Zafririm Winery

Lori and Shaike Lender are set to launch their 2015 reds this coming weekend as part of the Judean Hills Wine Festival.  Zafririm Winery is the smallest producer IWT works with.

Although a small producer at just about 8K bottles a year, the blends are very different from one another, going from a Mediterranean “Bordeaux” style wine to New World Lavnin which uses both Petite Sirah[Duriff]  Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc and ending with a more robust Patom series. We feel the wines coming out of Zafririm are getting better each year. Lori’s Rose sells out by August every year.

Agur Winery

Agur is the smallest producer to have ranked a wine over 90 points with Kim Marcus and Wine Spectator in late 2016 , Shuki Yashuv is producing just under 20k bottles these days . Newer wines for this winery include “Layam” which is “Cote De Rhone” style blend of Syrah and Mourvedre and an even later addition is Karka which is 100% Oseletta [Only producer in Israel with this variety] This is a fascinating wine , common in the area of Valpolicella near Verona, Italy. 2014 and 2015 vintages have sold out and Shuki will release 2016 soon. For the 2018 vintage, Agur is producing Blanca for the first time in years. Certainly something to look forward to!

Sphera Winery

Doron and Sima Rav Hon continue  to be one of the best White Wine producers in Israel. The signature touch of this winery is complex , minerally and interesting white wines. The winery uses both French Oak and Stainless Steel fermentations and variety wise they are using , Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon,  Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Riesling

Sphera has been growing steadily and for the 2017 vintage had released 25K bottles. 2018 harvest marks the beginning of a long term project of Sparkling wine for this winery . This is a passion of the Winemaker, one that he is revisiting this time at his own winery.  Sphera sells most of its wine to restaurants and has a strong following for the launch events.

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.

 

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?

I have known Doron Rav Hon for a long time, and he is one of the most respected Winemakers in Israel. After studying in Burgundy, Doron was chosen to be the Head Winemaker at Ella Valley Vineyards and he stayed there from 2002 until 2011. Two years ago, He was finally able to follow his dream of opening his own winery, the name which was chosen for it is Sphera Winery White Concepts and the idea was to open a small but highly proficient winery which will revolve around white wines only.

Wine Tasting at Sphera Winery – Judean Hills Wine Tour

After getting to know quite a few winemakers in Israel and spending time with a lot of them, I can tell you that what matters most to them is not necessarily to “go on their own” but actually going back to basics. In large kosher wineries the winemaker is more of a consultant who cannot really touch or handle the wine he or she is making. In a smaller operation such as Sphera, a Winemaker such as Doron has the opportunity to once again, be the wine maker that he is and to handle the wine making task himself.

So why write about Sphera now? That is because of a recent surprise visit we paid to Doron as a part of our Judean Hills wine tour. We were fortunate enough to end up at his winery and taste some of the amazing white wine he has been working on. Sphera is located in kibbutz Gat which is just a few Kilometers south of the Judean Hills. The winery shares the same roof with Laterrapromessa winery, which is known for the great restaurant it houses (yet another wonderful reason to visit). The winery was especially designed for white wine production with special high capacity cooling tanks, Heavy duty large press machine and special barrels for white wine

During the visit, we tasted the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and First Page (a blend of Semillon, Pinot Gris and Riesling) all from the White Concepts series and all from 2012 vintage. The overall perception at the end of the tasting was that Doron produces excellent, balanced and harmonious wines that are tasty and refreshing especially in the hot summer days of Israel.