Do you have to bring a holiday gift for this year's Passover seder? Local wine is always the best solution.
In recent months we have tasted dozens of Israeli wines and were surprised every time. Small boutique wineries are already making wines that are sufficiently polished to compete honorably head on with the large ones, and the commercial wineries, for their part, are drawing inspiration from methods used in far smaller wineries.
They are all expanding their range and focusing much less on the traditional Cabernet, Merlot or Chardonnay, looking for varieties that suit much better our region and its warmer climate. Accordingly, the list of recommendations includes far more small wineries than in the past, and we chose wines that offer outstanding value for money. These are our recommendations, all with a two-digit price tag, up to 99 shekels ($27).
Binyamina Winery – Reserve Marselan 2016: We can't help but admire the quiet revolution that has been taking place here in recent years, in which even the winery's basic wines, such as the Moshava series, are of higher quality and make it possible to buy better wine for little money. In the medium-range Reserve series one can already find wonderful wines such as Roussanne, Orange Roussanne, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc along with wonderful rose, Carignan and Shiraz.
Of all the wines we tasted, the Marselan really managed to surprise us. It's made mostly of Marselan grapes, blended with some Syrah from the Mount Gilboa region that aged in barrels for 18 months in barrels. Accessible and befitting of springtime, it also has a dark purple color with dense and juicy fruit and pampers with a flowery nose. 60 shekels.
Teperberg Winery – Inspire Devotage 2017: A large winery that is apparently not sufficiently appreciated by wine lovers, despite the creation of interesting blends at a laughable price, and really wonderful high wines, its image may be eroding because it often stars in supermarket discount offers of four for 100 shekels, but looking for it in the wine stores will reward you with treasures, such as a surprising Barbera and Grenache Noir rose for 40 shekels (an impressive plump bottle is only a bonus).
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Among the reds we particularly admired the blend of Malbec and Marselan grapes from the Ayalon Valley, which produces wine with a concentrated body, rich in red fruits, cheeky and charming. 60 shekels.
Dalton Winery – Petite Sirah 2017: Young, talented winemaker Guy Eshel manages to arouse interest in this commercial winery, even in the medium-bodied Estate series you can already find interesting wines such as Zinfandel and Grenache and whites such as Pinot Gris and Fume Blanc, which give wonderful value for money. The favorite in our round of tastings is Petite Sirah, whose grapes come from Moshav Kidron in the Shfela plain in central Israel, and which ages for a year in American barrels. It's a concentrated and meaty wine, rich and almost buttery; one of the great surprises of our tasting. 65 shekels.
Segal Winery – Wild Ferment Cabernet Sauvignon 2017: It seems that since the wines of legendary winemaker Avi Feldstein we haven't tasted surprises from Segal like the most recent ones. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the Beit Nekofa vineyard near Jerusalem were fermented with wild yeast from the vineyard without the addition of cultured yeast. Later, it matured for a year in French barrels and was bottled after a coarse filtration. It's dark reddish-black, wild, with an earthy content. A surprising and intriguing wine that gives outstanding value for its modest price. 65 shekels.
Ortal Winery – Red 2017: After over a decade at the Dalton Winery, the talented winemaker Naama Sorkin has joined the Ortal Winery, and what wines she makes here! Her Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best ones in Israel, and her Cabernet Franc will delight lovers of the genre. The basic blend we tasted is a modest blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. This is a synergistic, round and fresh wine, which is particularly communicative. It will go well with lunch the day after the holiday, especially if it's served in a garden or on a rooftop. 79 shekels.
Tabor Winery – Sufa 2014: At Tabor they have rebranded and etched their new logo, the barn owl, on the front of the bottles, since it's the star of the ecological vineyard they planted there a few years ago. It respects the surrounding environment and its role is not only to refrain from causing damage, but to enrich its surroundings, with a variety of local flora, small animals and insects, as well. This has led to a significant reduction in spraying pesticides and created a healthy and balanced environment. This is a step led by the winery's agronomist Michal Ackerman, and is highly praiseworthy.
Tabor Sufa is a blend of Petite Sirah from the Ramat Sirin vineyard and Cabernet Sauvignon from Kibbutz Malkiya. This wine is almost black, full, heavy and elegant. At a modest price it provides a wealth of fruit and wood. 79 shekels.
Jezreel Valley Winery – Nahalal 2017: A winery worth knowing, since winemakers Yehuda Nahar and Ari Earle produce typical Mediterranean wines here, which manage to be elegant and intriguing, and especially worthwhile is the bonus: their sane price. Along with a rose and a lovely natural bubbly, they make intriguing reds here. Nahalal is the most interesting of them; we tasted a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. This is a young, punky and enjoyable wine, with a long and seasoned ending. A somewhat different wine that will gladden the hearts of the young and the young at heart. 80 shekels.
Alona Winery – Merlot Marselan 2016: Eli Azulay and Prof. Micha Rebau opened their small winery in 2001 and since then, they have consistently been producing well-made compressed wines at an accessible price. It's worth concentrating on the fine reds, such as the Carignan and Cabernet Franc, an enjoyable Bordelaise blend and other exciting blends. The Merlot Marselan is the most relaxed one in the group. This is a smooth and pleasant wine that will also be a favorite of beginner wine drinkers. It's full of good, clean fruit, balanced and soft, round and very tasty. An intelligent purchase here will yield wines that age well at a bargain price. 80 shekels.
Maia Winery – Mare Red 2017: The Greek initiative of Roy Itzhaki, one of the owners of the Tulip Winery, has led to the creation of Maia Winery, where he teamed up with an experienced winemaker and a vintner from Greece, who join forces with Israeli winemaker David Bar Ilan and produce Israeli wines that keep true to the location and the spirit of the time. Over time the quality of wines from this winery has improved significantly and at present they produce stable wines that are worth getting to know. Carignan Syrah and Mourvedre have created a young, light and refreshing blend, which is pleasant to drink at the many holiday meals, at a picnic in the forest or at the beach. 85 shekels.
Shvo Vineyards – Red 2015: Gaby Sadan is a one-man show. He's the vintner, winemaker and bottler of his small winery, where he makes sure to use natural sustainable agriculture methods; he refrains from irrigation and allows the new wine to ferment naturally. The species that star in the winery yield pleasant wines that you can drink in the summer too, and which don't suffer from a surfeit of alcohol or wood. His rose and his Cheninchik (Chenin Blanc) bring this refreshing trend to a peak. The red is a blend of Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache and Barbera from the Upper Galilee. This is a surprisingly complex wine, which benefits from a context of old wood but is easy to drink, soft and whole. 90 shekels.
Recanati Winery – Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2015: Winemakers Gil Schatzberg and Kobi Arbib manage to refresh the ranks of this established winery. Along with the wines that they produce from the ancient species Marawi and Beituni, they manage to produce pink wines with sex appeal and quality wines in the Single Vineyard series. The 2015 harvest was hot, ripe and not one of the outstanding ones. Still, they managed to produce an elegant and juicy Cabernet, which will go well with beef, mutton and lamb. 95 shekels.
Vitkin Winery – Carignan 2015: Not far from Recanati, winemaker Asaf Paz, who has worked in recent years in large wineries, has returned home. The man, considered the herald of the return of Carignan to center stage and invested in Mediterranean species even before that became a prevailing fashion, is now reaping the fruits.
At Vitkin they make marvelous local wines, even in the sector of the whites and rose. One of the interesting harvests of this Carignan comes from vineyards in the region of Zichron Yaakov and Binyamina. The result is a dark purple wine, compressed and coarse, which after an hour in the glass removes its work clothes and exposes a soft and seasoned heart. Blessed with many layers, it will provide a great deal of interest around the table. 99 shekels.
Flam Winery – Classico 2017: Considered an unpolished gem of the young Flam boutique winery back in 1997, the Classico has only improved and today it provides a lovely showcase for the typical terroir of the Judean Hills. A Bordelaise blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Syrah, which join a bit of Malbec from the region, yield a dark wine with a rich and soft texture that will do a great job of accompanying the main courses of the Passover seder and it also an excellent gift for your hosts. 99 shekels.
Tishbi Winery – Estate Syrah 2011 Single Vineyard: Golan Tishbi, the winemaker and owner of the winery, has enough self-confidence to fill up one-liter glass bottles with Cabernet and Syrah for passersby for only 20 shekels, and is one of the heralds of the local drinking culture. It's actually his high wines that are more interesting, and mainly a less routine expression of the Malbec, Petite Sirah and even Pinot Noir varieties from which they were produced.
To our taste, the Syrah is the most rewarding. Spoiled and flattering, it matured for a year in American wood barrels and the result is a dark purple wine, with abundant flavors of plums and toffee, and a meaty texture that starts out bombastic but softens slowly. Open an hour before the meal. 99 shekels.