2020 kosher wine year and decade in review – glass half empty

As I am want to do, it is another year on the Gregorian calendar and I have already posted the wines of the year and the QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wines of the year. Now it is time for the year and decade in review. I had to wait until now, to talk about the decade in review, because there is a clear disagreement on when the new decade begins, so I went with the non-computer science approach (0-based systems), which is not what most people believe. To this point I quote Library of Congress’s estimable Ruth S. Freitag:

Dilemmas over marking time have been going on for years. In the late 1990s, the Library of Congress’s estimable Ruth S. Freitag famously compiled a 57-page research document titled The Battle of the Centuries, in which she called out people who celebrate any era before its time.

“When the encyclopedia of human folly comes to be written, a page must be reserved for the minor imbecility of the battle of the centuries — the clamorous dispute as to when a century ends,” Freitag wrote. Noting that there was no “year 0” in history, she said, “In fact, there has never been a system of recording reigns, dynasties, or eras that did not designate its first year as the year 1.”

To bolster her argument, Freitag, who was then a senior science specialist in the library’s Science and Technology Division, cited historical records that showed similar disputes had erupted when calendars were turned to 1900.

But even Freitag acknowledged that she was swimming against the tide of popular opinion.

It may seem obvious to many, but there was never a year 0, so let’s go with the obvious fact that the decade has finally passed us and we can discuss it in regards to all things kosher wine. IMHO, I will go with the glass half empty metaphor, as no matter how hard I try, there is no real way to look at this past decade in a glass-half-full approach – give the utter disregard from much of the world for anything approaching wine I would buy.

Where are we now??

Well, that is pretty simple, IMHO, we are WORSE than we were last year, and that was worse than we were in the years before. Essentially, we are continuing the slide down, maybe even at a faster rate, with a slight caveat to the positive on high-end white wines. That would be my summation – hence the glass-half-empty reference.

COVID and what it has done to the kosher wine industry

I could not talk about 2020 in a review, or the decade in a review, without at least mentioning Covid! The clear impact of the Virus on our lives is not wine, or food, or any other material impact. What truly has changed are the people we have lost, friends or family that have been sick or passed, and jobs and families crushed by this pandemic. Those things are REAL and those real things are truly very sad and are hard to move on from.

Yes, we have lost freedom of movement, we have been locked away from our friends and family, but it all pales in comparison to the true loss of life, income, and time. Many, if not all of them, have been lost forever, and that is the true loss and suffering.

Still, there is a need/desire to talk about how COVID changed the wine industry – over the past 12 months. As such, I wrote a post – some 7 months back, and I am shocked and saddened by how much it has not changed at all over these past many months. There were some missing points so let us hit them:

  1. There will be no in-person KFWE or any other tasting this year, sadly. To that point, Royal Wine has made a KFWV this year and I hope you can listen in at least and maybe join in with the tasting as well!
  2. As I stated in the post the online stores have come through. But even more so than that were the local stores that supported the communities and I can only repeat, support your local wine merchants if you have them! Sadly, our merchants, here in NorCal, while they exist, do not quite have what I am looking for, but they are trying – so kudos to them for that! However, those of you on the east coast – BUY LOCAL! Come on, folks! Your local store is there, you have the same taxes, buy local, and make sure they feel the love!
  3. Restaurants may finally be coming back, but wine sales are still very low to zero, and again, why do we need Mevushal?? I pray the biggest outcome of all of this madness is the production of dual labels M and not). I know it is a pipe dream, like a real Shmitta game plan – dream on. IMHO, Mevushal will take a hard hit soon, people will see it for what it is, a sham on the kosher wine market. If a wine needs to be Mevushal then go buy a beer and move on!
  4. The lack of travel and access to wineries is a real issue here. I would have already have been in France twice since my last year in review and Israel, at least once. The lack of access to wines impacts my ability to properly score and grade, but thankfully the UPS/FedEx of the worlds have been doing a yeoman’s job and they do truly deserve a cheer every time they drive by! Please show them the love (from a distance) that they deserve!
  5. Finally, to repeat – the lack of KFWE or any other tasting this year, or even marketing of wines in-person, will further complicate the lack of wine education in this industry and I fear it will sadly slow or hurt the sales of many wineries.

My yearly blog disclaimer about me and wine

I try to get this disclaimer into every year of my posts – but this year – for reasons I do not know, I have been receiving a lot of questions about my posts. So let me be 100% clear here:

  1. I NEVER HAVE AND NEVER WILL receive a penny for ANYTHING I write on this blog – PERIOD!
  2. I do not advertise and I do not receive money for advertisements. I PAY WordPress.com to NOT advertise on my blog. Again, there will never be ads or money on this blog.
  3. The next most prevalent question is: do I get a kickback for anything I recommend?? LOL! People do not know me well to be asking that question! NEVER! I write what I think – almost literally at times, so NO!
  4. Next question – do I receive an item of value for my posts? NEVER.
  5. The only thing I receive, having nothing to do with my posts is access to tastings or wine to taste. Also, I have received passes to KFWE, or this year, the KFWV. The coupon codes are not affiliated links or deals for me! Again, I get no money from this blog – I hope this starts to come across soon!
  6. Am I receiving money or any other item of value from Royal or an affiliate for the use of the ‘MUSINGS’ discount code? Again NO! NEVER!
  7. Do I spend money on my notes or wines? I promise you there are VERY few people in the kosher wine world who spend more money than I do on wines that I DESPISE! Very few! There are loads of people who spend more money than I do on wine – I am not a Macher! But I buy the majority of the wines I taste and post on. In the past year that has changed a bit, but no, I buy most of the wines and it sickens me to spend so much money on wines I would never drink or even cook with! Sadly, that is what I like to do. So, sure if the importer will help me and send me samples, great! I will still post my notes and scores based 100% on the way I see and taste the wine. NOTHING else goes into my scoring.
  8. Finally, I have people in the industry that I call friends. When I taste those wines I always disclaim those as well.

So, that wraps up my yearly post on how I, my blog, or my life is ever gaining anything from the world of wine! I hope that is clear. I do not do any business in wine, I do not sell any wine, I do not transfer wines, I am not a middleman for people who buy wines. I do not in any manner, way, or form, work in the world of wine – period!

Finally, I do help Elvi Wines, at times, to pour wine, at a KFWE or the such, and act as their US contact for the USDA. I have again, never received compensation for those pouring’s. My travel costs are sometimes reimbursed, but that is the totality of my relationship, financially speaking, with Elvi Wines or any other winery or wine business. I am a software architect by trade and that is where I make my money. Be well!

Read the rest of this entry

KFWE (KFWV) 2021 – a virtual tasting extravaganza – coupon code included

Well, you know it, we all still living under state or county quarantines, with limited to no ability to get around and taste wine together. I still cannot believe how close last year’s KFWE was to be shutdown. Two weeks after the KFWE L.A., which was the best of the USA, yes, I still owe a writeup on that, cities were in lockdown or very close to it.

Well, not much has changed over the last 10 months. We are finally getting closer to vaccines, but they are still a long way off for the majority of this country. So, we have all seen tasting and cooking shows online. I thought for sure that KFWE would go virtual this year – and I was right! However, I never thought through the logistics it would take to make this happen!

So, this is what Royal explained the KFWE would be like this year! To bring the feeling of KFWE to your home, we’re offering for sale a limited amount of wine-tasting kits, which will include a carefully curated offering of 25 wines in 100ml bottles (enough for 2-3 sample pours) and a tasting guide featuring detailed information on the wines. Enjoy wines from Israel, France, Spain, California, Italy, and Argentina, in an evening hosted by Jay Buchsbaum, Gabriel Geller, and Erik Segelbaum, Food & Wine Magazine Sommelier of the year 2019, who will guide you through tastings!

Just think about it for a moment, how exactly does one get 100 ML bottles made? Thankfully, no human is involved! The 750 ml bottle is inserted into a machine and the machine pours the wine into smaller bottles, all in an environment that does not deter from the wine and the wine experience – when you open it 2 weeks from now! That is a TON of work!

Add to that the menus and chefs that you will cook along with and this is going to be fun! I have been cooking like crazy before Covid turned our lives upside down. But where I live, there are no restaurants, so I started cooking all sorts of Asian dishes, from Korean to Thai. Well, now we will be able to take our cooking chops to the next level with chef lead menus to make dishes that will wow your family for sure!

Again, here is Royal’s take on the food side of the event! Throughout the night, we’ll be featuring cook-a-long demos! Simply download the detailed recipe cards with shopping lists and prep instructions so you can cook along with the chefs, friends, and family in real-time! Featured will be Chef Gabe Garcia of Tierra Sur, Kosher.com Personalities, and celebrity chef and James Beard Award Winner Michael Solomonov, owner of various restaurants in Philadelphia with a focus on Israeli cuisine and more!

Looking at this from the outside looking in, I love it. The wine selection is nice, but yes, I wish there were more European wines. Still, there are a lot of awesome wines and some I have never had! The Terra di Seta Riserva and the Herzog Generation IX Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, and others. All in you are looking at 25 bottles that you can share with your family. The best part of it to me is that I will get a chance to taste the wines in an environment that is far more conducive to tasting. No more feeling like a bug smashed on the windshield, you have all the room you want in your home, and the opportunity to enjoy it in a quieter and more amiable wine tasting environment. Throw on top of that the 4+ bottles of wines and the recipes and this is going to a lot of fun.

So, here is the game plan for the 2021 KFWV.

1.           Sip and cook along with the official KFWV 2021 Tasting Kit that includes samples of each of the wines being tasted (25 100mL bottles, enough for 2-3 sample pours), a tasting guide, recipe cards, and shopping lists so you can sip and cook all night long!  Kits are $250 + processing fees and include shipping where available (please note, we cannot ship internationally or to PO boxes, and you or someone over 21 must be available to receive the delivery).  To ensure delivery in time for the event, the last day to order wine kits is February 8, 2021.  Kits will begin shipping the week of February 8, 2021.

2.           Watch the live stream of KFWV 2021 for FREE! Simply register to receive a viewing link for the February 21st event.  Leading up to the event, we’ll provide the wines being served along with the recipes and shopping lists online so you can cook along and put your own tasting kit together with as many or as few wines as you like!

Kits are available for purchase at www.kfwe.com, and Kosher Wine Musings followers save $25 off the kit price with code MUSINGS. Don’t delay, kits are limited, and once they’re sold out, they’re gone.

Sign up now – and make sure to use my code MUSINGS to get the 10% off. I hope to see all of you online – enjoy, stay safe, and be well! The place to put the code is on the main page above the KFWV wine tasting kit.

Stay safe, be well, and enjoy!

The top QPR Kosher wine WINNERS of 2020

This past year I wanted to drive home the need for QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wines. So I set out to create what I thought a QPR metric should be! Gone were arbitrary price ranges and the such. Instead, I let the market define what the QPR price range should be. I did this by grouping the wines by their type (white, red, rose, sparkling, and dessert) and then further refined the grouping by age-ability within the white and red wines. This gave me the following groups:

  • Drink “soon” White Wine (Simple whites)
  • Rose Wine (always drink soon)
  • Drink “soon” Red Wine (Simple reds)
  • Mid-range aging Reds (4 to 11 years)
  • High-end Red wines (11 and more years)
  • High-end White wines (7 and more years)
  • Sparkling Wine (No need here for extra differentiation)
  • Dessert Wine

I then made the mistake of trying to create an Orange wine range/group – that was a HUGE mistake. Again, the wines themselves were not the issue, the issue revolved around trying to group such a small sample set into its group. They will go into their respective white wine category, next year.

Throughout the year, I posted many QPR posts, for almost all of the main categories. I will continue down this road until I find a better way to categorize and track wines that are QPR WINNERS. Talk about WINNERS, that secondary QPR score was a 2.1 revision to my QPR scoring, and that is explained in this post. All the wines listed here are QPR WINNERS from my tastings in 2020.

This year, the list came to a total of 25 names, and none had to dip below 91 in the scores, which is a large number and better scores overall than last year, but again, the pool from where they are culled continues to grow, and the diamonds in the rough are getting harder and harder to find.

I have added a few new things this year. The first is QPR for France, the prices for many wines there, are dirt cheap! Maybe, Avi Davidowitz, from kosher wine unfiltered, can create a list like that for Israel, this year, a bunch of wines became available there, and a proper QPR list would be worthwhile!

Shoutout to TWO GREAT wines that are just sitting around!

I am sorry to get on my soapbox before we get to the top QPR wines of 2020. But I have to ask what is wrong with Les Roches de Yon-Figeac? What is wrong with Albarino?

The 2016 Les Roches de Yon-Figeac is sitting around and no one is buying it! WHY??? It sits around and there is no real better option, IMHO, at this price point, currently. Yet, the wines sit! The crazy part is that the 2016 Les Roches is lovely, but 2017 is even better!!! The 2016 vintage has been here in the USA for years already! The price is perfect, 36 or 37 dollars for an impressive wine that can be enjoyed now, if you decant it well or age for 12 more years!

What about the Albarino wines? There is the cheap but wonderful 2018 Ramon Cardova Albarino, along with the 2018 Herzog Albarino, Special Reserve, at 2x the price. They are wonderful wines and they too sit on the sidelines! Horrible Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay wines sellout but these far better white options sit around. It is great that some of you have been enjoying Riesling, Grenache Blanc, and other varieties, but COME ON FOLKS – try other white wines – PLEASE!!

Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – but they are worth the effort. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

The 2020 White QPR kosher WINNERS

The Dampt Grand Cru from 2018 was the white wine of the year and the 2017 Dampt is the white Co-QPR white wine of the year. The other Co-QPR white wine of the year is the lovely 2019 Pescaja Terre Alfieri Arneis Solei. It is almost as unique as the 2013 Eccelenza, Bianco Umbria, which was crazy cool. These wines are worth the effort to find them, IMHO!

2019 Pescaja Terre Alfieri Arneis Solei – Score: 92+ (QPR: WINNER)
WOW! this is Arneis fruit, but to me, it is Sauvignon Blanc all the way, but where it departs from classic SB is the pear and almond which should tell you that something is either very wrong or this is not SB, which in case, is the latter, this is not Sauvignon Blanc! If anything this is more a perfect blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, incredible!
PSA – This wine needs to be CHILLED – LIKE Champagne chilled, PLEASE!
The nose on this wine is truly redolent and super-expressive, if this is lost on you, please do not buy the wine, leave it for others who can appreciate it! This wine does indeed have notes of gooseberry, and cat pee, and lovely green notes, but it also has loads of floral notes, showing violet, rose, salted almond, chamomile, white flowers, and sweet ripe pear, and grapefruit. The mouth on this medium-bodied white wine is INCREDIBLE, nuts, with layers upon layers of incredible fruit, sure it has a drop of RS, but who cares! The mouth is layered with ripe pear, peach, apricot, ripe pomelo, with incredible honeysuckle, followed by honey, honeyed and spiced Citron, and incredible mineral, slate, spice, nutmeg, freshly-cut grass, straw, hay, and lovely roasted almond on the super longer lingering finish – WOW!! This is fun! Drink until 2024. (tasted August 2020)

2017 Dampt Freres Chablis, Premier Cru, Cote de Lechet – Score: 93 (QPR: WINNER)
OK, so, 2017 is the year for Chablis, and of what I had from Dampt Freres, two years ago, a few showed quite well. Those were Petit and a more minor vineyard. This wine is the 2017 Premier Cru and what a wine it is! My goodness, this is what Chardonnay, unoaked of course, ie meant to smell and taste like. It is pure mineral and fruit, with loads of dirt, smoke, and flint – a true joy – BRAVO!!!
The nose on this lovely wine is purely mineral notes, sure there is apple, peach, apricot, and some other white fruit, but who cares, what shines here is the mineral attack, shist, rock, flint, along with lovely white flowers, almonds, and hints of mushroom – I WANT THIS! The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is lovely, layers upon layers, come at you, with non-stop attack of mineral, fruit, earth, rich spices, and more mineral. The apricot, peach, yellow and green apple from the nose are present, as are hints of lychee, lovely Meyer lemon, and a tiny amount of crazy Kafir lime leaves and juice – WOW! The finish is so long, with incredible minerality, showing flint, rock, shist, and lovely straw, that brings the entire wine together – wow! A true joy – get this!! Drink until 2025. (tasted December 2020)

Read the rest of this entry

My top 25 kosher wines of 2020 including Wine of the Year, Winery of the Year, and the best Wine of the Year awards

Like last year, I wanted to make this post short and sweet – so the criteria are simple. I could care less about price, color, or where it was made. All that matters is that it is/was available this year sometime to the public at large and that I tasted it in a reliable environment, not just at a tasting, and that it was scored a 92 or higher. Also, there are a few lower scoring wines here because of their uniqueness or really good QPR.

We are returning with the “wine of the year”, “best wine of the year” along with categories I added last year, “Winery of the Year”, “Best White wine of the year”. Wine of the year goes to a wine that distinguished itself in ways that are beyond the normal. It needs to be a wine that is easily available, incredible in style and flavor, and it needs to be reasonable in price. It may be the QPR wine of the year or sometimes it will be a wine that so distinguished itself for other reasons. The wines of the year are a type of wine that is severely unappreciated, though ones that have had a crazy renaissance, over the past two years. The Best Wine of the year goes to a wine well worthy of the title.

This past year, I think I am pretty sure about my state on kosher wine overall. In the past, I had not yet tasted the pape Clement or other such wines. However, over the past year, those have been covered, and they were a serious letdown. As stated in the article, I truly believe the entire kosher production of the Megrez wines, following the EPIC 2014 vintage of the Pape Clement and others, to be below quality and seriously overpriced, and without value in every category, which is a true shame. The 2015 reds are all poor quality and the whites are not much better, in 2015 and 2016. The 2016 Pape Clement, while better, is a total ripoff for what it is. As I will talk about in my year in review post, 2014 will come out as the best vintage for the past decade in France. That is a hotly debated subject, but IMHO, in the world of kosher wine, there were FAR more best wine options in the 2014 vintage than any other vintage in the past decade. That may not be the case for non-kosher wines, but news flash, I do not drink non-kosher wines, or even taste them, and further this blog is about kosher wines. The 2018 vintage may well have some serious “best wine of the year” candidates, but sadly, not all of those wines are here and I could not travel to France to taste them all, as I do commonly.

There are also interesting wines below the wines of the year, think of them as runner-up wines of the year. There will be no rose wines on the list this year. If last year, I thought the roses were pure junk, this year, you can add another nail in the coffin of rose wines, IMHO. Thankfully, the task of culling the bounty of great wines to come to these top wines was more a task of removing then adding. We are blessed with a bounty of good wines – just not like a few years ago when that bounty included many 95 and 95+ scoring wines.

The supreme bounty comes from the fact that Royal released the 2018 French wines a bit early! Throw in the incredible number of kosher European wines that are coming to the USA and being sold in Europe and this was truly a year of bounty for European kosher wines.

Now, separately, I love red wines, but white wines – done correctly, are a whole other story! Sadly, in regards to whites, we had no new wines from Germany, still. Thankfully, we have some awesome new entries, from the 2017 and 2018 Dampt Freres Chablis, both Grand Cru and Premier Cru, and the new 2019 Meursault!

The wines on the list this year are all available here in the USA, in Europe, and a few can be found in Israel, as well.

Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – but they are worth the effort. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

The 2020 kosher wine of the year – is a return to its greatness – the 2018 Elvi Wines EL26

Elvi EL26 is back! Back to the glory days and I have stocked up and sadly, it will sell out quickly, if it is not already sold out! Get a move on, there was not a huge production of this beauty!

So, why did EL26 win? Simple, it is a great wine, and then throw in its WINNER price, and this wine punches at two levels, at the same time! You can read more about this fantastic wine here, in my post about it. Enjoy!

2018 Elvi Wines EL26, Elite, Priorat – Score: 93 (QPR: WINNER)
This wine is a blend of 80% Garnacha (Grenache) and 20% Carignan. This wine is pure heaven, dirt, smoke, roasted animal, saline, mineral, juicy tart red, and blue fruit, with incredible precision and fruit focus – Bravo!
The nose on this wine is pure fun, showing tart red fruit, incredible fresh loam, and dirt, hints of mushroom, licorice, roasted animal, a whiff of oak, sage, rosemary, with dirt, and green notes. This wine is currently far more Bordeaux in style than that of a Spanish Priorat! The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is not overly extracted, but it is well extracted, with good mouth and fruit texture, with incredible acid, good fruit focus, showing dark cherry, plum, ripe and tart raspberry, strawberry, oak, vanilla, and garrigue, with green notes, and lovely mouth-draping tannin. The finish is long, green, yet ripe, with great control and precision, with lovely graphite, more roasted meat, scraping minerality, saline, rich smoking tobacco, and smoke, lots of char and smoke. Bravo! With time the wine opens more and shows its riper side, still very controlled, but the fun red and blue fruit become a bit fuller and richer in the mouth – quite an impressive wine! Drink from 2026 until 2036. (tasted December 2020)

Read the rest of this entry

2019 Jean-Philippe Marchand Burgundies and new Domaine Roses Camille vintages

UPDATED: I added the 2016 Clos Lavaud wine note below. Great WINNER!

Last week I had the chance to taste through the new kosher 2019 Jean-Philippe Marchand red and white Burgundies. Yes, you heard me correctly, white and red! There is a new white Burgundy from Meursault, we have not had one since 2004 and sadly, that wine is long dead. However, we did have a lovely Meursault, in 2014, with Pierre Miodownick, and that wine was really fun! There were Pinot Noir Burgundies from 2019, along with a few Bourdeaux wines as well, from both Taieb and Domaine Roses Camille.

I will keep this to a minimum, a simple post about the wines I tasted. If you want more on Taieb Wines – read the family history here. However, before I fast-forward to the notes please understand the enormity of what is going on here – kosher white wine has finally arrived, with this new 2019 Meursault, the 2018 Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt Blanc, the 2019 Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt, Blanc (not yet released), and the 2019 Chateau Malartic, Blanc! We have finally hit the escape velocity from the kosher wine world’s sole fascination with Cabernet Sauvignon!

The 2019 Pinot Noirs were from Jean-Philippe Marchand. I loved the 2017 Jean-Philippe Pinot Noirs, wines I bought and purchased already. IMHO, the 2019 vintage is far more reminiscent of what is expected from a Burgundy. The 2019 wines are lither than the 2017s were. They show more floral characteristics than their 2017 brethren. Overall, I was highly impressed. Beware, sadly there is no Lescure for 2018, 2019, or 2020 – SO SAD!

The Bordeaux wines came from both Taieb and Domaine Roses Camille, and I think they all showed very well with a WINNER and some very solid options as well! Much to all of this should be soon available with Andrew Breskin and Liquid Kosher, so keep a lookout for these wines from him. They will, of course, also be available in France from Taieb’s website, and Domaine Roses Camille’s European distribution, which I do not know much about. Though, I am sure the usual websites and stores in Paris and Belgium will have the wines.

NOTE: I need to taste the 2016 Clos Lavaud, Lalande de Pomerol again before I can post my final score on it. I added the Clos Lavaud below. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

The 2019 Jean-Philippe Marchand Burgundies

2019 Jean-Philippe Marchand Meursault– Score: 93 (QPR: EVEN)
The nose on this wine is lovely, it is a closed to start, with lovely sweet oak, yellow apple, with lovely candied pear, cardamom, with hints of lemon, spice, and herbs, wow! The waxy and oily approach to this wine is unique.  With time the wine opens and WOW, the nose explodes with sweet toasted oak, toasted almonds, hazelnuts, and more floral notes, honeysuckle, honey, lemon/lime, melon, and lovely herbaceous notes. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is lovely, layered, rich, with sweet oak, Meyer lemon, apple tart, sweet fig, creme brulee, honey, crazy acidity, lovely mouth-coating tannin, smoke, crazy minerality, and lovely flint, rock, and smoked duck, with brioche, lemon/lime, and sweet yellow plum. The finish is long, sweet, tart, ripe, and well-balanced, with flint and toast. PLEASE, many of you will be motivated to drink this up as it is an awesome wine, but control yourselves please, this wine needs time! Drink from 2023 until 2028, maybe longer. (tasted Jan 2021)

Read the rest of this entry

Four Gates Winery’s January 2021 new releases

Disclaimer – do not blame me for posting this AFTER Benyo sold his wines. That was not MY choice. I was asked to wait on my post until after the sale of the wines this year. Also, Four gates Winery and Benyamin Cantz (which are one the same), never saw or knew my notes until I posted them today.

As you all know, I am a huge fan of Four Gates Winery, and yes he is a dear friend. So, as is my custom, as many ask me what wines I like of the new releases, here are my notes on the new wines.

I have written many times about Four Gates Winery and its winemaker/Vigneron Benyamin Cantz. Read the post and all the subsequent posts about Four Gates wine releases, especially this post of Four Gates – that truly describes the lore of Four Gates Winery.

Other than maybe Yarden and Yatir (which are off my buying lists – other than their whites and bubblies), very few if any release wines later than Four Gates. The slowest releaser may well be Domaine Roses Camille.

Four Gates grapes versus bought grapes

It has been stated that great wine starts in the vineyard, and when it comes to Four gates wine, it is so true. I have enjoyed the 1996 and 1997 versions of Benyamin’s wines and it is because of his care and control that he has for his vineyard. That said, the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes he receives from the Monte Bello Ridge shows the same care and love in the wines we have enjoyed since 2009.

I have immense faith in Benyo’s wines that are sourced from his vineyard and the Monte Bello Ridge vineyard. The other wines, that he creates from other sources, are sometimes wonderful, like the 2010 Four Gates Syrah that I tasted recently, and I would have sworn it was a Rhone wine, crazy minerality, acid, and backbone, with fruit NOT taking center stage, though ever so evident, the way is meant to be! Others, while lovely on release may well not be the everlasting kind of Four Gates wines.

The new wines

New in 2021 will be the 2018 Four Gates Negrette, a unique wine that was nice. Also, a Petit Verdot from Santa Clara Valley AVA, and another Malbec from the same vineyard as in 2017, in Santa Cruz but not from the Four Gates vineyards.

The rest of the wines are the normal suspects, but this year’s crop is a bit better than last year. First, you have the 2016 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by an N.V. Four Gates Pinot Noir, 2016 Four Gates Merlot, and two 2019 Chardonnay wines, both under the Four gates label.

Prices and Quantities

I have heard it over and over again. That I and others caused Benyo to raise his prices. First of all that is a flat-out lie. I never asked for higher prices, but when asked the value of his wines, the real answer I could give was more than 26 dollars.

Let us be clear, all of us that got used to 18/26 dollar prices and stocked up on his wines in those days should be happy. The fact that he raised prices, is a matter of basic price dynamics, and classic supply and demand. Four Gates has been seeing more demand for the wines while the quantity of what is being made is slowing down.

The law of Supply and Demand tells you that the prices will go up, even if I beg for lower prices.

Now Four Gates Winery is one of the few cult wineries in the kosher wine world that releases wines every year. Sure there have been crazy cult wines, like the 2005 and 2006 DRC wines, or some other such rarities.  His wines are in a class of their own, especially when it is his grapes, and there is less of it out there.

Lastly, the fact that he sold out his year’s stock of wine in 7 minutes or so, tells you that his wines are in demand and that the prices will reflect that.

So, I am done with the discussion, and I hope you all got some of the wines. Sadly, all the wines we tasted were shiners, so there are no pictures.

The notes speak for themselves. This year I liked all the options for sale, in comparison to previous vintages. However, I did not get to taste one of the Chardonnay that was for sale (2019 Four Gates Chardonnay). The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2019 Four Gates Chardonnay, Cuvee Riche, Estate Bottled, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA – Score: 92 (QPR: GOOD)
The nose on this wine is lovely, a classic Benyo Chard, rich melon, green apple, smoke, toast, creme Brulee, kiwi, citrus, and pie. The mouth on this medium-plus bodied wine is lovely, with great acidity, toast, and it feels sweeter than normal, yet still showing wonderfully controlled fruit, lovely creme brulee, citrus rind, rich baked apple/melon pie, with lemon and mineral. The finish is long, sweet, spicy, cloves, cinnamon, and toast. Nice! Drink from 2023 until 2028.

2018 Four Gates Petit Verdot, Santa Clara Valley, CA – Score: 91 (QPR: GOOD)
The nose on this wine is lovely with big, bold, and rich notes of boysenberry, dark currants, with loads of violets, very feminine, with rich baking spices, cumin, dirt, paraffin, and loam, very nice. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is elegant, showing more of the feminine nose, with more blueberry, black plum, nice spices, good salinity, a lovely mouthfeel, and nice green notes that give way to more blue and black fruit. The finish is long, green, with more violet, floral notes, nice spices, and good oak. Nice Drink until 2025.

Read the rest of this entry

Herzog Wine cellar’s 2018 lineup is sensational – beyond just the Cabernet Sauvignons

Herzog Wine Cellars (which now go by herzogwine.com not herzogwinecellars.com, no idea why they dropped that and emails bounce all over the place, a better idea would have been simple web/MX record routing/forwarding – but enough tech talk) has been in the wine business, in California, since 1984. The days of San Martin, when I met Josh Goodman and his wife (PSA – be careful with how you pronounce her name) when they were in the San Jose Jewish community. In those days, San Jose was the closest thing to a community for them, that was close enough to San Martin, for them to live a Jewish life and work as cellar rat/master at Herzog Wine cellars. With time, the Herzog moved to Santa Maria, which was closer to the L.A. area and then they finally moved to the location they are today, in Oxnard, in 2005.

In the start, the head winemaker was Peter Stern, mostly as a part-time winemaker. In 1998, Joe Hurliman joined as the full-time winemaker at Herzog Wine and they have not looked back, thankfully! In that time, Joseph Herzog took over running the winery and Tierra Sur, the wonderful restaurant attached to the winery. Soon after moving into the Oxnard winery/facility, Herzog undertook multiple manners to interact with their customers. The first approach was the winery’s tasting room, which is still highly pivotal in attracting all members and customers into tasting Herzog wines. They also started with many wine clubs, with the most influential one being Eagle’s Landing. It has become the area where Mr. Hurliman can truly experiment, at smaller scales, than even the Special Edition series and craft wines that he would love to see become mainstream. Things like Santa Rita Pinot Noir, Templeton Pass Zinfandel (we need more of that kind of Zin being made!!), and Paso Robles Syrah. These are not new to the kosher world as much as they are good to see at the scale and care that Herzog can bring to these varietals and wines.

One cannot talk about Herzog without talking about a few very poignant points:

  1. Mevushal
  2. Cabernet Sauvignon
  3. Vineyards
  4. Ageability
  5. L.A. KFWE/IFWF/Tierra Sur – Todd Aarons

Mevushal Program

Herzog did not invent the Mevushal methodology in the new era of kosher wine, which was done by Hagafen Winery, but Herzog has been equal or slightly better than Hagafen as time has progressed. When you ask who does the best with Mevushal in wines – the answer is Hagafen and Herzog, there is no one else in their league. Royal Wines Europe does a nice job as well, but they are two peas in the same pod. Rollan de By does a very good job as well.

The next question you will consistently get is – does the Mevushal process hurt wine? The answer is complex and like everything in this world, it depends. It depends on the process you use, the varietals you “boil”, and for how long you do the process, and at what temperature. Long ago, people have stopped boiling wine – they moved to Flash pasteurization or Flash Detente, both in the kosher wine world and outside of it. The length of time and the temperature of the flash is one that is hotly debated in the Rabbinic kosher world, which is why you will see many put the temperature the wine was flashed at, on the wine bottle itself. Few wineries will flash Pinot Noir or Grenache as these wines are delicate and will not gain from the flash process. Herzog does flash their Lineage Pinot and it is not a wine for long holding so that works with what they are shooting for. Hagafen, flashes everything and as such, they do flash the Pinot and Pinot Prix, but IMHO it has been hurting the wines in recent vintages. Doing the Mevushal process to Cabernet Sauvignon is one that works and may well be the most prevalent of the varietals out there that go through the Mevushal process.

Cabernet Sauvignon

This leads us to the standing joke, in regards to Herzog Wine Cellars, that Herzog makes more Cabernet Sauvignon, in a single vintage, than almost any winery makes wine, across all labels. They are the Cab Kings like Oryah is the Orange wine Factory. My last count was 27 Cabernet sauvignons across all labels, which is a crazy number, but to be fair, they know what their customers want. No matter the price, style, makeup, or focus of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Herzog has a Cab for you and that has been their motto for as long as they have been at Oxnard, and maybe even a bit before in Santa Maria.

Vineyards

Herzog has done a very good job in both managing leases/relationships with vineyards – dating back to the early days of the 1990s. Chalk Hill and Alex Reserve are both examples of vineyards they have managed to lease and continue to do so for decades. This is not anything new in any way, but it was for kosher California wines in the 1990s. Hagafen Winery has had vineyards that they have leased or owned for long stretches’ of time as well. It is just a very impressive thing to have done back then.

They have quietly been buying vineyards all around California. It started in 2010 when they were forced to buy the land or lose their longtime relationship with Clarksburg grapes. Then in 2017, they bought 2 plots of land in lake County. Then in 2018, they bought the Herzog Ridge Vineyard in Napa Valley. The new 2018/2019 Forebearer wines (listed below) are from that vineyard.

Ageability

There are not many wineries today, in the kosher market, that have wines dating backing to 1996 that still blow my mind. yes, I continue to have my mind blown by 1997 Four Gates Merlot or Pinot Noir, and Yarden made some wines back then that were pretty good as well. However, to have made wine continuously, minus a few years here and there, I would have to say, the only ones that come to mind are Capcanes (until 2015), Herzog, and Four Gates. That is quite an impressive feat and one that helps me to buy their wines on an almost yearly basis.

L.A. KFWE/IFWF/Tierra Sur – Todd Aarons

Tierra Sur was a smash hit years before IFWF came to Los Angeles in 2008. Todd Aarons was running the ship and he could well have been the first kosher Chef-Driven restaurant, at least in the USA. There were a few in Paris in the late 1990s that were quite the thing. Still, Chef Aarons brought that flair, focus on ingredients, and presentation to a far-flung location, outside of L.A., but within driving distance, that made Tierra Sur world-famous for kosher and non-kosher consumers alike.

The IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival), the west coast’s KFWE was Herzog’s way of showing off the food over the wine. The 2007 KFWE, and many after it, was more focused on the wine and good for them! What Herzog has done for so long with the IFWF or the KFWE is to showcase what Los Angeles has over the east coast, at least at that time for sure, which was the weather and great food!

2018 Wines

Now on to the wines! The 2017 vintage was not kind to much of California and sadly it affected Herzog wines as well. I did like the 2017 Lineage Chardonnay and the 2017 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County, with the Clone Six showing some elegance from under the issues of the vintage. All of that is in the past and the 2018 vintage is another winner. These wines are rich and layered and truly a joy – I would not sit long on the sidelines, I would buy these ASAP before they all go away. So to those that ask me – why did you not warn me – you have been warned!

In the end, this vintage is a WINNER across the board. The Forebearers are nice wines but they are relatively expensive, in comparison to other Herzog options, from 2018. The Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lineage, Reserve, even the Baron Herzog line have great deals and lovely wines. Overall, if I was standing in front of Joe Hurliman at KFWE, I would have said what I am oft to say – Bravo my good sir – BRAVO!

I will keep this short, so my many thanks to Joseph Herzog, David Whittemore, Joe Hurliman, and Alicia Wilbur for answering my many emails and calls. Be well to you all, California is getting even crazier – stay safe guys! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2018 and 2019 Forebearers Wines

2018 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Forebearers, Napa Valley (M) – Score: 92+ (QPR: POOR)
The wine is very slow to open, this wine needs time, so give it the respect it deserves. The nose on this wine is lovely, not one of those “Brilliance” fruit bombs, this is a lovely earthy, anise filled joy, with smoke, tar, fruit galore, but well-controlled, with loam, candied ginger, and more fruit. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is oaky, it starts off with a clear focus of oak, and has a bit of a hole, but with time, as I said, this needs it, the hold fills in well, with a rich coat of mouth-draping tannin, earth, sweet dill, oak, blackberry, dark cherry, hints of plum, and currants, all wrapped in tannin and oak, very nice. The finish is plush, and tart, with good acidity, earth, more dill, sweet smoking tobacco, dark chocolate, and anise. Really nice, a wine to get and store away. Bravo!
With loads of time, this wine really starts to shine and I highly underestimated it, this wine is super young and needs time. I would wait 3 years to play with this again. Let this beast lie. Drink from 2024 until 2028 maybe longer. (tasted Nov 2020)

Read the rest of this entry

Kos Yeshuos Winery’s new U.S. release for 2021, and 2019 South African ESSA Wine Co. wines

WOW, I cannot believe I just wrote that number, but yes, we made it through 2020, and I hope all of you are safe and well. The prize for reaching 2021 is more wine, and Josh Rynderman, the Dual-Hemisphere winemaker of Kos Yeshuos Winery and ESSA Wine Co., swung by last week and we tasted his new release for 2021, the 2020 Kos Yeshuos Viognier. Sadly, this year, there are no cool marketing/moniker-driven wine names. Other than the Wylder Side Orange Viognier, but that is a super-small production promotional item.

Sadly, 2020 was a horrible year for many, in the wine world and outside of it. Sadly, because of fires, smoke, crazy heat waves, and God knows what else, Kos Yeshuos only made the Viognier, but it is a really good wine!

To see more about the story and life of Kos Yeshuos and the Ryndermans, you can read my post here about last year’s wines, and this post about the wines made under ESSA Wine Co. Sadly, the ESSA Wine Co. wines are still not available here in the USA, but they are nice!! We tasted the ESAA Wine Co. wines in September 2020, and the wine notes are also below.

Well, as you know Josh is a friend, and as always I make sure to disclaim things like that before posting my notes, like with Benyamin Cantz of Four Gates Winery. So, with that, my many thanks to Josh for coming by with the new wines to taste, safe travels, and best of luck on the 2021 Harvest in South Africa! Remember to bring me more of those wonderful South African reds when you are back in July/August 2021!

The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2020 Kos Yeshuos Viognier – Score: 92 (QPR: EVEN)
The notes are on a bottle that was bottled less than 2 weeks ago. To start the nose opens to smell very much like the 2018 California Kid, which was Viognier/Sauvignon Blanc, this vintage is 100% Viognier. The nose starts with bright peach, pear, citrus, gooseberry, fresh hay, cardamom, jasmine, and flint galore. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is lovely, layered, and rich, with waves of acidity that are almost overcoming, but they are tempered by the smoke, flint, peach, citrus galore, ripe pomelo, with an almost oily texture, followed by waxy notes, with lovely weight, ripe apricot, yellow pear, and more hay. The finish is long, green, with hints of foliage, more tart and juicy yellow fruit, gooseberry, honeydew, and loads of flint, smoke, and green notes. Bravo! Drink until 2023. (tasted Dec 2020)

2020 Kos Yeshuos Wylder Side Orange – Score: 92
This wine is a blend of Viognier and Chardonnay made in an Orange style. This wine starts closed with apple notes and not much else. With a few hours of decanting the nose opens to what I expect from an Orange Viognier, with notes of almonds, candied peach, apricot, cardamom, sweet rosehip, sweet jasmine, with creme brulee, and fresh apple compote. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is fun, the acid hits you first, but that is quickly overcome by waves of sweet tannin, followed by an oily texture that coats the mouth with sweet apricot, peach, oak, and notes of smoke and toast. The finish is long, toasty, smoke, flint, mineral, roasted walnuts, and more tannin that lingers forever. Bravo!! Drink until 2024. (tasted Dec 2020)

Read the rest of this entry

More simple white, red, and rose Kosher wines, with some mid-range reds – with more WINNERS

As I close out the QPR posts for each of the wine categories, I forgot a few of the simple white wines – so here is a post of them. Please look at the past simple white wines post for more on QPR and the simple white wine category. Again, QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) is where kosher wine needs to go. QPR means well-priced wines. Still, people do not get QPR. To me, QPR WINNER is what I describe and explain here. The overall revised QPR methodology is described here (and linked from the WINNER post as well).

One more reminder, “Simple” white wines is a wine that will not age more than seven or so years. So, please no hate mail! There are many WINNERS here, enjoy! I also threw in a few roses with one WINNER, but it is a 2019 Rose, and 2020 roses are about to be released, so drink up those 2019 roses already. I also tasted a few reds, with the 2017 Les Lauriers de Rothschild getting a slightly higher score.

The clear WINNER of this tasting is the 2019 Chateau Lacaussade, Vieilles Vignes, Saint-Martin. That along with the 2018 Koenig Riesling, which I like more now than I did a year ago. Also, the 2017 Les Lauriers de Rothschild. The 2017 Les Lauriers de Rothschild, Montagne Saint-Emilion was a winner in my previous post, I just slightly raised the score on it.

The wine note follows below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:

ROSE Wines (DRINK them now – if you must)

2019 Rubis Roc Rose – Score: 91 (QPR: WINNER)
This wine is a blend of 50% Cinsault and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a weighty and food-required style rose than a refreshing rose. The nose of this wine is fresh and alive, with meaty notes, showing red and blue fruit notes, with nice citrus, with good attack and herbs. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is solid, a drop less acid than I would like, but still very good with hot peppers, green notes, blue fruit, raspberry, dried lime/lemon, with mineral, and nice spice. The finish is long, green, and enjoyable, with good structure and nice minerality, nice! Drink now. (tasted Oct 2020)

2019 Yaacov Oryah Pretty as the Moon Rose– Score: 89+ (QPR: POOR)
This rose is a blend of 45% Syrah, 40% Grenache, and 15% Petite Sirah. The nose on this wine is divine – a lovely nose of floral violet, loads of rosehip, followed by a bit of nice funk, dried and tart cranberry, along with loads of mineral, this smells like what I want from a Provence wine, with dried/tart red fruit, a bit of reductive oxidation, and green notes as well. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is nice but the acidity is where the wine fails, it has acidity, but the wine’s profile, which has nice fruity and refreshing characteristics lacks the punch of bright acidity to bring it all together, still, showing mineral, and lovely red fruit, with tart strawberry, lovely green/tart apple, quince, watermelon, hints of passion fruit, and loads of mineral. The finish is long, complex enough, with slate, graphite, more flowers, and lovely freshness, WOW! Bravo! Drink now! (tasted Oct 2020)

Read the rest of this entry

Kosher Orange wines from California and Israel, QPR WINNERS

I made this a QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wine category and in many ways I regret it. What I did here was to create a situation where the only competition that exists is the next vintage! Essentially, if you want Orange wine or extended-maceration white wine, you want Yaacov Oryah wines. Not complicated at all. There are a few more out there and they are WINNERS, like the Shirah Orange Wine, and Binyamina Wines made one. Sadly, the Binyamina is sold out here in the USA, but the Shirah is for sale on their site and it is a WINNER! Get some! Kos Yeshuos made one, but in such tiny quantity that it was not for sale. Yaacov Oryah Orange wines are here in the USA and are sold by Andrew Breskin (AKA Liquid Kosher) – check them out!

I have spoken about Orange wine before, mostly when writing about Yaacov Oryah wines. Orange wine is simply the process of leaving white grapes to ferment on their skins, like red wine. To Mr. Oryah it is the truest expression of a white grape varietal and one that Israel can use now to create great white wines, while it searches for more data points on the path for Israel’s white varietals of the future.

The skins add more than just a bit of color, they add a huge amount of natural phenolics, along with tannin (yes tannin in white wine), and then it adds a few extracurricular notes, that some could find challenging. Notes that are defined as nuts and other aspects of reduction or oxidation. The point though is that orange (AKA extended-maceration white) wines are trying to expose more of the white wine than we get from the press and age/bottle style of white wines. Many of the orange wines show the proper and incredible next step beyond white wines we all know. The rich and layered complexity that skins add without some of the extracurricular notes. Some of the wines show those notes and many will find them wonderful, like myself, but in all, it is a show of control, experimentation, and more dots on the plot to a richer future.

When I tasted through the 2019 Yaacov Oryah wines I saw two things that were not as evident in previous vintages. First, the 2019 vintage, for Israel, was HORRIBLE! Yes, I have stated this over and over, but it affected everyone. Second, this was the best showing of a varietal, in regards to Orange wine, then I have ever had. The Viognier, was Viognier, even after the extended -maceration. Same with the Chardonnay and onwards.

Overall, I found the Orange wines to be quite enjoyable. I am posting the 2018 and 2019 vintages of Yaacov Oryah wines, along with the other two Orange wines I had this year. The issue I have revolves around the QPR part of this. There are essentially many Oryah wines and a few others, this is EXACTLY what I was trying to avoid, and now I ran head into it with Orange wines. I stated the logic around the QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wine categories as trying to find the grouping logic that gave me the largest sample set. Well, I FAILED horribly with this one. Also, the QPR scoring only works for the USA, Oryah wines are imported by Andrew Breskin’s Liquid Kosher. They are of course sold in Israel, but I do not have solid pricing there and that is too complicated. So, yeah, #FAIL, learned from this mistake. Going forward, this category will fall into the Ageable white wines (a post I need to get done as well) and the simple white wines.

PSA: This subject is very debated, but I find that Orange wines show best when cold. The heat on the wines shows as they warm to room temperature, so BEWARE!

The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2018 Yaacov Oryah The Anthology of Spice, Alpha Omega – Score: 93 (QPR: WINNER)
This wine is a blend of 50% Gewurztraminer, 40% Chardonnay, and 10% Roussanne. The 50% Gewurztraminer found here is the fruit that I spoke about above, fruit that was going to be wasted for just being itself, heady and spicy. As an Homage of an Homage, yeah more play on play on words, the wine talks to the original AO of old, while also staking this epic spicy fruit to two sturdy partners that add so much, while letting the Gewurtztraminer by itself, without being offensive.
This is not a pineapple juice wine, this wine is more about the Gewurztraminer’s spice, with control, floral notes, blossoms galore, with rosehip, and jasmine-like notes, with apple, and earth. The mouth on this wine is beautifully tannic, great structure, showing a crazy fruit/spiced/mineral structure, with smoke, funk, with crazy layers upon layers of the spices, tannin, with rich extraction, with even more tannin structure than the previous wines, showing spice, nutmeg, cloves, crazy allspice, and floral notes, that give way to roasted herb notes, dry hay, straw, and green/yellow apple lingering long with melon, more grass, lemon, and spice galore lingering long. WOW!! Drink by 2025. (tasted May 2019)

Read the rest of this entry
%d bloggers like this: