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Posts Tagged ‘Israeli wine’

Stating the obvious: I have not blogged in a long while.  Life caught up with me.  You know how they say that if you’re so busy trying to record your life, you’re missing it?  I certainly can understand that sentiment.  On the contrary, writing down thoughts, impressions, memories, contributes wholeheartedly to living  of an examined life (a la Socrates: “the life which is unexamined is not worth living”).  So, I’m in both camps.  I’ve been living a lot – not that it has been overly exciting, some very bad spots, some quite interesting and good – and it felt good most of the time not running to record every moment.  That said, there were some moments when I wished I had my camera, when I was dying to share.  All in moderation.  As always.  Sometimes it’s good to keep a diary, and sometimes it gets in the way.

Here are some photo highlights of the last months.  Enjoy!

New wine bar in my neighborhood. Cute, huh?

Yemenite restaurant in the HaTikva neighborhood shuk (market). That is lachoch (yes, throat clearing sound times two), a Yemeni-style bread which resembles a crumpet; the other bread with the egg on top is malawach, flaky, crisp, oodles of layers of goodness and fat; and the two sauces are chilbeh (yes, clear your throat) – a dip made mainly from fresh Fenugreek, and then raw tomato (tradtionally eaten with malawach).

My first cup of Kopi Luwak. Yup, most expensive cup of coffee I’ve ever had. Worth it to say I drank coffee that was eaten and excreted by a civet. Lovely and smooth.

It’s not a good photo, but this is the impressive, beautiful barrel aging room at the Domaine du Castel winery – one of Israel’s oldest and best boutique wineries.

Cured beef, horseradish, and Rioja at a happening joint just outside the shuk on market day.

Chateau Lynch Bages – a Bordeaux – shared by the participants at a wine seminar I was at. The Irish have a strange history in Bordeaux – worth looking up…

Sushi, Sashimi, and Nigiri at the “Al HaMayim” restaurant in Herzliya, right on the beach. Amazing place. Phenomenal sushi – and not just for Israel. Fish comes in fresh every day, and is thrown out if not used by the end of the day. Simply done, beautifully cut. The most creative one was an eel with scallop nigiri covered with a small slab of foie gras.

A photo of me taking a photo. On a Jerusalem Hills winery-hopping day. We visited Clos de Gat, Flam, and Domaine du Castel.

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LOOT! The extreme smörgåsbord brought to me by my father on his current visit. An odd variety of smoked salmon, gourmet pancake & scone mixes, and a "limited edition" Christmas pudding from Harrod's, made with vintage Port and contained in a velvet box - it cost more than many of my monthly bills

Today, the last day of 2011, is a Saturday.  What a year.  I’ve not blogged in a while, as has been the recent trend, not that I’ve not been collecting material.  So, it’s a great time to share a review of recent, and not so recent events, as some of them are quite awesome.  As for the year to come?  Well… that’s for another post, but I suspect I’ll be reading more classic literature, traveling more, and studying for a wine certification…I hope.  Enjoy the photos!

March - June: Alkalai Wine Bar, I lived in Bourgogne-wine-land every day

WINE: I transformed my career, somehow, with luck, with some concrete planning, with hard work. I went from an online marketing/editing/PR drifter and hopeless fiction writer, who worked part-time doing wine tastings, to a wine bar sommelier and cook, to an invitee representing the winery in a French exhibition, to a full-fledged winery employee.  I’m proud of myself for going for something I wanted and succeeding.  You never know what was entirely based on chance, but I know that whatever had happened, I would be working full-time in wine at this moment, whether at the winery or a restaurant or a hotel.  I learned how to leave a job I hated, work hard, ask for help (which was not easy), and ask for what I wanted (which may have been even harder).  I love my new job.

Christmas Day: Katzrin, Israel. Visit to the winery. I'm pouring our Yarden Heights Wine 2009, a Gewurtztraminer ice-wine-style dessert wine. Yummy.

Christmas: Yonatan vineyard, Golan Heights. Organic Cabernet Sauv.

TRAVEL: Hmm… where did I go…  Bordeaux, Paris, Giverny (in Normandie), Chicago, Kauai… I changed planes in Amsterdam, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles – though those aren’t supposed to count… and that’s it.  Fantastic adventures…but not as far and wide a selection of places as in years past.  I was very privileged in these, however.  They really were incredible trips.  Wine, food, laughter, hard work, hard play, art, beautiful weather – always – and especially the interesting people that I traveled with and met along the way. (on an interesting side note – after having been featured on an American Travel Channel television show, I was recognized all over the world, by random people, some of who plotzed and took photos with me and my sister).

June: the legendary Shakespeare & Co bookshop, Paris. Incredible book reading, and I met and spoke with author Nathan Englander, who graciously signed my book, in Hebrew and English. Extraordinary last day in Paris

April & June, Tel Aviv & Bordeaux: OYSTERS! Huitres!

FOOD: I cooked less this year, but ate just as heartily.  Perhaps too heartily.  The most typical New Year’s resolution may be in order for me this year.  From scrummy wine bar fare like prosciutto & Parmesan, fatty French cheese platters, and freshly steamed Thai dumplings; to oysters, foie gras, chestnut creme crepes,  Armagnac ice cream, crisp lemon squid, a simple Chateaubriand steak I’ll remember for a long time, more hearty soups than I can remember, and much much more.

March: squashing tomatoes with my bare hands for shakshuka at the wine bar

KAYAKING: an odd adventure sport I picked up and stuck with.  I suppose I needed some more exotic expensive exercise-induced adrenaline in my life.  Begun as a crazy lark in Hawaii (the Na Pali coast is rated the #2 adventure to take part in by National Geographic), I was thrilled and proud I survived the craziness, I decided to roll with the momentum and immediately join a kayak club in Tel Aviv.  It’s been interesting, and terribly challenging.  It has added another dimension to this ever-changing life.  It has also added  painful dark bruises to my legs and arms every week, and taken a large chunk out of my paycheck for water-tight clothing.  Oh well.  Life.  Better to go for it than to sit on the sidelines.

August: Kauai, Hawaii - kayaking the Na Pali coast

December: Rosh HaNikra, Israel - border of Lebanon - inside the deep caves

December: my kayak club with the Israeli navy

AND let’s end the year with some videos!  Going along with the title of this post, Tom Lehrer wrote some excellent songs that still ring true today.  In honor of all of the revolutions this year, in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, and Libya. In remembering all of the precarious situations that remain, Iran, North Korea, the Euro-zone crisis, the upcoming American elections, the environment going to hell, flu, honeybees dying out, and Israel practically becoming a misogynist theocracy, and of course the future of my physical, mental, and especially social fitness.  Let us hope, but more importantly, let us work hard for a better year and a safer, happier world.  And here’s some laughs and satire for us all.

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I am sometimes privileged enough to get to participate in days and evenings that many people would die to experience, or have a hidden camera along with them.  As a writer, I don’t need one.  And believe me, I’d be a fool not to use my experiences as fodder for something extraordinary one day.  I won’t disclose direct details and names are omitted (don’t worry, nothing as sordid as you’d think).  The last 3 days of my life have simply been surreal – nothing short of it at all.  Billed as a combination “giving back and coming together,” the winery created a three-day program for every single worker – yes, we shut down for three days.  Included in this adventure:

  •  Community service – I spent most of the day breathing in ungodly amounts of sawdust and varnish fumes in an enclosed greenhouse for about 6 hours for the benefit of a community center for the mentally challenged – the folks came down to help us, and I ended up getting sprayed by said varnish for several minutes.  Ah well.  All for good.  I did get to commune with donkeys, ducks, and chickens that day in their petting zoo – always a plus in my book – and it was amazing to see what 6 hours’ hard work by 100+ people actually can accomplish.  It was great – although the sawdust ring and piles of sediment in the bathtub that night (I kid you not) were a cause of some concern to me.
  • A romantic tour of the old city of Jerusalem.  Great fun.  Churches, ramparts, architecture.  I’ve done it at least half a dozen times, and even led unofficial versions of it for friends.  But I loved it.  Towards the end I got tired, and when we got to the incredible Austrian Hospice, I simply disappeared into the cafe-garden with a lovely creamy Meinl cappuccino while the group went up to the roof for another half-hour of pointing-at-buildings.  It’s a rose garden, quiet, and two foreign gentlemen smoked cigars next to me.  At that moment I was happy.  I loved my employer, my colleagues, the retreat, the weather, the location.  It was a great day.
  • Ridiculous performances — I hate using ridiculous to describe performance art, as artists try hard and need to earn a living.  There just happens to be a lot I cannot tolerate, and I was subjected to some extremely…well…difficult work.  Folksy mediocre sort of stuff — the fact that many, perhaps not most, but not a few, of my work colleagues enjoyed some if not all of the two evenings’ entertainment, puzzled me.  But let me leave it at that. To each his own.  A fantastic exercise in anthropology, one could say.
  • A scavenger hunt.  A big fat three-hour frantic massive-list hunt, 21st-century-style (all evidence photographed, video’ed, and internet research often required).  We were broken up into groups and I knew almost nobody in mine.  Running all over Jerusalem, climbing the YMCA tower (450 steps up) to count carillon bells, taking photographs while sitting inside random people’s cars, teaching tourists to speak a sentence in Hebrew about our company, archery in the park, and on and on.  It was exhausting.  We didn’t win, but now I have 7 new friends at the winery, most of whom I never would have met, approached, or sat with at a meal.  The fact that I enjoyed this is a huge credit to the HR people at the winery.  They know their stuff.  It could have been cheesy-city, but almost every group participated with gusto.  It was great.
  • Raucous late-night adventures in the shuk — my favorite part of the trip — reminded me of my adventures in Bordeaux.  A small group (12 or so) of people from almost every walk of life (department) of the winery decided to head out for some post-cheesy-art living it up on the town.  We found ourselves at the Casino de Paris – a hip new bar-eatery in the middle of Machaneh Yehuda shuk (market).  Yes, hidden among the vegetable stalls is quite a chic place, bright, friendly, excellent booze, people spilling out the door on a Monday night.  We drank, ate, drank, told stories, drank, made merry, and drank under the stars beside the covered stalls outside the warm little bar.  Then we made our way to the famous Machaneh Yehuda restaurant a couple blocks away.  We drank, ate, drank, and made merry all over again, to a much higher and stranger degree.  With stranger foods (shellfish after midnight).  Stranger objects (wearing tea towels somehow became part of this segment of the evening). Stranger liquors (we started the evening with high-end Cognac and single malt Scotch, and somehow ended up finishing it off with cheap Arak).  So it goes.  Interesting taxi-back-to-hotel arrangements.  And lots and lots of ibuprofen.  I’m quite proud of myself, really.  I can really hold my liquor, or so it seems to me.  I didn’t tell any bad sex jokes, I didn’t vomit, I didn’t fall down, and I hardly cried at all.  I think it was a well-maintained buzz through and through.  In the course of 6 hours (with food) I think I consumed 3 glasses of wine, 2 whiskys, three sips of beer (one ale, two stout – a knowledgeable person told me to try stout with whisky and it was an excellent combination), one tiny sip of Arak, and a glass of bubbly.  It was a fantastic evening.  Had it occurred at the American Colony as I’d wanted, it would have been better.  It’ll have to wait for the next adventure.  But it was very good as it was.

It doesn’t often occur to people that they live interesting lives — but on this particular occasion, it occurred to me that I do.  I don’t make wine, but I get to work with people who do.  People who make world-class amazing wine.  And that counts for something.  It’s amazing when you know you’re working with and for good people, for a good cause.  Wine is a luxury product, I suppose, but it’s far more essential than a Lexus or foie gras or an Xbox, I think.  It’s a connection to land, to history, to religion, to people, to experience.  What’s a wedding without wine?  New Years?  Anniversaries?  Birthdays? Beuf Bourgignon? Coq au Vin?  I’m back to stressed out life — and even if it doesn’t seem charmed 99% of the time — it is a charmed existence in many ways.  There’s always that after-work glass of wine waiting.

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Fabulous clothing and shoes, wine stains and crushed toes.  So the game goes.

Talking to wine writers at the Golan Heights Winery stand at Sommelier 2011

Israel and wine, newsworthy topics both, best when paired.

The Sommelier Exhibition 2011 has come and gone, and it was fast, busy, exciting, exhausting, and over as soon as it began.  We at the Golan Heights Winery featured the 2008 Vintage – including 3 new single vineyard wines that were released this week, timed with the event: the Merlot from the Kela vineyard; the Syrah from the Tel Phares vineyard; and the Cabernet Sauvignon from the famed El Rom vineyard.  We also introduced the Gamla Syrah 2009 (English),  the newest addition to the Gamla series, a long time in the works – brilliant magenta color, vibrant fruity aroma bordering on the confectionary (and I mean in the best possible way), and such a fun wine it is.   The jazzy new 2008 Yarden 2T, a blend of two Portuguese varietals Turiga Nacional and Tinta Cao, was also a huge hit – lighter bodied yet complex, something we Israelis are not used to… and should be a great pleasure to get to know.

In other fascinating wine news, I read this interesting piece on 8 Budget-Friendly Destination for Wine Lovers. Ever thought of going to Thailand for a tour of wine country?  Umm… never.  But for $50 a tour, $5 a bottle, and a hotel for $15, your plane ticket is your largest expenditure (which frankly, is not small potatoes, but we’ll ignore that).  Apparently it’s brilliant fun to see Thailand’s 3 wine-growing regions that are able to harvest twice annually because of the wet and hot climate.  All the others I’d heard of and have actually considered.  Hungary (Tokaj – now why in the world wouldn’t I?) and Cyprus (fascinated by Greek-Turkish wines – millenia-old traditions) especially.

OK – on the bizarre, awesome, I-never-would-have-thunk-it, front, a Japanese comic book (the genre is known as Manga), all about wine – “Drops of God.”  First published in 2004, it’s been translated into English, and it’s brilliant and fascinating.  Wine Manga.  Wow.  It was a smash hit in France, a sensation in South Korea, and it introduced wine culture to large parts of Asia.  Check out the article and the Wikipedia page.  I’m buying this.

Otherwise – I’ve been working and kayaking and that’s about it.  Mostly working.  And consuming junk food, cucumbers, and tuna fish sandwiches.  Ah life.  And wine, don’t forget the wine.  My teeth turned an absurd shade of nasty smeared blackish purple over the past two days at the exhibition (not because I drank, god forbid while I work, at least not much) but because I was designated taster for most of the time – testing for oxidized and corked wines.  Thank goodness for baking soda.

And to close, a beautiful Ernest Hemingway quotation I stumbled upon today:

Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.

 

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This is a real “Rose of Sharon,” as referenced in the bible in the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as we know it in Hebrew – “I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley.”  The real rose is, as seen, I kind of lily.  This year I saw them for the first time, or at least was introduced to them, and acknowledged them as the real deal. They bloom in the autumn on the sea coast, springing forth from the sandy rocks.  So beautiful a fragrance, such delicate thin white petals, spread out along the cliffs they blow gently in the breeze, dancing.

My name in Hebrew is Sharon – it’s what everyone calls me in Israel.  Irène is reserved for my English and French language identity.  It took me a long time to like my name. Irène Sharon – “peace” (from the Greek goddess of peace, Eirene, protector of Plenty, and revered by Athenians), and the forested plain region of Israel – often identified with this lily.  Now that I know that this unique flower blooms only in the fall, only here, and that I learned these things at a time when I was in such crisis, so tested, means all the more to me.  I love my name.  I want to work harder.  I want to be worthy of such a powerful, important, and beautiful name.

A test of survival – this last month was the most difficult one I have known in years.  It rivals studying for 5 AP exams while acting in a play while applying for college.  It rivals writing half a dozen final papers in two weeks.  It rivals the last week of sleepless nights finishing an honors thesis.  Yes, all academic references – but these were some of my roughest periods.  The task I was given did not require months and years of research in libraries.  It was kind of an opposite task – not cerebral – but practical.  A job job.  Logistics – coordinating the actions of 50+ people, scheduling 200+ wine tastings within a 2-week period, training 100+ people within a week, monitoring and assessing the success of these events, and troubleshooting at a moment’s notice – it was a kind of mad dance – the highest usage of email, telephone calls, text messages, and meetings – long drives, rushed taxi hops, running to train stations, and constantly being called, always fixing problems.  It might seem like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.  10-16 hour days for a month, playing Sudoku with the largest spreadsheet I’ve known (as my bosses refer to it), moving people around like chess pieces, around the country, from day to day, hour to hour.  All this to sell wine, aggressively, on a large scale, during the holiday rush.  Now that I think about it, it really was like chess – strategic moves in a sales war.  It’s no wonder my bosses refer to this mad task as “hunkering down in the bunker.”

And I survived.  And I’m so happy.  And I love my job.  And I’m a sappy sappy sod, but I don’t care.  It feels good to work hard.  It feels good to have finished an arduous task.  How did I survive?  Sadly, or not so much, with a lot of single malt, chocolate, club soda (I love club soda), coffee and early morning news (BBC or France 24 at 6 am – not kidding) to feel connected to the world like a real grown up with a routine, and KAYAKING.  I kept at it.  Yes I did.  6:30 am once or twice per week, dragging myself to the beach for the greatest physically exhausting high – paddling kilometers during lessons with a professional, learning the techniques of the craft, to master control of the vessel.  Me versus the sea and wind.

And it was my kayak instructor, a typical gruff wiry leathery sort of sportsman, who pointed out the lilies, the delicate חבצלת חשרון, and bent one down from a high cliff for me to smell.  It a special sort of thing – that this flower blooms at the end of the Jewish new year.  Well, it actually crosses over – end of the year is also the beginning of the next.  It ushers out the old and brings in the new.  Kind of like my life.  A very new and different phase.  It’s much more like physical labor than mental labor.  Maybe it’s good for me.  For now.  It may make reading books and relaxing with friends more – more – fun?  Thinking for pleasure?

What is certain is that wine goes with food, and food will never leave my life.

Shana tova. שנה טובה ומתוקה.  A sweet and good new year to you all.

Second-to-last day of madness. Yes, that's a bottle of Gamla Sangiovese.

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So much to tell, so little time!

I am flying to the USofA today!  But I will be spending less than 35 hours of it (cumulatively) on the contiguous 48.  That’s right.  My family and I are off to the gorgeous lush relaxing island of Kauai, the northernmost (and slightly less touristic) in Hawaii.  It’s hard to believe.  I’ve been working 18 hour days for a week now preparing for leaving, and now I’m leaving in about 10 hours, and I’m still working, and I haven’t started packing or cleaning or anything.  I’m going to end up on a beach, completely strung out after 2 days of endless flights, and not know how I friggin got there.  Oh well.  C’est la vie.  And I must say, I’m liking my vie very very much these days.  Now if I could only catch some more zzz’s and do better catching up on work and studies.  But I’m lucky.  Quite.

Some things to report:

The Golan Heights Winery stand being built at the Jerusalem Wine Fest

Last 2 days of the Jerusalem Wine Festival!  It’s at the Israel Museum tonight (17/8) and tomorrow (18/8) from 7pm-midnight.  You pay about 70 nis at the door, get a lovely Riedel glass (that you get to take home with you if you haven’t broken it yet), and drink endlessly from your choice of 30+ Israeli wineries.  With Jacob’s fresh cheeses and locally made gourmet chocolate also at hand, it’s a fun time.  I managed our stand the last two days, and all I have to say is GAMLA NEBBIOLO.  If you’re reading my blog, which hardly anyone does, but if you do, and you go, ASK FOR THE NEBBIOLO at the Golan Heights stand.  It’s under the counter.  And it’s incredible.

The Jewish High Holy Days are coming up.  If you like wine at all (and I’m assuming you do if you’re reading this), it’s the best time of year to taste almost every wine you’ve been curious about.  Pesach and Rosh Hashana are the biggest wine sales events – so the week before you’ll find free tastings at almost every wine store and supermarket in the country.  So go!  Explore!  Drink!  This is everyone’s chance to expand their horizons without having to leave their own neighborhoods.

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Last Thursday, August 4, 2011, the harvest began at the Golan Heights Winery.  The first varietal to be plucked from the vine?  Pinot Noir.  This is so exciting for me.  I’m going to be going up to the Golan this week for a harvest party, and I may be going a few times, hopefully to the Golan and Galil,  before it’s over.  Here’s a short video taken a couple days ago – the first pressing of the first grapes of 2011:

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