A Very Spicy Grape

Gewürztraminer and spicy food are an essential wine world pairing.  Lovers of Thai, Indian, Szechuan or all things Asian will find a lot to love here.  Often with pronounced notes of lychee, mango, guava, and other delicious tropical fruit, the wine seems to lend itself to all things savory.  That little bit of sugar is what you want to balance all that heat.

Success in Israel

For such a finicky grape, Gewurtz seems to love Israel.  There has been tremendous success with this varietal in recent years, with the vine loving the Terra Rossa soils and limestone bedrock that can be found there.  Gewurtz is one of the more increasingly planted vines in Israel with world class examples already being produced.

Literally, “The Spicy Grape from Tramin”, Gewurtz is often a revelation for those who have not experienced it.  Amazingly redolent of exotic tropical fruit and spice notes and often with a slight kiss of residual sugar, this is the perfect spicy food wine!

Produced in the Shomron region of Israel.
This wine displays the natural freshness and fruit characteristics of the grapes.

kosher wine and food pairing

One of the most frequently-asked questions is with respect to finding the “right” wine(s) to go with any number of specific dishes and/or holiday meals.  The general belief is that wine is a beverage that can and should bring pleasure and therefore one should drink the wines you like with the food you like. That said, there are some pretty easy-to-follow tips that can bring an even higher level of enjoying to your meals.

Even though a fair amount of wine is enjoyed without the accompaniment of food, food and wine are soulmates that should rarely be separated.  Similar to the Torah’s description of man and woman’s ability to compliment each other, wine and food belong together, with each bringing something to the table that enhances the other.    

Our general philosophy is that when it comes to enjoying the nectar of the gods – do with your wine that which brings you (and yours) pleasure and enjoyment, regardless of the prevailing common wisdom or opinion of so-called experts  

Drink the wines that bring you the most pleasure, whether mouth-puckering and acid loaded Sancerre, oak-aged ripe Cabernet Sauvignon wines or full-bodied buttery Chardonnays.  Bring them to the table regardless of what culinary fare is being served.  

There is a ton of legitimate science behind food pairings and a highly successful pairing has the power to elevate dining to a transcendental experience.  The majority of science relates to the manner in which different food compounds interact with those in the wines (and in the other dishes with which they are served).  In order to help make your meals more enjoyable, here are some general tips and helpful suggestions for thinking about your food and wine in a slightly different way; a way that will make it easier to create a more harmonious combination of foods and wine.

Before getting into specifics with respect to the individual characteristics of the wine and food in question, one should first consider whether the goal of the pairing is to complement or contrast.  If a complementary pairing is desired, focusing on the dominant flavors in the relevant dish can be helpful in finding a matching wine.  Pairing the 16 ounce aged ribeye in pepper sauce with a spicy Syrah or Zinfandel will provide complementary nuances as will a buttery Chardonnay with a sea bass poached in farm-fresh French butter.  Other examples would be to pair a meat dish sweetened by a fruity sauce or glaze with a red wine that is very fruit-forward or utilizing the savory and earthy notes in a classic Bordeaux to match with a dish redolent with pungent mushrooms or other umami-heavy foods.  If your goal is to showcase the uniqueness of either the food or wine, you might prefer to use the textures of each to showcase a contrast between the two.  Utilizing texture leads to many of the more well-known pairings including matching the grease-laden traditional Chanukah latkes and sufganiyot with a crisply acidic Sauvignon Blanc or sparkling wine (that has the added grease-cutting abilities drawn from its bubbles).

One of the most important things to consider are the characteristics of the wine and food in question, with the wine’s “weight” or how it feels in your mouth (heavily influenced by the alcohol content) being the most important piece of the puzzle and the easiest to understand – lighter wines go with lighter food and heavier wines make better pairings with heavier dishes.  The rationale being that one wants the food and wine to complement each other as opposed to one overwhelming the other.  The nuanced beauty of a delicate and complex Pinot Noir could be obliterated by a perfectly constructed beef bourguignon, whereby a rich and slightly spicy Shiraz would provide the needed heft to match the dish round for round.  The need for proper balancing of the weight is the genesis of the now-infamous “white with fish and red with meat” rule, but given the dizzying array of possible weights for fish (think of lighter white fish versus heavier tuna and salmon), poultry (lighter chicken versus heavier turkey or goose) and meat (veal is significantly lighter than beef), the simplistic cliché is not really relevant.

While the alcohol level plays a big part in the weight of the wine, a dizzying array of other wine components all have a say in how well a wine will pair with any particular food or dish.  Any list of factors to be taken into consideration when thinking about wine and food pairing will include the levels of acid, alcohol and sugar in any particular wine, along with the oak influence and strength of its tannins.  Similar to salt’s role when flavoring food, acid acts as an enhancer, highlighting the primary flavors in any particular food.  As long as the wine is balanced, the higher the acidity levels the better the wine will pair with food.  A white wine’s acidity levels, together with its level of dryness (i.e. lack of residual sugar) will contribute to its “crispness”, which can serve as a lovely balance to fatty foods.  While acid can be (and is) added to any wine (a practice especially prevalent in hotter-climate wine-growing regions, where the wines ripen too quickly for their natural acidity levels to be sufficiently preserved), some grape varietals are more natural acidic then others including Barbera, Sangiovese and Sauvignon Blanc.  

In addition to their influence on a wine’s weight (and the resulting food-compatibility), higher alcohol in a wine can overwhelm delicate flavors in a dish by creating a bitter sensation, but can play very nicely with sweeter foods (e.g. most dessert wines are relatively high in alcohol).  In addition to their über-importance in a wine’s structure, balance and aging ability, a wine’s tannins can be softened by pairing them with fatty and high-protein foods like steak and certain cheeses.  However, when paired with sweeter foods, the tannins can have the negative impact of diminishing the sweetness and making the food seem dry and bitter (e.g. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and rich chocolate fudge cake are not the best pairing).  Keep in mind is that a dish’s sauce or glaze will often provide the dominant flavor in a dish so make sure to take the flavors and textures of the sauce when thinking through any wine pairing scenarios.  Another tidbit is to ensure that any dessert wine you are serving should be sweeter than the dessert it is expected to accompany.

Especially when you are contemplating a multi-course meal with numerous dishes and/or dominant flavors in each course, the thought of coming up with a “proper” wine pairing can seem significantly overwhelming (especially on top of actually cooking all that delectable food).  If the thought causes you stress just stick to some generally food friendly wines, that manage to pair nicely with a wide array of different flavors. Chief among such wines is Champagne (or other good sparkling wines), whose crisp dry acidity, typically low(er) alcohol level and refreshing bubbles ensure a wine-range of pairing opportunities and make it the go-to pairing partner (besides providing you with the welcome opportunity to significantly up your sparkling wine consumption).  Other options are crisply dry Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Riesling and Cabernet Franc.  While they can certainly provide magnificent pairings with a little bit of thought and advance planning, bigger and bolder Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are not wines that can be relied on to safely pair with anything you put in front of them (with tannin likely a food pairings worst enemy).  One of the kosher wine world’s many ironies is that these two varietals are the best-selling wines for a consumer base whose primary method of wine consumption is during Shabbat and Chag meals where the need for versatile wines is the greatest.

Despite all of the above, the awesomeness of any particular pairing hinges on whether you like the wine or food in question.  Sauternes and foie gras may be a classic (and insanely divine) pairing, but it won’t be enjoyable to you if you don’t like  Sauternes or foie gras. 

wine in modern israel

By the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, there were fourteen wineries in existence. Eliaz Wine Cellars (1952) and Askalon-Carmei Zion (1950) were founded in the early years of the state. Eliaz was named after Eliezer Seltzer, who was killed in the War of Independence. It was founded in a failed perfume factory in Binyamina. Askalon was founded by the Segal family, who had previously opened a distillery in the Sarona settlement.

James Rothschild, son of Baron Edmond, took over his father’s interests in Palestine. In 1957 he arranged to donate the Rishon le Zion and Zichron Ya'acov Wine Cellars to Carmel. Thus the involvement and interest of the Rothschild family in the Israel wine industry extended from 1882 until 1957.

In 1957, the Israel Wine Institute was formed in cooperation with the industry and government. It was initially managed by an agronomist and oenologist from France. Initially, many wines were generically named, but in 1961 Israel was a signatory of the Madrid Pact and names such as Port and Sherry disappeared from the domestic market place.

The main wineries at this time were Carmel Mizrahi, Eliaz , Friedman-Tnuva (forerunner of WEST -Stock), Askalon, and Mikveh-Israel. The main areas of vineyards were the valleys surrounding the southern slopes of Mt. Carmel, and the central Judean Plain & Judean Foothills.

By the 1960's, Carmel, controlled over 90% of the vineyards in Israel. Most of the red wines were based on Carignan, and medium dry white wines were made from Semillon. Carmel Hock, Grenache Rose and Adom Atik, were the most popular table wines. In 1971 Israel’s first varietal wines – a Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc – were released in the export market by Carmel.


In 1976 Carmel made a legendary Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve, which was Israel’s first international style quality wine. It was the first wine aged in small oak barrels and aged in bottle before release. It was to be the forerunner of the quality revolution.

In the 1970’s Professor Cornelius Ough, from the University of California at Davis, changed the course of Israeli wine. After visiting the Golan Heights, he reported back that the Golan Heights would be a perfect site for growing high quality wine grapes. The first vines were planted there in 1976.


This set the stage for the quality revolution which began in 1983 with the founding of the Golan Heights Winery, which immediately sought the assistance of Californian winemaker Peter Stern. He was to be the winemaking consultant for the next twenty years.

The Golan Heights Winery re-invented Israeli viticulture and brought New World winemaking techniques to Israel, using the cooler climate vineyards of the Golan.

When Yarden wines were exported to America by the Golan Heights Winery, they were referred to as Israel’s first world class wines. In 1987 at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London, the Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 1984, won not only a Gold Medal, but also the Winiarski Trophy as the best red wine in the Competition. It was the first of many international awards.

Tishbi Winery was founded in 1985. Jonathan Tishbi, whose great grandparents planted vineyards for Rothschild in the 1880’s, became the first vineyard owner to decide to build his own winery.


In 1990 Barkan took over the Stock – WEST winery (previously known as Friedman Tnuva), which had gone bankrupt. The new owner grew their business to become the second largest winery in the country.

The boutique winery revolution began in the 1990’s. Tzora Kibbutz and Dalton followed Tishbi’s example of adding a winery to established vineyards. Yair Margalit and Eli Ben Zaken decided to establish their own wineries, resulting in Margalit Winery and Domaine du Castel respectively.

Dr. Yair Margalit was a chemistry professor, who studied winemaking in California, opened his boutique winery in 1989. Eli Ben Zaken was self taught. By a stroke of good fortune his first wine got noticed by Serena Sutcliffe MW, head of the Sotheby’s Wine Department. Both Margalit and Castel showed that smaller wineries could also make world class wines.

The 1990's really saw the coming of age of the Israeli wine market. During these prosperous years, Israel went through a cultural revolution in terms of food & wine.


The larger wineries reacted to the boutique winery boom. The traditional, historic wineries of Israel: Carmel Mizrahi, Efrat, Eliaz and Askalon were renamed Carmel Winery, Teperberg 1870, Binyamina Winery and Segal Wines respectively, and they started a revolution of their own, deciding to re-brand, and focus on quality table wines.

The large wineries also invested heavily. Carmel built two new small state of the art wineries, Kayoumi Winery in the Upper Galilee and Yatir Winery in the Northeast Negev. They closed production at Rishon Le Zion and totally refurbished their Zichron Ya’acov facility. Golan Heights Winery opened a new winery called Galil Mountain, situated on the border with Lebanon. Barkan built a new advanced winery at Hulda and planted alongside it the largest vineyard in the country. They also bought Segal Wines. Teperberg built a new winery at Tzora.

Large commercial concerns entered the wine business. Tempo Beer Industries, the country’s largest brewery, purchased Barkan-Segal. The country’s largest beverage company, The Central Bottling Co., aka Coka Cola Israel, purchased Tabor Winery. The supermarket company Hezi Hinam bought Binyamina Winery. A Recanati, from the famous industrialist & philanthropist family, founded the Recanati Winery. An international consortium of investors from Israel, USA, UK and France purchased Carmel.

The international recognition Israel started receiving for its wines was a major step forward. The Wine Spectator’s New York Wine Experience, open by invitation only to the leading 250 wineries in the world, invited Yarden to participate. French critics Bettane & Dessaume selected Castel as one of the wineries featured in their book “The World’s Greatest Wines.” Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book awarded a maximum four stars to Castel and three to four stars to Yatir. The Wine Spectator chose Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon as one of their Top 100 Wines of The Year.

The Wine Advocate, owned by Robert Parker, the world’s most influential wine critic, began regular tastings of Israeli wines. In the first tasting Yatir Winery scored 93 points, then the best score for an Israeli, kosher or Eastern Mediterranean wine. Since then Castel, Margalit, Clos de Gat and Yarden have each also achieved this score.

In wine-tasting competitions, Israeli wines have also been to the forefront. Yarden, Barkan & Recanati wines, in particular, have been prolific in collecting gold medals worldwide. In particular, three awards have stood out. Vinitaly gave the Trophy for ‘The Best Winery’ to the Golan Heights Winery. The Decanter World Wine Awards awarded the prestigious International Trophy to Carmel Winery. The Wine Enthusiast awarded the Best New World Winery Award to The Golan Heights Winery.

Today there are 40 wineries harvesting 50 tons or more, 250 boutique wineries and many more garagiste or domestic wineries. The largest wineries in Israel are: Carmel, Barkan, Golan Heights, Teperberg, Binyamina, Tabor, Tishbi, Galil Mountain, Dalton & Recanati. The main grape varieties planted are Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Merlot & Shiraz/ Syrah. Israel has 5,500 hectares of wine vineyards. The main wine growing areas are the Upper Galilee, Golan Heights, Mount Carmel, Judean Plain & Judean Hills.

Israeli wine has certainly arrived!

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