The Israeli wine industry, with its many microclimates, use of cutting-edge technology, and highly trained winemakers, is worth a visit — even if the only current option is a virtual one. So start off 2021 in good taste by drinking your way through our pick of Israeli wines.
Whether you like light and crisp or deep and jammy; sweet dessert wines or celebratory bubbly, there’s something here for you.
New to the States
Carmel‘s recently released Vat series includes a four vat red (to enjoy with dishes such as lamb or grilled tuna), a two vat white (to drink on its own or accompanied by light dishes), and a two vat rosé (with scents of strawberries and red grapefruit). The vat number isn’t arbitrary, but actually refers to the numbers of vats used to age the wine. These wines are bold, ripe, and fruit forward. Also new to the States, and garnering lots of excitement from several wine connoisseurs, is a full-bodied blend of Syrah and Carignan grapes from Razi’el Winery, a new boutique winery from the highly respected Castel Winery.
International Award Winners
In the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards, six Israeli red wines were awarded gold medals. Kosher wine columnist Yitz Applbaum waxed euphoric about one of them: Gva’ot Winery’s Gofna Cabernet Franc Reserve, 2017. It’s a single-grape wine that he describes as complex, with notes of aged tobacco and ripe plum. “The winemakers at Gva’ot,” says Applbaum, “take chances in doing a 100% Cabernet Franc wine. It’s a great wine, a bold wine, and a good expression of how Israelis take risks.” Enjoy it with falling-off-the-bone braised short ribs.
A Return to Roots
Israeli wine runs the gamut from the familiar — Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc — to wines made of little-known grapes indigenous to the land of Israel. Jeff Bartash, formerly the sommelier of Michael Solomonov’s award-winning restaurant, Zahav, is a fan of Recanati’s Marawi wine. The Marawi grape, says Bartash, is believed to have been cultivated in Israel for more than 2,000 years. The wine has so much complexity you’d swear it’s a blend, and is versatile enough to be paired with anything from salads to mezze to cheeses, or enjoyed as an aperitif.
Ice wine is a sweet wine made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine. You would not imagine that it is made in the desert country of Israel. But it is — kind of. Bat Shlomo Vineyards has an ice-style wine made with specialist technology that freezes their hand-picked, estate-grown Semillon grapes, and presses them while still frozen. The result is a dessert wine that perfectly balances sweetness and acidity.
Everything’s Coming Up Rosé
“Rosé, as a category, has exploded,” says Gary Wartels, owner of Skyview Wine and Liquors. The last five years, Israel has produced some excellent ones, which are drunk year-round. Wartels is a fan of Carmel’s Appellation Rosé, with its floral and citrus notes, but was quick to add that there are dozens more he’d recommend, many of which will be available for Passover this year.
In March 2021, Matar Winery in the Golan Heights will be launching a light pink, Champagne-method sparkling wine — their first — called Matar Blanc de Noir. Matar is the kosher sister winery to Pelter Winery, which has its own well-respected bubbly, Pelter Blanc de Blancs. Columnist Applbaum is a fan, too, of Golan Heights Winery’s Yarden Katzrin Blanc de Blancs, which he describes as, “light, approachable, fresh, and one of the best bubbly wines from Israel.”