White wines: For an Israeli summer

While the health benefits of red wines have been championed, wine consumption trends have juxtaposed so that today about 70% of Israeli wines are reds and 30% are whites.

wine 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
wine 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
While the health benefits of red wines have been championed, wine consumption trends have juxtaposed so that today about 70% of Israeli wines are reds and 30% are whites. That’s not to say that there isn’t a diversity of delectable Israeli white wine selections. Some are tempting enough that even many red wine diehards occasionally prefer a crisp white wine over a big bolder higher alcoholic red.
Warmer wine regions tend to do better making quality red wines while cooler regions tend to do better with whites. White grapes tend to develop more acidity and complexity in cooler climates such as Germany, northern France and Italy, Northwestern United States, southern Australia and New Zealand.
The altitude of a winery’s vineyards can make up for the lack of latitude, providing ideal weather for white grape growing, so in Israel’s higher elevated Judean Hills and even more so in the Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights, several Israeli wineries have been able to consistently produce well respected quality white wines.
The most highly in demand white wine grape in the world is Chardonnay. As the principal white grape in Burgundy and Champagne, as well as the flagship white wine in California and Australia, it can be found all over the globe.
Several Israeli wineries make splendid examples, such as the Castel and Lewinsohn wineries that use grapes from the Judean Hills, and the Yarden Winery in the Golan Heights. Chardonnay is often the most expensive white wine offered by the Israeli wineries that attempt to make a white wine. (Most small Israeli wineries simply don’t attempt to make a white wine at all.) Since Chardonnay is suited to the coolest wine growing regions it does limit how extensively it can be planted and produce quality grapes.
Sauvignon Blanc, a variety that originates from the Bordeaux, seems to be a better fit for Israel. Bordeaux is a more temperate region of France than Burgundy or Champagne and the grapes are a little more adaptable to Israel’s overall climate. The success of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand and Chile has also spurred demand for this grape which in France principally is blended with Semillon. Almost all the largest wineries make a Sauvignon Blanc and it is often a better food match than Chardonnay. The Yatir Winery, the acclaimed offshoot venture of Carmel, doesn’t even offer a Chardonnay but instead has a Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier as its two available white wine selections.
Speaking of the Viognier grape, it has made some great inroads into being the base of many well-revered innovative wines in Israel. Although it only accounts for about 1% of all whites produced, many wineries have been making Viognier in such a way as to rival Chardonnay as the best white grape for Israeli white wines.
White Riesling, also known as Johannisburg Riesling, craves the coolest possible vineyards, so very little of it is planted here in Israel. It has origins in Germany where it makes wines of all styles (dry, sweet, semi-sweet and sparkling wines). New Zealand, the Alsace region of France, the Northwestern US and Canada also make fine examples. In Israel, the Golan-based Yarden (probably Israel’s largest producer of premium white wines) led by American born Victor Schoenfeld and the Vitkin Winery helmed by sabra Assaf Paz make two delicious offerings.
White Riesling shouldn’t be confused with Emerald Riesling, a hybrid grape developed in 1948 in California which came to Israel in the 1970s. It was an attempt to make a grape with the characteristics of White Riesling that could thrive in warmer climes like California or Israel. It has never developed much of a following as an ingredient towards making premium wines, but it has become one of the two most popular white grapes in Israel for making inexpensive mass consumption “supermarket” wines. Carmel’s Emerald Riesling might be Israel’s most popular single varietal wine.
Gewurztraminer is another aromatic white grape that isn’t produced much here in Israel. It can be found in some special wines and is available as a dry, semi-dry and dessert wine.
French Colombard is the other workhorse white grape that makes a lot of white wine in Israel but doesn’t receive the reverence of “Chard”, “Sauv Blanc”, Viognier or Gerwurtztraminer.
During the sweltering heat of an Israeli summer, these wines are best served chilled, although better quality wines benefit from less chilling as it will impair the quality (expressiveness and complexity) of the wine from being evident to the drinker in its aroma as well as in the mouth.
Whether quaffing to quench the heat or matching with fish, poultry, salads, cheese plates and many vegetarian dishes, you’ll find Israel now has several dozens of pleasurable and often impressive wines to choose from. Enjoy finding yourself a new favorite.
Reprinted from ESRA Magazine issue156, September, October 2010, www.esra-magazine.com