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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

Agua Dolce kosher Wines and a few others as well

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.

The great kosher California and Israeli Zin-off (Zinfandel Challenge)

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

Agua Dulce Cabernet Sauvignon and Alcohol and Brown Sugar Braised Short Ribs

For the past week we were tasting kosher wines at the 2012 Herzog International Food and Wine Festival. It was a wonderful event and one that was well received, look here for an in-depth write-up, along with another tasting at the Cask and a tasting at what I call ADS (Agua Dulce & Shirah), for the Agua Dulce Winery and Shirah Winery. The note below is for one of the wines that I took home – the 2010 Agua Dulce Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted through all of the 2010 and 2011 wines of both Agua Dulce and Shirah winery. I can safely call Craig Winchell, the wine maker of Agua Dulce a friend, a person I have known for some 20 or so years and one who I have crazy respect for. Gabe and Shimon Weiss (also known as the Weiss brothers) are a pair of young and talented men. Gabe is the mashgiach (kosher certification supervisor) for Agua Dulce and the wine maker of Shirah wines. Shimon, Gabe’s brother, is the marketing genius behind the cool labels, slick website, while also being an impressive carpenter, and possessing a darn good palate as well.

I will be writing up my impressions on both wineries in due time, but for now I wanted to talk about the wine I tasted over Shabbos. I took/borrowed four half bottles from our tasting of Agua Dulce wines and they were impressive overall. I was privy to things that I do not wish to discuss but also somewhat stunted my enthusiasm for a couple of the wines, but issues that I know Craig will work out before the wines are released to the public. Craig joined the winery in 2010 and all wines from that time on were made kosher.

I took home a Cabernet that I must say, I was not expecting from the vineyards of this winery. The 90 acres of Agua Dulce’s vineyards are planted in desert plains at an elevation of 2000 feet. The winter days can be downright cold and the summer days can warm up a bit, but not to a point of Napa or the Central Coast. Gabe, who tasted the wines with us, said that the terroir of this vineyard is the black pepper that is obvious within all of its wines. There are many small black pepper bushes around, but that may well be an effect of the land and not the cause. The vineyard is a cold weather vineyard and one of the outcomes can be low ripeness, during cold summers, like the past two years. Under ripe fruit can sometimes shows green notes that in the hand of a professional like Craig can sometimes mean a masterpiece.

Read the rest of this entry

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