It is always a pleasure to meet with guests and colleagues who come from abroad, and witness their first encounters with Israeli restaurants, Israeli wine, Israeli chefs, local life style and culture. Most are usually unfamiliar and do not know what to expect when they first arrive and are genuinely impressed with both diversity and quality on offer.
I have had the privilege of working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on various projects and luckily a few of them had a culinary focus. Recently, a journalist (Hong In Park) and photographer (Iro) from the leading travel and culinary magazine (Bar & Dining) in South Korea were invited by the ministry for a 4 day culinary tour in the holy land. Not an easy job, but hey, somebody has to do it. We visited wineries, microbreweries and markets, met with chefs and winemakers and overall had an interesting and eye opening experience.
As a wine aficionado, for the opening dinner, it was important to find a place that offers a good selection of Israeli wine and also takes their food seriously. HaTraklin in Nachalat Binyamin was the perfect choice. Established some 5 years ago, HaTraklin and house sommelier Yossi Ben Odis, offer an impressive selection of Israeli vinos, while showcasing and supporting boutique and medium wineries from across the country. “I love wine” says Ben Odis. “A good meal is not complete without a glass of wine and given the wide selection and high quality of Israeli wines, I often keep it local. Tonight we will sample wines from the Chillag and Asaf Wineries, two excellent boutique wineries that produce concentrated red wines that really complement our meat dishes. HaTraklin was established out of this passion and aside from operating as a regular restaurant and wine bar, we also run special evenings with food & wine tastings, culinary inspired movie nights and more”.
For dinner, we were also joined by winemaker Ms. Orna Chillag of the Chillag Winery, one of the most colorful figures in the local industry. After pursuing an academic and political career, Orna went on to complete her oenology studies in Italy and with an internship at the distinguished Tenuta Belvedere winery in Tuscany under her belt, Orna returned to Israel and decided to produce wines independently. Orna’s first wine upon her return was released in 1999, and since then she has been producing mostly red wines in several labels as well as a recent white vino based on Chenin Blanc. While we are seeing a growing involvement of women in the local wine industry from CEOs and Marketing Directors through winemakers and sommeliers, Orna is one of the few that is both the winemaker and owner of the winery – basically a “one woman show”. Orna advocates for ‘slow wine’, an approach connected to the Italian Slow Food movement that calls for the preservation of food culture, seasonality, locality and slowing down the rapid pace of today’s life.
As Assaf Kedem from the Assaf Winery could not join us, Yossi was kind enough to provide an overview of the winery. “As an experienced vintner, it was almost natural for Assaf to begin producing wine as well. The winery is situated on Kidmat Tzvi in the Golan Heights and produces some 40,000 bottles per annum”. Unfortunately, I did not have an opportunity to visit the winery (yet) but from what I hear the visitor center is definitely worth stopping by.
After getting acquainted with our hosts for the evening, we moved on to the more hedonistic part of the evening. I cannot list all of the dishes that we sampled at HaTraklin but some of the highlights were the chicken liver pate, stuffed veal spleen (a piquant dish hailing from the Moroccan cuisine), the Sirloin steak which is served rare aside a smoking hot river bank stone and diners can sear the meat to their likings (an excellent and fun dish) and last but not least the banana palacsinta, a classic Hungarian blintzes like dish.
This was not meant to be a professional wine tasting but rather an opportunity to meet some of the people behind the wine and hear their views about wine, Israeli culinary culture and style and more. From the Chillag winery, we sampled the Primo 07 blend based on Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot as well as the Solo, Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, a full bodied red vino with layered aromas and flavors of dark berry fruits, bitter chocolate, earthy notes and dry herbs that come together nicely and lead to a long finish. We also sampled a couple of wines from the Assaf winery, our favorite being the Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, 2008 – 89% Cab Sauv and 11% Cab Franc, 18 months in both French and American oak, this is a concentrated full bodied wine with generous aromas and flavors of ripe berry fruits, plums and pepper followed by sweet cedar and leathery notes leading to a pleasant finish.
If you also have guests who are looking for an Israeli wine and dining experience, HaTraklin is an excellent option. Don’t forget to ask Yossi for some wine suggestions.