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exploring Israeli wines with Golan Heights Winery

Every Passover and Hanukkah it seems like different Kosher or Isralie wineries appear on our editorial schedule and each year I become more and more impressed with not just the realm of "Kosher Wines" but in the taste and quality of wines from Israel. Plus, if you are a wine conessour like myself where every sip is a way to travel virtually to a new land, a journey to try something new beyond just a tasty beverage - there are few places on Earth with as rich of a vinocultural heritage as the Golan Heights.

Golan Heights Winery was founded in 1983 with the first vines planted in 1976. However, while that puts them at their 40th year of operation in 2023, the regional appelation of Galilee evokes images of Bible stories and readings from the Torah that take us back thousands of years as to the times of our ancient ancestors who were cultivating grapes so that they could enjoy wine for meals, festivals, and holy use as well.

In fact the reading from John 2:1-12 where Jesus turned water into wine during a wedding party in Cana Galilee comes from not far from where these grapes used by Golan Heights Winery are harvested today.

The Renowned Galilee Region

In Israel, the Galilee wine region, often referred to as the Galil, holds the distinction of being the northernmost appellation and is widely regarded as the finest in the country. Within this esteemed wine growing region, the Golan Heights, or simply the Golan, stands out as the premier area and is the coolest region in Israel.

The vineyards used by Golan Heights Winery here are uniquely situated on a volcanic plateau, with elevations ranging from 400 meters (approximately 1,300 feet) to 1,200 meters (around 3,900 feet) above sea level. This high-altitude area is notable for its occasional winter snowfall. As a result, the broader region can support quite a diversity of grapes very well - including warm weather varietals such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay as well as colder ones even German varietals such as Riesling.

At the heart of the central Golan lies the town of Katzrin, home to the esteemed Golan Heights Winery.

The winery is jointly owned by eight Israeli settlements that supply the grapes and today Golan Heights Winery is one of the top names in the region for quality wine production using modern technology and processes combined with traditional harvest and vinification techniques that put it on par with wines produced in other areas of the world. 

One interesting quirk though that, to me, only further enhances the uniqueness of how I feel when drinking the wines they sent over is that in certain territories Government regulators have forced them to change labling to say "Made in Israeli-occupied Syrian territories" or even simply leave the declaration of origin of the lable and instead classifying it as simply, "other".

Even when I go to google it refers to Golan Heights as being "Internationally recognized as Syrian territoriy occupied by Israel". While I'm not going to get too deeply into the continuing tradgedy about who's land it is - once again, for me it only makes the story of this wine that much more interesting.

Golan Heights Winery produces their wines under three different brands. We were introduced to Yarden  as our first exploration of the brand. These wines are premium, single vineyard wines, and have a price point ranging from $25.99 for the Chardonnay to $95.99 for the Syrah and Merlot.

yarden syrah allone 2019

2019 Yarden "Allone Habashan" Syrah (SRP: $95.99): 

great for special occasions, this Syrah was produced in a limited edition of 21 barrels. It pairs beautifully with slow-cooked smoked lamb spareribs, rich beef stew, or hearty eggplant parmesan.

yarden merlot allone 2019

2019 Yarden "Allone Habashan" Merlot (SRP: $95.99): 

This deep garnet wine has a nose of black currant, rosemary and toast. Plush tannins support flavors of cherry, cassis, vanilla bean, bittersweet chocolate and violet that melt into a candied orange peel finish.

yarden chardonnay 2021

2021 Yarden Chardonnay (SRP: $25.99): 

Exhibiting appealing pear, lemon, green apple, and tropical fruit notes, intermingled with mineral and floral characters, all with a background of French oak, Winemaker Victor Schoenfeld recommends pairing it with pan-seared halibut with lemon butter, crispy-skinned roast chicken, or butternut squash ravioli.

All three were exceptional, especially compared to other Israli wines and specifically Kosher wines that we've tried. Quality was as good as anything that you can get from other growing regions that you might be more familiar with, though at $95.99 that price point puts it into a special category since it would be very difficult for me to spend that money vs products from Napa or Bordeaux.

But again, as I mentioned above, that's not really the point.

When I brought out the bottle of Yarden "Allone Habashan" Merlot to go along with our steak and latkes last night, it evoked a special moment and created conversation in a positive way ... about family, exploration, culture, history, and tradition vs if I had brought out a $250 bottle of Oakville Cab from one of my favorite producers the conversation would have simply been about money.

Whether you are Jew or Gentile (like myself - though one that loves to embrace and celebrate Jewish cultural traditions), you should take the opportunity to try these wines Golan Heights Winery if you see them in your local wine shop.