With so many wineries. large and small, making every effort to cover the whole spectrum of modern varieties, it is very refreshing to find an experienced and popular winemaker who has ditched this concept to concentrate on just white wines, and even more so, to specialize in a few select varieties that thrive in their unique terroir.
Doron Rav Hon studied winemaking in Bourgogne, France, and on his return to Israel served as head winemaker at Ella Vally Vineyards from 2002-2011. Thereafter, Doron and his wife Sima followed their dream and launched SPHERA, a boutique winery specializing in the limited production of fine white wines. A year ago they moved into their new complex at Moshav Giv'at Yesha'ayahu, a quiet agricultural community in the Judean Hills about an hour away from both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. As befitting a winery dedicated to hand-crafted white wines, the building is white with minimalistic sleek lines that proudly stands out from its surroundings.
We visited SPHERA last week at their annual launch event, to taste their premier label 2015 White Signature, as well as their 2016 Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc single varietals and First Page blend, all produced under the White Concepts label.
2015 White Signature is an elegant wine produced for this vintage with 100% Chardonnay hand-picked from 17-year-old vineyards grown in terra rosa and limestone close to the winery. The wine is aged for 8 months in stainless steel before moving to old barrels for a further 7 months. This imparts an elegant finish which elevates it over so many other Israeli chardonnays which tend to be dominated by oppressive oak and buttery finishes.
From the beginning, SPHERA has been praised for the quality of their Riesling, with their 2013 being noted as one of the five best in the world by international Riesling expert Stuart Pigott. I must admit that I found their 2015 more to my personal taste, with 4 grams of residual sugar allowing the typical mineral and petroleum notes to shine through while the 6 grams in 2016 being a tad too sweet to my liking.
Doron's First Page blend is always a refreshing wine, suited for Israel's climate, especially considering that 80% of SPHERA's market is the Tel Aviv restaurant scene, a city noted for oppressive hot and humid summers. A blend of three varieties, Pinot Gris (50%), Semillon (40%) and Riesling (10%), which were aged separately and then combined to create a rich and harmonious blend using half stainless steel tanks and half French oak barrels. Like all the wines in the White Concepts series, at around 100 Shekels, or 25 Euros, First Page can definitely be considered good value for money in the Israeli wine market.
SPHERA a part of the Judean Hills Quartet along with Tzora, Domain Du Castel and Flam. This local initiative is a recent attempt by the four highly regarded wineries to promote local terroir.
Photos by David Silverman. Copyright © 2017 dpsimages. All Rights Reserved