Israel’s wines battle preconceptions

Israel’s winemakers wish to raise awareness of their ever-improving wine industry but must first battle preconceptions.

“Israel’s wineries have been undergoing a 20 year renaissance,” thinks Alex Haruni, of Dalton Winery, “but the preconception still exists that if it’s from Israel, as it’s kosher it must be sweet.”

He continued: “Israel is making very good wines and more winemakers are studying in France, Adelaide and at UC Davis and they’re coming back to make wine in Israel”.

Part of this boost is apparently down to vastly improved interest and knowledge in wine among Israeli wine drinkers who are increasingly confident in asking for different grape varieties.

Gilad Flam, director of Flam Winery, said that Syrah in particular has “very big potential in Israel”.

Eli-Gilbert Ben-Zaken, owner of Domaine du Castel, agreed, saying: “Everything is bubbling right now.

“There was a time when the wines were lousy and no one cared. They only bought the wines because they were kosher. Now, however, things are happening.

‘We have big wineries like Carmel and Barkan (with annual productions of around 17 million and 9m bottles respectively) and they understand they must make better wine too.”

However, Zaken and Haruni both admitted that Israel would never capture a huge market share – “we don’t have the volume,” said Zaken – and the higher price points would also make it difficult to gain a wider audience.

Both though were adamant that Israel deserved more attention and think their wines are more than comparable to others such as Indian wines that are getting increased attention, something their importers, Kedem Europe, are attempting to achieve.

In a side project Zaken is trying to discover more about Israel’s winemaking heritage. Unlike neighbouring Lebanon, Israel has no native grapes to speak of, using only international varieties.

That Israel and the Lebanon were ancient winemaking countries is in no doubt. Roman ships have been found near ports such as Marseille that were filled with cargo such as wine and olive oil from the Levant and recent archaeological digs in both countries have discovered old wine presses in the region and also ancient grape pips.

Zaken would like to see if any of these pips can have DNA extracted to compare them to modern grapes and see if they are related.

He said that he has someone at the University of Haifa who is willing to help but currently all biological finds at the Israeli dig sites are being sent to someone at another university who is not sharing the finds, or his findings.

“He’s being a bit difficult but we’re trying to smooth things over,” said Zaken.

One Response to “Israel’s wines battle preconceptions”

  1. As the wine columnist for Chef magazine (U.S.), I have tasted Eli-Gilbert Ben-Zaken’s Domaine du Castel wines.
    They are simply astonishing. This is Israel’s Grand Cru and can stand up against the classed growths of France and the cult wines of California.

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