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award winning wine in the judean hills: flam winery

yumivorejudeanhills
Tucked away in the Judean Hills off a dirt road rests the small winery of Flam. If you’re familiar with the pristine and manicured views of Napa or the lush landscapes of Sonoma, the short bumpy road leading directly up to the winery may deter you a bit at first. But once inside, your palate will more than enjoy the journey of tasting splendid wine.

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My visit to Flam was somewhat spontaneous. Camera in tote, I detoured from visiting family and instead headed on a day trip so my lens could capture pastoral views and the Biblical landscape of Israel. My friend, who was also graciously serving as our chauffeur, decided to start our day near Beit Shemesh at Tavlin, a spice store at the foothills of the Eshtaol Forest. It was a serendipitous moment when I spotted the sign for Flam Winery which just so happens to share the same nook as Tavlin, along the hillside.

The doors to the winery were initially locked, but I was determined to visit. I was elated when Israel Flam, a patriarchal figure, happened to walk by the main gate, greeted me and ushered me in. Little did I realize at that moment that this visit would far exceed my expectations. Both the opportunity to taste the wine at the source, and to do so with one of Israel’s pioneer winemakers turned into a memorable experience.


Flam Winery, a family-run boutique business was started by Golan, Flam’s winemaker, and his brother Gilad along with their mother Kami while tapping into Israel’s expertise. During my visit as he poured wine, Israel Flam shared bits of his absolutely impressive career which began back in the early 1970s. Influenced by Prof. Cornelius Ough, a well-known professor of viticulture and oenology at the University of California at Davis, Israel went on to study oenology and in fact completed his studies at U.C. Davis in the United States. He returned however to his roots in Israel and embarked on a thirty-five year career evolving into a renowned winemaker.

Israel Flam

Israel Flam

As my ears indulged in tidbits of Flam history, my palate indulged in simply elegant wine. I gazed at the color of each, inhaled the beautiful bouquets and let the taste linger. Each wine impressed me. The wine has impressed many, garnering international accolades including those extended by Robert Parker.

The first wine we enjoyed was a crisp and vibrant Flam Sauvignon Blanc Chardonnay. From there Flam Classico, a rustic Merlot and Cabernet blend, onto a rich Flam Superiore Syrah. We ended with an elegant and smooth Flam Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

Just as I wrapped up my last sip of wine, Golan visited the tasting room to greet an executive chef from a top Tel Aviv restaurant. The chef was enjoying a bicycle ride on his day off in the Judean Hills and ventured over to Flam. It was delightful to watch Golan share the wine and paint a picture of enjoying their aromatic Sauvignon Blanc Chardonnay for example on a warm afternoon. Soon he and the chef were whetting our appetites crafting menus and pairing the wine with delectable dishes. Superb cuisine deserves superb wine, and Flam delivers with grace.

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Before your visit to Flam Winery, be sure to call ahead for an appointment. As with all of the country, you can trip over layers of history, be struck by breathtaking views and stumble into beauty, the Judean Hills are no exception and worth a visit. A helpful resource for planning your trip: Vineyards and Wineries between Jerusalem and the Northern Negev. Flam wine can also be found at Israeli Wine Direct.

Interesting articles and more about Flam:
Flam Winery: A Family Affair
The Elegant Wines of Flam
Tasting in the Judean Hills
Israel Flam: from Mass Market to Boutique
Flam Winery – The venerable European-styled family boutique winery, that is now kosher
Israel’s Winemaking Revolution

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yaffo: the old port of jaffa

Yaffo, or Jaffa in English, is one of the oldest port cities in the world with layers of history dating back to ancient times. The old city rests atop a sandstone hill along the Mediterranean coast in Israel where you can catch beautiful views of Tel Aviv and spend countless minutes gazing at the heavens and the deep blue waters of the sea.

If you walk up limestone stairs you’ll find yourself walking along narrow streets that occasionally give way to a small atrium. Every so often you’ll also find decorative doors, some intricately carved out of wood, some painted a symbolic blue, others seemingly inconspicuous but full of character.

Today, Yaffo shares beautiful boutique galleries and small shops by artists. On some days street vendors share hand-made crafts along the street. Tourists and locals alike are eager to visit both for the art, crafts and history. A melting pot of cultures and religions, you’ll find landmarks and remnants spanning back to the Bronze Age across Biblical times through the Ottoman period right up to the present.

Restaurants can be found scattered throughout the city, though cafes as well as an open air bakery and eateries are more plentiful in the modern section of the city below. Along with more modern stores you’ll also find here an old shuk or market filled with trinkets from across the Middle East. Through my late teens I would enjoy visiting the shuk during my summer break. Starting my affair with food around college (arguably earlier than that) I would since venture back for a bite at Abulafia Bakery and hunt for sahlab during the winter or stop at Dr. Lek a popular ice-cream shop on warm days.

Time easily passes in Yaffo, and walking along the ancient streets for a moment it can feel as though time stood still. If you’re lucky to catch a sunset here it’s worth watching the skies turn into a blushing orange and red. The city lights up at night, though it looks quiet and serene from the beach of Tel Aviv. It’s not only breathtaking to look at the views from Yaffo out to the surroundings, but looking at Yaffo late at night is miraculous. Overall it’s a magnificent place to be.
 

photo by @bachmont


 

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sambusak to shakshuka

If you haven’t visited Israel or the Middle East and are feeling perplexed by the word sambusak or shakshuka, don’t be. Sambusak is a savory pastry, the dough similar to that of a calazone, with Sephardic Iraqi cuisine roots, and it’s filled with a range of succulent minced meats or cheese options. Bulgarian cheese along with za’atar, a popular spice comprised of various dried herbs such as hyssop, thyme, or some combination thereof and toasted sesame seeds, is one option. Potatoes, hard-boiled eggs mixed with spice-scented sautéed ground meat stuffed inside the soft dough another.

Sambusaks are heated in a wood-burning oven, served warm and ready to eat, as are most of the breads at the iconic Abulafia Bakery. Located a bit down from the old Turkish clock tower in Yaffo, or Jaffa, Abuelafia or Abouelafia (and there seems to be many spellings) has been around since 1879. Open around-the-clock, Abulafia caters to the Tel Aviv crowd; it’s a city that never sleeps and filled with folks with an appetite.

Pita with za’atar is arguably one of the most popular items (I’m strictly guessing on this) or begaleh- round soft Israeli pretzels coated with toasted sesame seeds. The pitas and sambusaks rest behind glass cases, not great for food photographers but being cigarette smoking is still popular in this hectic region, it’s probably a good thing.

 


Sambusaks, pita with za’atar and all the pastries are popular throughout the country. But if you’re strolling through Yaffo, Abulafia is a great place to grab a bite. In the winter Abulefia makes traditional sufganiot or Israeli doughnuts- fried dough filled with strawberry jam sometimes filled with dulce de leche.

Another iconic eatery in Yaffo is Dr. Shakshuka. Shakshuka or shakshouka is a dish that’s popular in almost all cafes serving food and is on most if not all breakfast menus in Israel. It’s relatively easy to prepare at home if you’re looking for a recipe.

The restaurant is indeed filled with charm and character and turns around a meal very quickly, but it’s hard to plug the main attraction beyond that. I would instead grab a baguette sandwich from around the corner or fresh squeezed carrot or pomegranate juice from various juice stands throughout the city. The focus of my time in Yaffo this trip was the views, not so much the food, and no doubt I enjoyed consuming the views with my eyes.

On Yumivore: my recipe for shakshouka

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