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Israeli wines: from biblical vines to modern times

Amphorae containing wines from this region were brought to Rome in ancient times, and winemaking again flourished during the Crusades, but modern Israeli viticulture dates back only as far as the late 19th century.  Until the 1980s, kosher sacramental wine was the priority; since then, boutique wineries, employing mainly French rootstock and New World expertise, have flourished, producing some exceptional vintages and welcoming wine lovers to their cellar doors.

Ancient yet new... What’s true of the modern state of Israel is equally true of its wine industry. The many references in the Old Testament confirm that wine—-and vineyards—were an important part of the culture of the Holy Land in biblical times. And yet the history of the modern Israeli wine industry is largely confined to the past 30 years. Today, however, the five registered regions of this small, thin country, which extends 263 miles (424km) in length, are home to a thriving industry of boutique producers, most of which serve an increasingly sophisticated domestic wine trade. Perhaps the easiest way to experience Israeli wine is to turn to one of the specialist wine tour operators in the country. Israel Wine Tour, for example, offers a range of one-day visits to single regions, such as the Judean Hills, Carmel, the Golan Heights, or the South, but also has a multiday trip that combines the best of the Golan Heights and Galilee (www.israelwinetour.co.il), while Israel Wine Journeys (www.israelwinejourneys.net) offers a similar range of personalized tours to the country’s best boutique producers.

Independent travelers, however, might want to get their hands on a copy of The Wine Route of Israel (Sacks and Montefiore; fourth edition 2015), which features comprehensive details on an A–Z of Israeli producers, as well as plenty of information on the history and current trends of the country’s wine scene. The website www.wineisrael.com is also a mine of information on Israeli producers.

However you structure your trip, it’s a good idea to begin an exploration of Israeli wine culture with a visit to one of the pioneers of modern Israeli quality wine, Golan Heights Winery, which, particularly with its Yarden label, has retained its position at or near the top of the country’s vinous hierarchy. With a location in the Golan Heights region in the north of the country, the company has also led the way in wine tourism. Here you can enjoy spectacular views of the undulating vineyards by taking a tour in a 4x4 vehicle, or participate in the Gourmet Experience that includes a meal in their wine cellar (www.golanwines.co.il).

Another historic and prominent producer, Carmel Winery, was founded in 1882 with the considerable help of one Baron de Rothschild. The company, for years the dominant player on the Israeli wine scene, offers a range of comprehensive tours of its original cellars in Zichron Ya’acov at the southern end of the Carmel mountain range, about 22 miles (35km) south of Haifa, and provides a fascinating insight into the history of Israeli wine.

In Binyamina, a visit to Tishbi Winery offers a gastronomic experience that goes far beyond the producer’s ever-improving wines. As well as two restaurants (one at the winery in Binyamina, the other in Zichron Ya’acov), it offers tastings of its wine jellies and pairings with Valrhona chocolate. This is but one of the many fine kitchens tucked away in wineries or near vineyards throughout Israeli’s wine country—from the fabulous Muscat Restaurant in Mizpe Hayamim Spa Hotel in Rosh Pina in Galilee, to the slickly modern, wine-focused Cramim Hotel, located in the Judean Hills.

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Cramim Hotel

Cramim is Hebrew for “vineyards,” an appropriate name for this beautiful modern hotel 15 minutes from Jerusalem amid the boutique wineries and countryside of the Judean Hills, with its own patch of vines and a fine restaurant.
Kiryat Anavim 997, Kiryat Anavim 90833 | +972 254 898 00 | www.isrotelexclusivecollection.com/kiyrat_anavim

Tishbi Estate Winery

Offering chocolate and wine-jelly tastings, as well as tours of the winery itself, Tishbi has two well-regarded restaurants: one in Zichron Ya’acov, the other at the winery in Binyamina.
Tishbi Winery Restaurant, Binyamina-Giv’at Ada +972 463 802 23 | www.tishbi.com

Mizpe Hayamim Spa Hotel

In a beautiful, tranquil setting with views over Galilee, luxurious rooms, and facilities including a fine restaurant, this is a great base for exploring the northern Israeli wine country.
Rosh Pinna 12000 | +972 46 99 45 55 | www.mizpe-hayamim.com

King David Hotel

Israel’s grandest hotel, in the heart of Jerusalem, is still one of its finest. A luxurious base for touring the Judean Hills, it also hosts one of the country’s smartest restaurants, La Regence.
King David 23, Jerusalem 94101 | +972 262 088 88 | www.danhotels.com

Pastoral Hotel Kfar Blum

A charming hotel set in a kibbutz in the Hula Valley in Upper Galilee, ideally situated for exploring northern Israel’s wine regions and offering a bar, restaurant, swimming pool, and various wine-related tours and activities.
Kfar Blum | +972 468 366 11 | pastoral@kbm.org.il

For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.

Golan Heights Winery

The pioneer of Israeli wine’s modern quality revolution in the 1980s, Golan Heights Winery offers a range of tours at its attractive headquarters, including a 4x4 tour of the vineyards.
Golan Heights Winery, Katzrin 12900 | +972 469 684 35 | winetour@golanwines.co.il | www.golanwines.co.il

Pelter Winery

Another leading Golan Heights producer, Pelter Winery is the work of Australian-trained Tal Pelter and his brother Nir. It’s open every day for visits, and you can also have a meal in this beautiful setting if you book in advance.
Ein Zivan, Golan Heights | +972 542 486 663 | winery@pelterwinery.co.il | www.pelterwinery.co.il

Flam Winery

In delightful surroundings in the peaceful Judean Hills, 15 miles (24km) from Jerusalem, this small, family-run winery welcomes visitors by appointment for tastings and workshops accompanied by cheese and freshly baked bread.
Yaar Hadkdoshim, Eshatol | +972 299 29 923 | info@flamwinery.com | www.flamwinery.com

Yatir Winery

This winery, built at the foot of a 3,000-year-old Israelite fort, is a pioneering joint venture between local vine-growers and Carmel Winery, and has highlighted the potential of the southern desert region Negev.
Yatir Winery, Tel Arad | +972 528 308 196 | y_yatir@zahav.net.il | www.yatirwinery.com

Tzora Vineyards

This producer has strong links to the Tzora kibbutz in the Judean Hills, of which the late founder, the much-admired Ronnie James, was a member. Master of Wine Eran Pick is now in charge. Wine tastings are by appointment.
DN Shimshom 99803 | +972 299 082 61 | info@tzoravineyards.com | www.tzoravineyards.com

World of Fine Wine & Krug Champagne Tasting

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