Monday, January 3, 2011
Having been inspired recently by the quality of Israeli wines at Dalton and Adir, we decided to visit the Binyamina Winery. The Visitor Centre is located just off of Highway 4 - about 10 minutes south of Zichron Yaakov in north-central Israel.
Binyamina is now described as Israel's 4th largest winery, producing somewhere in the range of 3 million bottles a year.
The Visitor Centre is housed in a circa 1925 building - that was used in the 1940s as a safe house and weapons storage facility for the Hagana (predecessor to the Israeli Army) before Israel was officially established.
The winery itself was established in 1952 though it has undergone a number of ownership and name changes - as well as rebranding. It now features a range of wines - from sweet, sacramental wine (used for "Kiddush") - to a complex line of high end wines that are aged in oak barrels in a special cave. The wines are all kosher but not "mevushal." (A technical term relating to its Kosher categorization).
We visited at a fairly quiet time. Busy season apparently runs from harvest time in August through to mid-December with the winery at its busiest around the time of Jewish holidays.
We were treated to an excellent tour with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide - who was fluent in English - as well as Hebrew. The winery has invested significantly in recent years in acquiring and maintaining up to date machinery - and the facilities were impressive. The tour (which runs 25 N.I.S. per person - about $7) includes a tasting of 4 or 5 wines.
The winery carries a Teva line - the wines of which are often sold in Israeli supermarkets. These are not usually used for the tastings - though they do come in many different varieties. We started with the next level up from Teva - the Yogev line of wines. We sampled a Muscat - which was tasty enough - though I'm not that much of a sweet wine drinker.
We then moved up to the Reserve line - the next line up from Yogev - and tried a surprisingly full bodied 2007 Chardonnay.
For the red wines, we began with a Yogev blend of a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot. It was not particularly impressive - having a slightly off aftertaste. That may have been due to the fact that we were using a sampling bottle that had been opened for too long. We also managed to sample a bottle from the "Chosen" line - a line of wines named after various semi-precious and precious stones. Here we tried the Sapphire - a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and other grapes. These Chosen wines are Binyamina's second highest line. However, the Sapphire we sampled may have suffered from the same problem as our Yogev - having been opened some 5 days earlier, according to the notation on the bottle.
At this point, we were not exactly overwhelmed - but we managed to convince our guide to open a new bottle of the Chosen Syrah (Odem - or "Ruby"). This made the whole visit worthwhile. The wine was rich, complex and full bodied. It had numerous pleasant after-tastes which lingered nicely. The Chosen line of wines sell for 130 N.I.S. each at the Visitor Centre (about $37). We weren't able to sample any other Chosen wines (such as the pure Cabernet or the "Diamond" blend) (as hard as we tried to plead and cajole the management) but we were assured that they were comparable in quality to the Odem that we had so enjoyed. Surprisingly, the Visitor Centre was not willing to provide a discount on same day purchases - or apply the 50 N.I.S. tour fee that the two of us paid towards a purchase of a certain minimum amount (as other wineries will often do). So any purchases would have to be made at full freight.
Nevertheless - the Visitor Centre was worthwhile. Aside from the full range of Binyamina wines, it also featured a range of other products - including olive oil, skin products and liqueurs. The building and grounds were homey and well maintained and the tour was informative and fun. We can't say that all the wines we tasted were wonderful - but we look forward to trying the full range of Chosen wines and then reporting back.
Binyamina is not too far from Recanati, Tishbi and Carmel Wineries - all of which are future destinations....
For more information about the winery: http://www.binyaminawines.com/