It’s official, we’re going to Israel next month at Spring break!
Over those two weeks, we’ll spend a lot of time with hubby’s uncle, nephew and cousins in Tel Aviv, but we plan to see a lot more. I plan to visit Israeli wineries to see some of the oldest winemaking sites on earth.
Israeli wine culture is biblical in fame, going back to a time when wine was allegedly made from water. After getting some great reviews in both Old and New Testaments, the region’s viniculture died out in the 7th century during the expansion of the Muslim empire.
The Israeli wine industry bounced back in the late 19th century thanks to Baron Edmond James de Rothschild of the Bordeaux estate Château Lafite-Rothschild. He brought in classic Bordeaux varieties like cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and founded Carmel Winery, which remains the largest producer in Israel.
During most of the 20th century, kosher wines were Israel’s major wine product, most of which was sweet and low-quality. But, like many emerging wine regions around the world, Israel’s wines made a leap in quality in the late 1980s, thanks to an influx of technology and talent. As a result, kosher wine is not what it used to be.
Today, the dominant varieties are cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot and sauvignon blanc, with cabernet franc, gewürztraminer, muscat canelli, riesling and syrah catching up fast.
The grape-growing terroir in Israel ranges from mountains to plains to deserts, and it spans five major vinicultural regions.
The pastoral Galilee region includes Upper and Lower Galilee and Golan Heights. It is here the modern wine revolution began in the 1970s. Golan Heights is the highest elevation at 1,200 meters above Sea of Galilee level, and its cool climate and basalt soils creates wines with good structure and longevity.
The oldest winery in that region is Golan Heights Winery, built in 1983 to process grapes from vineyards planted in the late 1970s. The winery won the Wine Enthusiast’s 2012 New World Winery of the Year, and their flagship label, Yarden, won the 2011 Gran Vinitaly award.
In ancient times, the Judean Hills was a hotbed of winemaking, but the area has only been in action since the early 1990s when Ben Zacken established Domaine du Castel and began making excellent red blends and white Burgundies.
Another upstart is Clos de Gat, making wines with big body and assertive flavours.
The coastal Samson (yes, that Samson) region is home to Israel’s oldest winery, Rishon Le Zion – whose vineyards were first planted by Baron Rothschild.
In the southernmost Negev region, vines thrive in the mountainous desert climate along what was once a wine and spice route to the far east, and is now known as The Wine Route. Yatir Winery is situated on the edge of the Yatir Forest which borders the Judean Hills. Other major Negev players include Midbar and Kadesh Barnea Winery who produce concentrated and bold red wines.
Israeli Wines feature historical notes
When it comes to a winemaking heritage, few places on earth can top Israel. Their vinicultural techniques are innovative and their winemaking is state of the art. Plus, each bottle contains a little taste of history.
I can’t wait!
Have you traveled Israel’s wine route? What did you like the most? Please leave your recommendations in the comments below!