Wines from Israel Come to Kenya

I enjoy wine. But I am no expert – what is called, I believe, a sommelier. Yes, I can tell whether what I am drinking is dry or sweet, rough or smooth – but little beyond that. And I reckon many of those who claim more than that, who talk glibly and long about aromas and flavours and body and so on – I reckon they are often only bluffers and show-offs.

I enjoyed the story of a young Royal Navy officer whose chore it was, whenever his ship docked, to go ashore and bring back some wines for the Captain to taste and select – which is what the Captain did with a lot of gentle swilling and smelling. And then he consistently chose the more expensive bottles. So the young officer played a trick. He swapped the labels around. The Captain, after his concentrated swilling and smelling, still chose what he thought were the more expensive one.

My prejudices were reinforced when, quite recently, I was on a consultancy mission in South Africa. A couple of the members of my team were obviously wine buffs and they refused to believe that, if blindfolded, they wouldn’t be able to distinguish between, say, a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc.

So, for a bit of fun, we set up a competition one evening at the end of our mission. Each of us bought a bottle of wine. Then, turn and turnabout, we served it with the others blindfolded. Never mind Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc – they couldn’t tell if the wine was red or white. And the guy who won was the least qualified; he doesn’t normally drink wine at all. So it was all guesswork.

Nevertheless, when I was invited to a tasting of Israeli wines at the Dusit2 Hotel, I was glad to go. First, because the wines were being paired with chocolates, and I like chocolates; second, because I also like the Dusit2 Hotel; third, because I had heard that young Noam Orr is a very entertaining presenter. Oh, yes, I had also heard that Noam’s Israeli wines are surprisingly good.

There were over a hundred of us in a banquet hall of the hotel. Each place setting had two wine glasses and paper place mats with the names of the six wines we were to taste. Alongside, was a bowl with the neatly wrapped six chocolates that were to be paired with the wines. While waiting for the show to begin, it took a measure of self-discipline not to unwrap and have a nibble.

Noam is certainly a showman. He knows his wines – and he also knows a few good jokes. He began with a brief and entertaining history of wine in Israel. He told us that the story goes back over three thousand years. Wines were a key feature of religious ceremonies as well as family celebrations. He explained, too, that perhaps one reason why many of us don’t associate Israel with wine is the long period, many centuries, when the country was under Islamic rule.

Then he began to introduce his wines – all of them distributed here by his family business, Baraka Israel. I particularly liked the 2015 Gamla Chardonnay, with its bright pear, green apple, honeydew melon and citrus notes, balanced with hints of French oak… No, these are not my words; they come from the Baraka brochure. No matter, it is a very fresh wine and very drinkable.

Noam told us that the Chardonnay comes from a winery with a vineyard of volcanic soil, situated in the highest and coolest part of the Golan Heights. He also recommended that we should try the wine with salmon, roast chicken or sushi.

For more substantial dishes (slices of juicy roast beef, say, or a pepper steak) there was the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon – a full bodied wine that Noam described as having a round finish, a typical fruity aroma, and a touch of oak. It comes from the Teperberg Winery that was founded back in 1870 in the Old City of Jerusalem – the first family winery to be established in Israel in modern times. The grapes are grown in vineyards up in the Judean Mountains, Israel’s main tourist wine route.

And the chocolates? They were delicious. They came from the very innovative company, ‘Say it With…Chocolate’. And they had a delicate range of flavours – banana, blueberry, orange, coffee, butterscotch, and – something very different – sea salt. If you would like to know more about them, go to the website, www.sayitwithchocolate.co.ke.

Noam’s wine tastings? He does a lot of them. The next public one should be on 14 October, also at the Dusit2 Hotel. To confirm this and to book a place, you can ring him on 0791-389771. And if you would like more information about his Israeli wines, go to the website, www.barakaisrael.com.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation