Here, the police of the region of Jitomir in Northern Ukraine went into a similar operation recently against illegal Samogon (moonshine vodka) making and called the press for a special show. They gathered the result of 10 days of searches in the police compound and bulldozed dozens of improvised distillers and fermentation tanks. Like in Russia and other Russian-speaking countries, Samogon making is both a tradition and a sport : making cheap booze is nearly as common in the countryside as preparing fruit jam in our Western countries. But local governments see this tradition as harmful for the economy, the health of the people and the public order, many crimes resulting of this hard liquor consumption, especially the one made for profit and whose quality is often very low. Plus, this uncontrolled alcohol-making is a potential obstacle to the future integration into the European system and its rules.
See the other pictures of this publicized operation on this Jitomir Info page. In addition to more than one hundred of distillation tools, the Police seized 300 liters of Samogon (moonshine vodka) and 2000 liters of fermented mixture waiting for distillation. The moonshiners who sell their production are often destitute retired people with meager pensions working in their own appartments, or jobless adults who find a way to complement revenues. Another article gave the example of a woman who was making such samogon in her destitute soviet-era appartment block and sold the booze to people of the neighborhood. Her distiller (which was probably similar to this one that I saw in Russia) was said to work around the clock.
This other story which took place several months earlier on the other side of the world looks similar, we’re here in Walker county, Georgia, and a special-ops group just raided a moonshine facility. Look at the video, this is moonshine country with woody hills, quiet streams (pure spring water, man, this booze must have been excellent...) and I guess a nice old country house…
That was the occasion for me to go taste again the wines a few wineries that I visited last year, and also to discover a few other wineries, some of them I had read about in websites and forums. As soon as I walked inside, there was this warm Middle-Eastern mood, people were cheering each other and joking. I recognized several vintners whom I visited last may in Israel and who had made the trip to represent their wines in person.
As the Ambassador said humorously in his inaugural speech, importing wines in France is akin to propose ice to the Groenland but he underlined the huge leap in quality in the Israeli wines since the start of the boutique winery movement in the late 1990s' (the translator didn't properly give a French name for this boutique winery expression used in Israel).
I began with tasting a few whites from the Golan Heights Winery brands :
__Gamla Brut N.V., a sparkling made with 50 % Pinot Noir and 50 % Chardonnay. Nice acidity and fruit feel, apple aromas.
__Yarden Galilee Sauvignon Blanc. Floral notes on the nose. Residual sugar.
__Odem Organic Vineyard 2008. Chardonnay from the Golan and from Galilee. A bit too powerful and oaky.
I went then to Margalit's stand, the winery was founded by Yaïr Margalit who is somehow the originator of the boutique winery movement. His son Assaf who now shares with his father the winemaking responsabilities, was there to pour his wines (pic on right). He is a warmful person eager to share his passion with the wine amateurs.
__Margalit Cabernet Franc 2007. 5 % Cabernet Sauvignon too. Nice vividness, powerful in the mouth but balanced. Fine tannins. Nice wine, I like that.
__ Margalit Enigma 2006. 60 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 23 % Cabernet Franc, 17 % Merlot. From both the Upper Galilee and the Binyamina vineyards. Bordeaux blend here. Complexity on the nose. Glides beautifully in the throat, you can't but swallow this. Nice freshness.
__ Margalit Cabernet Sauvignon 2003. 88 % C.S. and 12 % Cabernet Franc. This wine is more old-world style, Assaf says. Refined, complex nose, more brett on this wine. Higher alcohol feel.
_ Margalit Cabernet Sauvignon 2002. 85 % C.S., 7 % C. F., 8 % Merlot from vineyards in the upper Galilee. Very nice nose of refined spices. Refined wine with very expressive mouth and freshness. That's a nice wine too. A man chats with Assaf Margalit, saying that he is from Jordan and that he likes these wines. Assaf says Margalit wines can be found in Jordan, in Akaba, in a hotel which gets many Russian visitors...
I paid a visit to the stand of the Avidan winery where Tsina Avidan and her daughter Shira were pouring the wines.
__ Avidan Blend des Noirs "orange label" 2007. C.S. (47 %), Merlot (35 %), Grenache (20 %) from vineyards on the Judean Hills. Very fruity and deep. Cooked-fruits notes. Interesting wine.
__ Avidan Fringe Full Wine 2007. C.S. 60 %, Petite Syrah 40 %. Judean hills. Beautiful, but this was the end of my tasting tour (not in the proper order here) and I begin to saturate... 14 °.
__ Avidan Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. 85 % C.S., 15 % Merlot. Judean hills. Ampyromatic notes, concentration. Nice with meat, also a powerful wine. An interesting thing to note is that Avidan reds are not filtered.
__Sea Horse James 2008. 100 % Chenin Blanc. Acidity and balance, an elegant wine indeed. Chenin Blanc is a bad name in Israel because during years after the reintroduction of vineyards in modern Israel it's been poorly managed and yielded low quality wines. Nox, it's an almost extinct variety here with no market and Ze'ev found by chance one of the last vineyards of old Chenin and convinced the grower Baruch Lander to sell him his grapes after showing him what could be done with this variety when the grapes were properly managed and vinified. Note tthat Ze'ev was the only vintner who came with one his grower for this event, that speaks for itself.
__Sea Horse Antoine 2007. Red wine now. 76 % Syrah. This wine is more approachable, more open now he says. He says that there's a little bit of Mourvèdre (7 %) and Grenache (17 %) in the blend. He brought 2 other vintages of this wine to compare. Very nice nose, ample and generous. Mouth with fine tannins, aromatic intensity. Very nice.
__Sea Horse Antoine 2006. 74 % Syrah, 13 % Grenache, 13 % Mourvèdre. Very beautiful nose with fine spices aromas, eucalyptus and a good intensity. Equally very nice wine.
__Sea Horse, Antoine 2005. 100% Syrah here. What a nose ! A notch over the other ones, fine spices aromas, white pepper. More powerful than the latter Antoines. In the mouth, a rich texture with intensity.
Here is an interview of Ze'ev Dunie, he has a lot to say about the grape varieties in use in Israel, an issue which is central to make the right wines under this climate. He gives here other informations about his Chenin Blanc vineyard and speaks on the wider question of grape-variety choice in this country.
I went to the Yatir stand, a winery in the Southern Hebron mountains that I visited last may, very nice wines are made there in spite of the hot, desert-like climate of the area bordering the Negev.
__ Yatir Merlot - Shiraz - Canernet 2006. I like the nose with its thin, spicy feel. The mouth is one with power and the tannins while present are in check. Nice.
__Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. 12 months in French oak. Not very long in the mouth but I like this one too.
__ Yatir Forest 2006. It was only 4 pm and there was already no bottle left of this wine to taste, that's not very smart from the Yatir team as this wine is a bright example of the high quality of Israel's wines.
I tasted a few wines from Carmel (pic on left), the major winery that owns Yatir. They have worked a lot on their wines in the last few years of what I heard even if I'm not familiar with what they did in the past.
__ Carmel Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (there's some Merlot in it too). No notes here.
__ Carmel Mediterranean 2007. Not yet imported. Shiraz, Petit Verdot and Viognier. Rhone-shaped bottle. A bit tannic but that's OK. Not bad.
__ Carmel Limited Edition 2005. High-end Carmel cuvée. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Petit Verdot. Fruit aromas, not too much on the cooked-fruit side. Refined, complexity. Still high in alcohol in the mouth, but when you like powerful wines, that's fine.
__ Carmel Sha'al Gewürztraminer late harvest (white) 2006. Assaf Margalit recommended me to taste this wine. It was vinified by someone who later went to work somewhere else. Exceptional freshness on the nose, lemon, tangerine, violet aromas. On the mouth side, a pleasure to sip and swallow.
__ Flam Classico 2008. Merlor/C.S. 50%. 600-meter altitude vineyards. 6 months in French and American oak. Very refined nose, complexity. The nicely-balanced mouth, the thin tannins make for a nice wine.
__ Flam Superiore Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. Rhone-shaped bottle. Ampyroleptic aromas, eucalyptus, clove. The one I prefer from all the range.
__ Flam Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006. Also 10 % Merlot and 3 % Petit Verdot here. The nose is neat, vivid with ripe-fruit notes. More tanic. High-alcohol feel.
__ Flam Merlot Reserve 2006. Refined aromas of ripe fruits. Powerfull also but rather nice wine.
I stopped at what was to become another good surprise : the Hevron Heights winery's stand (pic on left). This winery was set up by passionate French wine people in the Judean hills near Hebron. There, Jacques Humeau who graduated from the enology school in Bordeaux and who is a follower of Emile Peynaud vinifies wines from a surface of 15 hectares plus 70 hectares of contracted vineyards.
__ Hevron Heights Issac Ram 2003. 100 % Cabernet Sauvignon. 30 % new French oak. Nice nose, a wide range of aromas that I struggle to name, eucalyptus being among them.
__ Hevron Heights Jerusalem Heights 2005. 50 % Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot.
__ Hevron Heights Mount Hevron Syrah 2004. Rhone-shaped bottle. 20-month elevage in different-age casks. The wine is cold, I warm the glass in my hands. After two minutes, it opens up with cooked-fruits notes and other more complex aromas. In the mouth, very beautiful indeed, that's refined, that's a lot of pleasure to sip and swallow...
__ Hevron Heights Makhpelah 2005. C.S. 75 %, Merlot 20 %, syrah 5 %. Nose : plum, prune. Shorter mouth but a pleasant one. Quite integrated tannins. He finds them still young though.
__ Hevron Heights Special Reserve 2002. Cab/Merlot/Syrah. Vividness in the mouith, not very long either but another nice wine here.
I also enjoyed Castel wines, which were poured by the winery founder Eli Ben-Zaken himself (picture on right) :
__ Blanc du Castel 2007 (white). 12-month elevage in one third of new casks. Nose with elder-tree flower notes. Balanced.
__ Petit Castel 2007. 50 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 45 % Merlot, 65 % Petit Verdot. Nice texture and balance here. Very pleasnt to drink. Retail price between 30 and 40 €, not cheap.
__ Castel Grand Vin 2006. 70 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 % Merlot, 5 % Petit Verdot, same blend.Very beautiful aromas, intensely complex. Just the nose is already a pleasure. Neat mouth feel, well balanced and long lasting. High alcohol too. Costs 50 to 70 € in retail, the pleasure has its cost...
Now, according to this page, there are also other elements in wines and spirits (not vodka though) that can set off an allergic response, they are called the congeners and some individuals experience severe physical reactions.
Anyway, this whole thing is a topic to follow up and I wish that a team of doctors could make thorough experiments on people with this type of problems, comparing the heart reaction of these people when they drink a square, additives-formatted wine, and when they drink an additives-free natural wine for a start. Until a thorough study is done, one can advise to the people who experience this type of rhythm problems after a sip of wine to try a natural wine that got no SO2 additive and see if there's a difference.
The WSJ ran a piece recently about the controversial battle of Britain against its unruly booze problem. We’re reminded that Churchill was not shy of voicing his support for occasional binge : "Always remember Clemmie, that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me", Winston Churchill said to his wife Clementine. The man, known for his early determination to confront evil powers at a time when bright minds were eager to appease and accommodate, was also occasionally an unbridled drinker who wasn’t ashamed of it and even joked about his tendencies. He also said once : “when I was younger I made it a rule never to take a strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast”
The op-ed goes on with considering that drinking actually combats climate change, as it encourages people either not to drive, or to pool as an alternative. The global-warming narrative helping counter the prohibition and hygienism lobby, I like that…
Speaking of climate change, a new recruit has been hired : Osama Bin Laden has unsurprisingly jumped on the bandwagon and asked for the boycott of American goods in retaliation for its Kyoto blasphemies (big-government people also jumped on the bandwagon by the way and devised a whole range of new taxes). It’s not clear whether the teetotaler, devout-muslim and arch-terrorist will make an exception for the American wines and spirits if they help save the planet, though. This new recruit is another bad news for the climate agit-prop, after the emails affair and the recent announce that the UN climate panel based claims on a student dissertation.
The restaurant is located 17 rue des Ecouffes (see map) 75004 Paris (Métro St Paul), close to the famed rue des Rosiers.
The Shabo winery is a very large consortium based near Odessa which went through important investments in its 10 000 square-meter facility and sells a wide range of wines including Brandy and sparklings. This bottle was pretty cheap, like 3 Euro, I don’t remember the exact price. Their wines seem to get a few medals in wine fairs, and even if I don’t give much importance to these awards, I’ll try to taste some of their other cuvees next time I spend time in Ukraine. They even bottle every November since 2005 several Vin-Nouveau cuvées in white, rosé and red (the latter being vinified with carbonic maceration like in the Beaujolais), that’s interesting enough to have a look.
Watch this short video, this place feels very “New World” with massive, modern architecture, a "wine cultural center" (video - the music suits the whole thing very well...) and a large, busy tasting room. It reminds me of several particularly-ostentatious wineries that I visited in the Okanagan region in Canada (I'm thinking particularly to Mission Hill Winery). Not that grand architecture is automatically opposed to good wines but the whole thing smells more big business than handcrafted wines.
Another video about the inauguration of the Shabo "wine cultural center" & museum which were designed by the Odessa-based Swiss Hugo Schaer, you'll see also former Ukraine President Leonid Kravchuk.
Here is the Curio Parlor, a cozy, dim-lit bar/club with low, velvet-cushioned seats where you can relax with a glass of Nikka. It's 16 rue des Bernardins (see map), a stone throw from the Seine in the 5th arrondissement near Nodre Dame and the Pont-de-l'Archevéché bridge.
The Nikka bar is supposed to be in the underground vaulted cellar but you can have your Nikka on the street level as well (at least when I visited). There are also a few semi-private tables behind curtains for more privacy. The dim light, the great whisky and the friendly staff make the whole place very relaxing. Whiskies rates are like (extract from the list) : Nikka Yoichi 10 years (45°) 12 €, Nikka Yoichi 12 years (45°) 14 €, Nikka Yoichi 15 years 15 €, Nikka Yoichi 20 years 20 €, Nikka Yoichi 1987 (55°) 45 €, Nikka Miyagikyo 10 years 12 €, Nikka Miyagikyo 12 years 14€, Nikka 12 years Single Coffey Malt 15 €, Nikka 12 years Taketsura (40°) 15 € (Masataka Taketsura is the name of the founder of Nikka), Nikka 17 years Taketsura 17 €, Nikka 21 years Taketsura 20 €.
When I dropped there, there was a recording session for Buvez Madison at the counter (Radio Madison episode : Plagiat), and I discovered this group of people who are very literary, very rive gauche and décalé and seem to be modern dandies with good upbringing. The Curio Parlor and Buvez Madison seem to be managed by the same people so you might also come across such a recording (it's every tuesday evening), don't miss a word (and listen to their podcasts)...
The Nikka bar is open from 8 pm to 2 am (5 am on weekends). phone 01 44 07 12 47.