What better way to experience Israel than tasting the land itself? These top 10 wines let you do just that – savor the land through its terroir, with a stunning burst of Israeli flavor.
These are not your average supermarket wines. These wines offer distinction and interest that set them apart from the long aisles of average bottles.
While most of these wines can be found abroad, albeit perhaps with some difficulty, they are all easily found at Israeli wine stores. You can also try them on site at the wineries - each of the wineries offers tours and tastes.
These 10 superb wines are made from grapes originating from around Israel, from the northern hills to its southern forest, and include varietals and blends. While there are no super-cheap wines here, none are offensively exorbitant: We've kept the range from $19 to $85.
1. Golan Heights Syrah from the Tel Phares vineyard. Prepare to be surprised. This elegant varietal Syrah has none of the bristly edges we've come to expect in a new world Syrah. Instead, it is a lavishly full-bodied, deeply fruity wine with notes of red stone fruit and a long, pleasing bitter finish evocative of wild herbs instead and measured tannins. NIS 137, $55. Kosher.
2. Pelter Pinot Noir. Tal Pelter's wines are always idiosyncratic and very refined. This Pinot Noir, another varietal, is exquisitely balanced, offering a beautiful, silky body that is irresistible, with notes of dark fruit and a hint of oak. NIS 160 in Israel and, abroad, $61 if you can find it. Not kosher.
3. Shvo Rosé. In 2010, Haaretz's late, great wine reviewer David Rogov wrote that Gaby Sadan's Shvo rosé, then made of 100% Barbera grapes, was "certainly one of the best rosé wines I have ever tasted and comfortably earns its score of 91," catapulting the new winery to worldwide fame. Four years later, the 2013 vintage, now made with 5% Grenache grapes, has sustained that level of greatness. It is a beautiful plum-colored wine with balanced acidity and the evocation of candy sweetness. Only 3,000 liters of this wine were made. NIS 90, $26 if you can find it abroad. Not kosher.
4. Margalit Enigma. This Enigma comes wrapped in an inky dark bottle containing an alluring, rewarding blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It is a particularly pleasing wine. Margalit is one of Israel's premiere boutique wineries, and this stalwart is wonderfully velvety and redolent of dark cherries and blackberries, with measured flavors of oak and delicate hints of wild dried herbs. NIS 250, $75. Not kosher.
5. Domaine du Castel Grand Vin. It is fair to say that Eli Ben-Zaken's powerful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec is an Israeli classic. It was famously praised by Serena Sutcliffe, Sotheby's head of international wine, 1992. The Grand Vin has the depth you always hope to find in great Cabernet blends. Aged for almost two years in oak, it is cedary with concentrated fruitiness, plum, cassis, and the intimation of warm spices. NIS 250, $75. Kosher.
6. Clos de Gat Chanson White. Chanson is a remarkable wine, blending three old, traditional grapes in equal measure to make an entirely new, refreshing, surprisingly robust wine. Here, Chardonnay, Semillion and Viognier grapes produce an aromatic, citrusy white, perfectly balanced by guava and a trace of white raisin. NIS 105, $24. Not kosher.
7. Tzora Misty Hills. This deep red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes selected from premiere Judean Hills vineyards. Here, a bright flash of red fruit is balanced by unusual, attractive minerality to form a medium-bodied, velvety, very fine wine studded with sparks of pepper typical of the area. 210 shekels, $60. Kosher.
8. Seahorse Take Two. The Seahorse winery is a garagiste operation with barely a website to its name, but it is one of the better places to get to know the Judean Hills' terroir. Zeev Dunie, a filmmaker turned winemaker, has pioneered coaxing authentic Mediterranean flavors from unusual grapes. Take Two, for example, is an assertive blend of Zinfandel, Primitive, Carignan and Petite Sirah grapes that create a concentrated, boisterous wine characterized by cassis and dark cherry fruit, tempered by the flavors and aromas of the wild brush of the region: sage, rosemary and hyssop. NIS 75, $19 but very difficult to find abroad. Not kosher.
9. Bravdo Coupage. Another commanding red blend, the Bravdo Coupage stands out because its principal grape is Cabernet Franc, to which Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are added. This is an intense, well-structured wine that wows with concentrated wild currants, black cherries and plum, and glides into a long, soft finish that brings licorice to mind. NIS 136, $32. Kosher.
10. Yatir Viognier. This is a pure varietal wine that is nonetheless blended from Viognier grapes picked at two distinct Tel Arad vineyards, before being aged in chilled steel tanks. The best Viogniers are known for the vigorous combination of ripe apricot flavors with a strong, metallic backbone, and this is one of the best. It opens with enthralling aromas of white peaches, nectarines and jasmine, and ends with a touch of bitter grapefruit peel. NIS 80, $20. Kosher.
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