On Sunday night we were blessed to be part of an extremely exclusive 27-course meal, well more like 30 or so – if you count the decadent small dishes after dessert, but who is really counting. The event was put on by the dynamic duo of Chef Yitzchok Bernstein and Brobdingnagian Wine maker Jonathan Hajdu. The event was a fundraiser for Beth Jacob, Oakland’s Orthodox Synagogue – and what an event it was!
When I have tried to explain the event, attempt to verbalize the magnitude of the effort, and the uniqueness of it all, I have so far failed, till now I hope, to transport the listener, or reader, to the mind-blowing state of conscious that we were all leaving within for 6 or so hours – this past Sunday night. The meal was a, 27 or so course, of mind-blowing culinary talent – coming to life in front of us lucky few. Each dish was hand plated with such exacting detail, that not only did each plate fill us gastronomically, but also the visual sumptuousness of each and every plate truly was equally a feast for one’s senses. The funny thing was that the meal started at 24 courses, as I had an early preview of the menu. However, by the time we lived it, it had grown to 27 and could have been 30, if the participants could have kept up with Bernstein. I was more than happy to taste the other two or so courses, but I did not call it a 30 course meal, as they were not formally served to the participants.
The second we entered the home of the host and hostess we knew we were in for a real treat. The house is a lovely sprawling ranch style home, remodeled to as close as possible to the mid-century modernism style of some 60 years ago, while all the while bringing the current century’s modern touches to life in a truly non-obtrusive manner – a real success in my humble opinion. If the home is an extension of the owners, than the simplest way to summarize the hosts is, sleek, modern, highly functional, with an ode to the past and arms open as wide as the glass sliding doors that truly define minimalist architecture and the MCM movement. The openness and warmth that are exuded by the home’s colors and textures truly reflect the host and hostess, and all of us were constantly in awe of their ability to deftly steer the epic culinary adventure to the success that it was. While the event may have stretched a bit longer than some were ready for, as most needed to go to work the next day, the intimate setting and cosmopolitan mix of people truly added to the entire evening.
With the well-deserved forward now handled, it is only fair to throw the light unto the culinary genius of the evening – Chef Yitzchok Bernstein. Mr. Bernstein is mostly self-taught, but has also received formal training in Bread Baking at French Culinary Institute. He also studied pastry and advanced bread baking at SFBI. (san francisco bakers institute), and has been working in and around restaurants, since the age of 14. Food is a truly passionate thing to Mr. Bernstein; you can see his persona expressed clearly in his food and in his open and warm demeanor. Throughout the evening the dishes were harmonious, balanced, tempered, but never losing focus and always packing more than enough bite, texture, and complexity to grab and keep your attention, until magically there was yet another unending course to partake from. Each course built on the past one, adding layers and nuances that were not lost to the foodies that ensconced the close-knit twin table setting.
The other resident genius at the event was Jonathan Hajdu (firstname.lastname@example.org), the associate wine maker at Covenant Winery, and is also the wine maker for wines from the Brobdingnagian and Besomim wine labels. The Brobdingnagian/Besomim winery is located in Napa CA. Hajdu wines was started in 2007, by owner and winemaker Jonathan Hajdu. Hajdu produces small lot artisan wines, with a focus on Rhone varietals under the Brobdignagian, and Besomim labels, though the newer wines are veering all over to where Hajdu can find the highest quality grapes. The Brobdignagian name is derived from Jonathan Swift’s giants, in Gulliver’s Travels, and attests to the winemakers’ proclivity towards intense and powerfully flavored wines. Wine produced under the Besomim label, is a blend of varietals with a focus on complex aromatics. These limited production wines are available directly from the winery. Read the rest of this entry
Two months ago, I wrote an article about some scores and notes that the Wine Spectator released in the June 30th edition. The wines were scored by Kim Marcus where he reviewed some 21 wines from Israel and many scored above 85 point.
Well, the beat goes on and Mr. Marcus scored another 8 wines from Israel and all of them scored 85 or higher. These are the wines and the scores:
- 2009 Domaine du Castel ‘C’ Chardonnay – 90
- 2009 Clos de Gat Syrah, Har’el (NOT KOSHER) – 90
- 2009 Clos de Gat Syrah, Sycra (NOT KOSHER) – 90
- 2009 Recanati Carignan, Reserve, Wild – 90
- 2008 Yarden Merlot – 89
- 2010 Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon – 87
- 2010 Recanati Merlot – 87
- 2011 Recanati Yasmin, Red – 85
So, like last time I have a few comments here. First and foremost – BRAVO! Seriously, this is great! Israel is finally getting the scores that match the quality and wines. In NO way am I saying that the scores before did not fit the facts, I am NOWHERE in the same solar system as Mr. Marcus – so please let me set that straight before we go on here. What I am saying is that Israeli wines are improving – PERIOD! Whether it is the fact that wineries are starting to gain control over their hot climate fruit, or they are improving their processes to keep the fruit and the wine under control and thereby improving quality. Scores from all around the wine world are going up and the wine world is truly starting to take notice of Israel and their wine potential – so again BRAVO to all!
To set things straight, though on a sad note, Daniel Rogov who died on September 6th 2011, passed before he could truly see what seems to be the turning of the tide, in terms of worldwide appreciation for Israel’s wines. It will almost be a year since his passing and there is not a day that goes by, that I do not think about him and the positive impact that he had on, both the kosher and the Israeli, wine world. I am sure he is looking down on this state of affairs and laughing like he always did, and taking it all in with a glass of Cognac in hand.
Secondly, like I stated last times – please do not wonder why these scores may be high or low in comparison to the rest of the world. These wine scores are perfectly in line with what others scored these wines, and there are a few honest surprises for me again.
To start, I posted the Clos de Gat wines – even though they are not kosher, because this was about Israeli wines, and in the words of Richard Shaffer, from Israel Wine Direct, Kosher is NOT a Country – LOVE that line!
Also, I am so happy that Mr. Marcus appreciated the Recanati wines as much as we all do. Like I posted in an earlier piece, Recanati Winery was built on the premise that they could and will create great kosher wines for a reasonable price! In other words solid kosher QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wines! The lowest three scoring wines go for less than 12 dollars at most wine stores. Further, the Yarden Merlot goes for 16 dollars, on a bad day, which makes it another solid QPR wine. The top four wines do run in the 40 to 60 dollar range, and two of them are not kosher, but the real surprise of the bunch is the 2009 Domaine du Castel Chardonnay!
The 2009 Domaine du Castel Chardonnay has quite a swirl of controversy around it, given its clear reduction, the last few times I tasted it. Now, I did enjoy it once when I went to Castel Winery itself, but many in the community feel it is not a great wine, and clearly not a wine that shows the best for Castel Chardonnays. Still, it is great to see that the world is happy to ignore the Israel-centric views and score the wine for what they perceive it to be.
My wines notes follow below for the wines that I have tasted:
2009 Recanati Carignan, Reserve, Kerem Ba’al (Wild) – Score: A-
The nose explodes with almost overripe blackberry, dates, prune, raspberry, nice floral notes, roasted meat, and plum. The mouth is rich and layered, with concentrated but accessible fruit, along with a crazy inky structure, and a mouth that is massive and rich with mouth coating tannin, and nice cedar. The finish is long and ripe with nice chocolate, butterscotch notes, heavy spice, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, and a salty finish. This is clearly a new-world style wine with crazy fruit forward and heavy use of oak, but one that is quite lovely all the same. There will be some that do not like the heavy smoke or the overripe fruit, and that is fine, just know what you are getting into with this wine. Many have given this wine huge scores while I see this one for what it is, which is a crazy unique and lovely wine that is a bit too overdone and overripe for my taste. Drink till 2016.
2010 Recanati Merlot, Diamond Series – Score: B++
The nose starts off floral with nice black cherry, green notes, and black currant. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is softening up with rounding tannin, black plum, green bell pepper, and nice cedar notes. The finish is long and spicy with good spice, black pepper, tobacco, vanilla, and bitter notes on the long finish.
These past two weeks have been what the Jews call the 9 days that are rather famous for the infamous events that have occurred in this specific span of time. Thankfully, once they were passed Herzog Cellars and Royal Wines put on an encore event of the IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival), this time in the Herzog Winery itself, to celebrate the winery’s 25th year in the industry! What an event and celebration it was! It brought back memories of the old IFWF events that were held in Oxnard, since the inaugural IFWF event in 2008.
Sure there were some 200 or so in attendance, but with the fully expanded setup, including an enclosure in the back that housed the French wine table, dessert table, and room to hunker down, it felt spacious and very comfortable.
In many ways, this event felt like an almost exact replay of the first International Food and Wine Festival. The crowd size was perfect, there was room for you to hunker down and taste wines and there was room for you to huddle up and talk with friends or people of like or dislike opinions.
Besides the layout and crowds, the food was absolutely fantastic, just like in previous events here. Once again, Todd Aarons and Gabe Garcia created wondrous delights that were so wrong in all the right ways! Of course, I came to the food area too late to partake of all of the goodies, but I still got to taste many fantastic culinary treats, including the absolutely stunning puffed chicken nuggets topped with incredibly tasty barbecue sauce.
Unfortunately, I came a bit late to this event because of what I came to call parking lot A and B (405 and 101 respectively). Whenever, I watch the Dodgers or the Angels, I can now understand why the crowds are so empty for the first three innings, because everyone is parked on one or more highways! My guess to why they all leave by the 7th inning is that after the folks get so aggravated waiting in the traffic, they get tired and want to go home. Quite clearly getting to and from any event in LA adds a few hours to the overall time and that is aggravating and tiring. However, like I, once the guests arrived they had to almost physically throw us out. The place did start to peter out in the last hour, but the place was still humming and drinking until the last second. Read the rest of this entry
This past weekend I had the chance to drink a pair of rose wines based off the affable and approachable Cabernet Franc grape. Of the three wines in this post, fortunately or unfortunately (depending upon your opinion) only one is available here in the US. The third wine is a tasting note from my trip to Israel last year. The three wines are the; 2010 Flam Rose (a wine we enjoyed at the winery and at the 2012 IFWF and bought at the winery in Israel), 2010 Eden Wild Rose (bought in Israel), and the 2010
I have a serious soft spot and love affair with all things Cabernet Franc and was more than excited to share my two prize bottles of rose with an entire table of guests. Unfortunately, that was where all the excitement ended and where reality set in. I first tasted the 2010 Kadesh Barnea Rose in November of last year, at the Sommelier event in Israel, and I thought it was a nice and accessible wine, but did not think it was worthy of a major mention. However, as I found more of these Cabernet Franc based rose wines, I thought it was worthy of noting that the grape is fine for red, but not that memorable for rose.
I next tasted the 2010 Flam Rose at the winery this year and it was lovely, bright, and mineral based, which really helped to add excitement and pull it up from the normal quaff-able status that rose wines receive by default. We next tasted it again at the 2012 Herzog IFWF, and again the wine showed well. However, around the table this past week, the wine was showing a bit weaker and without the acid punch and deep minerality that separated this rose from the pack. It was still the clear winner of the three, but to be fair, would you call a 5 foot person on an island of 4 foot people a giant?
The first and only time that I tasted the 2010 Eden Wild Rose was this past weekend at my house, and while it had some captivating notes and flavors, it too lacked the punch to bring it all together, and let alone be drinkable with food.
I had never heard of the Eden winery, until my friend Gabriel Geller, owner and managing partner at the Wine Mill store in Jerusalem, told me about him and sold me a bottle. Personally, I loved the original aromas from the wine, but I REALLY must thank Gabriel for also selling me a bottle of the 2009 Eden Wild Red, a blend of Cabernet and Merlot, which was fantastic and extremely unique! Read the rest of this entry
- 2009 Bazelet HaGolan Cabernet Sauvignon – 90
- 2007 Binyamina Cave – 90
- 2009 Yarden Chardonnay – 89
- 2008 Yarden Pinot Noir – 89
- 2009 Domaine du Castel Petite Castel – 89
- 2009 Segal Chardonnay, Special Reserve – 89
- 2007 Barkan Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve – 88
- 2007 Barkan Merlot, Reserve – 88
- 2009 Binyamina Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Verdot, Yogev – 88
- 2009 Dalton Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc Alma – 88
- 2009 Segal Merlot, Special Reserve – 87
- 2009 Galil Yiron – 87
- 2010 Teperberg Meritage – 86
- 2007 Binyamina Merlot, Reserve – 85
- 2010 Barkan Merlot/Argaman, Classic – 85
- 2009 Binyamina Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Yogev – 85
- 2010 Segal Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon, Fusion- 85
- 2009 Binyamina Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay, Yogev – 84
- 2010 Barkan Pinot Noir, Classic – 83
- 2009 Binyamina Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz, Yogev – 83
- 2007 Binyamina Zinfandel, Reserve – 82
Personally, I have a few things to comment here. First of all I am so very happy to see Israel again being taken seriously and having their wines scored, whether for the good or the bad.
Secondly, these scores are VERY much in line with expectations, though there are a few shockers in there as well, more on that soon. The wines that were tasted were not blockbuster superstars, on the contrary these were second tier wines, for the most part, and many of which we have scored in the very same manner. In other words, the reason why these “low” scores are such good news is that they are VERY legitimate scores for the wines reviewed.
Read the rest of this entry
As stated in the previous posting on this lovely event, there were many wines to taste and there was no way I could post all the wine notes in a single posting. Here is my follow-up posting on the wines tasted at the event, including the wines that I loved and did not love.
The wine notes are listed in the order that I tasted them:
2010 Domaine Netofa – White – Score: B++
The nose on this light gold colored wine shows clean and lovely nose of green apple, peach, grapefruit, kiwi, light quince, and rich/nice loamy dirt and mineral. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and balanced with nice minerality, along with nice bright fruit that mingles well in the mouth. The finish is long and spicy with nice quince, tart green apple, grapefruit, and green tea.
2010 Binyamina Chardonnay, Reserve, Unoaked – Score: B
This wine did not show nearly as well as its 2009 sibling, the wine was flat without much to grab your attention. The nose on this straw colored wine has apple, lemon, nice mineral, bright acid, and melon. The mouth is somewhat plush and the finish has citrus to round out the wine.
2010 Binyamina Chardonnay, Reserve – Score: B+
This wine did not show nearly as well as its 2009 sibling, though not as bad as its unoaked twin. The nose on this dark straw colored wine has light oak, brioche, lemon, nice spice, light creme, and honey. The mouth is round with spice, summer fruit, and oak influence.
2011 Tulip White Tulip – Score: B++
This wine is a blend of 70% Gewurztraminer and 30% Sauvignon Blanc with the sweet and floral notes of the Gewurztraminer showing nicely with honey and guava, while the green apple and bright lemon notes from the Sauvignon Blanc blend together in a unique manner. The nose on this straw colored wine hits you with mineral, light honey, bright lemon, green apple, and guava. The mouth is nice and honeyed with light petrol, and citrus. The finish is long with both sweet lemon creme and bright lemon at the same time, along with fig, and tart notes. This is a great wine that would go well with fish or sushi.
This past week I was under a big top enjoying kosher wines from around the world and Chef Aaron Todd’s sumptuous splendors were available for all to enjoy. The event was the 2012 Herzog International Food and Wine Festival (IFWF) that was being held at the stately Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Century City. Last year’s event was held at the state-of-the-art Herzog Winery, in Oxnard CA. The intimate lighting and setting was lovely last year, but the combination of the Royal’s larger wine portfolio, the wonderful food, and the growing crowds made it feel like the event was getting too big for its britches. So, with much dismay we waited to hear where the event was going to move to. When the word came out that the event was going to be held at the legendary Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Century City – the event became the must attend hot ticket event for everyone who enjoys food and wine in the LA area – which is about all Los Angelenos.
Now before anyone thinks the event was held in the stately Los Angeles Ballroom – it was not. Actually, it was held in the lovely Plaza Pavilion, whose name does not even begin to give the unique 9,000+ square foot space its due. The event was moved from the somewhat cramped, yet intimate, setting of the winery to a beautiful tent that is a permanent fixture in the hotel and the social calendar of many a LA party hopper. Actually it is with good reason, if I may say so, as the room is a long rectangle with sufficient yet dim-able lighting and enough space to host the many food and wine stands that the 500 or so attendees partook of. Never during the evening did I feel cramped or claustrophobic like I did last year. Further, while the smell of charring wood and meat is a huge turn-on (for me), it totally messes with my olfactory abilities, which when attending a wine tasting (not drinking) event – really bites! There were copious examples of carnivore delights, which were all prepared on site, but the smells did not permeate the walls of the pavilion. The larger space allowed for more vertical sitting spaces with round tables, in case you were not heads down like I was tasting wines. Also, the ability to stroll out of the pavilion and sit in the reception area, a few feet away, made for a far more roomy feeling event. Finally, the pavilion’s lovely champagne, antique gold and chocolate-brown colors, along with the chandeliers and wall-to-wall carpeting made for an evening of sheer elegance and grandeur. Just an aside, while the surroundings were indeed attention grabbing, the guests who attended the event were equally well draped. Some came with tails and a top hat, others dressed to kill in evening ware gowns and suits. I of course, jeans and long sleeve shirt, however, the majority of the crowd were clearly channeling the elegance of the evening.
The confluence of events that just happened to fall on Wednesday, February 15th, made it feel like the odds were stacked against a successful foray out of Herzog’s home base. First it rained – I mean pouring rain! If any of you saw L.A. Story, I hope you can appreciate how rare that is – even in the so-called winter! Further, POTUS decided to do not one, but TWO drive-bys, bringing traffic to a standstill while people craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the most powerful man in the free world. Still, blessedly, nor rain nor sleet nor traffic (the latter a very common malady that Los Angelenos are used to) can keep good citizens of LA from enjoying some seriously good wine and food. The event to me was a major success for many reasons, but the main reason was the fact that sure the event was attended by Jews interested in seeing what wines to buy for the upcoming Purim and Passover. However, there was a large contingency of party goers who attended the evening festivities to enjoy good food and wine – irreverent to their religious and dietary beliefs (which trust me in LA is saying a LOT)! The opportunity to show the L.A. glitterati that the word kosher does not relegate one to an automatic 15 minute timeout, is serious step forward for the kosher industry. Read the rest of this entry
This past week I went spelunking into my freezer and I found two pounds of minute steak, or what the meat world calls chuck blade steak. The steaks are kind of that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde meat. It wants to be braised but it also can work with a grill. Say what? Actually, the meat has a large amount of connective tissue with a thick gristle running down the middle. The best way to manage this cut of meat is to grill it after you marinade it for a few hours, or braise it. Well, I had no time to marinade the meat ahead of time, so I coated the meat with paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper. I then put them on the grill and used a bit of barbecue sauce as well. Finally, I placed the grilled steaks into a shallow pan, added in some more barbecue sauce into the pan, and then covered it with aluminum foil and placed the meat into a warm oven.
For a side dish, I whipped up two very simple dishes. One was roasted sweet potatoes, potatoes, and onions. The other was garlic green beans with onions and mushrooms. Here are the recipes:
Roasted Potatoes and Onions Recipe
- 1 pound of potatoes – cut into large cubes
- 1 pound of yams (orange sweet potatoes) – cut into large cubes
- 2 sweet onions – cut into large cubes
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of garlic powder and paprika
- 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper
Cut up the vegetables into large cubes 1 inch or more cubes. Then place them in a large bowl and fill the bowl with water to cover, and let them sit there for an hour of so. This is VERY important. It helps to accelerate the roasting process. Then pour out the water, and pat the vegetables dry. Next mix the spices together so that they are combined well. Next spread out the vegetable cubes into a large shallow roasting pan and cover with oil and then sprinkle the spice mixture over the vegetables. Then flip the vegetables around and add more spice mixture until coated very well. Finally, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees and roast for 30 or so minutes, or until the vegetables start to caramelize.
Garlic Green beans, with mushroom and onions Recipe:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large onions coarsely diced
- 16 oz. of mushrooms thickly sliced
- 7 cloves of garlic
- 1 teaspoon of salt, or more to taste
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed
Heat up the oil in a large skillet till it starts to smoke. Then drop in the coarsely diced onions and saute them till nicely browned. Then add in the thickly sliced mushrooms and saute them till they have sweated out half their size. Then add in the garlic till they start to bloom, then add salt and pepper to taste. Finally add in the green beans, and mix everything up, so that the hot vegetables coat the green beans, and take it off the fire when the green beans just start to soften.
The meal was absolutely killer! Sorry if I and tooting my own horn, but the pairings were just perfect. The meat was soft on the indie, yet crispy on the outside, the green beans were nicely wilted yet slightly crisp, and the roasted vegetables were lovely with the meat!
To pair with the meat we went looking for a rich red wine and pulled out a bottle of 2006 Petit Castel. I was really looking forward to a rich wine, but the wine’s lack of core acid made the wine feel flabbier and flat. The mouth was rich, but the date and sweet cedar flavors also turned me off. This is a bottle you really should be drinking up!!
The wine note follows below:
2006 Domaine du Castel Petit Castel – Score: B++
The nose on this black colored wine with brown tinge is rich with sweet cedar, chocolate, tobacco, herbs, date, very apparent green beans, ripe plum, blackberry, and currant. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is still rich and concentrated with green notes, ripe fruit from the nose, rich black cherry, mouth coating tannin, and sweet cedar all coming together. The wine is missing the bright acidity of old, which makes it feel a bit underpowered. The finish is long and super spicy, with rich black pepper, herbs in the background, and heavy sweet cedar and vanilla to round it out. DRINK UP!!!
Whenever I think about wine in Israel, I think more and more about wines from the Judean Hills of Israel, one of the five wine regions of Israel that wraps Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. The most famous winery in this region is also the original winery in the region, the Domaine du Castel. The winery is situated in Ramat Raziel, at the top of hill overlooking the moshav, which lies some 17 or so kilometers from Jerusalem. The story of the winery is one of love, determination, and above all else; family. It takes a fair amount of courage to drop one’s status quo and go after one’s dreams. That is exactly what Eli Ben Zaken did some 19 years ago, when he started the winery, and gave over the day-to-day management of, his then day job, the family restaurant, to his son, Eytan Ben Zaken. The very same son, who now runs the day-to-day operations of the winery, as its COO, along with his brother Eli Ben Zaken, who is the winery’s CEO.
However, we need to go back in time to get a real appreciation for the story of Mr. Ben Zaken and the Domaine Du Castel. The story starts early in the life of Mr. Zaken, he was born in Alexandria Egypt to a Moroccan Father and Italian mother, and then moved about Europe between England, Switzerland, and Italy. It was in his movements around Europe that he gained a love for agriculture, culinary culture, and wine. Like many Jews Ben Zaken felt the pull to move to Israel, and he made it a reality after the Six Day War of 1967. Soon upon arrival he got to work in what he knew well – agriculture. After some time he built a house in Ramat Raziel and followed his initial love and roots in 1980, when he opened the first real Italian Restaurant in Jerusalem; Mama Mia. Upon opening the winery he went out looking for some locally made wine to serve to his customers and he did not really love what he found.
At the time that Ben Zaken planted his first vineyard in 1988 next to his home, he would have no idea that this small vineyard would become the first in so many ways. Initially the vineyard was made up of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but over time they would add some more Bordeaux varietals and Chardonnay. Ben Zaken had no formal wine training and yet he had no problem pressing his grapes in his barn! Four years later he harvested his first crop, and three years after that in 1995, he produced 600 bottles in his first vintage. The wine was initially produced for himself, friends, and family. However, as the wine got around to friends of his friends, they all loved the product and he starting to think that he may have some good stuff on his hands. However, it was not until luck and serendipity found their way into his life at the same time, when one of the bottles fell into the hands of British expert Serena Sutcliffe, Master of Wine at Sotheby’s in London, who described it as “absolutely terrific … a real tour de force, brilliantly made.” Ben Zaken recalls with pride; “I had tears in my eyes, over the next few days, I went everywhere with that fax in my pocket.”
Since then Domaine du Castel has been pulling in some of the highest scores and praises from the world’s experts, France’s prestigious Bettane & Desseauve guide counts the winery as one of the 365 worlds best vintages. Daniel Rogov recently commented “Since its inception, Castel has been one of the very best wineries in the country..”, and Mark Squires of The Wine Advocate consistently gives their wines a 90 or higher. Not only is the winery doing extremely well but so is the wine region. The very same wine region that Baron de Rothschild reportedly thought was not conducive to making great wine, was the same region that originally grew the grapes for the Temple, some 2000 or more years ago. It is also the very same region that now makes some of the very best wines in Israel, with some of the biggest names in Israeli wine business sourcing their grapes from the Judean Hills. On top of all that Mr. Ben Zaken original vineyard was the first of its kind in the region for some 2000 years! Read the rest of this entry
Parve French Onion Soup, Meat Lasagna, Roasted Green Beans, Spinach Kugel, and Many Kosher Red Wines
Some five weeks ago found my wife and I gathered around the table with our dear friends, good food and wine. Wow, the blog has been in the basement for a bunch of weeks, but hopefully we will get back into the swing of things soon. So now on to the food! We wanted to have some friends over that we did not see for sometime, and they brought over a guest from the east coast. The funny thing is that the guest did not eat certain foods, which foods – the VERY ingredients that we were using to make the courses that would grace our table. Thank goodness we had other menu items that met her food needs.
Anyway, the meal started with a Parve French Onion Soup. The core of this recipe came from a cookbook called Spice and Spirit, but the recipe in the cookbook called for too few onions, brown sugar, and no wine! So instead, I modified the recipe so that it looks more like what is found below. The recipe used to be a serious pain in the neck, because of the need to thinly slice the onions. Well that is easy now! How Because my wife bought me this wonderful contraption called a mandolin. The device is a God send! It easily makes quick work of 8-10 onions, which used to make me cry, and not just because of Syn-Propanethial-S-oxide. With the ability to easily slice onions, recipes like French Onion Soup, vegetable additives for you lox & bagel or burger, become a joy and almost a game, to see how thin and how nicely you can slice the onions! Thank you so much Oxo! Not only does the mandolin, it was cheap and stores away easily. The only con is that it does not slice tomatoes so well, and it cannot handle very large items, which should be avoided anyway, as on the average, the larger a vegetable gets, the less flavorful it becomes. A quick note, if you are sick of peeling and crushing garlic, get some of this stuff! It tastes great and is always waiting for you in your freezer, as long as you buy some! Trader Joes has some along with other supermarkets. Another note, this is an obvious twist on the classic French Onion Soup, but there is no animal product to be found, so no Gruyère cheese. However, in an attempt to mimic the cheese like consistency, we throw in rice, which when it swells up thickens the soup and gives it that sticky and gelatinous like structure.
Parve French Onion Soup
3 tbsp oil
8-10 thinly sliced white or sweet onions
3 tbsp agave nectar
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried Oregano
2 tsp dried parsley
3 or 4 bay leaves
4 or more cloves of garlic (frozen is easiest)
1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
2 cups of red wine
4 cups of vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 a cup of brown rice
Put the oil in a Dutch oven and heat it up till the oil starts to shimmer. Then throw the sliced onions into the pot and sauté them till golden brown. One they are truly brown, add in the nectar and spices, and sauté for another 10 or so minutes, or until all the liquid is gone. Toss in the rest of the ingredients (except for the rice), and simmer for 30 or so minutes until the soup reduces by 20% or so. Then toss in the rice and cook for another 15 or so minutes or until the soup looks and moves semi-gelatinous.
The meal started off with a bottle of the 2006 Ella Valley Ever Red. A nice bottle, and one that is ready to drink up. It was followed by my wife’s not-classic (and THANK GOD for that) whole wheat challah. The challah did not survive past the soup course, which is par for the course, and totally appreciated by the table. We paired the 2008 Elvi Wines Matiz with the soup. The extreme acid base of the wine paired nicely with the tomato note high acid) soup. Normally, when pairing one wants to not fight fire with fire. However, that rule is only for extreme cases. For instance, when pairing spicy food with wine, I recommend you use a nice sweet yet acidic wine, like Hagafen White Riesling, which has enough acid and sweetness in harmonious balance to counteract hot peppers. However, when the flavor in the food is not as extreme as hot pepper or chocolate soufflé sweet, the correct course of action is to fight fire with a bit more or at least the same amount of fire. So, when enjoying a tomato based food like Tomato soup, that has no animal products in it (that help to balance the flavors), you are left with a tart/acidic soup whose best bet is to balance the flavors with a bit of sugar and starch. Still, the soup is still acid in nature, and is best paired with an acidic core wine, like almost any estate bottled red from Four Gates Winery (whose wines always have a natural acidity to them), or an Italian Chianti, or a lovely Tempranillo like the Matiz, which packs more than enough acid and tannins to keep up with the tomato soup.
For the second course we served meat lasagna, parve spinach quiche/kugel, roasted green beans, and a fresh green salad. The guest could not eat the lasagna or the spinach kugel, but she brought some chicken over for herself before shabbos. Some of our friends who joined us that evening do not eat meat, so we also made a lovely Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf – recipe below. To pair with this menu we opened two other bottles, a 2003 Château Labégorce-Zédé and a 2006 Castel Petite Castel, the wine notes are found below. making the meal was a blast as was the company.
Quinoa Onion Mushroom Pilaf
Sauté onions until golden brown and then sauté mushrooms until they have released most (but not all of their liquid). The excess liquid will be appreciated by the quinoa. Throw in salt, garlic, and some basil. Throw in 2 cups of quinoa, and let the quinoa soak up all the liquid and just start to toast. Then throw in a cup of white wine and then three cups of water, and let the quinoa cook till fluffy. Then let cool, and add oil, toasted almonds, and optionally some craisins to boot.
Wines notes follow below (listed in the order they were tasted):
2008 Elvi Wines Rioja Matiz – Score: B+
The nose on this dark garnet to purple colored wine has raspberry, black cherry, rich plum, stone mineral, oak, herbs, and kirsch. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and mouth coating with black cherry, kirsch, tart cherry, and raspberry. The mid palate is bright with heavy acid and not yet integrated tannins. The finish is spicy and long-lasting with black cherry, coffee, and nice tannins. NOTE: This wine has sediment, not sure why such a young wine has so much sediment, so keep the wine upright for a couple of days and make sure not to pour the wine till the last drop, as the last poor person, may get a slushy or chunky glass of wine.
2006 Ella Valley Cabernet-Merlot Ever Red – Score: B+ to A-
The nose on this dark garnet to mahogany colored wine starts with some blackberry that over time blows off, along with ripe raspberry, plum, oak, cherry, crushed spices, tobacco, and smoke. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is ripe with soft caressing tannins that give the wine a fuller mouth, along with ripe raspberry, plum, and cherry. The mid palate is a bit fat though balanced with just enough acid and oak. The finish is long and smoky with ripe red fruit, tobacco, soft tannins, and oak. Drink up as this one is ready if not already on its way down, if only from its color and length of life in the glass.
2003 Château Labégorce-Zédé – Score: A-
The nose of this garnet colored wine is hopping with rich oak, truly lovely ripe and rich raspberry, blackberry, ripe black plum, lovely blueberry, tobacco smoke, herbs, and slight stone minerality. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is super rich and layered with lovely tannins that gives you a full mouth with ripe and rich raspberry, plum, and blackberry. The mid palate is balanced with rich oak, tannin that shows nicely, tobacco, and chocolate. The finish is long with oak, tobacco, herbs, mineral, and blueberry. A really lovely wine that is at its peak and worthy of drinking.
2006 Domaine du Castel Petit Castel – Score: A-
The nose on this dark garnet colored wine is a beautiful and rich experience with rich tobacco, ripe and rich plum, rich cedar oak, crushed/roasted herbs, blackberry, and chocolate. The mouth of this full-bodied wine has a rich full mouth that has lovely mouth coating tannins, rich oak, ripe plum, and blackberry. The mid palate is balanced with rich oak, integrated tannins, and tobacco. The finish is long and luscious with tobacco, black plum, rich oak, chocolate, and herbs.