Top Israeli Wine Misconceptions Debunked

Rosenfeld Winery in Nataf, Israel / Getty

Although the Middle East is the historic birthplace of wine, there’s still much confusion about offerings from Israel. To help clear the air about Israeli wine, dispel common myths and maybe convince readers to try a glass, we’ve answered your most asked questions about wines from Israel.

Is Israeli wine any good?

Of course it’s good! Wine from Israel can be just as tasty as wine from any other region in the world. Israel has a temperate, Mediterranean climate, a variety of soil types, hot sunny days, cool nights and a thriving wine industry. Israel’s modern winemaking sector really took off in the 1970s. That means the country has a wealth of young, engaged winemakers with an eye toward the future, rather than confined by Old World rules and traditions.

Although winemaking in Israel stretches back thousands of years, as evidenced by many references to wine in the Torah and Old Testament, that tradition was lost under hundreds of years of Islamic rule.

The luminary that revived Israel’s wine industry? Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of famed Château Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux, who is heralded as the father of modern winemaking in Israel.

In 1882, when Jewish settlers in Ottoman Palestine requested agricultural assistance from Rothschild, he sent experts to determine the suitability of the climate and soil. He then provided cuttings from his French vineyards, which were replanted in a small settlement near the coast. Within 10 years, the winery at Rishon LeZion had its first harvest.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that kosher wine is made exactly the same as other wine. Certifying wine as kosher has no effect on its taste.

There are approximately 300 wineries in Israel currently. They range from very small operations that produce a few hundred bottles of wine per year, to large wineries making more than five million bottles. The four largest producers—Barkan, Carmel Winery, Teperberg Winery and Golan Heights Winery—make more than 20 million bottles combined each year.

Other wineries, including Recanati, Binyamina and Tabor, each produce around one million bottles per year. A number of relatively small wineries provide balance, many with an output of around 20,000 to 30,000 bottles annually.

Israel produces 40–45 million bottles of wine per year. Most Israeli wine is consumed within the country, as just 20% is exported each year. The United States is the largest export market for Israeli wine.

Gush Etzion Winery / Getty
Gush Etzion Winery / Photo by Israel Preker, wines-israel.com

What types of wine are made in Israel?

Israel produces wine from all the major varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. There are many red blends made here as well.

Two crossed grapes have notably gained popularity in Israel: Marselan, first created in France, and Argaman, a grape with local origins that’s a cross between Souzão and Carignan. There are also two ancient indigenous grapes that have been discovered, white Marawi and red Bituni.

There are five main wine regions of Israel: Galilee, Shomron, Samson, Judean Hills and Negev.

According to kosher regulations, animal-based additives may not be added to the wine. So although it might not say so on the label, kosher wine is also vegan.

Galilee, in the north of Israel, is considered by experts to be the country’s finest growing region. The area is noted for its relatively high elevation and is divided into three subregions: Upper Galilee, Lower Galilee and Golan Heights.

Shomron, just to the south, is the region first planted by Edmond de Rothschild in 1882. Named for the biblical figure, Samson is located on the coastal plain southeast of Tel Aviv. Judean Hills, the area closest to Jerusalem, benefits from high-altitude vineyards. Negev, a large desert region in the south of the country, has two small areas planted with vines.

Rosh Hashanah celebrations / Getty
Rosh Hashanah celebrations / Getty

Are all Israeli wines kosher?

Not all of them, but most Israeli wine produced is kosher. A number of small wineries make non-kosher wine, but most have limited production making the majority of Israel’s wine kosher.

How is kosher wine made, and what makes it different, you’re wondering?

Kosher wine is produced the same way all other wine is made. The only difference is that from the time grapes enter the winery until bottling, grapes and wine can only be handled by a Sabbath-observant (or Orthodox) Jew. A non-Jewish or non-practicing Jewish winemaker can be involved in the process, but they may not handle the wine in barrel or tank.

Cabernet Sauvignon and red blends from Israel will age and develop in bottle as long as they’re well-made and stored properly in a cool, dark place.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that kosher wine is made exactly the same as other wine. Certifying wine as kosher has no effect on its taste.

Although it might not say so on the label, kosher wine is also vegan. According to kosher regulations, animal-based additives may not be added to the wine. Therefore, all kosher wine is automatically vegan.

Toasting sunset in Tel Aviv / Getty
Toasting sunset in Tel Aviv / Getty

Can Israeli wine age well?

Yes, Israeli wine can age. Two of the qualities that determine whether any wine will age are tannic structure and acidity. Cabernet Sauvignon and red blends from Israel will age and develop in bottle as long as they’re well-made and stored properly in a cool, dark place.

Published on March 14, 2019
Topics: Wine Basics
About the Author
Mike DeSimone
Lifestyle & Entertaining Editor

Reviews Israel, other Asia and other Africa.

DeSimone is a spirits, wine, food and lifestyle writer who has traveled extensively in his journalistic pursuits. Most recently he co-authored the book Wines of the Southern Hemisphere (Sterling Epicure, October 2012). Email: mikeandjeff@wineenthusiast.net



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