When the invitation came a few months ago to attend a seminar on wine from Israel, my interest was piqued. I had read that Israel produces some interesting wines but had never tried any nor would I have had much of an opportunity to purchase them since they are not readily available in Chicago.
Most of the wine imported into the US from Israel goes directly to the New York City market.
The seminar was held at City Winery and hosted by Wines of Israel (a wine marketing arm of the Israeli wine industry). The seminar was accompanied by a tasting of about 10 wines from around the country. Both white and red wines were poured and the overall level of the wines was very high. Much higher than other tastings I have attended of more familiar wine regions such as Italy and South America.
Here are some general comments about what I learned by attending this fascinating seminar.
> The industry is moving away from being branded as "kosher". While the designation is important to wine producers for domestic consumption, they want the wines to stand on their own and "kosher" comes with preconceptions with regards to taste and residual sugar. So for most of the wines, the designation is on the back label in a small official symbol.
>While Israel is approximately the size of New Jersey, there are over 300 wineries in the country. There are five appellations that are all over the country. The variety of terrain and elevations creates a good deal of variety of growing micro-climates.
>The modern day industry is fairly new and considers its beginnings in 1980. This has allowed for fields to be planted for mechanized harvests and for modern day techniques in wine making. The Ottoman Empire held sway for several centuries and their abhorrence of alcohol is what created the long void of wine making despite the Middle East being the heart of early wine making.
>Israeli wine makers would prefer to have their wines compared to other wines from the Mediterranean such as Italy, Greece, Albania, and Sicily. As such. their products compare extremely well and the level of wine making is much higher as a whole than those countries. The reason for wanting to be compared with other Mediterranean countries is that the climates are similar and give perspective when tasting.
>The varietals of grapes grown range from the common modern vinifera to old vines that have heritage that goes back to Biblical times. I was able to try some very pleasing white varieties that I had never heard of and which I found to be unique and having subtlety and nuanced flavor.
>Because of their small production, the wines are expensive by US retail standards. All the wines I tried retail for $35 a bottle or more so in the US market, they would be considered luxury purchases. They are well worth the price, in my opinion, but the price point makes them out of reach for most everyday wine consumers.
All in all it was a fun morning trying these fine wines and expanding my knowledge of wine production in a foreign land. I look forward to drinking some of these wines with a fine meal when I finally make it to the Holy Land!