Israeli Wine Starts

International critics rate Israel's wines. Find out which brands have earned four stars and which have received merely one.

November 18, 2010 11:15
3 minute read.

Wine 521. (photo credit: Courtesy)

We all have an opinion of our favorite Israeli wineries, but it is interesting to see what the international critics think. Well, now we have an answer. The New Pocket Wine Guide 2011 by Hugh Johnson has been published. It is a mini-encyclopedia and is like the Wine World’s Michelin Guide, in that it gives a rating to wineries. It was first published in 1977 and since then has been published annually. It is the world's largest selling wine book and is translated into many languages and sold around the world. Hugh Johnson is the world's most distinguished and prolific wine writer.

This year there is a new Eastern Mediterranean section that includes Cyprus, Lebanon and Turkey, as well as Israel. There are a record thirty Israeli wineries listed. Last year there were twenty six. The new additions are: Alexander, Avidan, Mony and Zion.

Both Domaine du Castel and Yatir Winery have succeeded in holding on to their prestigious four star rating. Wineries that have advanced since last year are: Clos de Gat, Galil Mountain, Pelter, Ella Valley, Tzora and Binyamina. Each of these wineries has succeeded to improve their rating. Barkan-Segal, Carmel, Galil Mountain and Tabor receive recognition for producing good value wines. The Margalit Special Reserve receives a notation of being a wine particularly enjoyed by Hugh Johnson, himself.

In his introduction to the Israel section, Johnson writes that Israel has become: “a young,
dynamic wine industry.” He also writes that the best growing regions are the Upper Galilee, Golan Heights and Judean Hills adding: “… but (typically of the Israelis), they also have vineyards in the desert.”

In comments on the Eastern Mediterranean, Johnson writes: “Lebanon…and Israel… have progressed no end in the last ten years and are producing some high-quality reds. War and violence make this a difficult area for wine-growers, so the courage of Israeli and Lebanese winemakers should be encouraged – better to make wine than war.”

In an aside, entitled Grapes of the Moment, he comments on how strange it is that there are no indigenous varieties in Israel, when there are so many in Cyprus and Turkey. However he notes that the “varietal menu is not entirely standard”, mentioning that Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot do well here.

In his introduction to the book, he reminds readers he does not like wine scores. He writes: “This book doesn’t do wine-by-wine judgments. No scores. The one-to-four star code is my take on the winery…as a presence in the market.” He therefore differentiates his world view from the American style of scores out of 100, as represented by American critic Robert Parker and Wine Spectator Magazine.

Hugh Johnson is well-known for his books: The Story of Wine, The World Wine Atlas, The Wine Companion, and The Art and Science of Wine. Each of these are classics, which form the basis of any wine lover’s library.

He has also written his autobiography Wine – A Life Uncorked. Hugh Johnson visited Israel in the late 1980’s for his TV series on the The Story of Wine. He observed the early days of the Israeli wine revolution and as his World Wine Atlas and Wine Companion indicate, he is well informed on Israeli wines.

The full ratings from Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2011 are:

FOUR STARS **** : Domaine du Castel

THREE TO FOUR STARS ***>****: Yatir Winery

THREE STARS ***: Clos de Gat, Golan Heights, Margalit

TWO TO THREE STARS **>***: Carmel, Chateau Golan, Flam, Galil Mountain, Pelter

TWO STARS **: Barkan-Segal, Ella Valley, Recanati, Saslove, Tulip, Tzora, Vitkin

ONE TO TWO STARS *>**: Agur, Alexander, Avidan, Binyamina, Chillag, Dalton, Sea Horse, Tabor

By my interpretation, any winery receiving four stars is amongst the best in the world. A three star rating translates to world class wineries and two stars to a good international class. The result is therefore extremely positive for Israel.

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2011 is published by Mitchell Beazley, London, and is also available in Steimatzky for NIS 89.

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes on wine for international and Israeli publications.

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