Beers, Books and Bubbly

Israel's wine and alcohol industries are having a revolution: higher quality and more selection. Yonatan Sternberg invites you to pick up a glass of the finest Israeli version of your favorite intoxicating drink - or read a proper guide about how to find the right one!

Over the past couple of years the Israeli alcoholic beverage industry has undergone a dramatic quality-revolution. From wines, through vodkas, whiskeys, beers, tequilas and even araks (a traditional Middle Eastern anise flavored spirit), it seems that the Israeli consumer has acquired a more sophisticated palate and is willing to pay an extra shekel or two for high quality, premium drinks. Several industry figures have stated that while the per capita wine consumption rate in Israel is still very low, the increase in the demand for quality is evident and the quality of Israeli wines produced is constantly on the rise.

In 2010, wine, premium vodka and beer were among the most popular alcoholic beverages, with dozens of new producers and labels entering the market. In the wine sector, sales of sparkling wines have gone up dramatically; wine traders are seeing an increased level of interest from customers. Israeli wines win impressive awards and are receiving excellent reviews from critics around the world. When looking at the number of premium quadruple or quintuple distilled vodka brands available at bars and liquor stores, it is clear that something has changed. In the realm of beer, after years of sipping Goldstar, Macabee and Touborg, one can finally find excellent Israeli micro-breweries alongside excellent premium Belgian beers.
Following are three samples of what I consider as results or examples of the ongoing quality revolution:

Sparkling Wines
Today, alongside celebrated, French Champagne brands (e.g Krug, Billcard Salmon) and a wide variety of Cava, Prosecco and Lambrusco offering very good value for money, one can also find very enjoyable Israeli bubblies. The Golan Heights recently released the Yarden, Blanc de Blancs, 2005 – Blanc de Blancs, or “white of whites,” means that the particular sparkling wine is made exclusively from green-skinned grapes (Chardonnay). Considered by many to be Israel’s top champagne-style wine, the Blanc de Blancs 05 is the first of this label released by the Golan Heights Winery since the previous 2001 version. Straw with slight golden reflections, the wine suggests bright citrus notes, flowers, yellow plums and toasted brioche; nice and dry, with focused- long lasting bubbles and a clean finish. The winery suggests drinking as an aperitif, or serving the wine alongside various fish and even veal based dishes.

Another result of the quality revolution can be seen in the number of publications, websites and TV shows that dedicate themselves to wine and other alcoholic beverages. This year, for the first time since it was published, Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines was officially translated and printed in Hebrewm in addition to the English version, making it easier for local wine aficionados to shop and keep informed on what is available on the market. Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines 2011 is the most comprehensive guide on the topic and offers a good overview and insights into the Israeli wine industry. The guide is clear and well-written, offering detailed information on Israel’s wine regions and grape varieties, trends in the wine industry, coverage and contact details for over 240 wineries, aging potential, detailed tasting notes of over 2600 wines and more.

It is important to remember that scores and tasting notes in the various guides reflect the writer's subjective opinion. This does not necessarily mean that the wine will be to your personal liking. It is important to find a critic or friend who has a "similar palate" to yours and use their suggestions as reference points. At the end of the day your taste is the one that counts.

Beer 2011 Festival
As mentioned above, beer is also becoming more and more popular in Israel. Literally dozens of micro and garage breweries have sprung up like mushrooms after the rain and the number of imported premiums has increased dramatically. Next week (12/13 Jan.) the first professional beer exhibition will take place at the Nokia Arena (Yad Eliyahu) in Tel Aviv. The event offers beer fans from all over the country a chance to meet the people behind the beer they drink, sample a wide variety of new arrivals and discuss new developments in the sector.