With the Jewish Holidays at their end, I must say that I really did enjoy them, but spiritually and wine wise! I have been slowly but surely changing over my collection from wines that I thought I liked to wines I actually do like. Sure, I have a few duds here and there, but for the most part, I think I have thinned the ranks of the unwanted.
Years ago – I blindly bought whatever red reserve Yarden wines the late Daniel Rogov scored a 92 or higher, and to his credit it was a grand time for a bit. But sadly before he passed, his golden touch, in terms of picking the perfect Yarden Reserve red was losing its aura. To be fair it is not a detriment to the man I truly respected. It is simply that my palate and interest have moved so starkly from the overripe notes of old, that I have finally broken down and written my Dear John letter to many Israeli wines.
As I stated 9 months ago in my year in review and ahead, I stated that I would start to track wines that I find overly ripe in style, whether it comes from Israel or anywhere else. I have been doing that in my wine notes, but I and finding less and less of them, simply because I am turning over my library in the direction of wines like Tzora, Yatir, and so on.
To be fair, wineries are making wines like this because that is what the public wishes, or so they say. I understand that a palate is a hard thing to come by, and that it may well be an evolutionary road for many. Still, there is a thing called nuance and then there is a thing called a 2×4. To create wines that are so obtusely in your face – one has to stop and wonder if the winemaker is actually unwilling to trust his wines to you. Maybe it his/her way of saying – here I dare you not to taste something in this wine! Mocking you as the winery takes your money and you are left with that aching feeling that is more akin to a used car lot than a culinary experience.
So, I thought it was time to publicly publish my Dear John letter to wines from Israel or elsewhere that continue to cater to the LCD (least common denominator) – and make wines that only a dead person could miss notes in.
Dear overly ripe wines,
I have to be honest, for the longest time you were a wonderful accompaniment to my weekend dinners. However, in these past 5 years, I cannot help but think that we have drifted apart. Oh come on, do not flutter those sweet and cloying tannins at me, you know how I hate that so. I wish I could say it is me and not you, but I would be lying. This is all on you!
This is not about you or about me “winning or losing”, you know I have lost so much over the years when I happily gave away bottles of the 2004 Ortal Merlot and so much more. There is no denying that we have changed so much, you continue to be so sweet, of course, but what I finally realized is that you are also so empty. Sure you have those wonderful structural qualities, that we all look for in a companion, but the rest is hollow, no stuffing, no meaning, just a flat and empty being.
I tried so hard to make it work, to ignore my wine friends, telling them that it was just a bad night or a really bad weekend, like that bender in December. Sadly, it always turns out the same way when I wake from another night of debauchery, I am thankfully a bit lighter of you and you are always the same – big, bold, loud, and empty!
So, I am happy to say I think I am rid of you from my cellar. I have worked hard to empty it of your kind and thankfully, I can now say that you are in my past. I waited too long to write this letter, for that I am sorry to you and my guests. However, going forward I know that I have made the correct decision and wish you and those wineries all the best. I even have a lovely new moniker for you DJL – if you see that on a note I write, you will know that you have found a wine you will truly come to love. For me, it will be a badge of shame.
Thanks for all the great times, and I am also happy to say good riddance and bon voyage! Read the rest of this entry
A few weeks ago, I spent Shabbos with some friends, GG and Mendel from Israel and New York respectively, at Benyo’s house, home of the Four Gates Winery, in the hills of Santa Cruz, CA. It was, as always, one of those nights that are hard to forget, but took me time to get down on “paper”. We enjoyed so many great wines and food that I laugh at it now. We brought over the meat and a few bottles, and Benyo took acre of the rest, including accommodations, awesome food, and a non stop supply of crazy wine!
Friday night started off with a blast where we enjoyed many dishes, in classic Benyo style. It consisted of Pisces, followed by salad after salad, after awesome salad, and some crazy meat made by the chef – Mendel.
Much of what occurred happened in a daze, and to be honest the notes are shorter, because my memory of them were shorter. That said, I guess I can sum it up this way – what happened at Benyo’s stays at benyos! So, other than the meats, cholent, awesome food and wine – the rest is all a haze, so here is what I remember best of those wines! I hope u enjoy!
Wine Notes follow below:
Domaine de la Perdrix Cotes du Roussillon – Score: B
The wine is a blend of 50% Grenache Blanc and 50% Macabeu. The wine was oxidized and honeyed with quince and peach and not much else. Interesting for such an old mevushal wine.
2007 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A-
The nose on this gold colored wine is rich with smokey notes, bright fruit, and pineapple. The mouth is rich and layered with sweet notes, oriental spices, cedar sweet, white peach, and apple cobbler. The finish is long and spicy with green notes, white flowers, and quince.
1997 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A and more
The nose is lovely and citrusy, with sweet oak and oriental spice. The mouth is more polished and elegant, with lovely fruit strcuture, almost oily with a very creamy texture, all balanced impeccably with great acid, guava, pineapple, white apples, great sweet fruit and fig. The finish is long with lovely fruit, hints of butterscotch, tart grapefruit, citrus, rich summer fruit, all nicely layered with spice. This was a lovely wine, one of the best 1996/1997 Chardonnay from Benyo that I have ever had. Clearly it is at its peak and drink now – BRAVO! Read the rest of this entry
A few weeks ago, we had dinner with friends and it centered around an epic bites, AKA Isaac Bernstein test rollout of some new and great oldies. Any excuse to try new Bernstein fare is going to be an epic experience, so I was in. With dusk slowly on its way, the cool evening air slowly coming across the valley, and the sun slowly falling into its nightly bliss, we agreed the best bet was to eat outside, Fresco style.
The funny thing about Bernstein and his crew is that they are becoming super professional and precise and I am still living in the world of 27 courses! So, when I hear 12 courses, I kind of always have a letdown. Sure, the courses are crazy complex and layered and wonderful and I have no idea how long it takes to create or source any of these dishes, but hey I am still a caveman at heart! Still, Bernstein and Epic Bites is slowly moving me away from the awe of the multiple dish madness to the awe of the depth of fewer dishes. The more time I spend with and eat Bernstein’s creations, the more I come to appreciate the effort and the time it takes to get a dish to the point where it blows me away. The sad fact is, that I am getting so spoiled that I may never be able to enjoy another dish! Maybe, Epic Bites should start the “aggressive drug dealer” (totally dinner! Where they gives away free samples of all of their dishes. Then the customers will come to see what I am now suffering from, after they have them hook line and sinker, they will never go back to another dinner anywhere else! There is an idea for the next big event!!!
Course #1 and #2
The first two courses were really two at once – a nice and controlled manner to get through the dinner without making it last 4 hours! The first duality were Cubes of Big Eye Tuna and compacted watermelon, with Heirloom Tomatoes, balsamic reduction, and shiso dehydrated pine nut/black olive/onion dust. But the Marilyn Monroe of this couple was served in a shot glass! In it was a Tomato base/Avocado Sorbet covered in EVO and sprinkled with black salt. The seductress stole the spotlight for sure, but it was more than just body and soul, this vixen was creamy, sweet, salty, and acidic, all at the same time. The acid from the tomatoes, balanced to sheer perfection with the green and dreamy dressed avocado sorbet, all covered in a chiffon dress of EVO and accented with black jewels of salt. BRAVO!!
The Big Eye tuna and compacted watermelon was nice, it did not hit it for me, but the black dirt made up of; dehydrated pine nut, black olive, and onion was a classic tour de force for Bernstein and his gastronomical diabolic ways!
I paired the course with a bottle of the 2013 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, which continues to impress even the most cynical of kosher wine drinkers – BRAVO!!!!
When one speaks about Israeli wine – the name Yarden is sure to be one of the first wineries that are spoken of. Why? Because simply stated they are the defacto standard for quality in Israel. That was at least until the past few years, when the red wines took a very clear and strategic direction towards more ripe and classic new world styled wines. Why? Well, as I wrote here in my year in review, the kosher wine public is still a few years behind the wine learning curve, and they crave wine that is as subtle as a two-by-four between the eyes. Why? Well, to be blunt, starters do not have the capacity to appreciate the more subtle aspects of old world wines. That takes training and in the words of the late Daniel Rogov – the best way to appreciate and learn more about wine – is to drink more wine. Until that point, we will all have to wait for the majority of the kosher wine buying public to learn the joy of subtlety and stop craving sweets, and live with the result of that fact – meaning sweet and overripe wines. Thankfully, there are wineries that are still interested in creating well-rounded and all around enjoyable wines – like Tzora, Recanati, Netofa, Yatir, Castel, Dalton, Flam, Four Gates, and many others.
That said, Yarden is still the clear king of white and bubbly wines in Israel. First of all, there are few wineries with more than three quality labels of white wine. Many are still just producing one white wine. Tabor is one of those wineries that is showing it QPR value and clearly coming out from under the haze of Coca Cola and its perceived wine quality, in their situation “perception is NOT reality”.
Proof of this can be found in the bottle. Tabor Adama Roussanne, Gewurztraminer, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc are examples of GREAT QPR wines, though only the Sauvignon Blanc is available here in the US.
The Yarden 2013 Sauvignon Blanc may very well be the best kosher Sauvignon on the market and maybe ever made. yes, that is high praise for a white wine, but ignoring the sweeter side of Sauvignon Blanc (AKA late harvest or Sauterne) this is one of the best or the best kosher version of a dry blanc that I have tasted yet. Along with that the Yarden Gewurtz and Yarden Chardonnay – both Odem and non are great this year. Finally, the Viognier and the entire line of bubbly wines are absolutely crushing it! Even the Gamla Blanc is very nice. Essentially, while Yarden may have had some missteps or may want more ripe red new world fruit, the whites still are showing why Yarden is king of the kosher bubbly and white wines. The only real competitor in the kosher market to the vast array of Yarden’s whites would be Hagafen’s vast array of white wines and rose wines. Read the rest of this entry
It has been a few weeks since I posted my wine notes. I have been posting other ideas, but this was a long time coming. The biggest take away for me was that the 2013 Terrenal Malbec was out, a new Terrenal kosher wine that can be bought at Trader Joe’s and it is mevushal. Sadly, I was not a fan. It is OK, but for me, I will look elsewhere. It is a shame as the non mevushal Terrenal wines from Spain continue to impress!
The other take away from these wines was that the new NV Freixenet Cava Excelencia Kosher Brut was no fun either. The final notes revolve around the return of Lewis Pasco and his wines! Mr. Pasco was the head wine maker at Recanati until 2006. After that he did wine in the US and other places and in 2012 he returned to Israel to work with Hillel Manne of Beit El Winery, and to make his own wines as well! The wines we tasted in early 2012 were nice, but the Pasco wine has really come around with oak and time. The insane Carignan wine of 2012, is not as good as we remembered it from the barrel in the winery, but it is still very nice a clear QPR.
Finally, as I stated when I was at the Tzora Winery, the 2012 Judean Hills is lovely and is a crazy QPR wine. That said, the notes have not changed but the wine needs serious time to open and when it does it shows its blue and black madness. The wine has really just arrived to the US and it seems to be in bottle shock, so either wait a month or two to enjoy, or open it now and decant for at least 2 to 3 hours ahead of time. If it is not black and blue, wait!!!!
So, I hope you enjoy the notes and have a great Shabbos! The notes follow below:
2012 Shirah Rosé – Score: A- (and then some)
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, and spice. The mouth is insane on this medium bodied wine, it starts with an attack of red currant, followed by blue fruit, herb, 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!!!
2012 Tzora Judean Hills – Score: A- (and more) (crazy good QPR)
When I was at the Tzora Winery, the 2012 Judean Hills was showing lovely and was a crazy QPR wine. That said, the notes have not changed but the wine needs serious time to open and when it does it shows its blue and black madness. The wine has really just arrived to the US and it seems to be in bottle shock, so either wait a month or two to enjoy, or open it now and decant for at least 2 to 3 hours ahead of time. If it is not black and blue, wait!!!!
This is a wine that is made of a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Verdot, Syrah that was fermented and aged in oak, and named for the terroir and vineyard that the wine was sourced from. This was a barrel/tank sample but such a wonderful wine and one very close to bottling that I had to write about it. The nose on this deeply black colored wine is rich with crazy black fruit, along with ripe blueberry, blackberry, along with deep mineral notes, roasted animal, and nice floral notes with slate. The mouth on this lovely full bodied and elegant wine shows far more control than the 2011 vintage, with great control and style, with layers of concentrated black and blue fruit, rich graphite, bracing acid, coming together with mouth coating tannin, and spicy oak. The finish is long and mineral with lovely chocolate, bright fruit, and lovely sweet spices. BRAVO!
2013 Terrenal Malbec Kosher – Score: B
The 2012 vintage of this wine was a favorite of mine last year, till it turned into a flower bomb. This vintage is starting that way out of the chute. The noise on this purple colored wine starts off with nice blue and black notes, followed by floral notes that feels disjointed, along with plum, and spice. The mouth on this medium bodied wine shows blackberry fruit, blackcurrant that spikes, along with nice tannin and blueberry/green notes. The finish is long and all over the place with green blue notes that cover over the nice root beer notes. Read the rest of this entry
If one says terroir and Israel at the same time, many would snicker and laugh, but when it comes to Tzora Winery they continue to impress. I have written a few times about the Tzora Winery, it is a winery that proves that even in Israel, and even in 2010 and 2011 GREAT and controlled wines can be created.
This winery tasting was not a tasting like the previous ones on the trip, you see, we were not “officially” invited to this one. We arrived for the tail end of Nicolas Daniel Ranson and Christophe Bardeau (from Domaine Roses Camille Winery) wine tasting day. Previously to Tzora, they had gone to Flam Winery and Castel Winery, two wineries we had been to a few days earlier.
So, when we heard they were going to Tzora as well, we asked them both at the DRC tasting if we could piggy back on the tasting, and they agreed. Of course, in hindsight, in all of the enthusiasm and excitement of the DRC tasting, we forgot to ask Eran and the Tzora Winery if they were OK with it! You see, if you have been keeping up with the blog, we had braved the snow and all, and made our way to the Scala Restaurant, in the David Citadel hotel. We enjoyed the DRC wines with Messrs.’ Ranson and Bardeau. However, at the end of the tasting they were discussing where they were going the next day. We had Ella Valley on the books, but nothing else after that. Since Tzora Winery is a stone throw away Ella Valley Winery, we asked if we could piggyback and they said sure. Well, what we forgot to do was follow-up with Tzora Winery the next day. We deeply apologized for being so unprofessional, but Eran Pick, the head winemaker at Tzora Winery, and consummate professional, was so kind and was easy-going about the whole affair, and so we joined the tasting in mid run.
If you want the true history and write-up on the Tzora Winery – please go here and read it all the way through – what a winery. To me the Tzora winery is one of the five best wineries in Israel, and Mr. Pick is one of Israel’s best winemakers.
We arrived and they were working their way through the white wines, and what wines they were. The wines showed richness, layers, and ripeness all in perfect control of both fruit and oak. Sure there is oak on the wines, but the oak does not dominate and nor does the fruit feel overripe. Instead, the wines show a harmony of fruit, oak, extraction, and expression – quite unique for Israel. The 2011 and 2010 vintages have been hit and miss in the Judean Hills, where most of the wines are sourced for all of Tzora’s wines. However, these wines were neither overly sweet, uncontrolled, or just unbalanced, like many of the 2010 and 2011 wines from the Judean Hills, with a few exceptions (Flam, Tzuba, Castel, Teperberg, and Yatir).
This is not the first visit we have made to Tzora Winery, we have had a few, and most recently a few months before this visit. However, at that visit, the wines, or me, were having a bad day, and I did not think it would be correct to write about them. Even then, the wines were not out of kilter or uncontrolled, but rather they were showing lighter and with less expression.
This time, the wines, or I, or both were in the zone! The 2012 Tzora Neve Ilan was showing like a classic Burgundian Chardonnay and was killing it. Bardeau was raving about it but the one he loved the most of the two whites was the 2012 Tzora Shoresh White, a 100% Sauvignon Blanc wine which was aged in oak for 7 months and was tasting rich, layered, but tart and ripe all at the same time – wonderful. Read the rest of this entry
Well, it is that time of year again for OTBN (Open That Bottle Night), a night conceived by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, in February 2000, then with the WSJ. Well, officially it is the last Saturday night in February, which this year is Feb 22. However, us Jews like Friday/Sabbath to be our special wine moment, so we will be enjoying OTBN this Friday Night, hopefully!
According to the WSJ site: On OTBN, which is celebrated on the last Saturday of February every year, thousands of bottles all over the world are released from prison and enjoyed. With them come memories of great vacations, long-lost loved ones and bittersweet moments. The whole point of the weekly “Tastings” column is that wine is more than the liquid in the bottle. It’s about history, geography, relationships and all of the things that are really important in life.
We have had many great OTBN tastings but this year, it is about tasting my oldest and best Yarden Winery wines. Yarden Winery has moved to the sweet side on their new wines, for the most part, but the El Rom wines have never been sweet. Yarden has always been on the sweeter side, in terms of ripe fruit, but these past few years, the weather has really hurt them badly. The 2009, 2010, and 2011 vintages have been nice wines, but too sweet for my tastes. The 2012 and 2013 look like they will be better, from what we have tasted of the white wines. Still, the El Rom and red Katzrin wine have always been controlled and beautiful. They are Yarden’s flagship wines and they keep a very tight lid on the fruit in these wines. The 2006 and 2007 ROM wine is another story, it was always sweet and somewhat controlled, and yes, very expensive. It all started when the late Daniel Rogov gave the 2006 ROM, a very unique Israeli blend wine, a massive 96 score! That score sent the futures of that wines to the moon, along with the expectations of greatness. In reality, it is a nice wine, but nowhere where Rogov placed it.
Well, I have been sitting on too many of these wines, and so this week, for my version of the OTBN 15 (the 15th year of OTBN), I will be opening the 2001 Yarden El Rom (Shmita year), the 2004 Yarden El Rom, and the 2007 Yarden ROM. I have many backups in the ready! Read the rest of this entry
This past week we enjoyed some lovely wine from the Ella Valley Winery, which is going through some changes right now. This wine dates back to 2005 when Doron Rav Hon was the head winemaker and the this wine shows his classic Burgundian styling. Of course Merlot is not made in Burgundy, but the restraint and depth of fruit shows the style that he became famous for when he was making wine there.
The other wine was another kosher, baseline Malbec, and I guess you get what you pay for. The 2012 Don Mendoza Malbec is a wine that does little to stem the tide of public opinion around kosher wine. The wine is boring, bland, and within minutes just falls apart in your mouth. You get what you pay for, I recommend you not even try this wine and look elsewhere.
Truly it is sad, because when you type Malbec into Google, you quickly find that it was Argentina that turned the world onto single varietal Malbec. The 2009 Flechas Malbec from Rothschild in Argentina is a nice enough wine, but it can be a bit extreme. If you must buy an Argentinian Malbec, that is your best option by far, even if the 2011 vintage is not as good as the 2009. But this wine, is not even in that league.
The wine notes follow below:
2005 Ella Valley Merlot – Score: A- (and more)
The nose on this wine, a blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, is old and mature but not over the hill at all! The nose is rich with dark fruit, candied raspberry, cherry, with insane barnyard funk coming out, along with rich loamy dirt, earthy notes, and spice. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich and layered with lovely funk and mushroom, with good blackberry, forest floor, all wrapped up in a cocoon of green leafy notes, sweet cedar, and mouth drenching tannin. The finish is long and spicy with lovely leafy tobacco, salty notes, rich mineral, graphite, chocolate, and rich dark fruit and leathery notes – BRAVO! The wine is drink up mode and it is throwing sediment – but enjoy!
2012 Don Mendoza Malbec Reserve – Score: C
This wine is mevushal and it shows. The wine shows a simple, not complex, or even very good wine with basic fruit, but a wine that is all over the place. The wine starts off nice, with spicy notes and fruit, but that falls apart very quickly and falls flat to the floor, with stinky socks. Sad, as I was hoping for a better showing from a Argentinian Malbec!
As I have stated before, these postings are from my previous trip to Israel, where Jerusalem and mush of the north was snowed in with many feet of snow. Picking up from where we left off, the Sabbath was snowed in and cold, but at least we had power. The next day, my brother drove the car to the hotel and from there – the careful but madman driver – known as Mendel made his way to both GG and me and using Waze we were off to highway 1. The road itself was open, as was clear by the crowd sourcing cars driving up and down the road on the Waze map. However, there were parts of the road that were packed to the gills, because these were car drivers – driving to har menuchot (Jerusalem’s cemetery which has a massive parking lot) to pick up their abandoned cars! Yup, on Friday, these folks could not make it into Jerusalem, as their car was stuck, and they could not get back to where they came from, so they left their cars and were bussed out by the Army using mechanized solider transport vehicles, that can drive through snow or up a hill, for that matter.
Well, as we drove by that horde of cars, our minds were all single focused on getting to Teperberg Winery, one of the best unheralded wineries in Israel. As I wrote about in previous posts, here and here, ever since the U.C. Davis trained senior winemaker Shiki Rauchberger joined the winery, they have been producing wines destined to appeal to a more sophisticated audience. With the addition of Olivier Fratty and tons of new high-end equipment, the winery is poised to make the next leap into the upper echelon of Israeli kosher wine producers.
When we arrived after driving through the snow covered mountains, the roads cleared as we dropped in elevations, and the mountains became hills, and their color turned from white to green. Not too far down the highway, we turned off for the road leading to Bet Shemesh, and from there another turn and we quickly found out way to Kibbutz Tzora (where the Tzora Winery can be found), which is across the street from the Teperberg Winery, and down the street from Mony Winery.
We arrived almost on time, and Shiki and Olivier were there to greet us and lead us to a room where we would be having the tasting. Shiki told us that they are drawing up plans for a visitor’s center where they can have official tastings, and exhibits where the winemakers and the guests can interact in a more intimate environment. The exact date for this building to be completed is still unknown, as it has yet to even start, but it is on the books to be started soon. Read the rest of this entry
Two weeks ago I was in Jerusalem and all I can say is that the words, “in God We Trust” cannot have been more fulfilled than on this journey. To start, I had flown into Israel for one of my nephew’s weddings, and a lovely wedding it was, but that is getting ahead of ourselves. I arrived on Tuesday the 10th and while deplaning, I was asked to join in on a group prayer – which initially I was not so interested in, as I had a ton of things to get done in the day. Thank goodness I agreed and while talking with the group at the conclusion of the services, I hear my name being bellowed out! Now, sure I love Israel, and I know people there, but I am not Netanyahu or Gal Gadot, nor do I know anyone who knows Gal Gadot (trying to stay current and yes I know she is a female model – just making sure you are following), so I had no idea why someone was calling out my name!
So, I turn around and lo and behold who is there, Mendel! Now you may not remember Mendel, but he has been canonized on this very virtual pages, here and here (de-boning a duck) – though incorrectly familiarly associated with Elchonon. I state this because it will be with Mendel’s hands that my wine salvation will be realized. He wondered if I remember who he was, and after sharing a few pleasantries, we agreed to keep in touch as he was interested in joining me on my wine escapades, which sounded great to me!
From there we both got our cars and I went off to see my sister in HarNof. That evening I was so exhausted, I tried to order a burger from a place that will go nameless. Two hours later, no burger and my card was charged! To be fair, after much cajoling they did refund my money, which I understand in Israel is requires an act from God to implement, but equilibrium was returned.
The next day, I WhatApp Mendy and sure enough he is up and ready – like I was, so I asked if he minded to drive and off we went to pursue the wineries around Jerusalem. I must start by saying that I have no issue driving, but as I explained many times in the past, Israeli drivers have no drive control or manners, they are 100% certifiable! Well, I guess either work; “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” or “Fight fire with fire”, and that is exactly what Mendy does so well. The roads were slick with rain, at some points the roads were almost washed out with a literal deluge of rain, making the roads slick and a perfect pairing for hydro-planing. No worries, Mendel is at the wheel! So, our first stop was Castel!