A Wine Lover’s Diary, part 858: Israel, part II

Wednesday, October 19th: We couldn’t get breakfast at the Alegra Hotel because the hotel’s chef lived in an Arab village that had been put under lockdown for security reasons. The manager gave us a voucher to eat at the Mala Bistro in the village of Ein Karem. A sumptuous buffet there.

We were picked up by a new driver for our trip to the Dead Sea (a distance of 120 kilometres) and the Daniel Hotel in Ein Bokek.

View from our bedroom at Daniel Hotel overlooking the Dead Sea

Daniel Hotel

After lunch we made our way to the beach for Deborah to take a dip (and to collect handfuls of salt crystals). Bought a couple of packets of Dead Sea mud (which, apparently, has “proven to have an anti-microbial effect on strains of bacteria that live on human skin”). Stir-fry dinner at Greg’s Café in the Dead Sea Mall. Panic as I thought I had lost my wallet. Turns out I had hidden it in my Tilley bag in our room.

Deborah buoyant in the Dead Sea

Thursday, October 20th: Our driver Daniel Moti picked us up for the drive to Eilat. Deborah says the landscape here is like driving on the moon. Eilat, at the southern tip of Israel, is a short walk to Aqaba on the Jordanian side. We had made arrangements with Ahmed Freer, a Jordanian driver, to pick us up once we had crossed the border.

Jordanian instructions

After much paperwork and the cost of 10 dinars on the Jordanian side, we managed to walk across the border with our luggage. Ahmed was waiting in the parking lot to drive us to the Luxhotel in South Beach, Aqaba. He showed us the area where the Saudis are planning to build a new linear techno port city. Aqaba, incidentally, is a duty-free city.


Lawrence of Arabia train at Aqaba

Dropping our luggage at the hotel, Ahmed then drove us to Wadi Rum (where part of Lawrence of Arabia was filmed). We transferred to a jeep, along with a French woman named Adelaide who lives in London, and drove to a mountain of sand, which we climbed up for a view of the sunset.

Camp at Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

But the cloud cover was too heavy and we saw nothing. We returned to base camp and watched the preparation of dinner (chicken, potatoes, and vegetables) – cooked on a series of racks buried in the sand over coals. The servers wore gloves and tore the chickens apart into portions and dumped them on our plates.

Pre-dinner snack before the chicken course

After dinner we listed to a local musician playing the ancient Arab instrument, the oud (a guitar-like instrument with a fat belly and a bent fretboard). Sheet lightening was happening outside and torrential rain started. Ahmed took us back to the hotel.

Oud musician

Friday October 21st: We awoke to a coolish, windy day. After breakfast, Ahmed picked us up for the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Petra. When we walked down to the Treasury, it began to rain. Heavily. We bought throw-away plastic raincoats but our shoes got soaked as torrential rain flooded down the stone walkway. On both sides of the sheer cliffs were ancient water courses carved into the rock.

The walk to the Treasury

The Treasury

Petra, “the Lost City,” was discovered in 1812 by a Swiss explorer named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. The city was built on a terrace, pierced from east to west by the Wadi Mūsā (the Valley of Moses) — one of the places where, according to tradition, Moses struck a rock and water gushed forth. It was believed to be home to 20–30,000 people and was an important trading centre. The English poet John William Burgon, who immortalized the city in a poem as the “rose red city half as old as time” in 1932, had never visited it. (Petra in Greek means “rock.”

Dinner in Aqaba at Suzana restaurant with Ahmed. Can’t recall the food we ate, but we were able to order a bottle of wine in a Muslim country: Saint George Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (you see where my priorities are).

Suzana Restaurant with Deborah and Ahmed

Saturday, October 22nd: Ahmed picked us up to give us a tour of Aqaba, starting with the ruins of the ancient port of Ayla that dates back to 650 AD.

Luxotel, South Beach, Aqaba

Ayla port ruins

We ended up at Habini (Arabic for “Hide me”) – the oldest coffee shop in Aqaba, sitting under an Imperial locust tree watching the men smoke hookahs. While were drinking mint tea, a muezzin was calling the faithful to mid-afternoon prayer. The television was blaring the commentary of a Liverpool versus Nottingham Forest soccer match, but Ahmed and his friend went to the sidewalk where there were prayer rugs handy and knelt in prayer for five minutes.

We visited the beautiful white Hussein Bin Ali Mosque, named after Hussein bin Ali, who was the Sharif and Emir of Mecca from 1908 until 1917. Known as the initiator of the Arab Revolt, Al Sharif Hussein Bin Ali stood against the increasingly nationalistic Ottoman Empire during the course of the First World War.

Hussein bin Ali Mosque

Ahmed drove us to the Aqaba border, where we crossed again and took an Israeli taxi to Eilat airport for our 9 pm Israir flight to Tel Aviv. We got there early enough to take the 7.45 pm flight but had to hustle as they were calling our names over the public address system. Nuriel arrived to drive us to the Dan Hotel (and the same welcome gift of fruit, chocolate, nuts, and wine).

Eilat airport

Sunday, October 23rd: A fascinating day of winery visits and a tour of the Hebrew University with our wonderful guide, Yana Kliper. We began at Tzora winery on a kibbutz high up in the Judean Hills. Winemaker Dan Scheinman had spent several years in Burgundy. The wines were first rate, especially Tzora Soresh 2021, a blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc with 20% Chardonnay, and Misty Hills 2020, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Tzora’s winemaker Dan Scheinman with vineyards behind

Israeli wines purchased for home consumption

Our next visit was the Hebrew University. Rami Kleinmann had arranged for us to have a special visit to the Albert Einstein Library and Archive in the National Library of Israel. (Rami is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (CFHU) and founder of the Albert Einstein Foundation, Canada and Asia.) The first thing we saw was the massive, awe-inspiring triptych window by Israeli artist Mordechai Ardon, entitled “Isiah’s Vision of Eternal Peace.” (For an explanation of the work see https://web.nli.org.il/sites/nli/english/library/aboutus/past/buildings/pages/ardon.aspx).

Mordechai Ardon’s glass triptych

We moved on to the Einstein library, which contains 5,000 of his books and musical scores and memorabilia of his Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 (he was on a ship bound for Shanghai when he got the news. He received the prize the following year).

Albert Einstein was one of the founders of the Hebrew University, which opened in 1925. In 1952 Ben Gurion, through a letter written by Israel’s then Foreign Minister Abba Eban, offered Einstein to be President of the State of Israel – an offer which he gracefully declined. We saw the telegram and the letter and his response, as well as letters from school children to the great man when he was living in the United States – one from a girl asking what was beyond the sky and another from a six-year-old girl in 1952 who had seen his picture in a newspaper and wrote to him saying, “I think you should have a haircut so you could look better.” She signed herself, “Cordially yours, Ann G. Kocin.”

And more importantly, a handwritten page from the original manuscript of the Theory of Relativity. (I had myself photographed at Einstein’s desk, replicating his stance.)

Me and my pal Al

Following this inspirational visit, in we went to one of Israel’s finest wineries, Domaine du Castel in Ramat Raziel. The young woman who makes the wines here, Micha Kalisher, has done a fabulous job, maintain the quality of Israel’s most celebrated winery.

Domaine du Castel’s winemaker Micha Kalisher and barrel cellar

We started off by tasting Domaine du Castel Rosé du Castel 2021 (a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec), followed by Sauvignon Blanc La Vie Blanc du Castel 2021, Chardonnay Blanc du Castel 2021, La Vie Rouge du Castel 2020, Petit Castel 2020 (a Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec), and the winery’s flagship red, Domaine du Castel Grand Vin 2020 – a magnificent Bordeaux blend that I scored 95. We finished with the winery’s second label, Razi’el Red 2020 (a blend of Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre). A stunning portfolio.

Domaine du Castel reds

Of course it is!

Dinner is at renowned Israeli chef Ezra Kedem’s restaurant, which resembles a large greenhouse in his garden. His website reads:

In the heart of the village of Ein Karem in Jerusalem, Chef Ezra Kedem has been working to define Israeli cuisine and spread the word about it. He began his journey in 1995 when he founded the Arcadia Restaurant in Jerusalem, an important institution in Israeli culinary culture. Chef Kedem has worked over the years to develop Israeli cuisine based on fresh local ingredients, some of which he grows organically himself; a search for flavors, a blending of different flavors from various cultures in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem, a melting pot for East and West Jerusalem and a culinary journey of contemporary personal interpretation of the flavors of his childhood and his world view.

Dinner at Ezra Kedem’s garden restaurant

Rami had gathered a very eclectic group of people for dinner, including Maor Zaguri, whose film Virginity was premiered at TIFF, and his friend who wrote the music for the film; Oren Ben-David, Georgia’s ambassador to Israel; Lasha Zhvania, the owner of Israel’s Cigar Magazine; Shmuel Tal, the owner of Tel Shifon Winery in the Northern Golan Heights; and a woman who had just published a self-help book whose name I didn’t catch. A fantastic meal, full of good conversations and lots of wine.

Rami Kleinmann and Ezra Kedem

Monday, October 24th: Rami took us to visit his friend Moshe Levy, a hero of the Yom Kippur War. Moshe lost an arm in that battle. He collects cars – there must have been fifteen at least in his man cave under Marina Village in Herzlia. Three or four Rolls Royces and the armoured troop carried he was in when an Egyptian rocket took his arm. (He even had a replica of that rocket!)

Moshe Levy’s man cave

Moshe Levy

Troop carrier Moshe was injured in

Moshe Levy is in the cyber security business and has consulted on the security to Ontario’s three nuclear plants. He is also involved with Saslove Winery, which was started by Barry Saslove, a Canadian immigrant to Israel, in 1991. Barry’s daughter Roni, who makes wine with him, completed her wine studies at Brock University.

Moshe has 40,000 bottles of wine in racks that surround the car collection – including a special bottling of a 2015 Saslove Cabernet Sauvignon featuring him on the label. In spite of his war wound, Moshe took flying lessons and is now the only one-armed pilot in Israel.

Tuesday, October 25th: Today we drove to Kitron Gravity Winery in the Galilee region where we toured the facility and tasted their Kitron Chardonnay Reserve 2017, Shiraz 2016, Tigra Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah 2016 and Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 along with an egg and tomato dish called shaksuka, a delicious spread of cheeses, olives, hummus, pickles and bread, then dates, halva and honey.

Kitron Gravity Winery

Kitron’s barrel cellar

Lunch at Kitron

Kitron wines

Dessert at Kitron

On the way back to the hotel we stopped in Haifa to admire the view of the city and the Bahā’i Temple and Gardens.

Bahā’i Temple and Gardens

Reverse angle shot of Bahā’i Temple

Dined with our Toronto friends Andrew and Judy Menceles at Shila (182 Ben Yehuda), one of the hottest restaurants In Tel Aviv. Packed and noisy, but the food was terrific.  Started with a bottle of Clos de Gat Chardonnay 2020 then a glass of Syrah (couldn’t read my writing for the producer’s name).

First course at Shila

Desserts at Shila

Wednesday, October 26th: After breakfast we took a taxi to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Apart from a fabulous collection of Chagall, Picasso, Rodin, Henry Moore and the Impressionists, the gallery houses the miniature rooms collected by Helena Rubinstein.

One of the five miniature rooms from Helena Rubinstein’s collection

After lunching in the Museum’s restaurant, we decided to take the bus back to the hotel. This involved securing a bus pass, which was something of an adventure, but we finally succeeded. Later, In the Dan hotel bar we had a bottle of wine with Rami and a friend of his – Tzora Misty Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah 2020.

Thursday, October 27th: Took a bus trip to Jaffa, then we walked over to Dizengoff and Frishman to have a sabich (grilled eggplant in pita) and a light snack before packing.

Hookahs in Jaffa

Fountain in Jaffa

In the evening we were driven to the airport for our Wizz flight to Gatwick. Took the train into London and got off at West Hampstead station, which I thought would be the closest station for our friend Carole Goldberg with whom we were staying. Carole lives in Kentish Town. It was 4:20 am when we got off the train. There were no taxis to be had. Eventually, we managed to get an Uber. Once installed at Carole’s, we slept for a few hours.

Friday, October 28th: After breakfast, we headed down to the Royal Academy in Piccadilly to see a magnificent exhibition by the South African artist William Kentridge which chronicled 40 years of his career.

By William Kentridge

Sculpture by William Kentridge

Lunch at Café in Piccadilly and dropped into to a men’s shop to buy a couple of shirts – as it transpired, I had left several articles of clothing and two large packets of Dead Sea mud in a closet drawer in the Dan Hotel (I was in touch with guest services, subsequently, and arranged to have them sent to me.)

Saturday, October 29th: Lunch with my oldest friend, Bernie, and his wife in their apartment in Baker Street and in the evening took an Uber to Noble Rot in Lamb’s Conduit Street to entertain our hostess, Carole, and the widow of another old school friend, Livia. Another amazing meal starting off with a bottle of Thierry Fournier Champagne Réserve with prosciutto and olives, followed by Sylvain Pataille Marsannay en Clémengeots 2019. Outstanding list of fine wines by the glass on a chalkboard.

Noble Rot restaurant

Noble Rot’s wine by the glass chalkboard

Sunday, October 30th: For our flight home, we had to take the train from St. Pancras Station to Gatwick. But when we got there, we were told that there were no trains running to Gatwick from there on Sunday morning, and we should go to London Bridge Station. We took the Tube with our two large suitcases and hand luggage and made our way to London Bridge. The escalator broke down and we had to manhandle the bags to the bottom. Once at London Bridge station (which is a good walk from the Tube stop of the same name), we were told that the Gatwick trains had been cancelled. We scrambled to get a taxi to Gatwick and were joined by an employee of the railroad who was concerned about being late for work and losing pay, a complaining Dutch woman artist who was flying to Venice and young Irishman with a hangover who was returning to Dublin. (We were concerned that he might just throw up on the journey.) But it all worked out in the ended and we all caught our flights home in time. We were so happy to see our Uber driver Ian waiting for us at Pearson Airport.

Other wines tasted:

Flat Rock Cellars Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2020 (Twenty Mile Bench)
Pale straw colour; lightly floral, minerally, grapefruit zest nose; just off-dry with lemony-grapefruit flavours and bracing acidity. Very much in Rheingau style, succulent on the palate with unconscionable length. One of the very best Niagara Rieslings. Can be enjoyed now but will cellar for a decade. (93)

Flat Rock Cellars Explore Project No. 9 Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (Niagara Peninsula)
Pale straw colour; slightly reductive, grassy, green plum nose with a mineral note; medium-bodied, crisply dry, grapefruit and lime flavours; well-balanced and long in the mouth. Lovely mouth-feel. Drink now and through 2023. (90)

Flat Rock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2020 (Twenty Mile Bench)
Light straw in colour; toasty, spicy, apple bouquet, with citrus notes; medium-bodied, dry, elegant, beautifully balanced apple and citrus flavours with spicy vanilla and well-integrated oak. Drink now and through 2023–4. (91)

Flat Rock Cellars whites

Flat Rock Cellars Project No. 13 Pinot Noir-Gamay 2021 (Four Mile Creek)
Ruby-crimson in colour; earthy, spicy, cherry bouquet; light to medium-bodied, dry, cranberry and cherry pit flavours; lean and sinewy with mouth-freshening acidity. Drink now. (88)

Flat Rock Cellars Project No. 9 Gamay 2019 (Niagara Peninsula)
Light ruby in colour; high toned, slightly reductive, spicy, red plum nose; light-bodied, fresh, easy drinking, Beaujolais Nouveau style. Chillable. Drink now. (89)

Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2020 (Twenty Mile Bench)
Purple-ruby in colour; lightly floral, black raspberry bouquet with oak spice; medium-bodied, dry, firmly structured, richly extracted red berry flavours with velvety tannins; beautifully balanced and seamless. Drink now or in the next couple of years. (90)

Flat Rock Cellars reds

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2018 (Okanagan Valley)
Deep ruby-crimson colour; cedary, spicy, blueberry bouquet with a vanilla note; medium-bodied, dry, beautifully balanced, seamless flavours of plum and blueberry. Long clean finish with ripe tannins. (90)

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2018
Deep ruby-crimson colour; cedary, blackcurrant nose with oak spice; medium-bodied, dry, very Bordelais in style; beautifully balanced, firmly structured with savoury, blackcurrant, plum and tobacco flavours and supple tannins. (92)

Burrowing Owl Athene 2018
Deep ruby-crimson colour; spicy, cedary, blackberry and blackcurrant nose with vanilla notes; medium-bodied, dry, elegant, richly extracted flavours of blackcurrants and plum, well-integrated oak. Lovely mouth-feel. (91)

Hester Creek Syrah 2020 (Okanagan Valley)
Deep ruby in colour; blackberry and black olive nose with a floral note and oak spice; medium to full-bodied, dry, black plum flavour with a saline note. (89)

Paloleo Passo del Cardinale Primitivo di Manduria 2020 ($19.95, Vintages #496463)
Dense purple-ruby in colour; intense Christmas cake bouquet with vanilla oak notes; full-bodied, dry, plum and currant flavours carried on lively acidity. (91)

Jim Barry Single Vineyard Eastern Ranges Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Clare Valley, South Australia; $29.95, Vintages #26925, to be released Dec. 3rd)
Dense, deep purple-ruby colour; spicy, coconut and vanilla nose of black fruits and oak spice; intense and concentrated, richly extracted, firmly structured; full-bodied, dry, blackcurrant flavour with ripe tannins. (90)

London Calling Cabernet Malbec 2019 (Clare Valley, South Australia; $19.95, Vintages #522110, to be released Dec. 17th)
Deep purple-ruby colour; toasty, tobacco, blackcurrant and vanilla bouquet: full-bodied, dry, richly extracted, intense blackcurrant, black plum and dark chocolate flavours with balancing acidity and supple tannins. (92)

Township 7 Cabernet Franc 2019 (Okanagan Valley)
Deep purple in colour; cedary, vanilla, spicy blackberry and coconut on the nose; medium-bodied, dry, fruity with a floral note. (89)

Yalumba Shiraz 2019 (Barossa Valley; $17.95; Vintages #280883, to be released Dec. 17th)
Deep ruby-crimson in colour; blackberry, pepper nose with oak spice; full-bodied, dry, savoury, blackberry flavour with lively acidity and ripe tannins. (89)

Val d’Oca Prosecco (Veneto; $19.95)
Bright, pale straw colour; minerally, lightly floral nose of stone fruits; light-bodied, dry, white peach and almond flavours with a tangerine finish. Lovely mouth-feel. (90)

Champagne Boizel Brut Réserve ($64.95, Vintages #25514, to be released Dec. 17th)
Pale gold colour; active mousse of tiny bubbles; brioche nose with apple notes; medium-bodied, dry, toasty, apple and lemon flavours with a crisp lemony finish. (91)

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