I had the pleasure of taking two Israeli Masterclasses this year, with Erik Segelbaum, Advanced Sommelier and Owner of Somlyay! Erik hosts fantastic tastings for consumers as well as trade and media and luckily for me, I had the opportunity to taste a number of amazing Israeli wines and learn a lot about this amazing winemaking country. Thank you to Royal Wine and the Israeli Wine Producers Association for these amazing wines.
Many people think when it comes to Israeli wines, that they are similar to the grape-ey, sweet, and less expensive wines we find on the bottom shelf, tucked into the Kosher section of a wine store. While you will find these wines in this section, you will also start to find more complex, amazing, and delicious wines from Israel that deserve some notice. Honestly if I had a wine store (goal one day), I would have an entire section on Israeli wine, because they are world class, high quality, and super fun to drink!
There are many styles of wine that come from Israel, and these wines tend to be dry, full of fruit, earth, and complexity. They are layered and some I will highlight are really just incredible. Our first class of the 2021 winter session was on High Elevation wines. This means that the vines grow at high elevations which will make the wines more elegant, and deeper. I happen to really enjoy high elevation wines, which also feel “cooler” so if you’re into fruit and layered complexity with an elegant feel, these wines may just be for you!
During our first “getting high” tasting we dove into two really cool wines. The 2017 Vitkin Grenache Blanc, is a stunning white wine. It has a touch of Roussanne in the mix, and is from the Upper Galilee area of Israel. It is 50% fermented in stainless steel, which is where you get the beautiful fruit from, and then the remainder is fermented 5 months in French Oak. Nice elegant citrus aromas with some oak nicely integrated. It’s complex and delicious and perfect for the upcoming springtime with some light dishes and seafood!
We also got to taste the 2018 Or Haganuz Maron, A beautiful red blend made from Cabernet Franc and Shiraz. It’s deep in color and expressed high acidity, tannins, and a long finish. It’s a lovely wine, that’s deep and layered with fruit and spice.
Our second session was on Petit Verdot, which happens to be one of my favorite grape varietals. This grape is a challenging one, no matter where you grow it, and is rarely ever seen as a “Varietal Wine” outside of Chile. You’ll find this grape in many blends, because its late ripening and does well in cool and warm climates. Petit Verdot also helps with color and acidity and adds nice phenols to the wine. Israel actually produces a lot of this varietal which is awesome and this was my first time tasting some PV from Israel, which I loved!
There’s just something about Israel that does so well with this grape varietal, between the climate, soils, and winemakers, I think you’ll find you’ll love Petit Verdot from here. We tasted three wines from the Judean Hills, ranging from regular to high elevation. All were 100% Petit Verdot, and included: 2016 Teperberg Legacy, 2016 Matar, and the 2017 Shiloh Winery Secret Reserve.
The 2016 Tepperberg Legacy sees barrels for 18 months and then rests in the bottle another 10 months. It’s a deep and powerful wine, thats grand and has nice notes of plums, pepper, and coffee. The late ripening of this grape varietal combined with the chalk driven soils, gives this wine nice balance and character. Up second was the 2016 Matar Petit Verdot which is a low yield producing vineyard, with high quality wines! This wine is aged 18 months in French Oak, and is earthy, abundant, and has nice aromas and flavors of dark berries and dried fruit. Overall a nice long finish; its a great wine. Lastly we tasted the 2017 Shiloh Winery Secret Reserve Petit Verdot, which was awesome! It was deep and dark, with nice spice and fruit forward flavors. It was certainly one of my favorites, and can easily pair with a number of cuisines, as can many of these wines we tasted.
Overall we tasted some pretty incredible wines, and I learned so much more about Israel. At least until we can travel again, you can always travel through your glass with some of these really great wines. Week 4 we tasted some Cabernet, which I will get to in another article, with more on some Israeli wine gifts which were given too by the wineries! For now, I highly recommend finding these wines near you, you will not be disappointed.
Always remember, eat what you like and drink what you love. Please pair responsibly.