Israels Wine Industry
by Daniel Rogov
The Golan Heights Winery: Now in its 16th year of production, this excellent winery releases wines in three major series: "Yarden", "Gamla" and "Golan". The wines in the Yarden series are considered the most prestigious. Regardless of the series, this winery produces some excellent reds and whites. During vintage years (considered exceptional), the winery has released wines in the "Katzrin" series (red Bordeaux style blends in 1990, 1993 and 1996 and Chardonnays in 1995, 1996 and 1997). The most serious and more full-bodied of the reds are the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot. The reds known as "Har Hermon Adom" and "Golan Village" are fruitier and meant to be consumed younger. The most notable whites are the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc, both of which are crisply dry and make for excellent drinking, and the Emerald Riesling which is semi-dry. Also worthy of note are two sparkling wines, "Blanc de Blanc" and "Brut", both of which are made according to the traditional method of making Champagne, and two dessert wines, "Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc" and "Muscat", neither of which need make an apology for their smooth, rich sweetness.
The Carmel-Mizrachi Winery: By far the largest wine producer in the country, currently producing in excess of 13 million bottles annually, and now in their 115th year, Carmel produces three series that will be of interest to sophisticated drinkers. The most prestigious and often best wines of Carmel are those in the "Private Collection" series. Included among these are some high quality Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlot, Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnay and Emerald Rieslings. The less expensive "Selected" series offers wines of the same varietals as well as a red Petit Sirah and whites such as Chenin Blanc and French Colombard. In the "Vineyard" series one finds, among others, Dry Muscat, an especially pleasing crisply dry but remarkably fruity white. The winery also produces a Sparkling Chardonnay, a white Muscat based sweet dessert wine and "Hiluleem" - young, fun and fruity red and white wines that are always among the first wines to appear after the grape harvest.
Segal Wineries: For six generations, this winery was in control of the Segal family. Recently sold, but with several members of the family still involved in the grape growing and wine-making procedures, the winery is currently expanding by planting major vineyards in some of the best areas of the Upper Galilee. The winery now produces wines in three major series: "Ben-Ami", "The Wine of Segal" and a "Mediterranean Series". With the exception of a Cabernet Sauvignon and a dry Riesling, most of the wines of this winery have blends, some of which attain surprising levels of sophistication, but with the new vineyards nearly ready to produce and a new winery in the planning stages, there is reason to expect an increasing number of high quality varietal wines from Segal.
Barkan Wineries: This winery, now the second largest in the country, is increasing its sophistication every year and now produces interesting wines in both the "Barkan" and "Reserved" series. Their semi dry Emerald Riesling is often the best wine of this varietal produced in the country and their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are worth sampling.
Baron Wineries (also known as Tishby Winery): This relatively small but growing and respected winery gives us wines in three series. The top series is "Tishby Reserved", followed by "The Cellar of Tishby" and "Baron". Until recently, the winery has been strongest in white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Emerald Riesling, but lately has been producing Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots of increasing quality and interest. The winery also makes "Brut", a sparkling wine of great charm.
Binyamina Wineries: This winery has undergone a major transformation in recent years. When known as "Eliaz", it produced wines that had little interest to knowledgeable drinkers but now, with changes in both name and image, they have acquired a new winemaker and modern equipment and have begun to buy higher quality grapes. The first wines from the new winery came from the 1994 harvest, and though these were not overly sophisticated, they made a quantum leap in quality above wines of earlier years. Since then, the wines have taken a step forward in quality every year and now compete nicely with other local wines.
Ephrat Winery: For many years, this winery specialized in wines primarily targeted at the orthodox population market. With new equipment now installed and a new winemaker assigned especially to produce a series of dry, high quality varietal wines, the winery is working towards breaking into the expanding wine market.
Dalton Wineries: Truly "the new kid on the block". Now located in a new winery, with grapes coming from several of the very best vineyards in the country, the wines of this 4-year-old family-owned winery are improving from year to year. Producing varietal wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc (including a Sauvignon Fumé), these are wines definitely worth sampling.
In recent years, the country has also seen the growth of boutique wineries - small wineries that produce wines which reflect the personalities of their owners and winemakers. Recently, a great many people who formerly had made wine as a hobby decided that they too should be categorized as "boutique wineries" and have released their wines to the market. The simple truth of the matter is that while four or five of the true boutique wineries are producing wines of great charm, sophistication and interest, others are producing wines that range in quality from the out and out banal to the "sometimes" good, depending not so much on the quality of the harvest but on the talents of those who have chosen to call themselves winemakers.
Following, in alphabetical order is a list all of those small wineries whose wines I have tasted. Those noted with two asterisks (**) are wineries that, despite their size, produce wines that would be taken seriously anywhere in the world; those noted with a single asterisk (*) are wineries I currently consider worth taking seriously; and those without special notation have yet to prove themselves.
Daniel Rogov is the restaurant and wine critic for the daily newspaper Ha'aretz. He is also the senior writer for Wine and Gourmet Magazine and contributes culinary and wine articles to newspapers in Europe and the United States.
Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry and Rogov's Ramblings. Reprinted with permission.