My Folks Went to Israel and Egypt and All I Got Was This Bottle of Wine

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

My folks just got back from their fantastic vacation to the Middle East. When they left I asked them to keep an eye out for interesting wine.

I was excited to hear that they managed to snag me a couple of bottles along with some other goodies.

Here they are:

Saffron and Cumin... Where is the Wine?

Where is the wine, you ask? Good question. It was confiscated.

Why? Well obviously it was over 4oz of liquid.

Never mind that it was bought at duty free after my folks cleared security. Which leads to this question: What is the earthly point of liquor in the duty free shop? So you can bring the people that you are visiting something that they can already lay their hands on? To swill cheaply in the airport during a particularly long layover?

I have to admit to being disappointed. One bottle was Israeli, the other, Egyptian. Egyptian wine would have been fascinating. I have read that there is a small number of wineries around Alexandria and would have loved to try some. But I got a other fun gifts as well.

Black cumin (which smells great) and the most saffron I have every personally owned. Dad found them in a suq in Cairo.

I don’t even want to know where they came from. But I have a couple of ideas and need to find something amazing to make with them. Ideas?

Our Man in the Vineyard – Israel

Wine from ISRAEL??? – I ain’t drinkin’ that thick, boiled, sweet kosher crap!!!

Misconception, stigma or reality?

As someone who has spent the last two harvests at various wineries throughout Israel with time in between spent at a large custom crush in Napa Valley and selling wine on the streets of NYC, I assure you, MOST WINE MADE IN ISRAEL IS NOT THAT THICK SWEET STUFF YOU WOULDN’T SERVE YOUR DOG.

So if it’s not true, where does this supposed misconception come from?

YES – over 90% of wines made in Israel are kosher.

NO – most Israeli (kosher or not) wines are NOT boiled.

YES – Some are (sort of). Generally they are rapidly heated to a high temperature (about 180 degrees) via a process known as flash pasteurization, a technique also used in some old world wines, most commonly in whites from Germany.

Does this process affect the wine? ABSOLUTELY. How?

Some people say it takes away from the potentially fresh fruit palate/aromas and gives more of a cooked or dried fruit palate/aroma. It is also said to adversely affect the aging potential of wines.

THEN if they don’t HAVE to boil it why the heck would they?

A great and religiously technical question (whose reasons I find somewhat offensive). To avoid getting too technical, let’s just say that it is a requirement for kosher wines served in places where the wine may come in contact with a non-Jew.

OK, so now explain the thick & sweet perception related to kosher wines.

On the Jewish Sabbath there is a blessing made over wine (known as “Kiddush”) before eating the ritual Friday night Sabbath meal. For many years the kosher options for Kiddush wine were the infamous Manishevitz and a few other comparable wines. Some people also claim that the preferred type of Kiddush wine is both red & sweet.

That said, YES there is clearly a basis for the stigma against Israeli wines.

HOWEVER, if anyone is still reading I will end with some quick Israeli wine facts:

There are no major differences between the methods used to make kosher wines (in or out of Israel) versus non-kosher wines.
Many of the best Israeli wines are produced by small boutique wineries and are NOT kosher.
Israeli winemakers have been trained at world renowned institutions such as UC Davis in California, Adelaide in Australia & The Bordeaux Oenology Institute.
Israeli wines are SLOWLY gaining recognition as being “up and coming” and “exciting wine finds”.

(Next time: a bit about Israeli wine regions, varietals, and wine production statistics.)

-Gary (The Wine Tasting Guy)