In recent months, the Friday get-togethers at Giaconda Wines have become a delightful Tel Aviv tradition – Tel Aviv in the sense of spirit and location. The shop is on Frishman Street near Masaryk Square, though many of those who attend the weekly events come from outside the city. Each Friday is devoted to a different theme, usually a particular wine region and all the varieties of grapes and the different vineyards to be found there. The oenophiles who attend (sommeliers, winemakers and customers who are wine aficionados) can taste wines from the selection imported by Anat Sela and Rafaella Ronen, “the Giacondas,” as they are affectionately known. The wine-tasting starts in the early morning hours and goes on until the afternoon.
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“There is hardly any talk about wine here,” Sela says contentedly. “We talk about just about everything except for wine. You might hear someone say something like ‘This wine is a son of a bitch, I love it,’ but it’s rare to hear the professional jargon of so-called educated talk about wine. Serious wine lovers who want to quietly taste the wines come in the early morning hours. Those who like a noisier and busier scene come later in the day. We do also offer a selection of cheeses with the wines, but people have gotten in the habit of coming straight from the shuk with their baskets and putting together their own bread and cheese that they’ve brought with them. To me, these Friday events are above all a chance to taste wines that you probably wouldn’t buy for yourself or that you can’t normally afford. The price for a glass starts at NIS 30 and can go up to NIS 110, and then of course there’s also the rare bottle whose price can go as high as thousands of shekels.”
Sela and Ronen, who have been a couple for 23 years, left behind their previous occupations (Sela is a sound technician and chef, and Ronen is a psychotherapist) when they went to New Zealand together to learn about wines. When they returned to Israel 11 years ago, they began importing wines from the Old World.
“The first wines we brought were very influenced by the tasting group of winemakers and vintners that we were a part of during the years we lived in New Zealand,” says Sela. “We started by importing only white wines – people said we were crazy – and from Germany, of all places, a country that wasn’t on the radar at all for Israeli wine lovers. We’re a lesbian couple in a world that, especially back then, was considered super masculine. I’m glad to say that that has been changing, though not as fast as I would like to see. So the ‘crazy ladies’ tag has been affixed to us a little too easily and too frequently. We started with 11 wines from seven different wineries, and we now import more than a thousand wines from dozens of different European wineries, most of which are small family wineries. And we never import a wine unless we’ve first gone to the place where it is made and tasted it there.”
The wines imported by the Giacondas are easily recognizable, even if not by the specific type of grape or wine region. For the most part, what they all have in common is a richness and complexity of flavor and aroma that’s a bit out of the mainstream among winemakers and wine aficionados. They go for free-spirited wines made by free-spirited people. “Wine is much more than an alcoholic beverage made from grape juice,” says Sela, trying to describe the Giaconda taste. “The thing that makes a wine is its habitat, and this definitely includes the human component. The people we buy wines from all share a boundless dedication to the vines, the grapes and the wine, as well as an inability to cut corners. To put it another way, they are special folks who make interesting wines that are a reflection of their family, their wine-growing region and that year’s harvest.”