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
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
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.
On October 20th of this year (2011), for Shemini Atzeret lunch, we crashed at our friend’s party, as we did not put up a sukkah, and one needs to eat in a sukkah (without a blessing) on Shemini Atzeret. Anyway, the meal was truly fantastic, but Benyo (from Four Gates Winery), my wife and I, were invited to taste a vertical tasting of Herzog Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve. We have had many vertical tastings in the past, but this one was driven by our friend’s access to the wines. You see the Herzog Winery Wine Club, sent him an email asking if he wants to taste a 4 bottle vertical of Napa Valley Cabernet! Our friend bought the vertical and shared it with us all, and it was a true treat. These folks are our friends, so it is always fun to enjoy a meal with them and their lovely family.
The meal started off (Kiddush) with a bottle of 2004 Herzog Napa Valley Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was killer, the nose was awesome and the mouth was smooth with lovely rich flavors. This was followed by some lovely fish and a bunch of lovely dips. We all enjoyed a glass of the wine, and then the bottle was moved to the side, to follow it through the meal. This was a really good tactical approach to a vertical wine tasting. The correct approach to a vertical wine tasting is to taste a glass of each wine one after the other, and then loop back to the first wine and do another round, until the wine is done.
Just a bit of information. The 2004 vintage was not mevushal! What? Herzog not being mevushal? Yes, in 2003 and 2004 Herzog decided to mevushalize their wines BEFORE bottling and NOT, as they do now, which is after fermentation, well before bottling.
So we tasted the 2005 Herzog Napa Valley Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon next. Where the 2004 was a killer wine, the 2005 was a total let down, truly sad! The wine has a lovely nose, but the mouth and finish were not enjoyable at all. I will state that the wine was starting to turn brown, but it should not have affected the wine to this significance. We then moved to the main course, which was some killer barbecue chicken, salads, and mushrooms. The next wine was the 2006 Herzog Napa Valley Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was rich with clear chocolate covered cherries and then lovely fruit. The final wine we enjoyed was the 2007 Herzog Napa Valley Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the other huge winner for the meal. When we returned to the 2004 – it was dead . So clearly this is a wine you want to enjoy NOW, and do not hold and pray, this is a wine to be enjoyed now. The 2005 vintage did not improve with more air, it was equally unbalanced. The 2006 vintage was slightly improved and the 2007 vintage did improve with more air. Read the rest of this entry
Rosh Hashanah 2011/5772, Herb encrusted gefilte fish loaf, Sweet and Sour Brisket, Vegetable kugel, and many wines
Rosh Hashanah (literally translated ”head of the year”) has come and gone again (Wednesday Night – September 28th, 2011), and once more I am reminded that it is a holiday that is more about your relationship with God than your gastronomic relationship with friends and family. Yes of course it is not a fast day like Yom Kippur, of course, but still the frivolity needs to be toned down a bit, and the attention placed on the fact that we are all being judged at this time of the year. So with that frame of mind, yeah too many early morning Selichot Services kind of kill the mood, my wife and I set out to make our menu and meals.
This year we hosted the first meal. We invited friends and family and it was quite awesome! Like last year, we had the same simanim (literally translated to “signs”), except that we modified the way we make the leeks. The simanim are a play on word and are a very basic Jewish tradition of using word play to bring out symbolism and actual changes or good tidings. This year we made all of the simanim, as our friends were laid up, but we had other friends staying over with us who helped us out, so it was no biggie. The simanim are a yearly rite of passage, and one of my favorite Jewish traditions. Many of the recipes have been changed to protect the innocent. The customary recipes from my mother recipes consist of 4 basic ingredients, oil, more oil, honey, and some vegetable, and one cooking style – frying. We decided that this tradition was awesome, but that it needed to be toned down such that it could be enjoyed for years to come and not just for the few where we are vertical. So it called for some baking and less oil. We ordered the symbolic food in the order of Sephardic Jewry, and here they are:
- Dates or Figs (Tamar in Hebrew)
- The symbolism here is that God should end our enemies
- Broad Beans coated with a mixture of olive oil, cumin, and garlic (Rubya in Aramaic)
- The symbolism here is that God should increase our merits
- Leeks – prepared masterfully by our stay over friends, leek fritters recipe found here(Karti in Aramaic)
- The symbolism here is that God should cut down our enemies
- Spinach – prepared masterfully by my wife using her spinach kugel recipe (Salka in Aramaic)
- The symbolism here is that God should remove our enemies
- Sweet Butternut Squash – sliced butternut squash, sprayed with oil and covered with honey, then baked in an oven set to 400 degrees (Kra in Aramaic)
- The symbolism here is that God should tear up our evil decrees and read before him our merits
- Pomegranate seeds (Rimon in Hebrew)
- The symbolism here is that our mitzvot (observance of the Jewish laws) be as plentiful as the pomegranate seeds
- Sweet apples dipped in honey
- The symbolism here is that God should grant us a New Year as sweet as honey
- Fish head – Salmon head poached in white wine and water
- The symbolism here is that in this New Year we should be at the head of the class and not at the tail
We always joke that we should try to bring out a head of a lamb instead of a fish head and freak out everyone there. It would be totally epic, but while it is the preferred manner of implementing the head symbolism, it would fly in the face of “behaving”. The good news is that we did FAR better than last year on the wine parade, which was not too difficult!
The rest of the meal started with our reliable Herb encrusted gefilte fish loaf and simanim left over’s. The reason I really like this recipe is because while normal gefilte fish recipes tastes like bland boiled white fish, this recipe tastes like herb-encrusted fish that is lightly charred with the herb and spice flavors permeated through and through the fleshy texture – quite a treat. The main course consisted of our patented sweet and sour brisket, brown rice, vegetable kugel, and fresh vegetable salad. While the brisket recipe is normally rock solid, this one was far from perfect. Once again I am underwhelmed by South American whole Brisket. The US whole Brisket has a layer of fat that helps to baste the meat as the meat cooks slow and low in a 300 degrees oven. The South American whole Brisket is too lean, and lacks the self-basting fat. Further the meat is not marbled like the US whole Brisket, unfortunately, that was all that was available at the time. Read the rest of this entry
Some 5 years ago I was watching an episode of The Food Network’s Iron Chef and the chefs started using some high tech gear to create dishes that were far from your average Julia Child cookery. Instead, the dishes were shaped in manners that were illogical, almost impossible, and downright weird. Welcome to the world of Molecular Gastronomy. I could devote an entire posting or two to this subject, but today’s post is not about me – it is about two extraordinary individuals, Steven Long, the head chef at The Kitchen Table and Jeff Morgan, the head wine maker of Covenant Wines.
As I posted earlier, the event started at 7 PM promptly. We all arrived at 7 PM, and as the proverb states; the early bird gets the worm, was as true as day, as we had the pick of the tables. The first obvious thing to hit you upon seating was the wait staff. Are you kidding me! There must have been 14 wait staff for some 40 or so guests! We were waited on ALL night like royalty. I can remember only once throughout the entire evening, when I raised my hand and there was not a scrum of staff in front of our table. The other aspect that hits you was the mood. The mood was set by the wonderful wait staff, the wine and food enthusiastic guests, while the Pièce de résistance was the dulcet tones and musical abilities of Hot Kugel!
Hot Kugel is a San Francisco Bay area Klezmer ensemble. Their music is a blend of traditional Klezmer with the musical styles of old time jazz, ethnic folk, theater and American popular music, as well as blues, rock and reggae. Both Suska and Mordecai were playing a mixture of instruments and music that were both wonderful to listen to and wonderful to have in the background, in the nicest way. The beauty of a well executed offensive play in football always leads back to the offensive line, the unsung heroes, that go unnoticed, unless they make a penalty, and then all you hear is boos. When you are at a fine dining experience you want to enjoy the time with friends, family, and new acquaintances, while still being stimulated and entertained. That is exactly what Hot Kugel delivered. When I wanted to tune them in and listen, I was impressed and highly entertained, and when I was talking to my friends, they never imposed; instead they just lifted the atmosphere as a whole. On an aside, when I was listening and tuning in, I could not help but be mesmerized by Suska’s voice that really did not sound like a voice, but rather an instrument. The varied instruments, music abilities, along with music sensibility, and song choices truly did add to the already wonderful mood.
On our table was a basket of, what I can only guess to be, freshly baked beer and rosemary dinner rolls, along with a bowl of lovely olive oil to dip them in. They were quite a treat and a boon for me, as I had not eaten anything since the morning. I listened well to my mother, who always told me (many times), do not fill up on the challah, there is much more food on its way. Sure enough, almost immediate after satiating my immediate appetite, Mr. Long and his staff came out to serve the very first dish – the Amuse Bouche. The first thing I noticed was that Mr. Long had changed his chef’s jacket, from when we saw him walking around before the dish was served, this was something he did throughout the night. When asked by a guest, at the end of the evening, about the apparent attempt to channel Nicole Richie’s dress code (same day by the way!), Mr. Long was partly shocked and unready with a response, however Mr. Morgan stepped in and stated that he needed to keep a clean look, and it is pretty busy back there.
In either case, the first dish hit our tables, and the Amuse Bouche looked interesting, to say the least. The term Amuse Bouche loosely translated means amuse your mouth or palate. The dish came served on a platter of Chinese Soup spoons, for the entire table. Each soup spoon held what Mr. Long called Hot Roast Squash Gel Cube with Apple Caviar. This was the first of many examples of Molecular Gastronomy that Mr. Long would showcase during the evening and most definitely his weakest attempt. I do not want to get on my soap box about the ideals of Molecular Gastronomy, however, throughout the night there would be hits and misses, and some were clear strikeouts. This was one of them, the idea behind Molecular Gastronomy is simple, in the words of Grant Achatz, the head chef at Alinea where he daily melds technology and Haute Cuisine, “The technology allows us to get to the essence of food, it allows you to be more true with flavor, not less true.” We are supposed to feel the food, taste its raw essence, without all the trappings and machinations of Thomas Keller and his French Laundry restaurant. In this dish, Mr. Long succeeded in losing the trappings, but missed on extracting the essence and feel of the dish. The hot roast squash gel cube had nice flavors, with clear sign posts leading to roasted squash, but the road ended rather abruptly. The Apple caviar, felt more like an early warning system for “all things molecular” coming your way, without actually showcasing the apples or helping to tie the two flavors together. What was missing was a bit of salt to balance the flavors, instead, we had a shot of sweet and a shot of bland apples and not much else. To be honest, I told my table mates, who did not care for the dish much more than I did, that I really hope that this is not harbinger for what else is to come tonight. And to that I scream loud and clear – Heck NO! It was an aberration and one I am sure that maybe we did not get, but let it be clear from my pen to your eyes; the evening held many wonderful surprises and this was the one and only real miss.
Around the same time as the Amuse Bouche was being passed out, Jonathan Hajdu, the associate wine maker and on-site kosher supervisor was pouring out the first of the four wines that we would be tasting this evening; the 2008 Covenant Lavan Chardonnay. When I tasted it earlier this year at the 2010 Herzog Food and Wine Festival in Oxnard, it actually showed more ripe fruit and tannin – from the oak. It was still young then and crazy fun. Now when we tasted it, the wine seems to be hitting its stride. The tannin is gone or covered over with a blanket of toasty rich oak and butterscotch, along with a bit of fruit. Clearly this is a bottle that is ready to party and one that really was not meant to pair with the Amuse Bouche, but heck it was there so we tasted it. Again, the gel cube barely survived the oak attack, while the poor apple caviar was gutted from the inside out, never had a chance. Again to be fair, it was not a real pairing, but we tried for the fun of it.
Since we tasted the wine at this point – I will post the note here. I wanted to compare it against the notes I have from earlier this year, so here is my previous note and my newest one as well:
2008 Covenant Lavan Chardonnay, Napa Valley – Score: A- to A
The nose on this vibrant yellow colored wine is screaming with lychee, green apple, guava, peach, oak, and almonds. The mouth on this full bodied wine is creamy and hopping with butterscotch, apple, peach, and oak. The mid palate is balanced and structured with bracing acidity, spicy oak, oak tannins, and mineral. The finish is long and creamy, with more butterscotch, almonds, oak, peach, and lychee. (Tasted February 2010)
2008 Covenant Lavan Chardonnay, Napa Valley – Score: A- to A
The nose on this lemon to straw colored wine is screaming with toasty oak, green apple, guava, butterscotch, peach, Crème brûlée, lemon, and almonds. The mouth on this full bodied wine is creamy and hopping with butterscotch, apple, peach, lemon, and oak. The mid palate is balanced and structured with bracing acidity, rich toasty oak, Crème brûlée, and butterscotch. The finish is long and luscious, with more butterscotch, peach, lemon, almonds, and guava. The butterscotch, lemon, and almonds linger long on the palate. (Tasted December 2010) Read the rest of this entry
This past Purim my friends and I enjoyed a wonderful meal at the synagogue, along with a few wines that I brought along, and a couple of wines that were brought by some other congregants. Some of the wines I tasted have notes, while others have just feelings or memories, sorry, this was Purim after all. My friends still give me a hard time for the one time that I actually took notes on Purim. To me, tasting wine is about friends, memories, along with a bit of a job. To others, especially on Purim, it is about friends, memories, and a bit of a buzz.
Anyway, the wine notes follow below in the order that they were tasted:
Tzuba Port Style Wine - Score: A-
This is a wine that I brought back from my last trip to Israel, one that I bought during my visit to the Tzuba Winery. The nose on this dark garnet to black colored wine shows rich loamy dirt, bright oxidation, rich spicy oak, ripe fig, blackberry, and spice. The mouth on this full-bodied and mouth filling wine, starts with a concentrated attack of spicy oak, rich sweet and ripe blackberry, and fig. The wine is layered and concentrated with ripe fruit and spicy oak, yes I repeated that because it is so nice. The mid palate is filled with nice acidity, integrated yet still gripping tannins, and spice that flows into a lush loam and oak forest. The finish is crazy long with rich chocolate, oak, mounds of spice, rich and ripe black fruit, and a lingering palate of oak extraction, spice, and more black fruit. A nice bottle that can handle just about any sweet desert you throw at it.
2004 Four Gates Rishona (375 ml) – Score: A-
Well, we tasted the larger format of this bottle last week and this week we opened the 375 ml size, which was the originally released format. We still loved it and it is still drinking really well, though the color throws you and the flavor is a bit dingy, the rest of the wines notes are exactly as the previous tasting, and listed here. The color on this brown tinged/dark ruby colored wine, was hopping with chicken cherry cola, coffee, mature oak, fig, and raspberry. The mouth on this intense and full-bodied wine was layered with bright black cherry, coffee, and oak. The mid palate was bracing with bright acidity and oak. The finish was long and tantalizing with more cherry, oak, and coffee, layered under a canopy of mature flavors. This is clearly a wine that needs to be consumed now, but to some, this was one of the winners, which was shocking given the list of wines we enjoyed.
2006 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve, Napa Valley – Score: B/B+
The wine was OK, but it had a huge hole in the middle with almost no acidity to be found. It was OK, but uni-dimensional with almost no fruit and a bit of oak. Not fun.
2006 Baron Herzog Cabernet/Zinfandel/Syrah Special Reserve – Score: B++
Yummy, fruity, acidic, rich, with black fruit showing well from the Cabernet, while standing tall with enough oak and tannins from the Syrah. Nice and one that is probably at or close to its peak.
2006 Hagafen Merlot, Napa Valley – Score: A-
I remember loving it that night for its classic Hagafen soft yet layered mouth feel, along with rich and ripe black fruit and chocolate.
2007 Barkan Classic Petite Sirah – Score: B/B+
This is a nice and lively wine with rich blackberry and smoke on the nose and mouth, along with a firm and structured mouth feel that allows the wine to stand up to meat and rich sauces. A nice and simple wine that is enjoyable by all.
2007 Backsberg Pinotage – Score: B++
The nose on this bright purple colored wine is packed with loamy dirt, mineral, rich black cherry, mulberry fruit, spice, vanilla, oak, and pepper. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and spicy though not complex in nature, along with mulberry, Kirsch cherry, and a hint of strawberry. The mid palate is bracing and almost tart with code acidity, nice soft yielding tannins, spice, and dirt. The finish is long with layers of smoke and spice, along with red fruit, and a nice dollop of vanilla. A nice wine for the price, quality, and its mevushal status.
2006 Rashi Select Barbera d’Alba - Score: B/B+
The nose on this wine moved from being bright and red to rich and chocolate. Not a bad wine, but one that did not live up to my hopes for it. The tannins were nice and helped to highlight the soft mouth, bright acidity, and red fruit. With air the fruit disappeared, the mouth was still bright but turning fast, and the finish was packed with chocolate and vanilla. I guess it is an OK wine, but drink up fast, and not a wine worth its cost.
The day started out as a lovely and sunny Sunday, the last one of 2009. We took a long and enjoyable last look at massive Clear Lake, which our hotel wrapped around, and headed south on CA-20. As we closed into Lower Lake, we were supposed to continue south on CA-29, but plans are just that – plans! Instead, we took the road less traveled, the Knoxville-Berryessa Road (lovely pictures of the road linked here from a motorcycle rider). It is so called because, it is a road that runs through government-owned land, counted some 5 or so structures from Lower Lake until Berryessa Lake. For some 30 or more miles, at a rate of maybe 35 mph, we saw no one – period. Truly a road less traveled. Finally, and blessedly, right before Lake Berryessa, we came upon a truck, and two folks fishing (actually, I think that was not public knowledge , and they told us where we were. I guess this teaches us, that if we do not want a GPS or expensive phone contract (with GPS on it), and instead want to go retro, we should act retro, and carry around a map or two!
Well after a fair amount of driving, we came to the Hagafen Winery, a bit late, at a not so warm time of day. It was some 40 degrees outside, and we went inside to meet Josh Stein, Hagafen Winery’s Brand Manager. I stated the temperature, because Josh started the winery tour outside where every vintage starts – in the vineyard of course! I asked about the way the vines are managed, and Josh quickly replied that the vines have been managed using CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) rules for many years now, but they are now in the second year of their CCOF certification, and hope to be certified within a year. Of course, as we have spoken about this topic many times, the wine will NOT be organic, but the vineyard will be. There are three full time employees, Ernie Weir, the owner and founder of Hagafen Winery, who is also the manager of the winery. The other two full time employees, manage the winery’s most important other asset, the vineyards. The winery started some 32 years ago, after Weir had made wine, at a custom crush site in Napa, CA, for a couple of years. He decided to start making kosher wine. He started his production with 25 cases and a single SKU. Today, Hagafen makes some 8000 cases of wine, under three labels, and 30 or more SKU. Hagafen started with no vineyards, and then in 1986 they bought the land that the winery sits on presently. The vineyard in those days was planted with Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc, but it was replanted in 1997 with what stands there today, 12 acres of clone 7 and clone 337 Cabernet Sauvignon, named the Weir Family Vineyard II. The Weir Family Vineyard III came online later with 9 acres, 3 acres of Cabernet Franc, 3 acres of Syrah, and 3 acres of White Riesling. Many of Hagafen’s wines are labeled as Estate Bottled, though they are not actually on their estate at all, as seen here on Hagafen’s vineyard map. They source grapes from vineyards as far south as Fagan Creek, and as far north as Soleil and Moskowite vineyards. So, how are they allowed to use the term “Estate Bottled” on their labels? Well, the rules are a bit more simplistic, though not well known. As described here on the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the Estate Bottled tag line has three requirements to be added to your label.
- The vineyard must either be owned by the winery or under the winery’s 100% control
- The vineyard to be in the same viticultural area
- The grapes are crushed, fermented, aged, and bottled in the winery or on the winery grounds
Hagafen has continued to expand its own vineyards, while perfecting their relationship and processes with its many vineyard partners. They have long term contracts with the vineyards, and have recently taken control of many of the coveted blocks within the upper echelon of Napa Valley vineyards. Read the rest of this entry
On the weekend of January 8th, we had a Friday night party, with my nephews from Chicago and from around the Bay Area, and Benyamin Cantz. The meal started with a wicked cool soup that we made for the first time and then followed it with a roast, some meat sauce, brown rice, roasted vegetables, and fresh salad. The soup recipe is below, and is from a recipe book – fittingly called – Soup! We laughed about the soup book, because my Sister is the owner of Source Books, and we bantered around about how much time she would have spent on just the picture on the front of the book, which of course is a bowl of soup! After the soup, we made some roasted vegetables (sweet potatoes, beets, rutabagas, parsnip). The vegetables were so good because we roasted them until they released their water and started to crystallize the sugars – which makes them extra yummy! They went along nicely with the roasted shoulder meat, which was braised with peas and carrots, and a bunch of wine – recipe can be found here. The meat sauce was a lot like this one, without trying to make meatballs out of it. They were all paired with a lovely brown rice pilaf and a fresh green salad.
Rice & White Bean Soup Recipe
9 oz of white beans
Diced Red peppers
Cubed Soy Sausage
Chicken or vegetable stock
Half a cup of brown rice
Place the beans in water over night and then drain and rinse a few times the next day. Sauté the onions and sausage until browned. Add in the garlic, and once browned nicely, throw in the diced zucchini, carrots, and peppers. Wait for the vegetables to give off their liquid and then add in the herbs and vegetable stock. Wait for the soup to boil and throw in the washed and rinsed beans. Lower the heat to simmer and stir the soup every so often until the beans are softening (about an hour). Then throw in the rice, and whatever other seasoning (salt, pepper, etc.) to taste, and wait another 30 or so minutes.
The wine we chose to pair with this food was partly from Four Gates Winery and partly from our cellar. One wine from my cellar was a massive and huge dud, while the other one was OK. Both of the wines from Four Gates (one of which is still unreleased), were quite nice indeed.
The wine notes follow below:
2006 Cantina Gabriele Sangiovese – Score: B+
The nose on this dark ruby colored wine is rich with loamy notes, black cherry is ever evident, some violet, and a bit of plum. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is mouth coating with integrated tannins, plum, and concentrated cherry flavors. The mid palate is balanced with integrated tannins and acid. The finish is long with loamy soil, a hint of floral notes, and a ton of cloying tart cherries at the very end. The tart cherries throw off the finish and ruin the wine, which is a shame, because of the rest of the package.
2006 Hevron Heights Mount Hevron Red – Score: C-
This bottle was either really wrong or it is flawed at birth. The bottle had way too much volatile acidity, which messed up an already not so great wine. The nose on this vibrant garnet – purple colored wine is over the top with Volatile Acidity, cherry, plum, and coffee. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is flush with cranberry, plum, and eucalyptus. The rest of the flavor profile is cherry and coffee and not much more than that because of the VA.
2006 Four Gates Merlot M.S.C. – Score: A
When we last tasted this wine it was a bit redder. Now the wine has turned black (as has its younger brother the 2006 Merlot La Rochelle), and it is a crazy joy to drink and share with your friends and family. The interesting thing is that, while there are some red characteristics to this wine, the black ones clearly stand out. Who knows, it may well go back to its red past, which was still one wonderful wine as well.
The nose on this purple to black colored wine is screaming with rich oak, cassis, blackberry, plum, raspberry, tobacco, chocolate, and licorice. The mouth of this full bodied wine is full of raspberry, cassis, plum, and blackberry. The mouth’s tannins are slowly integrating and creating a lovely mouth coating experience that fills out the already full wine’s body, and the layers of fruit accentuate the palate with nice oak notes. The mid palate is balanced with acid, chocolate, nice tannins, and spicy oak. The finish is long and rich with red fruit, more spicy oak, licorice, and chocolate. The wine is a massive black Merlot that is layered, complex, and screaming with black fruit and extracted flavors.
2006 Four Gates (Yet Undisclosed Name) - Score: A-
The nose on this royal purple to black colored wine is filled with raspberry, plum, floral notes, kirsch cherry, oak, and spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is hopping with raspberry, plum, and cherry. The mouth comes at you layer after layer on a plush mouth with mouth coating tannins. The mid palate is balanced with acid, integrating tannins, and coffee. The finish is long with red fruit, vanilla, lovely tannins, coffee, and a hint of leather.
Recently we went to a party and I brought along two bottles of wine. The wine notes follow below:
2003 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve – Score: A-
This wine was really nice. The nose of this dark purple wine is screaming with blackberry, cassis, raspberry, and oak. The mouth on this full bodied wine is complex with layers of blackberry, cassis, chocolate, and oak. The mouth flows into the mid palate with nice acidity, oak, and nicely integrated tannins. The finish is long with more chocolate, oak, and black fruit flavors.
2006 Goose Bay Pinot Noir - Score: B-
This vintage is now gone It was nice before, but then poof it just died. I tasted this one two times within a short period of time, my bottle and a bottle during a wine tasting. The wine is over the hill and watered down. A real shame! That said the notes follow below:
The nose on the ruby colored Pinot is not as large as it once was; it starts off with coffee, cherry and a bit of raspberry. The mouth on this light bodied wine has cherry, and raspberry. The mid palate is almost bitter with earth and no oak to be found. The finish is acidic with flavors of cherry on the finish. Drink this up now if you can.