A panel of international judges sipped, swirled and spat their way through more than 600 wines during the November TerraVino wine competition held at the plush Cramim spa hotel near Jerusalem.
It was TerraVino’s 14th year and the competition has grown each year.
“This definitely puts Israel on the wine map,” Haim Gan, an international wine judge and the organizer of the competition, said in an interview. “Every important wine country has a good professional wine competition that brings news of the local wines abroad. The quality of Israel wines keeps getting better and better.”
In fact, during the competition the prestigious Wine Spectator magazine published its list of the 100 best wines in the world, which included an Israeli wine in 100th place, the Grand Vin by the Castel Winery.
Castel was founded by winemaker Eli Ben-Zaken, who received a prize for lifetime achievement in the Israeli wine world.
The wines were tasted blind at the competition, meaning the judges had very little information about what they were tasting. More than half of the wines submitted came from Israel but there were also submissions from well-known wine regions including Australia, Argentina, Spain, France and Germany.
The wineries pay 690 New Israeli shekels (just under $200) for each wine they enter in the contest, as compared to 150 Euro ($160) for similar competitions in Europe. Gan said he hopes there will be more submissions from outside Israel in the future.
The big winner from Israel was the Gofna Petit Verdot Reserve 2017 from the relatively small Gvaot winery. The Grand Champion from abroad was the Vinné Sklepy Lechovice from the Czech republic.
The Israeli wine industry has expanded exponentially in the past 10 years. Gan said that today there are 2000 different Israeli wine labels, and that Terravino helps Israeli wine consumers know what to buy. It is also a big push for the wineries themselves. In the days after the competition, wineries posted which medals they had won that year.
After the competition finished, Gan and the Cramim hotel hosted a wine-soaked weekend for wine lovers. Several of the judges stayed and the weekend included workshops including how professional judges make their decisions.
In that workshop, MW John Salvi helped participants improve their tasting skills. Salvi, 86, is one of fewer than 400 people in the world with the title of MW (Master of Wine).
“If you taste professionally you will get more out of the wine,” he said in a plummy British accent. “Your mouth has different areas where you can taste different flavors.”
For example, he said, the only place on your tongue where you taste sweet flavors is on the very tip, while salty flavors are on the side of the tongue, and bitter ones toward the back.
Salvi, along with two other judges, tasted wines along with the participants, explaining why each wine received the grade it had been given.
The judges also explained how they were able to grade types of wine even if it was a type or style they do not personally enjoy. In the end, though, wine is about enjoyment. The right wine to drink is the one you feel like drinking right now.