Wine and Plenty festival celebrates boutique wineries
Annual gathering showcases Israel’s hidden vineyards, artists and food.
In northwest Israel, four large wineries stand out and are justly celebrated: Carmel, Binyamina, Recanati and Tishbi. The wines are produced for exporting and made available in the U.S. or Europe. But there’s a treasure map of boutique wineries in the area that are worth exploring.
You won’t find these fine handcrafted wines on supermarket shelves. You must drive the region, stopping along the wine route to taste and shop.
If you’d rather condense your wine tastings into one time and place, plan to visit the annual Wine & Plenty festival in the Ramat HaNadiv Memorial Gardens. I attended it, with some friends, this past March. The night was cool, the country air was delicious, and the free wine glasses issued to us at entry put us in a mood of cheerful anticipation.
White-draped booths were set in a large circle on the grass – a privilege, because normally the public isn’t allowed on the grass. But that evening, my friends and I wandered at will, going from booth to booth, listening to live music and tasting wines at leisure.
Artwork based on – what else – wine bottles stood around the grounds, adding visual fun to the night. The exhibit was called “Full Bodied.” The Binyamina winery donated the empty bottles and corks so local artists could create.
And if you felt like sitting down to read up on wine and food, there was a library.
The garden’s grounds include a small, stony amphitheater. On both nights of the festival, chefs demonstrated how to make aranchini (rice balls stuffed with mushrooms and cheese and then fried), or gave a talk on how to pair wines with cheeses. The tastings helped the lesson stick in your memory.
We stopped at the Yama Wine spa booth and discovered the spa is based around wine. Yama's vinotherapy includes a wine bath – shades of Cleopatra and the ancient Romans.
Another booth sold a sweet wine made of a passionfruit. We managed to taste 15 wines from the 25 wineries represented before our taste buds gave out.
The big secret is to taste, not drink – take a sip, appreciate it in your mouth for a few seconds, and dispose of the leavings in your tasting glass. You don't want to get tipsy, because you may not enjoy the wonderful wine a few steps away in the next booth.
To keep starvation away, we bought cheese platters from the Jacob's Dairy booth, and ate our piquant little slices with local breads.
The Mataim restaurant offered vegetarian paella, aranchini and savory flatbreads, which looked excellent.
For meat lovers, there was a cool barbecue truck from the Tishbi winery that sold smoked brisket, fries and dipping sauces.
I managed to snag a great recipe from the Baronita restaurant’s booth: beef slow-cooked in wine. My friend’s sweet tooth woke up and demanded chocolate, which was fine because a local chocolatier was selling some beautiful hand-crafted ones.
Plan to be in Israel next spring for the Ramat HaNadiv Wine & Plenty festival. It gets better each year. Until then, check into our Israeli Kitchen section where we'll be posting recipes we discovered at the festival.
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