Cheers To London 2012
The London 2012 Olympics are about to start. England is known for frenetic, physical football, unique pubs, flat beer, tea with milk, fish and chips and the Queen. it is also a city which is known for being the center of the wine trade and has been so for over 200 years. It was there where Port, Sherry, Champagne and Bordeaux were first brought to the world’s attention.
Most of the world’s best wine writers, apart from Robert Parker, are based in or close to London. Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, Oz Clarke are icons and are read and respected the world over. Arguably the world’s top wine education bodies are based in London. The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), The Institute of Masters of Wine and Court of Master Sommeliers were all founded and are based in the United Kingdom. Three of the world’s most important wine tasting competitions are held in London. Awards at the Decanter Fine Wine Awards, International Wines & Spirits Competition and International Wine Challenge carry special weight. The leading wine auction houses of Christies and Sotheby’s are also based in London, though they have branches around the world.
New trends in wine invariably begin in London. The first sighting of Australian, Chilean & South African wines was in London, long before they succeeded elsewhere. The reason is that London is the most cosmopolitan of all wine markets, in a country without a significant wine industry of their own. In France, the wines available are mainly French. In California, they are mainly from California. In Israel, mainly from Israel. However in England, everyone is there. There are wines there from exotic places like Uruguay, Brazil, India, Thailand, China…even Israel!
It is not the most successful wine market for Israeli wines. The mecca for Israeli wines is the United States. Maybe the comparative size of the Jewish community has something to do with this. Despite this,England is still the third largest export market for Israeli wines.
Israeli wine has been in England since 1898, when the Palestine Wine Company was founded in London and began selling Palwin wines. Palwin became the number one kosher wine in England with the same dominance that Manischevitz had in the United States. Palwin wines were sold by number (No. 10, No.4 etc), so new immigrants would be able to identify and pronounce them more easily.
Every Jewish male would have his first taste of Palwin at his Brit Mila. It was also a fixture at Seder Nights, festivals and Shabbat eves. However it was also this memory of sweet red sacramental wines that encouraged so many Jewish people to have no faith in Israeli wines and wine experts to assume that ‘Jewish’ wines and Israeli wines were one and the same.
Carmel wines have been in London in three different centuries, the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. They were the first Israeli wines to be in the major English supermarkets and were the flag bearer of Israeli wines for so long. For much of the 20th century they had their own Carmel Wine Co. offices in London.
The quality break-through came when Dr. Peter Hallgarten, owner of the respected family firm, The House of Hallgarten, decided to import the wines of The Golan Heights Winery in the mid 1980’s. Peter Hallgarten was Jewish, but his company was, and still is, one of the top importers of wine in the United Kingdom. It was a vote of confidence in the new quality of Israeli wines when Yarden and Gamla wines were represented in a prestigious company in the general market. Peter Hallgarten, a world acknowledged specialist in the wines of Burgundy, the Rhone and Germany, was also an inventor of liqueurs. When he decided to become a champion for the new quality Israeli wines, it was a giant step forward.
Today the main importers of Israeli wine into the UK are Kedem Europe, an off shoot of the giant, Royal Wine Corp. In the UK they represent Barkan, Castel, Dalton & Segal amongst others. The company is efficiently and dynamically run by Shia Morris Herzog, of the Herzog family, owners of Royal /Kedem in the United States. They are the largest marketers of Israeli wines in the UK today.
Today the three wineries that have succeeded to be represented in the general wine market are Carmel, Clos de Gat and Yatir. Both Carmel and Yatir are imported by Enotria one of the best wine importers and distributors in the United Kingdom. They are on Enotria’s high quality list alongside wines from Lebanon and Morocco in a section devoted to the Eastern & Southern Mediterranean. Enotria started out as Italian specialists but have since developed one of the finest ‘books’ in England featuring wines from all over. They are the number one specialists in sales to restaurants.
Clos de Gat is represented by Sichel. Like Hallgarten, Sichel is one of the old stalwarts of the English wine trade, also founded by a Jewish family with German roots. They now have an exclusive list including top Bordeaux wines and they also list Clos de Gat, arguably the best non kosher, Israeli winery to be sold in England.
London is a wine paradise. You can visit a specialist wine shop like Berry Brothers & Rudd in St. James St., which does not appear to have changed since Dickensian times, but scratch below the surface and you will find a retailer as up to date and savvy as any.
The retail wine market is very much held in the hands of the large supermarkets. These are great places to purchase wine. They have a comprehensive range of wines and prices are attractive. Look for Tesco, the largest or Waitrose, arguably the best of the chains. Dalton,Teperberg , Barkan & Segal all have wines listed at Tesco. Barkan is listed at Waitrose.
Marks & Spencer, the iconic retail chain specializing in clothing and food, have a very good wine section. They are now running an innovative promotion of Eastern Mediterranean wines. Like Enotria, they have understood the new potential of this modern ancient wine region. Israeli wines are listed alongside Greek, Lebanese and Turkish wines. This is focusing on the wine region that gave wine culture to the world, made terrible wine for 2,000 years and is now one of the most exciting, dynamic new wine regions there are. The Israeli wines at M&S are Barkan Sauvignon Blanc & Binyamina Merlot.
If you don’t want to buy wine in the large supermarkets, the best venue is Majestic, a chain of warehouse stores where purchases are made in case lots. If you prefer to shop in London’s most exclusive store, then a visit to Harrods in Knightsbridge is a must. They have a very prestigious wine shop. Carmel, Clos de Gat and Yatir wines represent Israel there, amongst the world’s finest.
A more traditional stopping point for the Jewish community is Selfridges of Oxford Street. They have a kosher section in the magnificent food hall, with a range of kosher wines. However Israel also features in their main wine shop, which is small, but very exclusive. There you will find a Castel Grand Vin and Carmel Kayoumi Cabernet Sauvignon alongside Chateau Musar.
Many of the world’s finest restaurants are in London and some of the best are close to the outskirts of London. Visit the three star Fat Duck at Bray in Berkshire, arguably the finest restaurant in Britain, and you will find two Israeli wines on the wine list. The Carmel Kayoumi Shiraz and the Yatir Merlot Shiraz Cabernet blend fly the flag.
If you are looking for the Israeli connection, you may seek out one of the innovative Yotam Ottolenghi’s four restaurants. This Israeli born chef brings the flavors of Israel to London. Apart from Selfridges, kosher wines may be found at shops called Sussers and The Grapevine in North London. The best kosher restaurant is Bevis Marks, alongside the beautiful 300 year old Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City.
So if you are not interested in sport as London becomes the center of attention, you could always become a wine tourist in the city which for so many years has been the backbone of the world’s wine trade.