The great kosher California and Israeli Zin-off (Zinfandel Challenge)

Over this past Rosh Hashanah, I challenged myself to gather one of my favorite wines and enjoy them all in a controlled and non-drink-off manner. As explained in my last post, I did not want to make the wine the center of my attention on Rosh Hashanah, the day where we and the world are judged. So, I slowly enjoyed bottles through the 6 meal event (Friday night was attached to this year’s Yom Tov schedule making for a three-day festival set).

So, the first night we enjoyed the Alvi Ness Blanco, the next day we opened another bottle, but more on that one in a separate post to follow this one. The rest of the wine we enjoyed from there on were all Zinfandel wines, culminating in the true Zin-off on Friday night, following the Jewish New Year! On the Shabbos, I let my hair down a bit, and we enjoyed tasting 6 Zinfandel wines, all blind, all kosher, in a classic wine-off.

To be honest, I have never had the chance to taste the “real” California Zinfandels, Ridge, Ravenswood, Rosenblum, and Turley. Why? because NONE of them are kosher, which is a real shame. So, I tried to get together whatever kosher Zinfandels I could. The largest producer of kosher wine, Israel, has a very poor track record when it comes to Zinfandel, and neither of the wines we tried from Israel, both from Dalton, made it into the top 5. California continues to be the kosher Zinfandel producer and even in the non-kosher world, California continues it reign over the world that includes Italy and Croatia.

Originally, Zinfandel was thought to be an American grape, but recently that theory has been dispelled by the likes of U.C. Davis, who have done DNA testing and found out that Zinfandel and Primitivo (a grape of Italian origin) to be one the same. With even more efforts from UCD professor Carole Meredith, it was found that Crljenak Kaštelanski (“Kaštela Red”) appears to represent Primitivo/Zinfandel in its original home, although some genetic divergence may have occurred since their separation. Meredith now refers to the variety as “ZPC” – Zinfandel / Primitivo / Crljenak Kaštelanski. While, the true origin of Zinfandel grape may be Croatia, California owns the title of the best Zinfandel wine – the world around.

As we started to enjoy these wines we realized a few things. First that the flavor profiles were not anywhere the same – and they varied by wine and winery. Also, we realized that the Zinfandel grape can have heat (alcohol flavors) but can also have beautiful moments if they are done correctly.

Like most grapes that are not part of the noble French varieties, farmers planted these vines initially for their fruitful abilities (the very opposite thinking for making quality wine). The vines were planted to make bulk wine and the such initially. With time, the vines were co-planted with Petite Sirah, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and others. The original Besomim from Jonathan Hajdu and Rabbi Tenenbaum, was exactly one of these kinds of field blends. With time, wine makers realized that the Zinfandel vines that are old and gnarled are far less prolific and make for some wonderful and concentrated wine.

So, with that lead-in you can understand why I love Zinfandel so much, it is a grape/wine that is hard to work with and even harder to make quality wine with. Like Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Viognier, they are all wines that take a deft hand and a strong mind to make great wine out of them.

I started my Zin-Off with an Israeli wine that I had little hope for, and sure enough it was a wine that had gone over the hill, but was alive for 10 minutes once I opened it – the 2007 Dalton Zinfandel, estate bottling (Not the Single Vineyard Zinfandel). It was nice enough but soon it died and did not make it easy to enjoy with the meal.

We had another one off wine – a 2004 Hagafen Zinfandel, another of the wines that I was suspect about, and sure enough it too was over the hill, but it too was nice for the first few minutes. After that it was essentially DOA.

The rest were enjoyed side by side on Friday night (two weeks ago), other than one more outlier the 2010 Dalton Zinfandel, which was not a wine that was tasting good any longer either, but 2010 was a hard year.

So, with that I will say that we truly enjoyed tasting these wines side-by-side. We got to try the 2010 Zinfandel from Agua Dolce winery, the new winery from the acclaimed Gan Eden Winery owner, Craig Winchell (a friend of mine). We also, had a Zinfandel from Herzog Winery, which was a special wine club wine, but one that I and the rest of the table did not find enjoyable. We had two from Hagafen Wine Cellars, the 2005 Prix and normal red bottles. Finally, we had one from Four Gates Winery and one from the Covenant Landsman Wine Club.

The clear winners were the 2005 Hagafen Prix Zinfandel and the 2011 Four Gates Zinfandel! The 2011 Landsman Zinfandel was a hair behind the two of them along with the 2005 normal labeled Hagafen. Afater that there was a clear drop off, but they were all OK wines, excepting for the Herzog Z2 that was the last of the bunch. With the GREAT success of Hagafen’s zinfandel wines, I asked Ernie Weir why he stopped making them, and his answer was that he had too many labels to manage and something had to give. I just wish it had not been the Zinfandel, and by the table’s response to them, so do many others.

The Four gates Zinfandel showed better than the last time we enjoyed it. We also were shocked by the life that both of the 2005 Hagafen Zinfandel Wines had! We REALLY loved them in past years, and were shocked that they were so alive and with it. The Prix was rich, mature, and blue/black, while the red label was black and red and more alive, if you believe it!

The Landsman, Four gates, and Agua Dolce were all showing better with more air, but the Herzog and Dalton did not improve. Such is life, but for those interested in finding these wine now, the answer is, that the 2005 Hagafen Zinfandels are both still available from the Hagafen winery. Call them at the number on the page and ask for the 2005 Prix or normal label. The 2004 red label is OK, but not worth the money. There is also a 2006 prix, I think but ask them to check. You can get the Agua Dolce Zinfandel from Liquid Kosher and The 2010 Dalton is also available at The Landsman Zinfandel is not available anymore, but there is a wine that is made form the same vineyard, the 2011 Cuvee Chabad, but it is sold out as well. However, the 2012 Cuvee Chabad is on sale now. Finally, the 2011 Four gates Zinfandel, just sold out, so hopefully you got some, while the getting was good!!! The Herzog Z2 is a wine club only wine – so if you want some, get it at the winery’s tasting room in Oxnard, CA.

With that – these are the wines we tasted in the order they were enjoyed:

2007 Dalton Zinfandel – Score: B+ to B++
The nose on this black colored wine has aromas of chocolate, ripe boysenberry, strawberry, black cherry, and figs. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is filled with blackberry, dark plum, nice smoky notes, along with sweet cedar, and mounds of still integrated tannin. However, once the wine opened it died, this wine was good for at most an hour and then went to puppy heaven. The finish is long and spicy, with leather, eucalyptus, hints of leafy tobacco, black and white pepper, along with cloves and cinnamon.
This is a nice wine for a bit and then it rolls over – so if you have a bottle, open your next bottle, share with friends and say thanks for the memories!

2004 Hagafen Zinfandel – Score: B+
The nose on this purple colored wine has aromas of chocolate, ripe strawberry, black cherry, and herb. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is filled with blackberry, dark plum, nice smoky notes, along with sweet cedar, and mounds of still integrated mouth coating tannin. However, once the wine opened it died, this wine was good for at most an hour and then went to puppy heaven. The finish is long and spicy, with hints of leafy tobacco, black and white pepper, along with cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
This is a nice wine for a bit and then it rolls over – if you have a bottle, like I do, who bought his DIRECTLY from the winery a few weeks ago, open your next bottle, share with friends and say thanks for the memories!

2005 Hagafen Zinfandel, Reserve, Estate Bottled, Moskowite Ranch Block 61 – Score: A- to A
This wine was the last of the 6 way California zin tasting and one that I thought was the best at that time, but with more time, the Landsman had improved, but not enough to beat out the Priz Zin. The real question was between the four gates and the Prix – in the end the title goes to the 4G, but by a hair. The Four gates is still in its prime and full of spice and life, while the Prix is still alive but showing a more mature side and one that will clearly appeal to those who love mature, elegant, and not in your face wines. The nose on this garnet with oranging halo colored wine is a true joy, one that shows control and maturity that is impressive.

The nose starts off with ripe blue and black fruit, along with sweet liquor, and sweet cedar. The mouth is rich and layered with concentrated fruit showing blueberry, strawberry, ripe plum jam, blackberry, hints of date, along with perfectly balanced sweet cedar, and still integrated tannins. The finish is long and spicy with lovely cinnamon, cloves, great acid, smoking tobacco, and more sweet fruit that accompany the sweet tannins on the long rise – BRAVO!!!

2011 Four Gates Zinfandel – Score: A- to A
The nose on this purple colored wine is redolent with candied strawberry and raspberry, but the star is the crazy spice, that reminds me of the 2009 besomim wine from Hajdu – insane spice of nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, and cardamom – really a joy. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is crazy rich with insanely ripe boysenberry, blackberry jam, dark cherry, plum, and red fruit, all coming together nicely with mouth coating tannin and sweet oak. The finish is long and spicy, with dill, vanilla, more insane spice, root beer, chocolate, and tannins that continue to rise all the way to the sweet and tart end. BRAVO!

2011 Covenant Zinfandel Landsman – Score: A- (and a bit)
This is one of those classically perplexing wines, a wine with lovely potential, but a bit too much sweetness to it. That said, while the sweetness does detract from the wine, there is still a freshness and brightness to the wine that makes it work. The added earthy, dirty, and roasted animal that lie in the background add to the overall wines appeal. The nose starts off with sweet notes and heat that does recede overtime, along with great spice, black and blue fruit, roasted animal, loamy earth, and lovely dirt. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine starts off hot and sweet, but with time that recedes to the background to show rich boysenberry, blackberry, dark almost liqueur kirsch cherry, ripe red plum, crushed herb, along with lovely mouth coating tannin and sweet oak. The finish is long and spicy with nutmeg, root beer, black pepper, smoky notes, and vanilla, along with a long drag of cigar and leather – BRAVO!

2005 Hagafen Zinfandel – Score: A-
This wine was in the top 4 of the tasting, and a clear 90+ wine. The nose on this lightly browning wine is filled with rich fruit, ripe strawberry, along with sweet cedar, and great spice. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is ripe and concentrated with layers of blackberry, black plum, red fruit, and ripe jammy boysenberry, all wrapped in a cocoon of sweet cedar and mouth coating tannins. The finish is long and rich with great acid, control, and a bounty of fruit, all leading to a chocolate, vanilla, and spice crescendo, with cinnamon, cracked pepper, and nutmeg. DRINK NOW and do not hold on to these a second longer. When opening it, give it 30 minutes and then finish there and then!

2010 Agua Dulce Winery Zinfandel Kosher – Score: B to B+
The nose on this dark purple colored wine explodes with heat, rich root beer, boysenberry, nicely smoked meat, and great spice. In many ways the nose is the clear star of the wine. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine starts off so nicely with layers of dark and rich jammy fruit, blackberry, strawberry, sweet oak, and lovely mouth coating tannin, but the heat, and sweet date flavors fill in the mid palate and make it a wine that demands rich food, and even still the wine just tastes overripe. The finish is long with more spice, but it is overshadowed by the heat and date, along with hints of surprising green notes, olives, rich and freshly ground pepper, chocolate, and more spice.

2009 Herzog Zinfandel Z Series, Z2 – Score: C+ to B
This was the clear loser of the night – a night where we tasted 6 California Zinfandels blind. The nose is far too hot, though it has some nice aromas, the heat and the lack of bracing acid to pick up that heat make for a wine that has a big bark but no bite.
The nose on this purple colored wine starts off with nice black cherry, hints of blue fruit, along with roasted meat, and crazy black pepper, and serious heat. The mouth is medium to full bodied and round with a searing attack of tannin and cracked pepper, along with classic zinberry fruit that takes over the palate, along with searing tannin, and mounds of oak. The finish is long and spicy with rich chocolate, leather, and bitter notes.

2010 Dalton Zinfandel – Score: B to B+
The nose starts off the same way most Israeli wines smell and taste – very sweet, filled with date, raisin, along with a drop of blueberry, raspberry, dark cherry, and spice. The mouth was medium plus in weight with nice acidity and still searing tannins, but the sweetness got the better of this wine, the oak and chocolate played second fiddle to the obvious sweetness that was not there to help but to fight. The finish was long and spicy with leather, cloves, and mounds of roasted crushed herb.

Posted on September 18, 2013, in Israeli Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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