“Is Israel a new world wine region or an old world wine region?” asks a guest attending the first ever Wines of Israel Grand Tasting in New York City. We are seated in the luxurious Prince George Ballroom in midtown.
Good question. If you are in the wine world, you have probably heard the words “old world” and “new world’ to describe two very different styles of wine. “Old World” wine is mostly Western European and Central European - from countries that have been making wine for hundreds of years. “New World” wine is from California, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand - countries that pretty much had their start less than 300 years ago.
So, where does Israel fit in? Though Israel is one of the cradles of civilization and its people have been making wine for thousands of years, it really wasn’t until the 19th century that “modern” wineries were developed.
According to the seminar led by Mark Squires, Wine Critic for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, as well as material produced from the Government of Israel, the country’s wine industry has recently undergone a technological revolution. The winemaking revolution began in the 1980s as a product of the inspiration of pioneering wineries and vintners.
Quality grape varieties were planted in new, higher altitudes and cooler vineyards. Note for new fans of wine: the higher, cooler regions help the grapes avoid “sunburn” and keep acidity.
According to government figures, there are now over 200 wineries in Israel. Five large wineries produce over a million bottles a year: Carmel, Barkan, Golan Heights, Teperberg, and Binyamina. I stopped by the Binyamina table thinking it smart to try one of the largest, oldest wineries first.
According to the men behind the table, the winery was established in 1952. I thought the wines good; a favorite white was the oaked 2005 Chosen Onyx Chardonnay from the Judean Hills. The wine reflected good fruit, nice balance, and judicious use of oak. The price? $45. According to some of the notes of Mr. Squires’ talk, one of the many challenges facing Israeli wine is the high price - a reflection of many factors, including expenses relating to exportation.