It may be the quality red wines which receive all the plaudits. These are arguably the wines that Israel makes best and the critics love to write about them. Thankfully white wines are making something of a comeback. Wine lovers are realizing they are more versatile with food and are more rewarding in our climate. We are making some very good white wines these days. However, people often forget that Israel is also getting a name for producing wonderful dessert wines.
Unfortunately most Israelis are damaged by a lifelong association with Kiddush wine for Friday Nights, Festivals and Seders. So they associate sweet wine with simply the worst wine, often tasting like sugared water and with religious ritual. Therefore the very word ‘sweet’ has connotations of a cheap and nasty. It is something which is to be avoided, at all costs.
What they forget is that some of the world’s most sought after and expensive wines are sweet, pudding wines. An Eiswein or Trockenbeerenauslese from Germany, Icewine from Canada, Sauternes from Bordeaux or Tokay from Hungary are sweet, are some of the most sublime wines you can taste. There is a world of difference between a dessert wine and a Kiddush wine.
Dessert wines are made in a number of ways. Either by using late harvested overripe grapes, by allowing what is called noble rot, freezing the grapes, or drying them on mats as was done in ancient times. Likewise fortified wines like Port or Sherry were made by adding alcohol either during or after fermentation.
What a tragedy if a wine lover never experiences them, just because they associate the word sweet with Manischevitz, Kedem, Palwin, King David and Konditon!
At Rosh Hashanah we eat sweet dishes in the hope for a sweet year and therefore a sweet wine, or dessert wine, is most appropriate. A dessert wine should be served ice cold, even from the freezer (but be sure not to forget it). A regular white wine glass is perfect, just pour in less wine. Avoid the mini liqueur glasses, sherry schooners or mini flute glasses that are so often offered by restaurants in Israel. They will do nothing, apart from contriving to ensure that your precious dessert wine does not show itself at its best.
Remember dessert wines normally come in smaller format bottles, in sizes of half bottles (375 ml) or half liter (500 ml.) They are normally well priced and people tend to drink less because they are sweet. They are wine to sip and savor rather than to quaff.
Your dessert wine will be perfect for the Kiddush. It will then be suitable to accompany the sweet dishes served including the sweet Challah dipped in honey, the traditional apple and honey, dates and sweet carrot dishes which begin the festive meal. They will even go well with the Gefilte Fish, matching the sweetness and yet toning down the heat of the horseradish. Funnily enough, those gourmet kings known as the French, often even start off a meal with an ice cold Sauternes as the aperitif. So that is my recommendation for Rosh Hashanah. Drink sweet!
Let me offer two sweet wines for your consideration. The YARDEN HEIGHTSWINE is arguably the finest, and definitely the most awarded, dessert wine in Israel. It is made from Gewurztraminer from the cooler climate Golan Heights vineyards. It is delicious, and surprisingly fresh because its acidity is high though masked by the sweetness, and it represents one of Israel’s finest wines.
The next wine is at the other end of the spectrum. The PRIVATE COLLECTION MOSCATO in a blue bottle, is playful, fun and unpretentious. Sweet, frizzante, low alcohol, it is a great choice because even those who hate wine will like it. As for the wine snob, it is a wine that will make them smile. In fact, any dessert wine between the HeightsWine and the most basic Moscato will do.
However, you also need wines with the meal. Here are some suggestions.
BARKAN BETA MARAWI 2017 Marawi is an indigenous single vineyard Holy Land variety grown in Bar Giora. The wine is the best Marawi to date, fruity, with nice mouth feel and a good finish. The Beta label is a boutique wine label made by Barkan’s new winemaker. Only sold in restaurants, it represents the new Barkan potential for innovation and quality. Interesting label, fascinating wine….the Beta Colombard is also excellent.
TABOR HAR CHARDONNAY 2017 Tabor Winery is the 5th largest winery in Israel and its wines offer excellent value for money at every price point. Their whites are always in the top drawer. This Chardonnay is well-made in the modern style. Unoaked, it has tropical fruit, is refreshing and perfect with food. NIS 38
MONTEFIORE WHITE 2017 I could not write about this winery previously. Now my family is no longer involved, I am happy to give credit to one of the most easy-drinking aperitif or first course wines. It is made from Colombard, Chardonnay with a little Semillon. It is crisp, fragrant and great value. NIS 70
YARDEN GEWURZTRAMINER 2017 The Golan Heights Winery was the pioneer of Gewurztraminer in Israel. This off dry wine is arguably one of the best Gewurz’s on the market. Spicy, aromatic, but tight with a refreshing finish. There is sweetness but not too much. NIS 75
TEPERBERG ESSENCE ROSE 2017\n\n\tA pale rose, very fruity and well balanced. Made from Grenache and Barbera grapes. It is the taste of the Mediterranean. This will go with anything. An any time, any food wine. NIS 75
BINYAMINA HA’MOSHAVA SHIRAZ 2017\n\n\tGreat value wine with good Shiraz nose. It is fruity, quite light with a clean finish. Good BBQ, pizza or pasta wine. Binyamina Winery’s less expensive wines represent good QPR. NIS 29
HAYOTZER BERESHIT CABERNET SAUVIGNON\n\n\tLight, fruity, full of flavor and good acidity. This is a wine to drink not taste. Hayotzer Winery is the new quality arm of Arza Winery. Their wines are good and all represent excellent value. The winery is owned by the Shor family who have continually made wine since 1847-8. NIS 40
AMPHORAE MED RED 2015 This is a Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Quite bold with the oak. A mouthful of wine, but very drinkable! Amphorae is one of Israel’s most beautiful wineries. Its wines are going through a metamorphosis under new ownership, new management and new winemaker. Watch this space….worth looking out for them in the future. NIS 75
RECANATI BITTUNI 2017 I can safely say this is the only Bittuni in the world. It is a Holy Land variety, grown by a Palestinian grower, made by an Israeli winemaker. Its style is really worthy of a wine half its price, but its uniqueness and rarity make it a fascinating buy. The wine has an attractive red fruit aroma with cherry berry fruit to the fore. It also has a kind of pomegranate, cranberry acidity which makes it a fine quaffing wine. I liked it very much. NIS 100
JERUSALEM WINDMILL MERLOT 2016 Jerusalem Vineyard Winery have opened an innovative tasting room in the historic setting of the Montefiore Windmill in Mishkenot Sha’ananim – Yemin Moshe. Winemker Sam Sorka has made handcrafted boutique wines to be sold there. Best is the Windmill Merlot. It has great depth, good complexity and long finish. NIS 120
PSAGOT PEAK 2016 A blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre. The wine is complex, chewy with a smoked meat character. One of the best Mediterranean blends in Israel. Psagot wines are really delivering under talented new winemaker, Yaacov Oryah. NIS 150
TULIP RESERVE SYRAH 2016\n\n\tTulip’s Syrah is traditionally one of the best in the country. This new edition is no different. Deep colored with aromas of black fruit and cherries, with spice, a hint of leather and burnt coffee and a long absorbing finish. Made by Tulip Winery in the Village of Hope which cares for adults with special needs. NIS 120
1848 WINE 7th GENERATION CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2013 This a deep, powerful, oaky expression of a New World style Cabernet Sauvignon. It is actually well made, but only those who like full bodied wines with high alcohol should go for it. 1848 Winery has made impressive winery investments in the search for quality. Another branch of Shor Family, our oldest winemaking family in Israel. NIS 119
TURA MOUNTAIN PEAK 2015 Tura is a winery with fast improving wines. This wine is a Bordeaux style blend made from 850 meter vineyards in the Central Mountains. Deep, fruity and complex. The wine has ‘Wine from the land of Israel’ on its front label and carries the Hebrew year 5775. NIS 219
CASTEL GRAND VIN 2016 The classic Bordeaux style Israeli wine. It has a beautiful nose of blackcurrant, blackberry with hints of tobacco, cigar box with soft tannins and prominent but well-integrated oak flavors. It has a full, mouth filling flavor, is very complex and it has a long lingering finish. One of Castel’s best ever. NIS 214
BAZELET HAGOLAN CABERNET SAUVIGNON 188 2015 Deep colored, rich wine with ripe sweet berry fruit and aromatic oak flavors. Up front and full bodied. It is a limited-edition wine from the Tel Phares vineyard on the Golan, made in memory of the heroic 188 Tank Division from the Yom Kippur War. It is a Cabernet Sauvignon in a Burgundy bottle, with a screw cap which has the Magen David on it. Different, but certainly patriotic and a good cause! NIS 240
Wishing you a Shana Tova Metuka – A Happy & Sweet New year!
Adam Montefiore has been advancing Israeli wine for more than thirty years and is referred to as the ambassador of Israeli wine. He is the wine writer for the Jerusalem Post. www.adammontefiore.com