Last Nov while visiting family in Israel I was able to make a brief visit to the up and coming wine region known as the Judean Hills. As many of you probably know the Israeli wine and food scene has been exploding internationally in recent years (who hasn’t heard of Yotam Ottolenghi!). A short drive outside the historical city of Jerusalem you find yourself weaving through beautiful rolling hills covered mostly in pine forests and scattered with dense villages. The terrain here is rocky and not fertile. Along with the high altitude (hot days and cool nights) the region became an obvious choice for the early pioneers of the Israeli wine scene.
These adventurous young winemakers have been planting mostly international varietals with some impressive results. The reds that I tried were predominantly Bordeaux blends (Cab, Merlot and Cab Franc) with some Syrah. They were very fruit driven and obviously on the ripe side as you would expect from such a hot climate but thoroughly enjoyable. As the vines mature in the coming years they will be producing some very serious wines. That said, it was the whites that really stood out for me with an abundance of rich fruit bursting from the glass. Having only a day and half to spend in the region I only scratched the surface and wished I could have spent more time visiting the wine makers themselves.
A few months later a good friend and client introduced us to Domaine Sphera after having visited them on a trip to Israel. Being thoroughly impressed with the wines and knowing and trusting my friends palate we decided to ship over a small allocation to see for ourselves. Well the verdict is in and we are extremely pleased with our decision. Not only are the wines a terrific addition in terms of quality but it further adds to the diversity of our wine list and our mission of introducing new wine experiences to our customers in Hong Kong and Asia.
We are delighted to share this new discovery with you. – Jay Ginsberg
Sphera White Concept Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Sphera White Concept Chardonnay 2017
Sphera White Concept First Page 2017
Sphera White Concept Riesling 2017
Sphera White Signature 2016
Saturday June 23rdth, 2018
White Concept Chardonnay 2017 $300
Rounded and rich in texture, intense stone fruit aromas, toasty vanilla oak balanced with generous acidity. A great mineral texture with some saltiness to the palate.
White Concept Sauvignon Blanc 2017 $300
A modern classic Sauvignon Blanc that displays vibrant fresh cut grass with mineral overtones. Herbaceous and Sancerre-like, with classic bell pepper and capsicum aromas, but has generous fruit at the same time.
White Concept Riesling 2017 $300
A fragrant and aromatic Riesling with generous fruity estery characters. There are already hints of petrol on the nose, and the palate is very mineral-driven with plenty of good acidity and a long powerful finish.
White Concept First Page 2017 $290
A blend of Chenin, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Powerful, rich and a little spicy with an oily texture. Almost reminiscent of a Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, with the intense fruit structure, orange peels and floral notes. There’s a nice layered complexity to the wine and it’s balanced with very refined acidity.
White Signature 2016 $350
Doron Rav Hon’s signature blend which changes each year depending on the quality of the grapes. The 2016 is a blend of 75% Semillon and 25% Chardonnay that is aged for 10 months in old barrels. Very expressive, with excellent concentration of fruit. Perfumed, aromatic, with layered complexity, showing lovely floral aromas, kumquats and apricots along with very clean excellent acidity.
About the Wines
Doron’s current range of wines are split between two labels – White Concepts, a collection of single varietal wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling. The 2013 vintage was featured in international Riesling expert Stuart Piggot’s “Top 5 Riesling Revelations 2015” as best medium-dry Riesling, and heaping praise that “only a visionary winemaker like Doron manages to bring such hitherto unrecognized possibilities to light!”. Included in this range are Doron’s White Concept First Page, a full-bodied blend that changes from each vintage, but typically will include Riesling, Semillon, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris. The second label, White Signature reflects Doron’s commitment to blend the very best barrels each vintage to produce his own signature style, often consisting of Chardonnay and Semillon.
Just outside the historic city of Jerusalem, lies the Judean Hills. Until relatively recently this was an area considered out of fashion because of its hilly terrain with altitudes reaching up to 1000 metres above sea level and covered in poor, stony soil. It is precisely this challenging terroir that makes it perfect for growing grapes and has quickly become an emerging vine growing hot spot where the talented Doron Rav Hon chose to setup his boutique winery – Sphera.
Doron studied oenology in Beaune, specializing in white and sparkling wines. He then trained under the prominent Jacques Prieure and continued to hone his white winemaking skills in both Chablis and Champagne. It was on his return to his home country of Israel that he was recruited as head winemaker of Ella Valley Vineyards, a region recognized for the biblical battle between David and Goliath.
Sphera was founded in 2012, focusing only on white winemaking. “There is something about white wine that excites me every time anew. The purity, exactness and the challenge to create it differently each time. Our winery encompasses everything that I love as a winemaker” says Doron. Going against popular trends of red wine consumption in Israel he feels white wines are more difficult to produce but the results are far more exciting. He found success very quickly, with his Sphera Signature White 2015 achieving the highest score (18-points) rated for an Israeli wine with Jancis Robinson MW.
The winemaking style is founded on minimal intervention and balance, favoring vintage variations rather than bold and full-flavored wines that seem to be the typical style in much of the winemaking in Israel. Instead, he hand-harvests at night to preserve acidity and freshness, opening his winery at 3-4am to meticulously sort through the grapes. Long, slow fermentations follow, which last for over 50 days in wide stainless tanks, a hark back to his days training in Chablis. The result are wines of immense purity and minerality, with Julia Harding MW of Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages praising the highly scored Signature White 2015 as a “stunning wine with beautiful harmony and great length. Subtle power that caresses the palate, the flavor lingering long”.
Passionate about the Judean Hills and its potential as a quality wine growing region, Doron, together with three other leading winemakers in the region formed the Judean Hills Quartet in 2017. The objective was to actively promote the vineyards of the Judean Hills and showcase the quality and diversity of Israeli wines. And with Sphera heading the forefront for expressive and elegant whites, where 80% of its production is already being distributed around the top restaurants of Tel-Aviv, one can only agree when Julia Harding MW praises that “these wines represent an exciting start for this gifted winemaker”.