Wine Maker Yaakov Uriah is an odd bird. A religious man born in the US and grew up in Bnei Brak to an Ultra-Orthodox community. A winemaker, one of the most unique Israelis in this profession, a gentleman who shows up late at night at the very non-Kosher Brut Wine Bar late with a plastic bottle of his latest creation looking for feedback from friend and owner of Brut, Chef Yair Yossefi and the wine loving staff.

Uriah is a winemaker with very little formal education, yet an incredible ability at projective tasting, and a keen thirst for knowledge and experimentation.  A story that I had found astounding is that early in his career Uriah operating Assif as a ‘’Winery Negonciant’’, was making up possible blends in his head, having tasted mid-range wines at several different wineries. Today Uriah is the head winemaker of Psagot, having worked at Midbar and Ella Valley [to name a few] and is still producing his own line of wines.

Yaakov Uriah – photo: 93fm.co.il

This desire to search and test things out, led to some fantastic wines. Wines that have an incredible aging ability [we tasted a 2009 Semillon and 2008 Viognier in the course of the evening] Another thing that took me by surprise is that Uriah is completely open minded with his style of winemaking. At some point in the course of the evening, the very astute Hilik Gurfinkel who hosted, got Uriah to discuss the notion of using Oak chips in wine while in process. For some wineries, this is a total taboo and they would even be insulted if someone asked them whether they ever take part in such methodology. Uriah simply replied that the way he sees it, the same way that it is ok for a wine to be in an Oak barrel, He is not willing to rule out having Oak chips in a wine if the conditions requires such practice.

One more interesting thing about Yaakov Uriah’s wines, in the past he made the decision to pay homage to other wine regions in the world, most of which never having been there. The Hebrew naming for the 2009 Semillon is Hunter’s Valley and in a couple of red wines we had Uriah had said to his clients even before he obtained the fruit, that he would make a homage to Rioja by producing a Rioja Reserva style wine. The later two were my favorite wines of the night.

It is no industry secret that most of our guests are North American Jews visiting Israel.  Last week, we were touring with a Brazilian Judge and her husband, a Public Prosecutor. When we started emailing, the lady mentioned she is a big fan of white wines and has spent time wine touring in several great regions in France.

We figured since the 15′ wines of Sphera have sold out a while ago and the launch event of the new vintage is scheduled for May at the winery, this would be a terrific opportunity to taste some of the wine ahead of the public.

Sphera’s core market is the Tel Aviv restaurants. In fact, 80% of their wine is sold there. The abundance of top level establishments in Tel Aviv which serve small plates, or dishes with an Asian flair that would benefit from a well-crafted, crisp and minerally Israeli white wine next to them, puts Sphera in the big leagues of Israeli boutique white wine.

Sphera Winery Novemver 16′

Markerting wise Sphera is also hitting it straight on the nail. Sima Rav Hon, Doron’s wife deserves a lot of credit here. The winery is now a part of the Judean Hills Quartet along with Tzora, Domain Du Castel and Flam. Smart decision for all sides involved. The winery itself is pristine white and has rotating art work presented along with recreating their image for a Sphere year after year. Their newest edition will be presented at the May launch event they are holding.

I will be the first to admit [even when the wine maker is listening] that I am not a big fan of Chardonnay.  The varietal 2016 Chardonnay that Doron Rav Hon created for the White Concept Series took me by surprise.  60% fermented in stainless steel and the wine was crisp, fruity and not oaky at all.  I liked the Riesling a lot as well and what stood out the most I think, was how different the First Page [blend] was from previous years.  Doron mentioned that he needed the Riesling for the Varietal batch and in the First Page that meant that the Semilon would have a bit more presence.  The result was a nice complexity and some anise flavors as well.  It is a fantastic winery and a must if one is a fan of white wines.

Tours and tastings at Sphera Winery can be offered as a part of our Judean Hills Wine Tour. Availabilty pending schedule approval of the winery.

 

Gabi Sadan Photo: Jamie Goode

Gabi Sadan Photo: Jamie Goode

Wine maker dinners are becoming more popular in Israel and especially in Tel Aviv.
Shvo Winery which is fairly young, is not a winery readily available for visitors. The winery is located in the industrial area of Gush Halav in the upper Galilee. While the wines are superb, the winery does not have a visitor center.

Following the October 16′ Wine Spectator article that featured Israel on the cover, we were hired by a U.S wine distributor to show as much of the Israeli Boutique scene in 4 days of touring.

The gentleman who hired us was sitting on furniture that was clearly removed from an old truck as he tasted wines with Gabi. He loved it. When Brut Wine Bar in Tel Aviv had announced that Gabi will conduct a more traditional wine tasting at their establishment in Tel Aviv, I knew we wanted to be there.

The group of 12 tasters consisted of wine lovers,food bloggers and other industry professionals. Because Gabi Sadan is anything but ordinary, the tasting was conducted in a very non traditional manner. We started out with the Shvo Rose which both delicious and unique as it is mostly made with Barbera. We then moved on to 3 French Bourgoin wines that the wine maker chose.  Only then did we move back  and tasted 3 different vintages of Shvo Chenin Blanc and Shvo Red.

Chenin Blanc is a white variety that does have aging potential. There was a consensus around the table regarding the 2013 and 2011 vintages. They were both beautiful and complemented the food that was served next to it. The 2009 was the first Chenin harvest of this winery and while the wine was very much alive, the table was split in half between those who liked it and those who did not. Gabi said that we were tasting 1 of 2 bottles that he had left over and that he knew that this is a wine not everyone will enjoy.

Shvo Red is a blend of Grenach, Syrah , Barbera and Mourvèdre.  All three were terrific, the wine showed it most certainly has aging abilities and I would be happy drinking either of the 3 vintages that we had tasted [09′, 11′, 13′] again.
The evening was hosted by Sommelier Aviram Katz and it was a great time. Thanks Alon for setting this up!

wine-spector-cover

Please don’t get me wrong. Alon and I are very proud Israeli wines were featured in the October 2016 issue of the most important wine magazine in the world. We tour boutique wineries all over Israel on a regular basis; as a result we were simply not surprised by what Kim Marcus, Managing Editor of Wine Spectator Magazine had found out. This is the part where we mention that we wrote back in July that Tzora Vineyards remain the Judean Hills’s Best in Show. Tzora, for those who did not see the article placed the most wines over 90 points with Wine Spectator.

It is through friendships and acquaintances that Mr. Marcus had that led him to visit the wineries that he did while covering Israel. Again, another positive in this coverage is that Wine Spectator was actually visiting top boutiques and did not only stick to the larger wealthier operations. Wineries we visit on a monthly basis such as Agur, Pelter, Tulip, Tzora and Castel were not only covered but had also placed wines above 90 points with the WS staff.

Questions that remain unanswered post publication:

Will Wine Spectator eventually release the entire score list? There are several wineries that had only one wine ranked, we assume that every winery had at least most of their portfolio tasted by WS. Did WS give priority to Kosher Wines this time around? There were several non-Kosher wines ranked, but we wonder whether Pelter [and not just Matar by Pelter] was considered.  The Same goes for Sphera and Garage De Papa.
Finally, How come only one dry farmed Carignan made the top wines list?