When I came to Israel, most of the sales were white wines. The largest selling wines had been brands like Carmel Hock in the ’60s, Grenache Rosé in the ’70s and then Emerald Riesling in the ’80s and ’90s. They were all slightly sweet, simple wines. Perfect to drink served very cold, rather than to taste and discuss in the company of wine experts. Good for a picnic, but not for a formal dinner in a quality restaurant.
Then in 1992 something happened. The French Paradox was exposed on the program Sixty Minutes in prime-time viewing in the US. To summarize briefly, it was proved that even though the French ate all the wrong fatty foods, they were less prone to heart disease than others who ate correctly, simply because they drank red wine. From this, came the idea that red wine was more healthful than white.
At the same time in Israel, the quality wine revolution started to kick in. Among the many benefits this brought, winemakers learned to make easy-drinking red wines that were very fruity, with refreshing acidity and no hint of astringency, in other words, entry-level red wines that were produced more like whites. The upshot of this was that the new wine drinker could cut his wine-drinking teeth with a red wine instead of a white.
Finally, in Israel there was a disease rife among wine lovers who used to think that a true connoisseur would only drink red wines.
So the new wine expert would often be heard saying proudly: “Oh, I only drink reds.”
The result of these three points converging together was that Israel became a red-wine-drinking country. This bias to red wines always infuriated me. Firstly, we live in a hot country and our red wines are comparatively high in alcohol. Who wants to drink oak-aged, high-alcohol red wines all the time? Remember we have a long, hot and humid summer and our winter is usually very short.
I am often asked “What is your favorite wine?” and in truth I don’t have one. It is the variety of choice that makes wine attractive.
You can match wine to your mood, to the people you are with or to the food. So what is suitable for a special dinner in a quality restaurant will be totally unsuitable for a Shabbat brunch.
Variety is the spice of life.
You don’t listen to only one type of music. You don’t have to choose between the Beatles and Beethoven. You don’t eat only one type of food. Sometimes a good humous can give as much satisfaction as a steak.
I remember the story about Baron Rothschild, who was asked what the favorite wine he ever drank was. He said he remembered he was 19 years old, sitting on the beach. The sea was calm, the sunset was beautiful and the girl he was with was very pretty. He could not remember what the wine was, but it was without doubt the best wine he had ever drunk.
It is the ability to choose the wine for the occasion that makes the difference. So why someone would think it shows expertise to always drink red beats me. It must make life very boring.
Certainly Israel has for many years made better reds than whites, but there are signs that white wines are improving very fast.
A white wine revolution is under way, and there is a discernible trend back to whites.
Why are whites attractive? Firstly, there is more variety in white wines than red. They are better food wines. The best white wines are usually comparatively well priced, representing great value. They are also far better for our climate.
In essence, white wines are more difficult to make than reds. White wine making requires more speed, stricter temperature control and deft timing. In essence, white wines are grape-juice wines (made from grapes without the skins) and red wines are grape-skin wines. For whites, freshness, fruit and balance are crucial and the aromas are more delicate.
Of course, Israeli Sauvignon Blancs are not better than New Zealand’s, nor are our Riesling’s better than Germany’s. However, there are a growing number of quality white wines that show good varietal character, with a sense of place of where they come from.
That is not to say we did not make good white wines before. Those were usually Chardonnays.
The Yarden Chardonnay, Yarden Katzrin Chardonnay, C Blanc du Castel and Clos de Gat are all quality wines. Now there are a whole host of new Chardonnays showing balance and a reduced dependence on oak.
Look for the Tzora Neve Ilan or Lewinsohn Garage de Pape (not kosher) whites. Both are exquisitely balanced Chardonnays.
Sauvignon Blanc has been here a lot longer than Chardonnay. However only in the 2000s have we learned to make it well. The Tabor Sauvignon Blanc is arguably the finest in the country, from a 30-year-old Lower Galilee vineyard, aromatic, slightly tropical and grassy with mouth-puckering acidity.
Other good examples are from Dalton, Gamla and Pelter (NK).
Flam Winery has a different approach. It blends its Sauvignon and Chardonnay together.
The result is unoaked, crisp, fragrant and refreshing as the morning dew.
Some of the traditional Israeli varieties, condemned as poor and old-fashioned, have been revived, as the Carignans and Petite Sirahs have among red wines. Try the Mony Colombard, Sea Horse Chenin Blanc (NK), Kerem Shvo Chenin Blanc (NK) or the rare, hard-to-find Dalton Elkosh Vineyard Semillon.
Each shows something unique to the variety, representing the terroir of the region where they are grown, and who wants to drink Chardonnay all the time? (MCT) May 29, 2014 7 weekend winetalk Carmel Kayoumi Vineyard Riesling from the foothills of Mount Meron and the Vitkin Riesling are miracle wines. A Riesling, at its best in cool climate countries, has no place to succeed in Israel. However, these wines have the delicate wild flower and honeysuckle aromas of the true Riesling, with a refreshing balancing acidity. They gain the characteristic petroleum character with time, and they age probably better than any Israeli dry white wine.
Then there are new varieties, which may be termed as more Mediterranean in character, coming from the northern and southern Rhône. These are perfect for the climate.
Viognier is delicate variety with aromas of peach and apricot, and a broad mouth feel.
It is reasonably new but gaining interest among the inquisitive. The Yatir Viognier is unoaked, while the Galil Mountain Viognier is aged in oak barrels for a few months.
Both are very different, but are outstanding examples of this variety.
Tabor launched the first Roussanne in the country. The wine is fresh and lively with a unique herbal character. At home, it is usually blended with Marsanne, which is rounder and softer. One is the perfect foil for the other. The new Recanati Special Reserve White blends them together to great effect. The Geshem White (NK) from Chateau Golan is also a blend of Rhône varietals. Both are excellent.
Of course, for those who miss Emerald Riesling, it is still available. However, the new “in” semi-dry white wines are the very aromatic Gewurztraminers with their unforgettable spicy, lychee and rose petal aroma. The Carmel Vineyards and Yarden Gewurztraminers provide those preferring a touch of sweetness with a high quality upgrade on Emerald Riesling.
There is even a new boutique winery devoted only to white wines. The winery is Sphera (NK) and the very talented winemaker is Doron Rav Hon.
He says: “There is something about white wine that excites me every time anew. The purity, exactness and the challenge to create it differently each time.”
His wines are creative, his initiative totally original and his wines are worth seeking out. Opening your minds anew to white wines may rejuvenate your wine drinking experience.