First of all, Israel lacks a defining grape or signature region that jumps out to make an easy association.
Unlike, say, the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon (which is known for growing Cabernet Sauvignon with an identifiable terroir tang,) Israel's wine regions grow many international varieties well. Both Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc thrive, along with Riesling, Viognier and Gewürztraminer for the whites. For reds, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah all produce many quality wines, and there is increased experimentation with Carignan and Petite Sirah. In addition, a few indigenous grapes like Argaman (cross of Carignan and Portugal's Souzao) and Emerald Riesling round out the wide array. Not to mention, wine is grown in nine major spots, from the northern Golan Heights region all the way south to the Negev, in a country roughly the size of New Jersey.
Israel also does not have to adhere to wine laws like many other countries in terms of appellation rules, so they are free to experiment in their vineyards. While this is potentially a positive situation, it adds to the muddle. Luckily, advances in technology are helping overall quality rise, so Israeli winemakers are starting to work towards defining a clearer Israeli wine identity.
But... they are also fighting "the 'K' word."
People often associate Israeli wines with lower-quality kosher offerings, which couldn't be farther from reality. Not all Israeli wine is kosher, in fact, 80-90% of local winemakers are not even Sabbath observant. Winemakers from Israel will tell you that the biggest challenge they face is getting their wines out of the kosher section of the wine store... into the WINE section. While Israel arguably makes the highest-quality kosher wines out there, detaching the labeling from the wine's level of excellence is another hurdle.
Israel is ripe for becoming a major player in the international wine arena, even with these obstacles. There are many boutique wineries and self-trained winemakers, they don't hesitate to bring in experienced foreigners or send their youngsters out for training, they are looking to reduce yields for higher quality and they are experimenting with interesting blends.
Perhaps out of all of this, Israel's wine identity will start to take a sharper focus. Until then, keep your eyes out for some of the following amazing Israeli wines and ponder Israel's wine identity for yourself!
2009 Barkan Wine Cellars Altitude +720
100% Cabernet Sauvignon; Galilee. Great fruit and cedar nose, intoxicating, chewy, cheeky, approachable. ~$46
2011 Carmel Winery Kayoumi White Riesling
Galilee. Water-white color, honeysuckle, hint of petrol. Light acid, great character. Yum! ~$24
2009 Carmel Winery Mediterranean
27% Carignan, 27% Shiraz, 27% Petit Verdot, 15% Petite Sirah, 3% Malbec, 1% Viognier; Galilee. Earth and spice. Very, very soft finish with good fruit. Quaffable. ~$50
2009 Carmel Winery Sha'al Gewürztraminer
Galilee. Single vineyard, late harvest - spice, florals, not overly sweet, good acid... great for food pairing! ~$22/375ml
2012 Dalton Winery Rosé
Blend of Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Unusual wow-nose of floral perfume. Good acidity. Very yummy - great fruit, great length. ~$17
|My notes are for the '10 - the |
'11 is becoming available too.
2010 Dalton Winery Petite Sirah
Incredible nose! Very dense; licorice, charcoal, blueberry liqueur. Very, very nice. ~$22
2010 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin
Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot; Judean Hills. Cedar, earth, cassis. Mouth-painting with lovely violet and red fruit notes. Mmmmm. ~$65
2007 Ella Valley Vineyards Merlot
Merlot with some Cabernet Sauvignon; Judean Hills. Oak, dirt, terroir, little funk. Soft tannins, though grippy in mouth. Bright fruit, good structure. ~$30
2010 Flam Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot; Upper Galilee. Earth, cherry-berry. Loads going on! Well-structured, great length and fruit. ~$59
2010 Galil Mountain Winery Pinot Noir
Upper Galilee. Very light in color. Earthy nose, quite interesting with good elements but very lightly styled. ~$20
2008 Golan Heights Winery Yarden Pinot Noir
Northern Golan Heights. Lots of floral perfume and earth. Chewy fruit. Very nice. ~$16
2010 Gvaot Winery Herodion Cabernet Sauvignon
92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot; Shomron. Bright berry color. Nice round fruit, some earthiness, good acid. Very pleasant wine. ~$40
2005 Hevron Heights Winery Jerusalem Heights
Pretty even Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend; Judean Hills. Terroir, red cherry juice! Fairly soft and light but quaffable with supple tannins. ~$33
2011 Recanati Winery Ltd. Carignan
Upper Galilee. Pungent nose - loads of red and black fruits. Nice florals on finish. Very good! And tasty - it keeps drawing you back. ~$48
2009 Carmei Zvi Segal Bros. Segal's Single Vineyard Dovev Argaman
100% Argaman; Galilee. I sought out this 'indigenous' grape to try it; this was earthy with lavender florals and black fruits. Somewhat one-dimensional in the mouth, but brightly styled and interesting. ~$36
2012 Teperberg Winery 1870 Terra Sauvignon Blanc
Shomron. Grassy with tropical fruit, great acid, very nice elements and good length. ~$18
2010 Teperberg Winery 1870 Terra Malbec
Judean Hills. 1st Malbec in Israel, I believe - very dark berries on the nose. Soft and smooth. Good for people who like lighter-styled wines with a rich flavor. ~$31
2010 Tzora Vineyards Misty Hills
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Syrah; Judean Hills. Loads of cedar and cassis. Spicy, a bit harsh in the mouth - needs food and/or a little time. ~$60
A huge thank you to "Wines of Israel - Mediterranean Inspiration" for hosting a mini-wine tour, a discussion of modern Israeli winemaking with Josh Wesson and Alex Haruni, and a walk-around tasting. My eyes were certainly opened, and I hope you venture out to try some wonderful Israeli wines soon. Cheers!