Category Archives: Kosher Semi Sweet Wine

Top kosher Rose, White and Sparkling wines that I have tasted

A recent discussion over Twitter with a few people left me wondering why I had not already covered this topic in some sort of detail; namely – the best kosher white and sparkling wines out there. To be honest, the list of good to very good kosher red wines would be a very long one, which in and of itself is GREAT news. The list of A- to A or better red wines is rather short, and that should indeed be the next article to compose (but I am so very behind on other topics). However, the kosher market for top-line white wines is a market that was deeply intertwined in a catch-22. There were few really top-line kosher white wines while at the same time there were few takers for a really great or very good kosher white wine. Why? I have no idea! Why would you not want a great white wine for the hot summers in Israel, Europe, and the US?

For the longest time, Israelis were happy drinking beer on a hot summer day and the idea of a wine was very foreign indeed. Americans like white wine, but the kosher wine market does not! The kosher wine market for the longest time was dominated by big bold red wines and about not much else. If you were starting a winery, you were required to have the French Noble reds and not much else. A Cabernet, a Merlot, a blend of the two, and maybe a Syrah/Shiraz. Thank goodness with time that has changed. Israeli wine consumers are drastically changing their tastes, and producers are getting the message that the US kosher wine consumer has become more sophisticated as well. They are both craving both sweet and dry, with varying opinions of what dry is, white/rose/sparkling wines for the summer and even all times of the year! This desire is pushing producers to start creating truly very good white kosher wines and it is a godsend – in my humble opinion.

The next clear change has been the realization that Chardonnay is NOT the only white grape out there! There are now many white kosher wines that are not of original descent from Burgundy (Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc) or even Bordeaux (Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc), and yet doing wonderfully in the market. Viognier, Roussanne, White Riesling (AKA Johannisberg Riesling), Gewürztraminer (both “dry” and sweet/late harvest), Greanache Blanc, Chenin Blanc, maybe a Grigio (on a very good day), and of course the a fore mentioned Noble French white grapes as well.

Ten years ago, five years ago – these ideas were beyond foreign. To be fair, Ernie Weir and the Hagafen Winery have been on the forefront of this push along with the Herzog Winery, Royal Wines (the largest importer of Israeli wines), and others. Weir, to his credit has been producing white wines (beyond the Noble whites) for many years now, and blessedly he never gave up on us! Yarden was creating Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in 1986, and thankfully helped push the desire to add in Viognier, Gewürztraminer, and other white varietals. Indeed, many companies, winemakers, and of course consumers have all been part of this new revolution in kosher white wines.

Now, there are many great white kosher wines out there, but unfortunately, many have stayed in Israel, and are not being shipped out here. Why? Because as the Israeli public has awoken to their desire for good sweet and dry white wines, for their Mediterranean climate, they are screaming for the wines, and that leaves nothing to export. The sad thing is that winemaking is a very slow process in many ways. By the time a wine fad or trend has been realized, it takes at least two years to meet that need from a winery perspective. First you need to figure out where to get these grapes or worse, you need to plant the vines – which in that case it is a five-year process, taking into account Orlah (not picking fruit for the first four years) and the year of production. Let alone convincing the owners and partners that it is a good idea. Then powering up the marketing and distribution – making and selling wine is not an easy task! It is for this reason, that I am amazed at the speed of which wineries added a fair amount of good white wines to their portfolios. Sure, white wine, for the most part, can be released quickly, but as explained it is getting to that point that takes the most work. Read the rest of this entry

Yitzchok Bernstein does it again – a 19 course culinary kosher tour de force

Yitzchok BernsteinA few months ago Heshy Fried, Yitzchok Bernstein’s sous chef and frum-satire blogger, was at the house for a shabbos dinner and he said that Yitzchok Bernstein, was back on the scene. Bernstein is the culinary mastermind behind the epic haute cuisine event that lasted some 27 courses, and which was one of the most often read posts on my blog, in the past year. Bernstein was lurking in NY for a few months – but he returned to Oakland after a short, yet successful, stint at Pomegranate.

The gang unpacking early before the dinner prep 3So, when I heard that Mr. Bernstein was back – we agreed that a dinner was in order. Fried was not sure what the actual cost of a multi-course dinner was, but after a few back and forth discussions with Bernstein we were set. Well, while the dinner was set, the next two hurdles were a bit complicated; finding and arranging with 10 other participants and then locking down a date. Throughout the process, Bernstein was as professional as they come, and responded almost immediately to our correspondences. Getting the final gang together had a few missteps along the way, but while the overall process was a bit long to arrange on my end, the final outcome was an absolute delight, but more on that in a bit.

Surf and Turf Salad- Fried Chicken Skins, Sea Beans, Nasturtium, Pansies, petit onions, root greens, Romaine Puree, Spring Green Pea Gazpacho, Morels, Fiddlehead Ferns, Poached Baby Potatoes, Shaved Chorizo - close upOnce the gang was roughly worked out, we agreed that the date was not going to work until after Passover. So once that was decided the next step was agreeing on a final date – which took a few emails. After that we were set and then came the fun part, deciding the food and wine menu. The dinner does not include wines, which is fine with me as I am picky about my wines, but wow were the dishes impressive! Initially, there was some interest in lamb, but in the end that did not work out, as I am not that in love with lamb. In the end the set of dishes were truly innovative and fascinating and unique – so I am happy we passed on the lamb for the dishes we got instead.

Shortrib Pastrami, Sauerkraut Foam, Deli Rye Gnocchi, Roasted Ramp, Rye CrumbsI laughed so hard throughout the process because initially, the number of courses was set at 12 or so, which was 100% fine. However, throughout the process of setting the menu Mr. Bernstein kept adding courses – it was HILARIOUS, I could not help from laughing whenever I would read the revised menu. It turns out that we were very lucky, Bernstein was trying out some new recipes and we were the beneficiaries of some wicked cool imaginative dishes. To be fair, some worked really well, some were awesome, and some were just 100% off the charts. Read the rest of this entry

2013 Kosher Food and Wine Experience (KFWE) lived up to all its billing

For years I have always sported a purple colored beaming grin when I finish my tasting at the IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival) in LA, which hid my grumbling stomach’s discontent. Like I have documented for years, I never get to eat at the events, even as the entire food court mocks me, attempting to pull me into their warm, delicious, and very present embrace, with their wafting and intoxicating aromas. Still, I stand strong and I taste through the night until my teeth are purple and my stomach is close to rioting on the lack of food. Truth be told, I am not that good at taking notes when eating – the flavors of the food cover up and belie the flavors and aromas of the glass that beckons me closer with its “come hither” look and aromas. So every year, after the event I go to dinner at Jeff’s Sausage (down the street from the new location of the IFWF). Which is sheer madness of course, here I have half the Pavilion at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, filled with food from one of the best kosher restaurants in the world – Tierra Sur Restaurant, and I pass on that for the spicy and homely fare of Jeff’s Sausage. In no way is this a slight to the joy of Jeff Rohatiner’s cookery and food. Rather, it has been my conscious tradeoff, throughout my many year experience at IFWF to drink through as much of the world-class wine I can before my taste-buds shutdown, rather than give them to the food court, no matter how wonderful it is.

This year was a massive shift for me, gone was the purple grin and my mutinous stomach, as I visited and added the New York KFWE to my travel dates. To say the KFWE was different than the IFWF would be an extreme understatement, the IFWF has close to 1000 people at the show, while the KFWE has closer to 2000 people. Further the event hall at Pier 60 is some 2 to 3 times larger than the Pavilion tent at the Hyatt Regency. Also, there were many options for lunch and dinner from the myriad of NY restaurants that all share half the hall, all clamoring to share their wonderful fare with great fanfare. The Pier 60 overlooks the Marina and Harbor and many folks were outside braving the cold to grab a smoke, but at least they had some comfort of looking at the marina and its waterfront.

To really appreciate the event you had to come to it with a game plan, and there were many guests who had a few of their own. The event started at Noon for those in the trade, a new thing that the KFWE started last year and something that the IFWF has been doing from the start (though initially with a smaller trade time). The trade event was crowded but there could not have been more than a thousand folks there, so access to wine was not a problem in any way. The event hall can easily handle 1000 people, it is a bit more complicated when the number swells to two thousand people, but still there was no pushing or shoving going on even at the end of the public tasting, when the number of guests was at its maximum. But I digress; the trade tasting allowed me to focus solely on wine and the winemakers, which was great. Read the rest of this entry

Israel wineries I visited in the Judean Hills and the Shomron during my second week and the The Wine Mill wine shop

Wine Mill wine shop in the center of Jerusalem

The Wine Mill wine shop

Last week I posted that I was in Israel for three weeks over the month of December, and in that first post I wrote about the wineries I saw in the Galilee wine region (the north of Israel). What I failed to talk about was Gabriel Geller and his wine shop in the middle of Jerusalem. I spoke about the Wine Mill wine shop in a previous post, it is located smack dab in the middle of Jerusalem, close to the city center, and to many hotels and restaurants. The address for the Wine Mill wine shop is 8, Ramban Street, 92422 Jerusalem, Israel, it is a shop that I can say is stocked with wines that I would be happy to enjoy and is the main wine shop that I use when in Israel. Why? Because Geller knows his wines, sells only wines he or his customers like, and knows the wines he sells. His shop is filled with wines that are often only sold at the winery itself, like Midbar Winery wines (see below) or Herzberg Winery wines (see below). His shop is also filled with small winery wines, like Weitzman Petite Verdot, or Gat Shomron Winery, and many others. Please do not think that this is a paid advertisement or something – LOL! I do not take money from people. I bring up Gabriel Geller and the Wine Mill, because during my three week stay in Israel, I was either in Geller’s store, with Geller himself, or calling Geller everyday, including Friday day and Saturdays (Saturday night of course)!

As I ended the previous posting – I wrote about my take on the Israeli wine scene, and I would like to add some more thoughts to the thread:

  1. If I had to give a color or fruit that best describes the 2010 vintage in Israel – it would blueberry! YES blueberry! No, I am not talking about malbec or Syrah or Petite Verdot. What I am talking about is all of those and more shockingly, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot! Try it out and see for yourself. When I asked the wine makers about it, they said that the growing conditions of 2010, hot and then cool led to the blue flavors.
  2. 2010 and on can well be the year of the small wine maker. Wineries are coming and going – that is for sure, but it is also a fact that small production wineries, like Herzberg Winery and Gat Shomron winery are popping up and staying afloat – because they do not have that much wine to move. Time will tell.
  3. Finally, more and more high level and high quality mevushal is occurring in Israel. Shiloh winery has been doing it for a few years now, as is Binyamina on its reserve series and cave, and others. It is not widespread or low quality. The process is being done at great cost and at great effort – bringing forth quality wine that happens to be mevushal, much like Herzog and Hagafen. While this is true of the few that I have listed above, Recanati has started doing it to some of their diamond label wines and the outcome is not that great. The 2010 Shiraz tasted cooked while the non-mevushal bottle in Israel did not have that taint – time will tell how these experiments will turn out.
  4. If you must pick a single varietal that shines in the Shomron – it would be Merlot. All the Merlot wines we tasted from the Shomron (whether made from a winery in the Shomron or wineries that source their grapes from the Shomron – like Teperberg) – the winners were always the Merlot! If it is the cooler weather the higher acidity – who cares – it is great wine!
  5. Wineries are getting the message – making more old-world wines with Israeli fruit. What that means to me is to make ripe and sweet wines that are controlled without the overripe date and raisin bombs that were so very prevalent some 5 years ago. In its place I find that Israeli wineries are producing wine with sweet and ripe fruit, while all the while showing clear control of both the sweetness of the fruit and the amount of oak used.
  6. Israel residents are finally starting to understand that they live in a Mediterranean country (with one of their borders on the Med) with blazing hot summers and therefore need to start appreciating white wines! I know, Jews like to drink red wines, something to do with the whole kiddush and shabbos thing. Still, white wine is lovely and is a wine that can be done well in Israel. Take the Midbar winery as an example. A winery that was built on the premise of making GREAT white wines in Israel! It took a long time for the perfect storm to occur, the nexus point of Israeli residents wanting white wines and for wineries to excel at the production of good white wines. Maybe it was a chicken-egg thing between the wineries and the residents, or maybe it was the whole culture thing – but Israeli wineries are figuring it now. More and more every winery is making a Rose, a Chardonnay, and many are doing Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling wines, and many others. So keep a look out for very solid Israeli white wines – they may actually remove them from Israel’s endangered species list!
  7. The main high end red wines being poured at wineries in Israel are shmitta wines, wines from the 2008 vintage. I say this simply as a warning and no more than that. If you care, than skip the wines. If you do not worry about it – than do what you wish. I simply state it here as an informational notice. Read the rest of this entry

Israel wineries I visited in the north and the state of Israeli kosher Wines

I just returned from a long and wonderful trip to Israel where I visited a total of 36 wineries in less than three weeks. To be fair, I was set to visit more, but let us just say that a family member, who will go nameless, slowed me down just a wee bit – LOL!!! All the same, it was great visiting the wineries, meeting the wine makers and owners, and getting a far deeper feel for all things wine in the land of Israel!

Yes, I brought back many bottles, and I had friends and family who helped me schlep in even more bottles. In all some 30+ bottles or so made it back to the diaspora, and I will be enjoying them in due time. Many of them are NOT available here in America and some were just too good to pass up on.

So, let us start with the facts – there are five wine regions in the land of Israel, and I visited wineries in all of them. According to Yossie’s Israel winery page that is a mash up of Google maps and his winery data, there are some 70+ kosher wineries. The kosher wineries are bunched up in the Judean Hills, Shomron, Samson, and the Galilee. There are wineries in the other wine region; the Negev, but other than Yatir, which is really the southern tip of the Judean Hills, there is no winery that I wanted to visit in the Negev (dessert – southern wine region of Israel).

I started my wine adventure in the north and went to every kosher winery that would let me visit. One of the first things I realized about wineries in Israel is that it is a business. To me, wine and wineries are like candy and big candy store. To top it off – they are kosher and in a land I love. So, when I visit a winery, I want to know everything about it and why it exists. Others see me as a pain or as a lack of dollars and cents and as such, are not so receptive to my interests. That is fair, and as such, if I was received well I will state it and if not, or I got to taste a single wine or less, I will simply state what I tasted and move on.

The first day, I dropped my stuff off at friends in the north and drove up to Tabor Winery. Tabor Winery ha recently been bought up by the Coca-Cola company of Israel, and as such has seen a fair amount of investment in both vineyards and winery facilities. Tabor Winery-smallThey have some of the coolest high-tech gear out there, though a few others do rival them, including Yarden (which I did not visit this time), Yatir Winery (visited and loved it!), Shiloh Winery, and of course Carmel and Binyamina (because their size allows for more toys). I was really shocked there and then by the cold blue fruit that exists if you look for it. By cold blue fruit I mean that wines (Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet – YES CAB, Petite Verdot, and Petite Sirah) exhibit blueberry, boysenberry, and other blue colored fruit when controlled in a cold enough climate. They had some lovely wines there, though no WOW wines (wines that get an A- to A or higher score). Still, a very nice and wonderful winery well worth the visit, if you can handle the drive all the way up there.

Now before you laugh at one winery in a day, driving north from Jerusalem, even with highway 6, is a large haul and in the pouring rain, I rest my case. While driving my way up there – I noticed another aspect that I have not spoken about in the past – Israeli drivers. I think it was my nephew who brought this to my attention; they drive cars like they have no tomorrow, without hesitation, and without fear – almost like war. Drivers in Israel are more than happy to pass you going uphill, on a curve, in the pouring rain! In no way was this a singular or rare occurrence! If you drive in Israel and you blink or hesitate, you may well find yourself forced onto the other side of oncoming traffic by a public transit bus! I am not kidding – and in a not so hospitable location to boot! My point is, if you wish to drive in Israel, and to get to all the wineries in and about Israel, a car is required (or a tour guide), my best advice is pray a lot, and be very careful. Also, get full coverage on your rental car. Read the rest of this entry

Yitzchok Bernstein and Jonathan Hajdu excellent 27 course tour de force

On Sunday night we were blessed to be part of an extremely exclusive 27-course meal, well more like 30 or so – if you count the decadent small dishes after dessert, but who is really counting. The event was put on by the dynamic duo of Chef Yitzchok Bernstein and Brobdingnagian Wine maker Jonathan Hajdu. The event was a fundraiser for Beth Jacob, Oakland’s Orthodox Synagogue – and what an event it was!

When I have tried to explain the event, attempt to verbalize the magnitude of the effort, and the uniqueness of it all, I have so far failed, till now I hope, to transport the listener, or reader, to the mind-blowing state of conscious that we were all leaving within for 6 or so hours – this past Sunday night. The meal was a, 27 or so course, of mind-blowing culinary talent – coming to life in front of us lucky few. Each dish was hand plated with such exacting detail, that not only did each plate fill us gastronomically, but also the visual sumptuousness of each and every plate truly was equally a feast for one’s senses. The funny thing was that the meal started at 24 courses, as I had an early preview of the menu. However, by the time we lived it, it had grown to 27 and could have been 30, if the participants could have kept up with Bernstein. I was more than happy to taste the other two or so courses, but I did not call it a 30 course meal, as they were not formally served to the participants.

The second we entered the home of the host and hostess we knew we were in for a real treat. The house is a lovely sprawling ranch style home, remodeled to as close as possible to the mid-century modernism style of some 60 years ago, while all the while bringing the current century’s modern touches to life in a truly non-obtrusive manner – a real success in my humble opinion. If the home is an extension of the owners, than the simplest way to summarize the hosts is, sleek, modern, highly functional, with an ode to the past and arms open as wide as the glass sliding doors that truly define minimalist architecture and the MCM movement. The openness and warmth that are exuded by the home’s colors and textures truly reflect the host and hostess, and all of us were constantly in awe of their ability to deftly steer the epic culinary adventure to the success that it was. While the event may have stretched a bit longer than some were ready for, as most needed to go to work the next day, the intimate setting and cosmopolitan mix of people truly added to the entire evening.

With the well-deserved forward now handled, it is only fair to throw the light unto the culinary genius of the evening – Chef Yitzchok Bernstein. Mr. Bernstein is mostly self-taught, but has also received formal training in Bread Baking at French Culinary Institute. He also studied pastry and advanced bread baking at SFBI. (san francisco bakers institute), and has been working in and around restaurants, since the age of 14. Food is a truly passionate thing to Mr. Bernstein; you can see his persona expressed clearly in his food and in his open and warm demeanor. Throughout the evening the dishes were harmonious, balanced, tempered, but never losing focus and always packing more than enough bite, texture, and complexity to grab and keep your attention, until magically there was yet another unending course to partake from. Each course built on the past one, adding layers and nuances that were not lost to the foodies that ensconced the close-knit twin table setting.

The other resident genius at the event was Jonathan Hajdu (jonathan@hajduwines.com), the associate wine maker at Covenant Winery, and is also the wine maker for wines from the Brobdingnagian and Besomim wine labels. The Brobdingnagian/Besomim winery is located in Napa CA. Hajdu wines was started in 2007, by owner and winemaker Jonathan Hajdu. Hajdu produces small lot artisan wines, with a focus on Rhone varietals under the Brobdignagian, and Besomim labels, though the newer wines are veering all over to where Hajdu can find the highest quality grapes. The Brobdignagian name is derived from Jonathan Swift’s giants, in Gulliver’s Travels, and attests to the winemakers’ proclivity towards intense and powerfully flavored wines. Wine produced under the Besomim label, is a blend of varietals with a focus on complex aromatics. These limited production wines are available directly from the winery. Read the rest of this entry

Katamon Winery in Jerusalem, Israel and tasting

When you think of Garagiste wineries, I would suppose that many would think of small wineries like Four Gates Winery, or the Weiss Brothers, and/or Jonathan Hajdu. Actually, the smallest winery I have visited recently, is the Katamon Winery. The winery gets its name from the fact that the winery is actually IN Katamon – an historic neighborhood in south-central Jerusalem. The wine maker Avital Goldner, started his winery in 2002 with some 300 or so bottles. Since then, he has grown the garagiste winery to some 1,800 or so bottles a year.

This is my 11th article on the wineries in the Judean Hills, and the Katamon winery may well be in the heart of the Judean Hills. The winery can be found in Jerusalem city proper, and may well be the only winery in the city limits proper. The Jerusalem Winery (newly opened), does exist, but it is on the outskirts of the Jerusalem in the industrial zone.

I called Avital and he was very kind to allow me to come and visit his winery. I got off the bus that took me to a park across the street from his home. I walked through/by the park and knocked on his garage door. Avital was there varnishing something for his daughter’s wedding – if I remember correctly. He grabbed some glasses and I followed him down into his machsan (storeroom/basement) which he has turned into his barrel and wine storage room.

This entire setup reminds me of another garagiste, in the Upper Galilee, called Nahul Amud, which is also a very small kosher wine producer. We visited them some 7 years ago, and the winemaker also had his entire winery is his home’s machsan

As we walked down to the storeroom, Avital showed us the steel tanks, in which he does his wine fermentation. As he opened his machsan, you could see the barrels and bottled wine aging in a humidified bliss. He laid out the machsan in a very ingenious manner to maximize every available square inch of the room. The barrels are stacked upon each other (using a barrel stand) and on top of that and to the left are bottles neatly stacked upon each other aging away until it is their time to meet their buyer. Read the rest of this entry

Notes from kosher wines tasted in and around Israel

Before I left for Israel, I had a bottle of the 2008 Yarden Odem Vineyard Chardonnay. Normally this wine is killer. The 2009 vintage is lovely, the 2007 vintage was closed the last time I enjoyed it, but opened quickly enough and was lovely. Unfortunately, this bottle of the 2008 Yarden Odem Vineyard Chardonnay was clearly in a deep sleep, and one that would not open no matter what I tried. Humorously, when I came back from Israel, some three weeks later, the leftovers of the wine that I stored in the refrigerator, tasted quite nice!

In Israel, we enjoyed many wines for Passover and for other meals. Some of the wines were quite nice while some were just OK. The best two wines we enjoyed were the 2010 Dalton Zinfandel and the 2010 Saslove April. The other wines were fine but none of those were really note worthy. The 2010 Dalton Zinfandel showed far better than when I had it at the Gotham Wine Event. The Tulip White Franc was really nice, though a bit less Cabernet Franc-ish than the 2010 vintage. This is the second time I had the chance to taste April, when I enjoyed it at Sommelier last year, and it continues to impress with its light oak influence (they used staves) and interesting blend.

The only real downer for me was 2011 Galil Rose; it was OK, but nothing to write home about. I was not a huge fan of the Dalton Roses either, but hey I keep trying! I do love the Flam and Catsel Roses. The Tulip Just Cab and Merlot were lovely and continue to improve and show good varietal characteristics. I had the 2010 Galil Wines and they were average at best, which is OK, but again not wines to write home about. My father-in-law and I both enjoyed the bubbly Cabernet. Yes, I said I liked a semi-sweet bubbly Cabernet, because it was actually enjoyable. Sorry, to all the wine snobs out there, but the 2011 Tabor Pnimim (Pearls) sparkler, was enjoyable, unpretentious, and though semi-sweet, not cloyingly so in any way. No, I would not normally, bestow any praise upon a semi sweet Cabernet nor even write about it in a positive manner, as normally Cabernet and sweet do not logically go hand in hand, but Tabor did a good job, so Kudos!

Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to visit any wineries, but I did get a chance to see Gabriel Geller, a man I can happily call an acquaintance, and hopefully one day a friend, that now own a wine store in the heart of Jerusalem, called the Wine Mill. The wine store is located in the Wind Mill right next to the Prima Kings Hotel Jerusalem, and essentially at the corner of King George and Ramban streets. The store is laid out in a quite enjoyable and clutter free manner, with more than enough room for informal gatherings of his clients and customers. When I was there, I picked up some wines that I took home and I also had a chance to talk with both Gabriel and David Rhodes, a wine critic/writer who I have not yet had the chance to write about here in the blog, but a person who has solid wine abilities and who I have had the pleasure to talk with a few times now. The conversation inevitably came around to kosher wine, Israeli Wine, and Daniel Rogov (man I cannot believe it has been 6 months already since his passing), but hey what happens in the Wind Mill stays in the Wind Mill. I did have the chance to taste a lovely bottle of Domaine Ventura Cabernet Franc, but I did not write notes on the wine – sorry. From what I remember, it was very characteristic of Cabernet Franc, with good green notes, lovely ripe red fruit, without the raisin or date flavors, that are so characteristic of Israeli wines. The oak did not overpower though was felt and clearly present, and there was some nice extraction along with tobacco and light leather. An unofficial score would be B+ to A-. Read the rest of this entry

The new vintages of Trader Joe kosher wines

It has been a year since we last posted about the kosher wines at Trader Joe’s. The Banero is now only available on the east coast, but at least it is back in stock. The Sara Bee is also back in stock and doing really well. The prices have risen a bit, but I guess that is par for the course, with Moscato going crazy in the wine world.

Still, the Sara Bee tastes as wonderful as always, but I cannot get the Banero Prosecco here on the west coast :-( There are also two new Terrenal wines from Spain that are still not mevushal. I say this because the rest of the wines are mevushal, excepting for these two. The two reds continue the tradition of good kosher wine, for a reasonable price.

I am posting the Sara Bee and Banero notes as a reference, so that you do not need to go back to the older posting:

2010 Terrenal Cabernet Sauvignon (Yecla, Spain) (not-mevushal) – Score: B+
The nose on this dark garnet colored wine is rich and vibrant with black cherry, an almost perfumed nose of blackberry, and raspberry, along with black currant, rich earth, and herb. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is a nice quaffer with enough complexity to grab your attention, with spicy fruit, almost mouth coating tannin, rich earth, and an overall mouth feel that is nothing short of quite nice. The wine’s core acidity really elevates it and the richness and spice of the finish goes a long way to making you rethink entry-level wines. I could care less what this wine costs, this is a fine wine that is tasted blind would make you do a double take, and in the end, it is quite enjoyable.

2010 Terrenal Tempranillo (Yecla, Spain) (not-mevushal) – Score: B+
The nose on this dark garnet colored wine is rich and vibrant with black cherry, strawberry, an almost perfumed nose of blackcurrant, and raspberry, earthy aromas, herb, and spice. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is a nice quaffer with enough complexity to grab your attention, with spicy fruit, nice round tannin, rich earth, and an overall mouth feel that spicy and enjoyable. The wine’s core acidity really elevates it and the round mouthed tannin, along with nice spice add to the cherry focused wine that adds a dollop of herb and vanilla on the long finish. I could care less what this wine costs, this is a fine wine that is tasted blind would make you do a double take, and in the end, it is quite enjoyable.

N.V. Sara Bee Moscato ((Italy, Puglia) – Score: B++
The nose on this effervescent light gold colored wine starts off with a powerful hit of honey and a touch of yeast. After a small bit of time, the wine explodes with summer and tropical fruits, peach, apricot, mango, pear, lychee, and papaya. This wine has a wonderful effervescence and fruity nose. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine is lovely with nice effervescence, sweet honey, papaya, lychee, and pear. The mid palate is balanced nicely with acid and light toast, and effervescence. The finish is long and tasty with papaya, honey, and caramel, with the honey and caramel lingering long on the palate.
This is a more balanced, fuller, effervescent wine than the usual kosher blue-bottle Bartenura Moscato. Nothing against the Bartenura Moscato, but it does not compare and it is at least double to triple the price of this wonderful wine. Get a bottle or two and try it out. The Sara Bee Moscato is available at Trader Joe. Finally, as usual my score NEVER includes the price. This wine is scored what it is scored solely on its merit – irrelevant to its price, availability, or its kosher status.

N.V. Banero Prosecco – Score B+
The nose on this straw-colored Prosecco is screaming with a lovely bubble fest, along with a nice muscat nose, perfume, orange rind, yeast, toast, and honey. The mouth on this rich medium bodied wine starts off with a hit of bitterness, apple, honey, prolonged small mousse bubbles, and toast. The mid palate is core with acidity, toast, and drop of yeast, and orange peel. The finish is long and mousse-y with honey, slight bitterness, and toast. This is a wine that has a bit of beer bitterness at the start, which fades a bit, but lingers with a nice balance of perceived sweetness from the honey notes. The mouth is rich with small mousse bubbles that lie on your palate for a very long time, long after the wine is gone.

Herzog International Food and Wine Festival 2011 Results

Well 2011 has come and gone and I am finally getting the chance to write up the 2011 International Food and Wine Festival (IFWF) that was held at the Herzog winery in Oxnard. In some ways it was the best ever and in some ways it was not. To start, 2011 was the fourth incarnation of this event and each time it has been well worth the trip. This past year’s event, in many ways, was the best. The food, as usual, was fantastic! The food is catered by Chef Todd Aarons, the head chef of the Tierra Sur, the world-class restaurant that is in the Herzog Winery. As usual, the food that Mr. Aarons and his staff prepare the event is bite size or a bit larger format, food that easily fits on a small plate. Essentially, think of them as normal or slightly large tapas, depending upon the food in question. As usual, the tapas were just divine, and as usual I always get the scarps. I say that because, I want to finish tasting the wines before I eat the awesome food, which would seriously inhibit my ability to write coherent wine notes. Of course, there is never a lack of good wines to taste, so essentially, I always eat whatever is left over as they are winding up the food and wine service. It is a mad rush to get some pictures and eat some food – truly sad, and totally my fault!

This past year’s event was even larger than its predecessors. As usual, the Herzog winery was fully decked out and expanded in the back by adding on a few heated tents. Normally, the French and Israeli wines were poured from the back room and the tent, behind the back room, which itself abuts to the parking lot behind it. This past year, they expanded further by pouring only Israeli wines from the entire back areas, moving Capcanes to the Spanish and Italian section, and moving all the French wines to its own room – the Herzog Situation or Conference room, which is off to the right from the entrance, essentially on the other side of the building. Some may look at that and say they relegated the French wines to the “basement”, but the way I see it, Royal has SO MANY wines to show off from its portfolio, and only so much room in the winery that they chose the best holistic group they could that would not look too small or take up too much room, in the conference room, and that fell to the French wines.

This was the first of the, not so good points, and that was the lack of communication around this change of venue for the French wines! I totally understand the complexity of it, and there was signage. However, given the drastic change that was in affect, a bit more information for some would have been good. I found myself telling many people about the new location for French wines, that they thought were AWOL for 2011. That said, I think this will not be an issue in 2012, as the event will be moving from Oxnard and the Herzog Winery to LA at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Century Plaza!

Of course, with all the room taken up by wines and wonderful food, there still needs to be place for the humans and this was issue number two, which again will be fixed in 2012. That being, there was very little room to move about as the evening moved on. I found myself having to find a corner to just write notes, let alone not to feel claustrophobic, which is a problem I do not normally exhibit. That said, I hope that the new venue will allow the event to stretch its wings and soar to higher heights with more space and more opportunities to showcase its wonderful food and wines.

I truly believe that 2011, was the first year where the wines totally out shone the food, excepting for 2008, when the French wines were truly off the hizzy. This is not in anyway a slight to Aaron’s food, rather it is a compliment to Royal wine portfolio, that has now reached world class, and something I am sure they are extremely proud of. I do not need to repeat the story of Herzog, which can be found in the middle of last year’s post, as that would be just repeating myself. I just hope you read this and it grabs you enough to buy some tickets that are going really fast for the 2012 version of the International Food and Wine Festival which will be happening in LA this year – enjoy the notes. I need to add my personal thank you to the entire Royal and Herzog staff for putting together such a great show, and much luck on your new 2012 event!

The wine notes follow below, in the order they were tasted:

2007 Domaine l’OrDeLine Chateauneuf du Pape – Score: B+ to A-
Would love to know how Herzog pulled this one off, and who is the negotiant for this wine.  I found a lovely write-up about the winery and the name, anyway, on to the note.
The nose on this light gold colored wine is hopping with kiwi, grapefruit, lemon, gooseberry, mineral, apple, and white peach.  The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich with white fruit, tropical fruit, and mineral.  The mid palate is round and balanced, with nice spice and mineral.  The finish is long with clean yet round flavors of of fruit, spice, mineral, and bramble. The wine is so classic in its minerality and clean lines yet ripe and luscious. Read the rest of this entry

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