03/11/2008

Zag Wines Ltd.

Israel - 5,000 Years of Wine Culture

Israel is one of the oldest wine civilizations in the world - archaeological sites of ancient wine presses dated to the 3rd millennium B.C. were discovered all over the country.

Wines tell stories of history. Nowhere else is this so apparent than in Israel. Here they tell the story of mankind: of religions, expulsions, invasions, confrontations, of heaven and of hell. In the land of the Bible, the wine has obtained its contemporary standing as the cult beverage of the Western civilization. After all, Noah was the first named winemaker in the world (Genesis, 9:20).

The Islam banned the cultivation of grapes for winemaking. And as the land of Israel was under Islamic rule for more than 1,000 years, modern wine growing culture has been developed only in recent times. It was the famous Baron Edmond de Rothschild, the owner of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in Bordeaux, who has reintroduced wine cultivation towards the end of the 19th century.

Unlike Europe, Israel does not have vast vine-planted areas. The vineyards are in small parcels scattered all over the country. In the North, along the Lebanese border lies the wine region of Upper Galilee, in the North-East are the Golan Heights, in the Center the Judean Plains and the Judean Hills and in the South the Negev desert. Even here, in the desert, has wine been lately cultivated, as the climate of hot days, cold nights and dryness, protecting the grapes from fungi, is particularly suitable for grape growing. With about 5,000 hectares of vineyards Israel is among the smaller wine countries.

More than 95% of the Israeli wine is kosher, namely, produced under the supervision of a Rabbi. As kosher wine was mainly used on sacramental occasions, for many years the wine quality was of little importance. Only during the 1980’s the Israeli wine market became quality conscious, leading many grape growers to found their own wineries. These “Boutique” wineries, many of them producing non-kosher wine, inspired the kosher wineries to follow suit and produce wine of premium quality. Nowadays one can find in the top-quality category kosher as well as non-kosher wines.

The spectrum of grape varieties in Israel has since drastically changed. Bulk-yielding varieties such as Semillion, Emerald Riesling, Colombard and Grenache were replaced by the modern and international premium varieties. Today the dominant varieties are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot but excellent wines are also pressed from Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürtztraminer, Viognier, Shiraz/Syrah, Petite Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Carignan.

Geographically Israel belongs to the Eastern Mediterranean and a view towards Greece is more appropriate than towards Southern France or Australia. And similar to Greek wines, the Israeli wines also enjoy a notable and distinct spicy aroma. Flattering notes in Israeli wines are very rare, as well as the marmalade note typical to warmer-climate wine regions, since the most valuable vineyards are located in mountainous ranges, at altitudes of up to 800 m.

In the clear harshness and the unique spiciness of the Israeli wines lies the sensually palpable secret of the Israeli terroirs: vastly clear, warm skies over rugged, age-old, mythfull land. And so the wines from Israel tell an ancient story, one that has actually just begun.