There was a time when Israeli wines were made up of the many different grape varieties that make up the French Bordeaux wine region. Though it is still an important part of the Israeli wine industry, Israeli wine is no longer made up of Bordeaux blends—it reflects the local traditions of the different regions and villages. These transformations continue: Israeli wine is perpetually on the move.
Until recently, Israeli wineries have focused on quality. Rather than seeking out the best grapes available, the best winemakers farmed out their best fruit to vineyards around the world. But in the past few years, Israeli wine professionals have begun to push the limits of what they can do with local fruit. The result is a new Israeli wine style that blends tradition with innovation, and has attracted new attention from winemakers and consumers alike.
In a world where wine is increasingly being consumed from a glass, it is sometimes forgotten that the origins of wine drinking actually comes from the consumption of fermented fruit and vegetable juices. In fact, the modern style of wine consumption is a result of the blending of many different aspects of wine drinking, from the glass used, to the food pairing, to the bottle itself.
Winemaking in the eastern Mediterranean has a millennia-old tradition, but Israel’s contemporary sector has only just found its stride.
The quality of white wines has greatly increased. Cabernet mixes are losing ground to Rhône varietals and hybrid grapes. Indigenous grapes are beginning to gain traction in the marketplace.
Winemakers who have gone abroad have returned with an open mind to try new things. As a consequence, in this varied and dynamic Mediterranean nation, a surge of innovation has taken root. This strategy is expected to lead Israel’s wine business into the twenty-first century. Here are some trends to keep an eye on.
Alamy / Vineyards on the slopes of Gush Etzion, Israel
Wine made from white grapes
Seventy percent of Israel’s wine grapes are red, with Cabernet Sauvignon being the most popular. However, both at home and abroad, there is a rising demand for Israeli white wine.
“It’s as if someone flicked a switch and said, ‘Wow, we live in a hot country, we really should be drinking cool white wine,’” says Joshua Greenstein, executive vice president of the Israel Wine Producers Association.
Because acidity and freshness are so important, the finest specimens come from high-altitude vineyards. Apart from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, wineries like as Psagot, Jezreel, Tabor, and Golan Heights Winery make excellent Gewürztraminer.
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Recanati’s Special Reserve white blend and Netofa’s Roussanne are two Rhône-style whites that have made breakthroughs.
Reds from the Rhône Valley
Recanati executive vice president Gil Shatsberg adds, “Mediterranean cultivars are the best suited for our climate and terroir.” “Early ripening grapes with the capacity to retain natural acidity in a hot environment provide a significant advantage in producing high-quality wines that complement our regional food perfectly.”
This contains Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre mixes as well as varietal bottlings. Ramot Naftaly Winery, Pelter Winery, Binyamina Winery, Shiloh Winery, and Tulip Winery make high-quality Syrah/Shiraz, while Jezreel Valley Winery, Hayotzer, and Dalton Winery specialize in blends.
Alamy / Vineyards at the Golan Heights Winery at Tel Faher, near the Syrian border
Wineries with a Personal Touch
Barkan Wine Cellars, Carmel Winery, Teperberg Winery, and Golan Heights Winery account for almost half of Israel’s annual production of 40 to 45 million bottles. However, there has been gradual development of proprietor-run artisan wineries, which produce up to 30,000 bottles per year, since the late 1970s.
Margalit Winery was established by Dr. Yair Margalit in 1989, and he is regarded as the founder of Israel’s small-winery movement. These winemakers place a premium on quality, terroir, and expression. Winemaking methods, unique mixes, and grape varietals are all being experimented with.
Kishor Winery, Agur Winery, Shvo Vineyards, Alexander Winery, Ephod Winery, Nadiv Winery, Odem Mountain Winery, and Gush Etzion Winery are small producers racing to the top of Israel’s wine sector.
In the Desert, Vines
Israel’s Negev (Hebrew for “dry”), one of the world’s driest wine areas, first cultivated grapes approximately 2,500 years ago, when the Nabateans, a nomadic tribe who constructed stone dams to redirect rare rainfall to their vineyards, did so. This desert terrain squeezed between Egypt and Jordan is home to almost 40 vineyards and has elevations as high as 2,950 feet, which give chilly nights that retain acidity.
Yatir Winery, established in 2000 as a collaboration between local farmers and Carmel Winery, is one of the region’s leaders. Given the terrain and climate of the vines, its red wines are remarkably brilliant.
Midbar, the Hebrew term meaning “desert,” is another standout. For his red and white blends, winemaker Shachar Landman coaxes exceptional levels of freshness from dry soils.
Golan Heights Winery’s Ein Zivan vineyard sign / Alamy
Grapes from the area
Israeli winemakers are cultivating long-thought-to-be-extinct indigenous varietals like as Marawi, Bittuni, Jandali, Baladi, and Dabouki.
Their rediscovery and spread has been aided by recent findings by researchers such as Elyashiv Drori of Ariel University. On the border of Israel and the West Bank, Cremisan Winery is one of the leading producers of wines made from indigenous grapes. The Salesian Monks profit from the sales of these wines. Its winemaking staff is made up of Italian monks who are overseen by Riccardo Cotarella, a consultant.
Marawi is also used by Ido Lewinsohn, MW, head winemaker at Barkan Segal, while Teperberg Winery utilizes the local varietal Dabouki in their Inspire White.
Many Israelis spend a year abroad after completing their mandatory military duty before returning home and starting a job.
Winemakers will find much to learn in Europe, the United States, and Australia, and will come home ready to try out new fruits and fermentation methods.
Jezreel Valley Winery’s CEO and winemaker, Yehuda Nahar, makes wine from Argaman, a cross of Souzo and Carignan.
Argaman, which means “crimson” in Hebrew, was developed by Israeli agronomists to produce a deep-colored wine that is often used in low-cost blends. However, Nahar and a few like-minded colleagues have used the grape to create high-quality blends and varietal bottlings.
Lewinsohn has pioneered techniques such as whole-cluster and native-yeast fermentation at Segal. While these procedures are representative of traditional winemaking methods, they have fallen out of favor as winemaking has become a more industrialized process.
Recanati’s Carignan vineyards / Photo courtesy of Recanati
Wines with a Purpose
Consumers are increasingly interested in companies that give back to the community, a trend that has not gone unnoticed in the Israeli wine industry. Kishor and Tulip are two outstanding wineries that assist people with special needs.
Kishor is part of the Kibbutz Kishorit, a settlement for people with special needs. The kibbutz members are engaged all year, and a specialized harvest crew is brought in during the harvest season. Cheese and baked products produced by community members are included in Kishor’s tasting area.
Tulip winery was established in Kfar Tikva, Israel’s “Village of Hope,” a residential community for people with developmental and emotional problems. Residents help out in the winery, particularly when it comes to harvesting and labeling bottles. Both vineyards make white and red wines in a range of styles.
Golan Heights Winery is in the forefront. Its vineyards were the first in Israel to get sustainable winegrowing certification in 2017. Solar panels cover the winery’s barrel cellars, bottled wine storage, and bottling hall. Two-thirds of the winery’s energy comes from the sun, according to the company.
Tabor Winery has attempted to reintroduce animals into its vineyard under the supervision of Michal Akerman, its general manager and head agronomist, in order to restore the ecosystem via the use of sustainable growth techniques. The new logo for the winery includes a barn owl, which represents the restoration of a variety of wild creatures and their significance to the soil quality.
Some might argue that the Israeli wine industry has been around since the beginning of the country’s history, and others might say that we’re only just now becoming a major player on the international stage. Many wine-lovers also have a soft spot for Israeli wines because of their distinct characteristics; dry, fresh, and crisp, the country’s wines are perfect for year-round drinking.. Read more about good red wines and let us know what you think.
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