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Tel Aviv is the capital of trends. You go to bed with a new kind of coffee shop down the road and when you wake up the city’s full of them. It’s happened before with frozen yogurts (remember?), espresso bars, and now – it’s wine bar times.

What time? Wine bar time!

I have a particular issue with these latest trend victims, I love them. For me, it’s the perfect enjoinment; to sit surrounded by beautiful bottles and huber knowledgeable staff that will pick the right one for you. The food is small yet the perfect partner in crime. Amongst my all time favorites are Terroirs London (can’t wait to try Terroir NYC) and Yoezer wine bar (still a wine bar while being the best restaurant in the world).

I can hardly say that every single establishment that carries the wine bar tittle is indeed one. Actually very few of them are, so I decided not to bother checking any of them out. Then someone blew the whistle. I heard from one of our trustiest foodie friends that Wine Bar (12 points for creative name choice) is the one to check. Oded Ziv who owns and manages it is both a proper wine-man (former head of training at Golan Heights winery) and a trained chef, therefore we’re in good hands. One of the best bits is that while sitting on the bar the food is prepared just in front of you (a slight deja vu from the immortal Cal Pep), it’s always nice to see food shaping up.

Sweetbread action

The wine list is a good blend between the local juice and a hand picked selection from the outside world. As I’m still filling my local arsenal wine a quick chat with Oded and Pelter Sauvignon Blanc 09 jumped into our glasses. With 30 degrees outside this kind of wine is the ultimate heat breaker. It’s crisp, packed with zesty citrus fruit and just the right touch of green notes. Light aromatics combined with good minerality and a palate that is sharp and clean. Simple and straightforward yet in perfect balance. Can you believe that local consumption still strands of 75% reds!?

Lamb ravioli

As nothing goes without food in the city that never stops (and we’re always hungry!) we had to sample some of Wine Bar’s tempting menu. I loved the delicate ravioli of lamb, simply dressed with olive oil, parsley and garlic. Light enough not to overwhelm the delicate aromas of the Sauvignon. But best off all (if not top wine match) were the lamb sweetbreads with oregano and Kalamata olives served on bruschetta.

Always trusting my foodie friends (even if it’s only so you can tell them off) proved me right again. Wine bar is a cool joint to spend a casual night. A bigger wine list could add a bit of fun and turn the gastro into wine.

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First meal in TLV

Relocating is a new word in my lexicon. Four years ago on the plane over to the big sun to the big smoke we where moving to London. Times have changed and we are not moving back but relocating. At least we learned something over these past few years.

But my London times are here to stay. As I plan on a healthy number of visits per year I thought that rather than writing a sentimental post about the past I should skip right to the present and let you all know that despite our very best efforts, our gluttonous lifestyle is also, here to stay.

First meal in Tel Aviv should be a healthy one. It had to be all about the one thing we missed the most. The fresh fruit and vegs from our beloved Carmel market. Nothing feels like home more than stepping into this market; it smells, it’s overcrowded and the merchant’s shouts are music to our ears. Our first courses were therefore guided by the local produce. And so with the Grumpy Gobbler’s magical skills a salad of feta, green & white beans, grilled asparagus, a root salad and the inevitable tahini were just some amongst our healthy starters.
Root Salad
Feta & bean Salad

Les Asperges

But as we hardly believe that vegetarism is of any virtue, a trip to Abu Hilue in Jaffa was of the essence. Now getting good quality meat in Tel Aviv is a bit tricky but these guys never fail. 2 Kg of veal chops were on board and the healthy meal suddenly turned into a feast. A quick marinade, an hour in the oven and there we had it: loads of juicy, full of flavours and supper good looking chops. vegs anyone?

Before

As a big advocate of the local food dates best local wine I did my very best to find a good a reasonably price zionist wine. But as we are still in a state of shock and chaos I happily settled for a local meets Burgundy & Rhone kind of night.

Aligote 2007, La Chablisienne – The vines are grown on chalky clay soils and are an average of 30 years old. Love 2007 withe Burg and this one is another one to the list. Very clean, fresh, full of citrus fruit. No oak at all was used but this still has enough complexity to balance the fresh acidity.

Cotes du Rhone “Saint-Esprit” 2007, Delas – First thought this might be a bit light but it proved me wrong. A good blend of juicy red fruit, a good touch of freshness and crunchiness balanced by a touch of spice and elegant and soft tannins.

A night with fantastic food (thank you again Grumpy G), good wines and great company was the perfect start of our Tel Aviv adventure. We are now convinced that the best is still to come.

Fish, chips n Krug

We all have these mornings when nothing seems right. Not sure of our lives, are we really happy and wondering if it’s now time for real change. Early last week I almost experienced one but then I remembered it is Krug lunch today. Couple of hours in the office then skip the routine desk lunch, discretely disappear and replace it with lunch with Mr. Krug and his wines. Surely this is enough to turn even the grimmest of mornings into a happy day.

Later that day, down from our office to sunny Mayfair, I felt straight away it was the right place for Krug. My destination: the Punch Bowl mainly known due for its famous owner rather than anything else.  Quick run up the stairs and then with slight excitement, I finally meet with Mr. Champagne himself. Olivier Krug is an experienced host, he skips the formalities.  It’s a refreshing approach by someone who represents some of the most exclusive bubbles on earth. The menu was tailored in this spirit and promised a clash of two worlds: the poshest Champagne and Britain’s favourite take away, the old fish and chips.

We kicked off with an upscale version of cheese & tomato salad: sweet plum tomatoes, ultra fresh mozzarella, a light drip of olive oil and a glass of Krug Grande Cuvee in hand. I really did feel I’ve got the best job on earth. Olivier explained that the Grande Cuvee is an assemblage of around 1,000 wines. Being in charge of these tasting is a hard job, he mentioned. I understood straight away he’s got a stronghold to the best job in the earth.

upscale version of cheese & tomato salad

upscale version of cheese & tomato salad

Salad aside and we were now ready to take for the main event. Out came the fish, fhips, Krug Vintage 98 and even the classic mushy peas. The match was near perfect. The the richer and fuller 98 was magical on its own, and lend some of its startdust to our battered cod. Being the freshest piece of fish I had in a long time it also was a complete match with the fresher Grande Cuvee. Olivier was right, it is a classic match. While both wines beautifully cut through the oiliness of the fish each one of them creates an individual experience and they both work so well.

the main event

the main event

A sophisticated version of bread and butter pudding was then matched to the Krug Rosé and provoked a fierce debate. While so many of us normally associate Rosé with desert, Olivier sees things differently. Krug Rose is so delicate yet immensely focused, concentrated and precise that Olivier thinks there’s much more than dessert pairing to it. As we were left with no choice, this had to be a lesson that will wait for the next Krug lunch day.

sophisticated version of bread and butter pudding

sophisticated version of bread and butter pudding

Time was up and it was back to the office time. Back in our chairs we made the best efforts to loudly convince our colleagues how hard this all was. I’m not sure if anyone bought it but  there was a silent agreement. Next time they’ll be back from a hard day’s lunch, I will nod in agreement that we’re a hard working gang.

After all it’s only wine

You might have noticed that I’ve got a vinous issue. I kinda like the stuff and am said that I tend to exaggerate. I must admit things tend to get a bit weird. Not only can I yak about it for hours but can also convince innocent peeps to drive a lot of kms on dodgy roads to find a remote winery, buy a random bottle or simply stare at rocks and then mumble terroir… I always try to disguise it as a cultural need, and always fail.

Lately I try to restrain myself. I try, at least for the weekend to limit my relations with vino to a drinking one only. And god knows it’s not easy. I drink without thinking. I hold it all back and won’t even brag on how the wine always changes, that there’s nothing quite like it and that it’s all simply beautiful. None of the above!

Last weekend damaged my rehabilitation efforts. But it had to happen and it would be rude to refuse a free ticket to the Decanter Bordeaux Fine Wine encounter anyway. But times have changed. With a two hour restriction and no black teeth allowed I was on a mission. If you have to do it, please do it properly, no chat just a fast taste n spit afternoon. Between tasting to spitoon I couldn’t stop noticing the average age. Old, suited and booted you might think, well quite the opposite, a young and trendy crowd that seemed to share the joys of Bordeaux.

My day’s highlight as I remember them…

Chateau tour du Pez 2004 – a lighter style of St Estephe. Nose shows some development with a hint of earthy notes, leather and dry fruit.

Grippy palate with rounded tannins, a hint of saltiness, and a lean cassis lead fruity character. Good intro to the real stuff, from a lesser vintage and at an affordable price.

Chateau Lascombe 2006 – Who doesn’t fancy a bit of Margaux finesse (en Francais, bien sur). Despite being a Rolland boy the wine rocks. Loads of cassis, blackberry, cigar box and leather action on the nose. So far so good but the palate really does it. Super silky texture, loads of crisp freshness and a clean undertone of minerality the really lifts this baby up. Clearly a sin, but could almost be enjoyed now. Smoky and tempting,..

Chateau Sociando Mallet 1996 – Finally someone of legal drinking age and yes, I clearly kept the best for last.A perfumed nose with elegant spice, floral notes and a lush yet focused fruit concentration. Firm and elegant still with plenty of power. Finesse of fruit, a clean and integrated palate, still fresh, still buzzing and still so complex. Bravo Saciado!

Located just a few km outside the St Estephe AC, Sociando shows maybe more than any other why the 1855 stuff is so dated. But hey here I am yakking away again! I promised this will be an emotionless experience. Professional, swift and clean with no strings attached. So be it. Who cares about 1855? After all it’s only wine…

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India, wine and change

Wine is all about change. Like any worthy thing in life it is dynamic and never ceases to surprise. The bottles that lie in our cellars provide the obvious example.Wine ageing is beautiful yet mostly mysterious. We know it happens but we’re not entirely sure why, how long and how the hell its gonna end. I, in any case, stopped trying.

But this is not the only fascinating time aspect that involves wine. My palate constantly changes. Most of the wines I loved two years ago seem to be irrelevant now. I enjoy this change, cherish it and believe that the day it stops I might just retire (or maybe it is a lame excuse to stop working). And this is possibly why wine is such an unpredictable and fascinating adventure. With so much to learn and discover, any other approach will just not work.

It was with this good spirit that I sat down to taste a selection of wine from Grover vineyards. Now Bangalore India is not the first place you think of as a wine region. Turned out that the Nandi Hills region located 40 kilometres towards north of Bangalore is just that. Back in the old days (that might also be referred as the 80s) George Vessele spent five years covering every candidate region in India. His conclusion was that Nandi Hill is where it all should happen. 20 years and 200 hectares later, armed with another mega French consultant (no less than Mr. Rolland lui meme) Grover are ready to take on the world but are we ready for Indian wine?

Sauvignon Blanc “Art Series” 2009 – the nose bursts with white fruits, spices an elegant herbaceous note. Few minutes later and a light yeasty note popped. The palate is rich in style with plenty of fruit. Citrus, stone fruits, a hint of creaminess and a pleasant oily /vaxy character. Lush, deep and concentrated this is a very original style of Sauvignon. And all at only 12% abv.

La Reserve 2006 – Clean and restrained nose. Cassis, plums and a dried herb note. Surprisingly concentrated yet not overdone. Palate is elegant with fresh acidity and a descent fruit concentration. After a few minutes the palates open up. A hint of floral note, dried herbs, cassis and a lean minerality. Difficult to associate it with the Indian heat. A lovely glass of straightforward yet elegant red.

Few years back I wouldn’t admit a new world wine in my glass. I know better now. Today it’s the flavours that thrill me, much less where they come from.

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Strange and unusual morning wine

My absence from this space is simply unacceptable. I know, and I should, as I endlessly preach to every innocent listener, that continuity is the golden rule to successful blogging.  Well as appose to wine, success never made a big impact on me. But enough with apologies and let’s talk about me.

I’m a wine geek. I know it’s pathetic and almost sad but it’s stronger than me. I know this might be boring but discovering new wines really does it for me. That is why I felt that a comeback is needed, I just had so much to share. Last week I had the pleasure and luck to taste alongside Julia Harding (MW!!) a proud bunch of wines made from uncommon varieties. As a long term fan of the indigenous and unusual this seemed like my perfect Sunday afternoon plan. Julia and I slowly made our way through the obscure and unknown.

Contrary to the norm we kicked off from the red side. Interesting technique that I now start to favour. First in the line of fire was the Cos Frappato 2008. For those of you who follow this space (hi mom and dad!) you surely must know that last summer I somehow managed to drag Mrs. Z to harvest in Sicily disguised as our honeymoon. Well COS was the crime scene. Two precious weeks were spent there and although we both promised not to drink it again I now felt that it’s time to face this old friend. Good choice! The wine showed purity and elegance of fruit lifted by a straight mineral acidity backbone. Pinot Noir-ish in style with an exotic ray of spices. Young, live and kicking.

Lucien Aviet & Fils, Réserve du Caveau, Cuvée des Géologues 2006 Arbois 100% Trousseau. This was clearly my Sunday morning Fav. Unusual nose of dried fruits,  spice and a hyper elegant savoury note. Palate was silky and smooth with a fine complexity. Burgundy in quality with a savage character. More than anything tastes different and a provides a chance to meditate upon the varietal character.

Dom du Cros, Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2006 Marcillac 100% Mansois . A simpler and humbler style. Good sharp acidity, loads of red primary fruit with a hint of herbaciousness. Good winemaking that allows the varietal character to show. Not a huge fellow but an easy going funny companion.

Dom Daniel Dugois, Reflet de Rois 2005 another terrific and quirky wine made from 100% Savagnin, aged 3 years under flor. Like a dry sherry but in a wine. Cracking acidity and bowl of nuts action. Super sharp and thight palate with a salty finish. Touch of olive juice (you know the one from the can) and JH even found roast chicken smells from this small little beauty. Happy days!

D & P Belluard, Les Alpes 2008 Vin de Savoie 100% Gringet. Super sharp Alpine wine with no Malo nor oak. Well all we were left with was a palate shocker. Just as if someone squeezed a lemon right into your mouth. Anything else? Well a bit of honey and a touch of smoke but basically a real “look at me i’m different” call from Mr. Le Gringet.

I thoroughly enjoy tasting with Julia. Chatting our way through the wines we spent around 3 hours tasting 12 wines. There’s nothing like a relaxed tasting with no rush in the comfort of your (well Julia’s this time) home.  Being already late I rushed to the pub only to watch my beloved gunner trashed by the old blues again. Next time I will stick to wine!

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Time

One of the most important sides of wine making, I came to understand from my week of harvest at COS , was one that I rarely used in my daily Sommelier job-is time.

Countless times I’ve heard and read the fact that the wine is made in the vineyards. My last few days here proved this point to me clearly. This all requires patience and time. The vines, in order to produce good quality fruit have to be looked after in every stage of their growing cycle. The harvest is then long and carefull in order to preserve the fruits of time.

Then, in the winery straight after the grapes have been selected and then crushed, the wine starts to take shape. And I have seen this happen right in front of me with the new Phitos 09. This juicy and floral must goes straight in amphoras. Then, other than a daily pistonage the wine is left to  rest and to begin his life at his own pace.  One of my morning tasks was this time consuming pistonage shown below.

The wine changes right in front of me then. fermentation starts naturally and the Pistonage requires more different physical strength every day. The must develops complexity within a single day and will add more of it throughout the week. The texture. smell and taste have metamorphosized.

Only time can change a wine naturally. It has no other substitute. Time might just be the most important ingredient on the list in order to fully benefit from the fruit that was made in the vineyard.

Second steps….

Well it is not getting any easier, that’s for sure. The only thing is, like anything ,we might be getting used to it.

After two day of hard work in the fields, we finally moved into the cantine. Tons of grapes arrived from all over and it was time to get some quality time with the first press mechanism showed below.

At times this becomes almost meditative, time to think of your life in the future and past. Very good opportunity to consider and take very important decisions.

My thought of the day below, while I realised how much responsibility I have in my hand these day.

Surrounded by nature the day passes  fast and the next wake up call at 6.45 am surprises me every time. Basically there is very little time for anything other than working and eating. I’m simply surprised that we are still here, but for how much longer I cannot tell.

First steps in Catania

So I somehow, I really dont know how, managed to convince my lovely and beloved wife that spending a few days picking grapes in Catania is just the perfect honeymoon.

So here we are in Sicily or to be more accurate very close to the small town of Acate south east of the highland in the province of Ragusa.

sunset on our first harvest day

Last few days have been rainy here which is highly unusual. The usual will be long sunny days but the rain postponed the harvest and made all look worry. We arrived just in time and as oppose to real Londoners brought some ray of light with us.

The first day was as though as we could Imagine. We started picking at 7am and didnt finish until 7pm. We worked with Nero d’Avola & Frapatto and it really seems to me that I have a certain intimacy with those varieties now.

I will try and express a Sommelier perspective of this experience and discover how it might benefit my working skill as such. my first thoughts filmed just minutes after finishing work can be seen below.

Tomorrow should be nice and sunny and I am hoping to survive yet another full day in the field.

Gal @zoharwine

Unusual varities part 1

I have a very bad sense of direction. I always loose my way, especially on romantic or special trips abroad. Despite being aware of this fault I will NEVER take a minute, lower the car window and ask for help or advice. Never.

Despite all the above I still dare complain about people drinking boring wines. I seriously think something’s not right with them. Why on earth would you, out of a wine list packed with reasonably priced, interesting, different & exciting wines (“I’ve never heard of X will be the biggest compliment) will one choose a Gavi or PG. Is it the fear of being lost in the world of unknown surrounded by foreign names that are difficult to pronounce or maybe just a lack of imagination? In many cases I get the feeling they’re just the old me in the car feeling too proud or stupid to ask.

That is why I felt both proud and happy to help in an adventurous project. I do like being adventurous, just not in a car. And adventurous it was. I was asked to chase and find the most obscure and unusual grape varieties. Strange how the bizarre demands feel to me like the simplest of tasks. This is my chance to do what I do best. I will use this old flair of mine that manages to source unusual wines and persuade innocent people to drink them.

After a few weeks of nudging, begging and simply endlessly chasing my various contacts in the wine trade I ended up with a box full of goodies. We both sat in the wine cellar of l’anima. It was chilly but the wines benefited from it. I have carefully organised all the usual suspects with extra care as I am tasting today with Julia Harding MW, she is the mind behind my scam. She offers to try the red first and I naturally oblige. It is a bit of a hit and try game as we haven’t tried most of the wines before and so the order is decided according to our assumptions.

We kicked off with Lacryma Moro di Alba 08 from Colonnara – Great wine to start with I thought after nosing a very fragrant and perfumed Aroma. The palate showed fresh almost crisp Red cherries and some fine spices. Summery wine that could work well slightly chilled and with some BBQ roar as a background noise.

Second and third on the grid were wines made from the seriously obscure Longanesi. The wine also stated Burson as the grape variety, so we were left slightly confused. (see more for this here). Fact is that both of the wines were very different, the bad side of different in fact. Burned rubber, meaty and tinned vegetables on the nose. Terrible extraction on the palate with no delicacy or grace. A very pronounced rusticism that made us feel the wines were not quite right.

Then arrived two Campanian blokes who were to be made the stars of the tasting. It all started quite difficultly. The first wine answered to the name of “Cunto” 07 from Alois (I was later informed by Luca Dusi, the importer that it will bear a different name for the UK market, phew…). The wine was made from the unusual grape Pallagrello Nero and caught our attention for good reasons. A very subtle yet complex nose, dry herbs, minty note, light cherry frauit were all harmonious. The palate bursting with (almost sharp) acidity, youthful red fruit and an elegant spicy character. Beauty and elegance with a hint of salty minerality – reminding me that in Campania we are.

His older brother answered to the name of “Trebolanum” 04 from Alois. It was made from the Casavechia grape (more info in the Alois website here ). The nose was richer and showed quite a lot of new oak with vanilla, liquorice and soft sweet spice. The palate proved to be much more in balance. Great black fruit concentration, sweet spice and above all, again, the typical Campanian cutting through minerality. A bigger style, for heavier loving palates yet well made and left us with a strong varietal character impression.

On the white sector I was impressed by the Timorraso 04 from Morgassi Superiore. Timorasso, indigenous variety of red wineland Piedmont (excluding the much discussed Cortese…). bearing in mind that the wine is almost 5 years old I found it to be very exciting and again, on the good side of the different. A spicy and lightly oaked nose, a very delicate mushroomy note and hint of minerality. The palate also proved to be unique. Something that reminded us both of an old flat champagne. There might have been just a hint of oxidation but this was well hidden by a dried stone fruit character and a still vibrant minerality. Enjoyable and a very interesting food matching prospect.

It was a very special tasting. Not being able to mention all the wines we tried, I just did the very best. It was highly interesting to see that good varietal character comes out hand in hand with purity. This only enhanced the fact that tipicity and varietal character are amongst the most important factors determining quality of wine.

It was an exciting afternoon with flavours and smell to cherish and remember where one conclusion was made—–> Pallagrello Nero is the new Nebbiolo!

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