Israeli Kosher Wine Comes of Age

November 23, 2012 11:33 am 3 comments

Wine at the Carmel Winery in Israel's Mt. Carmel area. Photo: Lisë Stern.

Wine is an integral part of Judaism, a part of every holiday meal. Wine and vineyards are referred to numerous times in the bible, and many ancient wine presses have been found throughout Israel. But Israel has only recently come into its own as a producer of quality wine, notably quality wine that happens to be kosher.

The Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute (IEICI) refers to four periods of wine revolutions in Israel. The first was in the late 1800s, when Baron Edmond de Rothschild started the Carmel Winery in Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Yaakov. The second revolution, a century later, was when the Golan Heights Winery came on the scene; the late Daniel Rogov, preeminent Israeli wine critic, wrote in The Ultimate Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines that this winery is “largely responsible for placing Israel on the world wine map.” A few other wineries followed in the 1990s (the third revolution), slowly building Israel’s reputation as a wine-producing country, winning awards and accolades.

In the last seven years, the industry has skyrocketed, with over 250 wineries, some 70 of which are kosher. The IEICI refers to this period as the fourth revolution. Rogov’s first Israeli wine guidebook was published in 2005; in 2006 the first wine show was held in Israel, Israwinexpo, now a biannual event; famed wine critics Robert Parker and Hugh Johnson began to include Israel in their annual wine guides in 2007; and the number of boutique and “garagiste” wineries grew, while established wineries began producing higher-caliber wines.

As winemakers transition from hobbyists producing wine for family and friends to professional producers, they lean toward going kosher. In order to be carried in Israeli supermarkets (where most wines are sold), they need to be kosher, and kosher wines are also more easily exported.

Yossie Horwitz, who reviews kosher wines for the Yossie’s Corkboard blog, says “Within the Jewish community, the Orthodox interest and sophistication has grown exponentially both culinary and in wine, with more people taking more of interest in drinking high-quality wine.

“Israeli wineries have risen to that occasion,” he says.

“There’s been a huge jump in the last five years,” agrees Jonathan Livny, who writes on wine for Yedioth Ahronoth and blogs. “Israeli wines have shown the world that you can be kosher and still have wonderful wines.”

This October, during grape harvest season in the middle of Sukkot, I visited several kosher wineries in Israel. These are just a handful of the notable wineries, and you can easily create a winery-based itinerary through the country. Tours are available at each and costs range from about $5 to $20, including tastings. Most require advance reservations.

Carmel Winery

Mt. Carmel Area

Carmel is the oldest and largest winery in Israel, producing 15 million bottles a year. They own other wineries as well, including the lauded Yatir, at the northern edge of the Negev. For decades, they made primarily syrupy kiddush wine, then became part of the fourth wave in the wine revolution when they began producing a line of top notch wines in 2003. Wines to try: Private Collection 2011 Viognier, Appellation Carignan Old Vines 2008; Yatir 2008 “Mashak” (Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon blend); Gewürztraminer (a perfect dessert wine).

Golan Heights Winery

Golan Heights

This is where the modern Israeli wine scene began—the second wine revolution, in which eight kibbutzim and moshavim joined forces to create one excellent winery. There are wines in all price ranges here, starting with Golan, then Gamla, and the top Yarden label. The facility is huge and impressive, producing 6 million bottles a year; the first vintage was in 1983. Try Yarden Galilee HeightsWine (an ice wine, made from Gewürztraminer grapes); Yarden 2T (made from two types of Portuguese grapes, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao); Yarden Syrah.

Antique Safed Winery

Upper Galilee

Moshe Alon has been making wine since 1996; in 2004 he moved to this location in Old Safed. His brother Paul is the owner, and his wife Karen works in the winery as well—literally a Mom & Pop operation, across the path from their house, with some of their seven children popping in periodically. Try the Gewürztraminer 2009 and the rich garnet colored Cabernet Sauvignon 2011.

Dalton Winery

Upper Galilee

Founded in 1995 by Mat Haruni and his son Alex, English immigrants. It’s located in an industrial complex near the Lebanese border. Moshe Haviv came on as CEO eight years ago to grow the company, which now produces 1 million bottles a year. “I want to make the best wine in the world,” Haviv declares, and they’re certain on the right track. Try Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Reserve; Alma Blend 2009 (with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc), and Shiraz Reserve 2009 (a gold medal winner).

Galil Mountain Winery

Upper Galilee

Located at Kibbutz Yiron near the Lebanese Border, Galil Mountain is a joint venture between the kibbutz and Golan Heights Winery. Six local vineyards supply grapes to the winery, which has sleek architecture and a state-of-the art feel The goal, when they began in 2000, was to be big, producing at least a million bottles a year of quality affordable wines. Try Galil 2011 Viognier; Galil Rosé; Galil Barbera 2010, and Yiron 2009 (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot).

Rimon Winery

Upper Galilee

Rimon Winery is a novelty—but worth a visit. Wine critics comment that, since the “wine” is made from pomegranates, it is really a liqueur, not a wine. It’s located in the same complex as Dalton and a few other wineries. They make both dry and sweeter wines. Most popular is the Port-Style Wine, a rich, sophisticated after-dinner drink.

Domaine du Castel

Judean Hills

Castel was one of the first third-revolution wineries, started in 1992 by Eli Ben Zaken, a native of Alexandria who made aliyah in the 1970s. This is one of the higher-end wineries in Israel. They make three wines (plus a rosé, which tends to sell out every year): C Blanc de Castel, Castel Grand Vin, and Petit Castel.

Flam Winery

Judean Hills

Brothers Golan and Gilad Flam started this winery at the end of the third wave, in 1998, aided by their father Israel, who had been a winemaker at Carmel Winery for 35 years; their mother Kami is also part of the business. They now make 100,000 bottles a year, with six wines in their repertoire. Try Flam Blanc 2011 (a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay); Flam Classico 2010 (Merlot, Cabernet Suavignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot); and a beautiful Syrah Reserve 2010.

Tzora Vineyards

Judean Hills

Part of the third wave of wineries in Israel, Tzora is located on the kibbutz of the same name, but independently owned. The current owners, including general manager Uri Ran, have been continuing to create excellent wines since 2008. Try Neve Ilan Blanc 2011 and Misty Hills 2009 (a Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah blend).

Kadesh Barnea Winery

Negev

Located on Moshave Barnea, in view of the Egyptian border in the Western Negev, Kadesh Barnea was founded in 2000 by Alon and Nira Zadock. Son Yogev and his wife Eden both studied oenology in Florence, and Yogev is now the winemaker. Their wines, made with Negev-grown grapes, are promoted as Wines from the Desert. Try the Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon.

3 Comments

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Book Reviews The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    Romirowsky and Joffe’s book Religion, Politics and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief is an important volume for those interested in truly understanding the origins of the Palestinian refugee issue. Utilizing a treasure trove of newly released documents, the authors link UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine) origins to the Quakers/American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). For those readers who thought they knew most of the Middle East story, Romirowsky and Joffe’s version provides another twist. The authors meticulously [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.