Israel is getting a name for producing wonderful dessert wines, which are genuinely world class. This has been proved in the scores, reviews and awards given by some of the world?s leading wine critics.
Unfortunately the wine sense of many Jews & Israelis has been damaged by a lifelong association with sweet Kiddush wine. So they associate sweet wine with religious ritual, and have memories of Kiddush or sacramental wine tasting like sugared water, which may be colored like wine, but otherwise have very little to commend them. Therefore for many, the very word ?sweet,? has connotations of a cheap and nasty wine, something which is to be avoided, at all costs.
It is forgotten that sweet wines are some of the world?s most sought after and expensive wines. An Eiswein or Trockenbeerenauslese? from Germany, Icewine from Canada or Sauternes from Bordeaux are all sweet, and some of the most sublime wines you can taste. It is a pity if a wine lover never experiences them, because they associate the word sweet with Kiddush wines such as Palwin, Manischevitz, Kedem, Mogen David or Yashan Noshan, King David and Conditon!
The Eastern Mediterranean, is a region with a history of producing quality dessert wines. Greece and Cyprus in particular, are famous as being home to some of the world?s most original dessert wines. Commandaria, from 14 villages on the southern slopes of the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus, is the world?s most historic wine, dating back to the Crusades. Greek wines such as Mavrodaphne from the northwest Peloponnese, Vinsantos from the Assyrtiko grape grown in the volcanic island of Santorini or Muscats from the island of Samos, are some of the world?s best dessert wines. Try the ?Etko Centurion Commandaria, Achaia Clauss Mavrodaphne, Argyros Vinsanto and Samos Muscat if you can find them. They are examples of world class dessert wines. Israel is part of the Eastern Mediterranean. So it should be no surprise that Israel has joined the club by producing quality dessert wines.
The first Israeli dessert wine that won a major international award in recent history was the Yarden Port Blanc, which was later more correctly renamed ?Yarden Muscat?. This was followed by the Carmel Muscat of Alexandria. The first great Israeli dessert wine that changed many views in Israel, was the Yarden Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest 1988. The Sauvignon Blanc from the Ortal vineyard was found to have botrytis (aka Noble Rot) and the Golan Heights Winery made what may be the best dessert wine ever made in Israel. It was certainly a wonderful wine, and totally unique, because it was never replicated. Those who remember the Yarden Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest will not forget it.
However it is only in the last twelve years that Israeli dessert wines have consistently gained? international ratings at the very highest level. There are two wines that stand out. They are produced by different wineries, but are both made from the Gewurztraminer grape variety. They are also coincidentally both ?grown in the same wine growing region, the high altitude, volcanic plateau of the Golan Heights. The wines are the Golan Heights Winery?s Yarden HeightsWine and the Carmel Single Vineyard Sha?al Gewurztraminer.
The word HeightsWine is a play on the words ?Icewine? and ?Golan Heights?. It is produced from Gewurztraminer grapes, which are then frozen at the winery. The Carmel Sha?al Gewurztraminer is produced from a single vineyard on the Golan Heights, where the grapes are late harvested. Arguably the delicious ?Carmel Sha?al Gewurztraminer is more delicate and refreshing, whilst the luscious Yarden HeightsWine is richer and more complex. Both are outstanding examples of their art.? Binyamina is another winery with a very good dessert wine, also from Gewurztraminer grapes, where they go to the trouble of picking selected clusters.
Most dessert wines in Israel are made from Muscat. The Muscat of Alexandria grape variety is indigenous to the Eastern Mediterranean. It is a large berried grape, more commonly known as a food grape. However it has been in our area for a long time and may even go back to Biblical times. Some excellent grapey dessert wines are made from Muscat. The best are produced by Yarden, Binyamina, and Carmel Private Collection. Probably the most interesting new addition is the Anna Muscat, produced by Dalton Winery. It is a liqueur wine produced in the solera style, and it comes in its own stylish presentation box.
White or Johannisberg Riesling is rarer in Israel. This should not be confused with Emerald Riesling. They are synonyms for the famous Riesling, which succeeds best of all in Germany and Alsace. The two wineries that make quality dessert wines from this variety are the Teperberg and Vitkin wineries.
At Rosh Hashanah, a dessert wine served ice cold, even from the freezer (as long as you don?t forget it) will be perfect for the Kiddush. It will then be suitable to accompany the sweet dishes served including the sweet Challah dipped in honey, the traditional apple and honey, dates and sweet carrot dishes which begin the festive meal.? They will even go well with the Gefilte Fish, matching the sweetness and yet toning down the heat of the horseradish. Even the French, who are after all the gourmet country of the world, often have a sweet dessert wine served ice cold as an aperitif! ?So the recommendation for Rosh Hashanah is Drink Sweet!
Dessert wines normally come in smaller format bottles, in sizes of half bottles (375 ml) or half liter (500 ml.) They are often more reasonably priced than table wines. Also people tend to drink less because they are sweet. They are wine to sip and savor rather than to quaff. So one small bottle can go a long way.
After the preliminaries, it is then possible to revert to dry wines for the main course and return to the dessert wine with the puddings.? Any of the wines mentioned would be ideal. They should be served very cold.? It is worth selecting a quality sweet wine to honor the occasion, instead of the lesser expensive, poorer quality alternatives.
Dessert wines are ideal for the Rosh Hashanah meal. A sweet wine for a sweet year.
? Shanah Tova!