When I think of Covenant Winery, what leaps to mind for me, is Jeff and Jodie Morgan, Jonathan Hajdu – Covenant’s top-notch associate winemaker, and their world-class kosher Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Lavan Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Sure, they also make a lovely and unique Red C wine, rose, and Landsman series of wines, but that is what comes first to mind.
When I first met Jeff and Jodie, it was at Herzog Winery, in 2006 where Jonathan Hajdu and they were pouring their wines at the first ever Herzog IFWF on the west coast. Since then I have made it my business to go to the winery at least once a year and meet with the Morgans and to taste their wines. I state that very specifically, as I have found that wines do follow their creators, and the open and accessible Covenant wines that also age to perfection, intrigued me and I wondered what their creators were like.
If you have had the opportunity to meet with Jeff and Jodie Morgan you will find two people who are passionate about their Jewish roots, though more traditional in nature than Orthodox, but still two people on a spiritual journey with their wines as their guides. From the start they decided that their wines would be kosher, and that they would be creating wines that were mimeographs of themselves, whether they realized that – or not.
To be honest, this article is a long time coming, a post that I think is more about my relationship with the Morgan’s, Mr. Hajdu, and their wines, and less about their story. The now famous story about Lessie Rudd and his grapes, his apprehension to letting the Morgan’s use his grapes, as he feared that they and their kosher process would ruin them, has been written about over and over. Humorously, the fact that the story is in every post about Covenant wines, and that the story is so well-known and repeated, is once again a representation of the wine and Jeff – both are wonderfully gregarious while also being quiet but confidently capable of spinning a tale of what they both have to offer.
Sure, when you meet the Morgans, and trust if you come to the KWFE in NYC – you will meet them, you will find two lovely, affable, and equally impressive humans that have honed their skills, with care and effort. However, it takes a bit more to see beyond the initial blustery interface, and to get deeper into what they see in the future. Yes, they are always looking forward to what the winery can become, but it is far more interesting to get to the story behind the tales, the story of a couple who are equally passionate about their tradition and history as they are about their impressive with their skills and craft.
As always, I am as straightforward as they come, there is really little left to read between the lines on my blog, though some think there is always another story. To me, Covenant Winery is a world-class winery, one that has the best track record, in my opinion across all California wineries (other than maybe Four Gates Merlot) of hitting a home run with every vintage of their Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Were they all A- to A, not always, but they never were less than a classic 91 score and I am hardly the only person with that opinion. Look at Wine Advocate and you will know where this winery stands in the mind of Robert Parker and his minions. Read the rest of this entry
Well, Passover has come and gone and while I will not bore you with the details, I did get to cook my brisket and drink some very lovely wines. I have to say, I was away for this Passover from our home, and I brought some wines with me, many of which were great. However, I also visited Hungarian Kosher in Skokie, IL, the original home of kosherwine.com before they sold out to JWines.
When I was there I was happy to see that they were still selling lots of wine from all of the main distributors. The entire story of what happened to kosherwine.com and why it moved over to JWines, is not a mystery and much as it is politics and stuff I do not get into. This blog again, to remind many, is really for me to keep track of my notes and my wines, something I also do on Cellar Tracker. Still, when massive chances like this happen to the kosher wine industry some think I need to talk about it. Well, I do not agree. I like to converse about the overall wine industry, and the things I find issue with, such as the high cost of kosher wine, French Wines, and the date juice coming out of Israel.
The story of kosherwine.com is really not my business; it is between Dan and JWines and other people who I am friendly with, and something that is better left for table fodder.
Now, on to the wines. I was very happy to see a bottle of the 2002 Chateau Leoville Poyferre. WOW what a bottle! Another blockbuster wine that I enjoyed was the 2013 Harkham Shiraz, Aziza. We have spoken about the Harkham Winery and Richie Harkham here and here. The funny thing about this Aziza bottle is that the KA kosher supervision is not actually printed on the label! Mr. Harkham told me it was because of some glitch, and he sent me a letter from the KA, which stated clearly that the wine is officially kosher.
The next blockbuster was the 2009 Four Gates Merlot and the 2011 Four Gates Chardonnay. Both of them were insane and rich and really opened some few days after they were opened. Finally, the rose and whites from Hajdu and Shirah are still rocking and rolling and so are their new ones! Bravo guys!
After the blockbuster wines – I was lucky to spend some time with friends and family and we each shared wines with each other. My uncle shared a lovely bottle of the 2012 Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde Kosher Grinalda! I have never had this wine before, it is a white blend of some crazy grapes, I never heard of that was made in Portugal. I was skeptical to start – but WOW what a great wine and it is DIRT cheap. Sadly, it is only sold in Illinois. So, go to Binny’s or Vineyard’s in Lincolnwood and buy some.
My other friends, GM and RM shared two bottles of wines that they were aging for some time, maybe a bit too long (wink). They were a 1994 Yarden Merlot and a 1999 Hagafen Pinot Noir! Wow, sadly, they were both over the hill for sometime, but what a joy, honor, and experience to enjoy then with my friends. I shared with them a bottle of the 2013 Goose Bay Fume Blanc. The trade was nowhere near fair, but they were just being kind and I was happy to share more, but they seemed happy with that option. Shockingly, the star was yet another wine – a 2003 Weinstock Cellar Select Cabernet Sauvignon! That puppy was insane, rich, layered, black and mouth coating – LOVELY! That was a wine that was opened at its peak and we all GREATLY enjoyed!
The other visit was to BC and CG, CG made some two wicked cool brisket and other tasty side dishes. I shared the left overs of the 2002 Leoville Poyferre, the 2013 Aziza and they shared with me a lovely bottle of the 2008 Ella Valley Vineyards Vineyard’s Choice Personal and the 2012 La Fenetre Red Blend. Many thanks guys and feel better soon CG!!!!
Please post what you had for Passover, or at least your favorites ones from Passover!!
The wine notes follow below:
2003 Weinstock Cabernet Sauvignon, Cellar Select – Score: A- (and more)
WOW! Bravo guys, this is a wine, that is stored well will pay you back in deep dividends! The nose on this wine is redolent with dark brooding fruit, with hints of green notes and lovely cedar. The mouth is full and rich with layers of black and red berry, along with lovely and very elegant mouth coating tannin – lovely! The finish is long with roasted herb, vanilla, tobacco, sweet dill, and chocolate galore! Read the rest of this entry
This past weekend I was recuperating from flying around the world to almost every kosher wine event that I could get to. It started in Israel for the 2015 Sommelier, and then a few days later, the 2015 Tzur wine tasting, essentially the Israeli KFWE. Then I went home for two days before flying back to NYC for KFWE NYC and then to LA for the KFWE LA.
So, by the time I was home for good, I was exhausted, and what I needed was some good wine and food. It turns out that I chose a bunch of Cali wines, which may have been an internal reaction to tasting so many date wines from Israel and around the world at Somm and the KFWE. In the end, one of the three I chose was also date juice – Karma is a bitter mistress!
The Friday night dinner was roasted sausages and chicken, paired with a bottle of the 2012 Shirah Rose. The rose is still showing beautifully with ripe fruit and crazy mineral and pith. The other wine we enjoyed was the 2013 Landsman Zinfandel, a nice enough zinfandel with great spice and earth, but with a lithe body, holes in the mouth, and a wine that needs a day to truly open up.
It is a nice enough wine but one that I was really hoping would finally bring me a California Zinfandel that rocked my world. Sadly, since Hagafen Winery stopped producing Zinfandel wines, we have been missing some great wines.
The good news is that there is a 2013 Dalton Zinfandel, that is blended with some Petite Sirah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. It has a nice body, great acid, crazy spices, and good fruit. I cannot wait to buy some soon.
Sadly, the third wine we had that was DOA was the 2009 Herzog PS2. The wine was not corked and the cork was fine, it is simply a case of the early death of Petite Sirah. The body on that wine was crazy rich, with layers and mad tannins, but it was dead. Sad. It reaffirms to me that PS can indeed be a beast of a wine, but its own life is short on its own, making it a far better blending grape than a pure varietal. Now, I love PS, and I think it – like Malbec – can be really nice, but it requires you to not wait long on them. Drink them quickly, when they are ready or even earlier, because they have the annoying habit of just dropping dead and leaving you holding the bag!!!
The wine notes follow below:
2009 Baron Herzog Petite Sirah PS2, Second Edition – DOA
This wine died a horrible death – sadly. It was oak and date juice when I opened it and it went to port in an hour – drink what u have!!!
2012 Shirah Rose – Score: A- to A
WOW What a rose! This wine is 100% rose of Grenache. The nose is bright and tart with crunchy roasted herb, forest floor, garrigue, red fruit, strawberry, black currant, and spice. The mouth is insane on this medium bodied wine, it starts with an attack of red currant, followed by blue fruit, tart blackcurrant, and crazy acid. The finish is long and attacking with mad acidic tart summer fruit, kiwi, candied strawberry, intense slate, mineral, and crazy tart zinberry that lingers forever, long after the wine is gone. The acid is so intense it is awesome and the fruit is ripe and expressive – BRAVO!!!
2013 Covenant Zinfandel Landsman – Score: B+ to A-
The nose on this wine starts off with lovely rich mineral, loamy dirt, roasted animal notes, and more dirt. The mouth is well spiced, and light to medium bodied with sweet fruit that blows off, to show cherry, strawberry, nice zinberry, blue fruit, good tannin, acid, and nutmeg. The finish is long and spicy with watermelon and black pepper. Sadly, this wine lacks the presence to cut through most food, though the rich acid and mineral is nice.
After the wine was open for a day – it really did open and become more complex and less sweet. The blue notes receded and the spices and complexity rose – with more earth, acid, mineral, and spice, nice.
Over the Holiday of Shavuot, and weeks that followed, I have been continuing my love for all things Rhone, meaning Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and things like Petite Sirah and others. Over Shavuot we had one half of the Weiss Brothers with us, and it was a great time to break out my last bottle 2007 Brobdingnagian Grenache! We had a few other bottles as well, of course, but that was the winner of the night for sure.
Many of the wines we have had over the past few weeks are still available now, while some are those MUST keep wines that I hope you all start to build from great 2009/2010/2012 wines (yeah 2011 was a tough one).
Over Shavuot we served rib eye and some brisket, and it went so well with the sweet Syrah and bold wines that we enjoyed. I hope you all enjoyed the Shavuot time with wine, learning, and friends!
Over the following weeks after that we opened Summer wines, many were rose and white, which I will post separately, and many were perfect BBQ wines, like the 2011 Chabad Cuvee Zinfandel. Along with the 2011 Netofa Red made of 60% Syrah and 40% Mourvedre. We truly enjoyed the 2012 Landsman Syrah, which is good news, as some of the other Landsman have been OK but not as good as this one.
We also enjoyed a few lovely Israeli blend wines, with a mixture of Cabernet, Syrah, and other varietals. Like the 2009 Kitron Reserve LIKA, a wine named after one of his children. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot. The Tzora Shoresh was awesome, and the 2011 Trio was nice, but not great. I hear the 2012 Trio Grenache, a wine only available in Israel, is really impressive, look for that when in Israel next time.
Finally, the 2012 Capcanes Peraj Petita continues to blow me away, and the mevushal version of it is also very good and is actually more accessible now than the non mevushal version, which feels too tight still.
The wine notes follow below:
2007 Brobdingnagian Grenache, Santa Barbara County – Score: A
The name comes from the colossal, gigantic, extremely tall, and giant creatures discovered by Gulliver in his travels on the Northwest coast of California and is used today (although not by anyone I know) to describe anything of colossal size. That said, the wine does in many ways follow the moniker. The wine has a 16.3% alcohol, is massive in the mouth, and in the bottle! The bottle (empty) is one of the heaviest I have ever seen, quite extreme. The name of the winery, though unpronounceable by me, is one you already know by association. The wine is made by Jonathan Hajdu, the associate wine maker for Covenant Wines, owned and operated by Jeff Morgan.
The last time we opened this wine, the wine was inaccessible for many hours. However, this time the wine was immediately accessible with concentrated dried red fruit, raspberry, toast, smokey aromas, roasted animal, sweet cedar, insane and mad milk chocolate, and spice. The mouth on this browning colored wine is super concentrated, almost laser focused, and layered with dried strawberry, cranberry, raspberry, blueberry, root beer, and plum. The attack is what makes this wine; it is clean lined with heft and power, yet focused on delivering not a single but many blows of dried fruit and oak. The mid palate flows from the mouth with acidity to balance the beast, along with still searing tannins, cedar oak, and tobacco. The finish is super long and concentrated with more mouth coating tannin, sweet herb, licorice, white pepper, cloves, lovely acidity, sweet watermelon, and more spice – BRAVO!!!!
This wine has a year or so left – but I would start drinking them now for another year – drink UP mode.
Whenever I write about California wines, I get the same old question – what about Israeli wines? Hey do you think to read other posts – or just this one? Do not get me wrong, I love Israeli and French wines, but what can I do, I am a Cali boy and I like California wines just as much.
I just posted about Rhone varietal wines, and I missed one that is a really lovely wine – the 2010 Herzog Petite Sirah, Prince Vineyard. I wrote about this wine and the Herzog winery before in this post. However, when we tried it for a Petite Sirah vertical a few year ago – it was not close to what I had at the winery only a few months earlier. Well, I should have posted the Herzog PS in my previous post – but I missed it, so here it is in the Cali wines that I have enjoyed recently.
I must start off by saying that Herzog has been killing it recently with its Weinstock and Baron Herzog labels as of recently. These are fantastic wines that are all QPR and mevushal to boot! The 2010 and 2011 Weinstock Petite Sirah, Cellar Select are BOTH lovely and mevushal. The 2010 Weinstock Cabernet Franc, Cellar Select is also lovely (the 2012 is nice but not at the same level), clear QPR winner, and mevushal again. Same goes for the 2012 Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon – a lovely QPR wine, and mevushal of course.
That said, the wines I tasted recently were nice, but none of them were at the level I was expecting, especially the 2009 Clone Six Cabernet, which was nice but not close to the awesome 2008 mind-blowing older brother. The Z2 Zinfandel was nice and better than in previous tastings, but not an A level wine still. The 2010 Meritage was truly quite lovely and a mouth coating wine that stays with you.
When I think Shirah Winery, I think Rhone varietals, but not this bottle! The 2012 Shirah Coalition is another crazy blend from the Weiss Brothers, and their mad scientist wine lab, called Shirah Winery. This one is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 20% Dolcetto, 20% Zinfandel from Agua Dolce Vineyards, and 10% Merlot from Agua Dolce Vineyard! Like seriously??? To me I am willing to go out on the limb and say – this is the best kosher Italian wine out there (other than maybe the Falesco wines) – with tongue firmly embedded into cheek. Sure, it is not Italian, but the grapes all grow in Italy, and two of them are indigenous to Italy! Why is the growing region more important than the quality and enjoyability – BRAVO again guys! Read the rest of this entry
WOW! That is what I can say, when I last blogged, I was just about to leave for India, and then I went to China and then Israel and now I am back. In a single sentence – there is very little to no good kosher wine in Asia, which is a shame! I was thinking of shlepping my own wine, but truly it would not have been worth it. In the end, I suffered a bit, drank beer and some absolutely undrinkable wine (which was all I needed for a blessing), while in India, the Rabbi made Kiddish on grape juice (which I refused to drink!). What can I say, it was a truly bad string of wine weeks, that culminated in a great wine weekend with a BUNCH of great Malbec wines and then a trip to Israel (yeah a snowed in Jerusalem – coming next).
To be honest, I was truly shaken by my experience in India, the people are really nice in Bangalore India, but the infrastructure – the very basic things we take for granted in the developed nations of this world, are so deeply lacking there. On the Shabbat I was terrified to walk the streets because there were no sidewalks, sewage ran under what was defined as a sidewalk – raw and honest – no pipes and no hiding the smell. Worse the roads are underdeveloped, made for a few cars and a few cows, not millions of cars. A road that can accommodate two cars, is traversed by three cars, two auto-rickshaw, and god only knows how many “Tasmanian devil” moped drivers shifting in and out of the melee called a street in India. Sure, many would find this invigorating, but I guess I have lost that mad-insane-loving gene, and now I do not mind a dollop of calmness in my life. If you are like me – pass on India, enough said. Read the rest of this entry
Over this past Rosh Hashanah, I challenged myself to gather one of my favorite wines and enjoy them all in a controlled and non-drink-off manner. As explained in my last post, I did not want to make the wine the center of my attention on Rosh Hashanah, the day where we and the world are judged. So, I slowly enjoyed bottles through the 6 meal event (Friday night was attached to this year’s Yom Tov schedule making for a three-day festival set).
So, the first night we enjoyed the Alvi Ness Blanco, the next day we opened another bottle, but more on that one in a separate post to follow this one. The rest of the wine we enjoyed from there on were all Zinfandel wines, culminating in the true Zin-off on Friday night, following the Jewish New Year! On the Shabbos, I let my hair down a bit, and we enjoyed tasting 6 Zinfandel wines, all blind, all kosher, in a classic wine-off.
To be honest, I have never had the chance to taste the “real” California Zinfandels, Ridge, Ravenswood, Rosenblum, and Turley. Why? because NONE of them are kosher, which is a real shame. So, I tried to get together whatever kosher Zinfandels I could. The largest producer of kosher wine, Israel, has a very poor track record when it comes to Zinfandel, and neither of the wines we tried from Israel, both from Dalton, made it into the top 5. California continues to be the kosher Zinfandel producer and even in the non-kosher world, California continues it reign over the world that includes Italy and Croatia.
Originally, Zinfandel was thought to be an American grape, but recently that theory has been dispelled by the likes of U.C. Davis, who have done DNA testing and found out that Zinfandel and Primitivo (a grape of Italian origin) to be one the same. With even more efforts from UCD professor Carole Meredith, it was found that Crljenak Kaštelanski (“Kaštela Red”) appears to represent Primitivo/Zinfandel in its original home, although some genetic divergence may have occurred since their separation. Meredith now refers to the variety as “ZPC” – Zinfandel / Primitivo / Crljenak Kaštelanski. While, the true origin of Zinfandel grape may be Croatia, California owns the title of the best Zinfandel wine – the world around.
As we started to enjoy these wines we realized a few things. First that the flavor profiles were not anywhere the same – and they varied by wine and winery. Also, we realized that the Zinfandel grape can have heat (alcohol flavors) but can also have beautiful moments if they are done correctly. Read the rest of this entry
This past week we had lovely whiskey braised short ribs along with quinoa, and a fresh green salad. To pair with the sweet notes of the ribs, I enjoyed both a 2009 Bravdo Shiraz and a 2011 Landsman Syrah. We also enjoyed a shocker a 2004 Chateau Le Bourdieu, a wine that I had ZERO hope would be alive, but one that really was enjoyable. This is a nice wine that is in the mid-tier pricing in terms of French kosher wines, and one that is OK, but not a QPR wine.
The wine notes follow below:
2011 Covenant Syrah Landsman – Score: A-
The nose on this dark purple and brooding colored wine starts off with a BAM of blueberry liquor, something that is impossible to miss, followed by boysenberry, rich blackberry, raspberry, and spice. The mouth on this rich and medium bodied wine starts off with an attack of rich massive tannin, rich and velvety, with concentrated, sweet, and focused blue and black fruit that mimics the nose along with root beer, and enough oak to round the fruit, with all the components coming together nicely. The finish is super long and rich, that has an air of completeness while still being firm and concentrated, laced and ribboned with roasted meat, rich espresso, chocolate, and vanilla.
A very nice Syrah, and still the best in Napa so far, but I found the wine to not be as big as I first thought and the wine had a bit of trouble keeping up sweet ribs. Still a lovely wine all around.
2009 Bravdo Shiraz, Karmei Yosef – Score: A-
The nose on this wine is rich and heavy with ribbons of blueberry, black plum, cranberry, along with licorice, floral notes, and lovely crushed herb. The mouth on this full bodied wine shows the curse of 2009 (overly sweet wines), but it is controlled, with clear date notes, searing tannin, nice structure, black fruit, along with sweet cedar, and bramble. The finish is long and sweet with more date, tobacco, chocolate covered raisin, and ginger. Overall a lovely wine that continues to evolve nicely.
2004 Château Le Bourdieu – Score: B++
The nose on this just garnet colored wine (more ruby than garnet, with a still light halo, is filled with nice dirt, mineral, black fruit, barn yard (a bit) – but OK, and layers of toast and smoke. The mouth is medium bodied with nice concentration of currant, blackberry, and cranberry, along with nice integrated and mouth coating tannins, that linger long on the rise, and sweet oak notes. The finish is long with smoky tobacco, insane mushroom patch, charcoal, green foliage, and sweet roasted herbs – nice wine indeed. The true joy of this wine is the mouthfeel and lovely soft but mouth coating tannins that take on a number of comers, including cheese and sauces.
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