There are usually no great surprises at the major wine festivals, which are held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. You tend to bump into the same winemakers over and over again. Some stands represent not wineries, but fruit-based liqueurs, or beer. At the Wine Jerusalem festival held last week, I was surprised to find a new twist on the classic Middle Eastern tipple, arak.
Wine was made in Israel in ancient times, as a 3000-year-old pottery shard suggests. And for such a small country, modern Israel has a surprising number of wineries. After centuries of small or no production, the industry took off, winning medals at international wine competitions and creating a knowledgeable wine-drinking public .
It’s a pleasure to taste vintages from familiar wineries, but when a new winery gets big or confident enough to set up a display stand, tasters are more than happy to find out what the newcomer’s all about. Read all about arak here.
It’s called Arakino, a fizzy, fruit-flavored arak bottled with a champagne stopper. Two gentlemen with the earlocks and long black coats of hassidim were enthusiastically knocking back glassfuls of the stuff. The owner poured out more, with a smirk. Arakino has 18.5% alcohol; not a drink for children, although the pineapple, lime, and grapefruit flavors disguise its power.
Arak is considered a man’s drink. It’s what guys order when they get together for a lunch of varied mezze dishes. A nibble of pita dipped into humus; a sip of arak. Sports, politics, and the incompetence of everybody are thoroughly gone into and relished. Another nibble of this salad or that fried delicacy, another sip. I don’t know what wives think when their men come home from an afternoon of noshing, arak, and male bonding, but I can imagine.
While I saw other women savoring wines, not one but myself approached the Arakino stand. I considered tasting, although I dislike anything anise- or liquorice- flavored. The owner waved a clean glass at me. “Try some Arakino, Mrs.?” I only leaned over the bottle and inhaled. The fragrance of arak mixed with pineapple was actually quite pleasant. But the stand was attracting the less serious tasters; the ones looking for a quick alcohol rush. I moved on to one of the winery displays. Pop arak, I thought. At NIS40 a bottle, it’s the new poor folk’s champagne.
Like the taste of arak? You’ll like our arak recipes here:
Arakino is kosher for Passover and all year, and can be ordered locally at 08-8531524.
Photo of Arakino at Wine Jerusalem Festival 2014 by Miriam Kresh.