Israel is certainly not high on the minds of most U.S. wine consumers. Although ancient wine production in Israel is documented through archeological evidence and chronicled frequently in the Bible, wine production and world attention has lagged among wine producing countries.
According to a 2014 ranking of wine production by country, Israel ranked 58th behind wine “powerhouse” Cuba (48th) and Madagascar (53rd).
However insignficant the volume and notoriety, a recent tasting showed that quality is not is not relevant to rankings. Israel has the same latitude as San Diego and features hot and rain-free summers and wet winters -- ideal for vinifera grape production.
The modern era for Israeli wine production began in the late 1800s with the establishment of Carmel Winery that had the support of Baron Edmund de Rothschild, owner of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Carmel Winery also led the development in the 1960s from sweet sacramental wines to modern, dry table wines.
The modern Israeli wine industry is only a few decades old, however.
Israeli wines can be frequently found in better U.S. fine wine stores. Most are reasonably priced and are made from familiar European grape varieties.
The Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, previously known as the site of a major tank battle between the Israelis and Syrians during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, is the source of some of Israel’s finest wines. The cool Golan Heights has a unique microclimate that is conducive to growing quality wine grapes with vineyards planted 4,000 feet in elevation.
Occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day war, this area is a sub-region of Galilee where 38 percent of Israel’s vineyards are located.
American wine consumers should be comfortable tasting Israeli wines since they place somewhere between California and French wines in style.
We tasted a number of Israeli wines recently and selected four that we highly recommend.
The Gilgal, Mt. Hermon and Yarden wines are part of the Golan Heights Winery family, while the Galil Mountain wine is a partnership with the Golan Heights Winery.
Gilgal Syrah Rosé Golan Heights 2016 ($16). This syrah rosé features a dollop of viognier and displays a bold strawberry color. Delicious strawberry, raspberry, and cherry notes in a medium bodied frame make this a very easy to drink rosé.
Mount Hermon Indigo Galilee 2016 ($14). A pleasant red wine blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah. Easy drinking with a soft impression in the mouth featuring plum and cherry notes.
Galil Mountain ELA Upper Galilee 2014 ($22). A blend of mostly barbera and syrah with a dash of petite verdot, and grenache. Notable acidity from the barbera gives this red blend a nice liveliness that is refreshing. One year of French oak aging. Medium bodied with cherry and raspberry elements. Delicious.
Yarden Merlot Galilee Odem Vineyard 2014 ($110). This organic 100 percent merlot spent 14 months in French oak. This is a world-class wine that rivals some of the finest from Napa Valley. Still young even after seven years, this bold wine displayed plum, cherry, and cedar notes in a very elegant frame.
Sea Slopes Fort Ross Winery Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2016 ($35). Jeff Pisoni from the acclaimed Pisoni family, famous for their vineyards and winemaking, has crafted a tasty winner for the Fort Ross winery. This amazing wine exceeds expectations with a palate of black cherry, plum, and strawberry notes. Big and satisfying, this wine delivers on all levels.
Oremus Mandolas Furmint Tokaj Hungary 2016 ($25). This dry white table wine from indigenous Hungarian furmint grapes is a must for those wine lovers seeking something different. Bright acidity marks this lime citrus scented and flavored wine that longs for a fish or chicken dish in a cream sauce. It should pair well with rich cheeses. Delicious!
Long Meadow Ranch Chardonnay Anderson Valley 2015 ($45). A big wine for those seeking a full-bodied experience. Rich, round and ripe fruit dominate this balanced chardonnay from all estate fruit that does not display much oak flavor despite some new oak exposure. Peach and melon notes dominate with a bit of minerality.
Gehricke Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($35). This is a delicious, mouth-coating blend of cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot. The price is very reasonable for what you get. Approachable with forward dark fruit flavors and a generous bouquet of black cherries and cinnamon. Nice cocoa powder on the finish.
Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay 2016 ($25). One of our perennial favorites, this appealing chardonnay is a good value. Complex, rich character with apple and tropical fruit flavors and oak-inspired vanilla and toast.
MacRostie Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2016 ($25). Reasonably priced for what you get here, this quaffable chardonnay owes its character to great vineyards, hard-harvested grapes, barrel fermentation and lees stirring. Generous tropical fruit and citrus notes with a dash of French oak and butterscotch.
Ramey Wine Cellars Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($65). This producer is on a roll with its pinot noir and chardonnay program. We loved this opulent, concentrated chardonnay from a special vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Tropical fruit notes with a bit of citrus, mineral and toasted oak.
Balletto Sexton Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($44. Lavender and cherry aromas are chased by bight cherry, strawberry flavors with a dash of cinnamon.
Qupé Central Coast Syrah 2016 ($20). This generously flavored syrah is sure to please. Versatile to pair with pizza, pasta and burgers, it is blended with a bit of mourvedre, grenache and tempranillo. Broad palate of red berry and blackberry fruit with a dash of vanilla.