Wine Talk: Memories

Take a look at the long way we have come from a sweet kiddush-winedrinking nation, to a flourishing, high-quality local wine industry.

Wine bottles and glases 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Wine bottles and glases 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As Israel celebrates its 63rd Independence Day, I have decided to look back and select a couple of wines which symbolized each period.
This is a difficult choice. If I had to choose a wine to be representative of this period, it would have to be a sweet wine, which is what people drank then. My choice would be Alicante, a sweet red wine, and Stock 84 brandy to remind us of the days when Israelis were brandy drinkers.
Adom Atik and Carmel Hock were the biggest-selling Israeli table wines in the 1960s. Adom Atik, a red wine, was the biggest-selling table wine in export markets, sometimes exporting surprising quantities to the nonkosher market, in particular to Sweden.
Hock was the semi-dry white wine Israelis used to drink as a spritzer – adding soda water. Once these two wines symbolized Israeli wine. The wine revolution has left them way behind, but historically they are of interest because they have been available throughout Israel’s 63 years.
The wine of this decade was Carmel Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1976. This was Israel’s first serious wine, aged in barrel and bottle like a quality international class wine. It was also labeled as a varietal – given the name of the main grape variety. In the coming years more and more Israeli wines would follow this “new world” trend.
The biggest-selling wine during this period was Grenache Rosé as Israeli consumers started to move from sweet to semi-dry wines.
The award here goes to Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 1984. It was the first Israeli wine to win a truly major international award. It won the Gold Medal at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London in 1987. It also won the Winiarski Trophy for the best wine in the competition.
This wine heralded the advance of the Golan Heights Winery, which brought the “new world” technological revolution to Israel, setting new standards for Israeli wine.
The biggest-selling wine during this period was the Selected Emerald Riesling, which satisfied new demands for an easy-to-drink, semi-dry white wine, that introduced more Israelis to the enjoyment of wine than any other.
The 1990s signaled the boutique wine revolution. The first serious boutique winery, and arguably the best, was Margalit Winery, owned by chemistry professor Dr. Yair Margalit. His most memorable wine was the Margalit Cabernet Sauvignon 1993, which symbolized the advance of the small boutique winery. Over 15 years later it was still superb. It showed that a small non-kosher winery could be amongst the finest in Israel.
Click for special Jpost features
Click for special Jpost features
The other wine of the period was Yarden Mount Hermon Red, which became the largest-selling red wine in a decade when Israelis changed from white to red wines.
My choice of the wine of the 2000s would have to be Yatir Forest 2003.
This wine scored 93 points in the first tasting conducted by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. At the time, no other wine from the Eastern Mediterranean region had achieved this and it also equaled the best score ever awarded for a kosher wine by the Wine Advocate.
The tasting was a watershed for Israeli wine desperate to shed its kosher image and to be regarded as a quality wine producing country in its own right.
The new popular product of the 21st century is Moscato, made from Muscat grapes in the style of the Italian Moscato d’Asti. The leading brands are Golan Moscato and Young Selected Moscato. These remind us that wine is meant to be fun, to be enjoyed any place and any time.
If I had to pick one key year out of the 63, it would be 1976. This was the year the Carmel Special Reserve was produced and the year vineyards were first planted on the Golan Heights.
The Israeli wine revolution started from then onwards.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery, and regularly writes about wine for both international and Israeli publications.