Category Archives: Israeli Wine
Truly Passover Shabbos was a two fold event, the chance to taste through my Shirah wines that I had been yearning to get to and the chance to taste a barrel sample of wine sent to me by Andrew Breskin of Liquid Kosher (a high-end kosher wine merchant). Andrew warned me that I needed to air the puppy out so indeed, I opened it Friday morning and it was still kicking Saturday night.
As, I already documented here, about all things Shirah, I was talking with Gabriel before Passover and we agreed that we would both open Shirah wines over Passover. To me, it was time to see if the Coalition, which I thought was severely lacking in the finish and mouth, had come around. Humorously, there are some that think my article on Shirah wines was a cheerleader post – but such is life, I really did feel passionately about the Weiss Brothers and I really do like their wines. We tasted through four of the Shirah wines that I had around, the two coalitions, from 2010 and 2011 and the 2008 10-2 punch and the 2010 Counterpunch. All four of the wines were truly unique, but the winner of the four was the 1-2 punch and the 2010 Coalition – the very wines, I though was truly lacking – how funny life can be sometimes.
Benyo came over for the Shabbos and brought over two oldie but goodies – 1996 Four Gates Merlot and 1996 Four Gates Chardonnay. Now, as you all know Four Gates Winery was “officially” founded in 1997, but that dos not mean he did not make wine in 1996 – actually he made a fair amount of wine in 1996, and all of his friends and family were the beneficiary of his abundant kindness! To me, the wines rival the 1997, 2003, and 2006 vintages. Though his best wines so far are still the 2012 releases (year wise – not vintage). Anyway, the 1996 Chardonnay was so good and clean and ripe, the real shocker was the color – pure light gold color, like a 2006 or a 2012 Chardonnay! Quite impressive as always – his older 1996 Chardonnay wines are truly unique. I did not take notes – sorry, but this one was not the soft, honeyed, caramelized Chardonnay that I come to expect from his stash of 1996 Chardonnays. This was bright and expressive – really like its color! Blind, I would have thought it was a 2000 or 2010 wine!
After that we enjoyed a march of red wines, one after the other, each one unique in their own right, with really no duds or holes, it was a really fun night. Friends brought over some wines, but none of them made the table, as I really wanted to taste through the Shirah wines, the Frenchie, and one Israeli wine. They brought over a Peeraj Habib – nothing to slouch over AT ALL, but I was single minded on my plan, and I did ask forgiveness afterwards. Read the rest of this entry
Well, to say I was busy in the past two weeks would be a minor understatement! I had people calling me, emailing me, and god knows what other forms of communication, including the time-sink of them all – Facebook!!
So, while getting ready for Passover I also posted some four articles on my trip to Israel, this past December 2012. I have tons more to write up, but for now I need a break – LOL!!! Still, as I have said many times, this blog is more about my journal than a real peek into my insane life of wine.
So, this Passover was the usual madness of hurray up and then wait and then hurray up and wait! Clean one part, boil water and wait. Clean something else, than wait for it to try, and then pour water – man these laws!! Anyway, in between all the madness I was posting about my Israel trip and never got to post about the wines I wanted to enjoy this Passover or even the past Shabbos wine! By the way, the Barbera was awesome from Ramat Naftaly, but man that bottle was crazy! The bottle had cracks going down both sides of the bottle. The cracks were actually done at the time the glass was blown, they need to do a better job of checking their bottles!
The title may seem extreme but there is a clear and present passion and almost zeal to the wine makers and vineyard managers of the Shomron. In no way is that a slight to other wine regions, or to denote that others are not as passionate. The real point is that when I met with 30+ wineries on my past trip to Israel, every winery spoke about their wines and their processes and technology, but none spoke as passionately about their land as the winemakers in the Shomron. I need to stress, that many speak about their vineyards, the terroir, like Tzora and others, but the passion about the land versus the correct vines to grow – the sheer desire to own and plant trees or vines – it was truly an uplifting experience.
However, before we get into all of that, this post is about day two of week three during my trip to Israel last year December (2012). This posting is an account of my visit to both the Har Bracha and Tura wineries, in that order. Since we left off, I had completed week one all by myself, and week two partly with my nephew, who yes slowed me down, but truly added so much color and life to the proceedings, that it was a fair trade The day started off like any day in Israel, we were set to see as many wineries as possible within a single day! The day started off with Doron and I picking up Gabriel Geller, yes the dastardly mastermind of the previous week’s Monday adventure to Ella Valley, Teperberg, Flam, and Herzberg Winery. It was a grand day trip and one that Geller was ready to try again! Talk about committed or is it that he needs to be committed, I am really not sure! Anyway, we pick him up and off we go to another wine adventure on Route 60! There were many stories that occurred to us on route 60 on this storied day, but being that they were part of the tapestry of the day, we will weave the tails into this wild and ruckus wine trail adventure.
The Shomron day started off with a visit to Shiloh, and then to Gvaot, described here. From there we were pointing our car towards Har Bracha and that is when we should have listened to the darn phone – both of our phones! The madness started with Doron’s phone which texted him with a very important message. You see he has an AT&T phone, a very nice phone actually, that did not easily support popping in a new SIM (the modus apprendre of international cell phone travelers when they visit Israel), so he went with an international plan from the US with certain countries on it. Simple enough plan, that is until you enter route 60, or more specifically, the Shomron area of route 60. AT&T was texting Doron to notify him that his data plan did not work in the new country he had just entered! Well, if that was not enough of a hint, at about that same time, my phone starts to chirp. Now, I must be specific here, we were interested in getting to Har Bracha which is north of Shiloh and we actually have to pass Tura to get there, but that was because Tura was not available at that time, so Har Bracha was where we were pointed towards.
To quickly remind you, Yossie’s wine map is an awesome resource for finding kosher wineries in Israel, and for getting a sense of what and where the kosher wineries are in Israel. The map gave us a great layout of our day, and it also gave us a closer understanding of what was driving waze so crazy! Waze is the only real navigation tool in Israel and one that I explained saved my life at least two times in the north. Well, my girlfriend (waze’s voice is a female’s voice and it tells me where to go at all times – so all my friends think it fits) started to notify me that I needed to get ready for a left turn coming up. Now, driving in Israel is an already tense and terrifying enough of a job, looking at a navigation device is too much. So, Doron and Gabe (back seat driver) were thrust into the navigator role. Doron had the girlfriend and Gabe knows most of the roads by heart, and he also had his own phone-based girlfriend as well. All the phones were telling me to turn left, while Gabe was coaxing me forward – with soothing words of, do not worry we need to keep driving – no warning! Read the rest of this entry
This past weekend we were guests at a friend’s home, so I brought over a bottle of 2007 Gush Eztion Blessed Valley Red, which I really liked. They also served the 2010 Four Gates Pinot Noir, which continues to impress, and a bottle of the 2006 Yarden Cabernet. The Israeli date/raisin/new world issue was clearly evident in the 2006 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon, a bottle that was purchased from a wine store the day before the dinner. The Yarden was still quite nice but infuriating, as it refused to open for hours and when it did, it was powerful and aggressive and full of date and raisin, a shame. The Blessed Valley red was nice and rich and controlled, but when you drink it after a Four Gates Pinot you again see quickly what acid does to a wine and what the lack of bracing acid feels like.
This was the second time, in recent memory, where had a Four Gates wine next to an Israeli red wine and each time – no matter how nice the Israeli wine is, it pales in comparison to the acid laden Four Gates wine.
Were the wines bad? No! The wines were just outmatched by a more complete wine – but not a wine that I would enjoy over them. It is a complex problem. The Four Gates Pinot is nice, but it is no 2009 Pinot and it is no 2006 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon, and nor should it be. Still, the acid in it makes all other nice wines feel lacking. The 2007 Blessed Valley is a fine wine, but it lacks the acid and that shows when considered next to a wine like a estate bottled Four Gates wine. Still, if you bought the 2007 Blessed Valley in America – drink now, it is smooth and rich and ready and going to the other side. Again, this was a bottle that I did not sore in my house – but a bottle I got from the distributor here in California. It should last another year or so, so start drinking now.
The 2006 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon was a beast to get open, but once open, as I stated before, raisins kept plopping out of my glass. The wine is crazy big, aggressive, and layered and mad good, but the real issue is the lack of control of baseline Yarden Cabernet wines. For lunch I opened a bottle of the 2008 Galil Barbera, which was quite nice. It opened a bit hot, but calmed down, smoothed out, while still being nice and acidic and capable of handling a bowl of cholent or a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.
The wine notes are a bit lighter today as I did not have my wine note bending contraptions at my host’s home
2010 Four Gates Pinot Noir – Score: B++
The wine does not taste very different than a few months ago, when I last tasted it and wrote my notes. The menthol, bramble, dusty redwood aromas and flavors are ever evident. The red and black fruit are now really popping with a bracing acidity that could use another year to calm down, but for folks like me – the more acid the better.
2007 Gush Etzion Blessed Valley Red – Score: B+ to A
The wine is a blend of 77% Merlot and 27% Cabernet Franc. The wine is showing a bit worse for the wear in the US than in Israel. In Israel the wine was rich and popping and highly aggressive. Here, it has smoothed and is in drink now mode. The wine is clearly redolent with tobacco and green notes, along with big black and red fruit. The sweet cedar and smooth integrating tannin is a real joy and one that can handle quite an array of foods. We enjoyed it with brisket and corned beef. The wine is full in body, with blackberry, black cherry fruit and so much more. The finish is long and spicy with mineral and graphite and mouth coating tannin that rise. Not quite the killer it was in Israel, but still quite a lovely wine indeed.
2006 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: A-
This wine is a killer with a killer’s instinct. The wine is rich and layered but needs a few hours to open up. The wine clearly has sweet/Israeli raisin notes, but they are also surrounded by crazy ripe fruit, blackberry, cassis, and searing tannin that almost make your mouth hurt. The wine is popping with good balance of fruit and acid, assaulting layers of concentrated and extracted fruit, and spicy cedar that starts to take over the palate. The finish is long and spicy with cloves, cinnamon, chocolate, and leather that lingers long with tannin, spice, and roasted herb.
2008 Galil Barbera – Score: B+
The wine starts off hot but after time calms to an almost herbal balm with crazy roasted herb, a rich perfume of dark cherry, light hint of date and raisin, good spice, and toast. The mouth is lovely and rich but controlled with sweet notes, toasty sweet cedar, wrapped up in softening sweet tannin, and plum delight. The finish is long and balanced with good acid, menthol, vanilla, and coffee.
Much of this post was already posted here, where I described my second week in Israel. Many if not all the pictures here (except for the bottle pictures) are all courtesy of Herzberg winery, as Gabriel Geller and I arrived so late that it was pitch dark by the time I meandered my way to the winery. Herzberg Winery is a winery that is owned, run, and operated by a single man – Max Herzberg. It was pouring rain as we made our way to his lovely home – which doubles as his winery and vineyard. Yes, he reminds me of my good friend Benaymin Cantz (from four gates winery), another of those home bound Vigneron who live, breath, and eat winemaking in and around their very abode! I must say that many of my writings are more sentimental to me that rote and that is why it may seem that I do not write often, but I need the emotion and passion to be there before I can pick up my virtual pen and write these postings. It is not an excuse but more a reality and my apologies for having not written more about my Israel trip yet – more will be on the way soon, after passover.
Max Herzberg is a world-famous biotechnologist who has single-handedly created and sold more companies than many of us even know or can keep track of. Max immigrated to Israel from France and quickly became a world-class biotechnologist and a leader in his field and in the corporate world!
However, after getting his fill of running biotechnology departments at universities and running and starting companies, Max decided he would plant a vineyard. One day Max approached his clearly intelligent wife (who happens to be a Tunisian – so that helps a lot of course) and asked if she minded if he planted a few vines? His wife replied, you mean you want to plant the entire field – right? Sure enough, in 2005, by the time Max was done, the entire 3 acre field, right next to his home in Moshav Sitrya was planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec. It is not clear if this particular location within the Judean Hills is well situated for Malbec, but as Max puts it – time will tell. Max also makes use of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from a neighboring vineyard. The first true year for the winery was in 2008, though there was some 300 bottles from the 2007 vintage. The 2012 vintage produced some 4500 bottles – nice realistic and manageable growth. Max does it all; he prunes his vineyard and sulfurs it with a machine, and of course makes the wine. The only thing he does not do is pick the grapes – by himself, he has folks to help with that!
As usual, Geller knows everyone and him and Max hit it off really well. It helps that Geller speaks a perfect French (so jealous), the native tongue of the French born Max Herzberg. It was with this knowledge that we arrived at his home and he showed us around the winery – though by this time it was pitch dark and we were walking around very carefully. We soon made our way to the well-lit tasting room, that is adjacent to the winery and that is where we tasted through the winery’s entire line. A few weeks after we visited, Max had a winery tasting at his winery to show off the new 2009/2010 red wines and from what I can see on his Facebook page – it was a smash! Max is one of those honest, down to earth, humble and talented wine makers that enjoy what he is doing and it shows in his wine and in his passion for his craft. Read the rest of this entry
So, after taking a slight break from writing about my trip to Israel, and concentrating on all the wine events that occurred here in the states, it is time to return to where I left off. The last time we spoke, I was blogging about my last trip to the Shomron and Judean Hills wine regions. Week two was clearly a more Judean Hills focused week than a Shomron focus, but it gave me a chance to introduce you to the wine region.
Talk about Israel wine regions and most will start off with the Galilee/Golan wine regions, which started the entire wine revolution in Israel. The wine region became famous in 1972, during a visit to Israel, Professor Cornelius Ough of the Department of Viticulture and Oenology at the U.C. Davis suggested that the soil and climate of the Golan Heights (captured from Syria in the Six-Day War) would prove ideal for raising grapes. They planted vines in 1976 and released wine in 1983, all kosher from the start.
However, since than more and more wineries have been sourcing their grapes from the Judean Hills, an idea that was started by Flam Winery, Tzuba Winery, and the Doamine du Castel Winery. Since then the wine region has been heating up and going crazy – with wineries from all over Israel buying land and planting vineyards – to the tune of many millions of dollars! The funny thing is that, if you read my last article on the Shomron wine region, you would realize that the best Merlot wines come from the Shomron wine region, especially the sub-wine region; Har Bracha! Anyone desiring an Israeli Merlot – please do look for one from the Shomron/Har Bracha sub region. Note that there are wineries that sell Shomron wines even though they are not situated in the Shomron wine region, like the Teperberg Winery, Carmel Winery, and Tishbi Winery.
The Shomron wine region may be very good for certain varietals, but when you talk about wineries, there really are only a few that pop to mind; Psagot Winery, the Shiloh Winery, and the Gvaot Winery. The Tanya Winery has also released some nice wines, though recently the wines have not been up to Yoram’s standard, in my opinion. Gat Shomron has released a couple of nice wines, like the crazy good Ice wine and the Shomron Merlot reserve. Read the rest of this entry
This past weekend I wanted a slab of meat and my wife acquiesced, so rib steaks it was! As I have posted here a few times, the steak and potatoes recipe worked great for our Sabbath dinner! The steaks were good, but still not as good as the first time, because well – who knows! Anyway, the potatoes were also not full-on crunchy, but in the end, who cares – meat and potatoes, enough said! The meat was great and the fresh green salad was the cherry on top.
The wine we enjoyed for dinner was the 2009 Dalton Petite Sirah, which showed much better than last time. It is once again showing blue notes, but the wine is rich, layered, and round with sweet notes.
Wine note follows below:
2009 Dalton Petite Sirah – Score: B+ to A-
This bottle was better than the last one – but it is still a wine that I do not think is getting better and has clearly entered the drink now to drink up mode.
The nose explodes with boysenberry, blackberry, licorice, roasted animal, smoky notes, and very good spice. The mouth is medium+ in body, with clear influence from being in American oak for 12 months, good smooth and integrated tannins that meld well with the sweet cedar and floral notes, along with ripe and sweet cassis, black plum, raspberry, and red fruit. The finish is long and spicy with leather, chocolate, vanilla, cloves, black pepper, and a lingering sensation of dirt.
As I stated in my previous post, my heart was in the Shabbos but my mind was on my trip that I was taking to New York. All the thinking did not help make the trip any less miserable. Once again I have proven to myself that flying to New York is hard enough, doing a stop in between is miserable and downright idiotic. Lets take a step back here and explain the situation. The Jewish Week holds a wine tasting every year, showing of the top kosher wines they thought made an impression to the wine judges. This past year, they tasted through some 400+ wines and came up with a long list of wines, many of which I like and some I did not like. Anyway, the tasting was this past Sunday, the 3rd of March, 2013, at 1 PM. To get there from the west coast, it would mean either sleeping in NY for Shabbos (not an option), or flying out Saturday Night.
I LOVE Jet Blue, but they canceled flying out Saturday night from San Jose airport, and now only fly out Saturday night from SFO – AHHH!!! So, the only other option was Delta, which I should never have done, because it meant a stopover in Atlanta. The idea was to fly out by 10:45 PM, have an hour in Atlanta and hop on the 9 AM flight to NY. That all sounded OK, no storms in the forecasts, no crazy storm trackers or watcher on the news – so it looked like I was in the clear! Not so fat, turns out that there may not be Godly reasons to not fly – but Delta is more than capable of creating man-made disasters – all by itself!
I arrived to the airport with an hour to go, and by the time we took off, I was in the airport for some 3 and a half hours! AHH!! Yep, you guessed it Delta screwed up and lost a tire on landing so the plane could not take us to Atlanta. By the time they fixed the plane, the man fixing it broke another part and we had to deplane and get on another plane – a gate over. By the time that plane was fueled and had everyone’s bags repacked – we were two+ hours behind. I slept like a baby on the plane, but by the time we arrived in Atlanta – I knew I was cooked. The connecting flight was 5 terminals over and the “plane train” could not get me there in time to save my bacon. So here comes the best part – I arrive at the gate and the plane was not departed, but the man would not let me on – no matter how much I screamed and begged. However, he gave me a printed ticket (I have not sen one of those in years) and told me to run to the next terminal where the Laguardia flight was boarding. I ran like a mad man, and in the interim broke my hand luggage! One thing after another – I know! Anyway, as I get to the gate the lady tells me that there is no such flight, I say what – the man told me there was a plane boarding now! She says – oh sure – that is one gate over, the dude gave me the incorrect gate number! Anyway, she walks me over and I start talking to the gate agent who tells me – once again – sorry the gate is closed and the plane is leaving. This is when the other gate woman turns into SuperWoman! She says – OH NO – this poor man has been through enough. She swipes her card, opens the gate door, walks me down the jetway – and bangs on the plane door! Seriously! She screams – open this door!
Now – let me please recap, I have a ticket – printed ticket, for JFK. I am trying to board a plane for which I have NO TICKET – none whatsoever! Actually I have a ticket for a totally different airport! Think of me as one of those lost souls dropped on a plane. That was me! Of course, I have no checked luggage – for two days, but still, this is COOL! The unflappable stewardess, behind a massive closed door replies; the door is closed. The gate attendant is equally unflappable, and she fires back (sorry bad use of verbage) open the door, you forgot this guy! Will you believe – the stewardess blinked and opened the door! Heck these folks were half way through the security demonstration! I was told grab any seat – we need to move. I grabbed the first window seat I could find, and promptly went back to sleep! WOW!! By the time I land in Laguardia, I had two hours to go and once I finished davening, I hopped in a taxi and found my way to the City Winery. Read the rest of this entry
Well this past weekend was quite a busy one, as I was enjoying the Shabbos meal, but also thinking about my quick trip to New York for the Jewish Week tasting. This year the GKWE (Gotham Kosher Wine Extravaganza) was canceled so the only cross-importer wine tasting was going to be the Jewish Week City Winery tasting, which was on a Sunday afternoon! That meant I either stay in NY for Shabbos (not happening), or I fly out late Saturday night for NY and pray I get there in time – barely did – but that is a different story for another posting.
We enjoyed the usual lemon rosemary roasted chicken, quinoa, and a fresh salad, along with my very last bottle of any Dalton Viognier Again, I have stated before, Dalton is releasing a new 2012 vintage of this lovely wine – when it is ready. The best kosher Viognier out there, are from Midbar Winery, Yatir Winery, and Teperberg Winery, but the most anticipated Viognier release will undoubtedly be the 2012 Dalton Viognier – which will be out and about in a bottle by mid year – so LOOK for it, it will be worth the effort.
Until then I will have to live with my memories of this wine. As a side note the wine was made with wild yeast, which while it sounds sexy is really not something most folks will pickup in the wine. However, who cares, the wine is lovely and anyone who has some of these bottles – it is in drink now mode. Finally, this was a shmitta wine – and though I do not drink them normally – this was bought before my change of heart, and was made legal to drink via a process, but not one that you can use going forward – email me if you care. The wine note follows below:
2008 Dalton Viognier Reserve Kosher – Score: A-
The nose on this gold-colored wine screams of toast, butterscotch, honey, orange blossom, and peach. Overtime the wine’s nose also shows off rich white chocolate and spice. The mouth is bright and balanced with good oak influence but also ripe white and tropical fruit, asparagus, grapefruit, and lemon, all wrapped up in an oily texture and rich mouthfeel. The finish is long and spicy with caramel, straw, melon, and pineapple. This was the last of my bottles and one that could have lasted a bit more – but is at its peak for sure – so it is in drink-now mode.
The wine I drank was a bottle of the 2005 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon and it is a wine that is OK now and not going anywhere, but it new world styling was a bit too much for me. The wine did tone down over time, but lost its complexity, so I am not as in love with it as I was with previous vintages. I think the new world styling of Yarden wines are not to my likings, but that only happens when the sweetness is over the top. In this case the wine was overly sweet to start, but did also show nice black and dried fruit. Those fruits stayed, the dates receded, but it lost some complexity – which is a shame, but I fear it is a problem with my manic hatred for all things dates.
Wine notes follow below:
2005 Golan Heights Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Yarden Kosher – Score: B++ to A-
The nose on this wine is screaming with black fruit to start with black cherry, blackcurrant, some green notes, and eucalyptus, over time the wine opens its nose to mounds of graphite and dirt. The mouth is rich and ripe with a bit of date, along with cassis, black plum, crushed herb, bell pepper, concentrated fruit, all wrapped up in sweet cedar and sweet mouth coating tannin. The finish is long and spicy, with tons of malt chocolate, leafy tobacco, licorice, and vanilla.
2008 Weinstock Cabernet Sauvignon, Cellar Select, Napa County – Score: A-
From the score you can see that I liked this wine a bit more than the 2005 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon, simply because it lacked the new world sweet notes. It is a ripe Cabernet with crazy tobacco notes that make you think you are literally in a Cuban cigar factory (hyperbole never been to one). Still, the control is there and the ripe fruit with chocolate and really good charcoal and pencil shavings. This wine is well worth finding and enjoying. Open the bottle, taste the wine and than leave it to air for an hour and taste again – interesting change in the wine.
The nose explodes with blackberry, cherry, cassis, rich smoking tobacco, like in a cigar factory, and sweet cedar that almost dominates the nose. Over time the wine calms down and the tobacco recedes, with graphite and mineral slate taking control. The mouth is rich, layered, and unctuous, with clear black fruit attack, layered with cedar and concentrated black plum, all wrapped together in a sweet tannin shell – quite nice. The finish is long and spicy with black pepper, herb, and tons of minted malt chocolate. Read the rest of this entry