Israeli Wine - Value for money

During Sukkot of last year, our friend A., a businessman from the US, asked to meet us during Chol Ha-Mo’ed at his hotel in Jerusalem. We’ve known him for many years. He’s a veteran wine collector who’s always asking for advice about new Israeli wines, or wants us to acquire a special wine for him that’s no longer available on the market.

We met in the hotel lobby, and sensed at once that something was different. In his eyes, we saw a kind of determination.

“You must find a winery for me, urgently.”

“For what purpose?” we asked. To visit, to sample new wines?

“No,” he answered. “I want to buy a winery.”

A. managed to confuse us for a moment. Before we answered him, he continued: “I’ll be here for another week. Find me a boutique winery, not too big, and not one that’s just begun operating a year ago. I want one that’s been through at least three or four years of production.  It should be producing quality wine and have serious potential for success.”

“Wait a minute,” we stopped him. “Why do you want to buy a winery for, when you can buy any wine you want, at the highest levels?”

“You don’t understand,” he said. “Once, in order to impress your friends, you had to buy a new Ferrari.” He stopped, looked around, and continued in a quiet voice. “Israeli wineries are today’s Ferraris. If you have one, you belong to the big-boys’ club. Two months ago, I played golf with my partners, and every one of them was talking about his winery. I was really embarrassed that I didn’t have one.”

A.’s explanation didn’t sound reasonable to us. We are certainly aware of this trend, as the past fifteen years have witnessed a blossoming of the wine market in Israel. We can even state with confidence that recently, the kosher wine scene in Israeli has reached the boiling point. Impressive boutique wineries have popped up under every budding tree in the north, center, and south of the country. At many, the quality of the wine is nothing less than marvelous, creating exclusivity and a high demand for Israeli wine around the world.

But as opposed to countries where the wine culture has developed over hundreds of years, and where production tradition and quality are well-established, in Israel the wine culture is still emerging. Thus it has great business potential, but it also involves many risks. It is a complex investment, one that is difficult for investors from abroad to evaluate.

As in any market, some wineries are better, some are worse, and of course, there are many interests involved. The parameters for investment are multiple: what is the geographical location of the winery? Are the grapes self-grown or purchased? Who are the grape suppliers? Who is the winemaker, what is the level of investment in technology, and what is the quality of the production process? Most importantly – who stands at the head of the vineyard, the dreamer who went for it against all risks? Is he investing his whole soul in this winery,  as promised, or is he merely investing in a business?

A.’s decision to acquire a winery in such a big hurry and without extensive background checks seemed carelessly hasty to us. “A week is too short. We advise you not to rush.” “Have a happy holiday,” we said, and took our leave.

Two weeks later we received an email from A.: “Congratulate me,” he wrote. “I’m about to become a partner in a winery…”. (So as not to embarrass him, we won’t divulge its name.) We advised him to back out of the deal immediately, because this winery would not produce the desired profit from the investment.

A.’s case is extreme, but it happens on a smaller scale as well. We sometimes meet consumers who are interested in acquiring Israeli wines, and they are stunned by the vast selection. It doesn’t matter whether the consumer is interested in drinking quality kosher wine, or supporting Israeli industry – he will always aspire to obtain the best value for his money. The problem is that in most cases, it’s not easy to verify which wines are good quality and which are mediocre (but have an outstanding image).

As experts on Israeli wine, in this blog we will be posting our quality rating for new and classic wines, on a scale of 1 to 5, based on the price (in Israel, in Shekels) recommended by the vineyard.

We begin with two new white wines from the flagship series of Carmel Winery, the Carmel Single Vineyard series:

1. Riesling Kayoumi 2013: Until the 2011 harvest, the Riesling Kayoumi was semi-dry. In the 2013 harvest, the winery’s winemaker took the wine in a direction less known to the Israeli palate – dry Riesling. The wine still makes a sweet impression, but we definitely sense the same characteristics we expect in a characteristic Riesling. This wine has a slightly mineral flavor with aromas of lime and apple. The flavor is dry with a very pleasing acidity. A well-made, precise wine.

Winery recommended price – 79 NIS

Value for price: 4 out of 5

2. Chardonnay Admon Vineyard 2013: A new vineyard in the Single Vineyard series. The vineyard is planted in the Moshav Dalton region. Of 36 dunams of Chardonnay, only the 12 highest-quality dunams are used for wine production. The nose is accompanied by peach aromas. A characteristic chardonnay with a light, buttery flavor that is truly pleasing, and a woody background. The flavor is round and slightly heavily spiced in relation to the nose – a detail we very much appreciated. You will simply fall in love with this wine.

Winery recommended price – 90 NIS

Value for price: 4 out of 5

Red wines:

1. Merlot Reserve Manara Vineyard 2011 by Recanati Winery: A rich Merlot with blackberry, cherry, and roasted coffee bean aromas, as well as spice aromas. The wine has a high, balanced acidity. In the mouth, we sense a slightly ripe flavor with a long finish. The wine manages to preserve the elegance that is very characteristic of this winery.

Winery recommended price: 110 NIS

Value for price: 4 out of 5

2. Merlot Mountain Heights 2011: Merlot from Bracha Vineyard in Samaria, located 850 meters above sea level. The wine is aged in barrels for 22 months (the wines of this winery are aged for long periods in basements before they are put on the market). A strong red hue. The nose is of ripe red fruit, the flavor is of ripe plum and raspberry. The body is full and velvety, almost perfectly balanced between sweetness and bitterness (time will tell). Undoubtedly a very impressive merlot with a long aging capacity.

Winery recommended price: 129 NIS

Value for price: 4 out of 5

3. Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2011 by Flam Winery: This wine is composed of 85% cabernet from Dishon Vineyard and Ben Zimra Vineyard; and another 6% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot. In the nose, we sense an abundance of fresh fruit. There is a hint of wild spices, with a slight greenness. The wine is elegant and complex. The flavors of fresh fruit and delicate spiciness, together with the almost balanced acidity, create a balanced wine with a long finish. Despite the long aging potential of this wine, you may enjoy it very much now as well.

Winery recommended price: 185 NIS

Value for price: 4 out of 5