(December 31, 2018 / JNS) As much as it is a privilege as to taste wines for work, it’s also a true joy to recognize a well-crafted, affordable wine. The vintner’s craft of making good table wine is as old as the Bible, but to do it inexpensively, well, that is a different art entirely.
Here are five great wines I’ve found this year—wines that are sure to impress and enjoyed by a wide range of tasters—that won’t break the bank.
Hayotzer Virtuoso Chardonnay 2016
Hayotzer is a relatively new boutique winery formed as a spinoff of Arza, the oldest winery in Israel, founded in 1847, and has been known for more inexpensive sweet wines and juices. The Shor family—the original owners of Arza—are still the owners of Arza and Hayotzer today. Hayotzer has begun exporting wines from its first vintage in the fall of 2017, with many wines placed under its aptly named Genesis label. Hayotzer’s French-trained winemaker, Philippe Lichtenstein, was the winemaker for Carmel’s Zichron Ya’akov wine cellars for many years. The Virtuoso Chardonnay, made with 100 percent chardonnay grapes, is clean-tasting, with grapefruit on the nose, and some later spice notes of vanilla and sugar cookie. This wine is a great choice for Shabbat lunch or with lighter fare, such as white fish, sweeter root vegetables like parsnips and baked apples. Serve cold, but not icy. Find this wine for around $20.
Vitkin Pink Israeli Journey 2016
Vitkin is a newer winery on the kosher scene, becoming kosher only with the 2015 vintage. Their rosé, called Pink Israeli Journey (there are also white and red “Israeli journeys”), is made from grenache noir and a small amount of old vine carignan, both from Alona Mount Carmel, and slowly fermented in low temperatures. That has created an easy drinking wine with floral aromas, and heavy scents of strawberry and citrus. Red-wine lovers will find this a refreshing rosé to drink chilled and an absolute steal at around $20. Quite simply, this is one of the best rosés I’ve tasted. Made in stainless-steel tanks only with no oak to get in the way of the fruit, it is refreshing and perfectly pleasing on the tongue. It’s delicious on its own as an aperitif or with light foods like salads.
Jezreel Valley Alfa 2017
At $23, this discovery boasts a robust, complex, yet perfectly balanced Israeli blend that proves itself as an impressive table wine. With 50 percent syrah, 30 percent argaman and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, it’s a blend that has come to feel like a standard boutique Israeli winery blend. The wine is accessible yet intense, and one of my all-time favorite Israeli wines of the year. It’s also nice to see wineries cropping up in places that American Jews tend to only have read about in the Bible; Jezreel Valley is the site of an infamous war between the Israelites, led by King Saul and the Philistines. Buy this wine in bulk to bring as a discerning host gift, but don’t forget to keep some to enjoy.
Psagot Sinai M Series 2017
Psagot is one of the hottest wineries in the Judean Hills. Its entire portfolio is a tour de force. The issue is that they’re also mostly very expensive and high-end. The Psagot Sinai is a wine that clearly has benefited from winemaker Yaacov Oryah’s careful hand, but he has used more affordable grapes to create a blend that more people than ever can buy and enjoy. At around $23, this quality price ratio (QPR) is like few I’ve ever seen. The blend of 77 percent cabernet sauvignon and 23 percent shiraz (syrah) is truly a beautiful combination, and aging six months in French oak has resulted in notes of fresh tobacco and leather. This is a fruity bold red that is sure to please.
Lewis Pasco 2016 Pasco Project BDX
At around $28, I am including this particular wine because it’s worth spending the extra three bucks, in case you were wondering. Lewis Pasco is one of Israel’s most legendary wine consultants, having been part of a few wineries’ jumps to the big time, including Tishbi and Recanati. Currently, he is a consultant for Beit El Winery. The 2016 Pasco Project Box BDX, which he makes at Beit El, is 56 percent cabernet sauvignon and 44 percent merlot, resulting in a super-smooth, easy-drinking blend. Nine months of aging in French oak leaves this wine with a wonderful warmth. While it’s drinking great now, I’m told that the wine will continue to improve with age. At such a deal, it’s almost silly not to buy a case of this to enjoy for years to come.