In The Beginning

I like a challenge so, when I got an email asking about a tasting mentioning all the Biblical references to wine and suggesting that, as a result, countries like Israel and Lebanon must have some interesting old vineyards, it sounded like a great theme. And I took the idea a stage further and included wines from other countries with long wine histories including Georgia; archaeological evidence suggests that might have been the first country in the world where wine was actually made, some 8000 years ago. The title I gave to the tasting: ‘In the Beginning’.

Traditionally, Georgian wine was made in qvevris – clay pots that were filled with grapes, sealed and buried in the ground for several months while the fermentation took place. That process is still in use there – and elsewhere, as those who read my last blog, ‘Clay Pots or Lunch’ will know.

Georgian white

But not all Georgian wine is made in this way and the example we tasted, Schuchmann’s Mtsvane (Wine Society, £11.50), is tank fermented. The native Mtsvane grape gave this white an attractive freshness and herbiness and a pleasant underlying richness, with delicately nutty hints on the finish from brief ageing in oak barrels.

Israel’s wines are not widely available in the UK, so I was pleased to pick up a bottle of Recanati’s Carignan/Petite Sirah in Marks and Spencer’s for £10.

Israeli red

This red, from the Judean Hills, west of Jerusalem, was lighter than I expected based on the blend of grapes, but very fruity and flavoursome and easily drinkable nevertheless.

Ksara red

The Ksara Reserve du Couvent, a Cabernet/Syrah blend from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley (Wine Society, £10.50) was altogether chunkier and more full-bodied and would have benefitted from being tasted with robust food and, probably, from decanting, too. But it was a very appropriate wine for an ‘In the Beginning’ tasting as the monks at Ksara were instrumental in introducing new French vine varieties and production methods into Lebanon in the mid-19th century, creating the basis of the modern wine industry in the country.

So, something that started as an unusual challenge ended, by general agreement, as a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting tasting.

Tasting Kosher Wines

Kosher TastingAs a Wine Educator, I get asked to run tastings on a range of different topics.  Among the most interesting was one for a 10th Anniversary party, when the hosts wanted wines from places they had visited together as a way of bringing back happy memories.  But a subject recently was a first for me: Kosher Wines – and the tasting was in a room in the local synagogue, no less.

So, aren’t all wines Kosher?  Absolutely not!  For a wine to be Kosher (and therefore acceptable for Jewish wine lovers) it must only be handled by observant Jews during the winemaking process and anything used must also be Kosher.  This particularly restricts ingredients widely used for clarifying wine before bottling, many of which are derived from animal, dairy or fish products forbidden to Jews.  Acceptable options are egg whites (provided the eggs are from Kosher sources) or bentonite clay. 

Many Kosher wines also undergo flash pasteurisation – necessary to retain their status should the wine be opened or served by someone who is not an observant Jew.  Some experts have suggested that this damages the wine, destroying the fruit character and making it taste dull and lifeless.  On the evidence of the bottles I selected for the tasting, I disagree; all the wines were as I would have expected from similar, non-pasteurised examples.

Of the wines on the night, the one that stood out for me was the Barkan Classic Pinot Noir from Israel’s Negev region (available from kosherwines.co.uk, £10.99).  Pinot Noir is the fussiest of grapes – not liking conditions too hot or too cold.  So, how would it get on in a vineyard more than 800 metres (2500 feet) above sea level in the semi-desert of the Negev?  A sophisticated, computer controlled irrigation system ensures that the vines receive enough moisture, but, even so, it is quite an achievement to produce such an attractive Pinot Noir with delightfully clean raspberry and redcurrant fruit in such a site. 

But this was only 1 example from my selection from around the world – France, Spain and the US also featured, but I could easily have picked wines from Italy, Australia or South Africa instead.  Truly an international phenomenon.