Monday, September 10, 2018

Monastery's Cremisan Winery Highlights Middle East Quality And Obscure Grapes

Chances are if you hear “Star of Bethlehem” you wouldn’t think of wine. We followed the star and found some great fruit of the grape.

Roots In The Levant

When the Middle East is featured on the evening news, it often depicts an area beset by unrest and strife. It may be easy to overlook that in addition to being the cradle of civilization, it’s the origin point for wine and beer as well.

Through a recent Wine Studio education program we were introduced to Jason Bajalia of Terra Sancta Trading Company. We were able to taste a trio of unique wines imported from Israel.

“No everyone has their own perception of the Middle East,” said Jason. “But politics aside, through Terra Sancta I not only want to introduce the products to the U.S., but also help people understand the importance of the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean) today. Not a lot of people realize this is where wine originally came from. It’s where beer came from. The role this part of the world has played in shaping the beverage industry as we know it today is grossly underestimated.”

The wines featured were from Cremisan Winery, located near Bethlehem and operated by the monks of the Salesian order. The Salesian order was founded in the late nineteenth century by Italian priest Saint John Bosco to help poor children during the Industrial Revolution. Cremisan is on the border between the West Bank and Jerusalem, with the main building officially in Jerusalem and the storeroom on the other side of the parking lot in the West Bank. It's vineyards feature grapes that have been cultivated on the land for hundreds of years.

Cremisan is at the forefront of the effort to promote the awareness and use of ancient native grapes. Its wines even inspired a book. Tasting The Past was written by Kevin Begos, who was inspired after have a bottle of Cremisan wine after a trip to Israel.

Rocking Autochthonous Grapes

Don’t be baffled. “Autochthonous” is a term I first discovered in my studies for Certified Specialist of Wine. It simply means native or indigenous. In many countries indigenous grapes, many centuries old, are being uprooted or being ignored in favor of the more popular international varieties like Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon.

On the other hand, Cremisan elevates this native grapes. In the Cremisan Wine Estate 2016 West Bank Dabouki, they use a grape used by no other winery. The results show the value of this focus on ancient and native grapes. In the glass the wine is a medium gold. Up front there are floral. On the palate the Dabouki is dry with medium acidity. Flavors of honey and tea leaf are striking and the finish has herbal threads.

Our exploration of Cremisan wines continued with the Cremisan Wine Estate 2014 West Bank Baladi. For this we enjoyed a vegan pasta dish. “Baladi” means “local” in Arabic. The wine is medium bodied with tartness. It has a pleasing earthiness that paired well with our pasta.

The Cremisan Wine Estate 2016 West Bank Hamdani/Jandali is a white blend that is one of the wineries best. Aside from being a grape combination that is sure to baffle your wine loving friends, this is a well-balanced, enjoyable wine. The acidity is dialed-in just right, melding with flavors of citrus and apricot. It’s a luminous wine that even caught the attention of Wine Spectator. This is a white we would enjoy drinking on a regular basis.

Ancient and native grapes are often much better suited to cultivation than trying to grow a grape variety from thousands of miles away that’s popular in the supermarket. Furthermore, native grapes are threads in a tapestry that bring a richness to the wine. In the case of Cremisan, it can also be a bridge to understanding the culture and life of one of the world’s most fascinating locales.

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