Israeli Wine Tasting Festival Grows Up

by Brian on August 2, 2012

in In the News,Music,Reviews

The first year we visited the annual Israeli Wine Tasting Festival held at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in 2006, there were a modest number of wineries all lined up on the single gently sloping outdoor passageway from the museum entrance until the main buildings.

Six years later, the festival has grown – and grown up – considerably. Dozens of wineries, some with quite elaborate booths, are strewn throughout the entire gravel-grounded outdoor Billly Rose Art Garden. The original, small town Jerusalem feel has been replaced by a cosmopolitan population hailing from all over the country (an estimated 5,000 visitors were milling about last night when we attended).

Perhaps as a sign of changing demand, the number of non-kosher wineries has dwindled. At the same time, the price of the event has doubled – from NIS 40 when it started to NIS 80 for entrance this year (but you still get to keep the oversized goblet that is your constant companion for the evening).

One thing remains the same: the festival is all about wine tasting, and the wineries on tap are still generously pouring swigs of that ubiquitous Merlot-Cabernet-Shiraz blends (the Teperberg winery, which served an awesome “Ice Wine” a few years back, is conspicuously absent this year). Our favorite winery for 2012 (an admittedly unscientific test as we had to forego the last third of the festival due to excessive inebriation) was one we’d never tried before: Chillag.

The Israeli Wine Tasting Festival has evolved over the years and is now about much more than just wine. There are now the alcoholic liqueurs (we were handed a shot of passion fruit liqueur nearly on arrival – yummy), a number of stands selling homemade olive oil (in a variety of different spices and tangs), organic sundried tomato pieces and spreads (thanks for the toothpicks guys!), and gourmet chocolate (I liked the name of one place in particular – Holy Cacao).

The food options are also more sophisticated. There used to be just a few tables  selling small chunks of cheese. Now, the cheese stand is an enormous booth with a full complement of sexy cheese-mongers. Sushi Rehavia has also arrived big-time, selling three options: a sushi combo plate, sweet potato dim sum and veggie eggrolls. There were fish and chips, and even a dessert stand selling malabi.

Even the music has grown up. The mellow jazz of previous years has been replaced by a raucous rock band called Tzanchani, which played fast paced covers of classic rock, 60’s pop and even a hee-haw country set. The pebble floor was packed with dancers holding their goblets above their heads.

Our first foray into the Wine Festival in 2006 was marred by the Second Lebanon War, which was raging in the north at the same time; the festival organizers granted reduced tickets to border town refugees. This year, any war is still only looming, allowing an evening of unadulterated drunkenness on a warm Jerusalem night.

I first imbibed the Wine Festival on Israelity. The event closes tonight.

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