At the Forefront of a New Generation of Israeli Winemakers
Meet Roni Saslove, a rising star of the Israeli winemaking scene
Roni Saslove is at the forefront of a new generation of Israeli winemakers and is a champion of what she calls “mindful wine tasting”—trying to get people to experience the stories behind the grapes and to discover their own personal connections to a particular taste.
F&W: In the past 30 years, about 250 wineries have opened in Israel. What happened?
RS: Wine has been made here since Noah’s time, but in the 1980s, Israelis started traveling abroad and tasting the great wines of Europe. Suddenly they grasped that there was a demand at home for high-quality local wine. In 1998, my family opened the third boutique winery in Israel. Now new ones open every month.
F&W: What characterizes Israeli wine?
RS: Just like the country, it’s very complex. There are different regions here, each with its own soil and climate. We have high mountains with basalt stones in Upper Galilee; lower hills with limestone in Lower Galilee; coastal areas with chalk and sandstone near Carmel; and the desert, of course, with clay near the Ramon crater. It’s a time of intense exploration. Vintners are doing their own research, from unearthing ancient grapes—as in “what did Jesus drink?”—to working with natural fermentation, and so on.
F&W: What is “mindful tasting,” and does it enhance the drinker’s experience?
RS: Behind every glass, there’s the story of the grape, the story of the winemaker, and your own story—all three. In my sensory workshops in Tel Aviv and abroad, we study the connection between the drinker’s personal reaction and that person’s history to understand how it affects taste. We start from a simple smell and follow the memories that the smell triggers and, finally, the physical feeling it produces in the taster’s body.
F&W: What else influences taste besides memory?
RS: Music, the color of a room, even the temperature can influence the taste of wine. And food, of course, so I often work with chefs, not so much to pair wine with food but to make wine an integral part of the dish.
Four bottles from Israel’s emerging wine regions to uncork this fall, plus a can’t-miss gin
2017 Vitkin White Israeli Journey ($29)
An unusual blend of varieties—Grenache Blanc from Upper Galilee, Roussanne and Viognier from the Judean Hills, plus Gewürztraminer from the east Carmel Ridge—makes up this aromatic white.
2017 Covenant Israel Blue C Rosé ($28)
California winemaker Jeff Morgan went to Israel and fell in love with the country. He makes this rosé from Syrah, resulting in a crisp pink-hued wine with strawberry and red grapefruit accents.
Jullius Distillery Akko Gin ($103)
With 12 different herbs indigenous to Galilee, this is the first gin in the world made using only local Israeli botanicals. Drinking it, Saslove says, is akin to walking the hills of Galilee in springtime.
2016 Jezreel Argaman ($49)
Argaman grapes are an Israeli cross between the French Carignane and the Portuguese Souzão, producing deeply colored reds with aromas of Mediterranean spices and flowers.
2014 Bravdo Cabernet Sauvignon ($39)
Two experts in biotechnology make this wonderful wine from 90 percent Cabernet and 10 percent Merlot. It’s full-bodied with an intense aroma of plum, mint, and green pepper.