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2009 Dalton Shiraz Reserve and 2011 Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc

This past weekend we enjoyed two wonderful wines, one from Israel and one from Napa Valley, CA. The Dalton Shiraz was nice but lacked complexity, and was a bit sweet. The Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc was lovely with bracing acidity, with just a touch of sweetness and great tart citrus flavors.

The wine notes follow below:

2009 Dalton Shiraz Reserve – Score: B++
The nose on this purple colored wine shows little to no effect from the 2% of Viognier that was blended in. The nose starts with a classic Shiraz style; dark ripe black fruit, licorice, rich black pepper, date, loamy dirt, and mineral.

The mouth on this full bodied wine is still searing with its up front tannin attack, followed by a rich and opulent body that is layered but not very complex, crazy sweet cedar that is integrated perfectly, followed by blackberry, black plum, dark currant and nice spice. The finish is long and spicy with great chocolate covering nutmeg, cinnamon, all atop a mound of leafy tobacco, that has a dollop of vanilla on top and a side of root beer and ginger. Not an overly complex wine but a fun one whose date ripeness is not too over the top.

2011 Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, CA – Score: B++
The nose is rich with fresh-cut grass, ripe peach, apricot, guava, and melon. The mouth is ripe and fresh, with great acid, only a hint of residual sugar, crazy ripe and fresh mouth with nice grass, awesome lemon fresche, more bright fruit, pineapple and ripe pink grapefruit. The finish is long and ripe with green notes a bit of pith, hints of blood orange, and crazy lingering tart citrus fruit flavors. This is a lovely wine but lacking complexity to take it to the next level. Second time I tasted this wine, and it tastes a bit sweeter this time, though without actual residual sugar flavors. What a joy – but man does it pop when the wine is super cold. Great acidity, with nice citrus fruit like mad!

Yitzchok Bernstein does it again – a 19 course culinary kosher tour de force

Yitzchok BernsteinA few months ago Heshy Fried, Yitzchok Bernstein’s sous chef and frum-satire blogger, was at the house for a shabbos dinner and he said that Yitzchok Bernstein, was back on the scene. Bernstein is the culinary mastermind behind the epic haute cuisine event that lasted some 27 courses, and which was one of the most often read posts on my blog, in the past year. Bernstein was lurking in NY for a few months – but he returned to Oakland after a short, yet successful, stint at Pomegranate.

The gang unpacking early before the dinner prep 3So, when I heard that Mr. Bernstein was back – we agreed that a dinner was in order. Fried was not sure what the actual cost of a multi-course dinner was, but after a few back and forth discussions with Bernstein we were set. Well, while the dinner was set, the next two hurdles were a bit complicated; finding and arranging with 10 other participants and then locking down a date. Throughout the process, Bernstein was as professional as they come, and responded almost immediately to our correspondences. Getting the final gang together had a few missteps along the way, but while the overall process was a bit long to arrange on my end, the final outcome was an absolute delight, but more on that in a bit.

Surf and Turf Salad- Fried Chicken Skins, Sea Beans, Nasturtium, Pansies, petit onions, root greens, Romaine Puree, Spring Green Pea Gazpacho, Morels, Fiddlehead Ferns, Poached Baby Potatoes, Shaved Chorizo - close upOnce the gang was roughly worked out, we agreed that the date was not going to work until after Passover. So once that was decided the next step was agreeing on a final date – which took a few emails. After that we were set and then came the fun part, deciding the food and wine menu. The dinner does not include wines, which is fine with me as I am picky about my wines, but wow were the dishes impressive! Initially, there was some interest in lamb, but in the end that did not work out, as I am not that in love with lamb. In the end the set of dishes were truly innovative and fascinating and unique – so I am happy we passed on the lamb for the dishes we got instead.

Shortrib Pastrami, Sauerkraut Foam, Deli Rye Gnocchi, Roasted Ramp, Rye CrumbsI laughed so hard throughout the process because initially, the number of courses was set at 12 or so, which was 100% fine. However, throughout the process of setting the menu Mr. Bernstein kept adding courses – it was HILARIOUS, I could not help from laughing whenever I would read the revised menu. It turns out that we were very lucky, Bernstein was trying out some new recipes and we were the beneficiaries of some wicked cool imaginative dishes. To be fair, some worked really well, some were awesome, and some were just 100% off the charts. Read the rest of this entry

2009 Tishbi Syrah and 2011 Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc with Whiskey braised ribs

2009 Tishbi Syrah, Estate BottledThis weekend we enjoyed another simple meal of alcohol and brown sugar braised ribs cooked in a crockpot overnight. The ribs were lovely and only needed for the fat to be removed from the braising liquid – and magically we have a dinner. The dish was paired with some brown and black rice and a fresh green salad.

I recently wrote about the Tishbi Winery and when I was there in December last year, I enjoyed the 2009 Tishbi Syrah. So, when the opportunity to try it again came my way – I was more than happy to buy some. I bought the Tishbi and Gush Etzion wines from a local distributor, Harken Spirits here is the South Bay run by James Jimenez, an ex-software guy turned wine runner! Harken is selling some very good wines, like Tishbi and Gush Etzion wines. Both of which I have written about many times. I cannot say I like any of the Kadesh Barnea wines, but to be fair there are many who like the wines – and are good examples of starter wines; wines that are sweet and ripe and not overly complex; AKA gateway wines.

The other bottle I had was the 2011 Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc. I really like Hagafen wines, the whites especially and some of the reds. I last wrote about Hagafen in 2010, and I really need to update the notes – look for that soon.

The wine notes follow below:

2009 Tishbi Shiraz Estate – Score: B+ to A-
The wine is round and ready and one that pairs extremely well with dishes needing spice and ripe fruit, such as stews, ribs, and cheeses. The nose starts off with ripe blueberry, plum, currant, and cherry, with hints of rich dirt and licorice. The mouth is nice round and spicy, with good concentrated fruit, but lacking in deep complexity. The mouth is sweet with lots of date, sweet blue and red fruit, with hints of blackcurrant in the background, but with ripe sweet and deep strawberry flavors coming out over time, with candied raspberry, sweet cedar, and good integrated tannin adding to the mouth. The finish is long and spicy with Garrigue, bramble, light leather, animal notes, and chocolate. Drink in the next two years.

2011 Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – Score: B+
The nose is rich with fresh cut grass, ripe peach, apricot, guava, and melon. The mouth is ripe and fresh, with great acid, only a hint of residual sugar, crazy ripe and fresh mouth with nice grass, awesome lemon fresche, more bright fruit, pineapple and ripe pink grapefruit. The finish is long and ripe with green notes a bit of pith and a hint of blood orange. This is a lovely wine but lacking complexity to take it to the next level.

2013 Jewish Week kosher wine tasting at the City Winery in New York City

City Winery PictureAs I stated in my previous post, my heart was in the Shabbos but my mind was on my trip that I was taking to New York. All the thinking did not help make the trip any less miserable. Once again I have proven to myself that flying to New York is hard enough, doing a stop in between is miserable and downright idiotic. Lets take a step back here and explain the situation. The Jewish Week holds a wine tasting every year, showing of the top kosher wines they thought made an impression to the wine judges. This past year, they tasted through some 400+ wines and came up with a long list of wines, many of which I like and some I did not like. Anyway, the tasting was this past Sunday, the 3rd of March, 2013, at 1 PM. To get there from the west coast, it would mean either sleeping in NY for Shabbos (not an option), or flying out Saturday Night.

I LOVE Jet Blue, but they canceled flying out Saturday night from San Jose airport, and now only fly out Saturday night from SFO – AHHH!!! So, the only other option was Delta, which I should never have done, because it meant a stopover in Atlanta. The idea was to fly out by 10:45 PM, have an hour in Atlanta and hop on the 9 AM flight to NY. That all sounded OK, no storms in the forecasts, no crazy storm trackers or watcher on the news – so it looked like I was in the clear! Not so fat, turns out that there may not be Godly reasons to not fly – but Delta is more than capable of creating man-made disasters – all by itself!

I arrived to the airport with an hour to go, and by the time we took off, I was in the airport for some 3 and a half hours! AHH!! Yep, you guessed it Delta screwed up and lost a tire on landing so the plane could not take us to Atlanta. By the time they fixed the plane, the man fixing it broke another part and we had to deplane and get on another plane – a gate over. By the time that plane was fueled and had everyone’s bags repacked – we were two+ hours behind. I slept like a baby on the plane, but by the time we arrived in Atlanta – I knew I was cooked. The connecting flight was 5 terminals over and the “plane train” could not get me there in time to save my bacon. So here comes the best part – I arrive at the gate and the plane was not departed, but the man would not let me on – no matter how much I screamed and begged. However, he gave me a printed ticket (I have not sen one of those in years) and told me to run to the next terminal where the Laguardia flight was boarding. I ran like a mad man, and in the interim broke my hand luggage! One thing after another – I know! Anyway, as I get to the gate the lady tells me that there is no such flight, I say what – the man told me there was a plane boarding now! She says – oh sure – that is one gate over, the dude gave me the incorrect gate number! Anyway, she walks me over and I start talking to the gate agent who tells me – once again – sorry the gate is closed and the plane is leaving. This is when the other gate woman turns into SuperWoman! She says – OH NO – this poor man has been through enough. She swipes her card, opens the gate door, walks me down the jetway – and bangs on the plane door! Seriously! She screams – open this door!

Now – let me please recap, I have a ticket – printed ticket, for JFK. I am trying to board a plane for which I have NO TICKET – none whatsoever! Actually I have a ticket for a totally different airport! Think of me as one of those lost souls dropped on a plane. That was me! Of course, I have no checked luggage – for two days, but still, this is COOL! The unflappable stewardess, behind a massive closed door replies; the door is closed. The gate attendant is equally unflappable, and she fires back (sorry bad use of verbage) open the door, you forgot this guy! Will you believe – the stewardess blinked and opened the door! Heck these folks were half way through the security demonstration! I was told grab any seat – we need to move. I grabbed the first window seat I could find, and promptly went back to sleep! WOW!! By the time I land in Laguardia, I had two hours to go and once I finished davening, I hopped in a taxi and found my way to the City Winery. Read the rest of this entry

2013 Kosher Food and Wine Experience (KFWE) lived up to all its billing

For years I have always sported a purple colored beaming grin when I finish my tasting at the IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival) in LA, which hid my grumbling stomach’s discontent. Like I have documented for years, I never get to eat at the events, even as the entire food court mocks me, attempting to pull me into their warm, delicious, and very present embrace, with their wafting and intoxicating aromas. Still, I stand strong and I taste through the night until my teeth are purple and my stomach is close to rioting on the lack of food. Truth be told, I am not that good at taking notes when eating – the flavors of the food cover up and belie the flavors and aromas of the glass that beckons me closer with its “come hither” look and aromas. So every year, after the event I go to dinner at Jeff’s Sausage (down the street from the new location of the IFWF). Which is sheer madness of course, here I have half the Pavilion at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, filled with food from one of the best kosher restaurants in the world – Tierra Sur Restaurant, and I pass on that for the spicy and homely fare of Jeff’s Sausage. In no way is this a slight to the joy of Jeff Rohatiner’s cookery and food. Rather, it has been my conscious tradeoff, throughout my many year experience at IFWF to drink through as much of the world-class wine I can before my taste-buds shutdown, rather than give them to the food court, no matter how wonderful it is.

This year was a massive shift for me, gone was the purple grin and my mutinous stomach, as I visited and added the New York KFWE to my travel dates. To say the KFWE was different than the IFWF would be an extreme understatement, the IFWF has close to 1000 people at the show, while the KFWE has closer to 2000 people. Further the event hall at Pier 60 is some 2 to 3 times larger than the Pavilion tent at the Hyatt Regency. Also, there were many options for lunch and dinner from the myriad of NY restaurants that all share half the hall, all clamoring to share their wonderful fare with great fanfare. The Pier 60 overlooks the Marina and Harbor and many folks were outside braving the cold to grab a smoke, but at least they had some comfort of looking at the marina and its waterfront.

To really appreciate the event you had to come to it with a game plan, and there were many guests who had a few of their own. The event started at Noon for those in the trade, a new thing that the KFWE started last year and something that the IFWF has been doing from the start (though initially with a smaller trade time). The trade event was crowded but there could not have been more than a thousand folks there, so access to wine was not a problem in any way. The event hall can easily handle 1000 people, it is a bit more complicated when the number swells to two thousand people, but still there was no pushing or shoving going on even at the end of the public tasting, when the number of guests was at its maximum. But I digress; the trade tasting allowed me to focus solely on wine and the winemakers, which was great. Read the rest of this entry

Midbar Winery (aka Asif Winery) – the “kosher” white wine leader of Israel

To say Midbar Winery is unique – would be an understatement of the world. However, to say it might be the most unique kosher winery in Israel, may well NOT be an understatement at all. Midbar Winery is a newly minted winery from the recently closed Asif winery and a new influx of cash from investors. Yeah – yeah, I am getting to it – hold your horses. Asif Winery is a winery that was established in 2006 to do what no one in Israel could do well – create great kosher white wines. According to Yaacov and the winery’s website: Midbar Winery in Arad, was established to develop, promote and celebrate winemaking in the Negev desert. Midbar is the Hebrew word for desert – and our vineyards, typically over 800 meters above sea level, benefit from the Negev’s unique terroir. Another great quote from Yaacov – White is the New Red.

Now, before I get ahead of myself too far, I must state that this winery is not kosher – as in the customary manner. The wine carries no supervision stamp, or hecsher, for a variety of reasons. However, having heard the story of Ya’acov Oryah, I had to visit the winery to find out more. Yaacov Oryah started the winery in 2006 and though he lacked a kosher wine symbol many people like me happily drink his wine. Why? Simple enough – I trust the man, and being that Yaacov Oryah is a religious man – that is all that I need. However, my nonchalant attitude in this area may well concern others, and it is for this reason that I may keep the wines I schlepped back from Israel for myself – or with the folks that are trusting as I am.

Midbar Winery and the conatiner farm-smallFor a deeper understanding of why and how this came to be – I advise a wonderful trip to the south of Israel where a lovely, honest, hard working, humble, and successful winemaker will explain the situation to you and if you like what you hear – like I did, I highly recommend his wines. I can openly say that he is not against having supervision, but as your parents used to say to you when you were young – “it is complicated”! The good news is that falling in love with his wines is the farthest thing from complicated!

In retrospect I think that Yaacov should hang two signs above his winery’s door. The first one stating; He who enters should be brave of heart, open of mind, desiring of all things ripe, honeyed, fruity, and floral in so many ways. The second one should read: He who wishes to enter these hallowed halls should be in love with wine of a white persuasion and not the Moscato kind or other overly sweet enchantments. If you lack the interest in grand and lovely white wines than please do not waste the time of the master who works beyond these gates. He is a man who makes white wine a priority rather than a nice-to-have item. Please leave him alone and bother him not so that he can make us all more great white elixirs! Read the rest of this entry

Random kosher wines from last week

I hope you all are enjoying your Hanukkah holidays. This past weekend I enjoyed meals with my family and friends that were lovely and quite Sefardic in nature. The flavors were deep and filling and the tones were rounded with good herb and spice. These are flavors I try to hit in my dishes from time to time, but have been missing for sometime, partially because I do not have all the spices and partially because I do not still know all the recipes – I am working on that.

Sorry about the short notes again, but since I did not cook, I really have nothing more to say about the dishes other than they were lovely and rich and ones I hope to enjoy with my family again soon. If the list of wines sound like wines you should avoid, please remember that I had to taste some of these – SAD!!! In the end, there are some nice ones in the list, but no clear and run away winners. They all have flaws, like we all do, and as such, no real winner.

Many thanks to my family and friends for hosting me and here are the wines enjoyed through the weekend and at sporadic other moments through the week:

2011 Ella Valley Sauvignon Blanc – Score: B+ to A-
This wine is one made totally by the new winemaker at Ella Valley Winery, Lin Gold. She studied her craft at the University of Adelaide, and cut her teeth in her (professionally speaking) at both Tabor Winery and Chateau Golan. This is her first real vintage and it was exciting to see where the winery will be going. The Sauvignon Blanc was oak free as was in the past, and it was also green or herbal free, though that may have been more of a seasonal factor than a winemaker’s factor – time will tell.

The nose on this wine is ripe and bright with nice litchi, cut grass, kiwi, melon, lemon, and nice peach. The medium bodied wine has a nice clean mouth, very New Zealand-ish, cut dry with good clean lines, nice balancing acid, and lime juice infused. The finish is long and bright, almost bracing, with good acidity, lemon curd, and a hint of zest at the finish. A nice wine with bright and ripe fruit and no bitterness, a lovely Sauvignon Blanc. Read the rest of this entry

A wine lover in a land of sobriety – what is a oenophile to do?

This past Jewish Holiday press left me away from home for much of the time – whether at friends or family and that enabled me to enjoy many a wine, some that I bought, some that I enjoyed at other people’s homes, and some that I enjoyed or did not enjoy at synagogue.

The Jewish holidays following the high holidays – are meant to be ones filled with joy, food, and wine, yet I happen to always be separated from the very people who really understand my madness. Do not get me wrong I love my family – but they really are not oenophiles – and that leaves me at a major disadvantage – when my main objective is to drink and enjoy as much wine as possible in a very short period of time! Sure, they sip at the glass and are happy to drink it – but the joyous side of the High Holidays to Sukkot religious gauntlet is meant to be a relief valve, a way to thank the lord for all the good and for another year to do his bidding. So, how do Jews celebrate? Why with prayer, food, and wine of course. I know I am a bit over the top when it comes to wine and food – but I crave the interactions with others around the table, a table filled with joy and food, and also some wine chatter.

So I was faced with the classic dilemma of a lone wine fanatic attempting to enjoy wine amongst those who find wine to be a tool rather than a purpose. Do I buy and enjoy by myself an expensive bottle of wine and drink half at night and the other half the next day – and continue this through the meals – or should I dial it back a touch because, it is just myself and the expensive wine does not always taste as good the next day?

Like all things – I decided the best rule of thumb in these situations is to do both! I bought some good wine and some nicer wine, but no crazy wines, which in hindsight was a great idea, as I really got sick and could not enjoy them anyway. The first night we drank a bottle of 2010 Galil Mountain Winery Barbera, which I wrote up about on a previous post about QPR, and it was OK, but not a QPR winner. We also tried a bottle of 2010 Joseph Mellot Sancerre. Sancerre white is the archetype Sauvignon Blanc for many. Many believe that Sancerre best defines the truest form of Sauvignon Blanc. However, some are now pointing to New Zealand and California for what they have done with the grape. Unfortunately, while the classic Sancerre is meant to be bone dry, with intense fruit expressions and mineral to boot, this bottle was so-so at best. It lacked the bone gnawing dry palate that I crave in a Sancerre, balanced perfectly with nice bright fruit and good acidity. Instead, this Sancerre was green, tart, and without fresh fruit, making it for a very passable wine to quaff, but not much more.

On an aside, there is a growing demand out there for truly bone gnawing dry wine with fresh fruit and bright acidity. The closest I have found to that is another kosher Sancerre from Bokobsa, but the 2007 vintage is slowly dying. The need exists, but the answer unfortunately is lacking for now. Please do not get me wrong there are MANY lovely kosher Sauvignon Blanc wines on the market – but they all have varying degrees of residual sugar, making them feel flabby, which to many is as annoying as nails against a chalkboard. Read the rest of this entry

Four kosher wines I enjoyed in the past week from California and Israel

This past weekend I enjoyed some lovely wines from Israel and California. The first wine is the 2010 Covenant Sauvignon Blanc and the second was the 2009 Adir Cabernet Sauvignon, Ben Zimra. The third wine was the 2010 Gvaot Pinot Noir that I loved and tasted at the Kosher Wine Society Tasting – New Wines and Vintage Experience, and the fourth wine which I also tasted at the KWS tasting was the 2007 Hevron Heights Merlot, Pardess.

The only wine in this lineup that disappointing me was the 2009 Adir Cabernet! I had the chance to taste this wine in Israel last year, and when I tasted it now it showed itself in a vastly different manner. Where before the wine was rich and layered, now the wine was still green but felt unbalanced and not all there. Again, it could be an issue of transportation or storage, but I bought the wine at a great store – called Liquors Galore. It has a fantastic selection and the prices are solid for wines that are on sale. For all other wines, shop and compare, but their selection is very impressive, and it is local if you live in Flatbush, NY.

Again, I believe the issue here is transportation and maybe the wine is a funk or quiet period, but in the end, it is a wine I could not recommend to others. The other wine I bought there was the 2010 Covenant Sauvignon Blanc, which was awesome and bright, ripe and clean, while showing nice minerality, slate, and crispness. Read the rest of this entry

International Food & Wine Festival (IFWF) in Oxnard brings back great memories!

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


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