I recently attended a tasting in Silver Spring of wines from the Israeli Vitkin Winery in the company of winemaker Assaf Paz, amid a feast of grilled meat, chicken, and veggies.
Originally a pastry chef and baker, Paz studied biochemistry and food science at the Hebrew University’s agricultural school in Rechovot before pursuing wine.
In 2001, Paz joined his sister and brother-in-law in establishing Vitkin Winery, an independent boutique wine venture, in an old and largely neglected family-owned dairy farm in Moshav Kfar Vitkin, about 35 minutes north of Tel Aviv.
At the outset, their approach was to focus on grape varieties they considered better suited to Israel’s Mediterranean climate, such as carignan and petite sirah for reds and grenache blanc for the whites. In general, Vitkin promotes the “anything but cabernet, chardonnay and merlot” sentiment in Israel.
They convinced local grape farmers to allow Paz to control every aspect of their vineyard practices. “We said we’d paid by the acre rather than by the kilo,” Paz said, so that the grower would still make as much profit as they would have gotten by focusing on volume.
“In truth,” Paz said, devouring the ribs, “making good wine was the easy part. Convincing people to drink it or even just to taste it was the hard part. It is much easier to change the quality of a wine than to change the mind of the people.”
In 2015, the winery began producing kosher-certified wines. While everything produced at Vitkin is delicious, interesting and worth pursuing, at this tasting I was especially smitten with Paz’s two grenache wines:
Vitkin, Collector’s Edition, Grenache Blanc, 2017 ($39.99): An awesome dry white wine blend of 85 percent grenache blanc from Mount Meron in the Upper Gallilee and 15 percent roussanne from the Judean Hills for a little extra backbone. Aromatic, structured, complex, refreshing and utterly delicious with citrus, pear, guava and assorted ripe and under-ripe stone-fruit notes and some lovely spice. Finish has an appealing nuttiness, too.
Vitkin, Collector’s Edition, Grenache Noir, 2017 ($39.99): A lovely, elegant, complex, beautifully balanced and wonderfully delicious redwine. With red and black fruits, floral notes, nice minerality, slightly meaty and earthy qualities, with herbal hints and an enchanting velvety texture, this paired beautifully with the grilled beef and lamb. I found myself returning to this wine over and over. L’chaim!
Send your wine and spirits questions to Joshua E. London at [email protected].