The wines of Israel: a study in 44 wines

I recently spent a few days in Israel. The trip was primarily about giving two presentations at the inaugural IPEVO conference in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, but while I was here I tasted quite a few wines, and took notes.

Israel has 6500 hectares of vines, spread across the country from the Negev desert in the south to upper Galilee in the north. The wine regions vary quite a bit in terms of soil and climate (largely influenced by altitude).

Winegrowing here is ancient – this may well be one of the most ancient of all wine cultures. But there was a loss of continuity, from around 700 CE wine disappeared because of Islamic culture, and wasn’t to return until the mid-19th century. So many of the ancient varieties were lost, although there is now a concerted effort to try to rediscover as many as possible (more on this in another article).

Initial goals for the wine producers here were to make large quantities of kosher wine. Then the next wave was about trying to prove the industry’s ability working with famous international varieties, but largely in warmer sites. More recently the shift has been to making wines of personality, going higher, farming more interesting soils.

I really liked a lot of these wines. The regional designations need to be taken with a degree of caution: most labels are in Hebrew which I can’t read, and the map of the wine regions with official names is still a work in progress.

The general tendency in Israel is to like wines that are quite full and ripe (for reds, which make up most of the production). I have a preference for wines where an attempt has been made to retain freshness, but in my reviews I’ve tried not to penalise style when there is still balance, but I try to make styles clear in my notes.


Grenache by Dani 2020 Judean Foothills, Israel
12.3% alcohol. Destemmed but not crushed, and hand pigeage. Aged in neutral oak. Supple and fresh with redcurrant and sweet cherry notes. This has lightness and elegance with an expressive red fruit personality. 93/100

Tepparbberg Legacy Cabernet Franc 2018 Judean Hills, Israel
Powerful and intense but still fresh. This is grainy, chalky and mineral, and very much reflective of its varietal origins, but there’s also sweetness and ripeness, supported by some grippy structure. Intriguing wine. 92/100

Shiloh Secret Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 Judean Hills, Israel
15.5% alcohol. Sweetly aromatic with spicy blackcurrant and cherry fruit with some aniseed notes. The palate has a nice dusty, dry structure with a dry finish. Ripe, dense and grippy. 91/100

Tura Winery Ridge 2021 Israel
This is Dolcetto with a bit of Marselan. Supple with lovely red berry and cherry fruit, with an appealing sour cherry edge, and a touch of damson. Good acidity, showing brightness as well as some nice fruit. 92/100

Gva’Not Pinot Noir 2020 Shilo, Israel
From vineyards at 750 m, this is 30% carbonic. Supple and bright with nice sour cherry and plum fruit with a stony, mineral edge, showing good acidity. Good fruit with juiciness but also some density, and a grippy finish. 91/100

Gva’Not Cabernet Franc 2020 Samaria, Israel
From vineyards at 850 m in the central mountains, planted on hard limestone soils. Rich, dense fruit here, with powerful blackcurrant, spice and black cherry. Has some sweetness. Rich and ripe with great density, made in a rich, powerful style. 93/100

Vitkin Winery Carignan 2007 Israel
This started as VSP but was retrained to gobelet – the vineyard was initially planted to produce large yields for Carmen. Dense, spicy and vivid: still youthful with a hint of earthiness. Has some grip, and notes of spice and iodine. Ripe, rustic and quite tasty. 91/100

Vitkin Winery Grenache Blanc 2021 Upper Galilee, Israel
12.5% alcohol. From 800 m. Very lively with nice white peach, pear and citrus fruit, showing good tension and a mineral twist to the bright fruit. Such crystalline precision here. 94/100

Vitkin Insight Macabeo 2019 Israel
12.5% alcohol. This is the only Macabeo in Israel. So focused and fresh with a lovely mineral, spicy edge. Nice tension to the white peach and lemon fruit. Supple, fine and stony with a hint of wax and wet stone. Very expressive. 94/100

Alpha Omega Roussanne 2018 Israel
From loamy, sandy soils at 300 m, this sees a bit of skin contact. Tangy and savoury with a touch of spice, as well as some marmalade. Good balance and freshness with a bit of grip. Very fine. 93/100

Shvo Vineyards Barbera 2018 Upper Galilee, Israel
A blend of soils here: some basaltic, some limestone, some flint. So fresh, fine and tart with supple redcurrant and cherry fruit. Tart, bright and linear with some sweetness to the fruit, and also some nice sour cherry on the finish. Massive drinkability. 93/100

1848 Winery Argaman 2019 Israel
Argaman is a grape variety created by crossing Sousão with Carignan. This is deeply coloured with a lovely black fruits nose. Very rich but still fresh with dense sweet black fruits and a sour cherry twist. Spicy and tangy, with good structure and freshness. 92/100

Péér Winery Black Sheep Reserva 2020 Upper Galilee and Shamon, Israel
This is a blend of Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Roussanne and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in 400 litre barrels, 50% new oak. Fresh, tangy and sweetly fruited with nice spiciness. There’s some earth and pepper here with a savoury, grainy twist to the well balanced fruit. 91/100

Zion Winery Capital Lions Gate 2021 Israel
Petite Sirah, Barbera and Merlot. Juicy, vivid and bright with cherries, plums and spice. Has a nice grainy structure and some freshness. Grippy finish. 90/100

Binyamina Winery Garnacha Tintorea 2020 Gibo, Israel
This is from 400 m altitude and it’s destemmed but not crushed. Nice density here: firm and grippy with lots of black fruits and good structure, showing firmness and notes of almond and wood spice. Ripe and dense but still balanced. 91/100

Lahat Leiby 2021 Upper Western Galilee, Israel
45% Grenache, 33% Syrah and 22% Mourvèdre. Supple, fresh and very fine, this is a juicy lighter-styled red wine with a twist of cranberry, and a bit of grip. Made in an elegant style with nice brightness and purpose. 92/100

Lahat Adom 2021 Upper Western Galiliee, Israel
This is from Elkosh and the main viticultural challenge is a lack of potassium, so some vintages have pH levels too low, requiring deacidification! 10% amphora in this. Very lively, bright and taut with cherry and raspberry fruit, showing good acidity. Juicy and linear with nice grip, and an appealing stony edge. 93/100

Yotam Winery Cuvée Vera 2020 Israel
This is 45% Carignan, 45% Syrah and 10 Mourvèdre, and 50% was aged in Stockinger, the rest in old small oak. There’s a supple, fresh minty edge to the focused cherry and berry fruits with brightness and nice density. Fresh and direct with great balance between the ripe berry fruits and the good structure. 92/100

Guy Eschel Wines Grenache on a Hot Summer Day 2020 Upper Galilee, Israel
No added sulfites until bottling. Dense, sweet, bold and textured with lovely fruit. Smooth and ripe showing nice texture and a slight saltiness. 93/100

Amphorae Winery Terroir Mourvèdre 2020 Israel
Not made in amphora, but rather stainless steel and then old wood. This is supple and savoury with spice and pepper as well as some earthy notes sitting under the berry fruits. Stony and savoury. 88/100

Dalton Galilo 2018 Upper Western Galilee, Israel
This is a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache from limestone soils. Fresh, tangy and bright with lovely red cherry and berry fruit, showing nice grip and a sense of elegance, as well as ripeness and density. Lovely fruit. 92/100

Château Golan Ruach 2020 Israel
This translates as ‘wind’ and it’s a blend of Petit Verdot, Grenach and Syrah. Supple, stony and mineral with grainy structure under the dense, ripe black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. There’s real concentration here with weight and structure, but no over-ripeness. 94/100

Yarden 2T 2019 Israel
This is a blend of Tinto Cão and Touriga Nacional. Very aromatic and sweet with nice density. Black cherries, spice, a hint of cocoa. Vibrant ripe fruit with good density, and a spicy, savoury slightly woody edge. 92/100

Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 Israel
Bold, rich and sweet with nice blackcurrant fruit, some spice and a twist of earth. Rich and sweetly fruited, this is developing nicely with lots of sweet fruit. Nicely dense and pure. 91/100

Wine by Dror Semillon 2021 Israel
This is one-third barrel, with the rest in stainless steel. This is really vivid and detailed with a stony, mineral edge to the bright citrus fruit. Focused and fine with nice freshness, showing the bright side of Semillon. 93/100

Nana Cassiopeia 2020 Mizpe Ramon, Negev, Israel
90% Syrah with the balance Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot, from the desert. Dense, sweet black cherries and blackberries. Ripe and full but balanced, with the focus on the sweet black fruits. So appealing. 92/100

White Swallow Chenin Blanc 2020 Judean Hills, Israel
This is from 950 m on sloping chalky soils. Pure and textured with appealing pear and citrus fruit as well as a touch of minerality. There’s a slight salinity to this wine and some brightness. 91/100

Tzora Shoresh Red 2020 Israel
Lively and focused with lovely sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit. Pure but with appropriate structure, showing nice density. Polished and modern, and quite fine. 93/100

Tzorah Shoresh White 2020 Israel
13.5% alcohol. 80% Sauvignon, 20% Chardonnay. Good concentration of citrus and pear fruit, made in a modern style. Textured and quite dense with some tropical hints, some aniseed and nice purity. 91/100

Sea Horse Winery Oz 2020 Israel
This is Cinsault, Grenache, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Light in colour, it is stony and mineral with some leathery hints in the background. Nice precision with red cherries and plums. Elegant red fruits are the main theme, and this is supple and well balanced. 93/100

Tel Riesling 2021 Golan Heights, Israel
Lively, mineral and limey with just a hint of pithiness and some subtle petrol notes in the background. Stony and bright with lovely citrus character and good acidity. 92/100

Agur Winery La’Yam White 2021 Judean Hills, Israel
Very fresh and fine with a stony core. Lovely citrus fruit with a touch of pear, showing volume but also balance. Such a lovely, expressive, mineral-laced wine. 94/100

Agur Winery La’Yam Red 2020 Judean Hills, Israel
This is 54% Syrah, 20% Carignan (long maceration of 4 months) and then the balance is Grenache, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah and Garnacha Tintorea. Concentrated but very fine and fresh with lovely sweet cherry and berry fruits, as well as a core of red fruits. There’s some structure here with a twist of aniseed too. Real finesse to this wine. 94/100

Tabernacle Winery Reserve Syrah 2020 Upper Galilee, Israel
Biodynamic farming, and the cover crop is crimped rather than tilled. 30% new oak. Vivid and dense with nice intensity, showing fresh blackberry and black cherry fruit. Has vibrancy and immediacy with good structure, finishing with some tar and spice. 93/100

Galil Mountain Barbera 2020 Israel
Vibrant, bright and juicy with lovely cherry and berry fruit, as well as some freshness. Direct berry fruits the main focus here: very appealing. 92/100

Yarden Syrah Bar’On Vineyard 2019 Golan Heights, Israel
1100 m, from basaltic soils. Sweet, ripe and concentrated with lush black fruits. Bold, rich and slightly tarry with real depth of fruit. Plenty of stuffing here, in a very modern style. 90/100

Vinkara Noble Late Harvest Gewurztraminer 2018 Israel
This is rich and complex with spicy grapefruit, grape, lychee and spice notes. Really complex and textured, this has a lot of concentration and superb balance between the sweetness and the acidity. Sensational wine. 94/100

Itay Lahat Roussanne 2021 Upper Galilee, Israel
13.4% alcohol. The grapes for this wine were harvested mid-August then cooled overnight, before pressing cold into a 320 litre clay amphora (made by Tava in Italy) for fermentation. Just free run juice was used. These clay vessels have the same oxygen permeability as a new oak barrel, and the volume means that the wine has more-or-less the same lees contact as a wine in barrel, without the oak influence. The result is a slightly stony, linear expression of Roussanne with some flower blossom and lavender notes as well as fresh pear and green apple characters, as well as a slight stony spiciness. There’s a restraint and balance to this wine, but it also has this lovely presence and a finely spiced, long finish. Very stylish. Retail in Israel is NIS 150, which works out at about £30, appropriate for a fine white like this. 93/100

Dalton Grounded Zuriman 2021 Galilee, Israel
12.5% alcohol. Winemaker Guy Eshel has been set free to do something really interesting here. This is bright, fresh, focused and has a lovely stony, clay-like edge to the sweet cherry, plum and red berry fruits. There’s a slight floral edge to the nose, but also some stony savouriness. The palate is focused, balanced, fresh and delicious with some raspberry crunch and a wonderful mineral component. This has ripe fruit, but also great freshness and precision. Very stylish and focused with nice crunchy structure backing up the fruit. Lovely stuff with real drinkability. 93/100

Philokalia Grapes of Wrath 2021 Bethlehem, Palestine
13% alcohol. Naturally made with no additions, from local indigenous grape varieties. This is a skin-fermented white but the maceration depends on the plot, and in this case was 1, 3, 4, 5 or 8 weeks. This is textural and fine, with a really lovely mouthfeel: there’s some breadth to the pear skin, table grape and melon fruit, but there’s a bit of structure too, although it’s really fine grained. A delicate, quite pure white with all the flavours in harmony, finishing with just a touch of sweet apple pie character. Really impressive. 93/100

Philokalia Anima Syriana 2019 Bethlehem, Palestine
14.5% alcohol. This wine explores the potential of some rare red varieties, and these are bought in grapes from old vines. No additions, no filtering or fining. This is spicy, layered and complex with hints of meat, pepper, leather and wax, with nice sweet fruit but also a distinct spicy savouriness. A lovely textural wine with a warm sweet core, but also a sense of freshness. It also really benefits with a bit of time in the glass, or after opening, when the harmonious, elegant side comes to the fore after an initial spicy, slightly wild blast immediately after opening. So interesting. 92/100

Ari Erle Dabouki Pet Nat 2022 Israel
Dabouki is a table grape indigenous to Israel, and it used to be a wine grape in ancient times. It needs some acid adds, though, and has low sugar at ripeness. Ari makes four wines with this variety. The Pet Nat is convincing, with spicy and savoury with some grapey richness. It’s a dry style with some bite and tang. 90/100

Ari Erle Dabouki Barrel 2022 Israel
This is nicely textured with some pear, apple and a touch of grape. Lovely smooth mouthfeel: so interesting. 89/100

Ari Erle Dabouki White 2022 Israel
Fruity and lively, this has nice grapey notes. Clean, tasty, nicely expressive. 88/100

Ari Erle Dabouki Orange 2022 Israel
Nice weight here with a creamy edge to the pear and citrus fruit. A bit of structure but not too much. Fruity and fine. 90/100

Find these wines with