As much a privilege as it is to taste wines for work, it’s 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 be enjoyed by a wide range of tasters—and these 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 just last fall, 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, with some later spice notes of vanilla and sugar cookie. This wine is a great choice for Shabbat lunch and with lighter fare such as white fish, sweeter root vegetables like parsnips, and baked apples. 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. Made from grenache noir and a small amount of old vines carignan, both from Alona Mount Carmel, resulting from slow fermentation in low temperatures, created an easy drinking wine with floral aromas with 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 rosé wines I’ve tasted. The wine, made in stainless steel tanks only and should be served cold, is refreshing and perfectly pleasing on the tongue. It’s delicious on its own as an aperitif or with light foods like salads or white fish.
Jezreel Valley Alfa 2017
At $23, this was a fun discovery of a robust, complex yet perfectly balanced Israeli blend that is a fantastic and impressive table wine. With 50 percent syrah, 30 percent argaman and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, it’s a blend that has come to be very familiar that I see often from boutique Israeli wineries. The wine is accessible yet intense, one of my all-time favorite Israeli wines of the year. 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. Their entire portfolio is a tour de force. The issue is 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 beautiful, and with six months aging in French oak, finishes with notes of fresh tobacco and leather, and creates a fruity red that is sure to please.
Lewis Pasco 2016
Pasco Project BDX
At around $28, I am forcing this wine into this article 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, which has fantastic wines about which I’ve written before. 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 beautiful warmth. I enjoyed this wine last Shabbat and I’m told the wine will continue to improve with age. At such a deal, it’s silly not to buy a case of this to enjoy for years to come.
By Elizabeth Kratz