Most of Israel’s quality red wines are made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah or Shiraz. There is a movement of wine lovers who profess to follow wines that are ABC – Anything But Cabernet. For those looking for an alternative, there are also great wines made from other red varieties in Israel.
Argaman is Israel’s only true variety. The variety was developed in the late 1980’s from a cross between the Portuguese Souzao and the Israeli work-horse variety, Carignan. The intention was to provide a blending grape with excellent color. The word ‘Argaman’ means deep purple. It is mainly grown in the Judean Plain region. One particular winery, Segal, has adopted the Argaman as a special project and planted it in the Upper Galilee. They produced a praiseworthy single vineyard wine.
Barbera is a simple variety from the north-west of Italy and Piedmont in particular. It has a high natural acidity, which means it may have potential in Israel as a blending grape. As yet it is very sparsely grown, mainly in the Upper Galilee. The best example of an Israeli Barbera, is produced by the Ramot Naftaly Winery. Kerem Shvo uses Barbera in its red wine blend.
Cabernet Franc is part of the classic Bordeaux blend and makes varietal wines in the Loire Valley. The wines tend to be lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon, with the recognizable herbaceous character. The Margalit is arguably the best in Israel. The Bravdo Coupage blend is based primarily on Cabernet Franc.
In recent years this variety has made a comeback. By reducing yields and using only old vines, Carignan has been producing better wines recently than any time in its history. Most of the Carignan is planted in the valleys of Mt. Carmel. The pioneer of ‘new’ Carignan in Israel is Carmel Winery. Their Vineyards Carignan Old Vines and the Recanati Wild Vine Carignan are the best. Of the smaller wineries, Vitkin (NK) and Somek are also Carignan specialists.
Grenache reached its highpoint in the 1970’s when Grenache Rose was Israel’s largest selling wine Now as the country swings towards Mediterranean varieties again, new improved clones are being planted. It is early days, but best so far is Avidan Grenache . Chateau Golan uses Grenache in in its excellent Geshem blend.
Malbec was planted in Israel in the late 1880’s by Rothschild. It has since gone out of fashion as one of the varieties in Bordeaux, but is the national variety of Argentina. It has only recently returned to Israel, has immense promise, but so far the main winery to come out with a wine made from the variety is Teperberg, Israel’s largest family winery. Their Terra Malbec is juicy and fruity.
Every winemaker wants to make a Pinot Noir and Israel is no exception. One of the world’s premier varieties, it is only really great in Burgundy. In this instance, the pioneers with this noble variety are the Golan Heights Winery. The Yarden and the Gvaot Pinot Noirs are the best in Israel.
Petite Sirah is at its best in Israel’s hot climate in the rolling Judean Foothills, especially from old vines. The wines produced are slightly animal in character and very full bodied. Best are Carmel Vineyards Petite Sirah Old Vines and the Recanati Reserve Petite Sirah. Other high quality Petite Sirahs are produced by Vitkin and Montefiore wineries. Tabor has a good Petite Sirah blended with Cabernet.
Petit Verdot is a variety which often does not ripen at home in Bordeaux, where it is not fashionable,
but there is no such problem in Israel. It is very suitable to the Israeli climate producing black, hard, tannic wines. The Yatir Petit Verdot is the best example of this variety. Barkan also produce a varietal Petit Verdot.
Pinotage is the national grape variety of South Africa, being a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. What most people don’t know is that it was created by a Jew called Abraham Perold. Conceived in 1925, it really stayed in the background until the revival of South African wine in the 1990’s, since when it has quite a loyal following. It grows successfully in the Shefela and Judean Lowlands. The pioneer of Pinotage in Israel has been Barkan Winery. Their Barkan Reserve Pinotage is recommended.
Sangiovese is the largest planted variety in Italy, but is best known in Tuscany. It is well planted on the Golan Heights, and the Golan Heights Winery’s Gamla Sangiovese, is the most prominent Israeli wine made from the grape.
Spain’s national grape variety is Tempranillo, most well-known in the red wines of Roja or Ribera del Duero. Here the Teva Tempranillo produced by Binyamina Winery, is the main example, produced in an easy drinking style.
Zinfandel, the red grape in California is planted in Israel. Dalton Winery in the Upper Galilee has produced a full bodied, mouth filling Zinfandel for Zin believers in Israel. It is a blockbuster wine. Sea Horse is the other Zinfandel specialist.
So there is no lack of variety in Israel and no lack of experimentation going on. These quality reds from less prominent grape varieties are worth a try.