A Helpful Guide to Understanding Israeli Wine
Although Italy and France are world-renowned wine producers, Israel has been producing wine since the biblical age. Wine played an integral part in the Israelites’ religion during those days. When the Roman era began, vintage Israeli wine would be exported to Rome. However, when Muslim rulers took over, they virtually stopped all production.
Edmond de Rothschild revived the modern Israeli wine industry in the late 19th century. Since the French baron owned a wine estate in France called Chateau Lafite Rothschild, he began importing French grape varieties and applied his technical knowledge. This article will highlight the best Israeli wines and the numerous grape varieties available in the country.
The Best Grape Varieties Grown in Israel
Today, Israel is a major driver in the winemaking industry of the Eastern Mediterranean. The country has hundreds of wineries, ranging from massive, famous brands to small boutiques that produce millions of bottles every year. Their largest producers are Carmel Winery, Golan Heights Winery, and Barkan Wine Cellars, which account for over 80% of the domestic production.
Below is a list of the grape varieties grown in Israel and the regions they thrive in.
Like in most wine-growing countries, Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the leading grape varieties grown in Israel. Although this variety was introduced by Rothschild back in the late 1880s, it gained market dominance almost 100 years later. Today, Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for about 21% of the total harvest tonnage in Israel.
Cabernet Sauvignon varietals and Cabernet-based Bordeaux blends from Golan Heights and Upper Galilee are hailed as the finest Israeli wines. Both regions are located at high altitudes (averagely 1,000 meters above sea level), ideal for producing the best quality grapes, i.e., deeply-colored, high ripe fruit concentration, with a robust tannic structure. However, you may occasionally find Cabernets with an overtly jammy character due to Israel’s Mediterranean microclimates.
Best Buy: Shor Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Best Food Pairing: Beef, lamb, and poultry.
Chardonnay is one of the finest white wines made in Israel. It made its debut in Israel back in the 1980s. Although it favors cool areas like the northern Golan Heights, some of the best Chardonnays are produced in the Judean Foothills and Hills, which have temperate to semi-arid climates.
Most big wineries in Israel make a Chardonnay, with Golan Heights Winery, Carmel, Barkan, Recanati, and Teperberg making multiple Chardonnays in different series. There are as many Chardonnay lovers as Cabernet Sauvignon enthusiasts, which explains why it is grown widely. Additionally, winemakers agree that Chardonnay is a pliable grape that allows them to impart their signature.
Chardonnays have diverse tasting and aromatic profiles as they are heavily influenced by the climate they grow in, ripeness extent during harvest, and aging methods used. Modern Chardonnays are typically dry, medium-bodied white wines, offering fresh and crisp apple, pear, guava, and lemon peel notes. However, when oak is introduced to the aging process, the resulting wine offers strong pineapple, vanilla, butter, and English pudding hints.
Best Buy: Mony Reserve Chardonnay 2019
Best Food Pairing: Fish, pasta, and most white meats.
Did you know that Shiraz is a fairly new variety to Israel as it arrived in the late 1990s? Wines made from the French vines go by Syrah, while those from Australia, Shiraz. The latter name is more commonly used in Israel.
Upper Galilee, the Judean Hills, and Foothills are the best regions to grow Shiraz. Although this grape variety agrees with the Israeli climate, it is still a minor player as it contributes to 8% of the wine production. However, wine enthusiasts believe its popularity will steadily increase to challenge Cabernet Sauvignon. As the Shiraz vines continue to mature, they’ll offer more pronounced and delicious flavors.
Best Buy: Binyamina Shiraz Reserve 2018
Best Food Pairing: Lamb, venison, beef, poultry
Although Sauvignon Blanc isn’t Israel’s most popular white wine, its crispness and high acidity are tough to beat! This wine is very aromatic and herbaceous, offering notes of blackcurrant leaves, gooseberries, asparagus, and tropical fruits. It does well in the cool climates of Upper Galilee.
Sauvignon Blancs are commonly used as restaurant wines to pair with most foods. They are preferred over Chardonnays since the crunching acidity agrees with oily fish, while the herbaceous character pairs well with grilled or baked vegetables.
Israeli Sauvignon Blancs generally don’t improve with age; thus, they should be enjoyed young or soon after harvesting. However, they make excellent blends, especially with round and fatty varieties. For instance, winemakers blend Sauvignon Blancs with Semillon grapes to produce Bordeaux white wines with more pronounced lemon flavors.
Best Buy: Galil Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2020
Best Food Pairing: Grilled fish, pasta dishes, Thai-style stir fry
Enjoy Your Israeli Wine!
Israeli wines are known for their high alcohol content and unique textures, owing to their favorable soils and climate. But since the Israeli wine industry is still growing, you may not easily find your preferred brands or variety in your country. Luckily, using an Israel proxy allows you to shop for what you want, no matter your location. Happy sipping!