The grape harvest season has come to the vineyards of the Judean Hills, with dozens of boutique wineries debuting new vintages. In sync with Rosh Hashanna, which is second only to Passover in annual Israeli wine purchasing spikes, autumn in Jerusalem and its environs is an oenophile’s paradise.
Within the city itself, you can belly up to wine bars, enjoy lovely meals at top restaurants with stocked cellars, or buy your own seasonal discovery at a niche wine shop. Within modest driving range, an array of wineries in the Judean Hills, the Valley of Elah and Gush Etzion offer tours, tastings and other special events. The Ein Yael nature reserve is hosting a regional tasting, to benefit the Yachad Nitamtzem charity, this Sukkot. But the pinnacle of the season is the annual Judean Hills wine festival, which this year will be uncorked on November 3.
Wine tastings and wine appreciation events for night owls, wine novices and oenophiles alike are de rigeur at Mia Bar, located Jerusalem’s city center. Replete with multiple sommeliers, the Winery, a kosher wine bar ensconced in the Mamilla Hotel, offers an enormous array of wines, a knowledgeable staff and events ranging from straight-up wine tastings to multiple courses of food-wine pairings. On Monday, September 26, the Winery will host a tasting featuring wines from the Carmel vineyards, which produce such labels as Carmel Single Vineyard and Appellation, together with lectures and cheeses.
Top-flight Jerusalem restaurants with extensive and excellent wine lists include Modern, at the Israel Museum, and Scala, at the David Citadel Hotel. Both restaurants host occasional wine tastings, featuring some of the top-rated Israeli vintners, the former claiming to have the most extensive selection of kosher bottles available in the world.
Avi Ben, the proprietor of the eponymous wine shop in Nachalat Shiva, has years of experience bringing the finest wines to Jerusalem and considers himself a taste-maker, having been in the industry since long before the current trendy interest in specialty wines. Ben also sees Jerusalem's attributes as key to the wine experience. "Here in Jerusalem, we have cool breezes and an appealing atmosphere in which to drink," he recently told GoJerusalem.com.
Other top wine-buying destinations include the branches of Shahar Drink House, with locations in Beit Hakerem and on Emek Refaim Street. Ben and Shmulik Cohen, the man behind Shahar’s, are the co-founders of the annual Israel Wine Festival, which celebrated its ninth year in the summer of 2011. Both shops have occasional tastings; employees are well versed in local vintages and are more than happy to share their opinions.
If you’re ready for grape adventures in the Jerusalem outskirts, head to some nearby wineries. "I think some of the merlots currently being grown in the Jerusalem hills are exquisite," Yiftach Lustit, the chief sommelier at Mamilla's Winery, told GoJerusalem.com, "and far better in my eyes than the ones coming from the North."
Gush Etzion, south of the city, and the Judean Hills, fanning out in the other directions, are dotted with small vineyards, where small crews — often keeping it in the family — create highly-rated wines. Our picks of the area wineries most anticipated at the recent Israel Wine Festival can jump start your palate and expand your horizons. Take in the cooler weather and some stellar views along the way.
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