A few days ago my friends and I returned to The Kitchen Table for some good food, wine, and camaraderie. The last time we were there, after Chef Long had left the establishment I was not in love with the wine list or the food. My wife and I had some poor experiences, and I was worried that this would be another poor repeat performances. Thankfully, the food was wonderful and so was the wine.
I must say that the wine list, even now, at the TKT is still lacking in two main areas, Sparkling and red. The sparkling wines are truly undrinkable, with the Herzog Brut and the Bartenura Prosseco both being non starters. I understand the issue here, balancing the price to the product. However, there are many lovely mevushal options, including Hagafen Brut and the new Drappier Champagne! Both are far better candidates than the ones on the list. In the red selection, there are so many better options than what is available. The newly minted and available Shiloh wines are lovely, including the Barbera and the Legend. There are tons of beautiful mevushal wines from Allied and Happy Hearts, two kosher wine importers that are not Royal Wines.
I know, be happy with what we have, and so I attempted to make the best of it. I had no interest in ordering or drinking any of the red or bubbly options, so we went with some lovely white wines. I had recently tasted the 2010 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc, at the Herzog International Food and Wine Festival and it was awesome again! Bright and acidic, yet bursting with ripe fruit – quite lovely! I also, had the opportunity to taste the wines from Ernie Weir’s Hagafen Winery in Napa Valley, and I tasted the 2010 Hagafen Lake County White Riesling Devoto Vineyard – it was awesome! White Riesling is making a big push now in the kosher market. It is sweet, another big theme in the world of wine in general, yet it is sophisticated enough to meet the other growing theme – kosher wine drinkers in search of good wine. Read the rest of this entry
This past week I was under a big top enjoying kosher wines from around the world and Chef Aaron Todd’s sumptuous splendors were available for all to enjoy. The event was the 2012 Herzog International Food and Wine Festival (IFWF) that was being held at the stately Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Century City. Last year’s event was held at the state-of-the-art Herzog Winery, in Oxnard CA. The intimate lighting and setting was lovely last year, but the combination of the Royal’s larger wine portfolio, the wonderful food, and the growing crowds made it feel like the event was getting too big for its britches. So, with much dismay we waited to hear where the event was going to move to. When the word came out that the event was going to be held at the legendary Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Century City – the event became the must attend hot ticket event for everyone who enjoys food and wine in the LA area – which is about all Los Angelenos.
Now before anyone thinks the event was held in the stately Los Angeles Ballroom – it was not. Actually, it was held in the lovely Plaza Pavilion, whose name does not even begin to give the unique 9,000+ square foot space its due. The event was moved from the somewhat cramped, yet intimate, setting of the winery to a beautiful tent that is a permanent fixture in the hotel and the social calendar of many a LA party hopper. Actually it is with good reason, if I may say so, as the room is a long rectangle with sufficient yet dim-able lighting and enough space to host the many food and wine stands that the 500 or so attendees partook of. Never during the evening did I feel cramped or claustrophobic like I did last year. Further, while the smell of charring wood and meat is a huge turn-on (for me), it totally messes with my olfactory abilities, which when attending a wine tasting (not drinking) event – really bites! There were copious examples of carnivore delights, which were all prepared on site, but the smells did not permeate the walls of the pavilion. The larger space allowed for more vertical sitting spaces with round tables, in case you were not heads down like I was tasting wines. Also, the ability to stroll out of the pavilion and sit in the reception area, a few feet away, made for a far more roomy feeling event. Finally, the pavilion’s lovely champagne, antique gold and chocolate-brown colors, along with the chandeliers and wall-to-wall carpeting made for an evening of sheer elegance and grandeur. Just an aside, while the surroundings were indeed attention grabbing, the guests who attended the event were equally well draped. Some came with tails and a top hat, others dressed to kill in evening ware gowns and suits. I of course, jeans and long sleeve shirt, however, the majority of the crowd were clearly channeling the elegance of the evening.
The confluence of events that just happened to fall on Wednesday, February 15th, made it feel like the odds were stacked against a successful foray out of Herzog’s home base. First it rained – I mean pouring rain! If any of you saw L.A. Story, I hope you can appreciate how rare that is – even in the so-called winter! Further, POTUS decided to do not one, but TWO drive-bys, bringing traffic to a standstill while people craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the most powerful man in the free world. Still, blessedly, nor rain nor sleet nor traffic (the latter a very common malady that Los Angelenos are used to) can keep good citizens of LA from enjoying some seriously good wine and food. The event to me was a major success for many reasons, but the main reason was the fact that sure the event was attended by Jews interested in seeing what wines to buy for the upcoming Purim and Passover. However, there was a large contingency of party goers who attended the evening festivities to enjoy good food and wine – irreverent to their religious and dietary beliefs (which trust me in LA is saying a LOT)! The opportunity to show the L.A. glitterati that the word kosher does not relegate one to an automatic 15 minute timeout, is serious step forward for the kosher industry. Read the rest of this entry
This is the ninth article I am writing on wineries from the Judean Hills wine region of Israel. This particular winery is located just outside the city of Gush Etzion in the Judea region. The winery was a not even a figment of their imagination when Shraga and Tamar Rosenberg moved to Efrat, which is located in Gush Etzion, in the heart of Judea, just south of Jerusalem in 1986. However, the blackberry bush in their backyard looked interesting and their neighbors told them that it could be used to make fermented juice. So with the simple act of fermented blackberry juice (sorry I cannot bring myself to call that wine) was born the desire to, in time, create a world-class winery in the Judean Hills! He was not so different than another pioneer in the Israeli wine world, Eli ben Zaken of Castel Winery, who also left his job to create a world-class winery. Though Gush Etzion has not yet reached the level of Castel in terms of overall wine quality, it is steadily making its way up the hill.
Most would not associate wine and blackberry juice, but for Rosenberg it was a great gateway beverage to acquire the yearning for something a bit more real. With time, Rosenberg realized that wine was his real future and he started tinkering with it in his basement – a classic garagiste! During that time his ultimate dream was growing, of building a winery that would prove the words of the Patriarch Jacob, who prophesied to his son Yehuda some 3000 years ago: “Binding unto the vine, his foal, and unto the choice vine, the colt of his ass; he will launder his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes. His eyes shall sparkle with wine, and his teeth white with milk” (Bereishit 49:11-12). Commenting on these verses, Rashi states, “[Yaakov] prophesied regarding the land of Yehudah, that it would produce wine like a fountain.”
As his tinkering continued friends told him how much they loved his wines and one thing led to another – with Rosenberg officially leaving his managerial position at senior citizen’s home to become a farmer and winemaker! In 1995, with the decision already made, he started to look around for enough grapes to make his dream a reality. To do this he reached out to growers in the area and he quickly found out that if he wanted to make this happen, he would need to plant his own vineyard and augment it in the time being with what he could find in the area. With total control on his vineyard, Rosenberg could manage the vines to make the kind of wine that he sees as world-class, rather than the yield and size that the growers wanted.
As the winery started to grow so did their output. In 1998 the Rosenbergs released their first vintage from their newly minted winery, in the basement of their house in Efrat. They initial vintage consisted of 7000 bottles, which is quite large if you are doing all the work in your basement! The varietals for the first year were all from the Noble grapes; Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. Since then both the varietals and bottles have increased. By 2009 mass planted had expanded the winery’s vineyards to about 120 acres. Among the varieties planted include; Chardonnay, Organic Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, White Riesling, Shiraz, Merlot, Organic Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Gewurztraminer and Viognier.
Our culture is very quick to exaggerate for the sake of sensationalism and many in the wine industry press or bloggers have never missed a chance to prove it. Still, every so often we get it right! Use the word boutique in conjunction with a winery, and everyone from Mondavi down to your local corner Garagiste, will lay claim to being one. If you then throw in the terms family owned and European styled, believe it or not, you can still find many who are willing to lay claim to them as well. Thankfully, I was able to spend some quality time at a perfect example of exactly what we are talking about, the Flam Winery, in the rustic Judean Hills.
In a previous post concerning Ella Valley Winery, I have already discussed what I believe to be the definition of a boutique winery. In a sentence or more, it means a crazy (in a good way) level of oversight from the mundane to the essential. Of course, my take leaves a large enough space to drive a semi-trailer through, as exemplified in these retorts to my post. With that said, to me Flam Winery exemplifies many of the aspects of what I look for when talking about a boutique winery. Yes, they are smallish, at some 120 thousand bottles a year, along with very tight oversight of their vineyards. Flam leases five vineyards throughout the country, three in the Judean hills area and two in the upper Galilee. The vineyards are leased so that Golan Flam, the head winemaker, can work hand in hand with the vineyard manager, and know that they will both get what they want. The vineyard knows it will be paid on a consistent manner, per acre. While, Golan knows that the vineyard will be managed with quality as the benchmark and not quantity. Also, Golan has the opportunity to work hand on with the vineyard manager to maximize the potential of the grapes, in the direction that he thinks is most beneficial to the vineyard and the winery.
There are a few famous family owned wineries, including Castel Winery in the Judean Hills, and Tulip Winery in the Galilee. Flam Winery, of course is also on the short list of quality family run wineries. Flam Winery, which was started in 1998, is a personification of Golan’s dream to create an Israeli wine estate, focused on premium quality wines. The dream was hatched after graduating from Hebrew University with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, on a trip through Tuscany, Italy in 1996. While on a fascinating tour amongst the splendid wineries of this enchanting region, Gilad & Golan decided to build a boutique winery in the Land of Israel, which should be surrounded by superb vineyards, and would be the source of the best possible Israeli wines. Golan returned to Italy to get his Master’s degree in Enology, and worked at Carpineto Winery in Tuscany, and in Australia as well. In 1998 Golan returned to Israel to be the wine maker of Flam, and joined forces with his brother Gilad, a successful lawyer and businessman, who runs marketing and Business Development. They recruited their mother, Kami, a successful businesswoman to be the winery’s CFO, and they leaned heavily in the beginning on their father, who was then the head wine maker for Carmel Winery.
This past weekend we were laying low, so we went for our old and simple but highly enjoyable standby; my wife’s patented Lemon Rosemary Pepper Flake Roasted Chicken. We paired the chicken with some lovely brown Basmati Rice, and some fresh green salad. To pair with the chicken and rice I opened a bottle of 2007 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc.
The chicken was great, the rice was cooked well, and the salad was, as always, very enjoyable, but the wine was basically alive for 10 minutes. It was very much like the bottle of 2007 Ben Ami Chardonnay, that died very quickly, right after opening. This is very much in line with the thread on Rogov’s forum on the subject of mevushal wines. The cooking/boiling/Pasteurization process that many wineries do to some of their wines, causes red wines to taste cooked or stewed after 6 months to a year, while white wines just go belly up much faster than they should. The clear exceptions to this very unfortunate “rule” are the Herzog and Hagafen wineries, which besides making good quality wines; also boil/pasteurize their juice as early as possible. We spoke about the mevushal process before in a previous posting about the Hagafen winery, which we visited this time last year. Hagafen does a wonderful job of creating wines that are mevushal and very good as well. Goose Bay is a winery that makes fine kosher wines as well, but they do not do the mevushal process well. They are distributed and imported by Royal Wines, but they do not use the same mevushal process that is clear. While I like the Goose Bay wines, this one lasted too long in my cellar.
The wine note follows below:
2007 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc – Score: B- to B
This wine is past its peak. Like many mevushal white wines, this one tastes dead. The nose on this light gold colored wine initially shows lovely notes of grapefruit, lychee, green apple, melon, and petrol, and honey. However, soon the lovely notes make like a leaf and fall away, leaving more core notes of oak, green apple, and lemon peel. The mouth and finish follow the nose, and this medium bodied wine is no fun – no more. Drink up or use as cooking wine.
Last week I was invited by my friend to his house to taste a wine I do not have access to, as it is only available to Herzog Wine Club members. The wine is the 2008 Eagles Landing Sauvignon Blanc. Please DO NOT confuse Herzog’s Eagles Landing wines with the Iowan Eagle’s Landing Winery – that is NOT kosher!
Disclaimer – I do NOT work for Herzog, but this question keeps coming up on Daniel Rogov’s forum.
So start of tangent.
What are the Eagles Landing and Waterford Lismore Reserve wines that are popping up here and there? They are wines crafted by Herzog and Joe Hurliman to showcase the winery and give the wine club an air of exclusiveness, as these wines are not available in any other way, other than through the wine club. The wines are made in limited supply, and according to Jay Buchsbaum of Royal Wines/Herzog:
“Eagles landing is similar to Herzog reserve and Weinstocks cellar select (reserve) wines. Meaning same winemaking (and attention to grape selection) care with perhaps a slight difference and oak treatments etc than the Herzog reserve, without the ‘kosher’ recognizable brand labels. It was created as a direct request of one of our largest distributors, who recognized the, ‘Herzog reserve quality but wanted something that was not recognized as kosher, for non kosher restaurants’ (paraphrasing their words not ours). Voila, Eagles landing was born”.
In full disclosure, the Sauvignon Blanc bottle I tasted had a clear and present OU certification on the back label. I admit this is a bit different from all other Herzog bottles, which have the OU on the front and back. However, the Chardonnay bottle that my friend also received from the wine club, had ZERO kosher certification on the labels, but one was added to the bottle after the labeling was complete. A friend that I respect told me that the most recent Eagles Landing Cabernet Sauvignon was less than exciting, while the Chardonnay was nice. I tasted the Sauvignon Blanc and that was OK, but a bit funky. It is an interesting marketing idea and one that I hope gains some sea legs, as it is about time for Kosher to lose its stigma. The Waterford Lismore Reserve wines were received with a far more warm reception from my friends. I hope to taste these wines one day. Till then I will rely on my friends to keep you all up to date.
End of tangent
We were invited for Friday night to a different friend’s house, so no recipes or other designs. That said, we brought a fun bottle of ELVI Wines Classico from Spain to our friends and they shared an interesting bottle with us as well. Finally (one more), some friends of mine swung by the house and I cracked open a wonderful bottle of the 2004 Yatir Blend. We had this bottle for a fleeting moment at the Carlebach Shabbaton. This time I had more time with the wine. There is no change to report about the initial blush of this wine, but some more data about how it acts after a few more hours. So, it was a nice wine filled weekend and one that I am happy to share with you all.
The wine notes follow below in order they were tasted:
2008 Eagles Landing Sauvignon Blanc – Score: B++
The nose on this straw colored wine starts off with a nasty damp and almost petrol smelling “aroma” that dominates the nose and takes forever to blow off. Once the nose clears up, it has displays kiwi, tart lemon, slight oak, nice butterscotch (from the oak), and a balancing orange peel. The mouth on this medium bodied wine starts off tart and acidic but rounds out over time. This is not a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, and is not a bottle that will ever travel there. The mouth starts with lemon and kiwi. The mid palate flows into a round-like acidic core with orange peel peeking out from under the acid haze. The finish is long, spicy, and tart with orange peel and slight custard notes. As this wine opens, it shows far more oak extraction. The wine fleshes out with a nice bright, round, spicy, and butterscotch persona. This is not your classic Sauvignon Blanc, but then, this is not a wine that everyone gets to taste, so why not shake it up a bit. Cool.
2007 Elvi Wines Classico, Ribera del Jucar – Score: B+
The nose on this garnet colored wine, which is a blended wine of 87% Tempranillo and 13% Merlot, is ripe with plum, cherry, raspberry, and spice. The mouth of this medium bodied wine is soft with raspberry, cherry, and plum. The mid palate is bright with core acidity and a hint of coffee. The finish is medium long and spicy with more acid, soft tannins, coffee, and pepper/spice. This winery keeps delivering.
PLEASE NOTE – This is the ONLY Mevushal wine from the Elvi Wines group. All other wines from them are not Mevushal.
2003 Kiddush Hashem Syrah – Score: B to B+
This wine has a fair amount of lore, much of it not true. That said, it was a lovely wine some time ago. It is also a wine that the wine maker was still selling on his web site a few months ago. Recently he starting liquidating his stock, and it was a good idea. The bottles are hit and miss. I tasted this wine years ago and it was OK. Three weeks ago I tasted it again, while visiting a friend of mine, and it was felshy, black with ripe blackberry, nice tar, pepper, and licorice. This past week, it was not as good, though the fruit, tar and licorice were present. Still, the wine was unbalanced, off kilter, and trying too hard to make me like it.
2004 Yatir Blend (40% Cabernet, 40% Merlot, 20% Shiraz) – Score: A-
The nose on this dark purple to black colored wine is hopping with coffee to start, mint, dates, crushed herbs, rich oak, blackberry, ripe black plums, and tobacco. The mouth on this full bodied wine is concentrated with fruit that follows the nose, blackberry, ripe black plum, rich oak, along with nicely integrated tannins. The mid palate flows off the mouth with bracing acid, oak, tannin, rich tobacco, and licorice. The finish is long and spicy with ripe plum, oak, and a cloud of tobacco. This is a nice full bodied wine.
The last time I was in Israel (for my Nephew’s wedding), I picked up some oily pilaf mix for rice from a spice dealer at the shuk. You can make it yourself, it is really simple. It is a combination of olive oil, raw lentils, dehydrated raw onions, and a couple of spices. The spices were not initially obvious, but the ones I could pick out were curry, cumin, paprika, and maybe cloves or ginger, though I could not be sure. Either way, we threw a cup of it into two cups of brown basmati rice, and it was ok, but it needed more of the mix, as the rice overpowered the minute amount of the pilaf mix. My wife made her famous lemon hot pepper chicken, and we had a nice relaxing shabbos.
To match the brown rice and lentil/onion pilaf, chicken, and fresh green salad, I opened a bottle of the Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc. I must say that I never really get tired of Goose Bay wines. They are a bit more expensive than when they came out, but they still keep a fine QPR (Quality to Price Ratio), and the ripe, floral, and perfumed nose and flavors of their wines, make them unique and wonderful to just enjoy.
The wine note follows below:
2007 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc – Score: B++
The nose on this light straw colored wine was hopping with ripe gooseberry, light petrol, lemon, green apple, lychee, melon, oak, and lemon/orange peel. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich with tart apple, lemon, gooseberry, and lychee. The mid palate is bright with bracing acid, light oak, and citrus peel. The finish is super long and tart, with lemon, gooseberry, and citrus peel lingering long on the palate after the wine is gone.
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
Wow what a few weeks. First we attended a lovely wedding our dear friends of ours. The wedding was stunning as was the couple and family. The next week we had a sheva brachot in their honor at our synagogue. It was a kick cooking for it. I must say that such things do not occur without crazy amounts of preparation and team work. Thank goodness I had four families helping me cook for the 40 plus people who attended the Friday evening affair. The meal was the classical couscous meal we have made tons of time in our home. It was not only a lovely presentation, with great flavor and texture, but it is also a very economical meal for so many people. The meal and Sheva Brachot went great (if I say so myself), and this week was nothing less than a complete and total shutdown. The bug got me (no swine need apply), so it was left over grape juice and a touch of left over wine.
I was lucky to have tasted a few wines these past few weeks and they were all of the mevushal variety. In the past I have highlighted Mevushal wines that exceeded my expectations, but most are just not so great. That said, this batch was not so bad, but I could not write down notes, being at a wedding and shabbos and all. So, you will all have to live with my overall thoughts and overall score, but unfortunately without the usual info I pass along.
Best wishes to all and a germ/bug free winter for everyone
The wine “notes” follow below:
2007 Baron Herzog Sauvignon Blanc – Score: B
This is a wine that I would avoid unless otherwise required. It is far too astringent, though it does have a nice bit of peach, green apple, and such. An OK wine, but the deficiencies are too much.
2005 Teal Lake Shiraz/Cabernet (65% Shiraz, 35% Cabernet) – Score: B – B+
This is a nice ruby colored wine that is oaky, rich plum, pepper, and lovely raspberry flavors. The wine could use some air and time. Nice with no obvious deficiencies.
2004 Hagafen Merlot – Score: A-
This wine is popping with oak, pepper, chocolate, tobacco, and raspberry. This is a really nice wine that needs about a four hours of air. After that, the wine becomes crazy good, rich and full in the mouth with chocolate and tobacco, rich oak, and soft tannins.
2004 Weinstock Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Score A-
What a nice wine as well. Deep flavors of blackberry, cassis, pepper, oak, and tobacco. The wine needs air as well, and smooths out into an almost silky smooth presentation that most will find quite enjoyable.
2007 Barkan Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: B
This was an OK wine that could find itself but not one that I have huge hopes for. The wine is black in nature, but so heavily fined down that I cannot see how it can move up. The wine is simple and accessible and works for certain affairs.
2005 Teal Lake Shiraz - Score: B+
This wine is fun and plays with you. It starts a bit tart and closed with pepper, raspberry, plum, and oak. The wine opens with time and becomes silky smooth while playful with its lightly biting tannins and acidity. The pepper and fruit come through as well. Not a bad Mevushal wine.
Our story begins in 2003 and bombs are exploding up and down the state. Residents are worried to leave the house, and the wine industry is taking a severe hit, as overall morale is down. As the state steps up, and brings its considerable weight to bear on the problem, private individuals start to wonder how to remove the malaise from among the populace. Up steps Avi Ben, an owner of a successful chain of wine stores, who comes up with an idea to kill two birds with one stone. So Avi sat down with a few local wine marketers, and organized the first Jerusalem Wine festival. In his own words, as described by Jerusalemite.net – We decided to organize a fair that would bring wine distributors to Jerusalem. We picked a great location, the Israel Museum, and once they agreed to house the festival, all the planning became easier. People loved the location, they loved the idea, and it was a huge success. Under this backdrop, my friend and I were more than happy to attend the 6th annual Jerusalem Wine festival, which was once again located in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
As we gave our tickets to the attendant (previously bought at the Nahalat Shiva Avi Ben store for 60 NIS) and slowly walked our way to the sculpture garden in the back, we could already take in the night’s air. It was filled with the smell of olive trees, pine trees, open wine bottles, and the initial sense of excitement. As we got closer to the open air arena, that hosts the 33 wineries that were presenting their wares for the evening, we were greeted by a table of glasses. The glass was ours to use during the evening, one that would be our ever present partner to the evening’s soiree, and one that we could take home after the long evening. I paused at the opening to the garden, and took in the spectacle that was in front of me. Beyond the dim lights, the 33 wineries that rimmed the garden and the center as well, essentially creating a pair of concentric circles, what was evident was the lightness of the evening. This was not going to be a wine snob event, or an event that would require heavy wine talk. Instead it was a casual affair, accentuated by the dress code of many of the attendees – shorts, tee shirt, and flip flops. But even more evident was the electricity, the life, the joy (even if alcohol fueled), that powered the evening and lit up the night’s sky. It was almost ethereal yet real, and one of the most exciting aspects of the evening.
<slight tangent about kosher issues>
Unfortunately, I must take a moment to talk about what I can only now explain as a kashrut problem surrounding the whole evening. As much as I loved the festival, those of us who are Orthodox practicing Jews, had a few problems that we faced that evening. They were:
- Shmitta wines for those of us who live in the Diaspora. The 2008 vintage is a shmitta year, and many of the wineries use a loophole called heter mechira, where they sell the grapes to non-jews. This is a not so accepted practice in the modern era, and so most Orthodox Jews do not drink those wines. The only way to know is to pick up the bottle and read the back label, where things of this nature are spelled out. The wines from Yarden, Galil, and some others, use a more accepted practice called Oztar Beit Din, and so I happily enjoy Yarden and Galil wines from the 2008 vintage.
- As lovely as the Spieglau glasses were, they were not “toveled” – ritually immersed, which Orthodox practicing Jews do, before making use of the utensil.
- 99% of the wines served that night, were non-mevushal wines. Meaning they were not pasteurized, which sounds great, because why would you want to pasteurize wine for goodness sakes, this is not milk with volatile bacteria. Well, because “mevushal” wine can be handled by non Jews, while non-mevushal wines cannot be. Furthermore, if a non Jew were to touch my wine glass or bottle, I cannot drink that wine anymore. The law is not very PC to say the least and truly requires a long post to analyze it better (which I will be doing soon God willing), but my belief system is based on faith and not one that I can turn on and off when it suits me or my friends. Now, I do not bring this up to disparage the Jewish lineage of those that were pouring the wines. Rather, I bring it up because the rules around the open bottle were lax to say the least. The open bottles, from which the wine was being poured was touched by many a passerby, and of their lineage, I have no idea.
My feeling is that the next time I go to this event; I would probably attend, but not drink any wines.
</end tangent >
Once we were finished taking in the scene/madness that was swirling before us, we moved our way to the booth of one of Israel’s most exciting wineries – Yatir Winery. It has captured the imagination and attention of many wine lovers including myself. I have been lucky to visit the winery twice before, and each time I am in awe of their progress and continual assault at the wine world’s malaise and opinion of Israel’s wine industry. Just this past year they were awarded one of the highest scores for their flagship wine by Robert Parker and Mark Squires of the Wine Advocate. There I had what can only be described as a brain freeze, when I tasted one of the best white wines of Israel - the 2008 Yatir Sauvignon Blanc, before I realized that the wine was produced using heter mechira. I was mistaken at that time, and once more unfortunately, and is the main reason that I did not enjoy more of the whites that evening, as they were either produced by non kosher wineries, or because they were the 2008 vintage and used heter mechira. That said the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc was wonderful, but was clearly not opened long enough to get its legs under it. Still, it showed a nice tropical fruit flavor along with a bit of cut grass and some lychee. From there we moved on to the Galil Mountain Winery‘s booth, where we were hoping to be able to taste the highly acclaimed Galil Meron. Unfortunately, it was not available for tasting till 9PM, so we were “forced” to partake of their other showings until the hour passed. I was happily distracted by the Galil Pinot Noir, which is a more classical take on a French Burgundy, than those recently produced by Israeli wineries. Still, the wine has enough facets – like its soft oak and coffee flavors to throw you off the French scent. The other two wines I tasted while waiting for the grand moment, were less than enthralling. The 2008 Galil Rose, was bland and flat, and the 2007 Galil Barbera was but a glimpse of its older brother’s power and depth. Where the others disappointing, the Galil Meron did not. It was a wine well worth the wait and one that I highly recommend for those in Israel (the US allotment will not be available till 2010, probably for Passover).
We next visited the booth of Dalton Winery, where we tasted a dud of a wine and a real nice winner. The Dalton Rose, made of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes was an average quaffer, with a rose petal flavored mouth and a raspberry nose. Nothing to write home about or post about. The winner was the 2007 Dalton Shiraz – WOW! A solid blockbuster of a wine and one worthy or your attention. We then weaved our way on over to the booth of the Binyamina Winery, where we took in a nice 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. While some booths had massive and expressive signs – note the Yarden/Golan Heights Winery’s sign, other small wineries had zero signage. Yarden being one of the biggest wineries in Israel had a sign to match their importance and prestige. Heck, forget the sign, they had a whole platform. The sculpture garden is lovely and expansive, but the floor is rock and dirt, which while native to Israel and Jerusalem, is a bit too native for many of the folks standing and walking around for the 4 to 5 hours that the event was open for. Yarden and another winery had a lovely platform, with soft padding, great lounge chairs, a few tables, and awesome wines (which is obvious). I cannot seem to find a picture of the platform, but take my word for it . Anyway, we once again weaved around and through the crowd, and moseyed on over to the booth of Tzuba Winery. We have spoken before about Tzuba, and we had the extreme pleasure of visiting their lovely winery before. They are a winery with a long lineage of managing vineyards of the Judean Hills. The wines were a nice selection of the wines available from the winery, within Israel, and yet another reason for us of the Diaspora to do Aliyah! Yes, they export some wines, but the vast majority sells fine within Israel. We enjoyed a lovely 2007 Belmont (55% Sauvignon Blanc and 45% Semillon) which showed nice dirt, lychee, grapefruit, and peach. The 2006 Tel Tzuba Merlot was also quite nice. The 2006 Tel Tzuba Cabernet was a bit off, so I did not write it up, the bottle tasted over ripe or oxidized.
We were off again, and moving towards a booth with a large sign, the Tishbi Winery Booth. It was mostly a waste of a trip, this time around, except to prime the pump for a return trip later in the evening, to taste their wonderful desert wine, when my evening of tasting was done, and my evening of drinking began, but we are jumping the gun! I digress again! After the awful and overripe 2006 Tishbi Shiraz tasting, we ran into a bunch of acquaintances from Rogov’ forum. The inner circle of wine booths did not take up all the possible space, so they filled the empty space with some nice standing tables. I rolled up to the table to augment my wine notes, and as I am of to do, I struck up a conversation with the people around me. Standing there as well was Zvi and his lovely wife. He overheard the conversation I was having (which is shocking given my quiet personality), and quickly surmised that it was I that had blown him off earlier in the evening. We were supposed to meet up at the booth of Assaf Winery. Well that never happened, because we could NOT find the bloody booth! It was one of those booths that had almost no signage, and so made it a bit hard to find, given the swarms surrounding the booths. Anyway, after talking a bit, Zvi pipes up asking “did you get to taste the 2003 Magnum Yarden Merlot”? Well no I say, heck I had yet to stroll over to the booth/platform at all. Given the opportunity, I bid my adu, and head on over to the Yarden “booth”. I nicely asked for a bit of the Merlot, and was rewarded with what can only be described as a drunkard’s convention sized glass of the dark garnet gold! Keeping in the new Hebrew and non-sequitur slang the Merlot was chaval al ha zman (translated literally — it’s a waste of time” in slang — fantastic, wonderful, out of this world, great). I lingered long at the booth while I slowly enjoyed my glass of wine. The Merlot was fat yet not over ripe, red fruit, with a ton of chocolate and tobacco. It almost felt like you were drinking ripe fruit and wood, while smoking a fat cigar and inhaling boxes of dark chocolate – quite a trip to say the least – like I said – chaval al ha zman.
Once I had my chance to talk with the Yarden crowd and enjoy my wine, I found my way over to the booth of Tzora Winery. We have spoken about this winery before, and have also had the pleasure of going to their lovely winery, just before the untimely passing of their founder Ronnie James. Well, the wine has not missed a beat, with the new winemaker Eran Pick. The 2006 Neve Ilan was dirty and lovely. The 2006 Shoresh was a bit lighter, but still quite enjoyable. As I continued my trip around the inner circle, I hit upon Alexander Winery’s booth. The winemaker Yoram Shalom was pouring and his marketing agent was talking – quite a show! The wine that was pouring was the 2007 Sandro (named after Shalom’s brother). We were fortunate enough to meet Shalom the last time we visited his winery in Moshav Beit Yitzchak. The booth was abuzz with the recent award they won in a Spanish Wine Contest (missed the name – sorry) for their top star – 2005 Alexander The Great – Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2007 Sandro was overripe, as I have said before. The wines in the Golan and Upper Galilee can tend towards overripe flavors if not picked at the correct time. The Sandro is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. We meandered around a bit, and we found ourselves at the Agur Winery’s booth. There I made my second faux pas, and tasted the 2008 Agur Blanca – which was also a shmitta wine and they use Heter mechira. The Blanca was really nice, though there are critics out there that do not like it as much as I did, oh well . I was not as impressed by the 2007 Agur Kessem (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot, and 10% Cabernet Franc), still a nice wine with a mix of black and red flavors, along with nice toasty oak, earth, and mouth coating tannins.
My friend disappeared by now, and I was moving around alone by now. I swung by the Yarden booth again, to get a taste of the 2004 Yarden Ortal Merlot, which was stunning (I had not tasted this one before). At this point, my palate was shot and I swung by the Tishbi booth once more, to get a taste of the stunning 2006 Jonathan Tishbi Barbera-Zinfandel Fortified Dessert Wine. I absolutely loved it and it reminded me of the Carmel Vintage – which is another desert wine that is quite impressive as well. The evening ended and I picked up some wines to go, in an outside pavilion.
My take away overall was that the festival was well run, while most of the wine purveyors were pushing some light weight wares that met the interest of the majority of the festival customers. There is nothing wrong with that, the average wine consumer likes their wine smooth and easy to drink. Given that trend, the wineries were pouring wines that met the consumer’s interests. The wineries that I highlighted were pouring wines that were quite enjoyable and highly unexpected (Galil and Yarden). Finally, ignoring the wines for a second, the festival’s attendees were all very amiable, courteous, and joyous. Yes they were imbibing alcohol, but alcohol can bring out the worst in people, and that was NOWHERE to be seen, and I stayed to the closing on Tuesday night. There is a lovely saying in Jewish Lore that goes something like this; When alcohol enters the person’s true self comes out. That was more than evident Tuesday night, under the full moon’s sky, the beauty that is Israel, was open for all to see and enjoy.
So, thank you so much to the Israel Museum, Avi Ben and all the wineries that were pouring their wares, the wine notes follow below:
2008 Yatir Sauvignon Blanc – Score: B+
The nose on this straw colored wine is filled with lychee, grapefruit, and tropical fruit, along with a strong sense of brightness, and almost clean steel smell. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is super bright with lychee, grapefruit, and tropical fruit, along with some nice balancing green flavors. The mid palate is bright which leads into a long and crisp finish of more tropical fruit. A really nice crisp Sauvignon Blanc with just a hint of roundness that comes from a bit of time in French barrels.
2007 Galil Pinot Noir – Score: B+
The nose on this dark ruby colored wine is classical in nature with nice terroir notes, along with cherry, cranberry, and raspberry. The nose was hot out of the bottle, and I did not stick around long enough to see when it dissipated. The mouth on this medium bodied wine follows the nose with more cherry, raspberry, and not yet integrated tannins. The mid palate is still tannic and hot, along with coffee and bright acidity. The finish is long and spicy with bright red fruit and an almost toasty flavor
2007 Galil Barbera – Score: B
The nose on this light garnet colored wine is filled with cranberry, plum, oak, and coffee. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has nice light and integrating tannins that work well with the mouth’s plum and cranberry. The mid palate is almost smooth with light tannins, coffee, and oak. The finish is long with bright acidity, coffee, and red fruit. This is not the winner that the 2006 vintage was, and may be too early to really tell where this wine is going.
2006 Galil Meron – Score: A-
The nose on dark garnet to black colored wine is popping with blackberry, raspberry, ripe plum, chocolate, coffee, and rich oak. The mouth on this full bodied and complex wine has layers of blackberry, tar, coffee, and rich plum. The mid palate is layered with oak and integrating tannins that come at you in layers. The finish is super long with tar, pepper, blackberry, and chocolate. This is a real winner and one that is sure to please almost anyone at the table.
2007 Dalton Shiraz Reserve – Score: A-
The nose on this dark garnet to purple colored wine is filled with ripe fruit, plum, blackberry, tar, and pepper. The mouth on this full bodied wine with complex layers hits you often with wave after wave of blackberry, ripe plum, and cassis. The mid palate is filled with tar, oak, and coffee. The finish is long and spicy, with oak, tar, blackberry, and chocolate. Quite a nice Shiraz indeed.
2006 Binyamina Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – Score: B – B+
The nose on this dark garnet colored wine was hot out of the bottle, with ripe fruit, cranberry, blackberry, and oak. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine has cassis and blackberry flavors. The mid palate is balanced and spicy with oak and bright acidity. The finish is bright and spicy with blackberry, coffee, and oak.
2007 Tzuba White Belmont (55% Sauvignon Blanc and 45% Semillon) – Score: B+
The nose on this bright light straw colored wine has mineral qualities, along with lychee, grapefruit, peach, and an almost toast aroma. The mouth has very ripe flavored fruit that mingles nicely with earthy and mineral flavors, along with grapefruit and peach. The mid palate is tart and earthy. The finish is long with more tart fruit and clean mineral flavors.
2006 Tzuba Tel Tzuba Merlot – Score: B+
The nose on this dark ruby colored wine has nice earthy notes along with raspberry, cranberry, cherry, oak, and vegetal notes. The mouth is medium bodied with integrating tannins, cranberry, and raspberry. The mid palate is balanced with oak and acidity. The finish is accompanied by earth, spices, and round red fruit. This is a wine that can use more air in and out of the bottle and one that will serve you well.
2003 Yarden Magnum Merlot – Score: A-
The nose on this black colored wine (not showing any hint of slowing down or brown), is ripe with rich red fruit, slightly hot, plum, raspberry, cassis, rich oak, and mounds of dark chocolate. The mouth on this complex and full bodied wine was throwing sediment, and comes at you with layers of with rich plum, blackberry, and chocolate. The mid palate is bright and balanced with acidity, integrating tannins, and coffee. The finish is long with tobacco, chocolate, and nice tannins. It almost felt like you were drinking ripe fruit and wood, while smoking a fat cigar and inhaling boxes of dark chocolate, quite a treat indeed.
2006 Tzora Neve Ilan (70% Cabernet Sauvignon & 30% Merlot) – Score: B+
The nose on this dark garnet colored wine is filled with rich earth, blackberry, cranberry, oak, and coffee. The mouth on this medium bodied wine follows the nose with cranberry, raspberry, roasted oak flavors, and something akin to toffee. The mid palate has integrated tannins that flow into a long finish with spice, dirt, and red fruit.
2006 Tzora Shoresh (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) – Score: B+ – A-
The nose on this dark garnet colored wine filled with plum, raspberry, earth, and toasted coffee beans, and oak. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is spicy with somewhat gripping tannins that have yet to integrate, plum, cassis, and raspberry. The mid palate is bright with acidity and oak, and leads into a long and earthy finish with rich oak, coffee, and nice spice.
2007 Alexander Sandro – Score: B – B+
The nose on this garnet colored wine is perfumed with almost overripe fruit, toasted oak, blackberry, and raspberry. The mouth on this full bodied wine is gripping with powerful tannins, cassis and plum. The mid palate is filled with toasted oak and balancing acidity. The finish is long with cassis and plum fruit, and chocolate.
2008 Agur Blanco (65% Viognier & 35% Riesling) – Score: B+
The nose on this electric straw colored wine is perfumed with rich and lively grapefruit, honeydew melon, and peach. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and almost glycerol and oily with ripe peach and honeydew. The mid palate is balanced with bright acidity that leads into a long and rich finish of tart fruit.