A Winter’s Tale: Israeli White WInes for All Seasons

“As Man Plans, G-d Laughs”

As three of Israel’s best winemakers invited a throng of wine writers to Cicchetti (58 Yehuda HaLevi, Tel Aviv), an impressive Italian tapas bar in the location of the former Gastropub, their aim was to show how Israeli white wines with character aren’t only for summer quaffing or as an afterthought to wash down a meal but are worthy of an audience and affection all year long..

And then when a damp,overcast, chilly day would have driven home the point perfectly, on this day the sun shone brightly in south Tel Aviv to offer up a cozy 68 degrees F (20 degrees C) and the talented threesome of  Doron Rav Hon, Eran Pick and Ido Lewinsohn (of Sphera, Tzora and Lewinsohn wineries respectfully) seemed to resign themselves that the wines would have to do all the talking and the three wines they presented spoke volumes to their “white wines for all seasons” proposition.

No one is a bigger or more capable spokesperson for the versatility of better Israeli white wines than Doron Rav Hon who left his role a few vintages back at the more prolific Ella Vally WInery to launch Sphera as the one of a few and surely the most respected of all white wineries in Israel. Doron had already proven himself quite capable of making Cabs, Merlots, Syrahs and other red varietals at Ella Valley and though he also made white wines at Ella Valley as well, Doron thought that there was something more left unsaid by smaller boutique representations of quality whites than reds and his 2012 Sphera White Signature (13% alc.) 140 NIS 94 points is a good example. A blend of Chardonnay, Semillon and Riesling. This 100% oaked white (for 12 months with the yeast) is the flagship of Sphera and each vintage Doron has and plans to take his best grapes and dedicate them to his White Signature so it could be a different blend or even a single varietal wine depending on what any harvest might bring. Green pears, crisp apples, white peach and apricot notes accompany a bit of mango and pineapple to present a very food friendly wine that’s fine for drinking now or even a few years from now if you can resist the temptation of downing any bottle within your reach.

The 2013 Lewinsohn Blanc  (13% alc.) 150 NIS 94 points has been 100% Chardonnay grapes from its inception though it’s name leaves it open to evolving into including other grapes.Sourced from Upper Galilee grapes, this Chardonnay is an example of that even an ABC’er (“Anything But Chardonnay”) could even embrace. Avoiding a secondary malolactic fermentation that would trade a fuller body and creaminess for fruitier notes, this 10 month French oak aged (20% new barrels) Chardonnay retains its fruitiness and crisp acidity while being aged on sur lees(on the spent yeast ) which adds a fuller smoother mouth feel and a bit of complexity it is more reminiscent of a Burgundy Chablis than a Chard from Napa or Australia.  Notes of white grapefruit or even greener pomelo, stone fruits, pear, key lime, white pepper, ginger, pineapple, melon and a slight spiciness akin to clove lingers through from start to a pleasantly long lasting finish.

I’ve had this white with roasted chicken, pasta with a mushroom and cream sauce as well as sushi and it suited all equally well but grilled fish or veggies or quiche seem like apt pairings as well.

Last but far from least was Eran Pick’s satiating Sauvignon Blanc from the Tzora Winery’s Shoresh vineyards in the Judean Hills..2013 Tzora Shoresh Blanc (13.5% alcohol) 130 NIS 94 points 100% Sauvignon Blanc that was 100% sur less (with the yeast) in stainless steel tanks and large old 500 liter barrels. Varietal specific aroma of cut green grass and herbs and fresh citric salad that in the mouth is greener pomelo, lemon and lime zest (rather than grapefruit) with gooseberries and pineapple with a rounder than normal mouth feel from its sur less and time in oak which also delivers the typical acidity with a lingering but gentle finish. A great example of what potential Sauvingon Blanc has in Israel and one of my favorite food pairing wines perfect for white fish sashimi, grilled asparagus, artichoke hearts or a caesar salad and too many other possibilities to mention. I raised my score from a previous tasting (93 to a 94) because this wine screams for food to pair with and shines brightest when those screams are answered. My scores are meant to capture a moment in time as any wine and I are both organic and change from time to time (for better or worse).I appreciated the invitation of the winemakers and the delicious treats served at Ciccheta as well as the reminder that even though chilled whites are ideal for Israel’s long summer days and warm evenings that they can match hardier fare throughout the mild winters especially a wide range of Mediterranean dishes so prevalent in many Israeli restaurants.

I’ll have to thank a Higher Power than these very capable winemakers that any day throughout the year in Israel has the potential to be warm, sunny and welcoming to opening and savoring a bottle of Israel’s ever improving white wines and use any future rainy day as an excuse to open one of their bottles to add a little sunshine to an otherwise dreary day.


About the Author
David Rhodes is a California-trained sommelier and wine educator who moved to Israel in 2008. David has written over 1,000 articles and radio shows and also has been a political writer since the 1980's. He also has two published poetry books working on his third. David regrets he only has one liver to dedicate to Israel.
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