Israel may not be top of mind when planning your next wine trip, but this is the perfect destination for those looking for rich history, great wines, and the adventure of a lifetime. Though wine has been made here for thousands of years, it is only recently that this little country (roughly the size of New Jersey) has been making a big move into the global premium wine space.
The modern era of winemaking in Israel dates back to the late 1800s when Baron Edmond de Rothschild from Chateau Lafite decided to come to Israel and invest in viticulture and winemaking. Bringing his expertise and relationships in the industry from the Bordeaux region of France, he set up shop on Mount Carmel and founded Carmel Winery, then called Carmel Wine Co., and included wineries at Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov. Carmel is one of Israel’s oldest wineries and is considered the largest historic winery in the country.
The wine industry of the current state of Israel is very new and still building out its own regulations and regional identities. Therefore, the official wine regions (like an AVA or AOC) are still being adjusted and developed. However, there are delineated areas that represent regions where wineries can be found. There are now more than 300 wineries across different regions, producing a combined 40 million bottles a year.
If you want to focus your wine tasting on one region that offers easy access to major cities, the Judean Hills area west of Jerusalem presents an opportunity to taste at several different wineries without traveling too far between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
IN THIS GUIDE:
- Lodging & Logistics
- Winery List
- Odem Mountain
- Pelter and Matar
- …and more
When traveling to Israel for wine, it’s best to move around the country a bit to see all of the different regions and what makes them so special. From the northern Golan Heights to the Negev Desert in the south, Israel is full of unique terrain and endless historical sites to see.
Winetraveler Note: You will arrive and depart into and out of Ben Gurion Airport located outside of Tel Aviv. This is the main international airport in the country. You can check current flight prices here. It’s important to know that security at Ben Gurion is very intense. When leaving Israel, arrive at the airport no less than about 4 hours before your flight. You will encounter multiple security checkpoints heading into the airport and before you get to your gate. Please bring your patience and be ready to answer personal questions and inquiries about your trip. This is for your safety and the safety of everyone traveling to and from Israel.
The two most convenient cities that you can base out of are Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean Sea, and Jerusalem, a little further inland. The cities themselves are only about an hour and a half drive from each other, making it easy to bounce around a bit in one day. You can rent a car when you arrive at Ben Gurion airport.
Benefits of Staying in Tel Aviv
For those who are looking for more of a metropolitan feel – with access to a beach – Tel Aviv is the best spot. This is an incredibly diverse international city with numerous hotel options, and a lot to offer in terms of restaurants, cocktail bars, beach day clubs, nightlife, culture, etc.
If staying in Tel Aviv, make sure to visit the Jaffa Port area and enjoy a delightful traditional meal at The Old Man & the Sea (Nemal Yafo St 101, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel) right in the marina by the docks. Do note that alcohol is not served here. The culinary experience is worth the visit, and you’ll enjoy the delicious lemonade.
For a late-night cocktail, check out the whimsical Fantastic bar (Tsidon St 3, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel). This is an Alice in Wonderland-themed bar with a fairytale vibe and various creatively designed cocktails. For an experience that really feels like you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole and landed in a true fantasyland, book your table at Fantastic.
Winetraveler Note: The Sabbath is observed on Saturday in Israel. Most businesses will be closed from sundown on Friday evening until after sundown on Saturday evening. Please make your plans accordingly and check with businesses to see if they are open during your stay. Tel Aviv has more entertainment options available on Saturdays than other cities around Israel that are stricter about Sabbath observance. Normal business resumes on Sundays.
Benefits of Staying in Jerusalem
Jerusalem is a Middle Eastern city with tons of history and culture. The ancient Old City of Jerusalem is where you will find the religious centers of the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, along with other points of interest for Jews, Christians, Muslims, and history enthusiasts alike. Jerusalem is also home to some incredible restaurants and top markets. Take a look at current luxury hotel pricing in Jerusalem here.
Culinary enthusiasts must visit the Machaneh Yehudah Market in Jerusalem. This is the spot to find Middle Eastern spices, fruits, vegetables, meats, and other delights that are unique to the region. You may even need to purchase an extra suitcase here for all the wine and spices you’ll want to bring home.
While visiting the market, enjoy a spectacular Middle Eastern vegetarian meal at Tzemah (Hadekel Street 1, Jerusalem, Israel). This is a charming restaurant by the Machneyuda Group and Chef Asaf Serri with an open kitchen format featuring an array of vegetarian and vegan meal options. Perfect for a healthy bite in a chic location within walking distance to all the incredible vendors at the market.
When you’re ready to head out to wine country, here are some wineries from across Israel that offer an incredible opportunity to taste Israeli wine at its best.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. These wineries offer a snapshot of top tasting experiences in the country.
Carmel Mountains Region
Carmel Wineries, Derech Hikav St. Zichron Yaakov 309502
As previously stated, Carmel Winery is a large historic winery located on Mount Carmel in the town of Zichron Ya’acov. The winery was built in 1892 and is the oldest industrial building still in use in Israel.
The beginnings of the modern wine industry in Israel focused on Bordeaux grapes, due to the influences of the Rothschilds. These varieties represent a cornerstone blend at many of the wineries, including Carmel. However, Mediterranean grapes, such as Grenache and Syrah, are well suited to the climate in Israel and are now an important part of the current portfolio here.
A visit to Carmel Winery allows Winetravelers the opportunity to travel back in time to the late 1800s when Baron Edmond de Rothschild built a system of caves to cellar the wines at a constant, cool temperature. The tasting room and historic cave structure along with a shop and cinema called “The Center for Wine Culture” are on the same block. Plan ahead for an interesting and informative tour and tasting. Reservations are necessary. The winery is closed on Saturdays and major holidays.
Lower Galilee Region
Village Of Hope, Kiryat Tivon, Israel
Tulip Winery may be one of the most exceptional wineries in the world. It is located in Kfar Tikva, or “village of hope,” on a scenic hilltop. This small village was developed as a community for people with special needs. The winery here was founded by the Itzhaki family to be a place of employment for the residents of this unique village, giving them an opportunity to work and develop important skills. A visit to Tulip Winery allows Winetravelers the opportunity to not only taste premium Israeli wines, but to see the incredible mission of this business first-hand. As the winery says, “we label wines, not people.”
Truly an impactful visit, Tulip Winery is a must on an Israeli wine tour. The tasting room and gardens are a beautiful place to enjoy award-winning wines while getting to know the heart of this special place – the people who have found a purpose here. Bread and cheese plates are available to snack on while tasting. The winery is closed on Saturdays and holidays. Contact Tulip to reserve a tasting time.
Winetraveler Tip: If you’re unsure about how to get around and prefer a locally guided and customizable private day trip, you can schedule one that leaves from Tel Aviv. Visits to many of the wineries on this list can be arranged through Zelkind Land Tours. You can opt to focus on the hills of Galilee and Golen Heights, or spend your time in the more central Carmel Mountains region.
Lower Galilee Region
Sderot Kakal, Kfar Tavor, 15241, Israel
Tabor Winery was founded in 1999 in the Tabor Village at the foot of Mt. Tabor in the heart of the Galilee region. The village here has an historical tie, as it was established in 1901 by 28 farmers through the assistance of Baron Edmond de Rothschild.
The winery features award-winning wines, but one of their better-known wines on the international market is their Barbera Rosé. A deliciously refreshing and unique single varietal rosé.
Tabor’s visitor’s center was recently renovated and features tastes of their many wines through modern tasting dispensers. Cheese plates are also available to accompany a glass or bottle on the patio overlooking Mt. Tabor.
Check with the winery for their availability for tastings, especially with groups. Closed on Saturdays.
Judean Foothills Region
Barkan Winery is conveniently located about an hour from both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, making it a great option for a day trip from either city. It sits at the center of Israel’s largest vineyard.
The beautiful modern visitor’s center features state-of-the-art equipment, large barrel room, and showcases the grand scale of one of Israel’s largest wineries. Spend the afternoon here tasting through a portfolio of wines made under the leadership of Head Winemaker, Ido Lewinsohn, one of two Masters of Wine in Israel.
Barkan’s visitor’s center offers a multi-sensual experience, allowing guests the opportunity to learn more about winemaking through multimedia, tasting, and tours. Drop by for a tasting Sunday through Friday or make an appointment for one of the offered tours or experiences.
Central Coast Region
Kfar Vitkin, Israel
Vitkin Winery is a boutique family-owned winery founded in 2001 in the village of Kfar Vitkin. The winery was started by Doron and Sharona Belogolovsky and Sharona’s brother & winemaker, Assaf Paz. The winery makes uniquely Israeli wines and has won many awards throughout the years.
Assaf’s focus is on grapes outside of the common Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Merlot wines, with an emphasis on varieties like Carignan, Petite Sirah, and other unusual grapes. The Vitkin Israeli Journey series of wines features approachable, young bottles with Mediterranean variety blends, while the Vitkin series showcases premium varietal wines.
The property, including the winery and visitor’s center, is surrounded by vineyards and orchards. It’s a beautiful place to stop by for a tasting and some cheese in a lovely garden. There are several different wine experiences at Vitkin including tours, private dining options, and other culinary experiences. Contact the winery to learn more and book your visit.
Judean Hills Region
Ya’ar Hakdoshim, Eshtaol
Tuscany or Israel? This will be the question you ask yourself as you sit on the patio at Flam Winery overlooking the surrounding vineyard and Judean Hills. Flam is a family-owned winery, started in 1998 by Golan and Gilad Flam and their mother, Kami. The brothers gained their love of wine from their father who was one of Israel’s wine country pioneers.
Golan is the winemaker, and he brings his expertise from studying and working in Italy and Australia to his family’s winery in Israel. At Flam, the style leans European. Expect to taste wines like the Flam Camila white blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. The Flam Classico is a big red blend with 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 16% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot and 7% Syrah. Flam Noble is 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the remaining blend is Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
Flam Winery accepts visitors by reservation only. Contact them to make an appointment to visit this beautiful winery outside of Jerusalem.
Central Mountains Region
Sha’ar Binyamin Industrial Zone
Psagot Winery was founded in the early 2000s by the Berg family. It is here on their land that the family discovered ancient caves containing an old olive and wine press and cellars. A coin also found in the cave sets the time period of winemaking on the property back at least 2,500 years ago. Proof that winemaking has existed on this land for thousands of years.
This winery is a great day visit if you are staying in the Jerusalem area. The beautiful brand-new visitor’s center is located in the Jerusalem Mountains at Sha’ar Binyamin, with stunning vistas of the surrounding area. Winetravelers can expect a modern tasting room, multimedia journeys, and property tours, requiring a longer visit to enjoy all of the amenities here. Plus, the building and location are so gorgeous, you’ll want to stay a while and take your time on this visit.
Psagot Winery is open for tours and tasting sessions every day but Saturday. Reservations are required for tours. Contact the winery to learn more.
Golan Heights Region
Moshav Odem, Golan Heights
Odem Mountain Winery was established in 2003 by the Alfasi family and is located in the Golan Heights region. This is Israel’s northernmost winery in a secluded oak forest at an elevation of 1100 meters above sea level.
The wines of Odem Mountain are very special higher-elevation wines by winemaker, Adam Alfasi. Odem Mountain is only one of three growers in Israel that grow Nebbiolo, and they also own the only Gamay vineyards in the country. Their Cabernet Sauvignon/Gamay blend is one of the more interesting lighter red blends in the world.
Spend some time at the Odem Mountain visitor’s center and enjoy a tasting of these unique high-elevation Israeli wines. Contact the winery to learn more. Closed Saturdays and holidays.
Golan Heights Region
Kibbutz Ein Zivan
Pelter and Matar Wineries are separate entities under the same family ownership and located right next to each other in the Golan Heights area of Israel. Pelter Winery was founded in 2002 by Tal Pelter, and Matar Winery came about 10 years later. Tal’s wine industry experience comes from his studies in Australia, thus giving his wines a bit of an Australian touch.
Matar Winery is Kosher, while Pelter is not. This means the production for each has to be separate due to the rules of Kosher winemaking. Both make premium wines that are available in markets outside of Israel.
Pelter is open seven days a week for visits, but it’s always a good idea to call ahead to arrange your tasting.
Tel Arad, Israel
For a very adventurous wine tasting, head down to the Negev Desert to visit Yatir Winery, located in the large manmade Yatir Forest. The winery was founded in 2000 as a partnership between grape-growers of the area and Carmel Winery. The wines of Yatir are high-altitude, cool climate wines, with the Yatir Forest premium line leading the way at the high end of the portfolio. Winemaker, Eran Goldwasser, gained experience and accolades working in many Australian wineries before ending up here in the desert of Israel.
History buffs should know that Yatir Winery was built at the foot of the Tel Arad archeological site, featuring the ruins of a 3000-year-old Canaanite city. A large ancient wine press dating back 2500 years sits nearby and is a must-see for those interested in the history of winemaking.
Use Yatir as a destination or visit as part of a tour of the southern desert in Israel. This is one of the more unique winetasting locations you’ll find anywhere.
Winetraveler Suggestion: On the way back to Jerusalem from Yatir Winery, take the route along the Dead Sea and stop to experience weightlessness in its salty waters.
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