If you follow my blog at all, you will find references to Brobdignagian, Brobdingnagian, and Hajdu all over – go ahead and search! Anyway, with the number of times that I have been writing about Hajdu, and Covenant (where he is associate winemaker), I realized it was due time to talk about one of California’s best and still hidden kosher wineries.
I met Jonathan quite a few years back, but even before that I “met” him through the Weiss Brothers (AKA Shirah Winery) and Benyamin (Four Gates Winery). Hajdu is one of those consummate winemakers that has continuously, through the years, shown his mettle and amazing palate. However, before we get ahead of ourselves we need to step back and weave in the background story of Hajdu. Hajdu fell into the world of wine when he was studying archeology at University at Albany-SUNY in NY. It was there, when bored with studies of things buried deep in the ground, dating back thousands of years ago, that he found the wonderful elixir called wine in local area wine bars. This was in the late 1990s, and I find it amazing that wine bars existed in a college town so many years ago!
Well soon after school, Hajdu went to study in Yeshiva in Israel, and it was there that he met a woman, and followed her to Melbourne Australia, which turned out to be a great place to study viticulture at the Swinburne University, and to work on a few vineyards in the Yarra Valley. Things did not work out on the dating front, so Hajdu returned to New York, and one thing led to another and a friend told him about a job at Copain Custom Crush Llc in 2003. It was a great job for so many reasons, the main one being that there Hajdu honed his winemaking skills, till now he was a viticulturist, and he learned the skill of working on many small lots and crushes inside a very large wine facility, something that would come in very handy in the coming years at Covenant, but again we are getting ahead of the story.
In late 2003 Herzog was in need of more skilled hands, so Hajdu signed on – and it was at this point that one has to see the hand of God here. First of all, it was here that the Shirah/Weiss boys would eventually meet up with Hajdu, along with Jack Levin, who was part of the initial Shirah creations. This group (Levin was not yet there in 2005) was the group that created the first Shirah wine – 2005 Shirah Syrah with fruit from Alamo Creek. For the next two years they worked together at Herzog and it was that time, in my opinion, that the desire and yearn to build great wines from both Shirah and Hajdu was created.
While, Hajdu was at Herzog winery another very important coincidence occurred, it was there that Hajdu met Jeff Morgan, co-owner and winemaker of Covenant Winery. At that time, Covenant was making their 2003 through 2006 vintages in Herzog’s winery in Santa Maria, CA where the winery existed before it moved to Oxnard. It was then that Hajdu worked with Jeff on the 2003, 2004 vintages of Covenant wines in Santa Maria (where Herzog was before Oxnard) and then 2005 in Oxnard as well.
In 2006 Hajdu had a yearning to return to Israel, so he picked up and went to work in Carmel winery after talking with Sam Saroka, then the head winemaker at Carmel Winery, Saroka is now the head winemaker of Mony Winery. After a year in Israel, Hajdu returned without any real plans but in search of more than just a wine job but also a person who would eventually become his wife. However, when he first arrived in NY, he tried to line things up, but one thing did not lead to another and plans kept falling through, which was for the best in so many ways! It was in NY, late 2007 that he met his to-be wife and where he re-caught the bug and passion to create his own wines – under the Brobdingnagian label.
So, in later 2007, he flew back and forth, while dating and eventually getting engaged to his wife, to make wine in Santa Barbara CA. Having little place or money to live, he scrounged and found ways to make do for six weeks from harvest till fermentation and barreling his wines. These were the famous 2007 Grenache and Syrah that literally put Hajdu and the Brobdingnagian name on the map!
By the way, it is Hajdu’s wife whose artistic talents can be found draped all over Jonathan’s wine work (she makes the labels for his wines), and personally, the 2011 Proprietary Red wine with the turtle is one of the loveliest labels in Hajdu’s portfolio. Though they are all lovely, from the elephant riding a unicycle on the Syrah bottles, to the whale or the ostrich, they are all lovely, but the turtle steals the show for me, label wise.
So, after making the wine in 2007 and marrying in early 2008, Hajdu was still in search of a job and was talking with Morgan when it all clicked, and Hajdu was hired in 2008 to be Covenant’s assistant winemaker and its mashgiach (kosher wine supervisor) at the winery. Covenant winery moved from Oxnard in 2008, and it now needed a full-time kosher wine supervisor because the winery moved to Napa in a crush facility that was not all locked and kosher, like it was in Oxnard at Herzog Winery.
It was at this point that I really met Hajdu in person. Until this point, I knew of him through Binyamin Cantz of Four Gates Winery, a personal friend and winemaker. Binyamin is one of those very unassuming but truly connected people in the world of kosher wine. Why? I think because people like him, love his wine, and like talking with him. Binyamin accompanied me down to the 2008 IFWF International Food and Wine Festival) in Oxnard, CA, the first ever IFWF. Hajdu was pouring the Covenant wines at the Herzog section. It was great to met both Jeff Morgan and Hajdu, and the Covenant wines were lovely indeed. We met again in San Jose that year, and then after that we met when I would go up to the Covenant Winery.
As the associate winemaker at Covenant, Hajdu helped with all aspects of Covenant Winery and continued to make his own wines as well. As described here, Hajdu made a wine again in 2008 a field blend of grapes that he called Besomim with Rabbi Tenenbaum. He did that again in 2009 along with a Syrah under the Brobdingnagian (Brob for short) label. It was finally in 2010 that Hajdu returned to his Grenache roots, along with more Syrah, and his first ever Petite Verdot and Petite Sirah. In 2010 Hajdu kept the Besomim label alive and well, but the field blend vineyard was gone so he went with a blend of his three Rhone Varietals; Syrah, Petite Sirah (yeah yeah not a true Rhone varietal – but it has been adopted by the Rhone Rangers), and Grenache. This was also the year that Hajdu increased his case count for 100 or so to 300 cases. That number would grow in time, but that was already a huge jump and the wines in 2010 were truly impressive.
In 2011 Hajdu started to tinker with making custom barrels, and started to work with clients to allow them to make and define blends for custom barrels that they would buy. The 2011 vintage was tough, and if there was ever a bump in the road for his wines it may have been this year. Still, 2011 was also the first year where Hajdu made his now famous – Red Proprietary blend from Howell Mountain grapes. Red Proprietary is a blend of Cabernet and Merlot that blew the doors off of my mind when I first tasted it and continues to impress. The 2011 vintage was also the year of the new Makom label, which was released with Carignan fruit. The wine was light and fruity, not the beast that Brob conjures up, or that Carmel was making back in 2006 under their Appellation label, or the Recanati Carignan from 2009. Still, it was a lovely fruity wine and one that did Makom proud. The 2011 vintage also saw another Grenache, Syrah, and an NV Besomim, which was a blend of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.
The 2012 vintage blew off the doors with both quality and unique varietals, and rivals the 2010 vintage, which was also incredible. First was the early release in 2012, of a new Makom wine made of Grenache Blanc, the first ever-kosher wine made of this varietal that I know of or care for. It was also the return of everything other than a pure Petite Verdot or Carignan, including Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache, a new Cabernet Franc, another Howell Mountain, and a new Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir would come under the Makom label, along with the Grenache Blanc. The rest would go under either the Brob label or a new Hajdu label with vertical colored lines.
With all the labels and wines under control, Hajdu has now created a winery that while still small and boutique, commands the attention of many a kosher wine buyer. The wines are very Brobdingnagian in style, big and bold – but they are also controlled and show great finesse when needed. The wines are almost a sure bet, with a “miss” here and there, and even those would be wines most wineries would dream to have made! I think the label with the elephant riding a unicycle says it best – big and massive animal controlling the direction with finesse and acumen that is Brobdignagian wine is a sentence or an image!
As stated before, I had the chance to talk and enjoy Hajdu’s knowledge and abilities when I was invited to the 27 course dinner with Hajdu and Bernstein. Since then we have met on and off whether with friends or to see the winery. Still, it had been 6 months since I last tasted the wines and now that the white and rose 2013 and 2012 red wines were released it was time to meet and catch up on what has been happening with Hajdu winery.
When asked about the wines he makes – he and the Weiss boys have clear leanings to the Rhone Varietals. I think the two of them, along with Netofa Winery. are the kosher manifestation of the Rhone Rangers. Who else produces Grenache wines (Capcanes but that is all in terms of Rhone wines). Who else produces them all? Who else produces Grenache Blanc? Viognier, Roussane by the Wiess Brothers, Chenin Blanc by Netofa along with Syrah and Mourvedre. These are the real kosher Rhone Rangers, wineries with a passion of what grows well in their area and each with their own twist and passion to deliver kosher wine that is not just another Cab or Merlot. The good news is that the Rhone religion is catching on and that we will see more Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Marselan, and others. It is the success of Hajdu and the Weiss brothers, and the realization that Israel, California, and Spain are better suited for these grapes than the classic noble varieties – that has helped propel the adoption of these grapes in the kosher world. Clearly, with his expansion Hajdu has added some varietals that are not Rhone in nature, but the style of the wines are always the same, bold, balanced, with great acid. Though there is a new Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, I think Hajdu still feels the pull for Rhone and thank goodness for that, as there are so few willing to take the Rhone Ranger pledge!
Hajdu is always the consummate gentleman and winemaker, and his wife and family are absolutely fantastic. For the past few weeks I have been sick and really out of it, but I finally have come out of my haze and I called Hajdu asking if I could swing by and taste the new wines. I arrived in the evening and for the next few hours we spoke wine, tasted wine, and I had an absolute ball of a time. The fact that I have not gotten to this posting earlier is all on me and I am truly sorry for that. I highly recommend that you contact Jonathan Hajdu @ Hajduwines.com and order the new rose; it is really and truly unique. The wine is up there as one of the best kosher rose wines out there! It is NOT a bleed off/saignee wine; rather it is a Pinot Gris wine that blew me away. That and the next Makom Grenache Blanc are the only two 2013 wines that we tasted, with the rest being the 2012 wines. They are all wonderful, and the Grenache really needs time to express itself. The Franc is lovely and ripe; the Syrah is seriously demented and sick, with an inky structure to die for. The Petite Sirah is not ready yet, for now get the wines, leave the Syrah and Petite Sirah to the side and enjoy the rest.
My many thanks to Jonathan and his wife for letting me crash so close to Passover, and for their lovely hospitality and warmness. My wine notes follow below:
2013 Makom Grenache Blanc – Score: A-
This is the second vintage of this lovely wine, but from a different vineyard than the previous year. The nose on this lovely wine showed floral notes, green fruit, green apple, mineral, ripe fruit, peach marmalade, and creme friache. The mouth on this wine is rich and balanced, with ripe fruit, great acid, crazy mineral notes, kiwi, grapefruit, and nectarine. The finish is long and spicy with great summer fruit, lovely pith that lingers long, slate, mineral, and cloves. Lovely!
2013 Hajdu Rose, Pinot Gris – Score: A- (and a bit more)
This wine is NOT a bleed off or saignee, this is 100% Pinot Gris, it is rose from lying on the skins for a few hours. The nose on this lovely salmon colored wine is lovely and starts off with intense bubblegum and cotton candy, however, after 30 minutes the wine turns into a saline and mineral redolence with crazy floral notes. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is well structured with layers of saline, intense acid, grapefruit, cloves, and melon. The finish is long and balanced with candied orange, mineral, intensely tart fruit, candied strawberry, and more spice. This is a unique, one of a kind wine, that is serious and brooding wine – not for the faint of heart, but what a wine it is!!!
2012 Makom Pinot Noir – Score: A- (and more)
This wine is 100% Pinot Noir and a far more conventional wine that the rose of blanc. The grapes were sourced from a vineyard called Jenner that overlooks the Pacific Ocean, on the true and authentic Sonoma coast. The nose on this wine shows classical pinot notes with a southern twang, starting with intense candied strawberry, dark cherry, dirt, and mineral. The mouth on this medium bodied wine hits you with layers of dark red fruit, plum, followed by intense spice, that flows into a mouth coating tannin blanket, along with hints of toast, and cloves. The finish is long and well spiced with mocha chocolate, coffee, toffee, smoky notes, all wrapped up in cinnamon, cloves, and all spice – BRAVO!
2012 Hajdu Grenache, Brobdingnagian – Score: A-
I must be honest here, to start I liked this wine a bit less, B+ to A-, however, with time this wine grew on me. This is NOT the 07-famed Grenache, which was a blockbuster wine, this is more a wine that lives up to the idiom; “Grenache is the Pinot Noir of the Rhone Valley”. Initially the wine opens to what can only be described as a cherry aroma perfume – deeply aromatic and lovely with earthy notes, spice, and watermelon. The mouth feels uniform to start with layers but a hollow or short finish with more red fruit, deep earthy concentration and cinnamon. The finish starts off a bit short with saline, mineral, nutmeg, cloves, mad spice, and black pepper. With time the mouth opens a bit more, the finish closes slower and the tannins expand to fill out the mouth and coat it long after the wine is gone.
2012 Hajdu Cabernet Franc – Score: A- (and more)
This is a wine that is not Israeli Cabernet Franc (over-sweet and cloying) but also not cold fruit located either – it is a sweet tilting Cabernet Franc, so please know that. The nose on this wine starts off with what can only be described as sweet bell pepper, not quite yellow bell, but sweet green bell pepper, with rich red and black fruit, along with nice spice. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich and layered with concentrated black fruit, cassis, plum, raspberry, with sweet notes of green, lovely tannin, and sweet cedar. The finish is long and sweet with tart fruit, searing acid, tobacco, chocolate, dill, and more green notes that linger long – BRAVO!
2012 Hajdu Syrah, Brobdingnagian – Score: A- to A
The 2012 Syrah is still very closed and not ready to party, that said with time or heavy decanting it is a wine that can become a superstar. This wine is classic Brob Syrah, big bold and in your face, but always with great control and good balance. The nose on this wine is slight closed now with rich blueberry, red and black fruit, root beer, licorice, earth, tar, and more earth. The mouth on this full bodied wine is inky dense and rich with layers of concentrated blackberry, cassis, candied and spiced dark plum, with loamy earthy notes, wrapped in boysenberry, sweet oak, and crazy mouth coating tannin. The finish is long, rich, and spicy with more blue and black fruit, tart fruit, great balancing acid, black pepper, nutmeg, and chocolate. BRAVO! This is a wine that can be enjoyed now, but better in a year and then till 2020.
2012 Hajdu Petite Sirah, Brobdingnagian – Score: A- to A
Like the 2012 Brob Syrah, this wine is really not ready for prime time, it reminds me of the 2007 Brob Grenache in that when we opened that bottle after release all we smelled and tasted was dirt, earth, tar, and crazy toast! The nose on this black colored wine is about at the same place; the fruit is under layers of wood, dirt, spice, and hints of root beer. The mouth on this massive, brooding, and full bodied wine is a pure attack on your senses, with deep extraction, rich layers of dark fruit, sweet oak, and tannin that does not let up. The finish is long with layers of dark fruit, leather, spice, Swiss mocha, boysenberry, and nice tart sweet fruit. With time, the fruit will start to show. This is a wine that needs time; open one if you must, but best from 2015 till 2021 and maybe more – BRAVO!!
As many have read on these pages, a few wine events have come and gone – with one last one happening today in NY, the City Winery event held in agreement with the Jewish Week and their kosher wine list for Passover. Not to throw the baby out with the bath water, but the list of wines that were chosen for winners this year, are fine and many that I really like, but I hope you all love the wines I have listed here too. As I walked around KFWE this year, and IFWF, and Gotham’s Kosher Wine Extravaganza, I was asked over and over for a simple list of great and reasonably priced kosher wines.
So, with two weeks before Passover – here is my list. A few caveats first, this is MY list! This is not a list that will make many happy. These wines are the wines that make me happy. No wines here would be considered over ripe, over sweet, or all over the place. The wines here are listed in the order of cost. That said, the top line wines – what I call Top Flight wines, are not defined by cost at all. In that list you can find a 2013 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, one of the best kosher Sauvignon Blanc wines I have ever tested. At the same time the list includes some of the best high-end kosher wines I have ever tasted that go for $100 or so a bottle. The list of Top Flight wines, are ALL wines that I would buy without hesitation, no matter the cost (if I can afford it of course).
Passover is time of year when Jews buy the most wine, along with Rosh Hashanah, and the American New Year. That is why all the kosher wine events happened a month or two before the Passover festival. It gives the wineries and distributors a chance to showcase all their wines that each appeal to different market segments. So, no there are no sweet or semi-sweet baseline wines here. There are many very good 15 or so dollar bottles of wine, that can be bought at Skyview, Gotham, and all the other wine stores I have listed on the right hand side (as always I NEVER make money from them and I never know or care what people buy, the list is whom I buy wines from and so I can recommend them to others).
Also, the amount of money you spend does not define the value or quality of the wine. Take for example the 24 dollar Lewis Pasco Project #1 wine – a stunning wine that needs time or needs serious decanting, an insane wine that kills it for the price. Same goes for the Vignobles David Reserve or the Capcanes Peraj petita, and many others.
Seeing the list and checking it twice (could not help myself), I am sure there will be a question – what defines a wine as a Top Flight wine and why are there wines that are not on it? The Top Flight wines, is a list of wines that personally was wowed when tasting them. That does not mean that the Peraj Petita, as wonderful as it is may or may not compare to another wine on the 50 dollar and above list – that would not be fair. What it does mean was that when I tasted it, I was wowed, and I said this is a wine that everyone should get – no matter the price. In the end, this is not about which is better than the rest it is a way to whittle down the list of wines that I enjoyed from a massive set of thousands of kosher wines available here in America. That is why I made the list. In hindsight, I am sure I will have missed some wines, but you can be always look at the blog and if a wine you want is not on the list, by my omission, but scored an A- or higher, it was probably a good bet to have been on this list.
Finally, it is our custom to drink four cups of wine on Passover, but to power down these wines is far to hard for me. I rather decide to drink simple wines like the Tabor Via bubbly red, non mevushal wine. It is simple to chug, tasty, and perfectly fulfills the custom. For the main course, I am happy to open a Top Flight wine and enjoy that at a calm and enjoyable pace.
So there you have it – enjoy good kosher wine for a reasonable price and enjoy the Passover holiday for what it should be, which is enjoying time and our heritage with our families! Happy Passover to you all. Post what wine you will be enjoying, I would love to hear from you guys on what you will be drinking throughout the holiday!
Wines below 20 dollars:
2012/2013 Domaine Netofa White
2013 Domaine Netofa Rose (QPR)
2012 Domaine Netofa Red
2010 Barkan Pinotage, Special Reserve
2011 Barkan Cabernet Sauvignon, Winemaker’s Reserve
2012 Galil Viognier (un-oaked) – the one with not as nice
2012 Yarden Chardonnay, Odem Vineyard
2012 Recanati Chardonnay, reserve
2013 Recanati Yasmin Cab/Merlot (mevushal)
2013 Recanati Yasmin White (NOT mevushal)
2011 Weinstock Petite Sirah, cellar select (mad QPR)
2010 Weinstock Cabernet Franc, Cellar Select (mad QPR)
2010 Weinstock Zinfandel, Cellar Select
2012 Capcanes peraj petita (mevushal) (QPR)
2012 Capcanes peraj petita (non mevushal) (QPR)
2012 Tabor Sauvignon Blanc, Adama
2011 Tabor Shiraz, Adama
2009 Carmel Appellation Cabernet Franc
2012 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc
2012 Goose Bay Fume Blanc (QPR)
2012 Goose Bay Chardonnay
2012 Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso (QPR) (do not laugh 2012 is lovely!)
2011 Dalton Alma, Caberent and Merlot
2011 Dalton Petite Sirah (QPR)
2011/2012 Le Mourre De Lisle Cotes du Rhone(mevushal) (QPR)
2010 Chateau d’Arveyres (QPR)
2012 Beit El Carignan
2012 Tulip White Tulip
2013 Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc
2012 Don Ernesto Collage
Read the rest of this entry
It has been a few weeks since I posted my wine notes. I have been posting other ideas, but this was a long time coming. The biggest take away for me was that the 2013 Terrenal Malbec was out, a new Terrenal kosher wine that can be bought at Trader Joe’s and it is mevushal. Sadly, I was not a fan. It is OK, but for me, I will look elsewhere. It is a shame as the non mevushal Terrenal wines from Spain continue to impress!
The other take away from these wines was that the new NV Freixenet Cava Excelencia Kosher Brut was no fun either. The final notes revolve around the return of Lewis Pasco and his wines! Mr. Pasco was the head wine maker at Recanati until 2006. After that he did wine in the US and other places and in 2012 he returned to Israel to work with Hillel Manne of Beit El Winery, and to make his own wines as well! The wines we tasted in early 2012 were nice, but the Pasco wine has really come around with oak and time. The insane Carignan wine of 2012, is not as good as we remembered it from the barrel in the winery, but it is still very nice a clear QPR.
Finally, as I stated when I was at the Tzora Winery, the 2012 Judean Hills is lovely and is a crazy QPR wine. That said, the notes have not changed but the wine needs serious time to open and when it does it shows its blue and black madness. The wine has really just arrived to the US and it seems to be in bottle shock, so either wait a month or two to enjoy, or open it now and decant for at least 2 to 3 hours ahead of time. If it is not black and blue, wait!!!!
So, I hope you enjoy the notes and have a great Shabbos! The notes follow below:
2012 Shirah Rosé – Score: A- (and then some)
WOW What a rose! This wine is 100% rose of Grenache. The nose is bright and tart with crunchy roasted herb, forest floor, garrigue, red fruit, and spice. The mouth is insane on this medium bodied wine, it starts with an attack of red currant, followed by blue fruit, herb, and crazy acid. The finish is long and attacking with mad acidic tart summer fruit, kiwi, candied strawberry, intense slate, mineral, and crazy tart zinberry that lingers forever, long after the wine is gone. The acid is so intense it is awesome and the fruit is ripe and expressive – BRAVO!!!
2012 Tzora Judean Hills – Score: A- (and more) (crazy good QPR)
When I was at the Tzora Winery, the 2012 Judean Hills was showing lovely and was a crazy QPR wine. That said, the notes have not changed but the wine needs serious time to open and when it does it shows its blue and black madness. The wine has really just arrived to the US and it seems to be in bottle shock, so either wait a month or two to enjoy, or open it now and decant for at least 2 to 3 hours ahead of time. If it is not black and blue, wait!!!!
This is a wine that is made of a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Verdot, Syrah that was fermented and aged in oak, and named for the terroir and vineyard that the wine was sourced from. This was a barrel/tank sample but such a wonderful wine and one very close to bottling that I had to write about it. The nose on this deeply black colored wine is rich with crazy black fruit, along with ripe blueberry, blackberry, along with deep mineral notes, roasted animal, and nice floral notes with slate. The mouth on this lovely full bodied and elegant wine shows far more control than the 2011 vintage, with great control and style, with layers of concentrated black and blue fruit, rich graphite, bracing acid, coming together with mouth coating tannin, and spicy oak. The finish is long and mineral with lovely chocolate, bright fruit, and lovely sweet spices. BRAVO!
2013 Terrenal Malbec Kosher – Score: B
The 2012 vintage of this wine was a favorite of mine last year, till it turned into a flower bomb. This vintage is starting that way out of the chute. The noise on this purple colored wine starts off with nice blue and black notes, followed by floral notes that feels disjointed, along with plum, and spice. The mouth on this medium bodied wine shows blackberry fruit, blackcurrant that spikes, along with nice tannin and blueberry/green notes. The finish is long and all over the place with green blue notes that cover over the nice root beer notes. Read the rest of this entry
A dinner with Pierre Miodownick of Netofa Winery, the most prolific of the kosher winemaker’s Noble Family
On a warm Sunday night in January, GG and I were driving towards the home of Pierre Miodownick, to taste through the new Netofa wines and to enjoy an exciting dinner with Pierre, his lovely wife, and Yair Teboulle Netofa’s CEO. The evening started by setting our stuff in one of Pierre’s bedrooms, as we were staying overnight in their lovely home. After that, we joined Pierre and Yair for a tasting of each and every new wine that is available from Netofa, along with some that are not yet available and a few oldies as well. On top of that, as we got closer to dinner we enjoyed two wines that Pierre made from France, but ones that were created some 24 years apart from each! But we are jumping ahead of the story, so lets start at the tasting.
When you enter the home of Mr. Miodownick, you cannot help but be in awe of the achievements that this man has single handily created in the last 32 years. He started his life’s work, in 1982, he along with a man named Lionel Gallula (hence the M&G on his older vins negociants bottles) by going to wineries and making kosher wines inside of non-kosher wineries, mostly in the Languedoc region to start. Then in 1986, they approached Rothschild, and a few other French wineries mostly in the area of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Fast forward two years, in 1988, Royal realized they needed to expand their wine portfolio to include things other than their syrup based wines, and their then fledgling Herzog Winery. So, they reached out to Pierre and they soon joined forces. In my opinion, this was the single most important action Royal has taken in the past 20 years, a genius move that has allowed Royal to become the powerhouse that it is today. Pierre was the visionary, he was the one that realized that if he wanted to expand his kosher winery reach to more European wine regions than just Bordeaux and Burgundy, he would have been hard pressed to do it all on his own. But with the strength, long arm, and pocketbook of Royal behind him, Pierre would be able to expand the wine regions where kosher wine exists today – like Italy, Portugal, Spain, and other regions in France.
From the outside, being a flying winemaker may look glorious and impressive, but it is a seriously hard job. Pierre is more often on the road than he is at home, but he tries to be home for most weekends. In the end, to me he is part of the noble family of kosher winemakers, those that have been there from the start, the forefathers, if you may. They are; Pierre, Israel Flam, Shimshon Welner, and Peter Stern, who have all left an indelible impression on the kosher wine world for 25 or more years. Israel Flam was the first UC Davis trained wine maker in Israel and the wine maker of Carmel’s famous 1976 and 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, and is now involved in his children’s eponymous winery. Shimshon Welner is a man we have spoken about a few times in the past, here. Peter Stern was the winemaking genius, early on, behind Yarden Winery and Herzog Winery, before Victor Schoenfeld and Joe Hurliman took over respectively, and is again being used by Royal and Carmel.
Still, of the four, Pierre may not have been the first, but he has been the most prolific of the group by a long stretch, over these past 32 years. To me, he is the head of the noble kosher winemaker family, and he is the Godfather of the noble family of all things kosher wine! It is his unique ability to happily build quietly without fanfare or accolades, though he deserves them. Rather he is a quiet, honest, hard working man that has worked to get to where he is today. He has made more wine than almost any other kosher winemaker in the world! That is no small feat. Did he do each and every wine by his old hands, in the old days of 1982 – yes! Now, he has teams that help him, but so do other head winemakers. So, in the end, to me he has the largest reach in the kosher wine world than any other person that I know of, which makes it so very impressive.
The KFWE was a huge success for 2014, and was probably the best year so far with the massive Horn Blower Yacht that helped keep the balance of humans to wine and food consumption in check. The event in California was a blast, and the IFWF continued to prove that Royal was going to put itself out for both coasts of this great country.
So, you were asleep at the wheel, or you had family over, or worse, you had to work! My friends you are saved! Because the Gotham Wine Extravaganza, that took a year off last year – is back and ready to go! The date is set, for Sunday March 23rd. As I have reported for the past many years, Gotham throws a crazy wine tasting with an array of wines unmatched by any other kosher wine tasting event, as there are wines from all of the kosher wine importers. I hope that anyone in the New York City can make it. Please I beg of you GET TICKETS!!! You can get them here, and if I were you, please splurge another 30 bucks and go for the VIP event, Costas always has a few hard to find and enjoying wines that he shares with his crazy wine loving fans! The event this year will return to its old stomping grounds, at the Lincoln Square Synagogue, (AKA Wink and stare) 180 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10023. The VIP session will start at 12:30, and general entry is at 3:00 PM till 6:00 PM.
VIP Tasting: 12:30pm – 2:00pm
Tickets available on line only! $70.00 per
(VIP tickets entitles attendees to the entire event)
Early Admittance: 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Tickets available on line only! $40.00 per
Regular Tickets: 3:00pm – 6:00pm
Tickets available on line $30.00 per ($35.00 at the Door)
To pass up on the Gotham wine event is pure insanity! This is your chance to enjoy, the best of Royal’s wines, along with Dalton Winery, Teperberg Winery, Adir Winery, Hevron Heights Winery, Bravdo Winery, Vignobles David Winery, Yarden, and so many others my head hurts! In the essence, this is an event with all kosher wineries and distributors being represented!
The VIP Session has been released for this Sunday’s event:
First Session: Discover the Rhone Valley
With Frederic David, owner of Vignobles David Winery
Le Mourre De Lisle Cotes Du Rhone
Cotes Du Rhone Village Reserve
Les Masques Chateauneuf Du Pape
Second Session: Israel Then and Now
With Alex Heruni, owner of Dalton Winery
Dalton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Dalton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Dalton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Dalton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Barrel Samples of El Kosh Single Vineyard Merlot 2012
Barrel Samples of Alma GSM 2012
Third Session: Discovering Italy
With Costas Mouzouras, Wine Director of Gotham Wines
Masso De Vrei Valpolicella
Florenza Barbera D’Alba
Bartenura Ovadia Estates Docletto D’Alba
Borgo Reale Barolo
Borgo Reale Chianti Riserva
Bartenura Ovadia Estates Vino Nobile de Montepulciano
Bartenura Ovadia Estates Morellino Di Scansano
Borgo Reale Signi Brunello Di Montalcino
Finally, if you cannot make the Gotham event, the last chance to taste through kosher wines from all around the world will be at the City Winery event, This is another kosher wine event that includes many kosher wine importers. Last year the event was quite impressive, and I am sure it will be equally impressive this year. The event is at the City Winery (155 Varick Stree, between Spring and Vandam Streets, New York, New York 10013), on Monday March 31st from 5:00 till 8:30 PM. Yes, it is a school night, but for the LOVE OF GOD, get out and get a babysitter, believe it or not TV is not a substitute! You can get tickets here and you can use a coupon from my buddy – Yossie’s Corkboard “fjwmg” to get $11 off the regular ticket price.
In the end, these are the last two vestiges of kosher wine tastings – and when you are done, please buy our wines from either the purveyors listed to the right, or a local store you buy from often. NO, I do not make money from any merchant of kosher wine, but they are very good purveyors of kosher wine, and if your local kosher wank is better – go with him or her!
Finally, PLEASE drink responsibly this Purim and remember to enjoy wine with friends and family!!!
Well, as I posted here, those of us lucky enough to have “special” or older bottles are really responsible for their well being, besides just owning them! What is the use of having many great bottles and watching them all die?? So, in that light, a friend of mine decided to start a monthly tasting evening, where your entry fee is a good bottle of wine and he would take care of the rest.
It was with this in mind, I entered with a 2006 Four Gates Cabernet Franc, which was not in tune with the evening’s theme, but was entry fee enough to let me partake of the festivities. The wines and food enjoyed that night were:
Wines and Food Enjoyed
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Blanc de Blanc, 2005
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Blanc de Blanc, 2007
Home Cured Bresaola
Panko Crusted Chicken Strips
80-hour Sous Vide, Dry Aged Prime Short Ribs
Rustic Cornbread, Beer Braised “Bacon” Baked Beans, and Red Cabbage Slaw
Château Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien, 2001
Château Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien, 2003
Château Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien, 2005
Carmel, Limited Edition, 2003
Galil Mountain, Yiron, Syrah, 2004
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Katzrin, 2000
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Katzrin, 2003
Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Katzrin, 2004
Hagafen, Prix Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, MJT Block, 2002 Magnum
Hagafen, Prix Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, MJT Block, 2005
Wine Cellaring and what it means
If one says terroir and Israel at the same time, many would snicker and laugh, but when it comes to Tzora Winery they continue to impress. I have written a few times about the Tzora Winery, it is a winery that proves that even in Israel, and even in 2010 and 2011 GREAT and controlled wines can be created.
This winery tasting was not a tasting like the previous ones on the trip, you see, we were not “officially” invited to this one. We arrived for the tail end of Nicolas Daniel Ranson and Christophe Bardeau (from Domaine Roses Camille Winery) wine tasting day. Previously to Tzora, they had gone to Flam Winery and Castel Winery, two wineries we had been to a few days earlier.
So, when we heard they were going to Tzora as well, we asked them both at the DRC tasting if we could piggy back on the tasting, and they agreed. Of course, in hindsight, in all of the enthusiasm and excitement of the DRC tasting, we forgot to ask Eran and the Tzora Winery if they were OK with it! You see, if you have been keeping up with the blog, we had braved the snow and all, and made our way to the Scala Restaurant, in the David Citadel hotel. We enjoyed the DRC wines with Messrs.’ Ranson and Bardeau. However, at the end of the tasting they were discussing where they were going the next day. We had Ella Valley on the books, but nothing else after that. Since Tzora Winery is a stone throw away Ella Valley Winery, we asked if we could piggyback and they said sure. Well, what we forgot to do was follow-up with Tzora Winery the next day. We deeply apologized for being so unprofessional, but Eran Pick, the head winemaker at Tzora Winery, and consummate professional, was so kind and was easy-going about the whole affair, and so we joined the tasting in mid run.
If you want the true history and write-up on the Tzora Winery – please go here and read it all the way through – what a winery. To me the Tzora winery is one of the five best wineries in Israel, and Mr. Pick is one of Israel’s best winemakers.
We arrived and they were working their way through the white wines, and what wines they were. The wines showed richness, layers, and ripeness all in perfect control of both fruit and oak. Sure there is oak on the wines, but the oak does not dominate and nor does the fruit feel overripe. Instead, the wines show a harmony of fruit, oak, extraction, and expression – quite unique for Israel. The 2011 and 2010 vintages have been hit and miss in the Judean Hills, where most of the wines are sourced for all of Tzora’s wines. However, these wines were neither overly sweet, uncontrolled, or just unbalanced, like many of the 2010 and 2011 wines from the Judean Hills, with a few exceptions (Flam, Tzuba, Castel, Teperberg, and Yatir).
This is not the first visit we have made to Tzora Winery, we have had a few, and most recently a few months before this visit. However, at that visit, the wines, or me, were having a bad day, and I did not think it would be correct to write about them. Even then, the wines were not out of kilter or uncontrolled, but rather they were showing lighter and with less expression.
This time, the wines, or I, or both were in the zone! The 2012 Tzora Neve Ilan was showing like a classic Burgundian Chardonnay and was killing it. Bardeau was raving about it but the one he loved the most of the two whites was the 2012 Tzora Shoresh White, a 100% Sauvignon Blanc wine which was aged in oak for 7 months and was tasting rich, layered, but tart and ripe all at the same time – wonderful. Read the rest of this entry
As I stated here, I was going to open a few wines that I was really looking forward to enjoying for too long. The list included a perennial winner, the 2001 El Rom Cabernet Sauvignon and a pair of Yarden wines, including a very hyped wine; the 2007 ROM. In the end, the ROM was OK at best, the 2004 El Rom was super overripe and so sad, as the structure of the wine was so impressive that it felt like a true loss. The dark horse that ran away from the rest of the pack was the 2008 Tabor Adama II, which was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.
That said, the most exciting wine we had Friday night was the Four Gates Sparkling wine from some 20+ years ago! The wine bottle “label” had disintegrated, and the beer cap top was mostly rusted off. The awesome thing about it was that the sparkling wine was insanely sparkly! The bubbles were hopping, the fruit was rich, and the acid was insane!
My wine notes follow – looking forward to this week’s wines!
Four Gates Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine – Score: A- (A for pure excitement and hedonism)
The wine was some 20+ years old and was rich in acid, bubbles, and pure hedonistic joy. The nose on this light gold colored wine was hopping with rich dried quince, straw, dried grass, green apple, and herb. The mouth on this medium bodied wine hits you in layers of rich small bubble mousse, followed by dried fruits, brioche, and yeast. The finish is long and lively with insane acid, citrus, and more yeast lingering long – BRAVO MY MAN!!!!!
2001 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon, Elrom – Score: A
What a wine, what a lovely wine this is! The nose starts off a bit funky and with time shows barnyard and some reduction, but blessedly that blows off to show a nose of rich and expressive mineral, spice, black and red fruit, green notes, and lovely leafy tobacco. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, layered, expressive, with insane fruit structure, silky rich tannin that linger insanely long, along with rich earthy notes, graphite, and layers of concentrated blackberry, cassis, and currant all coming together into a symphony of fruit, tannin, and mineral. The finish is long and earthy, with rich mineral, spice, oak, and tobacco that lingers long with leather, chocolate, and earth finishing the long rise. BRAVO!!!!
2008 Tabor Adama II – Score: A- (and more)
This is a lovely wine and one worth seeking out! The wine is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petite Sirah, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Merlot. The wine is rich and layered but like blends, comes at you in different ways as it opens and shows itself to you in the glass.
The nose on this wine starts with classic Cabernet style notes, graphite, black fruit, and earth to start, with time it opens to show blue fruit and root beer. The mouth on this full bodied wine needs time, a long time, like a few hours to really open and show its true potential. The mouth on this medium to bodied wine is truly rich and layered with lovely and rich tannin that lingers, with extracted fruit and boysenberry, blackberry, plum , and spicy oak that mingle in a way that is truly intoxicating. The finish is long with sweet licorice, great balancing acid, nutmeg, sweet spices, watermelon, and tannin that coats with hints of leather. BRAVO!!!
2004 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon, Elrom – Score: B+ to A-
When I first opened the bottle it was so sweet and over the top that I thought it was oxidized. However, as the wine opened, it started to come together and show rich structure and layers of fruit that are truly impressive.
The nose on this sweet wine shows rich expression of extracted fruit, blackberry, dried and candied fruit, rich dirt, and graphite. The mouth on this full bodied wine is so over the top that it is humorous, with layers of concentrated sweet fruit, mouth coating and richly integrated tannins, along with sweet cassis, plum, and dark cherry, all wrapped within sweet sandalwood and spice. The finish is long and spicy with richly upholstered leather, chocolate, tobacco, and sweet tannins that ride the long and luxurious finish.
2007 Yarden ROM – Score: B+
This was a very tough call. Cellar Tracker asks if I liked the wine, yes I did, but not for anywhere near the price. The score is the score, irrelevant of the price, but man – this was a hyped wine for no reason, IMO.
The nose on this classic Israeli blend wine, Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, is lovely in the nose with rich motes of blueberry, black cherry, cassis, graphite, dirt, and crushed herb. The mouth is where things let you down, with nice fruit, but no oomph, not enough acid or graphite or mineral to hold up the show, with good fruit structure, sweet sweet cedar, and mouth coating tannin. The mouth is rich and layered, but not complex which is what is really missing. The finish is long and rich with more sweet and candied fruit, spice, leather, chocolate, and tobacco.
Well, it is that time of year again for OTBN (Open That Bottle Night), a night conceived by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, in February 2000, then with the WSJ. Well, officially it is the last Saturday night in February, which this year is Feb 22. However, us Jews like Friday/Sabbath to be our special wine moment, so we will be enjoying OTBN this Friday Night, hopefully!
According to the WSJ site: On OTBN, which is celebrated on the last Saturday of February every year, thousands of bottles all over the world are released from prison and enjoyed. With them come memories of great vacations, long-lost loved ones and bittersweet moments. The whole point of the weekly “Tastings” column is that wine is more than the liquid in the bottle. It’s about history, geography, relationships and all of the things that are really important in life.
We have had many great OTBN tastings but this year, it is about tasting my oldest and best Yarden Winery wines. Yarden Winery has moved to the sweet side on their new wines, for the most part, but the El Rom wines have never been sweet. Yarden has always been on the sweeter side, in terms of ripe fruit, but these past few years, the weather has really hurt them badly. The 2009, 2010, and 2011 vintages have been nice wines, but too sweet for my tastes. The 2012 and 2013 look like they will be better, from what we have tasted of the white wines. Still, the El Rom and red Katzrin wine have always been controlled and beautiful. They are Yarden’s flagship wines and they keep a very tight lid on the fruit in these wines. The 2006 and 2007 ROM wine is another story, it was always sweet and somewhat controlled, and yes, very expensive. It all started when the late Daniel Rogov gave the 2006 ROM, a very unique Israeli blend wine, a massive 96 score! That score sent the futures of that wines to the moon, along with the expectations of greatness. In reality, it is a nice wine, but nowhere where Rogov placed it.
Well, I have been sitting on too many of these wines, and so this week, for my version of the OTBN 15 (the 15th year of OTBN), I will be opening the 2001 Yarden El Rom (Shmita year), the 2004 Yarden El Rom, and the 2007 Yarden ROM. I have many backups in the ready! Read the rest of this entry
Well if you have been following the saga of my snowbound trip to Israel, you would know that this was closing out quickly at this point as the snow has stopped by Sunday, and the roads were open. So, on the Monday after the fateful snowstorm, Mendel and I made our way to Ella Valley Winery.
Other than the obvious lack of snow down in the Ella Valley, or the roads leading to it, the most obvious telltale sign of the tectonic shift that the Ella Valley Winery is going through was the lack of noise, as we entered the winery grounds. Now, I do not mean visitors, as David Perlmutter and a slightly rambunctious crowd that he was ferrying around were in the house. No, I mean the birds; in many ways recently Ella Valley has gone to the birds, metaphorically and in some ways – physically (but with lots of hope for its quick and successful return).
As I have stated the many times that I have visited the winery, I loved this winery for its makeup, its people, and its wine styling, all of which seemed to flow in a common theme, clean lined with respect to the product and people. As I stated here, Danny Valero, the winery’s original general manager, had a deep love for wine, technology, and birds, yes real multi-colored feathered friends that quacked and made a racket, but inevitably added to the ambiance and uniqueness that was Ella Valley Winery.
Sadly, one by one, they all fell off. No, not the birds (though they are also gone), rather the people that originally made the winery so special. The winery was started in the 1990s, and released its first vintage in 2002. Within the time following its founding, the winery grew to great prominence, because of the principles upon which it was built, build great wines that happen to be kosher, showcasing the qualities of Israeli fruit. Of all the wineries in Israel, in recent memory, Ella Valley came out of the shoot with all guns blazing. They never had a ramp up time, they came out as a four star winery, in the late Daniel Rogov’s books from the start almost, and never relinquished that status.