?Israel has world class chefs and winemakers making world class wines. How good it is to see that an Israeli Sommelier has now reached the pinnacle of his profession.
?Whereas scores of young Israeli have travelled abroad to study, gain winemaking degrees and then gain work experience in the world?s most famous wine regions, there have been few to go through the sommelier route. However one who did, is Orr Reches, aged 29, the Sommelier of the Corton Restaurant in New York City.
?Growing up in Tel Aviv, Reches was indoctrinated into the ways of wine early. He remembers his father drinking Margalit wines and one of the first words he said was, believe it or not, Cabernet Sauvignon! After serving in the IDF, Reches then did a Bartender Course and became a barman. A fairly standard beginning. His sister, a student in America encouraged him to go to New York and in September 2005 he joined her. Of course, he fell in love with New York, the lights, the energy of the place and most important, the earning potential.
?Soon after arriving, Orr signed on as head bartender at the Maison Restaurant, a 24 hour Brasserie style operation. Here he learnt the workings of a busy restaurant, and how work under pressure. He was there three and a half years, apart from an enforced break, when he returned to serve in the Second Lebanese War. His prime objective was to earn enough money to travel to South America.
?Around this time there was an opportunity to do an Advanced WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) Course in New York and he took it. It was a first step on the wine ladder. Like so many before him, the passion grabbed him. The more he knew, the more he wanted to know.
?In 2009 he had a lucky break. The sommelier was fired at Barbounia, a Mediterranean restaurant, and Reches was offered the position of Beverage Director, which included buying responsibility. It showed a great deal of trust in an inexperienced 25 year old. They obviously spotted the potential. However he remembers with a grimace, that there were wines on the list that he had never heard of and he got shouted at a lot. It was a very steep learning curve.
?At this stage, the wine student will either, lose interest and go on to other things. Or they will become driven and wine will become an obsession. Every spare moment when not working will be spent learning about wine. Every book and journal will be read, no wine tastings will be missed and social hours will be spent with friends who all have the same passion and the same obsession. Only those blessed with a hunger to learn, with an extra good memory and a good palate, have a chance to progress. Reches had all this in abundance, but he also had the personal charm, unflappable professionalism and management skills to succeed on the floor too.
?He gained his WSET Diploma and he moved on to A Voce Madison, a restaurant with one Michelin Star. This was an introduction to truly fine dining.
?His next post was at Veritas Restaurant, where he managed a Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning wine list with no less than 3,400 selections!! Veritas is one of the world?s most famous wine venues. With the sheer size and variety of the wine list, it was an awesome place to work, with a heaven sent opportunity to learn. The most expensive wine on this list was a magnum of 1990 Chateau Petrus, which was a mere US$30,000. A 1992 bottle of Screaming Eagle, the Californian cult wine, was US$12,000.
?He was then head hunted for the top job and in December 2011 moved to Corton Restaurant as Head Sommelier. This is a restaurant with two Michelin stars and three stars from the New York Times.
The wine list is all French, with 400 wines in total. Here he is in control of the purchasing budget, buying wines costing hundreds, even thousands of dollars at auction. It is a restaurant owned by Drew Nieporent, one of the most famous restaurateurs in the world. Previously the same site housed Nieporent?s first restaurant, Montrachet, where the sommelier was the legendary Daniel Johnnes. Johnnes was one of the first American sommeliers who along with Larry Stone, elevated the sommelier profession to the importance of chefs in quality restaurants.
?Orr Reches remains modest, quiet and is the antithesis of a wine snob. He sees his role as being a servant to the guest?s needs. ?I am there was to provide a service, and not to impose my opinion. I look at the customer as a guest, not as a client.?
?Talking about new trends, he said sherry was coming back. He referred to the Natural wine trend, but expressed the opinion it was better to make the wine well, rather than ?naturally.?
He mentioned Croation and Georgian wines were on the radar for the first time. And what about Israeli wines? He said he was proud to have poured the following wines on the Veritas wine list at different times: Carmel Appellation Carignan Old Vines, C Blanc du Castel & Castel Grand Vin, Clos de Gat Chanson White, Margalit Merlot and Yatir Merlot Shiraz Cabernet.
?He believes there should be more use of Mediterranean grape varieties instead of Bordeaux varieties in Israel. He had something to say about Israeli boutique wineries ?A lot of them are not as good as they think.? His pet hates are people who all the time look at the alcohol content (?if the wine is in balance it is ok?) and at critic?s scores, (?Forget the score. What does it taste like? Good or bad.?) He likes a laid back approach, saying: ?Don?t forget wine is just fermented grape juice, which is on the table along with the bread and water.?
?He said the first great wine he tasted it was a 1970 Chateau Latour, which he described as a wine with soul.
?Sommelier is an abused word in Israel. Many waiters adopt the word if they serve wine and restaurants are keen to talk about their ?sommelier?, whatever the standards of wine service and wine knowledge. However Orr Reches is the real deal. He is the Chef Sommelier in a top French Restaurant that specializes in wine. An Israeli Sommelier in New York!?