This is a busy time of year in the wine trade. Wineries are bringing in the harvest at the optimum time for each individual vineyard or variety, maybe even each plot. They are mindful of the approaching Holidays that are inconvenient to the winemaker, which they have to worked around. Winery personnel are working all hours at this time. The marketing and sales departments are in a crazy pressure filled rush to sell. Everything was on a back burner in August, so the real effort is concentrated in the few weeks available when the children are back to school and people have returned from their summer break. The operations and distribution are trying to cope with the pressure of orders, to get the wines to market as efficiently as possible. Rosh Hashanah is one of the peak ordering times in Israel’s wine calendar, second only to Passover. This year it has special meaning as families will gather together to celebrate the Jewish New Year in defiance against all that Covid 19 has been able to throw at them. Having missed Passover, when families where parted by restrictions and closures, this year’s Holidays will have added meaning for everyone. As with every Jewish festival, family, food and wine all have a big part to play in the festivities.
Rosh Hashanah is a time for sweet foods, to give us hopes of a sweet year. Hence the tradition of apple dipped in honey, honey cake and challah. Therefore, for me, this the festival for sweet wines, but not any old sweet Kiddush wine, but a proper dessert wine.
Having a sweet wine as an aperitif before the meal starts is unusual, but there is a precedent, from France of all places. The French sometimes serve Sauternes served ice cold as an aperitif, and Israel has some pretty high-quality dessert wines. However, for Rosh Hashanah, I suggest a lighter, less sweet option to accompany the short ceremonial part of the meal, and that would be Moscato. Fresh, grapey, spritzy, low alcohol and with a delicate sweetness. Golan Heights Winery’s Mount Hermon Moscato is to my knowledge the only Israeli version made with the superior variety Muscat Canelli, aka Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains and Muscat Frontignan. The others, including those made by Carmel, Dalton, Hayotzer, Tabor, Teperberg and Zion wineries, are made with Muscat Alexandroni. Carmel, Teperberg and Zion also have a red version for those wedded to reds for ritual, made from Carignan or Muscat Hamburg.
So, after starting sweet, you will need to buy wines to accompany the Rosh Hashanah meal. The following are recommended:
Carmel Selected Sauvignon Blanc 2019. Always a good buy and excellent value. Crisp, fragrant and refreshing. Selected is a brand that has already been around for more than forty years. NIS 30
Dalton Estate Fume Blanc 2019. A quality wine which is crisp and refreshing. It has a nose of tropical fruit, a pleasing complexity in the mouth and good acidity on the finish. Dalton Winery were the pioneers of the Upper Galilee. They are making very good wines these days. NIS 60
Five Stones Vineyards 2018. A wine made from 60% Gewurztraminer and 40% Sauvignon Blanc, from Judean Hills vineyards. Aromatic, with a very tropical fruit nose, yet with a very crisp finish. Wine comes in a screw cap. Always a good idea. Why not make it easier for the consumer? I am all for it. NIS 75
Tzuba Chardonnay 2018. A nicely balanced Chardonnay, not too rich, buttery and creamy, but avoiding the sharp, appley and lemon flavors of the basic, unadorned wine. It has flavors of pineapple, melon and passion fruit & more than a hint of vanilla, but the oak treatment is not overdone and the acidity shines through. NIS 80
La Foret Blanche Ariel Viognier Chenin Blanc 2019. Interesting start up winery. The name refers to Yatir Forest under snow. This wine has aromas of soft fruits like apricots and peaches and it has a certain fatness in the mouth (both from the Viognier) and the Chenin provides acidity. I chose this wine because both grape varieties are receiving a greater profile. More wineries seem to be planting Viognier and Chenin Blanc, once derided here, is making a welcome comeback. NIS 85
Bravdo Chardonnay 2019. Fresh Chardonnay from this winery’s Karmei Yosef vineyards. Unlike most abuses of the word ‘Estate’, this a rare, genuine estate winery. The wine has restrained fruit, subdued vanilla notes and fine acidity. Chardonnay is a wine this winery always makes well. NIS 89
Tabor Eco White 2018. A blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Chardonnay. The wine has herbal, grassy notes and very broad, fat mouth feel with a full flavored finish. Named Eco after the ecological vineyards Tabor Winery introduced, putting nature back into the vineyard. NIS 85
Nana Chenin Blanc 2019. Pioneer of the desert. Grown in Mitzpeh Ramon. I believe the whites from the Negev are better than the reds. The wine is fresh, fragrant with tropical fruit and a good minerality. A nice wine and it is fascinating to see quality wine being made in the dessert. NIS 95
Yatir Rose 2019. Bone dry rose with more color and flavor than usual. Complex, refreshing and extremely versatile as a food wine. Yatir Winery has just completed its 20th anniversary. The winery is situated at Tel Arad, amongst the Bedouin and camels and their vineyards are in Yatir Forest in the southern Hebron Hills. NIS 100
Zion Estate Shiraz 2019. Israel’s oldest existing winery, founded by the Shor family in 1848, has undergone a facelift. Now it has a new logo, new look and new wines. Their Estate Shiraz is juicy fruity, with mouth filling flavor and a refreshing finish. NIS 40
Segal Wild Ferment Cabernet Sauvignon 2018. There are some interesting new wines under the Segal label. This particularly wine is tasty, easy to drink and it has good flavor, but finishes in a nicely focused fashion to make it very drinkable. NIS 60
Galil Mountain Grenache 2017. I loved this. This wine has an attractive but delicate cherry berry aroma, an elegant, earthy taste, with nice length on the finish. Grenache is the Pinot Noir for countries with a hot climate. NIS 70
Jezreel Valley Alfa 2018. A blend of Syrah, Argaman (the Israeli variety) and Cabernet Sauvignon. It has rich, bold flavors of berry and plum fruit. Certainly not elegant, but very flavorful. Jezreel Valley are specialists in Argaman. NIS 80
Netofa Latour Red 2018. Classic med blend…fruity, with a meaty, smoky character and a clean finish. The sort of wine you drink and before you know it you have finished the bottle. This winery situated in the Lower Galilee, focuses on Mediterranean varieties for their reds. NIS 90
Yarden Cabernet Franc 2017. This has a lot of aromatic oak flavors on the nose, but in the mouth it is elegant, with good fruit and a slight herbaceous notes, and it has a lingering, well balanced finish. I think the effect of the oak will be reduced with bottle age. Cabernet Franc was the first the ‘other’ Bordeaux varieties, (other than Cabernet Sauvignon) to be used in blends by the Golan Heights Winery, but is the last to be made into a varietal. NIS 135
Recanati Wild Carignan 2017. This is a standard for me. An old vine Carignan from the Judean Foothills. The wine has complex aromas of red and black fruit, plum and earthy flavors. Big, complex with a long finish. Arguably our finest old vine Carignan. For 100 years Carignan was the work horse grape of Israeli wine. This shows what may be done with this variety. A wine with soul and a sense of place. NIS 139
Tanya Vital Cabernet Sauvignon 2017. Deep colored, with aromas of very ripe plum, blueberries and cherries, with a heavy backdrop of vanilla from long oak aging. Produced in the Central Mountain region, this wine is available at the Bana Mashkeot chain of wine shops. NIS 149.90
Jerusalem, Montefiore Windmill Cabernet Sauvignon 2017. Classic Cabernet with a nose of blackcurrants, blackberries and forest fruits. The wine has a fine tannic structure, is concentrated and complex with very good length. It is a boutique wine produced by the Jerusalem Vineyard Winery, for their unique visitors center at the Montefiore Windmill in Mishkenot Sha’ananim – Yemin Moshe, Jerusalem. NIS 150
Gvaot Gofna Reserve Petit Verdot. Petit Verdot has become very popular in Israel as a blending grape, but it is rarely seen on its own, as a varietal wine. This is a full bodied wine, deep colored, with black, ripe fruit, great structure and a long finish. A real mouthful of wine. Gvaot from the Central Mountains, is a winery that always impresses lately. NIS 155
Wine trade veteran Adam Montefiore has been advancing Israeli wine for 35 years. He is the wine writer for the Jerusalem Post. www.adammontefiore.com