Winemaking in Israel stretches back thousands of years, and wine culture provides the backdrop for many notable events in the Torah and Old Testament. Similar to Greece, the vine was central to many religious observances and customs. As a result, Israel led the ancient world in grape growing, winemaking, and amphora production. While much of the output was consumed locally, the Israelites exported their signature wines to ports throughout the Mediterranean; even the Romans were fans.
This ancient lineage is being kept alive in Israel today through a combination of old-world techniques and new-world innovation. Israel is currently home to over three hundred boutique wineries from its Mediterranean coastline to interior mountains and desert regions. They produce all styles of wine, from dry and sparkling styles to single varietal wines and blends.
Since the 1800s, the focus has been on French grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. However, enterprising young winemakers are cultivating the almost two dozen native grape varieties that show great promise.
The vast majority of wines made in Israel are kosher. But modern winemakers are quick to point out that kosher is not a synonym for subpar wine. In fact, many of the best producers are making elegant and long-lived wines that can compete with offerings from the best regions in the world. Once you taste wines from the five recommended wineries below, we’re sure you’ll agree.
For almost twenty years, the Psagot Winery has been making exceptional wine with grapes sourced from its vineyards in the northern hills of Jerusalem. The vines are situated on ancient limestone terraces almost 3,000 feet above sea level. Keeping tradition alive, it ages its wines in an ancient cave uncovered during the winery’s construction.
Its portfolio of eleven different wines, mainly from classic Bordeaux and Rhone Valley varieties, offers up a bold, powerful, and fruit-forward portrait of Israeli wine. Its signature red is the Edom, a Left Bank-inspired blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with classic blackberry, plum, and cigar box flavors.
If you can find it, we recommend the Psagot Peak, a striking blend of Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Mourvedre with spicy aromatics and a stunning finish. This may be a Kosher wine, but don’t let that distract you from its world-class pedigree.
Dalton Winery was established in 1995 when the pioneering Haruni family came from England to settle in Israel and make Kosher wine. They located their winery in the beautiful mountainous country of the Upper Galilee near Kerem Ben Zimra, about five kilometers from the Lebanese border.
Since the winery’s establishment, the Upper Galilee area has been transformed into Israel’s most lauded wine region. However, Dalton continues to lead the pack with its estate bottlings of classic French grapes.
Dalton’s Alma Crimson Red highlights the winery’s affinity for old-world Bordeaux. For a lighter offering, check out their Pet Net, a blend of Semillon and Muscat with sparkling citrus and floral notes.
Jezreel Valley Winery
The founders of Jezreel Valley Winery are two young guns who arrived on the Israeli wine scene about ten years ago with the dream of making wine “speak Hebrew.” Amid the rolling patchwork fields of the Jezreel Valley in the Lower Galilee, they established a boutique winery focusing on grapes most suited to cool elevations and iron-rich terra rossa soil.
Along with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Carignan, they planted a unique Israeli grape, Argaman. Argaman was created in Israel by crossing Souzão and Carignan, and until recently, had not enjoyed a stellar reputation. But by blending Argaman with Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, the winery showcased the grape’s dark fruit flavors and smooth tannins to maximum effect. This signature blend, the “Adumim,” has put Jezreel Valley Winery on the map and portends great things to come.
Recanati Winery is perhaps the flashiest winery on this list. Founded over twenty years ago by Israel’s premier Kosher wine collector, Lenny Recanati, the style here is a fusion of the family’s Italian heritage with new world finesse.
Located in Israel’s Hefer Valley within the Upper Galilee, grapes are sourced from some of the area’s finest high-altitude vineyards. While classic Bordeaux varieties abound in their portfolio, a recent series features indigenous varieties, Bittuni and Marawi, grown in the West Bank by a Palestinian grower. The Bittuni wine is a winner: light, flowery and aromatic, with minerality and a bouquet of red cherries and Mediterranean spices.
Yatir Winery is situated in the Negev desert on a site where archeologists recently discovered almost two hundred ancient wine presses. The winery celebrates this heritage by creating hand-crafted, artisanal wines with a distinct sense of place.
The winery’s proximity to the country’s largest forest-inspired their signature wine, Yatir Forest. This is a classic Bordeaux blend that has garnered high scores from international wine critics year after year. Its French cellaring program means this bottle comes with a steep price; however, when the international wine press uses the words “iconic” and “breathtaking” in their reviews, it’s time to splurge and experience one of the best Israeli wines on offer. Make sure to decant this wine at least five hours before tasting.