Chef Nir Zuk is a rock star. In Tel Aviv, he is a huge gay icon because of his accomplishments and his activism for gay causes. Discerning diners brimming with bonhomie and gourmet desires throng nightly to Cordelia, run by Nir and his partner Eli. Together the two run a trio of outlets – the fine dining Cordelia, a hyper-bar called Jaffa and a casual bistro called Noea – all in a secluded alley of the old port of Jaffa, now a throbbing, buzzing suburb of the ever expanding Tel Aviv city.
Cordelia lives up to its hype of being Tel Aviv’s trendiest restaurant serving nouvelle Israeli cuisine. In an arty ambience of darkly lit chandeliers, candles and paintings, we dined on some lip smacking stuff. Beetroot dough ravioli stuffed with porcini and champignons! Truffles tortellini in yolk dough! Black sesame marbled liver pate and salmon steak in a thousand spices. Even as I write this, I can taste the scrumptious flavours.
Vineyards at large
As early as 5000 years ago, people in this region cultivated grapes, made, stored and shipped wines! The first mention of wine in the Bible is in a reference to Noah, who is said to have planted the first vineyard and to have become intoxicated when he drank the wine (Genesis 9:20-21). Remains of ancient wine presses are to be found today in many parts of Israel – Galilee, Jerusalem, Niger Desert et al. Excavations have led to discoveries of hundreds of jars that stored wines. Inscriptions on these amphorae list names of wine producers and even years of vintage.
It is clear that even in ancient times, the sources of grapes and quality of the harvest were considered important. In the time of the First and Second Temples, wine was widely consumed by the local populace, but the very best wines were set aside for libations in the Temple (Sounds familiar?). Wines were so intrinsic to Israeli culture that those who planted vineyards were exempt from military service. But today’s wine enthusiast will not appreciate the way wine tasted back then. Intense and coarse, the wines had to be tweaked before they became drinkable. The Romans added spices and scents to their wines to improve the bouquet. As for the taste they added honey, pepper, lime and even sea water. Who cares as long as it got them high, right?
Getting high was a strict taboo once the Moslems invaded. So for nearly 1300 years, no wine was produced. Till 1848 in Jerusalem. The big boost came in the guise of Baron Edomon de Rothschild (owner of the famous Chateau Laffite in Bordeaux) who financed plantations and brought in European sinologists to help produce kosher wines.
One hundred and ten years later, this is the winery we visit. Carmel Winery is the country’s largest wine producer with an annual output of over 15 million bottles. Carmel produces the top-of-the-line single varietal Limited Edition which is winning awards globally as well as the Single Vineyard series and the Appellation series. We tasted the Gewürztraminer, Viognier and the Shiraz. It was amply clear that outstanding talents are responsible for these wines.