Israel has carved out a place on the global wine stage in recent years, much thanks to the impressive multiplication of wineries that have come to dot the country’s landscape.
Sales of Israeli wines stand at $315 million per year, according to Wines Israel, and the country exports some $30 million worth of wine annually. The main importers of Israeli wines are the US, France, the UK, Canada, Poland, Germany and Holland.
“Until 1995, there were just seven boutique wineries in Israel. By 2000, we had 100. Today, there are between 280 and 300,” Oded Shoham of Israel Wine Experience told ISRAEL21c.
“You see people who have fulfilled their dream and you taste it in their wine,” says Shoham, who has been on the forefront of the Israeli wine industry for more than 25 years. “It’s not like buying a bottle off a shelf and not realizing there’s a person and a temperament that stands behind the bottle. It makes it a more interesting story.”
After consulting with “the experts,” Israel21c compiled a list of the top 10 boutique wineries in Israel.
1. Margalit Winery, Caesarea/Upper Galillee
Cabernet-Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet-Franc
Yair Margalit – a chemist turned winemaker — is credited with starting the boutique winery trend in Israel when he founded Margalit Winery in 1989. “He was way ahead of everyone else. He taught everyone else,” says Israeli wine expert Oded Shoham.
The family-run venture on the Mediterranean coast specializes in red Bordeaux blends. The wines constantly reap praise from the world’s best wine experts. Margalit is one of four wineries to score 93 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Domaine Du Castel, Clos du Gat and Yatir are the others).
“The Margalit winery started as a boutique and never swayed away from that. It stayed small but with extremely high-quality wine. It stayed true to its course and this makes it the best winery in Israel,” says Shoham.
The winery is open to the public in springtime.
2. Clos de Gat, Ayalon Valley
Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Chardonnay
- Winemaker Eyal Rotem is equally renowned for the way he grows his grapes as for the wine he produces. He invested a lot of time in learning the land and experimenting with grape varieties to produce his top-tier wines.
The name Clos de Gat is a play on words – clos means “enclosed vineyard” in French while gat is the Hebrew word for an antique wine press.
Israel’s preeminent wine expert Daniel Rogov, who passed away in 2011, included Rotem’s wines in every “best of” list he wrote. Rogov called Clos de Gat “a world-class winery, one regularly producing excellent wines.”
Winery visits by appointment only.
3. Domaine Du Castel, Judean Hills
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, Chardonnay
- Eli Ben-Zaken, a former poultry farmer/restaurateur, turned his hobby of winemaking into an award-winning business. Ben-Zaken credits the winery’s success to the family’s personal involvement in all aspects of the business – from viticulture to winemaking, management to distribution.
The winery was established in 1998. The vineyards are at an average altitude of 700 meters in the Judean Hills.
In the December 2012 version of Parker’s Wine Advocate annual tasting of Israeli wines, he highlights Domaine du Castel as one of the “most successful wineries over the [past] five years . . . Castel has had no less than 13 wines being awarded 90 points or more.”
Winery visits by appointment only.