Over the last decade several Israeli wineries have created a niche consistently producing internationally recognized premium wines. Getting glowing reviews from Robert Parker, Hugh Johnson and several wine magazines, these wines became the standard bearers for Israeli wine.  For instance, the widely heralded and appreciated boutique wines of the Domaine du Castel, Margalit and Yatir wineries have been fetching over NIS 200 a bottle and often selling for considerably more as these wines mature years after their initial release.  Under their Yarden label, the Golan Heights Winery spearheaded the effort for commercial wineries to keep pace with their Katzrin series while Carmels Limited Edition as well as Barkan’s Superieur also gained a loyal following. Yet, even at these prices, the most expensive Israeli wines did not even scratch the “sticker-shockable” price tag that wines from Bordeaux, Piedmont or Napa often carry. As an example, a bottle of 2007 Chateau Lafite Rothschild (the wine family who founded the Carmel Winery) sells for a hefty NIS 1600.

   The hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars that are being charged for future releases or at wine auctions certainly caught the notice of Israeli winemakers and CFOs. Bordeaux’s Chateau Petrus often sells for over $1,000 a bottle at first release, yet it’s unheard of for an Israeli wine to sell for even a quarter of that price and the wines are just now pushing more frequently towards NIS 400.

   A few Israeli wineries have been testing the waters for “über-expensive” wines. The Zauberman winery was one of the first to see if prestige buyers would flinch as he was offering part of his small 5,000 bottle yearly production for NIS 500 a bottle. Yet even though the reviews were generally good, Israel’s highest priced wine wasn’t getting the highest praise from local or from international critics that wines half its price were receiving.

A few new releases could significantly change the landscape of prices for top-tier Israeli wines. Two of Israel’s largest producers, the Golan Heights Winery which produces five million bottles a year, and the Dalton Winery which produces one million bottles, have recently released ultra-premium wines that are selling for almost twice the price of their previously highest priced wines. The Golan Heights Winery, under their Yarden label, produce their Rom (“elevated” in Hebrew) wine, a combination of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. With only 6,000 bottles released, it represents one-tenth of one percent of the winery’s production so they are saying it’s their best wine from their best grapes from their best vineyards and that conveys prestige and value at $90 a bottle.  Dalton offers its 2006 Matatia featuring Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc making it the only Bordeaux-style blend of these powerhouse wines. The smaller commercial winery, Ella Valley, which produces 2,000 bottles of its ultra-premium E wine, is charging NIS 380 for what it hopes is a wine that best represents what is possible in Israel’s Judean Hills. This wine was recently awarded a gold medal by Decanter Magazine in the UK.

      Now wineries might be hard pressed to say that this new class of wines is twice as good or in twice as much the demand of their next tier or even Castel’s Grand Vin or Yatir Forest, but it doesn’t work that way with other luxury products. A $ 5,000 Rolex wrist watch isn’t targeting the same market as a $300 Bulova or a $50 Casio, but there is a particular though small segment of the population that is willing to pay for the status of the most expensive watch or wine and a certain segment of the marketplace that is inspired to find them outlets for “liquidating” their assets with plenty of price points and perceived quality levels in between the highest and lowest priced offerings.

   It may take several years as these wines mature before they reveal their true potential.  The wineries provide their rationale for these seemingly astronomical prices by explaining that these wines use their best grapes from their best vineyards. These wines receive tender loving care above and beyond the attention given to any of their other premium or mass market wines, including unique oak aging techniques.  So scarcity of these wines is a justifiable rationale, but will people pay if they find or are convinced that other wines surpass these wines in complexity, balance or expressiveness, but at lower prices? Time will tell and it may take three-five years before a consensus of experts chime in but let’s look forward to those corks popping in a few years and getting a chance to find out for ourselves.

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Comments

Steven Bachenheimer
2014-05-05
Great article! We sommeliers in the U.S. really need to get up to speed on Israeli wines. You rarely see them in better restaurants unless they are servng Kosher food. Clearly Israeli wines have gone well beyond Sacremental wines. I wiill be in Israel late June/Early July. Perhaps you can recommend a few wineries/wine expert I might visit/meet with. Also, i would welcome your "short list" of better aticles/publications (beyond Rogov's guide) I can review and share with other Sommeliers. Once again, thanks for this very insightful article. Steve Bachenheimer Certified Sommelier Guild of Master Sommeliers
David Rhodes
2014-05-14
David's reply to Steven: In late June there will be a wine festival in Raanana (just outside Tel Aviv), June 25th and 26th and will only cost about $25 (or less to attend). You can register at rwf.co.il and as you know wine festivals are always a great opportunity to sample a lot of wines in short period of time. If you want to read more about Israeli wines, I have 25 articles posted on the ESRA Magazine website from past issues and have a few hundred articles posted online about Israeli wines from other sites and publications besides the 100 radio episodes I recorded. There is a privation of material about Israeli wines in English but that's why I moved here in 2008 and have since become the most prolific independent writer about Israeli wines in English. I am the only full time English writer on the Israeli wine press circuit so there's not a lot of other unbiased English articles to peruse. In the US, Mark Squires who writes for Robert Parker writes yearly about Israeli wines and my interview of Mark has appeared on Parker's website. There are other writers in the US who write mostly from a kosher perspective which omits some of our best boutique wineries which are not certified kosher. I too have training and work as a sommelier and have served as an adviser to San Diego State University's Business of Wine program and a representative to the International Sommelier's Guild in Israel and worked at wineries in Israel and California, so if you need any help please feel free to contact me at israeliwineguy@gmail.com or call 972-54-377-1448 and I would be glad to help you in gaining more insight into Israeli wines. So Much Wine, So Little Time, David Rhodes

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About the author

David Rhodes

David Rhodes is a California trained sommelier who likes to say he lives in Tel Aviv but sleeps in Hod Hasharon.  David has worked  and consulted for restaurants and wineries in the Unite...
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