A dinner with Pierre Miodownick of Netofa Winery, the most prolific of the kosher winemaker’s Noble Family
On a warm Sunday night in January, GG and I were driving towards the home of Pierre Miodownick, to taste through the new Netofa wines and to enjoy an exciting dinner with Pierre, his lovely wife, and Yair Teboulle Netofa’s CEO. The evening started by setting our stuff in one of Pierre’s bedrooms, as we were staying overnight in their lovely home. After that, we joined Pierre and Yair for a tasting of each and every new wine that is available from Netofa, along with some that are not yet available and a few oldies as well. On top of that, as we got closer to dinner we enjoyed two wines that Pierre made from France, but ones that were created some 24 years apart from each! But we are jumping ahead of the story, so let’s start at the tasting.
When you enter the home of Mr. Miodownick, you cannot help but be in awe of the achievements that this man has single handily created in the last 32 years. He started his life’s work, in 1982, along with a man named Lionel Gallula (hence the M&G on his older vins negociants bottles) by going to wineries and making kosher wines inside of non-kosher wineries, mostly in the Languedoc region to start. Then in 1986, they approached Rothschild, and a few other French wineries mostly in the area of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Fast forward two years, in 1988, Royal realized they needed to expand their wine portfolio to include things other than their syrup-based wines, and their then-fledgling Herzog Winery. So, they reached out to Pierre and they soon joined forces. In my opinion, this was the single most important action Royal has taken in the past 20 years, a genius move that has allowed Royal to become the powerhouse that it is today. Pierre was the visionary, he was the one that realized that if he wanted to expand his kosher winery reach to more European wine regions than just Bordeaux and Burgundy, he would have been hard-pressed to do it all on his own. But with the strength, long arm, and pocketbook of Royal behind him, Pierre would be able to expand the wine regions where kosher wine exists today – like Italy, Portugal, Spain, and other regions in France.
From the outside, being a flying winemaker may look glorious and impressive, but it is a seriously hard job. Pierre is more often on the road than he is at home, but he tries to be home for most weekends. In the end, to me, he is part of the noble family of kosher winemakers, those that have been there from the start, the forefathers, if you may. They are; Pierre, Israel Flam, Shimshon Welner, and Peter Stern, who have all left an indelible impression on the kosher wine world for 25 or more years. Israel Flam was the first UC Davis trained winemaker in Israel and the winemaker of Carmel’s famous 1976 and 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, and is now involved in his children’s eponymous winery. Shimshon Welner is a man we have spoken about a few times in the past, here. Peter Stern was the winemaking genius, early on, behind Yarden Winery and Herzog Winery, before Victor Schoenfeld and Joe Hurliman took over respectively and is again being used by Royal and Carmel.
Still, of the four, Pierre may not have been the first, but he has been the most prolific of the group by a long stretch, over these past 32 years. To me, he is the head of the noble kosher winemaker family, and he is the Godfather of the noble family of all things kosher wine! It is his unique ability to happily build quietly without fanfare or accolades, though he deserves them. Rather he is a quiet, honest, hard-working man that has worked to get to where he is today. He has made more wine than almost any other kosher winemaker in the world! That is no small feat. Did he do each and every wine by his old hands, in the old days of 1982 – yes! Now, he has teams that help him, but so do other head winemakers. So, in the end, to me, he has the largest reach in the kosher wine world than any other person that I know of, which makes it so very impressive.
When we sat to taste through the wines, it was great being able to pepper Pierre with questions, in French – yes, surprisingly it is the language that GG and I use when we are around many a winemaker even in Israel! Ever since Pierre moved to Israel in 2005, he has longer plane trips to get to his work locations throughout Europe, but he was closer to his other real passion, building a winery in Israel of his own. In 2006 he planted his first vineyards, on the foothills of the Tabor Mountains, and he named it Netofa Winery, in honor of the community in which he lives. Over time he has planted or will plant a total of 75 dunams of Rhone and Portuguese varietals.
When you look at Netofa, in many ways, it a winery built on Pierre’s terms, no wines made for marketing, no wines made for the needs of the syrup slurping, sweet tooth toking public that is ravaging the kosher wine world. These are wines made in his style, with clean lines, fresh fruit, mineral, spice, and enough acid to grab your attention. Oak is rarely noticed if ever. The oak supports the wines it does not define them. The fruit drives the wine’s expression not the other way around. In the end, the wines are not a true image of its maker, for they are hardly quiet and demur. However, the lack of “additives” and fruit expressionism that so many a winemaker drive into their wines – is a true mirror image of its maker, a man who deep down is driven, salt of the earth kind of guy, without a need for flash, pomp, or attitude. His wines talk for themselves – rather than the other way around.
To be fair, many wineries are far larger than Netofa and they make their wines for their adoring wood and prune demanding public – and god bless them for that. Thankfully, Netofa is growing at a slow and steady pace that will allow Pierre to keep his wines in a French old-world style, which is something I personally thank Netofa for. That said, while the wines are clean and old world, they are not always a home run, but while many of the wines stay in the ballpark, they ALL demand your attention simply for their quality and a clear focus on what I hope the kosher wine world will one day crave.
The vines that Miodownick planted are all Cote du Rhone and Portugal varietals, no Merlot, Cabernet, or Chardonnay here. Rather, they are all varieties that can withstand the crushing heat that Israel throws at the vineyards, and as such make them very good varietals for the warm and sometimes muggy climate of Israel.
Returning to the tasting, we started with the fresh flavors of the 2013 wines and worked our way back to the older 2010 reds. The true crowning wine of the tasting was not the Netofa Latour wines; the winery’s flagship wines, though they were very nice. No, the mind-melting wine was the 2010 LBV Port-like wine. Officially, a wine cannot have the Port moniker, unless it was made in Portugal itself. Still, this wine was made with the same grapes and techniques that are used in Portugal, like the Port wines that Miodownick himself makes for Royal. The only difference between Royal’s 2005 LBV Port made in Portugal and Miodownick’s 2010 Netofa LBV is location, and in my eyes, the Netofa’s superior quality, a full step-up higher (as Miodownick makes them both)!
As we finished the last and best Netofa wine, we were treated with two more wines and a dinner fit for kings! Mrs. Miodownick served a Beef Bourguignon that truly felt like it was made for heads of state. The quality was truly impressive, the stew had layers upon layers, each with more nuances and flavors, making it one of the best stews I have ever had in my life. The meal started with the stew, paired with a lovely and bright fresh green salad, fresh-baked challah, and lots of wine. The dinner finished with a beautiful and stunning caramelized pear tart, that looked so beautiful I could not imagine it being cut, but of course, it was, and we thank them profusely for that. The fruit was cooked perfectly and the tart crust baked and caramelized to perfection, making for a truly hedonistic experience.
Just as we were finished tasting the Netofa wines, Miodownick pulled out two wines that blew me away! The first was a wine from his early days, the second year into his expanded negociant company, to be exact, the 1987 Les Forges Meursault. To say the wine was still kicking and alive would be an understatement, it may not have been ripe with oak and fruit, but to be fair, I do not want that in wine! Instead, I look for bright fruit, acid, and terroir, and this wine had all of that is spades, 27 years after its creation! To have its creator share the bottle with us was a true honor and joy to enjoy! Clearly, the wine was not a wine you can find at any corner store! Who else has a 27-year-old Chardonnay sitting around?? The wine showed beautifully and will be a wine that I cherish memory-wise for a long time. The final unique wine we enjoyed is a wine that you can get, and I would advise you to get some quick, as it too will be gone from shelves very soon! That would be the 2011 Chateau Moulin Riche, Saint Julien, a younger brother to the Chateau Leoville Poyferre, only in stature, but not in flavor. Sure, right now this crazy young wine is not as supple, sexy, intimate, and downright FILTHY as the 2005 Leoville Poyferre, one of the very best kosher wines on the market. But this wine may be there in 5 years. It needs time to come together and get its supple structure when the tannins, mineral, fruit, and leather all mingle into a soft leather black fruit seductress. Till then, open one bottle now, then open one in two years, and another in two years after that, and then once every year after that till you run out. If you start the above-described process with 8 bottles, you will end with the wine at its last breath – which would be sad and wonderful all at the same time. The two wines were perfect bookends to commemorate a snapshot in time of Pierre Miodownick’s ascendance from newcomer to head of the noble kosher winemaking family. Please understand that while it may have been easy to get Rothschild into the kosher wine market in 1986, when they themselves were motivated as well. It is an entirely different idea to make wines like Pontet Canet and Leoville Poyferre and convince these wine gods to let them make kosher wine with their name on the label.
I need to stress this is no easy feat. It takes a clear understanding and respect for the culture, the past and the future of French wine, and the deep cultural meaning it has for the French people. Who better than Mr. Miodownick to be the bridge to allow such great wines to find their way to the world of kosher wine.
The evening was also the Yahrtzeit of Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (1847–1905), also known by the title of his main work, the Sfas Emes or Sefat Emet, who was also the second Gerer Rebbe. In his honor, we toasted his memory and his great works with a frosty glass of Williamina Morand, a pear brandy from the Canton Valais, Rhône area. The brandy paired beautifully with the desert. However, I could not help myself and I also enjoyed more of the mind-numbing LBV port wine. A fair warning to those who want the LBV masterpiece – order it NOW, it is already selling out and they have not even bottled the wine yet!
In closing, the warmth, hospitality, and immense effort that our hosts showed us, went well beyond what I could have imagined or deserved. Our many, many, thanks to our hosts, for their kindness and open arms, that made GG and I feel like family and welcomed to the home of such importance. I hope you enjoy reading the notes of the wine and food as we enjoyed eating and drinking them. My notes follow below:
2013 Doamine Netofa White – Score: B+ to A-
The nose on this lovely Chenin Blanc wine is truly tropical in nature, which some find bothersome, very akin to date and sweet notes on red wines. However, to me this wine and many other 2013 wines that I have tasted will show tropical fruits in varying amounts and that you need to be ready for it. The nose on this straw colored wine is screaming with ripe pineapple, but tempered with dried quince, green apple, crushed herb, and spice. The mouth on this rich and medium bodied wine is packed with nectarine, spice, intense acid, cloves, guava, and spiced applesauce. The finish is long and densely spiced with more herb, fresh fruit, bitter note, and spice.
2012 Domaine Netofa Latour, White (QPR) – Score: A-
The nose on this yellow colored wine is rich and perfumed with dried quince, ripe floral notes, perfumed herb, and spice. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine with rich honeyed notes, with a lovely oily texture, sweet apple, good spice, nectarine, dried fruit, and spice. The finish is long and spicy with rich spice, cloves, clove studded dried apple, and herb, lovely!
2013 Domaine Netofa Rose (QPR) – Score: A- (and more) (BRAVO)!
This wine is blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Mourvedre. The nose on this beautiful cherry colored wine, is ripe with peach aromas, intense floral notes, hints of kiwi, quince, rich herb, and spice. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has lovely strawberry, tart cherry, with nice fruit structure, along with insane acid, nice melon, and tart fruit that keeps on coming. The finish is long and spicy with rose petals, green and red apple sauce, and spiced apples.
2012 Domaine Netofa Red (QPR) – Score: A-
This wine is a blend of 65% Syrah and 35% Mourvedre, also known in the Rhone Valley and Australia as an SM blend. The nose on this wine is richly spiced with lovely blueberry notes, spice, black pepper, roasted animal, along with roasted herb, and richly ground espresso coffee. The mouth on this crazy medium plus bodied wine is rich with mouth drying tannin, coffee, along with lovely blackberry, black plum, spice, with black tea, and nice layers of concentrated fruit. The finish is long and spicy with black and blue fruit, herb, cranberry, and lovely root beer.
2012 Domaine Latour Netofa, Red – Score: A- (and more)
This wine is a blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Mourvedre, also known in the Rhone Valley and Australia as an SM blend. The nose on this lovely wine is rich with ripe fruit, blackberry, boysenberry, and perfumed spice and sweet licorice. The mouth on this full bodied wine comes at you in layers of blue and black fruit, rich spice, mouth coating and draping tannin, all packed in an intense and inky structure, that comes at you with concentrated and rich fruit, and tea. The finish is long, spicy, fruity and jammy, with black plum, coffee, tobacco, roasted notes, herb, rich spices, watermelon, nutmeg, and light bitterness. This is a lovely wine that is rich and layered but one that would be insane if it had a bit more acid.
2011 Domaine Latour Netofa, Red – Score: A- (and bit more)
The nose on this wine is super and very ripe, with jam like and perfumed boysenberry, spice, ripe black fruit, and nutmeg. The mouth is insane with concentrated jam fruit, wrapped in intense mouth coating tannin, showing lovely blue and black fruit, with spice, nice acid, along with sweet oak. The finish is long and spicy with root beer, watermelon, and spice.
2012 Domaine Netofa Tinto – Score: B+ to A-
The wine is a Portugal dry blend, made of Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional. The nose on this lovely wine is rich with ripe blueberry, boysenberry, nice spice, peach, and watermelon. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine shows well with crazy mouth coating tannin, lovely summer fruit, blackberry, plum, all mingling well together and going back and forth between white summer fruit and ripe black fruit. The finish is a bit short, with lovely sweet fruit, along with mounds of sweet spice, licorice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and sweet rich herb.
2010 Domaine Netofa Ruby Port (QPR) – Score: A- (and more)
This classical sweet wine Portuguese style wine uses the classic grapes, but instead of them being sourced in Portugal, they came from the foot of the Tabor Mountains; 80% Touriga Nacional and 20% Tempranillo. The nose on this sweet wine is unique, rich, and ripe with fig, candied fruit, crazy perfumed fruit, candied plum fairy. The mouth on this rich and full bodied wine is insanely layered and richly extracted with intensely deep-rooted tannins, chocolate, blackberry, and candied cherry. The finish is long and luscious with crazy graphite, heavy tobacco, nice oxidation, all wrapped up with chocolate covered almonds and walnuts. This is a wine that needs time to open, and actually evolves and improves with more air, as in weeks of more air! As the wine opens look for leather and spice and more nuts to meld into the rich extraction and make for even a more richly extracted and fruity whole – BRAVO!!
2010 Domaine Netofa LBV, Late Bottled Vintage, Port (QPR at almost any price) – Score: A
- to A
I need to state that it is not often that I score a wine an A- to A, not even wines that are many times more expensive, and no my point system is not a reason to buy a wine, but this wine is a no brainer, no matter the cost if you like sweet port like wines. This classical sweet wine Portuguese style wine uses the classic grapes, but instead of them being sourced in Portugal, they came from the foot of the Tabor Mountains; 80% Touriga Nacional and 20% Tempranillo. The wine was aged for 48 months in oak and it shows in the wine. The nose on this black and purple colored wine has one of the most intensely perfumed wine I have ever smelled, with insanely ripe fruit, ripe fig, date, caramelized fruit, and crazy chocolate. The mouth on this intensely full bodied wine is WOW, with crazy oxidized notes of chocolate, richly structured and extracted with intense nuttiness, rich and lovely mint chocolate, with lovely ripe and candied plum, candied blackberry, with more dark black fruit, all coming at you in one of the most intense and extracted experiences I remember. The finish is long and richly extracted with chocolate, fig compote, almonds, walnut, and marzipan – WOW and BRAVO!!!
1987 Chateau Les Forges Meursault – Score: A- to A (A from pure experience)
First of all this wine was shared by Pierre, and was one of the first kosher wines he made in his career, and it was before the days of Royal (where he continues to be Royal’s head winemaker for all things Europe), note M&G Vins Negociants, which was Pierre’s old company before he joined Royal. This is one of the oldest white kosher wines I have ever tasted in my life, other than wines that I get to taste with Four Gates’s Benyamin Cantz. I have had white wines from 1984 and 1985, but not in the year 2014! Finally, this was truly a lovely gesture by Pierre to share this bottle from his personal wine cellar with Gabriel Geller and me. There are not many of these wines on planet earth, so the pure experience alone is worthy of an A score. But truly the score is irrelevant as the wine was decadent and luscious, and was backed by enough stuffing to make for a once in a lifetime experience. The nose on this richly dark gold-colored wine was intense with rich nuttiness, peach, green apple, sweet pear, and honeysuckle. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine was round and ripe with acid and mineral that clearly kept this wine alive, with quince, dried apple baked pie, along with crazy tart fruit, richly buttered brioche, and balanced perfectly with nice acid and mineral. The finish was long and acidic with wet straw, aged forest floor, and sweet quince. BRAVO! This is a shocking wine for many reasons and one that was more than unique it was eye-opening! Yes! Kosher white wines can improve and can change into an entirely different wine – and if you have the luck of being at Pierre’s house you can enjoy it with the man who made it – THANKS SO MUCH!
2011 Chateau Moulin Riche, Saint-Julien (QPR) – Score: A- to A
This is a wine made by the same producer and with the same care as the famed Chateau Leoville Poyferre! The wine may be called a younger sibling or smaller sibling of the Leoville Poyferre Grand Vin, but it is not true in any way! I have now tasted this wine three times, in the short time period of a month, and this wine is ripped and muscled with deep and rich mineral notes that blew my mind along with acid and fruit that makes for a wine that will clearly be around for at least another 10 years. This wine is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, and 10% Petite Verdot. The PV addition adds great depth to the blend and builds the wine’s muscled earthy structure. The nose on this black colored wine is lovely and rich with barnyard notes (interesting for such a young wine), graphite, along with fresh black fruit, lovely red fruit, raspberry, and dark cherry that comes together with perfumed sweet herb. The mouth on this crazy rich and layered full bodied wine, comes at you with layers of crazy mouth drying tannin, rich blackberry, cassis, rich minerality, charcoal, all integrated into the wine’s rich fruit structure making for a wine that can handle anything you throw at it. The finish is rich and long with crazy mineral and fruit, leather, coffee, and roasted herb. BRAVO!!!!
Posted on March 27, 2014, in Israel, Israeli Wine, Kosher Dessert Wine, Kosher French Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher Rose Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting, Winery Visit and tagged Chateau Les Forges, Chateau Moulin Riche, Domaine Netofa, Meursault, Pierre Miodownick, Saint-Julien. Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.