Israeli wine is mainly centered on the domestic market.
More than 90 percent of the sales are within Israel’s borders, and surprisingly only between 5% and 10% of Israeli wines are exported. Until that changes and Israeli wine becomes export led, the local market will remain the priority because that is where the jam is today. Of course, tomorrow things could be different, and some wineries are already trying to concentrate future efforts on export, where the pool is larger.
It is no surprise that Israeli wines are more expensive to make than, say, Chilean wine.
Costs of land, labor, water and kosher supervision are significant and are not in our favor.
Also, we don’t have the sheer volume that can help bring prices down or the size of industry that can generate massive government support. So we will never be like Argentina or Australia. Prices may be cheaper in those countries or in France, Italy or Spain, where often the wine is cheaper than the bottled water.
However, we have to remember who we are. Israel is the 35th-largest wine-producing country in the world. To understand how low this is in the wine-producing stakes, I have to admit that it is difficult for me, off the cuff, to name 34 other wine-producing countries.
I get to 20 and then dry up. Furthermore, there is a single vineyard in Monterey, California, that harvests more than the total Israeli wine industry put together. The boutique winery of Gallo, once called Gallo of Sonoma, produces more than the whole of Israel.
Even Cyprus has more vineyards than we do. No doubt Israel punches above its weight in most things, and certainly in wine. But if size helps reduce costs, we don’t have that benefit.
However, for those who complain that Israeli wine is too expensive here, I just don’t see it. Prices in supermarkets have never been cheaper. The majority of all Israeli wines sold are under NIS 40. To me, that is great value. Wines are divided into promotion categories in some supermarkets of four bottles for NIS 100; three for NIS 100; and two for NIS 100.
These are categories of price and quality that help the consumer decide where he wants to be.
The 1980s was the start of the quality revolution through the import of New World wine technology from California.
Israeli wines started winning international awards for the first time, and consumers were exposed to internationalclass wines.
The 1990s was the start of the boutique winery revolution.
Small wineries started springing up everywhere. Wines were high priced and were produced in minute quantities. Some were good, others less so, but all were made with individuality and passion. Wine drinkers understood for the first time the color, diversity, variety and potential of Israeli wine.
The 2000s was when the large wineries fought back, making the change from mass to quality or from kiddush wines to table wines. There were new names to reflect the quality changes taking place.
Some of the traditional names that formed the bedrock of Israeli wine for many years disappeared.
Carmel Mizrahi, Efrat, Eliaz and Ashkelon of the 1990s became Carmel Winery, Teperberg 1870, Binyamina and Segal, respectively, in the 2000s.
Now we are a few years into a new decade. For me, the 2010s represents the next stage in the evolution of Israeli wine. The latest jump in quality is in the less expensive wines. The resulting wines represent great value for money and a better quality against price ratio than was previously the case.
It is no secret that I work for Carmel. The largest-selling brand in Israel, according to Nielsen, is Selected, which sells between four million and five million bottles a year. Yet over the years, no one has ever come up to me to say they drink Selected and what a great bottle they had last Shabbat.
But the sales figures don’t lie.
The answer, in my opinion, is that there are wines people talk about and wines that people actually drink. I believe the current revolution is raising the standard of the quality of the wines people actually drink.
These range between NIS 20 and NIS 40 a bottle.
The moving train that is Israeli wine means that there is scarcely any commercial winery making worse wines than 10 years ago. However, in the less expensive category, the quality has jumped forward, which is very encouraging. It is relatively easy to make a 10,000-bottle wine costing NIS 100, but to make a 500,000- bottle wine costing NIS 25 a bottle is far more difficult and challenging to the winery. That is the true test. My point is that the standard of these volume wines is better than ever before.
Within the three for NIS 100 category are some of the best value wines in Israel. Try the wines of Carmel’s Private Collection, Galil Mountain and Recanati in this price bracket, and you are getting a steal. The wines really represent fantastic quality for price by any criterion.
The wine shops are now joining in the price bonanza by offering similar deals order to compete with the supermarkets.
And the supermarkets themselves are now stocking better quality wines that were previously available only in quality wine shops. So it really is a buyer’s market.
What may be expensive are high-quality rare wines that are either produced in small quantities or are expensive to produce.
These tend to be the wines that people talk about.
However, if one looks at the prices of the leading wines in other countries, the Israeli wines are not so expensive. It is an established fact that handcrafted wines are not cheap. However, in percentage terms, these are the exception, as most of the wines bought are under NIS 50 a bottle, but most of the wines at tastings, competitions and that are written about by wine critics are those over NIS 50 a bottle.
So wine buying this season should be more enticing and less of a chore. It should be easier than ever to find a “best buy.” I always believe that the Israeli wines in the supermarkets are better than the imports because I am patriotic and, in my experience, this has proven to be true. One of the major problems with imported wines is that you never know the provenance of the wines, including, for instance, how long they sat at the port at temperatures of 40º.
One final tip. The very cheapest wine is never the best buy because packaging costs, labels, bottles and capsules are more or less of a similar price.
Therefore, the difference between a bottle that costs NIS 25 and one of NIS 35 is the wine itself. So you get what you pay for. On the other hand, if you are looking for a basic wine with good fruit aromas and mouth-filling flavors, you can find them in abundance in today’s supermarkets and wine shops. Israeli wine has come of age.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international publications. firstname.lastname@example.org