Forget Bubbly: The Best Israeli Wines for the Jewish New Year

Jews like to enjoy wine in good times, of which there have been few recently. But as wine sales in Israel slump and prices fall, excellent wines are available at good prices to help you bring in the Jewish New Year and, hopefully, better times ahead.


“Thank god for the Jewish calendar. At least people feel they have to buy wine twice a year,” groaned a senior executive of one of Israel’s larger wineries this week. Like his colleagues, he was trying to put on a brave face while recommending new wines for the new year. No one has posted official figures yet, but the summer months were bad ones for the local wine industry. As politicians and pundits were prophesying economic gloom and military destruction, Israelis may have been seeking solace in a bottle but it was usually arak or vodka. Some of us have become more sophisticated drinkers over the years but Jews still associate wine with good times. Depressed or worried, we head for the harder stuff (or abstain altogether).

A slump in sales couldn't have come at a worse time for Israeli wineries, which over the last five years have planted 30 percent more hectares of vineyards, invested in improved facilities and in some cases, spent more time aging their wines before rushing them off to market. The industry is in for a rough time but, for now at least, the wineries’ gloom is our gain, with an ever-growing number of Israeli wines offering value for money in almost every price bracket (though there is still an equal number of breathtaking rip-offs) which makes selecting a list of festive recommendations a relatively easy task. 

Ayal Keren, Hagit Goren, Gabriel Baharalia

(Some of the wines are still being shipped abroad. U.S. prices are based on last year's. All wines are kosher.)



1. Dalton, Alma, Chardonnay-Viognier 2011
A sophisticated and surprisingly soberly-priced white. With the clean aroma of cut grass and flavors of green apples, grapefruit and a long peaceful aftertaste. This great blend of two dominant grapes creates a wine with presence that can hold its own with most dishes. NIS65 / $20

2. Carmel, Single Vineyard, Kayoumi, Riesling 2011
One of the best Rieslings produced in Israel to date succeeds, almost, in helping us forget the sweet travesties that were made here in the 1970s and 1980s. The "off-dry" label covers a crisp wine that retains the grape's natural sweetness. An interesting option for a dessert wine. NIS75 / $23

3. Ella Valley, Sauvignon Blanc 2011
A refreshing citrusy, mineral-laden and perfectly balanced white. Goes well with light dishes and perfect for cooling off on a late-summer's evening. NIS79 / $22

4. Yatir, Viognier 2010
A classic Israeli summer wine with a perfumed bouquet, flavors of mango, peaches and apricots and a chewy consistency. A well-balanced white that can also handle complex dishes but is better for drinking on its own as an aperitif or digestif or even for festive toasts if you’re not in the mood for a heavy red. NIS80 / $32

5. Bravdo, Chardonnay 2011
A lot of Chardonnay is being produced now in Israel, most of it rather inferior. Bravdo's succeeds in not falling into a cream bath or scraping on cliffs of chalk. It has a delightful crispness and flavors of pineapple and strawberry with a buttery flourish on the aftertaste. NIS90 / $29


1. Binyamina, Yogev, Malbec-Carignan 2011
A floral rosé with a freshness that manages to be sweet without slipping into a sticky hole; a successful combination of terroirs with grapes from the Goland Heights and the Lachish Plain. A fitting opening wine for all guests at the festive table as long as it’s served very cold. NIS50 / $12


1. Segal, Marom Galil, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Judged on price alone, this is a "supermarket wine," (at least by its local price) but in reality, it surpasses some Israeli reds with double the price. An uncomplicated wine with all the requisite aromas and flavors of a good Cabernet: dark chocolate, tobacco, mint, and black fruits in sufficient quantities. NIS50 or three for NIS100 / $19

2. Galilee Mountain, Alon 2010
Another wine that is surprisingly good for its price, confirming Galilee's good name for providing value for money. A classic blend of four noble varieties produces a very friendly and supple wine with aromas of white pepper and loads of fruit. Accessible but not without depth. NIS65 / $21

3. Tabor, Adama, Cabernet Sauvignon-Mourvedre 2009
The south European grape is a recent immigrant to Israel and has been well integrated in this interesting blend. It lends sparkle to the deep purple and adds depth and grassiness to the Cabernet's aromas of spice and tobacco. A wine with some complexity and a pleasantly calm aftertaste. NIS75 / $18

4. Golan Heights, Yarden, Syrah 2009
Call it Syrah like the French or Shiraz as they do Down Under, this grape has become a staple of the local wine industry, with hundreds of versions at every price level, many of them satisfactory. Golan's latest high-end Syrah comes with a heady gasoline aroma and deep flavors of violets and oriental spice. Not yet reaching its full potential, it should be even better in a couple of years. NIS105 / $30

5. Ella Valley, Cabernet Franc 2009
A number of local wineries are working wonders with this grape that until recently was used only for blending. Ella's Cabernet Franc is a muscular wine, with a deep alcoholic aroma and flavors of green pepper. It should be allowed to breathe for at least an hour before a substantial meal, preferably in a decanter. NIS115 / $28

6. Bazelet Hagolan, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
The perfect wine for fruit-bomb lovers, chock full of blackberries, red currants and milk chocolate flavors. Bazelet is one of the smaller wineries on the Golan Heights but its reds are worthy rivals of its larger and better-known neighbors. NIS140 / $40

A wine for next year

Golan Heights, Yarden, Katzrin 2008
It isn't easy to justify purchasing a single bottle of wine for the price of six totally reasonable ones – and at a time like this, it's borderline-morbid. But I can't ignore the new Katzrin, just out. Unlike some of the previous Katzrins, Golan's flagship label, this one (a farewell from the incredible 2008 vintage), warrants its PR hoopla. Aside from the price, there are other reasons to waver before pulling out your credit card: This ultra-complex wine with its layers of aroma and flavor (rosemary, tarragon, anis, honeydew melon, Belgian chocolate, cigar smoke – just a very partial list) is still far from realizing its full potential. If you have already decided to part with your money, resist the temptation, lay it down in a dark place and wait for next Rosh Hashana, in the hope that we will have a better year to celebrate. NIS350 / $120