This article first appeared in the Wine Talk column in the Weekend Supplement of the Jerusalem Post
Moises Cohen was born in Casablanca, Morocco. His wife Anne Aleta came from Toulouse in France. Through an accident of fate, they both ended up in Catalonia in Spain. It was there they met, created a family and also decided to make wine.
Moises is the dry scientist type. He is quiet, academic and analytical, reasonably shy and frighteningly intelligent, but with the logical, step by step approach of the scientist. Anne is more outgoing, arty, emotional and vivacious.
He was born in Casablanca in Morocco. At 17 years old, he came to Israel to study at the Alliance French School. He then went on to the Technion in Haifa where he studied Agricultural Engineering.
He ended up in Catalonia in the mid-eighties working in agriculture and water management. His expertise took him towards viticulture and viticulture took him to wine. Amongst other things, he developed a plant sensor that measures stress in plants. He became a consultant to a number of famous wineries like Osborne, Marques de Grinon and Mas Martinet.
If you really want to see Moises animated, let him talk to you about plant sensors, vine stress, water regimes & humidity in vineyards. This is his world and he is in demand as a specialist in his field. He has been involved in projects all over, from Egypt to Chile.
Now, many growers, viticulturists and agronomists remain wedded to the vineyard but it does not necessarily translate to a love or understanding of wine. They are often connected but can be oceans apart. There was a catalyst that helped Moises make the transition and that was Anne.
She had studied History of Art and became a qualified sommelier. Sniffing and getting excited about a particular wine was part of her character. When they met, it was her passion for wine that took Moises over the bridge from vineyard to wine, from scientist to wine lover.
At home they speak three languages. These are the language of their youth, which is French, the language of their adopted country, Spanish and the language of their proud region, Catalonian. This is not including other languages different members of the family speak, like Hebrew, for instance.
It was love of Catalonia, and more specifically excitement that this was the time of the quality wine reincarnation of Priorat, that encouraged the Cohens to enter the wine business. To succeed they were able to combine the expertise, the passion and the contacts.
They bought a lovely property with a walled vineyard, which they called Clos Mesorah. The vineyard has 105 year old Carignan vines. These are knarled, thick trunked and close to the ground, like bushes. Old, yet brimming with character. The name Clos Mesorah combines the French word for enclosure and the Hebrew word for tradition.
Carignan has a special ring for Israelis. It’s a grape variety that covers over 130 years of wine in Israel and it tells a story of Israeli wine, from volume to quality. It came here in the 1870’s, bought over by the Mikveh Israel Agricultural School, even before Rothschild founded a modern wine industry. The first vineyards planted in 1882 included Carignan.
Unfortunately it did not have a good image, but that did not stop it. In the 1970’s more than 50% of Israeli grapes were Carignan. It grew well in the hot climate, gave good yields and was versatile. A winemaker could use it to make inexpensive reds, Kiddush wine or grape juice. What it did not make was quality wine.
In the early 1990’s Priorat showed for the first time what old vine, low yield Carignan could do. Here it was at its best and started producing great wines.
In the early 2000’s Israeli wineries understood the recipe of using old vines and low yields and started producing wonderful Carignans. The ugly duckling became a swan. Carmel Vineyards Old Vines Carignan, Recanati Wild Carignan and the Vitkin Carignan are three of the best.
The Cohens set up in the region where Carignan is the benchmark. They formed a company called Elvi in Marca, Priorat, to produce wines in different appellations. The company name combined the word El (G-d), with the letters Vi, short for Vino (wine). They used the contacts Moises made as a consultant, formed joint companies with the local wineries and rented the parcels of vineyards they chose.
The company had a principle: To work with local grapes from different individual regions. The wines where possible were to be natural, bio-organic and kosher. So they make kosher wines in the appellations of Rioja, Priorat, La Mancha, Alella and Cava.
The name of the very popular Spanish sparkling wine, Cava, is well-known to Israelis. The word has become the generic slang for sparkling wine in Israel. Someone asking for a glass of cava in a restaurant is as likely as not to be asking for any sparkling wine.
The Cohens have possibly become the first Jewish Sephardi vineyard landowners to make wine in Spain since the inquisition in the 15th century. There is another very famous non-kosher winery nearby to them in Monsant, called Capcanes. They make some very good kosher wines. However Moises Cohen is committed to bringing wines from different regions of Spain to the consumer. Like all quality kosher wine producers, he says his objective is to make quality wines with typicity for their region, which ‘just happen’ also to be kosher. Seemingly he has more than succeeded in his objective.
Elvi Wines has gone from strength to strength. They now produce 80,000 bottles a year and have garnered some pretty impressive third party recognition. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave five of their wines scores of between 90 and 92 points and wrote: “Kudos to the Cohens for this remarkable array of kosher wines.” In the most important Spanish wine guide, Penin, their Rioja Herenza Crianza was ranked as the ’Best Rioja Crianza’ in Spain. The Clos Mesorah recently scored 93 points in the Ultimate Wine Challenge. Kosher they may be, but they are certainly high quality Spanish wines, regardless of the K word.
Elvi’s wines are imported to Israel by wine & spirits distributors, Hacarem. My favorite Elvi wines are as follows:
Elvi Herenza Rioja 2011
Lighter, more purple in color. Nice drinking wine with juicy aromas of cherries and strawberry notes. A great summer wine if served slightly chilled. Good acidity. Refreshing, but with the structure to stand up to food.
Elvi Herenza Rioja Riserva 2009
Made from the Tempranillo grape. The wine is deep colored with delicate aromas of strawberry, cherries and plum. Nice acidity, soft tannins and a long, well balanced finish. A fine Rioja in a more elegant style, with clever use of oak, kept in the background.
Clos Mesorah 2009
Deep colored blend of their own old vine Carinena (aka Carignan), blended with Garnacha, (aka Grenache) and Syrah. It is from the Monsant region, near Priorat. The wine has aromas of black fruit and cherry and is well defined with good balancing acidity. Good length.
Elvi EL 26 2006
This is a blend of Garnacha, Syrah and Cabernet sauvignon from Priorat. Rich, with aromas of blackberry, ripe plum and a hint of spice. The oak gives a cinnamon, spicy vanilla backdrop. There is an attractive sour cherry finish. The label is the color of the slate covered vineyards.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine for both Israeli and international publications.