When I was asked to try a few of Tishbi Winery’s most elite selections before Shavuot, it was with a considerable thrill that I asked the winery’s importer, The River Wine’s Ami Nahari, to help me reach the winemaker, Golan Tishbi, and get his advice on how best to decant and serve the wine for my tasting team. With his father, Jonathan, 77 years young and still active in the day-to-day running of the winery, this father-and-son team is a true legend of Israeli winemaking.
In 1882, Golan Tishbi’s ancestors, the Chamiletzkis, started working the land in Zichron Yaakov, which was first claimed by Baron Edmund de Rothschild. They planted and developed vineyards in the area for Rothschild, and the family settled nearby. In 1925, as the story goes, the family hosted the famous poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik. In honor of their warm hospitality, the poet proposed a new, Hebrew family name for them: “Tishbi” is an acronym standing for “a resident of Shefeya in Israel.”
At the beginning of the 1980s, the wine industry underwent a severe crisis and the price of grapes dropped drastically. As a result, Jonathan Tishbi decided to open a small winery of his own in 1984 in the same Judean Hills. Golan Tishbi, now part of the fifth generation of family members working these fields, has been winemaker since 1991. He studied wine science and viticulture at Hawkes Bay University in New Zealand, which has extensive coursework for continuing generation winemakers. “These are people who are coming from the industry who need a certain type of information to become their winery’s winemaker. New Zealand has a lot of these people, family members who care for their family vineyards,” he said.
Turning to his wines, Tishbi told me that his favorite wine was the Tishbi Single Vineyard Ruby Cabernet. Ruby cab is a graft made at University of California at Davis’s viticulture lab, of the carignan and the cabernet sauvignon grape. “I drink this in my house; The color is very deep and thick,” he said. Tishbi has been bottling it as part of their ‘Single Vineyard’ series since 2010, and it was the 2013 wine, aged for 12 months in new American oak from Lebanon, Missouri, that my team was given to try.
As with all his reds, Tishbi recommended I decant his ruby cab, and let it breathe for at least 10 to 15 minutes before serving; this would allow for the wine to begin aerating. Tasting a four-year-old bottle of wine should be an enjoyable, unrushed process, and we tasted it along with The Cheese Guy’s bastardo del grappa cheese, ‘Yummy’ brand asiago and some Shelburne Farms aged kosher cheddar made by a member of our tasting team, our own “cheese guy,” Mark Bodzin of Muncle Ark’s Gourmet. Mark brought several different aged cheddars to our tasting, as well as another from Ludwig Creamery’s called Jacob’s Dream, which he has also distributed through his online shop. Tishbi also recommended we taste the wines with crusty bread, like sourdough or spelt, dipped in good quality olive oil.
In addition to the Ruby Cabernet 2013 Single Vineyard, we were asked to try the Tishbi Estate Gewürtztraminer 2016, the Tishbi Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, and the Jonathan Tishbi Special Reserve 2010.
Joining our tasting for the first time were a few members who, for the first time, brought their spouses, so our now clearly legendary tasting team was quite a bit larger than its usual size. Tasting the Tishbi wines were Eliana, Deena, Chana, Ari, Allyson, Shoval, Michal, Yeruchum, Brooke, Jen, Michelle and Mark.
Starting with the only white wine in our tasting, the Tishbi Estate Gewürtztraminer 2016, everyone immediately noticed its sweet, apple-scented nose, and we all expected it to be of syrupy viscosity and ultra-sweet. But the nose belied little about the taste. “It comes off like a chardonnay, it tastes like a cold fall day, not at all as sweet as you would expect,” said Shoval. “It’s nothing like the Late Harvest Gewürtztraminers from Baron Herzog,” commented Yeruchum.
The Tishbi Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 was our first red, and arguably prompted the most varied reaction around the table. It was aged 12 months in American oak and made of 85 percent cabernet and 15 percent merlot. “It’s complex, but lacks viscosity,” said Mark. “The raisin color put me off; it’s garnet, when it should be ruby,” said Chana. Chana, who, with spouse Ari, opened another bottle of the same wine the next day, continued to comment on the color, which we debated long and hard. “It still has a slightly acerbic nose; the body is still lacking in viscosity; and the taste is still reminiscent of raisin,” she reported. The plum notes and forest berries feel were surprising for a cabernet, and the thinner viscosity was surprising for a 12-month oak aged wine. We recommend you grab the last few bottles of this vintage now and drink it for Shavuot. The 2011 vintage is set to be released on Rosh Hashanah.
We also noted that this was the most inexpensive of the reds we were tasting, and that for $25, a kosher wine still tasting good from 2010 is an absolute steal. “This is a good wine for this price point,” said Yeruchum.
Turning to the Ruby Cabernet 2013 Single Vineyard, I reported to the group that Golan Tishbi had been bottling ruby cabernet as a single vineyard estate selection since 2010. The original goal of the ruby cab graft was to obtain the superior quality of a cabernet wine, and the resistance to heat of the carignan, to combine into an inexpensive table wine. Tishbi had been using ruby cab in its wine well before 2010, in its blends.
“I like this one,” said Deena. “The color is deep; it’s a true ruby,” said Ari. “I can taste the terroir here; the tannins are not very strong. This is earthly, and this is what Israeli wines should taste like,” said Yeruchum.
“This wine is true to its name,” said Shoval. I agreed. “Just the name, Ruby Cabernet, makes me want to buy it, relax and enjoy it,” I said.
“It’s smooth going down. It has that good cabernet warmth, but not that much of an alcohol taste… It got smoother as I tasted it again. This is my favorite,” said Michelle.
Moving on to the biggest, most robust wine of the evening, I reported what the winemaker had told me about the Jonathan Tishbi Special Reserve 2010. “It’s our most complex vineyard selection, and 2010 was the most worthwhile putting it in the bottle. I have not done since yet, to put my father’s name on it,” Golan Tishbi told me.
The Jonathan Tishbi is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon and aged 24 months in American oak. “Its density and aroma, the axis of volatile acidity, when properly aerated, that’s what you will notice,” said Tishbi.
“This wine has a thicker viscosity, with a more aggressive, sweeter nose,” said Chana. “The first taste is a little sweet, but it transitions and finishes off drier. It has the mouthfeel of merlot at the end,” said Mark. “I have not tasted a wine this complex, this smooth, this well-constructed, in a long time,” I told the group.
“I think the underlying taste is chocolate,” said Eliana, as she described the wine’s richness. “At first I liked the Ruby better, but this is growing on me. But, if I had to choose, I would pick the Ruby, because with the Jonathan, there are so many flavors going on, it’s hard to keep up,” said Deena.
Our tasting team thanks The River Wines, Tishbi Winery and Skyview Wines (5681 Riverdale Avenue, Bronx) for providing their wines.
By Elizabeth Kratz