Cremisan Wine Estate: A Week Night Taste of the Middle East

Cremisan Line Up

I’m in training. Every day I test my limits, pushing myself to go a little further than the day before; increasing my stamina to stay the course to the end. No, I’m not preparing for a marathon or triathlon. I’m in the process of becoming a New Yorker.

Lest you consider that a modest challenge, I assure you it is not. Denizens of the island of Manhattan thrive on competition: who will score the one empty seat on the subway? Who will grab the last package of arugula off the shelf, triumphantly sailing to the check-out line ahead of the others? You might think I’m exaggerating, but I kid you not.

My first exposure to life in the Big Apple was in 2010, when I took a job with an insurance company based in mid-town. Over the next few years I traveled to New York almost every week, staying just long enough to tire of its constant motion but never long enough to enjoy the vibrant spirit hidden underneath.

I’ve since come to love the city – after all, it’s where I met my husband. Museums, restaurants, wine shops, libraries, and green spaces abound. There’s always something new to explore. If you become bored, you have only yourself to blame! Despite the high intensity of life in New York, the people are relatively approachable. They are decidedly no-nonsense and suffer no fools, but their genuine warmth, surprising at first, is one of the things I cherish most about it.

The biggest adjustment so far has been learning to live in a smaller space, co-existing with a few million other folks on a 23-square mile parcel. And did I mention the cold? Brrr! Although I grew up in the Mid-Atlantic and have survived my share of snowy seasons, I’ve spent the last 11 years in South Florida. I have grown accustomed to the balmy temperatures (and managing one wardrobe rather than two!)

But there are some unique benefits to living in this city; services and conveniences I scoffed at when I first heard about them:

Ordering groceries on-line, and having them delivered at the time you choose. What? There are three grocery stores within a three-block radius of the apartment. No, I am not too busy to shop for myself. Plus, I like picking out my own produce and meat. Alas, my husband introduced me to Fresh Direct and I have since changed my tune. As it turns out, nothing is better than having your weekly groceries delivered right to your door. Nothing.

Ordering dinner from your favorite restaurants, and having it delivered within an hour. I’m not talking pizza delivery (which I appreciate), I mean delicious food from fine dining establishments. A friend of ours introduced us to Seamless, an app that connects restaurants with hungry customers. I’ve long been a skeptic of meal delivery services, not at all convinced that good food survives an uptown ride on the back of a bicycle. But then we tried it! Our first order was from Ravagh Persian Grill, which brings me to my most-favorite New York City convenience:

Wines from all over the world, delivered the same day you order them. This was not just a convenience, but a revelation! In Florida, we simply do not have access to the wealth of choices that wine lovers in New York do. And there’s no such thing as delivery; you have to go pick up your order. I’m still exploring all that is on offer here in the city.

Delivery Delight: Persian Food and Wines from the Holy Land

A few weeks back, just before our first experience with Seamless, I received three bottles of wine from Palestine courtesy of Terra Sancta Trading Company, the U.S. distributor for Cremisan Wine Estate. Each of the bottles featured grape varieties native to Bethlehem, which meant I had never heard of them. But after reading up on the winery’s history, viticulture, and vinification methods, I was intrigued.

PersianPlate
Chicken kebab with grilled onion and zereshk polo rice.

My husband and I opted to try all three wines with our order from Ravagh: marinated chicken kebabs with herbed rice; lamb kebabs with grilled vegetables; khoresh fesenjan a long-simmered stew based on ground walnuts, pomegranate, and chicken; and zereshk polo, saffron rice studded with barberries and currants. We had no idea how the wines would fare alongside the Persian dishes, but we were excited about the experiment.

The Cremisan Wine Estate

Wine grapes have been grown in Palestine for nearly 4,000 years; today they are second only to olives in terms of economic importance. The Cremisan Wine Estate lies within a monastery established by the Salesian Order of Don Bosco back in 1885. Although its original mission was to care for European children adversely affected by the Industrial Revolution, the Order now works all over the world, spreading the teachings of its Italian founder, Saint Giovanni Bosco.

Despite the long history of the Cremisan Wine Estate, viticultural and vinicultural methods are decidedly modern – a complete overhaul of the premises was undertaken in 1997, and all plots are farmed organically. More recently, flying winemaker Ricardo Coltarello, originally from Umbria, Italy, was added to the production team. He brings a wealth of experience to the project, namely the success of his winery in Falesco.

By far the most intriguing aspect of these wines, though, is the use of autochthonous grape varieties. (FYI, autochthonous is just a fancy way of saying “native.”) When I received the three sample bottles from Terra Sancta Trading Company, I glanced at the labels: Hamdani, Dabouki, Badali. I had no idea whether they were the names of vineyards, grapes, or blends! I researched a little further, reading some of the background materials that came with the wine. As best as anyone can tell, all of the grapes are native to Palestine, and have been grown there for centuries. Cool, right?

I have to admit I was interested in the wines, but didn’t really think they would float my boat. Isn’t the climate too warm in the middle east to make balanced, refreshing wines? I mean, it’s a desert for goodness’ sake! That might be true, save for one key thing: elevation. All of the vineyards lie on steep, terraced slopes, at about 800 meters high. That gives them the benefit of cooler temperatures as well as shelter provided by neighboring hillsides.

So, what were they like? All three of these wines were somehow familiar to me, yet totally unique. The more I tasted, the more I wanted to know about them. Read on and prepare to be impressed!

Cremisan Hamdani Jandali 

2012 Cremisan Wine Estate West Bank Hamdani/Jandali (13.5% abv; SRP about $20)

The first of the wines I tried was a blend of two grapes: Hamdani and Jandali, both native to the region. A swirl of the glass released aromas of lemon, apple, and peach, followed by a distinct chalky note. On the palate there was delicate white peach, citrus zest, and that chalk again. The wine was medium-bodied, with medium acidity and a long finish that called up notes of almond and dried apricot. Were I tasting this blind I’d have pegged it as an Albariño from the O Rosal subzone of Rías Baixas. Lovely wine!

Cremisan Dabouki

2014 Cremisan Wine Estate West Bank Dabouki (12% abv; SRP about $20)

I love that Dabouki translates to “sweetness” in Arabic, although this wine was not sweet at all. On the nose it offered up notes of citrus and ripe pear, both of which delivered on the palate. There was a touch of grapefruit-like bitterness on the finish but I found it refreshing. A light, crisp wine that was a hit with our chicken kebabs. It also brought out the tangy, spicy sumac, which was sprinkled atop most of the dishes we ordered.

Chicken Kebab and Grilled Vegetables
Chicken kebab with grilled vegetables.

Cremisan Baladi

2014 Cremisan Wine Estate West Bank Baladi (13.5% abv; SRP about $20)

The only red of the group, this wine was a real surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this charming wine surpassed it. Baladi means “native” in Arabic, tribute to its ancient role in winemaking through the centuries. In the glass the wine’s color was pale to medium intensity, and it was very aromatic. I got hints of cranberry, raspberry, and thyme, A sip revealed tangy sour cherry, pomegranate, and a faint peppery bite. At once both fruity and savory, the Baladi reminded me of Sangiovese; the sour red fruit and herbs, plus the tart acidity made me sure I’d tasted it before, although I knew I had not. And, wow, what a fantastic match with two of our dishes! The khoresh fesenjan stew was a brilliant partner with the Baladi, probably because they both had strong notes of pomegranate. And the zereshk polo rice, saffron yellow, with tiny tart berries, was even better!

Lamb Kebab with Zereshk Polo
Lamb kebab with zereshk polo rice – perfect with the Baladi!

If you’re interested in learning more about these wines, visit Terra Sancta’s website. Many thanks to Jason Bajalia for offering me the chance to experience wines I might never have stumbled across on my own.

As for my NYC training protocol? I think I’m getting there. I navigate the subway system pretty well, and I’m learning to take advantage of the conveniences the city affords. But I need to learn to walk faster and, if possible, do it while talking loudly on my cell phone. As they say – strive for progress, not perfection!

12 comments

  1. New York is charming you Lauren! A fun ride through your “get to know” experiences to date and the wine and food…! Look forward to trying Palestinian wine as it becomes easier to access in various parts of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gosh, I’m so glad I just read your article. I am getting ready to make a temporary move to London for many months. It’s a daunting task, I have never lived in a city like that. Right now, I live in the country amongst the vineyards. What a change.

    Good luck to you. Wish me luck too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well London sounds exciting! Even if you’re not excited about it yet, there will be positives you haven’t anticipated. Challenges too, no doubt, but life is an adventure right? Here’s wishing you great success in adapting to your new city. Let’s keep each other posted on our progress. Happy holidays!

      Like

  3. Loving all of those conveniences in NY! And, lovely write up! I’ve become interested in lesser-known wines/regions so I’ll be sure to check out their website. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Misty! These wines were such a surprise, which probably says more about my preconceived notions than the wines themselves. And yes, being able to have almost anything delivered sure does save time. Cheers!

      Like

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