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Beverage Corner: Israeli wine buff turns passion for Burgundy into Web site forum

Thursday, February 24, 2000

By Dave DeSimone

Yak Shaya's Wines Pages (http://www.yakshaya.com) is a wine lover's virtual paradise. The Web site is the creation of Jacob "Yak" Shaya, a 52-year-old Tel Aviv-based computer software engineer who shares tasting notes, travel reports, and tips on enjoying good food and fine wines, especially those from Burgundy.


Dave DeSimone is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society. He can be heard on KQV Radio (1410 AM) Monday through Friday with The Wine Cellar.


Reading Yak's descriptions of the restaurants and wines of Burgundy is the next best thing to actually enjoying them. His page is now so well known internationally that he convenes "YakFest" wine dinners when he travels to Britain, Spain, the United States, and elsewhere. Regular visitors to Yak's Wine Pages often join him at these occasions.

In an interview over the Internet, Yak talked about his passion for wine and the Web.

PG: How did you get into wine? Did you grow up with it in your home, or did you begin enjoying it as an adult?

Yak: You must understand that 20 to 30 years ago, awareness for fine wine in Israel was almost nonexistent. Most people simply did not drink wine, or if they did, it was the stuff produced by the huge cooperative, Carmel Mizrahi. Our home was different. My father was mildly enthusiastic and knowledgeable about wine. I remember from childhood that whenever he went abroad, he would bring back some choice bottles. We often [though not daily] had good wine for dinner, but it was never an obsession with him.

For me, the summer of 1978 marks the transition from casual fondness to a more serious attitude towards wine. My wife, Dorit, and I took a trip through the best wine regions in Europe. We bought a couple of wine books (including Hugh Johnson's "Wine"), embarked our car and ourselves on a boat in Haifa, and sailed to Venice, Italy. We drove for six weeks touring, eating and tasting through Piemonte in Italy, Alsace, Champagne and Burgundy in France.

We did not even reach Bordeaux, but we both fell for Bourgogne. We immediately took to the scenery, the people, the food and of course the wine. From then on it was a love affair that has just grown stronger.

But up until six years ago I was in what you might call a "splendid isolation." Nobody around me knew or cared anything about fine wine (my father left for Australia some 16 years ago). I was not communicating with other wine lovers, and I was not following the "wine scene" except for my frequent trips to Burgundy to talk to my friends there, learn more, buy new wines and generally enjoy my visits.

Then I discovered Compuserve Wine Forum [over the Internet] and life never was what it used to be for me. All of a sudden I found many more wine lovers out there. They were people I could talk with, discuss, argue and generally communicate as if there were not thousands of miles separating us.

Very soon I became a flag bearer for Burgundy wines. Until then I never thought of myself as a Burgundy maven, but it seemed that the years of tasting experience, plus the fact that I was not aware of -- let alone prejudiced by -- the likes of Robert Parker, gave me some sort of unbiased credibility.

PG: What gave you the idea of creating Yak's Wine Pages?

Yak: It was my friend Peter Duffy, manager of The Chicago Wine Company, who urged me to create a Web site devoted to wine. ... Since I mostly drank high-end Burgundy and was writing about it anyway on the Forum, I thought why not? In this way many more people would be able to read my notes and perhaps be swayed to try and taste a truly great Burgundy, at least for once in their life.

PG: How much time do you spend updating the site?

Yak: Actually, a lot. English is not my natural language, so it takes me twice as much time as it takes you to form a good sentence. Often I jokingly complain to Dorit that it takes us 2 to3 hours to finish a great dinner with say 3 to 4 wines, and then it takes me another four hours to write about it ...

PG: How many hits does the site receive? Or don't you track it?

Yak: Do I track my site? You must be joking! I am a born "list-maker." A statistics freak par excellence. I keep track of my Web statistics with modified professional tracking software, and, to satisfy my curiosity, I generate daily, weekly and monthly reports.

I currently receive about 7,000 visits per month. And when I say "visits" I mean humans that come to read info on my site. ... I see no point in "inflating" the numbers as I take pride in the fact that my site is totally non-commercial.

PG: Do you receive inquiries and comment from visitors to your site?

Yak: Yes, about a thousand e-mails per year from all over the world! Many of my visitors are "regulars" whom I keep in touch with more or less on a regular basis. Most people write simply to express appreciation for the work that I do. Other people write polite e-mails asking me about this wine or that. I help if I can, even if I have to do a little research. There are, however, those (admittedly not too many) who for some reason think I am a wine-question answering machine or something. ... No "Hi Yak," no "Please, could you help me find ...," no signing the e-mail. I don't bother to answer these.

PG: Have you expanded beyond your special passion for Burgundy wines?

Yak: There are few wines that sing for my heart and soul like mature, truly great Burgundy. ... I drink Israeli wines, but not very often and only the very best. As for the other countries (California, Italy, Spain), I do drink the best of these. But if I'd have to choose a wine region apart from Bourgogne, it would be the Rhone. I simply adore the top Rhone wines from Cote Rotie, Hermitage and Chateauneuf du Pape. I also love Alsatian whites and the truly best of Italy and Spain.

PG: Is there anything else you'd like to add about wine and the Internet?

Yak: Yes, the most rewarding and thrilling aspect of it all has been meeting people and making friends! Virtual friendships have many times turned into off-line, real-world unforgettable food and wine experiences. These are recounted in the chapter on "Yak's Wine & Food Adventures" on my Web site. Start from the bottom of the page and work your way up....

PG: Thanks, Yak.

In Yak's honor, here are a few recommendations. The first three whites are excellent as "after work" aperitifs:

1998 Albert Seltz, Pinot Blanc Reserve, Alsace (Specialty 913, $10.99): A crisp, clean white with aromas and flavors of pears, apples and light oak balanced by racy acidity.

1998 Trimbach, Pinot Gris Reserve, Alsace (8494, $15.99): Pleasant aromas of citrus and spice with a crisp, delicious finish of ripe fruit.

1998 Kim Crawford, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (Specialty 3193, $14.99): Exotic aromas and flavors of passion fruit, citrus and lemongrass balanced with excellent acidity. Wild, untamed and delicious.

1998 Chateau Du Donjon, Minervois "Cuvee" Tradition (Specialty 1995, $7.89): This is a juicy red with lovely aromas and delicious flavors of plums and blueberries. Lively acidity makes this a perfect "bistro" red for casual meals.

1996 Domaine Machard de Gramont, Savigny-les-Beaune (Gateway Wines & Spirits, 412-682-1099, $25): This is a delicious red Burgundy with aromas of black cherries, leather and oak with firm tannins, supple texture and juicy fruit flavors. Drinks nicely now but will improve with some aging.

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