Vintage Israel Brandy. Part I.

 

 

The bottle shown was kindly given me by a relation who found it in the bar of his late father. A barely readable blue stamp states “LCB ONT”, so bought at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.

Our best guess is late-1960s vintage.

Carmel of course is the famous wine estate in Israel at Rishon Le Zion, south of Tel Aviv. Its roots go back to plantings in 1882, but the 1890s chart the true origins of the business. For a good historical sketch of the wine properties of Carmel, see this page at the company website.

English-born Adam Montefiore, of the distinguished family connected to the Baronet Moses Montefiore, is today Israel’s leading international spokesman for its wines. He has authored numerous books on the subject and also contributed to wine books by the authorities Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke.

Montefiore outlined the history of Israel brandy production in a 2015 article in the Jerusalem Post. While production is much reduced today, at one time it was robust, with the best grades winning awards.

Distilling began in 1898, but Rishon Le Zion finally closed in 2015 – the winery was relocated to a more modern industrial park.

In 2013 Montefiore gave a tour of historic Rishon Le Zion in this YouTube video. At the time winemaking had ceased but bottling and blending continued. He mentions the adjoining Nesher (Eagle) Brewery a number of times, which I discussed in this post last year.

The brewery eagle with foaming mug is shown engraved in tiling facing the former brewery office, one of the few signs a brewery once existed.

The brandy cellar with slatted wood roof is still intact. As discussed by Montefiore in an article reproduced at Wines of Israel, Rishon Le Zion issued its last brandy in 2015, a commemorative item, the well-aged Rishon Brandy XO.

I’d think the brandies in Extra Fine No. 1 were between 3 and 9 years old, the age range in the heyday of the domestic industry.

The label seems different from well-known domestic brands of yore such as Carmel 100 and Carmel 777, but was likely a variant for the export market.* The old British proof system was still employed, 30 U.P. meaning 40% abv.

There was some evaporation but the brown liquor is clear. It has notes of caramel, dried fruit, earth and something a touch burnt. While possibly a little weathered by its long sojourn in a Canadian home bar, the flavours of “Raisin de Chanaan“are very much present.

The image below shows visitors to the other major wine estate of Carmel, Zichron Yaacov, in 1945 (source: “Israeli Wine”).

 

 

Part II continues this series.

*At the end of last year Carmel re-introduced a limited run of 777, as well as a brand named after Zichron Yaacov winery.

 

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