Where the Mediterranean begins, one of the world’s oldest wine cultures collides with the latest in high-tech, high quality fine wine production—not to mention some of the world’s most innovative and risk-taking winemakers. We’re not talking about Greece, Italy, or even Croatia, but Israel, the dually Old and New World region recently crowned “one of the most exciting, vibrant wine-producing countries in the world.”
After a millennia-long lapse in production, a new wave of boutique producers both large and small are rediscovering Israel’s unique, diverse terroirs. They are producing award-winning wines that speak of their origins with character, and connect with an increasingly large American audience. From classic Bordeaux blends to savory Rhône varieties to a rediscovery of native grapes once thought lost. The wines of Israel offer an unparalleled panorama of production styles, grapes, pairing possibilities, and a rare glimpse into the story of a world-class wine region reclaiming its spot at center stage.
The history of Israeli winemaking can be broken down into three eras: the ancient period, in which Israel was the center, and likely progenitor, of the world’s burgeoning wine trade. Producing and distributing wines in Canaanite jars that would come to be known all across the Mediterranean. The late 19th century, in which French banking magnate Baron Edmond de Rothschild assisted the reestablishment of vineyards and wineries in the country’s Central Mountains region. During this time he brought over Israel’s first Cabernet Sauvignon cuttings from Bordeaux. Finally, the country’s modern era, which began with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and continues to the present day.
Few other wine regions can claim as quick an ascendance as Israel, which only began to hit its stride in the 1970s with the wide recognition of the cool-climate Golan Heights region as a prime terroir for fine wine production. Early accolades from respected enologists and a global move towards climatically-complex, higher altitude growing areas helped attract a legion of internationally-trained, forward-thinking young winemakers who have spread across the tiny country in a quest to investigate all of its myriad micro terroirs. From snow-capped peaks in Israel’s north all the way to the arid Negev desert of the south, this minuscule country—hardly the size of New Jersey has offered up a breathtaking array of winemaking possibilities.
Great wine is made in the vineyard, not the cellar and modern Mediterranean winemaking is as much about technology and innovation as it is about respect for nature. Satellite monitoring, precision drip irrigation (an Israeli invention), and winery-directed propagation blocks helping to ensure the health and viability of the country’s deeply interconnected viticulture. Where disease can prose an existential threat to the entire region, not just one isolated vineyard—Israel’s way of thinking is that “nothing is impossible.” Add to this the fact that biodynamic and organic winemaking is widely practiced, with Israeli winemakers striving for ecological balance in all aspects of production. The result is a country committed not just to balance in the glass, but to equilibrium for the region as a whole.
While international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot may still lead the way, Rhône grapes like Syrah and Grenache—which are naturally suited to the region’s climate, have been winning lavish praise. Critics, sommeliers, and wine lovers show a new path forward for a region pushing its boundaries and still defining its identity.
So what does the future hold? After years of research, testing, and experiments by pioneering enologists, it seems likely that the resurrection of Israel’s nearly-extinct ancient varieties will yield the country’s, and the Mediterranean’s, next vinous revolution. Virtually forgotten and without obvious peers, ancient grapes like Jandali, Marawi, and Dabouki may soon again become household names, adding a new layer to the country’s dizzyingly diverse offerings and bringing the story full circle. Returning Israel to its original position as the center of the wine world.
Last Updated: May 8, 2023