The Israel Wine Board’s figures indicate increasing consumption of locally produced wines. Buying a range of types and prices is now as simple as going to your local shops. On the other hand, because many wines aren`t available in neighborhood stores, you miss out on better and more varied choices. We caught up with Rami Naaman, proprietor of the Naaman Winery, and Oren Kedem, propriety of Assaf Winery, to discuss everything you ever wanted to know about wine but didn’t know who to ask.
Israelis love the purchase experience but when it comes to wine, there’s definitely room for improvement. Israeli consumers have become accustomed to finding everything they need on a one stop shop basis but local stores usually don’t have anyone able to answer a consumer’s questions. “As a vintner, I get asked a lot about wine. How long can wine be kept once the bottle’s opened? Should it be kept in the fridge? What’s the difference between regular wine, Reserve, or Grand Reserve? What makes red wine and white wine different and when is each one appropriate?” says Rami Naaman, proprietor of Naaman Winery in Ramot Naftali. He and his wife Bettina established their winery in 2001. Oren Kedem, proprietor of Assaf Winery: “That’s exactly why Assaf Winery is a family story. Every question that might be asked can be professionally answered by someone in the family.”
Most European countries boast a wine culture that is centuries long. Is Israel the new kid on the block when it comes to wine making? “On the contrary! Wine production in Israel peaked more than 3,000 years ago! But while the region was under Ottoman Empire rule for some 600 years, alcohol consumption was prohibited in accordance with the rulers’ religious beliefs and culture. That led to a cessation in production. Archeological excavations have brought to light the existence of more than 35,000 ancient wine presses in the Land of Israel, from north to south, from east to west, indicating a thriving industry which spread across the Mediterranean by the ancient Greeks and Romans who planted vineyards everywhere possible to provide their legionnaires with wine. Although wine making traditions were closed down in the Land of Israel for some 1500 years in total, Israel’s currently offered wines display qualities that stand shoulder to shoulder with some of Europe’s finest. There`s not a single international wine competition where Israel is not only represented but collects awards. It’s become routine to expect Israeli wines to return with top rating stamps of approval,” Naaman explains.
Does Israel specialize in specific types of wine production? Oren Kedem: “There is one specific Israeli strain, known as ‘Argaman’. It hasn’t taken the world by storm or brought Israel renown as its grower, but it’s definitely a uniquely Israeli development. There’s a very high percentage of common strains here in Israel, among them Cabernet Sauvignon in the reds, and Sauvignon Blanc in the whites. “Israeli growers are also focusing on unique grapes such as Pinotage, Zinfandel, Pinot Gris and many others, which do well here and produce wines with a uniquely Israeli character. That’s because the climate and earth have characteristics unique to this region. No less important is the element of external intervention, the added value infused by those of us producing wine, and which imbue Israeli wines with their special charm factor.” Naaman adds: “The situation in local stores, though, is very unrepresentative and the range tends to be extremely limited, whether due to higher logistical costs, marketing and distribution costs, or upholding strict standards set by the Rabbinate when a winery wants kosher certification. Some of these requirements are difficult to implement. The solution is for people to visit our wineries and expand their purchase options.”
So where would you recommend buying wine if not in shops? “At the wineries of course!” Kedem instantly answers. “The experience of buying wine at a winery is vastly different to that of making your purchase in a neighborhood store. That’s also partly because almost every winery offers a guided tour by the vintner or proprietor. The tour makes that link with wine more personalized, and consumers can see for themselves how the wine’s made, what the story is behind it, taste wines and inhale their aromas, and get detailed explanations about the winery’s activities and the wines the consumer is buying. None of this comes with your local store experience. It’s also an excellent way to provide important support for Israeli wineries and produce.”
How should we choose a wine? What’s the difference between the different types? “The difference between white and red is not only in the type of grape being used,” Naaman explains. “Red wine, for example, undergoes an initial fermentation with the grape skins because the skins release color and flavor, whereas for white wine, grape skins are removed in a more technical process that requires cooling and a different set of production skills. Red wine production uses the exact same processes that it did millennia ago!” Kedem elaborates: “There’s a lot of logic behind finding a balance between the type of food you`re eating and the wine that best matches it. In the past few years we’ve noticed a growing trend of people who have also learned to enjoy a glass of wine in the afternoon. These tend to be chilled white wines with a relatively low alcoholic content or red wines which aren`t too ‘heavy’ and allow the person to continue working once lunch is over.”
What should we pay attention to when we visit a winery? Naaman refers to two important points. “Consumers need to know two important things. Firstly, 80% of the wines bought in regular shops haven’t been barrel aged. Instead, oak chips are tossed into the vat to give a bit of woody flavor and get our palates used to the idea that that’s how wine tastes. Oak chip infused wines aren`t like barrel aged wines at all, especially once the wine has been in the barrel for at least a year. “Secondly, when wines are produced within a time frame of 2 to 3 months, that isn`t anywhere long enough for the specific wine grape to gain its unique array of aromas and flavors. Wines marked as Reserve or Grand Reserve can only be labeled as such if they’ve spent more than a year in the barrel, where the wood enhances the wine’s flavor and makes that flavor more pronounced.”
At Jezreel Valley Winery
How long can wine be kept, and what is the best way to keep it? “That depends on the wine’s quality and the conditions it’s kept in after being opened. I recommend a wine fridge which keeps wine at 14 to 16 degrees Celsius. That way it continues to improve and age. If you don’t have a wine fridge at home, then once the bottle is opened, keep it for a week to ten days in the fridge, or 2 to 3 days on the counter.” Assaf adds that “light, warmth and oxygen shorten a wine’s lifespan. The best solution is to drink it all. That way there are no leftovers to worry about!”
The Naaman Winery, together with Ramot Naftali Winery, 3Vines Winery, and Amram Winery are joining forces to create the “Four Wineries Festival” at Ramot Naftali on 7 June 2019. It’s part of the 10th Galilee Wine Path Festival. The Four Wineries Festival runs from 11:00 to 17:00. Each winery offers a live performance by local artists playing various musical styles, from Blues to Latin, Rock to New Age World music. Shuttles will bring visitors comfortably from one winery to another, and each offers wines for sale at special prices. Food and light refreshments will also be sold. All wineries are wheelchair accessible. For details click here >> Assaf Winery is holding a Friday Forum Festival where its wines will be served with tapas from the Adika kitchen. Join them on 31 May 2019 11:00 – 18:00. Entrance: free.
The Wine Path Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary! Initiated by the Galilee Development Authority and the Ministry of Tourism, the wine festival takes place from 29 May to 22 June, 2019. Enjoy a wide array of events from wine exhibitions and sales to tasting, tours in wineries, the wine party, lectures, performances by local artists and more. Check the festival website for information on dozens of focal points across the Galilee and the Galilee Winery Map with over 80 wineries in the region.