The tradition of winemaking has deep roots in Israel, evidenced by the countless mentions of wine in the Torah and Old Testament, as well as the country’s many ruins of 2,000-year-old wineries. Today, this tiny Mediterranean country produces a wide range of white, rosé and red wines.
The vast majority of wine made in Israel is kosher, with a good portion of it sold during the spring Passover season. In order for wine to be certified kosher, it can only be handled by Sabbath-observant Jews from the time the grapes arrive at the winery until the wine is produced and bottled. A non-Jewish winemaker may be involved but cannot handle the wine in tank or barrel. Kosher wines also cannot have any animal-based additives.
The two main wine-producing regions in Israel are Galilee and the Judean Hills. Galilee and its main subregions, Upper Galilee and Golan Heights, are at altitudes of 2,400 to 3,900 feet and have volcanic soils, while vineyards in the Judean Hills are either red clay or limestone. Hot, sunny days contribute to full ripeness and lush fruit flavors, while the cooler nights enable the grapes to retain acidity and freshness.
These three main soil types and Israel’s Mediterranean climate offer excellent growing conditions for red grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Carignan.
Though many Israeli wines spent previously a great deal of time in oak, today there is a tendency towards less overly oak characteristics and lighter or more fruit-driven expressions.
9 Wines to Try from Israel
Hayotzer 2014 Lyrica G-S-M (Galilee); $45, 93 points. Deep ruby to the eye, this wine has a nose of dark plum, bramble fruit and thyme. A sense of brightness is ever-present on the palate, with flavors of cherry, cassis, butterscotch, fennel and white pepper. Smooth tannins play on the tongue and then linger just beyond the black-cherry finish, with a touch of caramel. Kosher. Allied Importers, USA, Ltd.
Jezreel 2014 Adumim Dry Red (Israel); $30, 93 points. Dark ruby in color, this wine has a bouquet of black cherry, lavender and juniper berry. It offers pleasure from first sip through the fruit filled, smoky finish, with velvety tannins and flavors of cassis, black plum, espresso, chocolate and a hint of green pepper. Royal Wine Corporation. Editors’ Choice.
Recanati 2014 Reserve David Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Galilee); $30, 93 points. This deep ruby wine offers a bouquet of blackberry, cassis and a slight touch of bell pepper. The full palate is bolstered by opulent tannins, offering flavors of black cherry, black currant and vanilla, with fennel, black pepper and a hint of spice on the finish. Kosher. Palm Bay International. Editors’ Choice.
Covenant Israel 2015 Syrah (Israel); $75, 92 points. This deep garnet colored wine has aromas of strawberry, black cherry and fennel. Opulent tannins offer a rich mouthfeel, providing a backdrop for flavors of black cherry, black currant, mocha, pencil lead and lavender that wrap up in a cranberry finish. Kosher. Chaim LLC. Editors’ Choice.
Golan Heights Winery 2014 Yarden Petit Verdot (Galilee); $37, 92 points. Dark violet in the glass, this wine has aromas of blackberry, black cherry and vanilla. Flavors of black plum, blueberry, vanilla, clove and pipe tobacco are set into a framework of silky tannins that reed into a smooth cherry finish. Kosher. Yarden Wines, Inc. Editors’ Choice.
Psagot 2013 M Series Cabernet Franc (Jerusalem); $36, 92 points. Dark ruby in the glass, this wine offers a bouquet of black cherry, pomegranate and paprika. A web of soft tannins shores up flavors of cherry, cranberry, roasted red pepper and marjoram. Constant bright fruit on the palate marked by touches of fresh and dried bell pepper culminates in a citrus-drenched finish. Royal Wine Corporation. Editors’ Choice.
Galil Mountain 2016 Merlot (Upper Galilee); $17, 90 points. A bouquet of raspberry, strawberry and Mediterranean herbs preps the palate for flavors of blackberry, cassis, vanilla, lavender and black pepper. It is well integrated, with velvety tannins and spicy finish. Yarden Wines.
Dalton 2016 Alma Ivory (Galilee); $19, 88 points. Pale straw to the eye, this wine has aromas of pear and vanilla. It is bright from first sip through the grapefruit finish, while also offering a sense of creaminess on the palate among flavors of green apple and peach, with a touch of vanilla custard. Kosher. Allied Importers, USA, Ltd.
Katlav 2012 Wadi Katlav Red (Judean Hills); $45, 88 points. Raspberry and green bell pepper aromas set the scene for blackberry, cassis, geranium leaf and smoke flavors in this wine. It’s full bodied, with velvety tannins and a savory finish. King David Wines.