When the staff at Poros recommends the Barkan Cabernet Sauvignon to its customers, the reaction is generally one of surprise. Most diners at the restaurant specializing in Mediterranean cuisine do not think of Israel when they think of a good Cab and are a bit skeptical.
At least at first.
“We always pour a taste at the table before we pour the whole glass,” explained Alan Uchrinscko, assistant manager and sommelier of the year-old Market Square restaurant. “People can’t believe how good the Barkan is and that it is from Israel. I’m selling a ton of this daily. I’m telling you, it is good. If we pour you a taste of it, you’re going to buy it.”
Barkan, he said, is the restaurant’s “go-to Cab,” both by the glass and by the bottle, and is Poros’ bestselling Cabernet Sauvignon. And it is not the only Israeli offering at Poros, whose wine list boasts three such whites and three reds. And its looking to add more.
Poros, and its commitment to serve wine from Israel, was the subject of a Chronicle article earlier this year (“Israeli wines find happy home at Market Square restaurant,” March 31). Poros has an eclectic and expansive wine list with selections from throughout the Aegean and Mediterranean region, including Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and Morocco, countries that are underrepresented on more typical wine lists. Since last March, Poros has doubled its Israeli offerings, including the addition of the Barkan.
For years, Israel has been trying to market itself as a player in the international wine industry. That a mainstream restaurant in Pittsburgh is offering several selections from the Jewish state is just one indication that Israeli viticulture has made the big time.
The cover of the October 2016 issue of “Wine Spectator Magazine” features a photo of vineyards in Israel’s Golan Heights, with the words “The wines of Israel, Surprising Quality From an Emerging Region,” superimposed over a cloud-dotted sky. Inside the magazine are four stories about the Israeli wine industry, including a guide to Israel’s top wineries and tastings of more than 120 Israeli wines that are available in the United States.
During a visit to Israel last spring, reporter Kim Marcus of “Wine Spectator” sampled more than 100 wines, followed by blind tastings in New York. Of the 120 she tasted, more than 30 scored 90 points or higher on the magazine’s 100-point scale, Israel’s best performance to date.
“It’s a significant accomplishment for a nation of only 8.5 million people for whom survival, rather than the conviviality of wine, was paramount until recently,” Marcus wrote.
Not many local restaurants feature Israeli wines. Casbah, a Mediterranean restaurant in the East End, offers an upscale Chardonnay from Israel by the bottle, but it has not been a big seller, according to Casbah’s wine director, Alyssa McGrath. McGrath said she is interested in adding more wines from Israel to her list and hopes to travel in January to the wine regions of Israel along with a few other sommeliers from around the country to gain insight on how to bring more of those wines to Pennsylvania.
Although the newly opened kosher eatery Café Eighteen on Murray Avenue offers several Israeli wines, so far, Poros leads in the introduction of Israeli wine to the general population of Pittsburgh.
“I do not know of any additional restaurants that have ordered Israeli wines from me,” said Heather Abrams, a Pittsburgh wine sales rep and consultant for supplier Southern Wine and Spirits.
In an effort to expand his Israeli selections and to learn more about better Israeli wines, Uchrinscko studies the wine lists of top restaurants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, he said. He also has read one of the definitive books about Israeli wine, “The Ultimate Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines,” by the late Israeli wine expert Daniel Rogov.
Of the six Israeli wines now served at Poros, two are offered by the glass — the Barkan Cab and a Gilgal Riesling.
Other Israeli wines sold by the bottle at Poros are more expensive: the Domaine du Castel 2013 Chardonnay is $120 a bottle, for instance. While not all Israeli wines are certified kosher, the six mainstays on the Poros menu are.
Uchrinscko is so enthused about the wines from Israel that he is planning an Israeli wine-tasting event at Poros on Sunday, Nov. 22, at 3 p.m. The tasting will include five wines from Israel and light mezze. Reservations are recommended.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.