A Slice of Heaven in Tel Aviv: 7 Israeli wines paired to Pizza & Pasta

One of my favorite ways of passing an evening in Israel is introducing visitors or newcomers to good if not great Israeli wines and dining experiences they haven’t yet encountered. Often I’m limited by different factors such as if the group keeps kosher or keeping to a budget of some kind. I don’t see those as constraints as much as challenges. Anyone can host an amazing evening with an unlimited tab but ask a winemaker and they will tell you its more challenging to make a good wine at a low price than a premium wine at an exorbitant price and its not too different for an event planner.

Over the years since moving to Israel from San Diego, I’ve hosted dozens of wine events for visiting chefs, tourists, medical symposiums,tour guides, foreign journalists, families visiting for weddings and bar mitzvahs and college students. One of my favorite groups to host is diplomats from various countries including those who are stationed here as well as educating Israeli diplomats to talk about Israeli wines before their deployed overseas.
Learning about a country’s wine often is often a lesson about its culture, history, cuisine, climate and topography. And it can be a fun lesson at that.
I’ve been hosting events regularly for other Americans and Anglos living in Israel (mostly in Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Ra’anana) and recently experimented with a new venue: De Peppe Pizzaria Napoletana at 14 Ibn Gvirol (near the corner of Kaplan) in Tel Aviv. Peppe’s is maybe Israel’s “most authentic Italian restaurant and pizzaria” featuring a chef and pizza oven from Naples. Pizza is incredibly popular in Israel but often it can be underwhelming at times for Americans compared to the pizza they can often find at their favorite local neighborhood shops back home (mostly owned by Greeks where I grew up in Central Massachusetts). Israel has it share of commercial pizza chains like Dominoes and Pizza Hut and hundreds of unaffiliated shops but Peppe’s and their neighbor Philippe’s (which features “authentic French Pizza” …I didn’t even know before there was such a thing but it’s also worth seeking out for their interesting selection of toppings) have carved out a niche for providing premium pizzas in Tel Aviv without being much more expensive than lesser locales.
On my last sojourn to Peppe’s I hosted a group of nine Americans, staff members of the US Embassy, mostly newcomers (and one couple who met at one of my events three years ago) none of whom had dined at Peppe’s and paired a sampling of Peppe’s menu with seven Israeli wines that none of the guests had tried before which wasn’t much of a surprise to me since I intentionally picked wines that are difficult if not impossible to find overseas and some that are even rare finds in Israel. The order the wines were served were white to red, dry to sweet, simple to complex with some discretion exercised with the order of the rosé and semi-dry white wine. Almost every wine found was a favorite by at least one of the guests and that’s my goal for each person attending to go home with at least one new wine that they’ll crave again in the future.

I chose from Depeppe’s menu dishes to be served that would match the dishes based or weight, acidity and sweetness.

1) Mediterranean Salad- greens and tomatoes served with lemon juice and olive oil dressing with 2011 Vitken White Journey
the crisp acidity of this wine marries well with the acidity of the lemon juice & tomatoes

2) Caprese Salad featuring thick slices of Mozzarella 2011 Rosé du Castel had acidity to pair well with salad as well its creaminess paired well nicely with mozzarella

3) Garlic Nuts- balls of baked pizza dough…sort of bite size balls of garlic bread the semi-dry 2012 Tishbi Gewurztraminer’s sweetness & acidity stood up to the garlic punch in mouth

4) White Formaggi (Four Cheese) Pizza: Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Parmigiano & Gouda… a nice segway dish from whites and rosé to red wines…all the previous wines matched this nicely but the 2010 Tulip Mostly Cabernet Franc had nice full fruit, tannins and acidity which cut through this flavorful (& fatty) fare…Gorgonzola cried out for some red wine while the other cheeses leaned towards whites

5) Funghi Margherita- Mushrooms and red peeled tomato sauce was another good match with Cab Franc but the well balanced 2010 Goldberg Maya also paired well here with this savory mushroom pizza

6) Margherita Con Lamb – a classic red sauce pizza with lamb the lamb matched well with the 2004 Aligote Sangiovese, the star of the evening as one might expect from an Italian grape…next tasting here maybe Israeli Barberas?

7) Lamb & Sausage Pizza- a slight twist with the addition of spicy Italian sausage, Aligote once again shined but the slightly sweet semi-dry Tishbi Gewurztraminer matched nicely with spicy sausage

8) Al Mercato Pasta- mushrooms, roasted bell peppers, sun dried tomatoes sauteed in white wine and olive oil
the Vitken White Journey & Aligote Sangiovese were the best pairings here…the white wine and olive oil melded well with the dry white wine form Vitken & Sangiovese showed its flexibility due to its acidity and relaxed tannins
the Avidan Gold wasn’t paired with a dish but was served instead of a dessert after such a sumptuous meal
(for our Jewish readers: DePeppe’s is NOT certified kosher)

2011 Vitken White Israeli Journey * (89 points)
An interesting dry blend of Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Colombard from one of Israel’s most unique wineries who only makes ABC (Anything but Chardonnay/Cabernet) wines. The Israeli Journey label indicates that these grapes were sourced from different vineyards from different regions. A nice match for the salads we started our evening with but would also match well with sushi and an array of other bounty from the Mediterranean or Israel’s fish farms.

2011 Rosé du Castel (K)* (89 points)
With Castel, one of Israel’s most famous and widely acclaimed wineries, now making an impressive higher end dry Rosé, the reputation and demand of rosés in Israel is starting to mirror that of other Mediterranean wine regions. These grapes came from their Judean Hill vineyards west of Jerusalem. This is one of my favorite wines to pair with roasted chicken, a staple at most Israeli homes for Friday night Sabbath meals but also a nice match with pasta and pizza. Castel wines available in the US through Royal Wines.

2012 Tishbi Gewurztraminer (K)** (87 points)
Gewurztraminer is on the upswing in Israel as a dry, semi-dry and dessert wine. These grapes for this semi-dry white wine came from Tishbi’s (Israel’s largest owned and operated family winery) vineyards in Gush Etzion south of Jerusalem. A semi-dry wine such as this is a fun pairing with spicy Asian cuisine or sushi and is also a nice match for spicy chicken wings or a summer day at the Tel Aviv beach. Available in US from The River Importers.

2010 Tulip Mostly Cabernet Franc (K)** (91 points)
Cabernet Franc is a more food friendly relative of Cabernet Sauvignon often with similar fruit flavors with more herbal and floral notes, higher acidity and tamer tannins. Tulip wines just hit US and European shores in large quantities for the first time in February 2013. Cabernet Franc is a classic match with eggplant based dishes and eggplant is hugely popular in this part of the world. One old time local adage goes that you shouldn’t marry a woman who can’t prepare eggplant 50 different ways. I guess we can leave it to the prospective husbands (although Israel has a nice selection of wines made by woman winemakers) to make at least one wine to match them all. Imported to the US by Royal Wines and Europe by Kedem Europe.

2010 Goldberg Maya (K) (90 Points)
The first wine from a new winery who made only 5000 bottles of a Bordeaux style blend of Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc & Petit Verdot. With 300 dunams (75 acres) of vines, they mostly grow grapes for other wineries now yet they could and hope to expand in the future to produce more varieties and other gourmet delicacies.

2004 Aligote Sangiovese (92 points)
Another small winery who makes about 10 wines a year but only about one barrel of each so his wines are rarely found outside of the winery. Sangiovese is the main red grape of Italy’s Chianti wine region that can be found at so many Italian restaurants worldwide. It’s natural acidity pairs well with acidic tomato sauces.

NV Avidan Gold (Late Harvest Chardonnay)* (89 points)
A sweet non-vintage nectar that tastes little of its source grapes and is more aromatic than one might typically expect of a Chardonnay with notes of honey, vanilla and tropical fruits that seemingly would make a great match for creme brulee or apple pie almond. Also a nice match with cheese cake, peach melba or an almond based desserts.

** winery/ wines imported into the US but this wine may be available in small qtys.
* wine is imported to US in larger quantities
(K) wine is certified kosher

WIne Score Key

97-100 A+ Best of the Best, Best or One of the Best in Recent Memory (0.5% of wines)

93-96 A Extraordinary, Recommended as Great Example of What Israel does Right
A Wine Worth Remembering & Drinking Again and Again (1% or less of wines)

89-92 A- Very Good, Highly Recommended As interesting and Expressive (2%)

85-88 B+ Good, Recommended as a wine that shows some merit (5%)

81-84 B Fair, But Not Recommended to Elevate a Meal or an Evening (Most wine)

80 or less Not Recommended or Worth Commenting About

David Rhodes has written hundreds of articles about Israeli wines in the US & Israeli publications and websites and can be reached at [email protected] or 052-702-WINE (9463)