A Growing Wine Region
If you love Israel and wine… get excited! Wine Spectator put out an issue this year about Israel’s growth as a distinctive wine region. We read firsthand accounts from the Spectator’s wine experts about wine from Israel and how the industry has grown alongside the State of Israel. Even more impressive is that Israel’s 90+ rated wines are admired and consumed worldwide. Some of the wineries mentioned were established in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, yet their newness hasn’t stopped them from earning a top place in the wine world.
The earliest recorded winemaking event occurred in the Bible, when Noah planted grapes after he left the ark (Genesis 9:20). The Israeli vineyards from biblical times were ruined as other nations came in and took over Israel.
In the late seventeenth century, Baron Rothschild established a winery in his estate, Chateau Lafite. He helped establish the State of Israel by donating funds and opening two wineries, Rishon LeZion and Zikhron Ya’akov. Since the 1980s, Israeli wine has been developing at a steady pace, expanding from about a dozen wineries to almost 300. Regions from the north of Israel all the way to the south are planting vineyards and opening wineries, including the Judean Hills, the Shomron, the Negev, and land around the Galilee such as the Golan Heights, and others.
The Israeli Wine Scene
Most of the wine produced in Israel is exported to the United States and Europe (“FAST FACTS/ISRAELI WINE (2016)”, wineisrael.com). The rest is shared with other regions outside of Israel. Who else is looking at Israeli wine? Millenials, wine consumers who don’t necessarily keep kosher, and of course, American Jews. Israeli wine lovers are proud of the emerging “Israeli wine” shelf, which is distinct from the kosher wine shelf filled with Manischewitz. No more panic attacks at the sight of sugary sweet wine placed side by side with a bottle of Galil Mountain or Jezreel Valley.
So, everyone wants to know if Israeli reds or whites are more popular? The answer, of course, is it depends. Paul Dubb, producer of Tzuba wines, asserts that white wines stand out much more than the reds (page 39). However, the red blends are popular, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, a varietal that is planted more in Israel than white grape varieties. Winemakers in Israel are beginning to plant vineyards that are considered to be more historical to their land. Argaman, for example, means “crimson,” and as a red grape indigenous to Israel, it’s earning a lot of respect around the world.
Israeli Trends in Winemaking
There will always be people who consume the more typical, popular flavors like merlot or cabernet sauvignon. However, Israel is starting to bring attention to Rhone style blends. The Rhone region of France is comparative to Israel in climate. The blends are comprised of syrah, mourvedre, and grenache grapes. The Bordeaux style wines made in Tzora vineyards are more popular than anything else. They feature grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, and petit verdot, incorporating Old World flavors by bringing in French varietals.
The Past & Present Come Together
Winemakers in Israel like to find ways to connect to their biblical roots. Wineries like Psagot and Binyamina store their bottles in caves that were originally used to keep wine more than a thousand years ago. Recanati recently put out a white wine blend that features the marawi grape, a grape that many consider to be the oldest surviving grape from the Israeli region.
Extra Special Wines From the Holy Land
Kim Marcus writes for the Wine Spectator. He tried over 120 Israeli wines, scoring thirty of them in the 90 point range or higher (page 51). Marcus features both red and white wines, lingering more on the reds, highlighting wines such as Yatir Forest (red), and Yarden Gewurztraminer (white).
Israel is on the rise as a competitive vacation spot for foodies, wine connoisseurs, adrenaline junkies, and adventure lovers. They now offer all-in packages (food, wine, and lodging) for a truly enjoyable experience that also happens to be educational. If you can learn something while having the time of your life, that’s pretty cool.
The takeaway? Continue to expect great wines coming from Israel, and don’t be shocked at the continued success of these wines. The incredible growth of this country and its wines will have you returning again and again for years to come.
Top 12 Rated 90+ Spectator’s Wine List on Kosherwine.com
Matar Chardonnay, 91
Yatir Forest, 90
Matar Cumulus, 90
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