I am sure I am not the only person scrutinizing my purchases this holiday season, making sure that the labels and brands I support are consistent with my values. This feels much more urgent this year now that we have learned that some companies do not support Israel and have made statements supportive of Hamas terrorism. As that idea is simply untenable, I am playing it safe this year by giving gifts this year of Israeli wine, even though good bottles may cost $10 or more over and above kosher wines made in other countries. I plan to bring or serve Israeli wine exclusively at the many festive meals of this season.
For those like me who love New Zealand sauvignon blanc wines to pair with fish and salads, I am drinking Shiran Semillon 2021 this season. Like those snappy, grapefruit-scented whites from the land of the Kiwi, Eli Shiran in Kiryat Arbeh has used a completely different grape in a completely different country to achieve equally fresh, crisp and refreshing results. This wine is on sale at FillerUp Wines in Teaneck for about $35, and it retails for about $41 on kosherwine.com. I also like supporting Eli Shiran’s wines because I know his sons and close family members are serving Israel through the Nahal Haredi battalion and that they are mourning an early loss on Oct. 7th of Shiran’s nephew, Uri Shani, H”YD.
One of my favorite affordable Israeli bottles is Jezreel Valley’s Alfa 2020, which is a Bordeaux-style red blend that is consistently excellent year after year, and retails for $21. Jezreel Valley’s Jacob Ner-David, who lives and works in the Lower Galilee, has been busy delivering cases of wine to soldiers in time for Shabbat, as well as to displaced families from the south who have had to relocate to the north. It is a lovely gesture to make sure troops have something with which to make kiddush if possible, and it’s wonderful to see Jezreel bottles being delivered to the field.
Dalton Winery, in the northern Galilee, is facing considerable hardships as it endures staff shortages due to many reservists on staff being called up, and slow sales inside the country. “The mood for buying wine is low and we need your help abroad, now more than ever, to boost the demand and keep our wineries afloat,” said Alex Haruni, CEO of Dalton.
“At the moment the wineries of the north are some of the hardest hit. Hezbollah has ensured that our northern border is very active and it is a very difficult place to work. Some wineries have had to shut down completely and others, like us, are working very limited hours with a lot of time spent in shelters.” he said.
Every Dalton bottle I have ever tried consistently surpassed my expectations, but a recent personal favorite of mine is Dalton Family Collection
Cabernet Sauvignon 2021. This rich, ruby red Israeli cab, at approximately $41, is all that one wishes to find in a red wine, lush with red and blue fruit notes and a beautiful, smooth finish. This wine stands up against roast turkey and roast beef, and because of its versatility it is even an impressive red wine to give as a gift this holiday season, or to serve as an aperitif.
I tried to reach Yaacov Bris of La Forêt Blanche Winery near the Yatir Forest, because I wanted to recommend the La Forêt Blanche Talpiot Red 2021 ($25), one of Israel’s most aromatic, velvety and restrained red blends. It is made primarily of cabernet, with smaller percentages of petit verdot, shiraz and merlot. After a long delay, Bris told me that he was called up as part of his special police unit on Simchat Torah, and he has been working on and off since then, and also actively guarding his yishuv when not on police duty. “The visitor’s center is closed and all bookings were canceled—not a soul has stepped in since Oct. 7. All our workers drafted, thank God harvest was over right before Sukkot. We still had presses to do which we managed to do somehow. The vineyard is being targeted non-stop, [but] thanks to our brave soldiers serious harm has been prevented until now.”
La Forêt Blanche has had no sales from the web, stores or any other channel since the war started besides export sales. “Now in November, direct sales are coming back slowly as customers want to support,” Bris said. I am strongly recommending and personally buying this wine because this company would really benefit from our help.
Eli Sales, of Psagot Winery in Binyamin, told me that his CEO, Yaakov Berg, was also called up to the front, and while the Israeli temperament remains united, positive and confident, “the mood is certainly not festive” so they need our help to buy their wines abroad. I am very happy to recommend Psagot’s vibrant wines made by winemaker Sam Soroka, and I particularly like and enjoy the Psagot Malbec 2021, which costs approximately $38. This wine is bursting with flavors of earthy blue and black fruit and it just gets better and better every time I try it. For me, malbec and marselan are two grapes that I think do very well in Israel’s dry terroir, and I consistently enjoy these red wines from Israel.
Soroka was quick to share how Israel’s wines have improved over the 20 years and 20 harvests he has overseen in Israel. As an experienced global winemaker with experience working in Napa Valley, the Niagara Falls region, Languedoc-Roussillon in France, South and Western Australia, he feels that Israeli wine is on a historic journey. “The quality of Psagot — and that of my fellow Israeli colleagues — continue to improve on a consistent basis. It is of course very exciting to be part of this process,” he said, expressing pride in the work of his team and colleagues throughout Israel.
To wrap up, I could go on and on recommending my favorite bottles of Israeli wine all day, but the fact remains that this winter we all would do well to support Israeli wineries aggressively so they will still be here for us when festive times return. As Haruni from Dalton said so well, “We are not asking for charity but honest support; our wines stand shoulder to shoulder with wines from around the world and our scores attest to that.”
Elizabeth Kratz is Associate Publisher/Editor at The Jewish Link.