Buying wine, liquor and other spirits in Israel can be dramatically different than say in the United States or even most other countries. There are far more outlets, as Israeli businesses typically aren’t restrained from sling liquor by community zoning restrictions or prohibitively available or expensive liquor specific licensing.
Kiosks, the closest equivalent to an American convenience store in Israel, usually carry wine but only a sparse selection of a few bottles and at a ridiculous mark-up. For instance a bottle that might sell for 27 NIS might sell for 80 NIS. It’s an outlet best suited for unknowing tourists, late night revelers and those in a rush.
Supermarkets in Israel tend to have much larger selections but typically carry only entry level wines. For instance, many larger wineries have 4 to 6 series of wine graduating in quality. The supermarkets typically only sell the first two levels, sometimes carrying the third tier, but rarely premium wines.
Some wineries intentionally block sales of either all their wines or their higher tier wines being sold in supermarkets because they believe there’s a stigma associated with selling wine in the supermarkets and that many finer restaurants do not want to place “supermarket” wine on their wine lists.
With over 5,000 wine labels in Israel few, if any, wine shops come close to offering all the wines available in Israel. Vino Cigar, a prominent wine shop in the Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv, estimated that they carry about 1,000 bottles. They shy away from carrying low-end wine that is extremely price competitive as they offer the retailer low returns per bottle for valuable shelf space.
It’s also not that uncommon for many retail outlets to only carry Kosher wines (which many of Israel’s best wines are). Over 90% of the wine produced in Israel is kosher as the top 30 commercial producers are kosher. Yet, about 80% of the wineries are not kosher. This is because so many smaller wineries don’t bother seeking Kosher supervision and approval. Some factors of why the wineries do not seek the Kosher approval include the added cost of hiring only Sabbath observant Jews to work with the wine until a winery is producing more than 100,000 bottles a year (the often quoted plateau wineries believe warrant the additional costs involved).
One of the more enjoyable options is to shop at the source. The only place you’ll typically find the complete selection of a winery is at the winery itself. In Israel, most of the wineries offer their wines at reasonable prices compared to supermarkets, kiosks and wine shops that carry their wine. There are often exclusive deals not offered elsewhere and sometimes exclusive distribution of some limited edition wines. If one’s lucky a barrel tasting of a still aging wine or an unreleased bottled wine might be in the cards as well.
Another interesting option is the ecological friendly refilling station a winery might offer, something unheard of in the highly regulated United States. For example, at the Tishbi Winery in Binyamina, they offer their entry level Cabernet Sauvignon/Petire Sirah wine that retails for 32 NIS/bottle for only 19 NIS a liter which translates into 14.25 NIS a standard 750ml bottle (about $3.50). Repeat customers or those in the know bring in old wine bottles, vodka bottles even plastic water bottles of all sizes and shapes to take advantage of these rock bottom prices.
Article Contributed by David Rhodes