Adam S. Montefiore


The quality & variety of Israel’s wines remains one of its best-kept secrets.

Many of Israel’s wines more than match up to the best international standards and the finest are undoubtedly world class. I am not alone in being complimentary! Israeli wineries are winning trophies and gold medals in some of the world’s major wine tasting competitions and receiving high scores from some of the world’s most famous wine critics.
Two of the world’s most famous wine critics have also noticed the changes.  Hugh Johnson, the world’s most famous wine writer, wrote : “Recently with plantings of classic varieties in high altitude regions, a wine revolution took root. Continued investment in modern technology & international trained winemakers, have had dramatic effects.” Robert Parker, the world’s most famous wine critic wrote about Israeli wines: “The wines…..are getting better all the time and some of them are superb”.

Israel already has a worldwide reputation for its agriculture and technology, which really come together in its vineyard management. It will take a great deal of work and many more blind tastings for Israel to receive a similar image for its wines, but when it does it will be richly deserved. The passion and expertise of the growers and winemakers, and the ambitions and investments of winery owners have together managed to develop a quality wine industry in a way inconceivable even only 20 years ago.

As one of the very first countries to make wine, Israel has an ancient winemaking history and evidence of this is found in its archaeology, religious practices and literature. The importance of wine and land of Israel, has accompanied the people of Israel since the time of Noah. Wine is like a thread which connects the dawn of the Jewish people with modern Israel.

In modern times, Israeli wine has gone through four wine revolutions. The first was the founding of a new Israeli wine industry in the late 19th century by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of the famous Château Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux, using French knowledge & tradition. The first winemaker was from Bordeaux and the winemaking consultant and viticulturists were all French.

Secondly was the quality revolution, which began with the import of expertise from California in the 1980’s. This brought with it New World technology and the answers of how to make quality wine in hot countries. The winemakers and consultant that initially brought about the change were from California and had studied at UC Davis.

The boutique winery boom began in the 1990’s. Numerous boutique wineries, garagistes and domestic wineries were founded giving the Israel wine scene depth, color and enormous variety. This is a trend which shows no sign of abating.

The 2000’s witnessed the turnaround of Israel’s larger wineries, which reacted to the new competition by investing in quality. The names of larger wineries were changed from Carmel Mizrahi, Eliaz, Efrat and Askalon-Carmei Zion, to Carmel Winery, Binyamina, Teperberg and Segal Wines, to reflect the change of focus.

Today the wine drinker has the opportunity to choose wines made from all the major international grape varieties. Wines of different styles are available to suit all price points. The wine buyer is able to choose wine made from vineyards in the desert in the south to the hills in the far north.

For a country which would comfortably fit into Wales or New Jersey, Israel boasts an extraordinary range of microclimates – and each region is host to winemakers & growers attempting to make wine reflecting their local terroir. There are also an astonishing number of wineries. If there are 50 wineries harvesting over 50 metric tons of grapes a year, ranging from the large commercial operations to boutique wineries, there are a further 250 small boutique wineries or domestic garagistes who are making wine with pride & passion.

Amongst other things, Succot is a festival which celebrates the wine grape harvest. In times gone by, girls would go out to the vineyards, dressed in white, to frolic and dance, and hopefully attract a good match in the form of a future husband.

These days, Succot is a time for visiting wineries and sampling the fruit of the vine in liquid form. I urge you not to sit on the sidelines, but to become an active participant in the exciting blossoming of the Israeli wine scene. I recommend that you see the country through the prism of its wine industry. Whether your interest is history, people, religion, gastronomy or wine, you can really get to know Israel through its wine regions, wineries & wines.

Many countries have a Wine Route. Possibly the most beautiful in the world is in South Africa; perhaps the most famous is Napa Valley in California. Now we have our own. There is plenty to see… and taste!

I suggest that you visit two wineries a day and certainly no more than three, leaving time for food, schmoozing, toilet breaks and shopping. The biggest mistake organizers make, is trying to cram too much into a day. It is suggested to choose wineries carefully, so they are not too similar. Remember a stainless steel tank and wooden barrel will look similar wherever you go! Always, always, book in advance to avoid disappointment.

The day should also include a visit to a vineyard which simply puts everything in context. It could be a hike through a vineyard area, taking time for a picnic or simply stopping to take in the view for a few moments.

In the Golan Heights, I recommend a visit to the Golan Heights Winery, the nearest we have to a Napa Valley winery, the rather grand Chateau Golan or Mount Odem, Israel’s most northern winery.

The Galilee is big, so I would divide it up. In the Upper Galilee, I would recommend Dalton and Adir, both on the same estate, or Galil Mountain and Ramat Naftali. In the Western Galilee, both the Stern family winery and Kishor, a quality winery in a unique setting, are worth a visit. In the Lower Galilee, Tabor, Israel’s 5th largest winery in the shadow of Mount Tabor, is a must along with Netofa, specialists in Mediterranean varieties or Tulip, the winery with special needs workers, as other options.

In the Mount Carmel region I would visit Carmel Winery at Zichron Ya’acov for its history. It is the only winery in the whole of Israel that can give a real insight into our wine history. I would then visit Tishbi for its splendid food initiatives, especially the chocolate, and Amphorae for its beauty.

In the Sharon Plain and central coast, I recommend the award winning Recanati, the new winery building at Vitkin, or the small Benhaim family winery as worthwhile venues.

In the Judean Shefela, the Barkan’s beautiful visitors center at Hulda, and Karmei Yosef- Bravdo’s estate winery provide great contrasts for a day’s outing. In the Judean Foothills, Flam and Tzora provide a quality wine experience for small groups. Then there is the peerless Castel and a garagiste called Sea Horse in the Judean Hills.

In the central mountains, which run down the spine of the country, there are numerous places to see. Tura is a quality winery in a Biblical setting. Psagot has a wonderful visitors center, and one of the wineries consistently producing great wines is Gush Etzion, situated in a grand building which looks more like a synagogue than a winery.

In the Negev, I would recommend visiting Yatir Winery at Tel Arad, arguably the finest winery situated in the south of Israel, or Midbar at Arad, a quality winery which specializes in wines sourced only from Negev vineyards. Alternatively, a visit to the Ramat Negev Winery at Kadesh Barnea would impress you. Fascinating to hear how Midbar and Ramat Negev are making the desert flow with wine.

If you choose to stay in Tel Aviv, I would recommend visiting the HaEretz Museum to see the display of wine presses from different eras and the Rothschild pavilion which tells the story of Baron Edmond de Rothschild. I would then visit Derech Ha’Yayin in Hashmonaim Street, the Sarona Market and the finish up in Tasting Room, an innovative wine paradise.

Alternatively you may choose to explore Israel wine country at your leisure by visiting restaurants and wine bars, being sure of course to drink only Israeli wine. However you decide to spend your Succot holiday, be prepared to be pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety of Israeli wine. Devoting a day of your holiday to wine will undoubtedly leave you with a great sense of pride in our wines, winemakers and growers.

Le’haim!! To Life!!



My prayer for this week is: Please release me from all the wine snobbery and things I learnt from wine experts. After all, wine is a drink, just like other drinks. If I like it, it is good and if I don’t like it, it is not good. Please encourage us to drink in order to enjoy, and not to impress.

Wine does not have to be at the center of the table or discussion. It does not have to be tasted or talked about. It should not be put on a pedestal, but on the back burner, taking its place modestly alongside the salt and pepper.

The wine writer Hugh Johnson, once wrote in favor of the Italian attitude to wine: “Food and wine belong in that order … any Italian mind. Put too much stress on the wine and you upset the balance. It is simply bad manners for a wine to assert itself too strongly.”

He goes on: “You can stand too close to wine. Watching a chef does not help you enjoy his cooking and the modern tendency to look over the winemaker’s shoulder may distort as much as it reveals.”

So this is my crusade against those who elevate wine to something elitist and unattainable. Here are the Ten Commandments against wine snobbery.

It is ok to drink wine from a plastic cup or a tumbler. For someone swirling, sniffing and then pontificating about the liquid in the glass as I do all day long, it is a wonderful release to drink wine from a glass without a stem and all the baggage that goes with it. The French or Italian agricultural worker who can be seen in a bar late morning after an early days work, is not wrong. He will be drinking wine from a tumbler but he is not a peasant. He is simply enjoying wine in its purest form.
Look out in the film ‘Sideways’ for the highlight when the hero drinks his expensive bottle of wine in a plastic glass in a hamburger joint. It is a sobering image for the committed wine snob, but for me it is an epiphany moment.

It is ok to put ice in the wine. Where did we get so precious that we feel embarrassed about adding a couple of cubes of ice to a glass We do it with whiskey sometimes and the roof does not fall in. Wine is mainly water, so what the hell. The sommelier who frowns at this request in a restaurant is not worthy of the job. The customer is always right.
This prompts a story I am compelled to tell. I was visiting one of the most famous wineries in the world in Bordeaux as a guest for lunch. The aristocratic owner of the winery thought nothing of picking up cubes of ice (with his fingers, not tongs!) and plomping them into his glass of champagne. Well I suppose it is only the nouveau riche that have to show how sophisticated they are. If you are the genuine article, you don’t need to impress!

It is ok to eat white wine with meat and red wine with fish. There are no rules. It is all a question of taste and there is not one right answer. Match the wine to your mood not to food. What you like is the best choice. It will go ok with the food for sure. Don’t get hung up on matching.
So allow me to release you from having to do it right. It does not matter. If the wine is good and food is good, they will go well together.

It is ok to buy, drink and enjoy a wine costing less than 25 shekels. There is so much inverted snobbery in wine and in particularly in Israeli wine, that you would think it is the first lesson in every a wine course. How to be a wine snob. Many would turn their noses up automatically at the prospect of buying cheap wine. I agree that at these price points, the wines are to drink and not taste like a pro, but considering the price, they are really not bad and if served chilled, very quaffable. When did you last drink a wine and feel you don’t have to talk about it
It is ok to add sparkling water to your wine. Just because the yekkes from Germany liked to add soda water to Carmel Hock pre state, does not mean it is has to be passé. In fact it is a great idea and one of the most refreshing and invigorating ways of drinking wine. In our climate it is ideal and amongst a few friends a bottle can go a long way. I say bring the spritzer back! I am all for it.
It is ok to drink sweet. Many people feel sweet is Kiddush wine and particularly not acceptable. Well, some people never like the bitterness of coffee and drink it very milky. This sort of person will not like dry white wine which they will find sour or a red wine that they will find astringent.
A lot of people are too sensitive for the harsher flavors of wine. Why can they add copious spoonfuls of sugar to coffee, and it is ok, yet when they say they like sweet wine, we regard them as inferior To the wine jury, I say people have ketchup and coca cola with a meal and they are sweet. So if they want a sweet wine with a meal, why not

It is ok to drink so called unsophisticated wines. Some people like semi dry red wine, or semi-sweet Moscatos, not because they have won a medal, but simply because they are tasty. Lambrusco, Buzz Semi Dry Red, Tabor Pnimim, Selected or Hermon Moscato…..These are fun wines. Allow yourselves to enjoy something, without having to explain why you like it.
It is ok not to taste the wine you have ordered in the restaurant. You will be approached by a formidable looking wine waiter. When asked if you want to taste the wine, you are then expected to perform the tasting ritual in front of your guests or family. You don’t have to play this game. Just say no thank you, go ahead and pour.
It is ok to buy a wine with a screw cap. Why make things difficult for yourself One can never find the opener anyway and if you can, you can never remember how to use it. Today there are fine wines sold by screw cap. It is practical, sensible and modern. A wine is not less impressive because it doesn’t have a bit of tree bark in it to stopper up the bottle.
Finally, it is ok to serve your red wine chilled. In fact I believe even the finest red wines should be served after 20 minutes in a domestic fridge. With high alcohols here, a red wine can lose its shape when served at room temperature.
I recently went out for a meal with my daughter, with wine of course. The wine exactly suited the ambiance and the food and before I knew it, we finished the bottle because it was so refreshing and seemed an intrinsic part of the meal. (What is a good wine An empty bottle, of course!) It occurred to me later, that I had no idea what wine we had drunk nor did I even bother to look at the label, but it was perfect.

This reminds me of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, being asked being about his favorite wine. He answered: “It was on a beach in the height of summer. The sunset was breathtaking and the girl was beautiful. As for the wine, it was the best I have ever tasted…but I have got no idea what it was.”

My message is put wine in its rightful place. What you drink and how you drink could not matter less. You don’t have to give a sermon about it. Don’t talk. Drink…and Enjoy!



natural for white wines. Now we arrive at Rosh Hashanah. This is the festival where we eat sweet things to wish ourselves a sweet year. So for me, the obvious choice of wine to drink is a sweet one. It will go with all the sweet dishes served including the 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. Of course, mention the word sweet with regard to wine, and many will roll their eyes and grimace. The fact is that sweet is a term that turns many people off. If it is sweet, it must be a bad wine and if someone likes sweet wine, they are not like us, who understand wine! Well, I am pleased to inform you that not all sweet wines are Manischewitz, Palwin or King David. These Kiddush wines remind us of religion and ritual and everyone has experienced sweet wines tasting more of sugar water than grapes. That is why the better sweet wines are called dessert wines, which sounds more acceptable. Funnily enough, sweet wines are far more popular than anyone will admit. At our visitors center when we offer a tasting of Muscat or Moscato, a purchase is more or less assured. This is simply because these wines smell and taste nice. There is no astringency, or sourness and people buy because they like them. I was recently interviewed on air, and after explaining and tasting all our best wines, including award winners, the interviewer admitted his favorite wine was the sweet wine, or rather, I should say, the dessert wine! He said he would be quite happy drinking it throughout the meal, and then semi retracted because he thought it was not the right thing to say Well, he should not be ashamed. We have ketchup with food. That is sweet. Some people drink coca cola with food. That is very sweet. Furthermore many people have sugar in their coffee, and some have many spoonfulls to counteract the bitterness. These people have ultra-sensitive palates and are far more likely to be women than men. If they represent 20% of the wine drinking market, are we not flexible enough to allow them to drink wine too Why shouldnt they drink sweet if they want to It is aromatic, smells attractive and a good one will be delicious. The French are supposed to understand wine arent they Well, they drink Sauternes for an aperitif before a meal. That is a very sweet wine and no-one looks down their noses at them. All I am suggesting for Rosh Hashanah is to do the same. Use a sweet wine as an aperitif and with the starters. Then you can revert to some good table wines for the main courses. As for those who prefer sweet, this is your festival. Drink it through the meal. There are four ways of making dessert wines. The most obvious is from late harvested, overripe grapes. The extra ripeness provides the extra sweetness, but it only works if balanced by good acidity to ensure it is not too sweet and cloying. The next is from grapes affected by Noble Rot or Botrytis, which is a fungus that attacks the skins of the grape. The grapes shrivel to a point that they look disgusting. This particular rot affects the grapes in a certain way. The water content is reduced and the honeyed aromas are concentrated. The result is a luscious dessert wine, just like the Sauternes made in Bordeaux. The most traditional way of making dessert wines is to lay the grapes on straw mats to dry out, shrivel, lose moisture and gain concentration. This is what they did in Biblical times and it is a method still used today, particularly in Italy and nearby Cyprus and Greece. The final way is by picking frozen grapes on the vine. Think of cold climates and Icewine from Canada or Eiswein from Germany. The water content freezes leaving the juice very sweet and unctuous. Another type of sweet wine is a fortified wine. The usual method of making these is by fortifying during fermentation by adding grape spirit. This stops the fermentation and leaves the wine sweet and strong. Port and Madeira are fortified wines made this way. Another way is for the wine to be fortified after fermentation, and this is how sherry is made. The most common way in Israel is to make a Vin Doux Naturel. This is not a natural sweet wine like the name would imply, but the sweetness is natural. These wines have alcohol added to arrest the fermentation, leaving unfermented sweetness. For those sweet wine sceptics, I want to remind you that some of the greatest, rarest and most expensive wines in the world are sweet wines. Also in Israel, we have some particularly good ones. It is a style of wine Israel makes really well. Obviously for the festival I would select a slightly better quality sweet wine than the usual Kiddush wine, because after all it is the Jewish New Year. Lets honor the festival with a wine upgrade. This could range from an inexpensive and fun Moscato to a fortified Muscat, up to a high quality dessert wine made from Gewurztraminer. Moscatos are light, frothy, grapey, semi-sweet wines and they are low alcohol. There are many with brand names like Buzz, Dalton, Hermon, Selected and Teperberg. For those who fear that sweet means fattening, it is the alcohol that is more significant to weight watchers than the degree of sweetness in the wine. The Muscats are richer, very aromatic and with mouth filling flavor. They are usually fortified to 14% alcohol. The best are produced by Binyamina, Dalton, Private Collection and Yarden. Most of the Muscats and Moscatos are made from the Muscat of Alexandria grape variety, which is indigenous to the Eastern Mediterranean. It is a large grape, more commonly known as a table grape for food. However it has been in our area for a long time and may even go back to Biblical times. The best dessert wines have coincidentally each been made from Gewurztraminer grapes. Binyamina, Carmel, Golan Heights and Tzora have produced delicious dessert wines in different ways. The Binyamina Reserve Gewurztraminer is made from individual clusters. The Carmel Shaal Gewurztraminer is a late harvested single vineyard wine. The Yarden HeightsWine, a play on the words Icewine and Golan Heights, is produced from Gewurztraminer grapes, which are then frozen at the winery. Tzora Or is only produced in special years. They each represent great value and are all outstanding having received either international recognition or quality awards. They will express, in different degrees, delicate aromas of peach, pear, lychee and apricot, backed by honeyed flavors with a pronounced thread of acidity to keep them from being to cloying. 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 wines to sip and savor rather than to quaff. I always recommend serving a dessert wine served ice cold. Put it in the freezer, but dont forget it. As for the wine glass, use the normal glass you have, just pour slightly less than you would normally. A white wine size glass (slightly smaller) is ideal. However avoid the awful schooner, sparkling wine flutes or small liqueur glasses so often used by leading restaurants here. A Sweet wine for a Sweet year. Shana Tova!