Earlier this year, on February 29th, it was announced that there was the first Israeli Master of Wine (MW), Eran Pick. The MW is a very difficult and prestigious title to achieve, with very few in the wine world attaining these initials. It is a sign of excellence, a code of ethics and an indication that the individual strives to always improve their chosen field of expertise.
The First Israeli Master of Wine
Eran Pick is a graduate with Highest Honors from the University of California, Davis, which is known to be one of the top schools in Viticulture and Enology in the world. He has also spent time working at wineries in Napa, Sonoma, Barossa and Bordeaux before he started to work for Tzora Vineyards in Israel, which he is currently winemaker & general manager. This is not only a great achievement for Pick, but it is also a great achievement for Israel as a wine producing region. It is fair to say that at one time, Israeli wine was known more for quantity than quality, and while that may still hold true for some producers, there are many wineries that are making world class wine. There have been major investments into the study of soil, sense of place (terroir) and winemaking technology in the Israeli wine industry.
For the sake of journalistic integrity, I will disclose that not only have I studied with Eran Pick in the past, I consider him a friend. But I had samples of Tzora Vineyards wines before I met him and I was always impressed by them. I was first drawn to trying Tzora wines because Jean-Claude Berrouet, who was the technical director of Chateau Pétrus, one of the greatest French wines of all time, was a consultant for their wines. Tzora has their vineyards in the Judean Hills, west of Jerusalem, which is considered one of the up and coming high quality wine areas in the country.
Many of us in New York City, Jew and non-Jew alike, celebrate the festive Jewish holiday of Passover, which has a focus on wine at different parts of the Sedar (a ritual feast that celebrates Jewish history). It is typically right after Easter, but this year it doesn’t start until sunset of the 22nd of April. But I would not only highly recommend bringing a bottle of Tzora Vineyards to a Sedar, as it is Kosher, but I would urge any wine lover to try these wines. These wines are not just meant to be drunk at Jewish holidays, they are meant to be enjoyed by everyone, anytime!
Israeli wines carry a lot of baggage with them, political as well as an unfair prejudice of being only mediocre quality. But as US citizens are experiencing one of the most “interesting” presidential elections of our times, we need to appreciate that the politics of a country does not necessarily represent the politics of their people. The new Israeli MW, Eran Pick, is a great representative for his country, not only because he has a great talent for tasting and a brilliant amount of knowledge (which I experienced in class with him first hand) but he is a kind person that loves sharing his wines with everyone. And he will show the world that the Israeli wine community has open hearts and great wines to share with the rest of the world.
Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)
2014 Golan Heights Mount Hermon Red 2014 Galilee, Israel ($11): Blend of Petit Verdot, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Golan Heights is one of the major wine producers in Israel and I feel that they make pretty good quality considering their low prices. Black cherry fruit with hints of dried thyme and a medium body red that can easily go with chicken as well as beef dishes.
Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)
2014 Tzora Vineyards Shoresh, Judean Hills, Israel ($38): Blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Syrah, and 4% Petit Verdot. Israel has really shown over the years that they produce great Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhône varieties, such as Syrah, and this blend shows how these varieties shine in this blend. I have always been impressed how Tzora wines show a distinct minerality and sense of place while providing lots of juicy fruit. This wine has a stony quality with ripe cassis and exotic spice. As a side note, a man named Ronnie James, who was the founder and original winemaker at Tzora, was considered the father of terroir for Israeli wines, and Eran Pick took over the winemaking role once James passed away in 2008.
Fantasy Wine (over $50)
2013 Tzora Vineyards Misty Hills, Judean Hills, Israel ($75): This 2013 blend is of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Syrah grapes sourced from the Meubanim plot in their Shoresh vineyard. Misty Hill is only produced in the best vintages from the best plots. This is the flagship wine of Tzora. If you would like to know if Israel can produce great wines then I recommend buying this wine – if you can find it! Pristine black currant flavor with layers of complexity such as tobacco leaf, exhilarating note of violet and dark chocolate. But even with all those flavors the wine seems utterly elegant with well-knit tannins and fresh acidity that carries along the long, refined finish. Decant this wine for a couple of hours to drink now, or lay down in your cellar since it will improve over the next 5-7 years.