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
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
As stated in the previous posting on this lovely event, there were many wines to taste and there was no way I could post all the wine notes in a single posting. Here is my follow-up posting on the wines tasted at the event, including the wines that I loved and did not love.
The wine notes are listed in the order that I tasted them:
2010 Domaine Netofa – White – Score: B++
The nose on this light gold colored wine shows clean and lovely nose of green apple, peach, grapefruit, kiwi, light quince, and rich/nice loamy dirt and mineral. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and balanced with nice minerality, along with nice bright fruit that mingles well in the mouth. The finish is long and spicy with nice quince, tart green apple, grapefruit, and green tea.
2010 Binyamina Chardonnay, Reserve, Unoaked – Score: B
This wine did not show nearly as well as its 2009 sibling, the wine was flat without much to grab your attention. The nose on this straw colored wine has apple, lemon, nice mineral, bright acid, and melon. The mouth is somewhat plush and the finish has citrus to round out the wine.
2010 Binyamina Chardonnay, Reserve – Score: B+
This wine did not show nearly as well as its 2009 sibling, though not as bad as its unoaked twin. The nose on this dark straw colored wine has light oak, brioche, lemon, nice spice, light creme, and honey. The mouth is round with spice, summer fruit, and oak influence.
2011 Tulip White Tulip – Score: B++
This wine is a blend of 70% Gewurztraminer and 30% Sauvignon Blanc with the sweet and floral notes of the Gewurztraminer showing nicely with honey and guava, while the green apple and bright lemon notes from the Sauvignon Blanc blend together in a unique manner. The nose on this straw colored wine hits you with mineral, light honey, bright lemon, green apple, and guava. The mouth is nice and honeyed with light petrol, and citrus. The finish is long with both sweet lemon creme and bright lemon at the same time, along with fig, and tart notes. This is a great wine that would go well with fish or sushi.
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.
Lemon Rosemary Roasted Chicken, Risotto, Baked Herb Encrusted Fish Loaf, and a myriad of wonderful wines
On the week of August 19th we were so happy to host really good friends of ours who were doing a west coast vacation. They are friends that go back far in my life, and it is always great to see them, because they are really cool people and because they bring back memories of my childhood. So, we tried to make some risotto work, but once again, Risotto as a Friday Night dish, can take the place of Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde in any good 50s black and white movie. Sure enough Hyde showed up Friday Night, it was OK, but the Risotto was mushy instead of perfectly cooked – sad! The already patented Lemon Rosemary Roasted Chicken was killer, and was mostly consumed, while the Risotto was just OK.
Getting back to script, the meal started with a lovely baked herb encrusted fish loaf, we paired it with black and green olives, hummus, and eggplant salad. We opened a pair of lovely white wines with this course. I have tasted these wines a few times now, and each time the wines show off lovely honey and tart fruit characteristics. Though this time the unoaked wines showed off better. Yes, I said unoaked wine – what is that? Really? Are we that jaded? Most of the entry level wines that we do and don’t enjoy are not oak infused or modified. Instead, we have all become so jaded that if a wine is not oak influenced, it is not a nice wine. That cannot be farther from the truth! Some white wines are better without oak or malolactic fermentation (malo), because the fruit can either stand on its own and make the wine cleaner, or because the wine is so bad that adding in oak would cost money that is not warranted. So, it was a real kick to taste two Chardonnays that were separated at birth (or must – fermented grape juice), with one going to a home of rich oak, while the other went to live in a clean but plain steel home. The wines notes will show my precise feelings, but in short, the non oak laden Chardonnay was far more bright, evocative, and attention grabbing.
We then moved to the Mr. Hyde (Risotto) and some lovely Lemon Rosemary Roasted Chicken, along with a nice green salad. The Chardonnays paired nicely with the dishes, but we also enjoyed some Sara Bee, and some nice Hagafen Merlot. The Merlot went well with the cholent and cold cuts on the following day as well.
The wine notes follow below – many thanks to my buddies for swinging by the house – it was a real KICK!
2009 Binyamina Chardonnay Reserve Unoaked Galilee (Israel, Judean Hills) - Score: A-
The nose on this straw to light gold colored wine has stayed fairly consistent between the two times I have tasted this wine, some 6 months apart. The nose explodes with rich ripe and tart summer/tropical fruit, pear, kiwi, lychee, honey, grapefruit, ripe lemon, apple, and floral notes. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is super rich with explosive fruit that follows the nose, peach, lemon, apple, kiwi, lychee, and grapefruit. The mid palate flows off the mouth with super rich and tart lemon, honey, apple, and mineral almost yeasty. The honeyed and spicy finish is super long with crazy tart fruit, lychee, grapefruit, kiwi, lemon, floral notes, and mineral. The wine is super enjoyable with more than enough attention getting fruit, minerality, and floral notes. The lack of oak is a benefit with this fruit and makes one wonder whether oaking this wine is such a good idea!
2009 Binyamina Chardonnay Reserve Galilee (Israel, Judean Hills) - Score: B++
The nose on this light gold colored wine started off muted and not nearly as bright as its unoaked brother. The nose opened to a rich and deep honeyed nose, oak, smoky toast, floral notes, grapefruit, lemon, yellow apple, and mounds of caramel and butterscotch. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich with honey, oak, pear, kiwi, grapefruit, lemon, and apple, all rounded with a tad of oak which seems to dull the fruit. The mid palate is oaky with toast, cut grass, and butterscotch. The finish is long and richly honeyed with butterscotch, oak, kiwi, lemon, melon, and grapefruit. Honey coated butterscotch candy along with ripe grapefruit, lemon, and melon linger.
2006 Hagafen Merlot (USA, California, Napa Valley) - Score: B++ to A-
The nose on this purple colored wine is filled with rich cedar, black cherry, raspberry, fig, herbs, vanilla, chocolate, cloves, and smoky notes. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is classic Hagafen, with a soft plush mouth of rich cedar, plum, raspberry, fig, cherry, and nice mouth coating tannin. The mid palate is balanced with nice acid, chocolate, more cedar, and nice tannin. The finish is long and spicy with cloves, cinnamon, cedar, vanilla, chocolate, raspberry, plum, herbs, and tobacco. Herbs, cinnamon, chocolate, cedar, vanilla, and tobacco linger long after the wine is gone.
2008 Clos de Nouys Vouvray Moelleux (France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Vouvray) - Score: B to B+
This was a disappointment. Rogov predicted this one was going to last, but when we opened it, the wine was a shade of its previous self, which we tasted a year ago. The wine had much of the same fruit, but lacked the very grace that a good Chenin Blanc should have and that is ACID! No zip, nor in the middle or the end. Truly sad. The nose on this straw to gold colored wine is rich and honeyed, with wet grass, floral, green apple, honey, guava, pear, and citrus. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich with honey, floral notes, green apple, and tropical fruit. The mid palate is semi-sweet with almost no acidity, plain and old with a touch orange peel. The finish is medium with honey, floral notes, tropical fruit, vanilla, and citrus. A nice wine that has lost its ay, the zip is gone and so is the enjoyment in drinking it. DRINK UP!!!
Whenever we get the opportunity to go to Ella Valley Winery, we take advantage of it with extreme gusto. This was my fourth trip to Ella Valley Winery, with my two previous ones described here and here. It was a crisp and cool morning on February 2nd, 2011, when my two friends and I made our way down to the winery. The winery is situated in the Kibbutz Netiv Halamed-Heh, in a valley surrounded by rolling hills and sheer cliffs. The road to the kibbutz is not as harrowing as it may look, but if you try to take in the beautiful scenery; the craggy rock faced hills, the steep inclines, and the sheer rock walls that surround you, while attempting to drive your car down the meandering and serpentine curves that make up Highway 38, well that makes for some harrowing experiences on both sides of the road. Highway 38 is the road that weaves you down from the higher Jerusalem elevation to the valley some 12 miles down below.
As we have said often, everything about this winery is beautiful in both presence and product. In 1997 the idea of a winery was just that, an idea, however, the desire was real and they chose the perfect person to get the project rolling. Danny Valero, the winery’s general manager, directed the project, using technology he brought back from Napa Valley, where he cut his teeth on the maddening complexity of the wine business. The exact location that his findings brought him to was in fact a nexus of the past and the future, bound by the love of wine and religion. The valley of Ella was where David beat Goliath and was where the winery unearthed an ancient winepress dating back to the beginning of the Common Era, and where they excavated remnants of a settlement dating from the Second Temple period – Hurvat Itry. In 1998 the Aderet vineyard was planted using advanced techniques borrowed from the Napa Valley. The vineyard is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Semillon and Muscat grapes. In 2001, the winery was constructed in the Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed-Heh, with both Udi Kaplan who manages the winery and the winery’s head wine maker, Doron Rav Hon.
As I have stated in the past postings, I first heard about Ella Valley Wines when I went to dinner at a now defunct kosher restaurant in Berkley, CA. I called the winery and they told me who imported the wine. At first the importers were not a well know commodity, but they have now switched to a different partner who does a fine job in importing almost all the wines in the Ella Valley wine portfolio.
As the three of us drove up to the winery, I once again remembered why I love this winery so much – clean lines and fruit. This winery is truly unique in the wines they make; the wines are expressive, fruit clean, and almost always concentrated or at least fruit true. I use many adjectives to explain this winery because to me this winery allows the fruit to truly express itself. The fruit is visible in the wine, the wine has clean lines, meaning that the wine does not lose itself with tannin and overpowering oak. Instead the wines expression is clean with bright fruit and clean balance. These are not wines that people call feminine or elegant, instead these are wines that straddle both the masculine and the feminine and instead concentrate on the wine, its fruit, and its balance. There is another winery who that this almost as well – Tzora Winery, a winery we will be writing about in the not too distant future.
The winery, the vineyards, the tasting room, the vats, the oak barrels, everything about this winery screams beauty. As you approach the winery, the first things you see is the beautiful rock with the winery’s name emblazoned on it. Quickly that image flees from your memory as you are hit by a cacophony of Mr. Valero’s pets! He is an avid collector of rare and beautiful colored birds, which are fond of making a racket to gain them your attention, which they all believe are their self ordained birthright. Of course, once you enter the beautiful wine tasting room, the clacking dims to a mute as your attention is once again diverted to the task at hand, admiring the winery’s handiwork – its wine. Read the rest of this entry
On a lovely Friday in August 2009, a friend and I were weaving through route 395 as it winds through the lush Judean Hills, and then descends into the valley of Route 38, which junctions into Route 375. After driving Route 375 for a few miles, we find the turn off for Netiv HaLamed-Heh, where the Ella Valley Winery is situated. This was our third trip to the winery. Our previous visit was very generously hosted by Udi Kaplan. The winery was founded in 1996 when the Adert Vineyard was first planted. Soon after, in 2001, the winery was constructed using state of the art wine making technology, that would allow Ella Valley to compete with the world’s best wineries. The winery was built from the bottom up with a desire to craft the world’s best wines, while keeping to a strict adherence of the kosher certification requirements. The winery started production with the 2002 vintage, when they produced some 100,000+ bottles of wine, to high praise and acclaim. Since then, they have succeeded with their vision and are continuing to produce more than 200,000 bottles of top quality wines, even for their non reserve lines (named Vineyard Choice).
The winery is managed by Uri Kaplan, who runs the day-to-day operations of the winery, while the wine making duties are left to the capable hands of French trained Doron Rav Hon. Doron has been part of the winery since its inception, and his handiwork is all over the wine itself. The wine’s signature flavors are clear with every sip. There is no overripe fruit, clobbering oak, or under ripe green characteristics, that dominate many of the wines in Israel and the world alike now a days. Instead, Doron’s wines are all well balanced wines that do take advantage of the sun and valley’s cool nights. He uses French oak predominately, which allows for a more subtle wine expression, and thereby giving the grapes a chance to show their true quality, without screaming it from the rooftop. When talking with critics and wine experts alike about Ella Valley, the word that comes up is consistency and elegance. The reds and whites alike are consistently elegant, while keeping to winery’s credo – of traditional elegance with a twist modernization.
So when we drove up to the winery, we were not surprised to find that very credo staring us in the face. The winery’s lovely traditional structure and facade, was quietly wrapping its modern inner workings. We were super honored to meet with Doron himself, and he was kind to show us around the winery before, sitting down to a superb wine tasting. The conversation was varied and fascinating; from discussions around kashrut to Doron’s wine making philosophy. The wine tasting was equally varied from an Unoaked Chardonnay all the way to a blockbuster Merlot and everything else in between. If you had to point to a single varietal that defines Ella Valley – it would have to be Merlot. From 2002 and on, Ella Valley’s Merlot(s) have been the top scoring and most sinewy yet refined wines in their portfolio. Nothing about our wine tasting changed that perspective, except for the fact that they continue to show exactness and gentle prodding on all of the wines in their fine portfolio. Read the rest of this entry