With no indigenous grape varieties of their own to draw on, winemakers in modern-day Israel, obviously have to resort to the obvious suspects to vinify.

They hope to tap into export markets with their twists on Chardonnay, Cabernet and other noble grape varieties. And, with a benign climate and different terroirs within the country to explore, they have been doing so quite successfully.

Of course, we all know the country’s long history. How can we forget? Sales pitches are sure to remind the oblivious again and again of how ancient traditions got a new spark of life when Baron Edmond de Rothschild (of Château Lafite-Rothschild) put his weight behind the industry over a century ago.

Without any commercially viable native grapes, there are a lot of mainstream and a fair number of exemplary wines being made in Israel. But there’s more to wine in the Levant. Israel also produces exciting examples off the beaten path where I jubilantly stumbled upon a great conversation point: Pinotage.

There’s no doubt that Pinotage has undergone a change. And, convincing examples may come from places where you would least expect to find the crossing that is still very much thought of as the sole prerogative of South Africa.

Pinotage has not been spared criticisms in the past. But with yields kept well in check and the right winemaking regime and care to avoid reasons for any disdain, Pinotage can show individuality. It does; especially when grown in the Holy Land as made by Barkan one of Israel’s leading wineries.

I have tasted two examples: the rather oaky Barkan, Reserve, Pinotage and the friendlier Barkan, Classic, Pinotage. The second wine remind me of better cuvées from Faugères and St Chinian in the Languedoc and is an example of how Mediterranean in style Israeli wines can be – even when made from Pinotage.

Both wines are definitively a far cry from tradition. Neither of these wines makes any claim to the title of world’s greatest red. However, they are modern-styled wines and there are very good reasons to try either the stone-crunchy French styled Classic or the spicier Reserve.

Apart from being enjoyable, Pinotage from Israel definitively allows the drinker to strike a blow against the tyranny of the conventional.

Tasting Note (24.2.2014 G.M.)

Pinotage Classic, 2011, 13.5% Vol.

variety: Pinotage

style: dry, red wine – Mevushal

region: Judean Plains Israel

producer: Barkan Winery

Georges’ Score: B

This Judean Pinotage has a deep garnet colour with an intense ripe plum and strawberry aroma. Wild herbs and peppery edges entice. There’s a tad of sweet cherry fruit on a  grippy palate. The wine is well structured with rounded tannins balanced by a pleasant tartness.

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