The story of Castel winery begins in 1988 when Eli Ben Zaken planted a small vineyard on a hilltop near the family home in Ramat Raziel, a picturesque moshav in the Judean Hills around Jerusalem. Eli and Monique Ben Zaken, both born in Egypt, immigrated to Israel in the early 70s. After living in England, Italy and Switzerland, they decided to make their home in the heart of biblical Israel. Eli got the wine bug while running an Italian restaurant in Jerusalem and noticed the lack of quality Israeli wines to pair with their fine food.
Four years later, Cabernet and Merlot grapes were crushed and aged for 24 months in two new Seguin Moreau French oak barrels. Teaching himself from Emile Peynaud’s famous book, “Knowing and Making Wine,” everything was done to the very highest of standards with a traditional French savoir faire. By spring of 1995 the first Grand Vin of Domain du Castel was bottled, a name heralding the great things to come.
Despite positive reactions from close friends, Eli Ben Zaken had modest expectations of his new creation. When journalist Dalia Penn-Lerner, a friend of the family, suggested taking a bottle of Grand Vin to Serena Sutcliffe, Master of Wine and Head of Sotheby’s Wine Department, he knew he had nothing to lose. Serena’s reaction was nothing less than sensational. She described the Grand Vin as “absolutely terrific” and “a real tour de force, brilliantly made and very “classic.”” This has convinced Eli to embark on an exciting new path that has led him to become one of the prominent Israeli winemakers.
Together with his three children, Ilana, Eytan and Arial, who studied the art of winemaking in Burgundy, Eli Ben Zaken maintains a personal and meticulous involvement in all aspects of the winemaking process. From viticulture, by carefully handpicking the finest grapes, to aging them in French oak barrels made exclusively by Seguin Moreau, Castel wines are reaping the fruits and are widely acclaimed by the leading wine reviewers worldwide.
This new Jewish year will mark a new chapter in the Domaine du Castel history. The winery will soon be relocating to a new, state of the art facility at Yad Hashmona, not far from the Castel vineyards. Introducing cutting edge technology does not mean forsaking the traditional methods of winemaking. The Ben Zaken family will remain loyal to the old world practices which make the Castel wines so unique.
Grand Vin du Castel remains the superb flagship wine and together with its younger brother, Petit Castel, it is a Bordelaise-style blend of Cabernet-Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. They have an intense and complex bouquet, a silky and rich palate with deep black fruit, spices and soft but assertive tannins.
The C Blanc du Castel is a 100% Chardonnay fermented and aged in French oak for 12 months. With a fruity aroma and a hint of roasted almonds, it is very well balanced. The palate is complex and round with a rich mouth coating taste of yellow tropical fruit and citrus.
The latest addition to the Castel family is the Rose du Castel. A blend of early picked Merlot, Malbec & Cabernet Franc grapes with an aroma showing hints of strawberry, roses and tropical fruits with a taste of lychee, lime and grapefruit.
Here’s a small tasting.