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.
For 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
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
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
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
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
Dr. Moises Cohen, owner and head wine maker of Elvi Wines, fell into his current love as part of his thesis defense of his other love - Agricultural Engineering, which he received from the Technion in Haifa. For the next 21 years Moises has used his degree and knowledge to build patented technology that allows vineyards to be remotely monitored on all aspects of the vine’s health and stress. Telemetry ranging from the vine’s overall health to how much water it has consumed and how much it still needs! It turns out that with some really cool technology a vine can tell you all the info you can ever imagine without damaging it in any way. The telemetry data allows the vineyard manager to control the water, fertilizer, and/or vineyard fans to cool or heat the vines.
Moises and his wife, Anne who holds a degree in History of Art and is a Sommelier, has been consulting with wineries, all around the world, to manage their vines and to make wines. In 2003, Moises started Elvi Wines, while continuing to being a wine consultant for wineries across Spain and South America. The duality of seasons between the northern and southern hemispheres allows Moises to help each in their own wine harvest and growing seasons.
Dr. Moises Cohen, the winemaker, is passionate about the terroir, and their winery’s name (Elvi) says it all; an abbreviation as Cohen explains it; EL (elokim or general rules or mother nature, just as you want, as you feel, as you believe) is always above VI (vino, wine). Wine is a mirror image of the vineyard and the wine maker. The more the wine maker manipulates the grapes and the wine, the more it feels and tastes fake. The more he/she lets the grapes and wine change and age naturally, the more the wine will be able to show its true terroir characteristics. All of the Elvi’s wines come from organically maintained vineyards! Further, the wines are brooding with earthy and mineral notes that show the terroir in ways that are quite enjoyable.
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.