Wine Talk: Learn your ABC

There are many red-wine alternatives to Cabernet grapes, and some even make great wine.

Red wine  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Red wine
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Most of Israel’s quality red wines are made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah or Shiraz.
There is a movement of wine lovers who profess to follow wines that are ABC – anything but Cabernet. For those looking for an alternative, there are also great wines made from other red varieties in Israel.
Argaman is Israel’s only true variety. It was developed in the late 1980s from a cross between the Portuguese Souzao and the Israeli workhorse variety, Carignan. The intention was to provide a blending grape with excellent color.
The word argaman means “deep purple.” It is mainly grown in the Judean lowlands. One particular winery, Segal, has adopted Argaman as a special project and planted it in the Upper Galilee, where it has produced a praiseworthy single vineyard wine.

Barbera is a simple variety from the northwest of Italy, and Piedmont in particular. It has a high natural acidity, which means it may have potential in Israel as a blending grape. As yet it is very sparsely grown, mainly in the Upper Galilee. The best example of an Israeli Barbera is produced by the Galil Mountain Winery.
Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc is part of the classic Bordeaux blend and makes varietal wines in the Loire Valley. The wines tend to be lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon, with the recognizable herbaceous character. The Margalit (NK) and Ella Valley Cabernet Francs are arguably the best in Israel.
In recent years this variety has made a comeback. By reducing yields and using only old vines, Carignan has been producing better wines recently than any time in its history. Most of the Carignan is planted in the valleys of Mount Carmel.
The pioneer of “new” Carignan in Israel is the Carmel Winery with its Appellation Carignan Old Vines. Of the smaller wineries, Vitkin (NK) is also a Carignan specialist.
Grenache reached its high point in the 1970s when Grenache Rosé was Israel’s largest-selling wine. Now as the country swings towards Mediterranean varieties again, new improved clones are being planted. It is early days, but the best so far is Avidan Grenache (NK).
Malbec was planted in Israel in the late 1880s by Rothschild. It has since gone out of fashion as one of the varieties in Bordeaux but is the national variety of Argentina. It has only recently returned to Israel, has immense promise, but so far the main winery to come out with a wine made from the variety is Teperberg, the country’s largest family winery. Its Terra Malbec is juicy and fruity.
Pinot Noir
Every winemaker wants to make a Pinot Noir, and Israel is no exception. One of the world’s premier varieties, it is only really great in Burgundy. In this instance, the pioneer with this noble variety is the Golan Heights Winery. Its Yarden Pinot Noir is the best example of this variety in Israel.
Petite Sirah
Petite Sirah is at its best in our hot climate in the rolling Judean foothills, especially from old vines.
The wines produced are slightly animal in character and very full bodied. The best is Carmel Appellation Petite Sirah Old Vines.
Petit Verdot
Petit Verdot is a variety that often does not ripen at home in Bordeaux, where it is not fashionable, but there is no such problem in Israel. It is well suited to the Israeli climate, producing black, hard, tannic wines. The Yatir Petit Verdot, newly released, is the best example of this variety.
Pinotage is the national grape variety of South Africa, being a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. What most people don’t know is that it was created by a Jew named Abraham Perold. Conceived in 1925, it stayed in the background until the revival of South African wine in the 1990s, after which it has had quite a loyal following.
It grows successfully in the Judean lowlands. The pioneer of Pinotage in Israel has been the Barkan Winery. Its Barkan Reserve Pinotage is recommended.
Sangiovese is the largest planted variety in Italy but is best known in Tuscany. It is well planted on the Golan Heights, and the Golan Heights Winery’s Gamla Sangiovese is the most prominent Israeli wine made from the grape.
Spain’s national grape variety is Tempranillo, most well known in the red wines of Roja or Ribera del Duero. Here the Teva Tempranillo produced by the Binyamina Winery is the main example, produced in an easy-drinking style.
Zinfandel, the red grape of California, is planted in Israel. The Dalton Winery in the Upper Galilee has produced a full-bodied, mouth-filling Zinfandel for Zin believers in Israel. It is a blockbuster wine.
So there is no lack of variety in Israel and no lack of experimentation going on. These quality reds from less prominent grape varieties are well worth a try.
Adam Montefiore works for the Carmel Winery and regularly writes about Israeli wine for international and Israeli publications.

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