Tishbi winery patrons learn how to pair chocolate at the wine bar. Tishbi winery patrons learn how to pair chocolate at the wine bar. Tishbi winery patrons learn how to pair chocolate at the wine bar. (Photo: Miriam Kresh)

Wine? Chocolate? Good food? It's all here at the Tishbi winery

Laid-back owners, atmosphere make for an enjoyable experience in Israeli wine country.

If you love wine, fresh country air, gourmet food and chocolate, the Tishbi winery in the Galilee is for you. Take it from me – I spent four blissful hours there last week.

I arrived at a large wooden building whose glass doors were imprinted with the 19th-century images of the winery’s founders, Michael and Malka Tishbi. I entered the visitor’s center. It’s huge. The first thing I noticed is a regal-looking copper alembic dominating a story-high space. Tishbi’s prize-winning brandy is distilled in this contraption, which was imported from France and is the only such distiller in Israel. Then my attention went to the wine-tasting center: a bar facing shelves lined with the excellent Tishbi wines. Beneath the wines stand mason jars filled with many varieties of Valrhona chocolates, one of the world’s best brands.

Vintner Golan TishbiVintner Golan Tishbi greets visitors. (Photo: Miriam Kresh)

Golan Tishbi, fifth-generation Tishbi vintner and manager of the winery, was waiting at the bar to greet me. Dressed in workmanlike, rugged clothes, he’s a quiet presence in every part of the facility, greeting every worker by name, noticing everything and seeming to run the business by touch. He introduced me to his assistant, Roni, who poured out tastings, explained the wines, and afterward helped me select some of that fabulous chocolate. I learned that specific wines complement the flavors of individual chocolate varieties, and that a chocolate/wine tasting menu was available for a unique tasting experience.

Golan recounted the winery’s history. His great-grandparents established the vineyards in 1882, upon first arriving in Israel. The farm was funded by Baron Edmund de Rotschild; it was one of his historical projects for growth in the Galilee. Michael and Malka’s descendants continued cultivating grapes and olives. In the 1980s, economic circumstances brought the family to establish their own winery. Golan renovated the tasting center and brought in the brandy and the chocolate. At his initiative, the family established a fine bakery and dairy restaurant on the grounds.

Golan’s wife, Karen, makes all the beautiful vases and containers used in the facility, even the little grace-note grape clusters embedded in the tile floors.

The winery offers a fun family experience on Fridays. Parents can taste wine at their leisure while the little ones wear themselves out in the facility’s playground. A tour of the facility includes a view of the bakery, where all the breads are baked in a French wood-burning stove. The breads, by the way, are fabulous; all sourdough and with a hint of smokiness from the wood.

Patrons enjoy the atmosphere at the restaurant on the grounds of the Tishbi winery.Patrons enjoy the atmosphere at the restaurant on the grounds of the Tishbi winery. (Photo: Miriam Kresh)

On Fridays, you can order smoked brisket and fries at Golan’s pet project, the BBQ truck (which I mentioned in my post about the Wine & Plenty festival).

It’s the Tishbi family’s pride to hire only the best staff and offer only the best products. It’s a policy that makes for a truly enjoyable afternoon. The atmosphere is so laid-back, so friendly and mellow, that when I left I thought, I’d love to just move in and stay there for a while. Or, considering the large selection of excellent wines, maybe forever.

The following recipe is similar to the risotto I ate at Tishbi. It calls for Arborio rice, the classic short-grain rice that cooks until tender, but still retains a firm center. It also calls for stirring – lots of stirring.

Risotto with mushrooms and spring vegetables Risotto with mushrooms and spring vegetables (Photo: Miriam Kresh)

Risotto with mushrooms and spring vegetables

Yield: 6 servings
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 1 hour

Ingredients:
8 cups vegetable broth
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup string beans, sliced diagonally into 1 1/2” strips
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
10 ounces white mushrooms, sliced thickly
2/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup thawed frozen peas
2/3 cup grated cheddar cheese (can substitute Parmesan or any firm, aged cheese)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
Simmer the broth in a medium saucepan. Add the porcini mushrooms. Keep the heat medium low and simmer the broth until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil, string beans and onions. Stir and cook until beans are tender, about 8 minutes.

Add the white mushrooms and garlic. Lift the rehydrated porcini mushrooms out of the broth and chop finely, discarding the stems if still tough. Add the porcini mushrooms to the large pan. Stir and cook until the fresh mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the rice and cook 5 minutes, stirring. Add the wine and cook until the liquid is absorbed, always stirring.

Add 1 cup of hot broth. Simmer over medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed, stirring gently.

Continue to cook, stirring, another half hour, adding cupfuls of broth a little at a time until the rice is creamy and tender, but not mushy. Add the peas and mix in. Fold in the cheese. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

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