A quick glance at the comments that appear after any internet article about wine is enough to show that what most interests the average Israeli consumer is price. The most commonly found comment – by a very wide margin – always comes from an Israeli tourist who on his trip to Europe enjoyed a superb wine for just 2.99 euros (The wine in these stories is always “superb,” even if it was actually a generic wine from a drab factory that produces a half-billion bottles a year), and forever after feels cheated whenever he goes into a local wine shop.
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It’s true that, as with so many other products, Israel also tends to be more expensive than other countries when it comes to wine – whether locally produced or imported. Nonetheless, as the market for imported wines has grown in recent years and local producers have come to appreciate the demand for affordably priced and still very drinkable wines, there are certainly bargains to be found here. Granted, this is still somewhat relative, with the kind of wine that would sell in Europe for 3-10 euros costing from 6-17 euros (30-70 shekels) here.
With more and more countries getting into the winemaking business, the world is being flooded with relatively low-priced wines. Confronting the vast selection now found in Israeli shops, many people use price as the chief criterion for choosing a wine and “three for 100” deals have become very popular.
But in this packed market segment there are some wonderful wines, some mediocre ones and others that are best left on the shelf. When does such a wine become wonderful? The minute it sheds its purely functional role as a “cheap wine” and becomes a wine you want to buy first of all because of its taste and the real enhancement it offers. In this case, the attractive price becomes a bonus.
After careful research, I hereby present eight white wines that are good buys in every sense: Their price does not exceed 70 shekels, and they offer a good, interesting drinking experience. (Since in Israel, nearly all the wines in this price range are produced by just five or six large wineries, the focus in this column is on imported wines. Later we will also talk about Israeli wines. The stated prices are what the wines sold for in the shops last month.)
2015 Finca Las Moras Chardonnay
A Chardonnay from the San Juan wine region in Argentina, north of the better known Mendoza region. Here you’ll find ripe white fruit flavors like apple and pineapple, and just the right amount of wooden barrel-aging to add volume and enrich the texture, and most of all – balance and freshness, even though it comes from a wine region with a hot climate. It’s hard to think of a better Chardonnay at this price (35 shekels).
2016 Ramat Negev Neve Midbar
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough small local wineries that produce wines selling for less than 70 shekels. This wine from Ramat Negev Kadesh Barnea, on the Egyptian border, composed of Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc grapes that were not matured in barrels, is one such wine; it tells a totally different story than the Argentine wine above. It has a pale, translucent color and a tropical, aromatic nose that benefits from the tinge of green lent by the Sauvignon Blanc. On the palate it is dry, lightweight and fresh, with a tartness that lends crispness and welcome balance. Chill well and wait to enjoy it in the summer (65 shekels).
2014 Joseph Drouhin Bourgogne Aligote
Bourgogne, the wine region whose products are most in demand around the world these days, is the unrivaled kingdom of the Chardonnay variety. Due to the growing demand, the price of these wines from the Cote de Beaune area (the sub-region where most of the Bourgogne white wines are produced) has soared, thus paving the way for the rise of the Aligote wines, made from the lesser white grape variety of this region. These wines are one of the major hits in the wine world. The aligote by Joseph Drouhin, a top Bourgogne winemaker, brings to the fore the virtues of this region with fruit that is cool, clear and fresh. It has a yellow-green color and a marvelous tartness that goes perfectly with the wine’s soft, delicate texture. A poor man’s Bourgogne, but how nice it is to be poor like this (69 shekels).
2015 Albert Bichot Bourgogne Aligote
Another lovely and extremely worthwhile aligote from Albert Bichot. Strongly Chardonnay in character, with flavorful, mineral-rich fruit and a long and focused finish (65 shekels).
2015 Henri Bourgeois Petit Bourgeois
Henri Bourgeois is a fine, established winemaker who works in the Sancerre in France’s Loire Valley. This particular Sauvignon Blanc may be at the bottom of his portfolio, but it is clearly a high-level wine that combines the classic regional character with New Zealand influences, like the whiff of guava amid the wine’s light grassiness. On the palate it is harmonious, intensive and balanced, and would make a fantastic accompaniment to a light mid-week dinner (55 shekels).
2015 Santo Wines Assyrtiko
The Assyrtiko wines from Santorini have drawn the attention of wine lovers to Greece, and this wine by the Santo cooperative offers a good opportunity to see why: There is a perfect balance between the wine’s juicy tartness and its fullness and structure. This wine is a real bargain – a chance to try a high-quality Assyrtiko at a very attractive price (59 shekels).
2015 La Vieille Ferme Cote de Luberon Blanc
La Vieille Ferme is the low-cost label of the Perrin family, owners of the Chateau de Beaucastel estate in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. These are people who know how to make wine, so that even a wine that’s known as the “work horse” of the family output is well worth getting to know. White granache, Vermentino and Viognier make up the blend, which while not showing any special regional distinction, still has a clean, refreshing taste, with a light-to-medium body and a citrusy crispness. A leading candidate for the type of wine one imagines sipping on a balcony or on a picnic (55 shekels).
2014 Luis Louro Branco Alento Adega Do Monte Branco
Portugal is still a place where one can find good wines at laughable prices, and Luis Loro’s alento is another one of those wines that you end up polishing off before you know it. An unsophisticated wine that’s a local blend of Arinto, Antao Vaz and Roupeiro, with a low alcohol content (12.5 percent), an intensive, palate-cleansing tartness, and fine fruit flavors. A terrific wine that will go nicely with a salad and omelette, but also as an opener for a more elaborate dinner (65 shekels).