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Covenant Winery Israel – the next step in a spiritual and physical Journey

2013 Covenant IsraelWhen 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

Another great Shabbos at Four Gates Winery with good friends – 2015

Four Gates lineup

This thing is starting to be a habit! Last year we did it with the boys, but that trip we got totally shnockered, and I never did get good notes, but man did we move though a lot of wine! This trip, was a bit more shabbos like, we sang, actually spoke about things relating to the weekend, and yes we drank a fair amount of wine. However, the wines for this trip were purposely dedicated to the west coast, no wines at all from Israel or France of the like. Of course the vast majority of them were Four Gates wines, but we also had a Shirah wine in there, the new Aglianico, and a very nice Covenant Sauvignon Blanc from 2011 that was screaming!!

I will skip the pleasantries and the such, as we all know who Four Gates Winery is and that he is a friend of mine, which is why we have our “yearly” Guys outing there! This year the shabbos was not just friends of mine from out of town but also some friends from here in San Jose! Of course none of this would have or could have happened without Binyamin Cantz, winemaker, owner, cask washer, cellar rat, vineyard manager, and all around dude of Four gates Winery – you get the point!

I was happy that I may have only gotten him angry at me once over the shabbos, maybe twice, which for me is a record!

Anyway, the notes and the pics of the wines follow – have a great week all!

1997 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A- (and more)
lovely and screaming! The nose is lovely and citrusy, with sweet oak and oriental spice. The mouth is more polished and elegant with great acid, guava, pineapple and great acid with great sweet fruit and fig. The finish is long work lovely fruit, hints of butterscotch and rich summer fruit.

2002 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A-
What a joyous wine the nose is rich with a classic Meyrieux nose of pineapple, sweet fruit and lovely spice. The mouth is lovely and medium bodied with great apple pie, kiwi, pineapple, along with crazt tart fruit, with lovely rich acid and intense layers of brioche and fruit. The finish is long and sweet with nutmeg and candied pineapple, with sweet cedar bringing it all together. The acid is what rocks this wine along with the tart and sweet wine notes. Bravo!!! Read the rest of this entry

Matar Winery – a fantastic kosher Israeli wine from Pelter

Pelter StillAs many of you know, I have been a very vocal advocate for the need of Israeli wineries to stop making wines for the sweet-toothed, wine chugging kosher public. The wineries and their fans crave uncontrolled tannin, date, prune, and enough oak on the wine, for splinters to be protruding from it!

Well, I am so excited to say that there is now a winery that combines the best of both worlds! Yes, they make fantastic date juice and old-world wines at the same time! This magical winery is the Matar Winery, which is the kosher arm of the famous Pelter Winery in Israel’s Golan Heights! Pelter Winery is not kosher, but in 2012 they decided to create a new arm of their winery- called Matar Winery. A say arm, because it is an extension to Pelter Winery, it is NOT Pelter Winery itself. Tal Pelter, the winemaker and half owner of the family run winery, decided that he still wanted to interact with his wines, on a very hands on and intimate level, and so he kept Pelter winery non-kosher. However, he also wanted to make his wines available to the charadei (frum/orthodox) Jewish community, and so he created a new winery, that uses his grapes and that he makes, with the aid of religious workers.

This is a very different approach that say Flam, Castel, and others wineries that went kosher. In the latter wineries, the entire production went from non-kosher to kosher inside of a year. For Tal, who is a passionate and hands-on winemaker, who happens to not religious, it would have meant losing access to what he craves – his wines. This is a subject I discussed in my top wine post of all time; kosher wine 101. For brevity, I will simply state that kosher wine is defined by many things, but the toughest one for winemakers like Tal, is the requirement that the wine be made and handled by religious Jews.

Read the rest of this entry

Some great new kosher wines to enjoy!

This past weekend I enjoyed having some family over at the house, and we enjoyed a few new kosher wine options that were quite enjoyable. First off, thanks DB and NB for swinging by – it was a real joy to see u guys again!!!

Now on to the new options out there. The first is the 2013 La Fenetre Pinot Noir and the new 2013 La Fenetre wine blend and Cab. I only tasted the new 2013 Pinot, and it needed a day of air to lose its ripe flavors. We had the 2011 La Fenetre wines before and the 2012 over Passover, so I am happy to see the kosher selection growing and improving! From the get go, the wine had a massive mouth and attack. However, it also displayed far too much sweet and ripe notes for me. With time the tannins stayed and the sweet notes receded to show a wine ripe with fruit but balanced with mad coffee, tannin, and sweet spices – lovely!

Sadly, the Alsace Pinot Gris was not fun at all, it tasted like a somewhat complex Bartenura Blue Bottle, which I am sorry to say is not much of a compliment! The 2014 Dalton Pinot Gris is a very different story – this wine may still be in travel shock, so let it rest for a bit. I popped mine open and it was dull for a day, until it popped open and had ripping acid and saline and lovely coating minerals. The 2009 Reacanati Carignan is still very old world and rich, but it is coming to its end soon, so drink up!

Sadly, the 2009 Yatir Syrah, a wine I brought from Israel is showing its age already – which blows my mind, but it too was showing over ripe fruit, so start drinking up as well.

The 2009 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, is still insane in its complexity and its structure. Finally, 2014 Tabor Sauvignon Blanc, may be a tiny step behind the 2013 but who cares – it is a lovely and awesome SB for Israel! The 2010 Fourcas Dupre continues to impress and crush with its sick body and mineral and its very impressive price.

So to recap, the wines I loved over Shabbos, are on the top wines for Passover post, and they are:

  1. 2010 Chateau Fourcas Dupre
  2. 2014 Dalton Pinot Gris
  3. 2014 Tabor Sauvignon Blanc
  4. 2013 La Fenetre Pinot Noir (needs time!)

The wine notes follow below:

2012 Cave de Ribeauvillé Giersberger Pinot Gris – Score: B
This is an ok Pinot Gris but lacks the crazy acid and is a bit too “sweet” for me. There is residual sugar, and the sweet fruit annoys me. The nose is ripe with honey. honeysuckle, almond, dirty earth, loam, and ripe white fruit. Too sweet for me, with ripe summer fruit, and rich fig. Nice enough, but stick with the 14 or 13 Dalton PG. The mineral is its saving grace. Read the rest of this entry

The kosher wines I enjoyed this past Passover

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 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 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 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

Some Great and some OK kosher Rose and white wines for summer along with BBQ reds

Summer is here and man is it hot! When I think summer wines I think rose and tart/bright white wines. We have been tasting some of these wines and they have been fantastic, for the most part. There have been some very nice reds as well, including the 2005 Hagafen Zinfandel. Sadly, 2006 was the last vintage for Hagafen and Zinfandel, because they needed to cut down on the number of labels they produce, and Zinfandel got the boot – very sad indeed.

The best rose by far was the Netofa, along with the Recanati and the Castel was OK. The 2011 Covenant Sauvignon Blanc was mind-blowing and still kicking in all the right ways. It stood up well to the 2013 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, which is also great! The 2012 Dalton Viognier is nice, but it never had the star qualities of the 2009. I hear the 2013 is as good or better than the 2009, so I am hoping to taste it soon! The 2013 Shirah Vintage Whites is not as good as the 2012, but it is nice enough and needs TONS of time to open and really come together, so open this one and let it air!

The 2010 Ella valley Cabernet Franc is finally in the country and it is equally as good as it was in Israel! The 2009 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Edition, Clone # Six, is really nice but much sweeter than the 2008 which was/is a rock star! Both of these reds would go really well with BBQ chicken or hanger steaks, or a burger with roasted onions – yum!

Well there you go, I hope you get to enjoy some or all of these and post back what you thought! The notes follow below:

2013 Domaine Netofa Rose – Score: A- and more (CRAZY QPR)
This wine is blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Mourvedre. The nose on this beautiful cherry colored wine, is ripe with peach aromas, intense floral notes, hints of kiwi, quince, rich herb, and spice. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has lovely strawberry, tart cherry, with nice fruit structure, along with insane acid, nice melon, and tart fruit that keeps on coming. The finish is long and spicy with rose petals, green and red apple sauce, and spiced apples.
Read the rest of this entry

Some nice older and amazing newer kosher Israeli wines

2013 Yarden Sauvignon BlancWhen 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

Tzora Winery continues to shine as one of the very best wineries in Israel

Tzora Winery 4If 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.

Four Tzora wines we tasted at the wineryIf 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).

Eran Pick, Nicolas Daniel Ranson and Christophe Bardeau tasting at Tzora WineryThis 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

Ella Valley Winery – final day of my snowbound Jerusalem Trip

Well if you have been following the saga of my snowbound trip to Israel, you would know that this was closing out quickly at this point as the snow has stopped by Sunday, and the roads were open. So, on the Monday after the fateful snowstorm, Mendel and I made our way to Ella Valley Winery.

Other than the obvious lack of snow down in the Ella Valley, or the roads leading to it, the most obvious telltale sign of the tectonic shift that the Ella Valley Winery is going through was the lack of noise, as we entered the winery grounds. Now, I do not mean visitors, as David Perlmutter and a slightly rambunctious crowd that he was ferrying around were in the house. No, I mean the birds; in many ways recently Ella Valley has gone to the birds, metaphorically and in some ways – physically (but with lots of hope for its quick and successful return).

As I have stated the many times that I have visited the winery, I loved this winery for its makeup, its people, and its wine styling, all of which seemed to flow in a common theme, clean lined with respect to the product and people. As I stated here, Danny Valero, the winery’s original general manager, had a deep love for wine, technology, and birds, yes real multi-colored feathered friends that quacked and made a racket, but inevitably added to the ambiance and uniqueness that was Ella Valley Winery.

IMG_0109Sadly, one by one, they all fell off. No, not the birds (though they are also gone), rather the people that originally made the winery so special. The winery was started in the 1990s, and released its first vintage in 2002. Within the time following its founding, the winery grew to great prominence, because of the principles upon which it was built, build great wines that happen to be kosher, showcasing the qualities of Israeli fruit. Of all the wineries in Israel, in recent memory, Ella Valley came out of the shoot with all guns blazing. They never had a ramp up time, they came out as a four star winery, in the late Daniel Rogov’s books from the start almost, and never relinquished that status.

Read the rest of this entry

Lovely kosher red and white wines for Succoth

This past week I spent some time with family and we enjoyed some great white and red wines. Mostly white and rose wines were enjoyed simply because I was in a very hot climate (no not the Bay Area), and so white and rose wines were truly the only option.

I wanted to have some red wines so I included two reds that I have been wanting to taste for a long time and both were great. The only real “let down” was the Tavel Rose which I have still not come to appreciate. To me it lacks the bracing acidity and it is far too bitter, for my tastes.

So, I will keep this short and sweet – the wine notes follow in the order they were enjoyed:

2012 Makom Grenache Blanc – Score: A-
This bottle is back!!! The last bottle we had was right after bottling, and it was not showing beautifully. This week, it was showing alot more like what it did before bottling. The nose explodes with rich slate, followed by lovely floral aromas, ripe lime, lemon, grapefruit, jasmine, lovely cut grass, and herbal notes. The mouth is ripe and medium bodied, with nice lemon friache, good strong and balancing acid, and ripe peach. The finish is long and spicy, with hints of banana, ripe fig, and nice mineral. I am so happy this wine is back -be sure to enjoy!!!! Read the rest of this entry


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