Category Archives: Kosher Semi Sweet Wine
When I think of Covenant Winery, what leaps to mind for me, is Jeff and Jodie Morgan, Jonathan Hajdu – Covenant’s top-notch associate winemaker, and their world-class kosher Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Lavan Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Sure, they also make a lovely and unique Red C wine, rose, and Landsman series of wines, but that is what comes first to mind.
When I first met Jeff and Jodie, it was at Herzog Winery, in 2006 where Jonathan Hajdu and they were pouring their wines at the first ever Herzog IFWF on the west coast. Since then I have made it my business to go to the winery at least once a year and meet with the Morgans and to taste their wines. I state that very specifically, as I have found that wines do follow their creators, and the open and accessible Covenant wines that also age to perfection, intrigued me and I wondered what their creators were like.
If you have had the opportunity to meet with Jeff and Jodie Morgan you will find two people who are passionate about their Jewish roots, though more traditional in nature than Orthodox, but still two people on a spiritual journey with their wines as their guides. From the start they decided that their wines would be kosher, and that they would be creating wines that were mimeographs of themselves, whether they realized that – or not.
To be honest, this article is a long time coming, a post that I think is more about my relationship with the Morgan’s, Mr. Hajdu, and their wines, and less about their story. The now famous story about Lessie Rudd and his grapes, his apprehension to letting the Morgan’s use his grapes, as he feared that they and their kosher process would ruin them, has been written about over and over. Humorously, the fact that the story is in every post about Covenant wines, and that the story is so well-known and repeated, is once again a representation of the wine and Jeff – both are wonderfully gregarious while also being quiet but confidently capable of spinning a tale of what they both have to offer.
Sure, when you meet the Morgans, and trust if you come to the KWFE in NYC – you will meet them, you will find two lovely, affable, and equally impressive humans that have honed their skills, with care and effort. However, it takes a bit more to see beyond the initial blustery interface, and to get deeper into what they see in the future. Yes, they are always looking forward to what the winery can become, but it is far more interesting to get to the story behind the tales, the story of a couple who are equally passionate about their tradition and history as they are about their impressive with their skills and craft.
As always, I am as straightforward as they come, there is really little left to read between the lines on my blog, though some think there is always another story. To me, Covenant Winery is a world-class winery, one that has the best track record, in my opinion across all California wineries (other than maybe Four Gates Merlot) of hitting a home run with every vintage of their Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Were they all A- to A, not always, but they never were less than a classic 91 score and I am hardly the only person with that opinion. Look at Wine Advocate and you will know where this winery stands in the mind of Robert Parker and his minions. Read the rest of this entry
I have recently returned from another trip to Israel, and my main interest was tasting as many white and Rose 2013 and 2014 wines as I could possibly do do, in my short time in the Holy land. So, to meet that need I went to some 16 wineries and had two blind tasting of 26 wines each. The first tasting consisted of JUST white, rose, and bubbly and some sweet as well. The second was a bit more lenient and including some reds, which I will talk about on another posting.
I want to take a moment to talk about the state of reds in Israel. I was hoping that with the release of some 2013 vintages things would be improving, sadly they have not! As you know, I have posted often about the issues that Israel faces in the kosher wine world. The red wines continue to be the same old stuff, unbalanced, fruit bombs with ripe fruit and no real unique characteristics at all. Even the super star wineries are slowing following the lead Yarden and making wines that cater to the single minded public – over the top, in your face, and lacking in balance and unique. Really, the true sad aspect of red wines in Israel today is more than just the lack of unique terroir, it is that they almost all taste the same. Cabernet wines are all the same, as are Merlot, and the famous Israeli blends.
Even the great wineries are slowly moving towards the mean, with wines that are more fruit bombs then they are varietally true. The 2009 Yatir Petite Verdot was a shocker, I had it a few months ago and now it is showing true fruit bomb characteristics. Same can be said for some of the new 2012 Teperberg wines.
Still, the 2011 wines from Teperberg are rocking as are many of the Yatir wines, though I picked on the PV. My point is that wineries are moving in the direction that meets the need for larger quantities. There are still star wines at Teperberg, including the lovely new Malbec and Chardonnay wines. Same for Yatir which continues to be in the top wineries of Israel, in my opinion. Still, when one sees the stars moving in that direction, I can only hope that it stops before it spreads.
The saving grace of Israel wine overall, at this time, is the white, rose, and bubbly wines that they are producing! Think about what I just said, 6 years ago, Yarden was creating superstar wines, having just released, at that time, the 2008 wines and the reds were killing it. The whites were sad, and only a few rose were even in production. That all changed with a sudden shift in the production of far more rose and whites to the point where no matter how hard I tried, I could not taste all the whites and rose that Israel produced this year – good or bad. That would have been a very easy task in years past, but this year, even after making a concerted effort, I hope I covered the majority. I missed Psagot’s great new whites and Rose, produced under the caring hands/eyes of Yaacov Oryah, from acclaimed Midbar fame.
To me, the stars of Israel are the whites and rose. They are everywhere. Every winery feels forced now to create wines for the hot Israeli climate, and it makes perfect sense. The wines for the most part are crisp and light and refreshing, some with more complexity than others. The varieties are growing, including some fascinating blends from the likes of Mia Luce and Tzuba Winery.
Sure, there are lovely to superstar reds, from wineries like Matar, Netofa, Yatir, Flam, Castel, Tzora, Gvaot, Recanati, Dalton, Teperberg, Tura, Carmel Winery (Israeli labels), Ella Valley (for the Franc), and some others. Read the rest of this entry
As many have read on these pages, a few wine events have come and gone – with one last one happening in NY, at the City Winery event held in agreement with the Jewish Week and their kosher wine list for Passover (the link is discounted by Yossie’s corkboard). 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 both KFWE this year, and sommelier – I was asked again for a,list of my top wines, so here it goes! This is a of great and reasonably priced kosher wines.
So, with some 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 2014 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, another smash dirt cheap Sauvignon Blanc wine, that happens to be one of the best kosher white wines I tasted at sommelier. 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 #2 wine – a very nice wine, and though not as insane as the #1 it is a great wine that is easily enjoyable now and sells for a great price. The 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.
A few more comments here. I hope I have gotten all the wines that I have tasted here, but I almost posted this a few times, and then only at the end did I remember I forgot a few. Also, this year’s list is far longer, for a few reasons. One, I was far more careful and I tried to include all wines I tasted that were A- or maybe a drop below, AKA 90 point wines. Also, I have gotten to taste more wines as every year passes. Still, I am sure I missed a few. When I taste them – I will post them! Finally, there are more better wines this year. Many from Israel but France has finally stepped up with new vintages, along with Spain killing it as always, whites from Israel, and Cali really showing strong this year as well.
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:
2012/2013/2014 Domaine Netofa White
2014 Domaine Netofa Rose (QPR) (the 2013 is dying)
2012/2013 Domaine Netofa Red
2012 Yarden Chardonnay, Odem Vineyard
2011/2012 Weinstock Petite Sirah, cellar select (mad QPR) (mevushal)
2012 Weinstock Cabernet Franc, Cellar Select (mad QPR) (mevushal)
2012/2013 Capcanes peraj petita (mevushal & non mevushal) (QPR)
2013/2014 Tabor Sauvignon Blanc, Adama
2014 Tabor Rose (QPR) EPIC!
2013 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc (mevushal)
2013 Goose Bay Fume Blanc (QPR) (mevushal)
2012 Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso (QPR) (mevushal)
2011/12 Dalton Alma, Cabernet and Merlot
2011/12 Dalton Petite Sirah (QPR)
2011/2012 Le Mourre De Lisle Cotes du Rhone(mevushal) (QPR)
2010 Chateau d’Arveyres (QPR) (mevushal)
2013 Beit El Cabernet Sauvignon
2013/14 Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc (mevushal)
2014 Hagafen beret rose (mevushal)
2011 Elvi Rioja Mati (AKA Herenza Rioja)
NV Elvi Adar Brut (mevushal) (QPR)
2014 Gush Etzion Sauvignon Blanc
2013 Gush Etzion Spring River (five white grapes)
2013 Twin Suns Cabernet Sauvignon (mevushal)
2009 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico
2012 Alfasi Malbec/Syrah, reserve (mevushal) – do NOT laugh solid!
2013 O’dwyers Creek Sauvignon Blanc (mevushal)
2011/12 Teperberg Malbec, Terra
It was early on a beautiful winter day in LA when I made my way to the hall at the W Hotel in Hollywood, CA – where the IFWF was being held this year. OOPS! I meant KFWE LA! Yes, the IFWF changed its name to the KFWE and it turned really Hollywood hip as it made its way down the sunset strip to the W Hotel, home to stars and socialites alike, and now I hope home to the newest kosher wine event star – the KFWELA!
If it seems like I have unbridled praise for this event, you would be correct. Recently, someone told me that my style of writing did not work for them; as they state it – your combination of unbridled pull-no-punches enthusiasm, surety of mind, and lapidary form of expression can be grating to me. Though he says it is on him – who knows.
If this or other posts are grating, I totally understand and thankfully no one is forced to read my articles – as I have said in the past, I write them mostly for myself – kind of like my own wine diary.
Anyway, this post will be filled with “unbridled pull-no-punches enthusiasm and surety of mind“. By the way, if one is not sure of what they think – why write it? I write the way I speak – with assurance and knowledge, if I do not know an answer – I am happy to say I have no idea.
Anyway, this event will be engraved in my mind with lapidary precision because it was epic. Still, I am getting ahead of myself – so let us rewind here for a second.
This “year” there were 6 shows in the KFWE portfolio. It all started last year late 2014 in Miami where Royal in combination with WIZO, kicked off the KFWE season with a great warmup event! I say that because while the event went off without a hitch, and there were MANY great wines at the event, the food was a bit underwhelming to say the least. Still, it was here where we first tasted all the new French wines;
- the new 2012 Pavillon de Léoville Poyferré, a second label for the famous winery, which uses its youngest vines to make this wine.The wine is lovely and well worth the cost, but not at the same level as the epic 11 Moulin Riche
- the new 2012 Château Le Crock, which was OK.
- the epic 2011 Chateau Haut Condissas Medoc, a truly lovely wine.
- the new 2012 Chateau Giscours, the best NEW kosher wine at the tasting.
- the new 2012 Domaine l’Or de Line Chateauneuf Du Pape, a very nice wine.
- finally, the second best new wine of the tasting – the 2012 Les Roches De Yon-Figeac Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru. It too is a second label wine, but was quite a winner in my book.
The food not withstanding, the event was solid and the wines showed very well under the warm Miami day/evening.
The next event was in Israel, and if I had to say it was probably the best run event from beginning to end, of the ones I attended. I am talking about the 2015 Zur tasting in Tel Aviv. The event was not crowded at all, the food was very good, and the wines were only the best of what they wanted to show. So, to some extent it was kind of like the all-star show – in the beginning of the season. They did have a limited supply of wines, but of the wines they poured, they were all top performers (excluding a table or two). On top of that, Mr. Olivier Cuvelier – the man that runs the family owned Chateau Léoville Poyferré, was there and talking about his wines. He is a delightful man, one who is passionate about his wines but also mindful of the man who brought him fame in the kosher wine world – Pierre Miodownick. Of course, he has received world wide acclaim for his non kosher wines, which is well deserved, but Pierre was working with him in the 90s – before Léoville Poyferré was all over the wine mags. Read the rest of this entry
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
A 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.
So, 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.
Once 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.
I 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
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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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
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. They 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
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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