galilee,
Binyamina, Carmel (Zichron Ya?acov) and Tishbi from Mount Carmel,
Margalit and Recanati from the Sharon Plain,
Barkan and Carmel (Rishon le Zion) from the central coastal plain,
Castel, Ella Valley, Flam, Teperberg and Tzora from the Judean Foothills and Judean Hills,
Hevron Heights from Hebron,
and Yatir from Tel Arad from the northeast Negev.
The attentive and interested guests included wine buyers, wine journalists, critics and sommeliers. Each were given a tasting booklet with details about each winery, the wine industry and the wines tasted. There was also room for them to write their own tasting notes.
Michal Neeman, Food & Beverage Development Director of the Export Institute, said: ?Israeli wines are one of the country?s best kept secrets. However recent reports and tastings by leading critics?have brought the news of our wines to the attention of wine enthusiasts all around the world.? She went on to say: ?Twenty years ago there were only two Israeli wineries exporting to America. Today there are more than thirty.?
The Export Institute reported that exports in 2008 amounted to US $26.7 million, an increase of 25% on the previous year. The five countries with the most Israeli imports during the year were: 1. USA, 2. France, 3. Holland, 4. UK, 5. Canada. North America comprised 50% of the total exports of Israeli wine.
Mark Squires was the prime speaker. He is the Wine Advocate expert on Israel, Greece, Lebanon and Portugal, on behalf of Robert Parker, the world?s most influential wine critic. Squires conducted the first Wine Advocate tasting of Israeli wines in 2007, which was arguably the most comprehensive Israeli wine tasting ever held abroad. He followed this in 2008 by conducting more tastings and visiting IsraelWinExpo in Tel Aviv, Israel?s most important trade exhibition. During his stay in Israel he also visited a number of quality wineries. Therefore his knowledge of Israel, though recently gathered, is not only comprehensive but also up to date. He was therefore the perfect choice to be guest speaker.
During a wide ranging speech, he illustrated the depth of his knowledge. He outlined how modern Israeli wines should not suffer from the traditional ?kosher? image, being far better than that. He explained that not all Israeli wines were kosher. He stressed that Israeli wines need to find an identity and individuality and that exporting Israeli wineries should be more flexible on pricing.
He used frequent examples. He praised Castel as perhaps the finest winery in Israel, complimented Yarden and Margalit as having the most age worthy wines and commented that Golan Heights and Carmel have good value wines. He talked about how today Israel?s best wines were Bordeaux blends, but suggested this focus might change in future.
He made complimentary remarks singling out wines as diverse as the Clos de Gat Chardonnay, Tulip Shiraz and Carmel Carignan Old Vines. He acknowledged that the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights were considered Israel?s best appellations but used his personal experience to suggest that that the Judean Hills was also producing very fine wines. He said that the Yatir terroir was one of the most interesting, being so close to the desert.
He pointed out that Israeli winemakers were highly qualified and came from diverse backgrounds with a broad variety of experience. He cited California born Victor Schoenfeld of the Golan Heights Winery, who trained in California, Eran Goldwasser of Yatir Winery, who trained in Australia and Eli Ben Zaken from Castel who was a Francophile.
On behalf of the wineries and Export Institute, Victor Schoenfeld gave a separate presentation with explanations about the Israel wine industry.
Arnon Geva, once part owner of Domaine du Castel, is now Export Director for both the Fine Wine Division of Carmel Winery and of Yatir Winery. He said: ?The tasting event was extremely well organized by The Export Institute. It was professional and is exactly what is needed to bring Israel to the attention of the world?s wine connoisseurs and wine lovers.?
The event was also well received by the guests. Those that attended similar Israeli tastings in Sweden, Paris and London, were adamant that this was the best event yet.
?Arnon Geva, Export Director of Carmel Winery and Yatir Winery, is pictured with two friends of Israeli wines: with Bill Sloane, owner of Beverage Media, and with Jacques Capsouto of Capsouto Freres Restaurant in Manhattan.
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