Category Archives: Israeli Wine
Two weeks ago I was in Jerusalem and all I can say is that the words, “in God We Trust” cannot have been more fulfilled than on this journey. To start, I had flown into Israel for one of my nephew’s weddings, and a lovely wedding it was, but that is getting ahead of ourselves. I arrived on Tuesday the 10th and while deplaning, I was asked to join in on a group prayer – which initially I was not so interested in, as I had a ton of things to get done in the day. Thank goodness I agreed and while talking with the group at the conclusion of the services, I hear my name being bellowed out! Now, sure I love Israel, and I know people there, but I am not Netanyahu or Gal Gadot, nor do I know anyone who knows Gal Gadot (trying to stay current and yes I know she is a female model – just making sure you are following), so I had no idea why someone was calling out my name!
So, I turn around and lo and behold who is there, Mendel! Now you may not remember Mendel, but he has been canonized on this very virtual pages, here and here (de-boning a duck) – though incorrectly familiarly associated with Elchonon. I state this because it will be with Mendel’s hands that my wine salvation will be realized. He wondered if I remember who he was, and after sharing a few pleasantries, we agreed to keep in touch as he was interested in joining me on my wine escapades, which sounded great to me!
From there we both got our cars and I went off to see my sister in HarNof. That evening I was so exhausted, I tried to order a burger from a place that will go nameless. Two hours later, no burger and my card was charged! To be fair, after much cajoling they did refund my money, which I understand in Israel is requires an act from God to implement, but equilibrium was returned.
The next day, I WhatApp Mendy and sure enough he is up and ready – like I was, so I asked if he minded to drive and off we went to pursue the wineries around Jerusalem. I must start by saying that I have no issue driving, but as I explained many times in the past, Israeli drivers have no drive control or manners, they are 100% certifiable! Well, I guess either work; “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” or “Fight fire with fire”, and that is exactly what Mendy does so well. The roads were slick with rain, at some points the roads were almost washed out with a literal deluge of rain, making the roads slick and a perfect pairing for hydro-planing. No worries, Mendel is at the wheel! So, our first stop was Castel!
Domaine du Castel
Before I left for China and India I had the chance to hang with friends and go through many of the best kosher Malbec wines on the market. Since then a few new ones have popped up, which I have yet to taste, so I will add those to my next tasting run of Malbec wines hopefully.
As you know if you read my blog, I like wines that are blue in nature and I have no problem saying that out loud! The blueberry and boysenberry fruit are so rare and unique in wine that I am always overjoyed to taste them. That said, in a Merlot or a Cabernet Sauvignon they taste downright weird. So what about Malbec? Is Malbec a blue fruit wine or a black fruit wine? Well that depends, in the very same vein that can be asked about Syrah, is it a blue or black fruit wine? While were at it what about Zinfandel or Petite Sirah?
To the Petite Sirah question, until Israel, I had not tasted a PS without blue fruit, but I think the extreme heat in Israel kills the blue fruit, much like it does to the Syrah fruit (this is not a scientific statement – just my experience). Case in point, the Ellla Valley PS is black and earthy, but no blue fruit to be found. Same goes for the 2010 Yarden Malbec, black and earthy, just like in France. What can I say, it is interesting that these four varietals have the possibility of displaying blue fruit, but when grown in Israel there is less of an option. Now to be fair, the Dalton PS is full of blue fruit, as is the Teperberg Malbec.
There is a reason why Petite Sirah and Zinfandel go so well together, like in the Recanati Petite Sirah/Zinfandel blend, or the Hajdu NV Besomim wine. Either way, the fruit compliment each other, as does the spicy notes, the earthy components and the bramble. Same can be said for some of the insane blends that Tzora, Ella Valley, and others are perfecting in Israel. The Ella Valley 35/25 wine, a blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Merlot (in 2008) is such a wine that is full of blue and black fruit (from what I hear I have not personally tasted it). Same goes for the wonderful Misty Hills or Shoresh wies from Tzora which take the Australian blends to the max, mixing Cabernet or Merlot with Syrah. Read the rest of this entry
WOW! That is what I can say, when I last blogged, I was just about to leave for India, and then I went to China and then Israel and now I am back. In a single sentence – there is very little to no good kosher wine in Asia, which is a shame! I was thinking of shlepping my own wine, but truly it would not have been worth it. In the end, I suffered a bit, drank beer and some absolutely undrinkable wine (which was all I needed for a blessing), while in India, the Rabbi made Kiddish on grape juice (which I refused to drink!). What can I say, it was a truly bad string of wine weeks, that culminated in a great wine weekend with a BUNCH of great Malbec wines and then a trip to Israel (yeah a snowed in Jerusalem – coming next).
To be honest, I was truly shaken by my experience in India, the people are really nice in Bangalore India, but the infrastructure – the very basic things we take for granted in the developed nations of this world, are so deeply lacking there. On the Shabbat I was terrified to walk the streets because there were no sidewalks, sewage ran under what was defined as a sidewalk – raw and honest – no pipes and no hiding the smell. Worse the roads are underdeveloped, made for a few cars and a few cows, not millions of cars. A road that can accommodate two cars, is traversed by three cars, two auto-rickshaw, and god only knows how many “Tasmanian devil” moped drivers shifting in and out of the melee called a street in India. Sure, many would find this invigorating, but I guess I have lost that mad-insane-loving gene, and now I do not mind a dollop of calmness in my life. If you are like me – pass on India, enough said. 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
Without any attempt on my side we enjoyed a Syrah weekend, along with a unique Cabernet Sauvignon from Herzog. This past weekend we were invited to the home of some very good friends of ours, ER and HK, ER of the baking culinary fame! Well this meal was culinary all the way, roast beef, perfectly cooked chicken and great side dishes to boot! OH! I cannot forget that split pea soup, which was quite lovely as well.
We brought two Syrah like wines and another guest brought a Syrah wine, while yet another guest brought the new and limited 2007 Herzog Napa Cab 7. Sorry, I have no pictures, though most of the wines are well-known wines, other than the special Herzog Cabernet. The wine is called: 2007 Herzog One Over XII Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Vivino has an image of it, which is displayed to the left. The wine has a great story, a bunch of barrels from the 2007 Herzog Napa Cab, which we tasted, was left in a barrel for 55 or so months. So, one would think it would be an oak bomb, but it is not overpowering, though friends of mine disagree. The thing that is really lovely about the wine is its caressing and insane tannins and the mineral that jumps up and slaps you across the face! Like I say in the notes – this wine is polarizing and to me that is what good wine is all about! This bottle is limited and available only at the Herzog Winery’s wine bar.
Thanks so MUCH to ER and HK for hosting us and putting up with me! We love hanging with you guys! The wine notes follow below:
2010 Tabor Shiraz, Adama, Terra Rosa – Score: B+
The nose explodes with awesome blueberry, plum, currant, cherry, with loads of dirt and licorice. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine is nice and spicy with good concentration of date, sweet blue and red fruit, nice candied raspberry, sweet cedar, with good integrated tannin, and good extraction. The finish is long and spicy with garrigue, bramble, fig, date, chocolate, light leather, and animal notes. This is a wine that is a hair under the QPR line, though if pressed it could well join the ranks. A great Israeli “supermarket” option for sure. Read the rest of this entry
This past week I had the chance to taste through some more kosher wines – without any theme involved, sorry. The only real theme here would be the fact that I tasted through the three wines from Agua Dolce, and a few other wines as well. Of the wines I tasted almost all of them are available right now, except for a special wine I had from a person who makes wine for himself and his friends – called Mirvis Creek.
I am very sorry that I did not get pictures, but many of the wines I enjoyed were at friend home’s and over the Simchat Torah holiday, where I could not take pictures, of course.
The wine notes follow below:
2007 Mirvis Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, Cuvée Yitz, Rowe – Score: B+ to A-
The wine is a classic mineral bomb wine with the mineral sticking out a bit too much and never integrating well together. Maybe with time this wine will find its groove. The nose starts off a bit closed, but with time it opens to brooding black fruit, mounds of mineral, graphite, slate, and loamy dirt. The mouth on the medium to full bodied wine shows clear rich mouth coating tannin, along with raspberry, blackberry, cassis, and the barest of blueberry ribbons, along with nice oak, herb, and green notes. The finish is long and lasting with more mineral, quinine, coffee, chocolate, black pepper, and eucalyptus. This is a nice wine that is a younger brother to the 2005 Four Gates Napa Cabernet that was created from the same grapes.
2010 Agua Dulce Winery Syrah – Score: B+ to A-
The nose on this purple black colored wine also starts off with overripe fruit, but that calms with time. The nose is rich with roasted meat, ripe blueberry, smoky notes, along with mounds of black pepper, licorice, and nice mineral. The mouth is round and filling with rich mouth coating tannins that cost and linger long, along with lovely concentrated blackberry, ripe strawberry, plum, and blue fruit, all coming together with the nice tannin and sweet oak. The finish is long and spicy with graphite, bell pepper, chocolate, more black pepper, spice, cloves, cinnamon, and dirt.
2006 Four Gates Merlot M.S.C. – Score: A- to A
The nose explodes with ripe raspberry, bright fruit, toasty notes, lavender, and dried fruit. The mouth on this full-bodied wine, rich layers of fruit, along with dark black cherry, plum, blackberry, along with dried fruit, crazy cedar, all rounded out nicely with rich mouth coating tannin. The finish is long and rich with great balance, the 24 months of oak show lovely cedar, but all of it is highly accentuated by the bright acidity that adds spice to the wine by making all the flavors pop, followed by chocolate, leather, dark fruit, and tobacco. What a great wine – bravo! Drink in the next two or so years.
2007 Carmel Vineyards Mediterranean – Score: A- (and a bit more)
This is a blend of 37% Carignan, 26% Shiraz , 20% Petit Verdot and 15% Petite Sirah and 2% Viogner. This is another one of those wines (like the 2005 Yatir Forest) that is more elegant than it is massive or powerful. The wines truly lives up to its name, as the varietals are not Bordeaux or Napa in nature. Rather they are Med grapes with a ripe, smoky, dark, and exotic silhouette.
The nose is lovely and accentuated by smoky fumes, roasted meat, wild blueberry compote, rich oak, raspberry, cranberry, blackberry, plum, cherry, and roasted herbs. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich with ripe red, black, and blue fruit, though not new world and balanced with great concentration and nice extraction, the tannins are losing grip and integrating nicely with the sweet cedar. The finish is long, with good acidity, and overall roundness, that comes from the soft mouth coating tannins that linger long, chocolate, lovely tobacco, more roasted meat, and black and blue lovely fruit.
2010 Agua Dulce Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: B++
The wine starts off a bit new world for me and sweet, but that calms over time and becomes more balanced with ripe fruit, but not cloyingly so. The nose on this dark purple colored wine is filled with candied fruit, nice oak, toast, chocolate, blackberry, rich black pepper, cassis, black plum, graphite, and tons of bell pepper. The mouth on this full bodied wine starts with large mouth coating tannin, lots of black fruit, lovely oak, along with a fair amount of green notes, that truly add complexity to this wine, along with nice extraction that comes together into a rich and lasting mouth. The finish is long and spicy with more lingering black fruit, chocolate, graphite, and more green notes.
2010 Agua Dulce Winery Zinfandel – Score: B to B+
The nose on this dark purple colored wine explodes with heat, rich root beer, boysenberry, nicely smoked meat, and great spice. In many ways the nose is the clear star of the wine. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine starts off so nicely with layers of dark and rich jammy fruit, blackberry, strawberry, sweet oak, and lovely mouth coating tannin, but the heat, and sweet date flavors fill in the mid palate and make it a wine that demands rich food, and even still the wine just tastes overripe. The finish is long with more spice, but it is overshadowed by the heat and date, along with hints of surprising green notes, olives, rich and freshly ground pepper, chocolate, and more spice.
This past week I spent some time with family and we enjoyed some great white and red wines. Mostly white and rose wines were enjoyed simply because I was in a very hot climate (no not the Bay Area), and so white and rose wines were truly the only option.
I wanted to have some red wines so I included two reds that I have been wanting to taste for a long time and both were great. The only real “let down” was the Tavel Rose which I have still not come to appreciate. To me it lacks the bracing acidity and it is far too bitter, for my tastes.
So, I will keep this short and sweet – the wine notes follow in the order they were enjoyed:
2012 Makom Grenache Blanc – Score: A-
This bottle is back!!! The last bottle we had was right after bottling, and it was not showing beautifully. This week, it was showing alot more like what it did before bottling. The nose explodes with rich slate, followed by lovely floral aromas, ripe lime, lemon, grapefruit, jasmine, lovely cut grass, and herbal notes. The mouth is ripe and medium bodied, with nice lemon friache, good strong and balancing acid, and ripe peach. The finish is long and spicy, with hints of banana, ripe fig, and nice mineral. I am so happy this wine is back -be sure to enjoy!!!! Read the rest of this entry
Viognier (pronounced Vee-Ohn-Yay) is a very special grape and one that must be handled with great care. The Viognier grape/wine is a special treat. It is a wine that has distinct characteristics: perfume, floral notes and acidity, but it is also a very picky grape. It is very easy to lose to mold and because of this wineries will plant roses next to the grape vines to act as a canary for detecting mildew early on. The grape needs to be picked late otherwise; it does not generate the classic perfume that we are used to seeing in Muscat and Riesling wines. The wine maker has many choices with how he/she wants to manage the grapes. The wine maker can allow the wine to go through malolactic fermentation (to give it a bit more weight) or let the wine lie in the must (to give it more perfume) or to let it have a bit of wood to give it roundness. With all the choices and difficulties that Viognier wines have, they rarely meet expectations and are therefore, not one of the current popular white wines. Finally, Viognier is not meant for long storage – hence the VERY early release dates on these wines, also the wine should have the acidity, fruit, and perfume to make it a real winner.
The 2012 Dalton Viognier Reserve Wild Yeast is a very special wine, and one that really shows the wine making skills of the Dalton Winery. To start, Viognier is one of those grapes that are super finicky to grow and produce. A Viognier is classified by its creamy and rich consistency, famous Viognier perfume, and rich fruit, all packaged in a dry white wine. It differs from Chardonnay, because where Chardonnay normally has residual sugar (non fermented sugar that adds a lift and some sweetness), Viognier is normally bone dry. It is ironic that when you taste this magnificent wine, you may initially think this is a sweet wine, but instead what you are sensing is the ripe fruit and the rich perfume that make this wine a truly successful Viognier!
I have been waiting with baited breath for this wine to be released, and I must stress that this wine is different to some extent from previous vintages, but equally lovely. To start this wine is pure oak, and a wine that you would think was a total disaster – but you would be VERY wrong! This is a classic example of a wine that needs time to let the oak settle and let the fruit appear! What fruit WOW! Once that oak becomes a background, rather than a primary sense, you get the full throttle Viognier effect! The lovely flower perfume, followed by the wine’s classic oily texture makes the waiting all worth it!!! Read the rest of this entry
Over this past Rosh Hashanah, I challenged myself to gather one of my favorite wines and enjoy them all in a controlled and non-drink-off manner. As explained in my last post, I did not want to make the wine the center of my attention on Rosh Hashanah, the day where we and the world are judged. So, I slowly enjoyed bottles through the 6 meal event (Friday night was attached to this year’s Yom Tov schedule making for a three-day festival set).
So, the first night we enjoyed the Alvi Ness Blanco, the next day we opened another bottle, but more on that one in a separate post to follow this one. The rest of the wine we enjoyed from there on were all Zinfandel wines, culminating in the true Zin-off on Friday night, following the Jewish New Year! On the Shabbos, I let my hair down a bit, and we enjoyed tasting 6 Zinfandel wines, all blind, all kosher, in a classic wine-off.
To be honest, I have never had the chance to taste the “real” California Zinfandels, Ridge, Ravenswood, Rosenblum, and Turley. Why? because NONE of them are kosher, which is a real shame. So, I tried to get together whatever kosher Zinfandels I could. The largest producer of kosher wine, Israel, has a very poor track record when it comes to Zinfandel, and neither of the wines we tried from Israel, both from Dalton, made it into the top 5. California continues to be the kosher Zinfandel producer and even in the non-kosher world, California continues it reign over the world that includes Italy and Croatia.
Originally, Zinfandel was thought to be an American grape, but recently that theory has been dispelled by the likes of U.C. Davis, who have done DNA testing and found out that Zinfandel and Primitivo (a grape of Italian origin) to be one the same. With even more efforts from UCD professor Carole Meredith, it was found that Crljenak Kaštelanski (“Kaštela Red”) appears to represent Primitivo/Zinfandel in its original home, although some genetic divergence may have occurred since their separation. Meredith now refers to the variety as “ZPC” – Zinfandel / Primitivo / Crljenak Kaštelanski. While, the true origin of Zinfandel grape may be Croatia, California owns the title of the best Zinfandel wine – the world around.
As we started to enjoy these wines we realized a few things. First that the flavor profiles were not anywhere the same – and they varied by wine and winery. Also, we realized that the Zinfandel grape can have heat (alcohol flavors) but can also have beautiful moments if they are done correctly. Read the rest of this entry
This past week we had lovely whiskey braised short ribs along with quinoa, and a fresh green salad. To pair with the sweet notes of the ribs, I enjoyed both a 2009 Bravdo Shiraz and a 2011 Landsman Syrah. We also enjoyed a shocker a 2004 Chateau Le Bourdieu, a wine that I had ZERO hope would be alive, but one that really was enjoyable. This is a nice wine that is in the mid-tier pricing in terms of French kosher wines, and one that is OK, but not a QPR wine.
The wine notes follow below:
2011 Covenant Syrah Landsman – Score: A-
The nose on this dark purple and brooding colored wine starts off with a BAM of blueberry liquor, something that is impossible to miss, followed by boysenberry, rich blackberry, raspberry, and spice. The mouth on this rich and medium bodied wine starts off with an attack of rich massive tannin, rich and velvety, with concentrated, sweet, and focused blue and black fruit that mimics the nose along with root beer, and enough oak to round the fruit, with all the components coming together nicely. The finish is super long and rich, that has an air of completeness while still being firm and concentrated, laced and ribboned with roasted meat, rich espresso, chocolate, and vanilla.
A very nice Syrah, and still the best in Napa so far, but I found the wine to not be as big as I first thought and the wine had a bit of trouble keeping up sweet ribs. Still a lovely wine all around.
2009 Bravdo Shiraz, Karmei Yosef – Score: A-
The nose on this wine is rich and heavy with ribbons of blueberry, black plum, cranberry, along with licorice, floral notes, and lovely crushed herb. The mouth on this full bodied wine shows the curse of 2009 (overly sweet wines), but it is controlled, with clear date notes, searing tannin, nice structure, black fruit, along with sweet cedar, and bramble. The finish is long and sweet with more date, tobacco, chocolate covered raisin, and ginger. Overall a lovely wine that continues to evolve nicely.
2004 Château Le Bourdieu – Score: B++
The nose on this just garnet colored wine (more ruby than garnet, with a still light halo, is filled with nice dirt, mineral, black fruit, barn yard (a bit) – but OK, and layers of toast and smoke. The mouth is medium bodied with nice concentration of currant, blackberry, and cranberry, along with nice integrated and mouth coating tannins, that linger long on the rise, and sweet oak notes. The finish is long with smoky tobacco, insane mushroom patch, charcoal, green foliage, and sweet roasted herbs – nice wine indeed. The true joy of this wine is the mouthfeel and lovely soft but mouth coating tannins that take on a number of comers, including cheese and sauces.