Taste and Talk: Uncovering Cremisan Wine of Palestine with Terra Sancta

Cremisan: The Wine Star of Bethleham

Did you know that Palestine produces wine?  Well, I didn’t.  When I thought about wine coming from the Holy Land…I always thought of Israel.  However, I was in for a surprise.  I had the pleasure of speaking with Jason Bajalia from the Terra Sancta Trading Company, which specializes in beer, wine and spirits from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Upon hearing this, I was happy to have Terra Sancta on #WiningHourChat and the Wines of Cremisan, Palestine were the feature.

Cremisan Cellars is located in the Cremisan Valley in Bethlehem between West Bank and Jerusalem. Cremisan is also home to The Salesian Sisters Convent and School and the Salesian Monastery, both founded by Don Bosco. Don Bosco, also known as St. John Bosco, was an Italian Roman Catholic Priest who spent his life trying to improve education for all and helping the disadvantaged. He Founded the Salesians of Don Bosco or the Salasian Society, which is responsible for many educational and charitable works throughout the world. Today, the Salasian Society is the third-largest missionary organization in the world.

Cremisan Winery, Palestine

Cremisan Cellars has been around since 1885 and the establishment of the monastery in the 19th century. All Cremisan wines are organically produced, with vines being tended without the use of pesticides and chemicals. Vines are pruned, sorted and picked by hand. Cremisan’s wine cellar, including the wineries of Beit Jemal, is located between Jerusalem and Bethlehem with the border wall of Israel crossing through it. The grapes are primarily harvested from the al-Khader area. Today, enologist Riccardo Cotarella (Falesco winery in Italy) is part of Cremisan Winery.

Wine production in Palestine dates back some 5,000 years ago with the Phoenicians who traded wine from the Caucuses throughout the Mediterranean with the Canaanites, Nabatean Israelites, Romans Christians and Byzantines Crusaders.  While still only produced on a small scale, grapes are the most planted crop in Palestine, second only to olives. “Our producers consist mainly of very old churches and the vineyard owners in the local vicinity of the churches, as well as some ancient villages who are reclaiming their vineyards.” The soil is typical rock soil, similar to what you find in most Mediterranean regions. “Rocky, chalky limestone over a pretty thin layer of humus (not hummus), which is over deep chalky bedrock.”  Upon further investigation, I learned that humus is the organic material in soil and not only does it provide nutrients for plants, it also increases the ability of soil to retain water. The climate is a cooler, micro-climate. Without a doubt, these conditions lead to the production of wines with character and great minerality.  
Cremisan Winery and Monastery 
It is not hard to imagine the difficulties involved in producing, exporting and distributing wines from Palestine.  When asked about challenges, Jason commented, “The major challenge is perception.  People think desert, not Mediterranean.  Once we manage to clear that one, we are in good shape.”  This is certainly true in terms of viewpoints about the Middle East.  

I also noticed the different labels on Cremisan wine bottles. It appears that one label is used for export to the U.S. and another for outside of U.S.  “You may have heard there are some political issues there 😉 Yes, it is extremely challenging to import from a country that doesn’t control its own borders. There are also, there are labeling issues.  Palestine is not recognized as a country by the USA, so labeling is complicated.”  Understandable. Yet, we were gracious to sample three wines from Cremisan! Let’s discuss what we tasted.
Cremisan Wine Label
Cremisan Wine Label outside of U.S.

The Wining Hour Tasting of Cremisan Wines

Star of Bethlehem Hamdani Jandali

Hamdani Jandali is a perfect way to begin exploration of Palestinian wines.  Made with the indigenous Hamdani and Jandali grapes, this white wine is undergoes traditional vinification methods.  Following is fermentation in stainless steel tanks with controlled temperature. I never tasted the grapes before, so it was exciting to try something new. Tropical notes of peach and pineapple on the nose, and apricot, green apple and lemon zest on the palate.  No sign of oak, but clean, crisp and light. Beautiful minerality and balanced acidity. This wine scored 90 points from Wine Spectator and it was easy to see why. I paired Cremisan Hamdani Jandali with hummus.  After all, if it grows together, it should be paired together.  This wine is also great with soft cheeses, fish and as an aperitif. 13.5% ABV

Star of Bethlehem-Dabouki
Dabouki is another autochthonous dry white wine made the same way as Hamdani Jandali.  It is made from 100% Dabouki grapes, which were thought to have originated in Armenia.  This wine is medium-bodied with tropical fruit and wet stone on the nose.  Apple, pear and anise on the palate.  Clean finish with good acidity.  This wine would pair with fish, chicken, vegetable dishes and mature cheeses. 13.5% ABV

Star of Bethlehem-Baladi
Finally, we tasted this Palestinian red wine made from 100% Baladi grapes.  Baladi, when translated from Arabic, means “native”, “indigenous” and/or “of the country,” which helps us to emphasize its authenticity. Baladi has earthy notes, along with red berries and plum on the nose.  The palate also has plum, raspberry and other wild berry fruits. Complex, yet elegant with a persistent finish. Baladi is a medium bodied wine with 12.5% ABV.

Jason discussed the versatility of these wines and how they pair well with the regional gastronomy. He elaborates, “The Palestinian way of eating, like throughout the Mediterranean, consists of small plates of dips, salads, nuts, and cheeses called Mezze. The Dabouki and Hamdani Jandali are made for mezze. After mezze come the grilled meats, and the Baladi red is the perfect accompaniment.”  I couldn’t agree more, as I paired my Baladi with grilled lamb chops.

These wines represent the land of Palestine, in that they are all made from indigenous varietals, and the wines are named after the actual grapes. According to Terra Sancta, Jandali, for example, is said to “date back to the time of King David and the Torah and the wine served at The Last Supper is thought to be Dabouk. Cremisan was the first winery to return to making wine from these grapes.”  These Palestinian wines are, without question, an expression of their territory, as the distinct minerality unique flavor profile exude.  

Find Cremisan Wines in restaurants and retail outlets in FL, CA, NY, NJ, PA, MN, DC, MD, VA, AZ, CO, as well as online at http://somegoodwine.com  or http://67wine.com . Alternatively, you can also reach out to Terra Sancta Trading Company for more information about Middle Eastern and Eastern European wines.

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Planted, harvested and aged in NY. I have a background in education and marketing, with a love and passion for travel...and all things wine. In addition to writing about wine, I also maintain an online wine boutique (thewininghour.com) that caters to the winelover, as well as the weekly vinous winechat (#WiningHourChat) on Twitter (see page for more info).

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