Sparkling wine is the wine of fashion and celebration. Whether on New Year’s Eve or at a wedding, it remains the classic wine to make a toast with. It is also symbol of success and happiness. Though it is a style of wine that has taken Israelis time to learn to appreciate, sparkling wines have become very popular almost overnight in Israel. The number of imported sparklers, mainly Cava from Spain or Prosecco from Italy, has increased dramatically. To counteract the invasion, and for those that want to drink ‘blue and white’, Israel is today making an excellent range of sparkling wines of all styles, at every price point.
Champagne is the ultimate expression of the art, which is replicated by ‘traditional method’ sparkling wines made elsewhere. It is little known, but between the late 1950’s and 1980’s, Carmel produced genuine ‘méthode champenoise’ sparkling wines. It was expensive undertaking needing a special work force as everything was done by hand. There was also little understanding and no market for expensive sparkling wine in those days and so they eventually stopped production. It was too unprofitable. The only remaining clue of a champagne past, are the old pupitres, which can still be seen at the Rishon Le Zion Cellars.
Carmel’s specialist winemaker for sparkling wines was Koby Gat. He was a Francophile and his main interest was in sparkling wines. As Carmel’s focus changed, his did also and he later became the company agronomist looking after Carmel’s vineyards. The main wine flying the flag for Israel was President’s Sparkling wine, made primarily from Colombard grapes. It was initially made by the champagne method, and later by the charmat process. It was sold abroad as Brut Cuvée and Blanc de Blancs, all under the Carmel label. Another brand was Sambatyon. There was also a Chardonnay Sparkling Wine at one stage. Apart from these, there were a number of cheap, frothy, semi sweet wines made for the catering market like Blue Star and Carnival.
However, it was not until the 1990’s that Israel took a giant step forward to producing quality sparkling wine. The Golan Heights Winery sent their new young winemaker, Victor Schoenfeld, to work for six months at Jacquesson Champagne to learn the secrets of the ‘champenoise.’ The Golan then invested in all the modern equipment to make champagne method sparkling wine. This time the process was mechanized and gyro-pallets were used instead of manual remuage. Their efforts resulted in three traditional method sparkling wines: Yarden Blanc de Blancs, Yarden Brut and Gamla Rose.
At the 1996 International Wine & Spirit Competition in London, Israeli sparkling wine arrived on the international stage. Yarden Blanc de Blancs, then a non vintage wine, won the Trophy for The Best Bottle Fermented Sparkling Wine. This high profile award was repeated in 2003 when Yarden Blanc de Blancs 1997, by then a vintage wine, won the same trophy. The 1999 vintage also won a prestigious trophy at Vinitaly of 2006. These prizes were to the immense credit of the Golan Heights Winery and showed their versatility, producing award winning wines in every category – white, red, dessert and now sparkling.
Today President’s, Brut Cuvée, Sambatyon, Yarden Brut and Gamla Rose are history. They are no longer made. The Israeli sparkling wines of today, do not suffer by comparison in any way, with the flood of imported wines.
The finest Israeli sparkling wines made like Champagne, by the Traditional or Classic Method, are Yarden Blanc de Blancs Vintage, Gamla Shmura Brut NV, Tishbi Brut and Pelter Blanc de Blancs NV.
With these wines, the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle.
The Yarden Blanc de Blancs has worldwide recognition and has won trophies and awards at the highest level. The Gamla Brut is great value, but totally dry. The Tishbi Brut is slightly sweeter, but still dry. Pelter is rare and expensive, being produced in tiny quantities. Soon Yarden are releasing a Rose.
The sparkling wines produced by the cuve close or Charmat process, are those produced by Carmel Private Collection, Tabor 562 and Teperberg. The secondary fermentation takes place in a tank and they are then bottled under pressure to preserve the bubbles. The Private Collection Brut and Tabor 562 are best, and the Teberberg wine is grapier and slightly sweeter. The Tabor 562 Red is totally original. Their price point is similar to Cava.
Then there are the basic carbonated wines, that cynics say is the Coca Cola method. Carmel Selected and the Tabor Pnimim (Pearls) are the best of these. They represent the best value of all the sparkling wines, matching up against Prosecco in price. The Selected Sparkling Rose and Tabor Pninim White are fun wines. There is even a Tabor Pnimim which is a blend of wine and pomegranate juice.
Finally, there are the light, low alcohol, sweet Moscato wines. They are made in the style of a Moscato d’Asti and are frizzante or slightly sparkling, like a Lambrusco. The best Moscatos are produced by Carmel Young Selected, Dalton, Golan Heights Winery’s Hermon, Carmel Selected and Teperberg. They are usually white made from the Muscat grape, but there are also two red versions. These are the Carmel Young Selected Carignano and Teperberg Moscato Red.
There is great variety of Israeli sparkling wines and they can more than match up to the needs of any party, wedding or celebration. They are perfect wines for Hanukah, Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year!