Tasting a grenache noir from Vitkin, a storied boutique winery that became available to kosher consumers only beginning with the 2015 vintage, is a profound and unique experience. It’s not only that wines are not generally made of 100 percent grenache noir from Israel, but that Vitkin has coaxed warmth, tart cherry flavor, spice and softness with a uniquely Israeli character from this old French grape, which today is most often used as just one note in blends with other grapes such as syrah and mourvedre.
Meeting Doron and Sharona (Paz) Belogolovsky, Vitkin’s winemakers along with Sharon’s brother Assaf Paz (the first Israeli graduate ever of a Bordeaux winemaking school, has studied wine in Australia and California, and was formerly a pastry chef and food engineer; he also has previously worked at Binyamina and Segal wineries), at the Congregation Ahavath Torah/Wine Country Evening of Wine and Whiskey this past Motzei Shabbat, was an experience in meeting true artisans and wine lovers. They have been working since 2001 on perfecting Mediterranean wines with innovation, taste and creativity. The winery is located in Kfar Vitkin, near Netanya. While Sharona noted that most Israeli winemakers don’t consider grenache a grape that grows well in Israel, she notes that Vitkin is the first one to do it well. She also noted that Vitkin is known for making wines from varietals that are all but forgotten, such as carignan and colombard.
“Doron looks like a real winemaker; a man who has spent his life working Israel’s soil,” said Ezra, a member of my tasting group. “His friendliness in talking about the wines and rougher, true hard-worker exterior matched nicely to the flavors in the pinot noir and the other reds we tasted,” he added.
The Belogolovskys explained that their entry-level wines focus on varietal blends from vineyards from all over Israel. White Israeli Journey is a blend of grenache blanc from the Upper Galilee, roussanne and viognier from Ella Valley, and colombard and gewurztraminer from Binyamina. The result is a snappy, smooth white wine with floral and green apple notes, with slight minerality. Some of the roussanne and grenache blanc were fermented in oak. Wine Country has placed this wine on sale for $18, though it has an MSRP from $24.
The Pink Israeli Journey, quite simply, is one of the best rosé wines I’ve ever tasted. This is a blend of grenache noir with a small amount of carignan, both from Alona Mount Carmel. It has an herbal, floral nose with heavy scents of clean, fresh strawberry and citrus. The wine, made in stainless steel tanks only and should be served cold, is refreshing and perfectly pleasing on the tongue. It’s delicious on its own or with light foods like salads or white fish. Wine Country’s special on this is $18 as well. This is a drink-now wine, and even better in warmer weather.
The Red Israeli Journey includes carignan from Mount Carmel and syrah, cabernet franc and marselan from the Upper Galilee. This wine was aged 10 months in French oak. This wine, along with the Vitkin Pinot Noir and Vitkin Grenache Noir, are why we love Israeli reds. They share characteristics of warmth. Try Red Israeli Journey for $18, or Pinot Noir for $24. Jake, also a member of my tasting group, enthused particularly about the pinot noir. “It’s a full and experiential pinot at a great, great price,” he said.
Wine Country has the full range of Vitkin wines at 89 New Bridge Road in Bergenfield. For more information call 201-385-0106.
By Elizabeth Kratz