It may be the quality red wines that receive all the plaudits, but
Israel is also getting a name for producing wonderful dessert wines.
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.
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.
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.
excellent grapey dessert wines are made from Muscat. The best are
produced by Yarden, Binyamina, Carmel Private Collection and Dalton.
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.
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
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.
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
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. firstname.lastname@example.org