- David M. Weinberg - https://davidmweinberg.com -

The Israeli wine awakening

Published in The Jerusalem Post [1] and in abridged form in Israel Hayom [2], Shushan Purim, March 6, 2015.

Print-friendly copy [3]

For Shushan Purim, I review 20 fantastic Israeli wines, from different geographical areas of the country – each with its unique terroir. Pour some biblically-evocative, Zionist, kosher wine this Purim weekend, in celebration of Israel’s strength, creativity and spirituality!

israeli wine glass [4]

Part of the Purim punch line is venahfoch hu, turning things around; transforming the base and boorish into something sublime and spiritual. This applies also to wine consumption.

We imbibe wine not to get insanely drunk and commit debauchery, but to elevate ourselves to a higher level of consciousness and connect to Divine whispers in our history and our current reality.

Sadly, this land had been ‘dry’ for thirteen centuries, even since the Moslem conquerors of the Holy Land in the seventh century literally ripped all grape vines out of the ground. Part of the Jewish People’s return to its ancient homeland in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries has involved the reintroduction of quality grape-growing and wine-making in Israel.

Today, the Land of Israel is again coming alive and giving forth magnificent fruit to its indigenous people after 2,000 years of desolation and neglect. As a result, there are excellent wines being produced in Israel, winning international awards and recognition.

Many of the grapes are sourced over the European Union-sanctified “Green Line,” and for the EU this makes them forbidden and boycotted “settlement goods.”

Well, too bad for wine connoisseurs in the EU!

The Purim holiday weekend is a wonderful opportunity to taste some fantastic Israeli wines, from different geographical areas of the country – each with its unique terroir.

Try for example the intense and well-balanced 2011 Limited Edition Cabernet Franc produced by Teperberg 1870 Winery from grapes grown in the Samarian mountains, near Shiloh.

Grab as many bottles as you can of the excellent 2011 Gvaot Masada, a Cabernet-Merlot blend aged in French oak for 22 long months, sourced from grapes 700-900 meters above sea level in the Samarian mountains. Ditto for the Psagot Winery’s Edom, a Bordeaux blend, from the Judean hills north of Jerusalem.

Tura is a fabulous family estate winery located in Rechelim in Samaria, established by the delightful Erez and Vered Ben Saadon. The winery’s 150 dunams of vineyards, planted on Mt. Bracha 850 meters above sea level, have emerged among the finest vineyards in Israel, and the grapes are sold to many wineries. Tura’s 2010 Mountain Peak blend is outstanding – very dark and peppery, with cocoa overlays.

The Livni 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve, and Livni 2012 Pinot Noir, from the Caleb Fields vineyards in the southern Hebron hills, are truly unique.

The very best of all is the Yatir Forest 2011 – soon to be released – a complex blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, from the high plateaus in the northern Negev and Hebron hills. Outstanding! The 2003 vintage of this wine received the incredible score of 93 in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate magazine – the leading global wine publication – and I’m sure that the 2011 bottle will win global accolades too.

French immigrant Pierre Miodownick’s Domaine Netofa Winery in the lower Galilee is producing unique blends using varietals like Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional and Roussanne, which are native to Spain, Portugal and France’s Rhone Valley. Pierre argues that these grapes are meteorologically much more suited to Israel’s Mediterranean climate than the classic Bordeaux or Burgundy varietals.

Try his 2011 Latour Netofa blend of Syrah and Mourvedre (deep, full-bodied and mouth-filling with a nose of red plums and chocolate). And for dessert, Domaine Netofa’s Portuguese-true Fine Ruby Port (made from Touriga and Tinta Roriz grapes grown near Mount Tabor) is perfect.

Tulip in Kiryat Tivon has a delicious, light 2012 Special Edition blend of Barbera, Mourvedre and Merlot.

From the upper Galilee, try the Lueria Winery Grand Vital, a Bordeaux blend from vineyards in Safsufa. Or Flam’s top-class 2011 Syrah Reserve, from vineyards in Ben Zimra and Dishon. Or the 2011 Limited Edition Cabernet from Abouhav Winery in Safed.

From the Western Galilee, Richard Davis’s young Kishor Winery is producing well-balanced wines across the board.

From the Binyamina and Zichron coastal region, try the Jezreel Valley 2012 blend of Carignon, Syrah and Argaman. Or the Eyal 2012 Shani, a Cabernet-Merlot-Shiraz blend, sourced from grapes in Givat Nili. (Only 15,000 bottles available). Or the 2009 Binyamina Odem Syrah.

Montefiore, a new Jerusalem-based winery run by heirs to the Sir Moses Montefiore family name, has a great 2012 Petit Syrah from vineyards in the Jerusalem hills.

At the top of the game, year after year, stands Eli Ben-Zaken’s Domaine du Castel Grand Vin. I recently enjoyed a vertical tasting of the 2008-2012 vintages of this masterpiece wine, along with Eli’s insightful personal commentary.

For a real taste of Israeli innovation in winemaking, offer guests from abroad a sip of Carmel Winery’s “Mediterranean,” a creative blend of Carignan, Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah and Viognier, from vineyards from all over Israel including the Upper Galilee, Coastal Plain, Judean Hills and the Negev.

The up-and-coming delight for wine lovers will be the first Israeli-produced wines of Jeff Morgan’s famous Covenant Winery. He is to release a 2012 Syrah-Cabernet Franc blend from Golan Tel Fares and Galilee vineyards, heavily oak-aged; and a 100 percent 2014 Syrah.

Pour some biblically-evocative, Zionist, kosher wine this Purim weekend, and drink it heartedly in celebration of Israel’s strength, creativity and spirituality.