Gentle, artistic and talented. more »

The most famous Israeli in London today is Yotam Ottolenghi. He is a chef, restaurant owner, cookery writer whose calling card is the use of simple ingredients and flavors. He has a great team, including a talented, young Israeli wine consultant called Gal Zohar. In his quiet, professional way, Zohar has managed to earn the respect of those who know him or who have worked with him.Gal Zoha

Gal Zohar is 36 years old. Born in Eilat, he enjoyed part of his childhood in France. He first went the Barman route doing a course and starting to work in a restaurant where he began to get a feel for wine. He travelled to various wine regions for fun. At that stage he wanted to study Musicology, the Piano and Choir Conducting. However the world of wine was too inviting. It was music that stayed a hobby and wine that became his profession.

In 2006 he went to London because his wife, Oshrat, knew England from her childhood. There he was confronted by wine lists and did not understand anything. But out of that initial panic came the urge to study and understand. Like all good wine people, he had an aptitude for learning in every way possible (on the job training, tastings, reading) and he did the Advanced WSET Course and later the Diploma. His main text book was The Oxford Companion To Wine, by Jancis Robinson MW. As assistant sommelier and then sommelier he found himself at home in the heart of London?s restaurant scene.

The most attractive thing about Zohar, apart from his gentle artistic nature, is his view of the wine world. He does not appreciate wine snobbery. He dislikes high alcohol wines preferring elegance and despises the trend of heavy bottles that has caught on, as though the size and weight of the bottle has an effect on the quality of the final wine. He believes wines should be interesting and tell a story, but he can?t stand, or understand, the jargon tasting notes, which tell you everything about the person?s vocabulary, but nothing about the wine itself. He considers the job of a sommelier is to preserve the passion of the producer, filter out what is not relevant, so the essence can be passed on to the guest. He went to London to learn. Now he goes back to teach & pass on the enthusiasm to others.

His favorite wine growing region, and area of speciality, is Italy. He is enchanted with the new Italy, the indigenous varieties and all the different sub regions. This is a far cry from the Italy of old which used to read Chianti & Barolo, Soave and Valpolicella.

He considers he has a European palate, which means he likes wines with good acidity which are refreshing and not over-oaked fruit bombs. The Israeli winemakers he most admires are: Ya?acov Oriah, Ido Lewinsohn from Recanati and the Lewinsohn Winery in Hod Hasharon, Eran Pick from Tzora Vineyards, Gaby Sadan from Shvo Vineyards and Golan Flam from Flam Winery. He says with a good wine it is difficult to separate the person from the wines.

Some of his favorites Israeli whites are Flam White, an unoaked Sauvignon Chardonnay blend, Shvo Chenin Blanc, Sea Horse James, another Chenin Blanc, and Lewinsohn Garage de Papa White, a 100% Chardonnay. As far as red wines are concerned he loves the entry level Tzora wine, the Judean Hills, the Flam Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Vitkin Carignan (NK) and a Dalton Syrah Petite Sirah, a special edition wine produced by the Upper Galilee winery. He has enjoyed sharing in the making of special editions wines with Ya?acov Oriah, Ido Lewinsohn and Na?ama Sorkin, from Dalton Winery.

At Ottolenghi?s new flagship restaurant called Nopi, he created a wine list which shows quality, innovation and freshness. The wine list is interesting, simple and the wines are all drinkable now. The list is thankfully short, but there is adequate choice there for someone looking for an inexpensive glass, or something special. In his antipathy for standard wine lists, Zohar is also innovative, categorizing some wines under a heading called ?Mountain & Volcanic? wines. Amongst the more familiar wine regions there are also wines from Campania, Savoie, Jura, Slovenia ? and even from Sussex, England. There is plenty for the curious.

It is revealing to look at some of the introductory statements at Ottonlenghi?s new wine shop. ?The wines we are selling are quite simply wines that we love. Wines are sourced from small environmentally committed producers, wines that give a sense of place geographically, historically, culturally. Many of the wines are made from indigenous grape varieties, in relatively small quantities and using a light touch and traditional methods.? The statement says everything. The wines reflect the raison d?etre of the man.

This year, Zohar was a Judge in the International Wine Challenge held annually in London. This is the largest wine tasting competition on earth. The judges are made up of wine professionals from all over the world. It is a great honor that Gal Zohar was one of them.

On his return to Israel he taught a class at Ramat Gan College?s Wine Academy, one of Israel?s most professional wine courses, which he enjoyed. He then immersed himself in two major projects.

Firstly, there is Ran Shmueli?s new, eagerly awaited restaurant, Claro, which is soon to open in the restored Sarona district of Tel Aviv. He is the wine consultant and is in partnership with Mor Bernstein, one of Israel?s most talented sommeliers. Wine lovers and connoisseurs will be enthusiastic to see the results of the wine list they are preparing together. One thing is for sure. The wine intelligentsia will be looking at it closely to learn about new trends and the best value finds and it will undoubtedly be one of the premier wine venues in Israel.

Secondly, he is heavily involved in the preparation of the New Israeli Wine Guide, which he writing with Yair Gath, wine journalist for the Israel Hayom Newspaper. They have blind tasted their way through the finest wines in Israel and have already published a preview of their top twenty Israeli wines. The longer, more complete list is to follow. Since the death of legendary wine critic, Daniel Rogov, z?l, Israelis have been starved of quality wine criticism which has credibility. So this joint venture has great importance for the industry as a whole.

Given his status as an international sommelier and wine consultant, wine educator and lately, wine critic, his views on the characteristics of a good wine would be of interest. He had a concise answer to this question, like the person, totally stripped of pretension. ?The sign of a good wine?, he said, ?is an empty bottle.? It is as simple as that!?

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