In 1967, Barry Saslove was watching television at his parents’ house in Ottawa, saw the news about the Six Day War and then hopped on a plane to Israel.
Or, as he explains it as he uncorks a few bottles at his upper Galilee winery: “When I turned 19, the war had just begun. I went to volunteer and I stayed. And here I live and here I want to be.”
Another thing he wanted to be was a vintner. After decades spent in what he describes as the “soul-sapping” computer industry, Mr. Saslove started holding wine-appreciation courses in the early 1990s. This led to the opening of a winery with a partner in 1994, which eventually led to the launch of his own winery in 1998, with outposts in the centre of the country at Kibbutz Eyal, and in the green and undulating Galilee.
When I visited his winery last October, Mr. Saslove had proudly raised a glass while saying, “This year, when the Canadian government opens for the new session of congress, they’ll be toasting with my wine.” He is referring to his Cabernet Sauvignon, luscious with dark fruit, oak and a sexy chocolate finish. His Meritage is a blend of merlot, cabernet and Syrah. “I want it to be very complex,” he explained as he swished and swirled. “Every mouthful should be different.”
Natalie MacLean, author of Red, White and Drunk All Over, says Israel is producing some outstanding wines these days. “Two of my favourites are both robust Cabernet Sauvignons, one made by Saslove Winery from upper Galilee and the other by Yarden Golan Heights Winery. I’ve rated both of these wines 90 out of 100 and they’ll both age for a decade or more — long enough to get you through many Rosh Hashanah meals.” Meanwhile, Howard Wasserman, a partner at Toronto wine-importing company B & W Wines, says that Israel, after 2,000 years, is finally producing wines with “chutzpah.” His company has recently put together a list of quality wines that match well with traditional Jewish foods.
Israel’s Tulip Winery Cabernet worked perfectly with a recent Friday night brisket, Mr. Wasserman says, while things got off to a nice start with Vitkin Winery’s Viognier — excellent with the matzo ball soup.
There are now 170 wineries in Israel, with many more in the works. “There should be 200 any day,” Mr. Saslove says. Compare that with just 24 Israeli wineries in the 1990s.
Saslove is a boutique winery, producing 70,000 bottles a year. The basalt soil and cool mountain air are an ideal environment for growing exceptional grapes, which are hand-selected, placed in special protective containers and then transferred via cooled trucks to the winery. Most of Saslove’s grapes are organic. – The Saslove Cabernet Sauvignon Adom is $29.70, and available in the Vintages section at select LCBO stores or visit saslove.com.