It may be the quality red wines that receive all the plaudits, but Israel is also getting a name for producing wonderful dessert wines.

Many Israelis have a lifelong connection with kiddush wine, so they associate sweet wine with the most simple wine, often tasting like sugared water, and with religious ritual. Therefore, the very word “sweet” has connotations of a cheap and nasty wine, something that is to be avoided at all costs.

What they forget is that some of the world’s most sought-after and expensive wines are sweet dessert wines. An Eiswein or Trockenbeerenauslese from Germany, Icewine from Canada or Sauternes from Bordeaux are sweet, and are some of the most sublime wines you can taste. What a tragedy if a wine lover never experiences them because they associate the word “sweet” with Manischewitz, Palwin, Yashan Noshan or King David! The Eastern Mediterranean, and Greece and Cyprus in particular, is famous as being home to some of the world’s most original dessert wines.

Commandaria, from 14 villages on the southern slopes of the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus, is the world’s most historic wine, dating back to the Crusades.

Greek wines such as Mavrodaphne from the northwest Peloponnese, Vinsantos from the Assyrtiko grown in the volcanic island of Santorini or Muscats from the island of Samos are some of the world’s best dessert wines. The Etko Centurion Commandaria, Achaia Clauss Mavrodaphne, Argyros Vinsanto and Samos Muscat are world-class dessert wines. Well worth seeking out.

The first great Israeli dessert wine that changed many views in Israel was the Yarden Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest 1988. The Sauvignon Blanc from the Ortal vineyard was found to have botrytis (what is known as Noble Rot), and the Golan Heights Winery made what may be the best dessert wine ever made in Israel. It was certainly a wonderful wine, and totally unique because it was never replicated. Those privileged to taste the Yarden Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest will never forget it.

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However, it is only in the last 10 years that Israeli dessert wines have consistently gained international ratings at the very highest level. The finest of these are two wines produced by different wineries, which are coincidentally both made from the same grape variety and grown in the same wine-growing region. The grapes are Gewurztraminer, and the vineyards are on the high-altitude volcanic plateau of the Golan Heights. The wines are Yarden Heights Wine produced by the Golan Heights Winery and Sha’al Gewurztraminer from Carmel Winery. Both have been regularly recognized internationally as being world-class dessert wines, winning awards and receiving high scores at the very highest level.

The HeightsWine is a play on the words “Icewine” and “Golan Heights.” It is produced from Gewurztraminer grapes, which are then frozen at the winery. The result is a rich, honeyed and luscious wine.

The delicious Carmel Sha’al Gewurztraminer is produced from a single vineyard on the Golan Heights, where the grapes are late harvested. The result of the freezing and late harvesting is that the flavors are wonderfully concentrated and unctuous. Arguably, the Sha’al Gewurztraminer is more delicate and refreshing, while the HeightsWine is richer and more complex. Both are outstanding examples of their art.

Binyamina is another winery with a very good dessert wine from Gewurztraminer grapes, where they go to the trouble of picking selected clusters.

The more regular dessert wines are made from Muscat. The Muscat of Alexandria grape variety 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.

Some excellent grapey dessert wines are made from Muscat. The best are produced by Yarden, Binyamina, Carmel Private Collection and Dalton.

White or Johannisberg Riesling is rarer in Israel. This is not Emerald Riesling but the genuine Riesling, famous in Germany and Alsace. The two wineries that make quality dessert wines from this variety are Teperberg and Vitkin.

At Rosh Hashana, a dessert wine served ice cold, even from the freezer (but don’t forget it), will be perfect for the kiddush.

It will then be suitable to accompany the sweet dishes served, including the sweet halla dipped in honey, the traditional apple and honey, dates and sweet carrot dishes that begin the festive meal. They will even go well with gefilte fish, matching the sweetness and yet toning down the heat of the horseradish. Funnily enough, those gourmet kings known as the French often even start off a meal with an ice cold Sauternes as the aperitif.

So that is my recommendation for Rosh Hashana. Drink sweet! Remember, dessert wines normally come in smaller 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.

It is then possible to revert to dry wines for the main course and return to the dessert wine with the puddings. Any of the wines mentioned would be ideal. They should be served very cold. It is worth selecting a quality sweet wine to honor the occasion instead of the less expensive, poorer quality alternatives. So quite apart from the fact that dessert wines are ideal for the Rosh Hashana meal, it is a good time to appreciate that Israel is making some really fine dessert wines.

A sweet wine for a sweet year. Shana tova!

Raise a glass for the New Year


The following table wines are recommended to accompany the Rosh Hashana meal.

WHITE WINES (all kosher)

Private Collection Chardonnay 2011

Very lightly oaked. Delicate apple aromas. Refreshing. NIS 35

Barkan Reserve Sauvignon 2011

Blanc. Straw colored, dry, with grassy and tropical aromas. NIS 40

Yogev Blend Aromati 2011

Aromatic semi-dry blend of Colombard, Muscat and Gewurztraminer NIS 45

White Tulip 2011

Aromatic dry blend of Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon. Well balanced. NIS 67

Yatir Viognier 2010

One of the best Viogniers. Delicate apricot, pear aroma. NIS 80

Saslove Lavan 2011

Voluptuous blend from Viognier, Gewurz and Sauvignon. NIS 84

RED WINES (all kosher)

Selected Merlot 2011

Bright, light, fruity and flavorful. NIS 30

Recanati Yasmin Red 2011

Lightish but full of fruit and flavor with good balancing acidity. Refreshing. NIS 35

Private Collection Cabernet Merlot 2010

Excellent value, fruit forward, oak-aged blend, with fine structure. NIS 40

Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Classic Cabernet with red berry fruit and good mouth feel. NIS 60

Psagot Shiraz 2011

A compote of plums and cherries with attractive spice. NIS 110

Bazelet Hagolan Cabernet Sauvignon Bronze 2010

Lashings of blackcurrant fruit and vanilla. Mouthful of wine. NIS 110

NON-KOSHER WINES

Chillag Sauvignon Blanc

Aromatic, refreshing with good acidity. NIS 85

Amphorae Rhyton 2008

A full-bodied oaky blend Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot. NIS 85

Trio Secret 2010

Fullbodied, classic Cabernet Merlot blend with ripe fruit aromas. NIS 110

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine for Israeli and international publications. adam@carmelwines.co.il

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