Israel’s Wine Country in an Old-New Holy Land

Israel has become known for its exquisite wines only in the last two or three decades, but wine making and wine consumption in the holy land date back to biblical times.

Israel, in the heart of the Middle East, has an ancient history with its highs and lows. The country has tended grape vines for thousands of years. Known as the cradle of civilization, today Israel is as young as ever, and without a doubt, this is the golden age for Israeli’s wine industry. One writer described the last seventy years as 35 years of wine mediocrity followed by 35 years of exciting development.  For wine lovers visiting the Holy Land, there’s much to see and taste.

As you might imagine, kosher wine is a big deal in this small country, and its global demand is on the rise. While traditional kosher wine does not have a reputation for being as palate pleasing as regular modern style wine, things have recently been changing. The country now makes delicious kosher, and non-kosher wines that can compete with any wine in the world.

Let’s talk about a few wine regions that offer not only great views but great wines, friendly people and delicious food.

A wine press near Ashkelon, Israel which dates back to the 5th Century CE. Wine making and consumption pre-dates Christianity and is referenced occasionally in the Old Testament.

Carmel Hills

If you’re visiting Israel, no matter where you come from, chances are you’ll arrive at Tel Aviv, and that’s good news. The city has an exciting food scene, and it’s only forty minutes away from one of the most exciting wine regions: the northern, hilly, green range of Carmel.

Carmel hosts some of the oldest and the newest wineries in Israel. Once there, you’ll easily find your way to the famous wine route and to our first recommendation:

In the 1850’s, Jewish settlers turned to Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of Château Lafite in Bourdeaux France,  for help with establishing vineyards in Israel. He sent his own wine specialists to advise them, he provided finances, root stock, and moral support.  The Carmel Winery was born, and although one of the oldest wine producers in the region, it is fully renovated and makes wine in state of the art facilities. The wine cellar is another story, it seems to have frozen in time. Their Cabernet-based wine is fabulous, but they make white and sparkling too. Book in advance and tour this historic landmark.

Have lunch at the Bistro de Carmel and enjoy a kosher meal full of local flavors. Then head west to Amphorae Winery, a modern, boutique producer since 2000. They brought in the famous winemaker Michel Rolland to set things up, and the results are stunning. You must try their Makura Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery might be new, but the grapes for this wine grow in 2000-year-old terraces.

Carmel Winery in Zikhron Ya’akov, Israel.

Galilee

Travel northeast to explore this amazing wine region. Within Galilee, the Golan Heights sub-region makes the best wines. Altitude brings chilly temperatures to the zone, and the wine grapes respond accordingly.

A source of elegant, structured wines, this place is home to the eponymous Golan Heights Winery, a top Israeli producer.  Golan Heights Winery has been making wines since the eighties, and a visit to their vineyard is a must. The vineyards, the views, the weather, they’re all extreme. This is the source of some of the best Syrah-based wines in Europe, but their portfolio is wide and varied. The Golan Heights Winery Yarden Katzrin Red is rated 90 by Wine Enthusiast.

Finish your day visiting other premium wineries close by such as Chateau Golan and Odem Mountain – two of many wineries more than prepared to receive passionate wine aficionados.

Vineyard on the Golan Heights in Early Spring.

Judean Hills

Head south to the areas surrounding Jerusalem and the emerging viticultural area of the Judean Hills. All the ingredients for premium winemaking are here: the soils, the climate, and the expertise; yet it’s a relatively new region, yet to fully prove itself.

The cold, snowy hills in the area are perfect for Burgundian grapes like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but other varieties fair well. Wineries like Domaine du Castel, Gush Etzion and Ramat Hebron are open for visits, and welcome guests with delicious food and tastings.  The area is well worth wandering through.  This is a great day tour if you’re staying in Jerusalem.

The four founders of the Judean Hills Quartet – Domaine du Catle, Sphera, Tzora and Flam Wineries

In recent years there has been renewed interest in grapes varieties produced thousands of years ago – in the times of Jesus, the Romans and King David. During the Ottoman periods, local authorities forbade the preparation of wine and the local wine industry suffered a serious setback. Local grape varieties gradually became extinct and only a few grape varieties barely survived. Recanati Winery is restoring the ancient Marawi variety to great success.  The Recanati 2011 Reserve David Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Galillee garnered 94 points from Wine Spectator.

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Comments (1):

  1. Ann

    January 15, 2019 at 8:31 pm

    There are a lot of misconceptions about Israeli wine – think sweet Manischewitz (ugh). But in fact, there are good bottles to be enjoyed! Thanks for this post. It offers a very nice review of the current wine situation in Israel.

    Reply

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