Discovering Israeli Sparkling Wine
24th August 2023
How many of you have tasted Israeli Sparkling Wine? It’s not something a lot of us have had the fortune to taste or even to know much about, but it’s another sparkling wine producing country that’s carving out its mark and providing some quality bubbly to the world.
The history of Israel and Wine is rather a foggy one, there isn’t a lot of documented evidence of the suspected long history of winemaking in the country, we have to look inside the Old Testament to find the words ‘Wine’ and ‘Vine’ written various times throughout, if we consider that the book was written between 1200 BC and 165 BC, it’s safe to say that is at least how old Israeli Wine is.
One of the reasons it got foggy for many years was during the time period of the Ottoman Empire when Muslims ruled the land of Israel and banned any form of alcohol, as they see it as harmful to the body and spirit, so they decided to uproot and destroy all the vines in the country, so for hundreds of years, Israel didn’t produce any Wine.
We have to fast forward all the way to 1848 to find the first winery opened by Yitzhak Shor called Zion Winery which is still in operation today, it was first used only for religious purposes.
Then in 1882, Frenchman, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild founded what is now the modern Wine industry in Israel by creating the Carmel Mizrahi Winery.
I decided to reach out to Adam S. Montefiore, a specialist on the subject, I wanted to speak with someone from Israel, who could spread some more light on the rather undiscovered wine producing country.
Tell Us About Yourself
“I started my wine career with Bass Charrington in the UK and became wine manager of their hotel division. I was a founder and honorary member of what was then called The Academy of Wine Service. I moved to Israel in 1989 and for the next 27 years worked with Golan Heights Winery, the pioneer of Israel wine and Carmel, the historic winery of Israel. Since 2010 I have been the wine writer for the Jerusalem Post, with a regular column called Wine Talk. I am author of “The Wine Route of Israel”, “Wines of Israel”, “Domaine du Castel: The Biography” and “Golan Heights Winery: Forty Years of Quality, Innovation and Authenticity.” I also contribute to “Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book”, Jancis Robinson MW’s “The Oxford Companion To Wine” and “The World Atlas of Wine”.”
Do You Remember Your First Experience With Israeli Sparkling Wine? When It Was And What Kind Of Wine It Was?
“The story of development of Israeli sparkling wine mirrors exactly the story of Israeli wine as a whole.
My first sparkling wine from Israel was the President’s produced by Carmel Mizrahi. It was not that good, but for many years this was the most visible Israeli sparkling wine.
Then the Golan Heights Winery in the early 1990s decided to make a traditional method sparkling wine. Their winemaker Victor Schoenfeld went to work for 6 months in Champagne, to learn the secrets of the Champenoise. He returned to produce the outstanding Yarden Blanc de Blancs. I was working for the Golan Heights Winery at the time and so was a close witness to the sparkling wine revolution.
The Golan Heights Winery makes a range of sparkling wines under their Yarden and Gamla labels. The Yarden Blanc de Blancs is now a vintage wine, aged 5 years on its tirage yeast. Elegant with pinpoint quality. It remains the Israeli sparkling wine that has won the most international awards.”
For Anyone Who Is Unfamiliar With Israeli Sparkling Wine, How Would You Introduce Them To It?
“The Yarden and Gamla sparkling wines are for me as good as any Champagne, and certainly in Israel, far better value. It is an ideal wine to accompany the mezze, the small plate appetisers in the Levantine kitchen. Our sparkling wines are arguably the finest fizz in the whole of the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Are There Any Wine Tourism Opportunities In Israel?
“Yes, definitely. Israel has gone through a metamorphosis in food and wine. Tel Aviv is now one of the most recommended culinary ‘must visit’ destinations in the world and Israeli chefs have become famous worldwide for their creativity. The Golan Heights, Galilee, Coastal Plain, Judean Foothills and Judean Hills are bursting with wineries making wine with quality, individuality and character. Then there is the Negev Desert, where Israel is making the desert bloom with vineyards. We offer creative agriculture, cutting edge viticulture, very advanced technology, all in a country with a wine culture from Biblical times. There is much to enjoy in the Israel of the 21st century. Apart from wine tourism, there are plenty of gourmet treats, like microbreweries, craft distilleries, artisan cheese producers and olive oil presses. We say “in Tel Aviv we play and in Jerusalem we pray.” When you have partied in Tel Aviv, visited the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, and probably also visited the Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee…there is plenty to see, do and taste with regard to wine and gourmet tourism.”
How Much Of Israeli Sparkling Wine Is Consumed Domestically Compared To Exported, And What Is Their Biggest Export Market?
“I don’t have figures, but most Israeli sparkling wines are consumed in Israel. America, and particularly the East Coast, including New York, is where most of the exports go to. But Israeli wines are exported to about 40 countries in five continents.”
How Do You See The Future Of Israeli Sparkling Wine?
“Cheap fizz, by what I call the Coca Cola method, will always be inexpensive, popular and available. Some make sparkling wine by the Charmat Method. There is at present great interest in making Pet-Nat wines. I recently visited the Kerem Barak Winery in the Judean Foothills, who are Pet-Nat specialists. There I had a tasting of white, rose, orange, red and bottle aged Pet-Nats in one sitting.
Encouragingly, in the last few years many more wineries are making traditional method sparkling wines, but usually in small quantities. The best of these new sparklers is the Razi’el Brut & Rose, produced by Razi’el Winery in the Judean Hills, owned by the Ben-Zaken family of Domaine du Castel fame. This is barrel aged and a more artisan, handcrafted expression. Very good too. Toasty, flavorful and of course refreshing. So quality sparkling wine is going through a bit of a boom. And as temperatures rise, the yearning for a glass of fizz seems to increase too!”
Where’s The Most Memorable Place You’ve Enjoyed A Glass of Bubbly?
“For me personally, every event or wine exhibition I attend as a visitor or participant, I like to start off with a glass of bubbly. This tradition started when I worked for the Golan Heights Winery, and even since then, my first stop is always the Golan Heights Winery stand. This year, when I turned up at their stand at the annual Sommelier Trade Exhibition in Tel Aviv, I was told “sorry, we are out of stock”, so it must be selling well!
Finally, I recently held the first ever formal tasting of English sparkling wines in Israel, during which we tasted the best of England and Israel fizz together. Who would have thought it?”
Thank you Adam, for sharing your words, knowledge and experience with us and we at Glass of Bubbly wish you the very best for the future!
Images of Adam belong to Adam S. Montefiore and Yarden. Glass of Bubbly was granted permission to use them.
Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.