Cremisan Cellars. A winery and estate operated by Italian monks in… Well, let’s have a look. Cremisan is situated between Jerusalem and Bethlehem and actually straddles the border between Israel and the West Bank. Its main building is in the former and its storeroom is in the latter. So I’ll let you decide “where” it is.

I did not have the opportunity to visit Cremisan while I was in Jerusalem, but I would definitely correct that given the chance. Wine has been made on the estate by its resident Italian monks, the Salesian Brothers, since 1885. Terraced vineyards are crowned by a stone monastery at the top of the hill—a most picturesque experience. The wine is quite good, too, and I’m a little disappointed that I only brought the one bottle home with me. 

I picked a dusty bottle of Cremisan’s 2012 Saint Jean dry red wine off the shelf of a shop in the Christian quarter of the Old City. I really had my doubts, but time was short and the price was right. I finally opened it with friends last week and was surprised by its quality.

A non-descript red label wraps this bottle of… I’m sorry to say I don’t know. The Saint Jean is no longer listed on Cremisan’s website. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s predominantly cabernet sauvignon. Cremisan sources its grapes from three vineyards in Israel and seems to age most of its reds in oak barrels. Apart from growing the grapes, all other winemaking steps are accomplished by the monks under Cremisan’s roof.

Even though I had no idea what to expect with this wine, I did want to save it to enjoy with friends as opposed to opening it on some random Tuesday night. The right opportunity came last week when Joel and I went to a friend’s home for dinner. Grilled salmon and sugar snap peas were on the menu, and this wine complemented the fresh, light meal so well. Side note: Don’t let the old adage of white with fish and seafood keep you trapped. Be liberated! Drink red wine with salmon! I implore you!

A bottle that is dusty often means a nose and taste that are musty. Not so with this one. If the dust (and Saint Jean's absence from their website) was an indication of a long and lonely life on the shelf—since 2012 or 2013 anyway—the aroma and taste of this wine didn’t tell the same tale.

The nose is a pleasant berry smell—not fruity, but rather a mature, round and dark, woody berry. On the palate it is also woody, medium-bodied and smooth. Flavors of leather and cassis are also present.

All in all, the lesson on this wine is it was better than I expected. Much. Although I had been told it was made by monks outside of Bethlehem, I think I relegated that to more fiction than fact and was afraid this would be a run-of-the-mill, mass-produced wine. Instead, I found a lovely, well-crafted quality wine with a great history, and my own great story to go with it.