Category Archives: Wine Industry

My top kosher 25 wines of 2015

wall of wineWell, I have posted my year in review, and now I wanted to get to my top wines for 2015. Please beware that I know I missed many wines and that this list does not include wines that I have tasted that are not available on the open market – like older Covenant Wines and the sort.

I wanted to make this post short and sweet – so the criteria are simple I could care less about price, color, or where it was made. All that matters is that it is/was available this year sometime to the public at large and that I tasted it in a reliable environment, not just at a tasting, and that it was scored an A- or higher. Anything less would not be on my list.

On an aside, there continues to be a whole mess of madness around wines notes and scores, even the Jewish Week weighed in on the matter. So, let me explain this really simply – go look at some of my recent blog posts – they talk about some nice enough wines, but wines I would not specifically buy. They have all the nice words and such, which were all true and to the point. But without the final value score, I can tell you a Cabernet is full bodied with good fruit and spice – and you may say cool I want that – but then I would say well, yeah but it was not complex or layered. You could try to reason that out of the words I wrote, because the words complex and layered are missing. However, the simple fact that it was scored a B+ or whatever, would have told you that it is not always a wine worth going after (unless it is the Terrenal or such where it gets a QPR moniker).

My point being that wine notes – without a proper context (AKA a real score) – is like looking at a wedding hall through a slit in the window. Sure you can “see” the hall, but are you really sure you want to get married there? I never scored wines to tell people to listen to my score. I score wines to set the context and to always read the notes to see if that sort of wine works for you!

OK, enough of the darn score rant for the day, back to the matters at hand, being wines of the year. The list is long – get over it. It is a list of wines that I would buy, have bought, and will buy again – simple enough I hope. I did not differentiate by another other criteria or aspect – if it was solid (A- or higher) it made the list. I hope you enjoy!

2013 Elvi Wines Clos Mesorah – Score: A- to A
This is the flagship wine of Elvi Wines (though the Herenza Reserva may have a word to say about that) and it is a blend of 50% Carignan, 30% Grenache, and 20% Syrah. Elvi Wines makes 7K of these bottles. The wine was sourced from vines that are 20 to 100 years of age. The nose on this wine is insane and intoxicating with aromas of watermelon, root beer, ripe boysenberry, blueberry, along with chocolate and black fruit. The mouth on this full bodied wine hits you with layers of concentrated fruit, with an attack of blue and black fruit, balanced perfectly, showing great elegance, along with mad mineral, graphite, slate, rich and freshly tilled earth, along with deeply concentrated black fruit. The wine is the perfect example of elegance and balance with ripe fruit that flows into a plush mouth made from mouth coating tannin and rich fruit structure. This is truly a wine speaks for itself. The finish is long and intense, showing rich roasted animal, lovely mushroom, and floral notes. With time, the wine shows mad barnyard, mushroom, and even more loamy dirt. Bravo!!!

2010 Elvi Wines Herenza Rioja Reserva – Score: A- to A
There are only 4K of these bottles made and each one is a true gift! The wine is closed and slow to open, but with time and a fair amount of decanting, the nose shows of mad soy sauce (like the 2009 Herenza Reserva), chocolate, richly tilled earth, loam, along with crazy mushroom and mad mineral. This wine is the epitome of umami, showing intense layers of umami with white summer fruit, cranberry, craisins, blackberry, pomegranate, and tart cherry in the background with mounds of earth. The finish is intensely long and dirt filled, with  dark chocolate, licorice, blueberry and red fruit. BRAVO!!!!

2012 Chateau Haut Condisas, Medoc – Score: A- (and much more)
The 2011 was very nice, but the 2012 a slight step up. The nose on this wine is rich and redolent with lovely dirt, dark black fruit, barnyard, earth, and mushroom. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, ripe, and in your face with nice chocolate, mad toast, mouth drying tannin, all wrapped in crazy acid, but bigger and riper than the 2011, almost Israeli in nature, but classically French controlled, with blackberry, raspberry, plum, with mineral and graphite. The finish is long and dirty, with hits of herb, along with layers of concentrated fruit, more mad mineral/earth/dirt/mushroom with dried raspberry, and rich garrigue. WOW! BRAVO!

2010 Chateau Fourcas Dupre, Listric – Medoc – Score: A- (and more) (CRAZY QPR)
This wine is on the list for its insane value and its goto ability above all wines from France for the price! The 2010 was a nice wine – but the 2012 is even better! The nose on this wine is lovely with rich dirt, cherry, crazy tart and juicy raspberry, followed by more dirt and mineral galore. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely and still young but give it time, the acid is impressive along with nice spice, mouth coating tannin that is gripping along with lovely blackberry, cassis in the background, along with crazy mushroom, and layers of fruit and earth and forest floor that come at you and do not give up. The finish is long, with insane acid and more mouth drying tannin, more earth, dirt, tart lingering fruit, and lovely mineral/graphite. The fruit and mineral lingers long – BRAVO!!!! Read the rest of this entry

Kosher wine events for 2016

kfwelaAs I posted in my year in review, we all need to educate ourselves in what makes you happy in the kosher wine world. The best way to do that is to attend RCC tastings (that happen monthly), or one of the many kosher wine events that happen in and around the Passover wine buying season.

This year is no different as in the past, thankfully I have the dates for almost all the events – the only one missing, for now, is the Jewish Week wine event that happens every year at the City Winery in NYC. I hope they do something about it though, as last year was a disaster. It was so overcrowded – it made the KFWE NYC look like a playground during class hours!

Anyway, the KFWE NYC listened – thank God, and they are returning to Chelsea Piers, but we will get to that in a bit.

The first and IMHO, the best KFWE in the books is the Tzur tasting in Tel Aviv. The Miami event was actually quite nice, but it happens in December of the previous year and in this case it happened already on December 15th at the Turnberry Isle Hotel, in Aventura Fl.

Though to be 100% truthful the first event (after the Miami one), is the KFWE in Paris which will happen on February 16th. After that wake up the next morning and hop on the Eurostar and you will be whisked to London where you can still get tickets to the VIP session at the KFWE Europe, which will be taking place at the Sheraton Park Lane Hotel, Piccadilly, London, W1.

A new theme throughout the KFWE family is the classic approach of steal what works best! The KFWE system is basically a brotherly rivalry between the cities – with London/NYC/LA being the three official ones, and Miami/Israel/Paris being less so. Still, when one idea works for one of the siblings – you can be sure it will be copied with each others personal tastes. In this case I am talking about the VIP session. I exalted the idea in my post about the KFWE in LA, and while I was in awe of the VIP room, the other area in LA needed more space. So, they too will be moving, but the VIP room/experience is 100% On like Donkey Kong!

Another fascinating aspect of this year’s official KFWE tastings is that there is no love lost between the siblings. By that I mean, there is no cross promotion of any kind between the London, NYC, or LA events! I wonder why that is the case? It is not like these are zero-sum options! People who live in NYC will go there, though many go to the LA event as it has been far more hospitable in previous years than the over crowded NYC event. Still, why not cross promote? It is free advertising!

So, the London event is on the 16th and then you hop on a plane and fly to Israel for the Tzur (not so much called KFWE) tasting on Monday February 22nd in the evening. Then hop on a plane and fly to the Granddaddy of them all – the original KFWE NYC and use the promo code CORKBOARD18.

Sadly, the VIP session has already been sold-out, and the older coupon code has expired. The non-VIP session is available and hopefully its return the Chelsea Piers will make for a far more enjoyable and manageable experience than last year.

Then hop on another plane and make your way to warm Los Angeles! The KWFE LA last year was the hands down winner for its epic VIP session, and the VIP session is back and I would make advise all to jump on them before they sell out! Order tickets here NOW and use my coupon code of MUSINGS to get a 15% discount off the rack rate! This year they moved the event from the hotel to a much larger and more swanky LA experience location! It is being held at the Petersen Automotive Museum. It is a lovely location and one that will have space to expand the VIP session to have even more madness – so look for that!

After that – you would think you should be exhausted and ready for a break and I am sure you will need it and it will be well deserved. However, soon afterwards it is time to go to The Grand Kosher Wine Tasting on March 6th at 5:30 PM to 8:30PM at The Grapevine Wines & Spirits, in Wesley Hills, New York! When your there say hello to Yehoshua Werth, he is the wine man at the Grapevine!

UPDATE: The Jewish Week’s Grand Wine Tasting at the City Winery is on March 28, from 5:30 to 8:30.

Well there you have it! I will post again once I have purchase links for the Jewish Week event. The event I am hoping will come back is the Gotham Kosher Wine Extravaganza! It took off a year again last year and I hope it will be back for good this year!

If I were you – I would recommend you buy the tickets of the KFWE that apply to you ASAP and then go to the events with the mind of enjoying yourself, but also with the mind of learning! These events are the best opportunity to see what wines you like, love, crave, and most importantly hate!

Jacques Capsouto Vignobles Cotes de Galilee Village – kosher wines

As I have been lamenting recently, there really is no way to get kosher wines from small producers that are imported by anyone other than Royal Wines, on the West Coast. One of the best examples of that is the brand new Jacques Capsouto wines that appeared in 2015 on the east coast – imported to the USA from Israel by: Road House Wine – a small but respected wine importer out of New York, of course!

People who read this blog have a few choice words for it, the most common complaint – that it is too long. Well this post will be far shorter – I promise you that. I had the opportunity to taste the two wines and the notes will be found below. However, I did not have the chance to talk or interview the man for this post – Jacques Capsouto, but the story is wonderful, and I could never do it honor as the esteemed and true Israeli Wine promoter could – Adam Montefiore. So please read his article on Jacques Capsouto – it is beautiful, as they all are, and very compelling indeed!

My personal take on Mr. Capsouto is that he is DEAD on with what will work in Israel and what may get by in Israel, grape wise. The Rhone Valley, Spain, and Portugal varietals should be the template for most wineries going forward. Fo this man to create a winery based solely on Rhone varietals is genius and one that I am sure will continue to reap rewards for him going forward.

I hope to meet with the man and visit the winery the next time I am in Israel, till then I hope you work as hard as I did to find these wines and enjoy them for what they are – first-rate product from a new wine producer, who is deeply passionate about his love for Israel and his love for Israeli wine! Also any person who can say these words and put his money behind it – IS MY KIND of man!!! Capsouto is convinced that Israel is a Mediterranean country and as such should plant Mediterranean grape varieties. He also believes Israel should make blends in the Southern Rhone style, “less fruit forward and less like California”. All I can say is AMEN!!!!!

Sadly, I never tasted the 2014 rose till it sold out in NYC. The next rose will be from 2015 Shmitta, which I do not drink. Also, the reserve wine is not yet released – look for it in the spring of this year. As I hope you read Adam’s article, Eva is used in honor of Jacques’ mother, Samuel is used in honor of his grandfather and brother, while Marco is for his father (the unreleased reserve red wine), and Albert is named after his younger brother who passed away for the other unreleased white reserve wine.

Another side note – that I think many will see and one that I will surely ask him when I meet him in the future, is that this direction follows another winery we all love – Netofa Winery. The varietals are all Rhone in style, the unoaked whites and rose are released early, followed by the unoaked reds 6 months later. Then the reserve white and red, both oaked, are released a year later. This is not particular in any way to Pierre and Netofa Winery, this is the classic release cycle of almost all wineries in the Rhone. Just interesting to see two men building an entire wineries off Rhone varietals and whose styles are very close in nature – but we will have to taste the reserve wines in the future to see how close they hew to each other’s styles.

In closing – I was really impressed by what he has created in his first year, the white wine is insanely good, both quality and cost wise. The red wine is nice, but a bit too floral for me. Still, the ability to take a fair amount of capital and plant it into the ground in the Galilee – with varietals that he believes will work, while almost none of it exists there – is very gutsy! I am not sure of this – but I wonder if he was the first to ever plant Clairette, Grenache Blanc, and Counoise in the Galilee!! There is not much Grenache up there either, with Roussanne and Marsanne having been planted already. Bravo to Mr. Capsouto, may you have more successes in the coming years!

My wine notes follow below for the white and red:

2014 Jacques Capsouto Vignobles, Cotes de Galilee Village, Cuvee Eva Blanc – Score: A- (and more) (MAD QPR)
This is the second kosher wine that I know of that is made mostly to all with Grenache Blanc, the other one being the epic Hajdu Grenache Blanc, but double or more the price!

That said, this is one of the best whites coming out of Israel, and that is a VERY long list, given the new trends there. This blend is very unique and clearly the only one that I know of with Clairette, the other grapes have been part of Recanati wines, along with Shirah, Hajdu, and others. Still, by itself – it is one of the most unique and complex blends in the kosher world – hands down!

The blend is 60% Grenache Blanc, 19% Roussanne, 14% Clairette and 7% Marsanne. These are all grapes that have been taken up by the Rhone Rangers, as they are all Rhone varietals (though some of those grapes grow elsewhere in France as well).

This wine needs air, please do not pop it and drink it, you will regret it. It does not need to be decanted, that is absurd, but please open it two hours in advance and you will enjoy it far more, IMHO. The nose on this lovely wine is redolent with straw, floral notes, orange blossom, citrus, and earth. The mouth on this light to medium bodied wine is fresh, spirited, and live, with nice acid, great mineral, slate, along with green apple, peach, apricot, pear, nectarine, all very restrained if I must, really shocking for an Israeli wine, along with spice, herb, and lovely nutty qualities. The finish is long and salty, with lovely saline, olives, great orange pith, and more refreshing aspects. This is a shocking wine for Israel a crazy QPR and a very unique blend! BRAVO!!!

2014 Jacques Capsouto Vignobles, Cotes de Galilee Village, Cuvee Samuel Rouge – Score: B to B+
After tasting the very nice (solid QPR) Capsouto Blanc, I had hopes for this next wine, another unique blend for Israel. This wine is unoaked and a blend of 40% Mourvedre, 31% Grenache, 31% Counoise, and 3% Syrah. Wait what??? Yep there are clearly Grenache and Counoise vines in Israel! Like WHAT!!! I had never heard of Counoise until I tasted this wine, and that alone is a sure-fire buy for most people who see this wine because most have never had a wine with that varietal in it, if you drink kosher or NOT! The first two varietals are classically termed GM (Grenache Mourvedre blend), the Syrah three-some is called a GMS. But the GMCS is a new one for me in the kosher wine world!

That said, the other varietals are almost common to us Cali lovers, but still other than Syrah – the other varietals are not exactly commonplace like an internet Kardashian-sighting! So, I had high hopes times two. At first this wine opens to floral mouth that is overpowering, but with time that relaxes and becomes a very nice wine indeed.

The nose on this wine is lovely and one of its clear winners with rich blueberry, boysenberry, rich floral notes, root beer, dirt, and nice roasted animal that I love and commonly associate with Cali GM and classic Australian Shiraz. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is very nice with ripping acid, nice raspberry, plum, blue fruit, floral notes, followed by very nice mouth coating tannin, coffee, and good sweet herb. The finish is long and blue with more floral notes, boysenberry, rose hips, rose water, and tannin, tobacco, and sweet herbs. Very impressive first release and while I would take the Netofa Red side by side with this lovely wine, this is still an impressive wine – VERY NICE!

The Chosen Barrel – an interesting approach for KosherWine.com

Well, as I have said many times, I used to work with Dan Kirshe at kosherwine.com, I was one of the writers for his wine club newsletter and I bought most of my wine from them. Since then – the inventory and the website were sold to JWines. The name brand alone for such a coveted domain must have been worth the effort that Dan and his team put into that company for many years, I hope, though I have no idea about that aspect at all.

After a while Dan went a different direction and while I always liked kosherwine.com, my orders went elsewhere, towards the east coast merchants. Over time, the costs for shipping has gone up, as fewer and fewer of the east coast kosher wine merchants – gave free shipping as an option.

In the game of driving down prices as your lone differentiator – it clearly become a zero sum game that no one could win and therefore they have almost all pulled the free shipping sales during the holidays. Where that leaves folks like me, who live on the west coast, is hoping to find the best deal and then eating the shipping, which does not work unless you are buying very high end wines.

Kosherwine.com is one of the very few wine shops online that offer free shipping, but to balance that their prices are higher than other shops. So, if you are looking for wines in the 20 to 30 dollar range – the free shipping on a case becomes of real value, even with their slightly higher prices. As I look through their inventory more, especially in the French and Spanish regions, I find they have a nice selection, though some of them are out of stock and I wish they would stock wines from the smaller importers like Red Garden or Israel Wine Direct.

In the end, KW has a lot going for it, they have a very good selection, albeit without some distributors, they also have free case shipping, and they have sale prices that are often inline with some of the larger merchants. Toss in no sales tax for most of the country as well, and it is a great option for wines that exist in the price range that most of us buy wines at.

With that said, JCommerce (the parent company for JWines and Kosherwine.com) is attempting to move itself past the inevitable drive to the bottom – that many wine stores will face when their only differentiator is price alone. One of their approaches is their set of Library wines, which we tasted at last year’s Jewish Week wine tasting, personally it was the best part of that tasting outside of a few other wines there. The wine tasting itself was a disaster, as it was far too crowded and most of the good wines were not brought by the distributors. The best part, IMHO, of the Jewish Week tasting last year were KosherWine.com’s incredible old wines that they were pouring – it was a real treat!

Another manner in which KW is trying to innovate is with the production of their own wines. Now let me say, that while making your own wine for fun may be hard but rewarding – creating labels and getting import rights are an insane pain in the neck. Now, you can get away with much of the pain if you are not reselling the wines, that is 100% legal by law. However, once you start selling wine – no matter where that wine was produced – it needs to have a label that has been approved by the TTB. Throw in the wine importing and this new project by JCommerce is one that is unique and may well end up as a very good long term play for them.

I was sent four wines to taste, two of them are not involved with this post – so I will skip over them. The other two wines were The Chosen Barrel wines. Of the two of them, I liked one of them and the other was not for my taste buds. With that said, both of them will be liked by the kosher wine consumers that drink riper and new-world Israeli wines. They both showed very good structure, with nice tannin, and good acidity. The Acacia was a bit too new world for me, with clear date leanings, while the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, while being clearly new-world in style, was controlled with nice classic Cab fruit and spice.

I wanted to touch on a quick but not overly discussed fact on the two wines I received. The Cabernet Sauvignon is NOT mevushal while the Acacia blend is mevushal and is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. The blend is also called Australian Blend – as they were one of the first countries to create this ripe wine blend. With that said, Israel was next to make use of this blend, with Yatir being one of the first to create this blend in the kosher wine world (aside from the kosher Australian wines that were out at that time).

The wines marketing does not revolve around who made the wines or from winery they come from! These wines are kosher of course, as is visibly clear from the bottles. The wine’s web pages describes the process for how these white label wines came to be. In their words: The Chosen Barrel is an innovation in the US Wine Industry. We sampled countless barrels from more than 20 Israeli wineries and when we found The Chosen Barrel, we knew we had to have it all. So we could bring it to you.

When we first approached this project we knew our customers want unparalleled access to the very best of kosher wine. As we toured Israel’s wineries and tasted more than 50 barrels of wine, we found this small batch production of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and barbera grapes. Instantly, we knew. We had found what we had come for. No one else has access to The Chosen Barrel. We purchased it all so we could bring it to you. This exclusive production is yours, and we’re confident you’ll be as excited about it as we are.

The labels talk more about the wines themselves. In the case of the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, the back label informs that the wine was aged for 20 months in barrels. The wine was harvested by hand and at night, and when bottles the wine was unfiltered. The same goes for the Acacia blend, excepting for the aging time – which was 15 months in oak barrels.

My many thanks to JCommerce for sending me the wines and the wine notes follow below:

2012 The Chosen Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – Score: B++ (NOT Mevushal)
What can I say, this is a very new world wine, very fruit forward and in your face, this is not a wine for tasting – this is a wine to be enjoyed with food and meat. The nose on this wine is classically Israeli, with mounds of tobacco, sweet cedar, mounds of mocha, rich milk chocolate, coconut, and black fruit in the background with herbs. The mouth on this full bodied wine is still young, with searing tannins, along with enough acid to balance out the wine, but very new world and leaning towards dates with lots of oak, blackberry, dark plum, raspberry, nice mineral, dirt, and green notes, bell pepper, and sweet herb. The finish is long and spicy, with cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, all coming together with leather, and sweet fruit.

2012 The Chosen Barrel Acacia – Score: B to B+ (mevushal)
This is another new world wine that is another classic Israeli bent wine. This wine is less balanced than the Cabernet reserve, but with 25% of Syrah it has something to add. The nose on this wine is closed, but with time it shows earth, mushroom, date, cooked fruit, with chocolate, and herb. The mouth on this full bodied wine is sweet with dark plum, sweet blueberry, anise, pepper, with a plush mouth and searing tannin, all wrapped in a fruit forward body structure. The finish is spicy with hints of saline, creme de cocoa, earth, mineral, and nice sweet spices, cinnamon, and sweet herb. The mevushal process feels like it hurt this wine, but many will find this a nice wine with the bold body and bold fruit.

My kosher wine 2015 year in review

Well, it is another Gregorian year and though there has been many new things going on in the world of the kosher wine world, they are all small in comparison to the larger fact that not much has changed.

Sadly, my issues from 2014 have not changed and in some ways they are getting worse. But lets start at the beginning and get to my issues next. So here is what I thought about 2015, in terms of kosher wine overall.

Economics

The economics of kosher wine continues to be a serious issue. When I get excited by a SINGLE very good kosher wine that exists below the 10 dollar range (other than maybe Baron Herzog Cabernet and Chardonnay which retail for more) – you know we have issues. Here is a list of non-kosher wines from Wine Spectator and from Wine Enthusiast. They show hundreds of options while we have THREE max, why? I have heard all the answers – and trust me the kosher supervision is not the reason!

I do not need to harp over the number of horrible and undrinkable – let alone unspeakable wines that exist in the kosher wine aisles that are not worthy of the glass they reside in. They all cost more than 10 dollars. In the end, the issue cannot be denied and it needs to be fixed. Quality exists (more below) at higher prices, but what is needed is lower prices and higher quality. You can always create great wines at 100 dollars – that is really not a hard thing to do, even if it looks that way sometimes. Great grapes from Napa, Montsant, or even places like Ben Zimra and others locations in the Upper Galilee, can be had for less than 6K a ton. Napa is the highest cost, with Montsant and Galilee costing less. Still, even at that cost – you get 50 cases at 100 bucks a pop = which comes out to 60K. Sure there are costs, including humans, and space, and the such. My point being the cost of making great wine is not hard. The real head knocker is making very good wine at lower costs.

That is where Terrenal has made a living at making very good wines, not great, not A rated, but very good wines at low cost. The sad fact is that unless there are great sales or just really cheap wine stores, the list of kosher wines under 20 dollars are even still limited, and that is what is really hurting the kosher wine world in my opinion.

Quality

Which takes us to the next subject – QPR (Quality to Price Ratio). I scream when there is a new good wine that is worthy of the QPR moniker. Elvi Wines is a perfect example of a winery made to build QPR wines. Same goes for Netofa Winery, Yarden/Gilgal Whites, Tabor white and rose, Capcanes, Terrenal, Volcanus, Goose Bay whites, Tura, some French wines here and there, and a few others. In terms of pure quality, ignoring price, then the list grows to most of Cali, most of Israel’s whites and rose, and for a few red from Israel’s superstars; including wineries like Matar, YatirFlam, Castel, Tzora, GvaotRecanati, Dalton, Teperberg, Tura, Carmel Winery (Israeli labels), Ella Valley (for the Franc), Adir, and some others.

Yes, my list of top wines for Passover continues to expand, but so do the number of wines available – and there is the rub. While the list continues to expand from 100 to 120, the number of wines available are in thousands – and there lies the issue. The percentages are not in the favor of the average guy on the street. I listed lots of wineries above, but in Israel alone, there are some 200+ kosher wineries, with more popping up weekly! Read the rest of this entry

NCSY serves up a vertical homerun – 2003-2013 Covenant Winery Cabernet Sauvignon

2003 to 2013 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon Bottles for VerticalWell, traveling has not stopped in the past few weeks. A week after we came home from our trip to Europe I went to Toronto for a Covenant Winery wine tasting. As you know, my take on Covenant can be found here and here. I posted them because I have a true respect for this winery. I say that because there are truly very few wineries out there with their track record in the kosher wine industry.

Sadly, 5 years ago if I was asked – what is the best kosher winery out there, I would have said Yarden, and to some extent I think there was solid data to back that up. Sadly, as anyone who has read this blog, that ended in 2008, and in many ways is not even constant for previous vintages. Now, a winery should not be just defined by their top wines or their wine’s age-ability, but it does place the correct spotlight on the processes and approach to their wine making techniques. With that said, Yarden is one of the most technologically advanced wineries in the kosher wine world, with insane controls at almost every level from vineyards to wines and their vast and very blatant shift down the sugar-coated date juice rabbit hole – is one that is being done with very distinct knowledge. But I digress, the point I am making here, is that outside of maybe Carmel’s Limited Edition, Castel, Yatir, Tzora, Capcanes, and Four gates – there is no one with Covenant’s high end track record – outside of France.

Without question, France has the clear advantage and track record for kosher wines, and from what I have tasted so far, it is continuing to turn out great wines. Aside from them, Covenant is honestly in the race for one of the top kosher winery, in terms of sheer consistency, quality, and age-ability over the past 10 years – inclusively.

So, when I heard there was an event being put on for NCSY where every Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon will be tasted – I had to be there. Mind, you that was not a simple fact – but that was more an issue of playing musical calendar dates with my clients than it was anything else. But once my calendar was properly rectified, my tickets were booked and I was all set.

I arrived in Toronto Canada on November 17th and drove my way to my unbelievable hosts for the next three days. Once I was happily ensconced into my beautiful room, I took a quick shower and then it was off to see what was next on the agenda for the next three days!

Well, let me start with the premise, we were doing a vertical of Covenant Wines. The wines were each and every vintage of Covenant Winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley. they were donated for a 11 wine vertical of the Napa wines and the lucky folks who were invited to taste them, were all very generous donors to the NCSY cause, in the greater Toronto area. Now, in case you have never been to an NCSY event, let me tell you what the definition of exemplary and efficient are – her name is Penny and her unbelievable crew, including Rabbi Black (yes that is inverted, but you had to be there). These wonderful people are the responsible for disseminating Torah values to the next generation of Jewish yutes (sorry I could not help myself). Of course Rabbi Black is the CEO of the group, but once the event started it was all about the amazing crew that setup, managed, and then cleared the home back to its pristine state that they found it!

The NCSY crew in action

But I am getting ahead of myself again, the event was being put on by the local chapter of the NCSY for the very kind and generous donors who have supported the NCSY’s great undertaking and steering the next generation of Jewish children to the values that are defined in the Torah; that ancient but very precious text that defines the way that we are meant to be conducting our lives today. Read the rest of this entry

California kosher wine living for 2015

As you all can see I hope, I have been trying to place some focus on the kosher wines from around the world, Israel, France, and my most recent post of the top whites, rose, and bubblies. But to a certain extent, I have been leaving my roots behind, California kosher wines. So this week, I thought I would just work on the notes that I have for all the kosher wines that I have tasted this past year that have been in California, both north, central, and south.

Of course, the list is well known, staring in Napa, that would be Hagafen Winery, and Covenant Winery (though not officially in Napa any longer, it sources the majority of its fruit from Napa) and Hajdu Winery (both are made now in Berkeley, CA). Next is Four Gates Winery, followed by Shirah Winery and La Fenetre, and then finally Herzog Winery, and the 2010 wines from Agua Dolce (AKA Craig Winchell).

To be honest some of these wines are all sold out already, as I slept on the job, but hey I will post them anyway, also it is good to keep track of the wines you have in the cellar.

California kosher Wines

Before I go to the notes, I wanted to talk about California wines for a bit. California wines, for the most part, are sweet wines. Please note the term “sweet” but not date! They are controlled and ripe, but round and full powered. Sadly, there were one or two occasions where the wine had a mind of its own, one Shirah wine and one Agua Dolce wines, that come to immediate memory. But otherwise, they are on the whole very round, ripe, and in your face. There are also, non sweet wines from California, almost old world in nature, like the Covenant wines – for the most part, along with the higher end Herzog wines that are not quite old world – but are indeed mineral or dry fruit based. Four Gates wines are starting to get a bit more ripe, but for the most part continue to show old world style wines, based on the intense acid and lovely mineral notes.

So, how does this compare to Israel and other locals? Well, Spain continues to make great wines for reasonable prices; except for a few Capcanes wines whose prices have went higher after Royal took over distribution. Still, Spanish kosher wines continue to be one of the best places for consistently good, unique, and balanced wines. California to me is the dark horse, sure some of the prices are higher, especially Four Gates, which has been raising prices over the past few years, but California kosher wines continue to be a great place to find wines that are balanced and not overly fruit forward.

As stated, of the list of previously described kosher wines in Cali, and listed below as well, I must say that Covenant, Four Gates, and Herzog are producing new world wines with a clear old world bent. The rest are creating lovely and extremely good new world wines – while showing control with only a couple of exceptions.

In comparison to Israel, I must say that Cali and Spain have Israel beat, for someone like myself. The proof to my statement is in my cellar, over the past year I have moved away from Israel and over to Spain and Cali, with the obvious exception to the wonderful whites/rose/bubbly coming from Israel, and the few red producers that are making great wines. The hope, as I continue to say, is that more wineries follow them and create better wines in Israel, till then I will be shifting hard to France, Spain, Cali, and only the very top Israeli wineries.

So, what makes Cali wines better to me than Israeli wines? Simple, control and balance. California wines, kosher or not, are ripe, the heat demands it, still, it is how those grapes are managed afterwards. I have been able to be part of the wine making at some wineries, and it is a real education to watch wines evolve, simply because the juice is not where the work ends. Once the red grapes are crushed there are two more stages in the wine’s development that define the wine; Fermentation(s) and barrel/tank aging. I am skipping bottle aging, not because it is not important, but because few wineries really do that here in California. The exceptions are Four Gates Winery (that keeps its Merlot some 3-5 years in bottle before releasing), and some of Herzog’s Eagles Landing wines as well.

Oak Usage

Issues that occur in the fermentation(s) stage are not unique to Cali, in any manner, but California has been seeing a fair amount of stuck fermentations in both alcoholic and malolactic fermentations recently. More importantly though is that once the first fermentation is complete the red wines enter the next stage of wine management; barrel aging (unless there is a prolonged cold soak – like Shirah and a few other Wineries do).

It is in the barrel aging where Cali is unique, in its usage of American Oak – which gives wines here those green basil and dill notes, along with coconut/extreme vanilla notes. When people think of Zinfandel, they think Cali and the classic sweet notes that American oak gives those wines. Again, this is really only prominent in the lower level wines of most wineries, kosher or not, but the sweet noted American Oak nuances can be found in more wines – than just those baseline wines. I always ask what barrels were used to make the wine, sometimes I am told a mix or pure American, but when I am told the oak used was all French or Hungarian, I listen but verify! Read the rest of this entry

KFWE LA – a star is born in Hollywood

W_entranceIt 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.

Pierre and Olivier CuvelierThe 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

Sommelier 2015 results – White wines ruled along with a few reds

Sommelier 2015Sadly, Sommelier 2015 has come and gone and I can fairly state that I found nothing to be heartened about, in terms of the Israeli kosher wine scene. To be fair, the issue is still the same, wineries are deepening their love for all things over ripe and the excuse of poor vintages is really just that – an excuse. Having tasted almost every viable kosher wine at the event, I can safely say that only a few wineries care to make wines that are not over ripe, and the rest are the usual suspects. Before, anyone says there were many great wines, I can say I totally agree! The clear winners, winery wise were:
1.    Tzora Winery (the 2012 vintage is insane)
2.    Gvaot Winery (the 2012 Masada may well be their best ever)
3.    Recanati Winery (clearly the biggest winery with a desire to build very good wines from the bottom up)
4.    Tabor Winery (they continue to excel at the Adama series, though the Adama II wines have lost a step since 2010). Still, the whites, rose, and reds of Adama were impressive.
5.    Carmel Winery (the whites continue to excel and even the reds are solid, sadly the US labels are date juice)
6.    Yatir (nothing new here they are one of the best of the bunch)
7.    Yarden – SOLELY for the whites and bubbles. The reds were all date juice, the classic example of a winery that has purposely and consciously taken the road of over ripe fruit.
8.    Netofa Winery (the 2013 and 2014 wines will blow your socks off) – not listed here because I will post separately
9.    Mia Luce (Another winery made by a Recanati Associate Winemaker, this one being kosher) – maybe the best wines of the entire event
10.   Tura Winery (continues to push the boundaries and improving mightily. Love the Merlot, blends, and the new Gewurztraminer. Will post their wines on a separate post).

A few to keep track of – if they keep things up:
1.    Kishor Winery (some of their reds were truly impressive, their new whites were a step behind 2013)
2.    Jezreel Winery (Their white blend and the Carignan were nice, they need to tighten up the rest)
3.    Gush Eztion (Their whites were solid though they too need to tighten up on the reds)

Sadly, of the 200+ kosher wines at the event, fewer than 40 reds were anything to write about. It was the whites, even at wineries that I found physically painful to taste at, were quite acceptable. In the end it was the white wines that saved the event for me. White wines are the clear new trend in Israeli wineries and a trend that continues to impress. Sadly, the 2014 whites are step behind the 2013 vintages, as many did not add acid to the wines, but they are very solid none the less. Read the rest of this entry

Update on the 2015 kosher wine events

KFWE2015-EH1So, as promised here is a quick update on the state of affairs around the kosher wine events in the USA.

So, the story has not changed much in the past few weeks, since I last posted on the 2015 wine events. The KFWE LA VIP has sold out as has the KFWE NYC. The KFWE LA, non VIP is still open and my discount coupon still works on that.

We still have no official word on the Gotham wine event. However, the The Jewish Week’s Grand Wine Tasting is set, as always at the City Winery. It is on Monday March 16th and it starts at 5:00 PM and ends at 8:30 PM. Tickets are available here.

 

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