We have records of wine being produced in the Holy Land for centuries. In fact, Jesus's first recorded miracle was turning about 150 gallons of water into very good wine (John 2) at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. The bible contains numerous references to the fruit of the vine in both the Old and New Testaments.
From Noah planting a vineyard to Jesus turning water into wine - wine has been an integral part of Jewish history and continues to find its place in both traditional celebrations and holidays as well as in daily culture. However, the wines of Israel are no longer being reserved only for traditional Jewish culture, but are being readily imported to both New World and European markets alike. And for good reason - they are not the sugary, sweet grape juices of old. Many of Israel's wines boast numerous awards and accolades and are being well represented in international wine competitions on an annual basis.
Wineries of Israel
Today, Israel has over 20 prime wineries and over 120 smaller, boutique wineries in the region. The most notable winery names to try include: Golan Heights Winery also marketing wines under the Yarden wines label, Carmel Winery, Barken, Domaine du Castel, Efrat and Galil Mountain.
Grape Varietals Grown in Israel
Are all Wine from Israel Kosher?
No, not all wines from Israel are kosher, but the vast majority are. "Kosher" means "fit or proper" - pure in Hebrew. Wines that are labeled as "kosher", are made with strict adherence to Rabbitical interpretation of Old Testament dietary guidelines, and are uniquely labeled as such. There will either be a "K" (for Kosher) or an "OU" (for Orthodox Union) designated on the bottle of wine. Another term that is associated with Kosher wines is "mevushal" - this term refers to a wine that has been flash-pasteurized and can be appropriately handled by someone that is not Jewish.
Appellations of Israel
Israel has five designated grape growing regions:
- Galilee (or Galil) - which is the most northern region and produces many of Israel's top wines.
- Judean Hills - includes the familiar cities of both Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The nights are cool and crisp, and both Domain du Castel and Efrat are located within this appellation.
- Shimshon (or Samson) - is the most widely planted region of Israel with almost 40% of the nation's grapes being grown here. Barken harvests a large percentage of its grapes in the Shimshon region.
- Negev - this is a more arid, desert region of Israel. Popular in biblical times for growing grapes, it has redeemed some of its popularity thanks to new watering technologies.
- Shomron (or Samaria) - this region makes up the largest grape growing region in Israel. With its distinctly Mediterranean climate many grapes thrive here.
By combining best practice viticultural and vinification proficiences from both Old World and New World wine producers, Israel's wines have truly come of age - resulting in many ambitious wines, often at very desirable price points.
For more information on the wines of Israel, check out the Israel Wines website run by Israel Preker. He does a fantastic job tracking and promoting the best of Israeli wine!