I have had the distinct joy of visiting the Ella Valley Winery a few times in the past few years and each time I enjoy a bottle of Ella Valley wine I remember the first time I tasted a bottle of the stuff – at a restaurant!
Yes indeed, the first time I heard of Ella Valley Winery was at a restaurant where they were serving the 2002 Ella Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Vineyard’s Choice! The wine was being sold at the restaurant – the new defunct Rafael’s that existed in Berkeley, CA for many years, until its unfortunate closing in July 2007. Whenever I went there with friends I always ordered the same wine, as it was rich, layered and awesome! I finally convinced some wine stores to stock it as well and it was then available to others and me in 2005.
Since then Ella Valley has done a better job marketing the wine to the kosher wine world and blessedly I do not need to convince wine stores to stock the wine – they do it on their own, based solely on the wine’s merits. Read the rest of this entry
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
Hameshubach Midbar, Ella Valley Cabernet Vineyard Choice, Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard
This past weekend we had friends and family over for a lovely Friday Night meal. The meal started off with a warm bowl of Roasted Butternut squash soup and a bottle of the 2007 Hameshubach Midbar, Gold Series. The wine was looking a bit brown, but the flavor profile is exactly what I remembered it to be when I tasted it in March. Clearly a bottle to drink now. The soup tasted quite nicely, rich and sweet, with a twang of bitterness to compliment the flavors, from the orange rind. Benyamin Cantz (Benyo) from Four Gates Winery was there as well and brought over a 15 year old Champagne. The Champagne tasted nice, with tight bubbles, deep core acidity, some toasted almonds, and a hint of citrus fruit.
At the same time we opened a bottle of the 2006 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, To Kalon Vineyard that came from the Herzog Club. We opened it then to give it time to air out while we started on other wines. We then opened my last bottle of the 2003 Ella Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Vineyard Choice and that was a wise choice. The wine’s color was fine, along with its nose and mouth, still it was at its peak and starting to lose some of its complexity, so it is a good time to drink this up.
We then served Mushroom and Crookneck Zucchini Risotto, a plate of salami and turkey pastrami, along with braised roast beef, spinach kugel (parve souffle), and a fresh green salad. The Ella Valley Cabernet paired wonderfully with the roast and salami, while the risotto’s creaminess and mushroom earthiness added a certain level of balance to the palate of the food. We then poured the 2006 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, To Kalon Vineyard, and to be honest I was not initially impressed at all. It was OK, but it was more of a medium bodied wine with a finish that was lacking. Still, I kept some around, and the next day it tasted much better. This wine is the press wine of its monster of a brother, the 2006 Herzog Generation VIII Cabernet Sauvignon, To Kalon Vineyard, Napa Valley. It bigger brother is a massive wine with broad shoulders, a mouth feel that is rich and opulent, rich black fruit, and a finish that goes on forever. Its younger brother is far less massive and its finish is a bit lacking. The Generation VIII is free run wine, while this is press wine. Now, press wine is not bad wine, but what it has in tannin (in spades) and sometimes in color, it lacks in true fruit and depth. This is not to say they are bad wines just different. Many wineries will blend the two, the free run and the press wine. To make up for some of its issues, Herzog aged the wine in oak for 42 months, which may sound crazy, but oak does add lovely characteristics and helps this wine out immensely.
Truly this dichotomy reminds me of the 2006 Covenant Red C and the 2006 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon. The Red C is a far more medium bodied wine than is the Covenant Cabernet. You see the 2006 Red C is also pure press wine, while the 2006 Covenant Cabernet is pure free run.
I will say that the 2006 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, To Kalon Vineyard is a nice wine, but I find it also reminds me of the styling’s of the 2008 B.R. Cohn Cabernet Sauvignon Kosher Trestle Glen Estate Vineyard, lighter in body, more finesse and elegance than sheer power, but I believe still lacking.
The wine notes follow below:
2007 Hameshubach Midbar, Gold Series (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 5% Petite Verdot) – Score: A-
The nose on this garnet to mahogany colored wine explodes with rich raspberry, ripe blackberry, ripe black plum, mounds of rich chocolate, cedar, smoky notes, tobacco, and fig. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich and exploding with dark and brooding blackberry and black plum along with tar like flavors. The mid palate is balanced with rich oak, acid, chocolate, and tobacco. The finish is super rich and long with black fruit, blackberry, chocolate, tobacco, tar like flavors, and vanilla. This wine is clearly at or beyond its peak, drink up!!!
2003 Ella Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Vineyard’s Choice (97% Cab, 3% Cabernet Franc) – Score: A- to A
The nose on this purple to black colored wine is hopping with rich ripe cherry, blackberry, cassis, figs, crushed herbs, smoky notes, and lovely rich oak. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich and structured with ripe blackberry, cassis, raspberry, and loamy dirt. The mid palate is balanced with rich oak, loamy dirt, crushed herbs, and chocolate. The finish is super long with sweet oak, ripe blackberry, chocolate, smokiness, roasted meats, crushed herbs, and dirt. Drink this up – it is time.
2006 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, To Kalon Vineyard, Napa Valley – Score: A-
The nose on this garnet colored wine is rich with chocolate, blackberry, raspberry, crushed herbs, rich cedar oak, vanilla, and licorice, a lovely and elegant nose. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has raspberry, red fruit, spicy notes, blackberry, and nice tannin. The mid palate is balanced with acid, integrated tannin, spicy oak, vanilla, and chocolate. The finish is not so long with chocolate, vanilla, spicy oak, smoky notes, and licorice. I thought the lack of a solid finish and it understated mouth structure was a lacking, but what it lacks in those things it does make up a bit with its elegance.
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
This past weekend I decided it was time to go out and make some food that was not quite run of the mill. On my last trip to Israel I went to a Moroccan Restaurant and fell in love with Tajine (there seems to be a discussion about the correct spelling of Tajine or is it Tajine , either way the food tastes great!). So I started searching for recipes to how to make a Tajine. Well the official manner is with a Tajine itself used to slow cook or braise stews. The beauty of the Tajine is the evaporative and condensing powers it beholds. You see the genius behind this earthenware pot is in its tight seal and its tepee cover. The tight seal means none of the flavors or good stuff evaporates outside of the pot. Meanwhile inside the pot crazy stuff is going on. The meat, fruit, and spices are percolating away and getting denser and richer and flavors are melding into the liquid which is evaporating under the oven’s heat. But because of its ingenious cover, the liquid that evaporates and does not leave the well sealed pot, condenses and further adds flavors to the overall dish. The sad thing is that most of us do not have one of these killer pots, or one big enough to feed 12 people. So I went with my Le Creuset knockoff from Lodge, which did the trick. The dish came out fantastic and was really a hit. Of course with all that spice packed food, one needs wine that will stand up to the intense flavors. So I had a few wines that have been sitting in the cellar waiting for their time on the table. All of them hail from Israel and they were fun to drink, but No A’s today, my friends. One wine scored an A- but no knockout. Still they were enjoyable and kept up with the meal, which was the most important thing.
On an aside two of the wines traveled with me from Israel (the Castra Red and the Katlav Cabernet). You remember my visit to the Katlav Winery and my visit to the Zemora Winery on my previous trip to Israel. The good news is that you do not need to go to Israel and schlep one back. The Katlav Cab and Merlot are available here in the US – it is imported by Abarbanel (who is really not stepping up – but that is a different topic for another time). Do a quick Google on Katlav Cabernet and you will find many reputable shops that carry the wine (along with the far better Merlot). The Zemora wine is not currently exported to the USA – but the winery is supposedly being sold, so I have no more information at this time.
The wine notes follow below:
2004 Zemora Castra Red – Score: B+
This wine is a blend of 65% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 3% Shiraz and 2% Petit Verdot. The nose on this inky black wine is very Syrah like (which is strange given that the wine is so low in Syrah) Blackberry, cassis, mint, and wood. The mouth on this full bodied wine is layered, starting with cassis and blackberry, but mixed with some tart cherry and blueberry. The mid palate is a tannic and green, the finish is nice but dominated by wood and acid
2002 Ella Valley Vineyard’s Choice Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: A-
The nose on this black colored wine has blackberry, cloves, plum, and wood notes. The mouth on this soft full bodied wine is filled with blackberry, cassis, and wood. The mid palate is lush and balanced with caressing tannins. The finish is long with wood, tobacco, and hints of chocolate. This soft and full bodied wine is another example of the 2002 curse. It is a wine whose fruit is going fast and one that is well balanced without an overpowering wood presence.
2005 Katlav Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: B+
This nose on this deep garnet colored wine is filled with blackberry, cloves, and spicy wood. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has notes of blackberry and plum. The mid palate is acidic and herbal. The finish is filled with oak, oak, and more oak. The spicy oak overpowers the finish and I think takes away from an otherwise decent wine.
We spent the weekend at the Four Gates Winery and we had a grand time. I brought a bunch of wine and Benyamin had a few wines in the ready as well. The food was awesome but I must say that once again, I brought the duds – AAHH!! The worst part of it was that I personally brought these wines back from France and had great expectations for them. Unfortunately, they were total losers. I brought a Sancerre and a Bordeaux. The only saving grace I had was the 2002 Ella Valley Vineyard Choice Merlot.
Dinner started with a lovely poached fish that was rich enough in flavor to match the Sancerre – but it was a real downer. The Sancerre tasted like it was allowed to rot and such was a quarter or more along the way to a Sauterne. After that we had lovely roasted chicken and a meat stew. The Roasted Chicken was solely coated with a spice mixture that I guessed was a combination of Curry, Cumin, Coriander, and cloves. Very nice mix. The chicken and the stew called for a wine that is highly acidic and/or powerful wine. The Bordeaux I brought was truly sad as well. Really, just a sad attempt. The other wine I brought was a hit and really nice – one of my favorites; the 2002 Ella Valley Vineyard’s Choice (VC) Merlot. Finally, the Four Gates wines were enjoyed the following day with Cholent and leftovers. A very nice affair for all.
The wine notes follow:
2002 Bokobsa Sancerre Special Reserve – Score: B-
The nose on this gold colored wine had notes of honeysuckle, grapefruit, earth, and Botrytis. The smell throws off the wine, and unfortunately carries on into the palate. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is fruity. The mid palate was mineral, while the Botrytis commanded the finish. The wine lacked crispness and focus. It was all over the place, a real shame. I had a great experience with a previous Sancerre, and was hoping for it again, but it was not to be.
2003 Château du Desert Grand Vin de Graves - Score: B-
The nose on this garnet colored wine was mineral and raspberry. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has notes of raspberry, and plum. The mid palate had nice earth tones. The finish was muddled with fruit and oak. Again, a non-focused or complex wine. I had high hopes for this one, but it was not to be.
2002 Ella Valley Vineyard’s Choice Merlot – Score: A
The nose on this opaque black colored wine is a big Merlot nose. Cassis, blackberry, and oak scream to the front. Mint, chocolate, and earthy tones follow. The mouth on this full bodied wine starts off with black plum, cassis and mint. The middle is a complex mixture of oak, black fruit, and well integrated tannins. The balanced wine’s long finish is filled with meaty texture and flavor along with chocolate, tobacco, and oak. This is a really fun wine and one that is ready to enjoy now. There was not a ton of sediment, but still keep a watch out for it. The fruit is slowing down, so drink up.
Four Gates La Rochelle Merlot 2005 – score: A-
The nose on this deep garnet colored wine is flush with blackberry, mint, asparagus, and oak. The mouth on this medium bodied wine starts with blackberry fruit and black plums. The mi palate has lovely notes of acid balanced with oak. The finish is long with light tannins that have not yet integrated, and red fruit. The wine is not yet at its peak, but is still quite enjoyable now as well.
Four Gates Chardonnay 2004 – Score: A
One of the best Chardonnay out there right now. This complex yet approachable wine is a real joy. This is NOT a lightweight Chardonnay yet not a butterball like other California Chardonnays. This is what a California Chardonnay should taste like – really nice. We have tasted this in the past and it has clearly improved. The nose has gone more citrus and oaky. The mouth has really filled out and the finish goes on for miles. But the real excitement is the complexity that has appeared. The wine is far more complex in nature, with layers of oak, vegetal notes, and wonderful citrus, peach, and apricot flavors. So on to the actual tasting note now:
The nose on this electric light gold colored wine is filled with peach, apricot, and light hints of herbs, sweet oak and caramel. The mouth on this full bodied and very rich Chardonnay is packed with a complex and layered mixture of peach, apricot and citrus flavors. The mid palate is a strong crisp acid core mixed with cloves, vegetal flavors, and a slight sweetness. The finish is a long crisp and refreshing stroll with sweet wood notes as a partner. A real success. This is one of my favorite Chardonnays. The wine is crisp yet has weight at the same time, a real joy.
This Friday night we had the chevra over and some of these wines were mine and others also brought wine. The food was lighter then normally – so the theme was Merlot, but still a bit too much for the dinner of Tunisian Couscous. The saving grace of Boulettes in heavy tomato sauce made the wine quite nice in the end. One wine was not quite the hit so it has been left out.
Four Gates Merlot 1997 – WOW! This wine is a knockout. The color of this unfiltered wine is a deep dark red. The nose is filled with blackberries, oak, and a bit of tobacco. The full bodied wine has a wonderful mouthfeel and starts with hints of berries and then ends in a long flourish of chocolate and oak. The slight amount of tannin that is still present is well integrated and gives it quite a kick still. This one is still quite a keeper.
Yatir 2002 Cabernet-Merlot-Shiraz - Well this was really just Merlot night but I took this out as it had a bit of Merlot ;-) . A nice crowd please. Mostly people liked the color – deep and brooding. The body is chocolate, dark fruit, cassis, and a nice round velvety mouthfeel that is balanced with just the right amount of tannin – to give it a bit of a bite.
Ella Valley Merlot 2002 Vineyard’s Choice – This one was not so well accepted. It was one of the last bottles – but still we are talking about a table of serious folks. I finished it the next day. I was surprised at the lack of appeal. The body is strong and has the right balance of tannin, acid and fruit to keep me very captivated. And beyond all that the wine is complex and has a long finish with hints of tobacco which is quite nice in a Merlot.
Chateau Piada Sauternes 2000 – For desert we opened this bottle. I had opened one a few years ago and it was dismissed as a wine with cooked fruit fruit flavors that was over the top. This time the bottle was quite different! The nose was strong with lychees and grapefruit. The body is quite full in the mouth, and the sugar fills it out quite nicely along with citrus and lychees in the mouth and the finish – quite nice.
Ella Valley is a winery we heard of a few years ago when we saw their wine in a restaurant in Berkeley, CA. It was an amazing wine, so we called the distributor and convinced our local store to stock their wines. Since then the store has gone through the wine a few times and has a few of the new releases.
The winery is located in an industrial park of Kibbutz Nativ HaLamed-Heh. The winery was established in 1998 – when they planted their world renowned vineyard that lies a few feet from the beautiful winery building. It took a few years before the first vintage was harvested and bottled – 2002. The winery now produces 200 thousand bottles a year. When they started the process of preparing the land for planting their vineyard they found an ancient winepress – it is this very same symbol that graces almost every bottle of Ella Valley wine.
We met Udi – the winery manager at the visitor center. It was hard to hear him at times over the squall of the parrots that grace the front of the building. It turns out that the GM, Danny Valero, has a strong love for parrots and they have a commanded presence along the path that leads to the visitors center. Udi went on to explain that the winery has an exacting scientific approach to wine making – down to the numbering of each bottle that they produce. Being that the winery is so close to the perfectly tended and managed vines – they are estate bottled (a not so common feat in Israel), and they can control the fermentation process to their exacting standards. The vineyard is in a long and beautiful valley, which shelters the grapes from winter frost and the extreme heat during the long summer months.
We would like to thank Udi and the people at Ella Valley winery for allowing us to taste a wide range of wines – so that we could share the experience with our readers.
2005 Cabernet Franc – Score: B+
This is the follow-on to the smash hit of 2004 – but not quite up to its older brother’s standard. The has a nose of green grass and flowers – classic franc aromas. The balanced medium bodied wine has light tannins that give way to red fruit and more green grass. The finish is long and lingers on the palate long after the wine is gone.
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah – Score: B+
The wine has a lively Bordeaux color that shimmers in the light. The nose is filled with earth and hints of green beans. The medium bodied wine is accessible with light tannins and a medium sized finish. The body has a sense of earth, a bit of tar, and complexity that helps to prop this wine up and give it more of a presence than it might have otherwise had.
2004 Merlot – Score: A-
This wine has a nice light Burgundy color. The nose is herbal and has hints of pepper and cherry. This medium bodied wine has a complexity to it that hints at what is brooding underneath the oak coat. It is a balanced wine with integrated tannins and a good amount of acid that allows the wine to stand tall in a crowd and culminates with a satisfying finish.
2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard Choice – Score: A
The color of the wine is an electric black – if that were possible. The nose is strong and attacking. First comes licorice, followed by oak, and then cassis and more black fruit. This exciting full bodied wine is complex and brooding. The balanced attack starts with cassis and dark plums and then is followed by a long and very satisfying finish.
2003 Muscat (reinforced) – Score: A
The straw color of this wine shimmers with excitement, and begs you to come closer and inspect. It is at that moment that the nose of the wine jumps up out of the glass and hits you with honey and lychees. This medium-full bodied wine is reinforced with alcohol that greet you with more honey and lychees, and finishes with a long flourish of acid and peaches.