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LIZ SAGUES: Abbey Road cafe puts kosher wine on the menu

PUBLISHED: 11:15 11 January 2007 | UPDATED: 10:30 07 September 2010

Way back in my wine writing career, I was asked to recommend enjoyably drinkable wines for the Bar Mitzvah of a friend s son. They had, of course, to be kosher and I found the task very difficult. Thankfully, things are very much better now. The memory

Way back in my wine writing career, I was asked to recommend enjoyably drinkable wines

for the Bar Mitzvah of a friend's son.

They had, of course, to be kosher and I found the task very difficult. Thankfully, things are very much better now.

The memory flooded back when I sat in the Adafina café, in Abbey Road, Swiss Cottage, sipping a glass of Ella Valley 2003 cabernet sauvignon.

Deep purple-red in colour, a fresh leafiness among the fruit on the nose and rich yet clean on the palate, with lingering dark blackcurrant and liquorice flavours and tannins smoothed by gentle oak-ageing - yes, it was a very enjoyable wine.

But the man responsible for it, Doron Rav-Hon, isn't allowed to be a hands-on winemaker.

For the wine to be kosher - which this certainly is - grapes, must and finished wine can be handled only by strict Sabbath-observing Jews.

There are other rules, too. No wine can be produced from vines less than four years old.Vineyards (in Israel) must be left fallow one year in every seven.

Only 100 per cent kosher materials are used throughout the making, maturation and bottling and no animal products are allowed in clarifying the wine.

Rav-Hon may have to control from a distance, albeit a very short one - but the wines certainly reflect his personal passion.

While the modern new winery, in the heart of the hills around 20 minutes' drive from Jerusalem, has been built with US money,

Rav-Hon's training is Burgundy based.

As a result, Ella Valley wines have an elegance not always found in more heavily Californian-influenced

Israeli bottles.

And he's working with pinot noir alongside a raft of other noble varieties. So if he succeeds in turning out a decent result, that could be a first for his homeland.

It's a hot region, which will add to the pinot challenge, but everything is done to bring all the grapes into the winery in best possible condition.

Night-time hand-harvesting is the practice

and there's a sorting table which Rav-Hon believes is Israel's first.

Investment in lots of tanks allows individual vinification of every plot and the barrel cellar is impressive.

Careful tracking of all the results and continuing investigation of terroir are also crucial.

While fine wineries such as Ella Valley have to prove themselves in what is still a new development in Israeli agriculture, Rav-Hon has the confidence given by history - a two-millennia-old wine press has been found close to the present vineyards.

"That's reassuring,"

he says.

Production is currently 200,000 bottles a year, with almost half exported.

For the moment, Adafina, which opened last autumn as London's first kosher gourmet foodstore, is the only British outlet.

Prices reflect the quality ethos, with the cabernet, merlot and cabernet franc reds at £17.95 and the whites, muscat, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, from £11.95 to £13.95.

Much more at budget level, Sainsbury's is set to expand its range of kosher wines, under enthusiastic new buyer Gemma Fraser.

By late spring, the present seven-strong selection should have expanded to include a sparkling moscatel and

new world wines - watch

out in store or on

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