The place where the wine is in Tel Aviv

Got a taste for vino? Visit the Sarona Complex’s Tasting Room.

Sarona Complex’s Tasting Room (photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
Sarona Complex’s Tasting Room
(photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
For the wine-curious as well as for the connoisseur, the elegant Tasting Room at the Sarona Complex is the place where the wine is. There, you can taste your way through the best of Israel’s wineries, at the pace you want and drinking as much or as little as you want.
Always present is a wine steward who will advise and recommend wines according to your preference. Customers can choose between 44 wines, most Israeli and many kosher.
The way it works is as follows: You receive a smart card that starts at zero shekels.
Insert it next to the barrel of wine you choose. Order a tasting, a half-glass or a full glass, and the barrel’s spigot will deliver it as the smart card adds the charge.
Take your wine back to your seat or wander around the room as you will.
The restaurant offers dishes created by chef Zvi Avissar, who has cooked in highend restaurants in Spain and Jerusalem.
“My cuisine reflects Sephardic influences,” says Avissar. “It’s a light, fun menu, appropriate to the wines and not expensive. The ingredients are very fresh and locally sourced.” The fish dishes, for example, are created on the spot from one particular fisherman’s catch of the day.
All colors and stripes of people stop in at the Tasting Room. The most fun is to come with a gang of friends, but manager Roni Saslove says businesspeople often come in straight from work to enjoy a quiet half-hour with a glass of wine and a nosh before heading home. It’s a custom that Europeans and Americans are used to, but Israelis are just beginning to appreciate: happy hour.
“You get up in the morning and go to work,” she muses. “All day you’re surrounded by people telling you what they need and what to do. And then if you go straight home, and you have a partner and kids, it’s a little more of the same. It’s wonderful to have some time in between only to relax. Our happy hour is between 5 and 7 p.m., that’s when people from the offices come, in their suits and ties.”
Many come only for a quick tasting, to get familiar with a new wine. But it’s not a businessman’s bar; locals and tourists also spend time there, tasting and absorbing some wine education. (I am organizing a group trip of my book club to the Tasting Room this winter.) For kosher-keepers, the restaurant offers separate charcuterie or cheese platters.
Saslove explains: “Since wine is complemented by food, we arrange it so that the religious community can enjoy eating here, too. The place isn’t considered kosher, there’s no separate kitchen, but there are plenty of kosher wines, and all products come from kosher suppliers. A visitor can order deli meats or a cheese plate, and receives the order on a plate lined with parchment paper. We actually get a number of religious visitors who will eat here. The haredim only drink, but they’re very welcome.”
Saslove, an experienced vintner herself, leads wine appreciation workshops both at the Tasting Room and at the Academic College of Israel in Ramat Gan. There will be a four-meeting course at the Tasting Room in November. Her approach is down-to-earth and refreshingly free of snobbery.
“Some Israelis are still intimidated by wine,” she reveals. “I teach that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to pronounce the grape variety’s name; you don’t need any knowledge to enjoy wine.
You have your taste buds; you have your sense of smell. You have all the knowledge within you.”
I remarked that many enjoy the taste of wine but feel silly saying that they don’t catch the flavors of berries, jam, or whatever is described on the labels.
Saslove replies, “When I did my master’s in wine-making, in Canada, one of the courses that really blew my mind was sensory analysis. I learned that we, as the people drinking and experiencing wine, are the most important source of appreciation – not what other people say or write about wine. Each one of us is different.
“What I tell people is, you’re always right. If you feel that the wine’s high in acidity, you’re right, because that’s how you taste it. It might taste different to me, but you’re still right. There’s no right or wrong, no reason to feel dumb, because you don’t need anyone’s approval; you just need to trust yourself.”
I asked Saslove about a theory that women’s ability to taste aromas and flavors is superior to men’s. She replied that some women have relatively more taste buds and aroma buds, but some men do, too. Female hormones may influence a woman’s power to taste: There are days in a woman’s cycle, or when she’s pregnant, that raise the sensitivity to smells. And women seem to be more open-minded.
“When I lecture, I see that women will share what they find in the wine, what they think and feel. Men are more competitive, trying to guess the grape variety or vintage. It’s nice, but you can read that on the label. What’s more interesting is what you find in the wine, your sensations and even the memories that arise. I think that should motivate more women to drink wine,” Saslove concludes, smiling.
“I’ve been involved for so many years in making and selling wine,” Saslove says.
“Now I want to present Israeli wines and wineries. That’s the purpose of the Tasting Room: to show Israelis and tourists what beautiful, diverse and high-quality wines we make in Israel.
“Some of the wineries don’t have visitor centers, or don’t market in many places, so their wines are hard to find. Also, vintners themselves come in to taste other wineries’ products. Bar and restaurant owners come to choose wines for their places. I decided that this is to be a platform where Israeli wines can be tasted, a visitors’ center of Israeli wines. There’s no other wine bar in Israel like this.”
And the place is elegant. Recently, the Tasting Room won first place at the Restaurant & Wine Bar Design competition, London, for the Mediterranean and Africa category.
Do people get drunk at the Tasting Room? Saslove replies, “I’m happy to say that most of them don’t. It rarely happens, if at all, that people get drunk in here. It’s just really good people enjoying the wine, the food, the company.” She laughs engagingly.
“Nobody comes here to get wasted. People are mostly pretty well-behaved.
“We’re here to educate people and get them to love wine. I think wine is the No. 1 improver of quality of life. People that bring wine into their lives enjoy the good things and smile more.”
More information: Sarona Complex at 36 Eliezer Kaplan Street, Tel Aviv, (03) 533-3213. Open from 5 p.m. until the last customer, Sunday-Thursday.
Fridays open from 12 noon; Saturday from 5 p.m.
There is a smaller Tasting Room inside the Sarona Market, which offers wines in the same style but doesn’t offer food.