A few weeks back I went on a private wine tour, visiting four different wineries, with my friends Joel and Les from Australia. Taking an early morning train, I met up with them in Tel Aviv and we started the day with coffee and breakfast at the hotel. After being picked up from the hotel by our tour guide Yakov Feder from Israel Wine Journeys, our first stop was the Tishbi Winery located between Zichron Yaakov and Binyamina just south of the Mount Carmel.
The Tishbi Winery is the largest and most commercialised of the four wineries we toured – the sixth largest in the country – and their history is by far the richest. With the founding family’s move in 1882 from Lithuania to Zichron Yaakov, the family patriarch Michael was commissioned by the Baron Rothschild to produce wine. Fast-forward to 2014 and the Tishbi family is still hands-on in the wine industry, running their Tishbi Winery since it opened in 1984.
We entered the winery’s visitor centre and sat down at the bar, our tour guide arranging the wine and chocolate tasting tour for us. Omer was our server and he prepared six Valrhona chocolates to compliment the six red wines we’d be tasting. First we opened up with the Pinot Noir and the Organic Syrah, trying dark chocolate samples with each glass. Next we had the Merlot and the Ruby Cabernet, one of these came with an interesting chocolate from Madagascar. In retrospect, if I remember correctly, the chocolates went from west to east as we tried them (from South America to Oceania).
Up next was the Ruby Cabernet and then, finishing with the Estate collection, my favourite, the Barbera Zinfandel. Tishbi’s version of port, this wine was sweet with a fortification of brandy, bringing the alcohol up to 18%. Aged in oak barrels for 18 months, this particular vintage was 2006 – the oldest wine of the tour, I believe.
A little about the Valrhona chocolates we tasted, the original Chocolaterie du Vivarais was opened in 1922 in France and to this day, imports cocoa beans from the world over to produce its chocolates. Similar to Valrhona but on a smaller scale, Tishbi uses grapes from all over Israel to make their wines – from the Negev to the Golan. When we finished our six chocolates and six wines, I tried a white chocolate and then we headed over to the adjacent winery restaurant for a gourmet cheese platter.
Not one to revel in fancy cheeses, I tried just the soft cheese in the centre of the platter, spreading it onto the artisan bread baked on-site. After the cheese platter lunch we got back into our tour guide’s car and drove to the Jezreel Valley to visit the next winery: Jezreel Valley Winery