NCSY serves up a vertical homerun – 2003-2013 Covenant Winery Cabernet Sauvignon
Well, traveling has not stopped in the past few weeks. A week after we came home from our trip to Europe I went to Toronto for a Covenant Winery wine tasting. As you know, my take on Covenant can be found here and here. I posted them because I have a true respect for this winery. I say that because there are truly very few wineries out there with their track record in the kosher wine industry.
Sadly, 5 years ago if I was asked – what is the best kosher winery out there, I would have said Yarden, and to some extent I think there was solid data to back that up. Sadly, as anyone who has read this blog, that ended in 2008, and in many ways is not even constant for previous vintages. Now, a winery should not be just defined by their top wines or their wine’s age-ability, but it does place the correct spotlight on the processes and approach to their wine making techniques. With that said, Yarden is one of the most technologically advanced wineries in the kosher wine world, with insane controls at almost every level from vineyards to wines and their vast and very blatant shift down the sugar-coated date juice rabbit hole – is one that is being done with very distinct knowledge. But I digress, the point I am making here, is that outside of maybe Carmel’s Limited Edition, Castel, Yatir, Tzora, Capcanes, and Four gates – there is no one with Covenant’s high end track record – outside of France.
Without question, France has the clear advantage and track record for kosher wines, and from what I have tasted so far, it is continuing to turn out great wines. Aside from them, Covenant is honestly in the race for one of the top kosher winery, in terms of sheer consistency, quality, and age-ability over the past 10 years – inclusively.
So, when I heard there was an event being put on for NCSY where every Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon will be tasted – I had to be there. Mind, you that was not a simple fact – but that was more an issue of playing musical calendar dates with my clients than it was anything else. But once my calendar was properly rectified, my tickets were booked and I was all set.
I arrived in Toronto Canada on November 17th and drove my way to my unbelievable hosts for the next three days. Once I was happily ensconced into my beautiful room, I took a quick shower and then it was off to see what was next on the agenda for the next three days!
Well, let me start with the premise, we were doing a vertical of Covenant Wines. The wines were each and every vintage of Covenant Winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley. they were donated for a 11 wine vertical of the Napa wines and the lucky folks who were invited to taste them, were all very generous donors to the NCSY cause, in the greater Toronto area. Now, in case you have never been to an NCSY event, let me tell you what the definition of exemplary and efficient are – her name is Penny and her unbelievable crew, including Rabbi Black (yes that is inverted, but you had to be there). These wonderful people are the responsible for disseminating Torah values to the next generation of Jewish yutes (sorry I could not help myself). Of course Rabbi Black is the CEO of the group, but once the event started it was all about the amazing crew that setup, managed, and then cleared the home back to its pristine state that they found it!
But I am getting ahead of myself again, the event was being put on by the local chapter of the NCSY for the very kind and generous donors who have supported the NCSY’s great undertaking and steering the next generation of Jewish children to the values that are defined in the Torah; that ancient but very precious text that defines the way that we are meant to be conducting our lives today.
So, with that premise in place I went out to find Jeff Morgan, the winemaker of Covenant wines to see what was next on our to-do list for the day. Well, it turned out that the next step was to taste a bottle of wine that was made in 2008 and sold in the 2013 Premiere Napa Valley Auction. It was a very limited run made up of 50% Covenant Wine, which at that time was sourced from Larkmead Vineyards and 50% from Mount Veeder grapes, from Leslie Rudd’s vineyards. There were only 61 bottles of this wine made, 60 were sold in the lot and Mr. Morgan saved one bottle. We tasted that actual 61st bottle two years ago at the Landsman tasting dinner, at the Morgan’s house – before they moved to Berkeley. It is called the 2008 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Solomon’s Cuvee, lot 117. Our unbelievably gracious host shared one of his bottles, and it was as unbelievable as the last time I enjoyed it. The wine was plush, deep, extracted, complex and layered and deeply acidic and mineral based. Really a lovely wine indeed!
After tasting and drinking the wine, the next order of business was to head on out to the last high-end kosher restaurant in the Toronto area. The kosher restaurant is tucked away inside a hotel called; The Windsor Arms, The restaurant is based within the hotel’s non-kosher restaurant and the menu is prix fixe with a few options for appetizer, entrée, and dessert. The food was quite enjoyable, and it was made more so by the addition of two mevushal bottles of wine to the party, including the 2013 red Tribe, from Covenant wines! The owner of the restaurant and hotel, George Friedmann, stopped by to talk shop, and it was a very enjoyable and spirited conversation at that! My many thanks to George for comping us on our after dinner drinks.
Well, in hindsight the evening’s entertainment was just the appetizer to the main course of my trip, the Covenant Wine vertical. NCSY is an organization that has been around for decades, some 61 years to be exact, with the Canadian branch opening its doors in 1970. NCSY Canada is an organization that is dedicated to ensuring the future of the Jewish people. They secure that future through building relationships with Jewish teens; increasing Jewish literacy by teaching them about their heritage and traditions; establishing lifelong connections to the Jewish people and Israel; and enhancing Jewish teens’ growth in Judaism.
Having known about NCSY for years, I was really excited to see the people who care deeply and support them in their truly life-saving mission. We arrived at the house, and outside it was pouring rain, but that did not dampen the spirits within in any manner. It turns out that one of the very kind donors to the NCSY cause was also a wine aficionado, and was very gracious to host the event in their home. The home looks like a modern art museum, something I dearly love and what caused me to stop and appreciate what was on the wall too many times, rather than doing my job – which was to open and pour wines.
In case you have never been to a wine tasting vertical, there are a few ways you can take a shot at cracking this particular nut. One approach is to pour the 11 wines sequentially, one after the other – well I have done that a few times in my past and if you have a few hours to kill, like eating 20 courses of food, this works GREAT! In case you want to get home before Midnight after starting at 8PM, that is not an option. Pouring that many wines to 26 different people would have taken forever, unless you have an entire crew of waiters – which was not on the table for this event.
So, the next option, and in my opinion the most entertaining one as well, was to pre-pour all the wines. Well again, I am jumping ahead again; before you can pour the wines, you actually need to open 21 bottles of wine! Yes 21 (not 22), as one of them was a Magnum, but that just meant re-pouring the wine into another bottle, because pouring wine from a mag is a serious PAIN IN the neck! So there we were cracking open 21 bottles, with more as backup in case any of them was oxidized, corked, or just downright unhappy. Thankfully, none of the bottles were a dud at all, but a couple of the corks were a piece of work!!! A few just did not want to help, they were brittle or dried and they stuck to the sides of the neck or crumbled into the bottle. After some off the books “filtering”, using a fine grain sifter, nothing hard-core – Mr. Morgan was not going to allow a coffee grounds filter, we were left with a couple of bottles of wine that had some fine grain cork powder here and there.
After an hour plus of opening bottles it was time to start pouring, and I must say – I did not know what hit me! I thought I had seen efficiency, I thought I had watched enough Marine movies to see what precision was – they do not hold a candle to these ladies!! It started with Vic and I pouring the wines into 25 glasses per vintage, but with some 275 glasses to fill, I feared we would be there all night! Well, before I knew it Vic was off pouring 2012 Covenant Lavan Chardonnay to all the guests as they were starting to arrive. That meant it was up to me to pour 250 glasses of wine and that was not going to be a pretty picture time wise. Next thing I knew Penny and her dexterous crew was pouring wines faster than I could keep track of! In less than 10 minutes all glasses were poured, and the room was ready for the guests to sit down when the time came.
The evening then slowed down and the donors were talking amongst themselves and with the NCSY staff until it was time for the vertical Covenant Cabernet wine tasting. Now, as I said here, there is no crowd that Mr. Morgan could not talk to! Mr. Morgan was in his element when talking with these donors. It takes a certain demeanor and ease of style to keep 25 people bolted to their seats to taste 11 glasses of wine. Mr. Morgan did start the tasting by explaining that this was not a task of drinking 11 glasses of wine – that would have been a bad idea for most people. The idea here was to taste and spit the 11 glasses of wine into a small cup that each person had next to their glasses.
To be fair, I have to give kudos to the donors, here you had some very successful people who were – for the most part – seated in a room for an hour plus as Mr. Morgan meandered through the life story of this wonderful winery. They were meant to be rapt with attention while Mr. Morgan described what Covenant was, how it got there, or where it was going. Of course they could have just read my many blog posts about Covenant Winery and that would have caught them up quite quickly, but of course this event was about NCSY and Covenant Winery and Mr. Morgan did a wonderful job at describing the history of his winery, the background stories, and some interesting tidbits about each and every vintage as well, which was quite fascinating as well.
With Mr. Morgan was managing the room, I made the most of my opportunity to sit and taste through these wines. I must stress, that it was very kind of Mr. Morgan, and the NCSY to allow me to come and partake of their generosity, when I was just contributing my pen and pouring hand and not much more. Here I was, sitting among so many people who had made a conscious life decision, to make a difference to the next generation by sharing generously with their time and finances. These were people, who were really doing something with their lives, both on and off the Jewish ball court. These were people who could have been spending the outcome of their hard-earned efforts on anything they wanted to. But instead of squandering it on yet another trinket that will become purposeless in no time, or yet another “must have” status symbol, they spent it on the future! Vic saved these bottles as a token of his appreciation for these people to enjoy in the future, and here I was tasting them in my jeans and pullover, feeling less of myself in comparison to those who surrounded me and to what was in front of me. Generosity can come in so many flavors, it can come with begrudging or it can come with joy, a warm smile, encouragement and a generosity of time. What I saw before me was a group of people who epitomized the latter to the T.
As I was taking in the room, what I saw were people who were really intent on what was being disseminated by Mr. Morgan, and in return he was in his zone and truly enjoying himself. What I saw was a group of very special people, people who were generous with their time, finances, and to me most interesting – curiosity and conversation; when it came to a great product! The combination of Covenant Winery and NCSY could not have been a better pairing if I tried. NCSY is about investing now for what may bloom quickly or maybe a bit down the road. Covenant Winery is in the exact same business; they too build product that may well be enjoyed upon release or as we saw that night; 12 years later as well!
One of the biggest things I took out of the whole evening, personally, was that I needed to be doing more for my community! I was in awe of the people who surrounded me, the able and passionately adept stewards of the local NCSY chapter and the rest of the crowd who were equally excited about the direction the NCSY is taking, be it at high school or colleges – for all of Toronto public schools. Here was an organization that was taking on anti-Semitism and assimilation head on – with a plan that sounded original and one that was being accepted from all directions!
The entire tasting was very interactive, Mr. Morgan was leading it, but the crowd was clearly managing the pace and the temperament. It was a two-way street and while I love to do people watching, especially around wine, I had a ton of work to get to. Tasting 11 wines is not a ton of work, but to capture the nuances and the differences between the vintages – took a bit more time. The good news was that I had much more wine in each glass than I needed. As the tasting progressed, I was a glass or so behind and by the time the evening was over I was doubly blessed to not only enjoy 11 world-class kosher wines, but I received a life lesson on how to live my life and what was truly important in it!
A very interesting side note is that many of the wines, from 2003 to 2010 have a very common set of characteristics; herb, dark cherry, some with more or less of blackberry, and loads of tobacco. The rest of the characteristics for those wines ebb and flow with some being more ripe, some being older and showing classic secondary notes (barnyard, mushroom, and rich leather). From there the 2011 vintage was clearly the exception of all the vintages, given the horrible year that it was for all of California’s wineries. Jeff left the grapes on the vines till the very last day he could and it shows with great structure and nice red/black fruit, instead of just dirt and mineral, like many other Cabs from that vintage. The last two are made with what were the Solomon grapes, Mount Veeder grapes, and in many ways it shows like the Lot 70 wines. Still, they are more edgy than straight Solomon fruit, which I really like. The 2012 and 2013 Solomon wines are made with Oakville grapes, vines that are right across the street from the famous Screaming Eagle vineyards!
As the evening was winding to a close, I had finished tasting all 11 wines, and it was time to clean up. Once again Penny’s precision driven troop was moving things along at breakneck pace and it was truly impressive to behold. I was happy to say that I did help at the end, making sure to cleanup the house and leave it in the same pristine state it was when we arrived. Penny was the commander and I was yet another pair, albeit less precise hands, in her troop.
My many thanks to Vic, NCSY, Mr. Morgan and the Covenant family, and to the many hosts who were unfortunate enough to have to put up with me for varying amounts of time. You were all so very gracious with your time, wine, and concern for each and every one of us. Thanks again and let’s do this again in ten years! May you all go from level to level in your generosity and successes!
The wine notes of the wines I enjoyed are listed below in the order they were tasted.
2008 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Solomon’s Cuvee, lot 117, Napa valley 13 – Score: A- to A
This wine is 50% Larkmead and 50% Mount Veeder. It is essentially a 50/50 blend of the inaugural 2008 Solomon Lot 70 and the 2008 Covenant Cabernet. The nose on this wine is intense and lovely, with a crazy rich, ripe, and redolent nose of black fruit, ripe cherry, blackberry, lovely licorice, black pepper, and sweet oak. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is ripe, rich, layered and concentrated with crazy extraction, rich black fruit, based in a with lovely inky and fruity structure, followed by layers of crazy earth, mineral, loamy dirt, ripe black fruit, with garrigue and herb. The finish is long and oaky with lovely butterscotch, black currant, leafy tobacco and lovely dark chocolate. Bravo!!
Cabernet Sauvignon, Larkmead Vineyard – Score: A- (drink up)
The nose on this lovely dirty with mounds of mushroom, dark cherry, roasted herb, and rich barnyard. Of the vertical, this wine was clearly the most barnyard of the group, though the 2004 was right up there as well.
The mouth on this full bodied wine is plush and with lovely blackberry, with rich soft tannin that is supple and laced with leather and spice, there are hints of Brett and lovely layers of still rich acid and raspberry with nice chocolate and crazy herb. The finish is long with nice star anise, leafy tobacco with nice leather that is both smoky and toasty, and finishes with butterscotch.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Larkmead vineyard – Score: A- (and a bit more) (drink now)
The nose on this lovely wine shows dark cherry, red fruit, along with hints of barnyard, anise, nice roasted herb, along with ripe fruit, and fresh blackberry. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is nice with impressive acid, great herb, nice chocolate, dark currant, with almond pith, and backed by red fruit, forest berries, and balanced with garrigue, mushroom, while still jammy, fruity, and tart. The finish is long and herbal, with great spice and balance, showing nice acid lingering, with cloves, black pepper, toast, more dirt, leather, and mushroom.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Larkmead vineyard – Score: A- (and then some more)
The nose on this lovely wine has started to show mushroom, with great dirt, still fresh fruit and herb. This vintage shows far more earth than the previous ones. The mouth on this wine is far more rich and layered than the previous vintages, it is also slightly more extracted with rich layers of ripe blackberry, raspberry, with a plush mouth backed by a very nice fruit structure. The finish is long with ripe fruit, more dirty notes, green notes in the background, with crazy dill, tobacco, sweet herb, mushroom and tobacco.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Larkmead vineyard – Score: A- to A
This was clearly one of my favorites from the older vintages, even though it was so tightly closed to start. The nose on this wine starts off muted, but with time shows notes of ripe fruit, along with mounds of tilled earth and sweet oak. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is ripe, round, and richly extracted, with dark brooding fruit, while showing hints of mushroom and barnyard, but balanced well with still searing but mouth coating tannin, backbone acid, with lovely spice, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper. The finish is long and tannic, with great fruit extraction and body, showing some nice green notes, tobacco, bell pepper and anise, leather and spice. BRAVO!!!!
Cabernet Sauvignon, Larkmead vineyard – Score: A- (and a bit more)
The nose on this lovely wine is dirty and earthy with nice herb, dark cherry and dark currant. The mouth on this medium body shows impressive fruit structure, with lovely mouth coating and drying tannin, along with blackberry, rich mineral, herb, graphite, and green notes. The finish is long and green with sweet dill, tobacco, chocolate, showing green notes, and an overwhelming feeling of sweet notes, more sweet fruit than previous vintages, but finishing with leather and mineral.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Larkmead vineyard – Score: A- to A
This is the halfway point in the vertical and in some ways we have reached the peak of the Larkmead vintages, though the 2006 and 2010 vintages will give it a run for its money for very different aspects. The 2011 vintage may be my favorite old/new world style wine, but the rest are equally impressive as well.
This wine is the ripest of the set so far, but it is also the most controlled and richly extracted. This is not as much an aspect of the age (or lack thereof), but rather it is an issue that this vintage was superior, in my humble opinion.
The nose on this wine is starkly different from previous vintages, with dark but controlled black fruit taking center stage and the red cherry being more of a sideshow. The nose on this super ripe wine is redolent with crazy dark, brooding, and ripe fruit, with blackberry, raspberry, and blackcurrant taking center stage, with hints of mushroom and dirt to flush it all out. The mouth on this full bodied and richly extracted wine shows an inly structure, that was very reminiscent to the 2008 Solomon Cuvee Lot 117, that we tasted the previous night, with ripping acid, along with a great sweet forest berry jam, cassis, controlled with spice, green notes, sweet dill, sweet herb, and lovely mineral. The finish is long and mineral based with dark chocolate, dirt, pencil shaving, green notes, cloves, all wrapped in a muscular and brooding body with nice herb. BRAVO!!!!
Cabernet Sauvignon, Larkmead vineyard – Score: A- (and more)
The nose on this wine is very reminiscent to the 2009, it is equally brooding, with dark ripe fruit, blackberry, balanced with nice earth, herb, and mushroom, with green notes, chocolate, and toasty oak. The mouth on this lovely medium to full bodied wine is richly extracted, with the oak and toast, showing nice spice and elegance, cassis and black cherry, with great balance and acid, with tannin that coats the mouth, with mineral, graphite, and spice. The finish is long and herbal with green notes, sweet dill, tobacco, and more dirt. Very Nice!!
Cabernet Sauvignon, Larkmead vineyard – Score: A- to A
This nose on this wine is a crazy mineral bomb with intense graphite, nice dirt, cherry, herb, and anise spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is richly extracted, rich, plush, and elegant, with layers of crazy blackberry, cassis, dark cherry, rich mineral, dirty and plush with crazy rich fruit, dirt, and graphite that lingers long. The finish is long and herbal, with great leather, ripe fruit, with plush mouth drying tannin and loamy dirt.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Larkmead vineyard – Score: A- (and a bit)
For such a poor California vintage, this wine is a really nice effort indeed! The nose on this wine is filled with dirt, earth, nice herbaceous notes, with nice toast and smoke, along with mad roasted herb. The mouth on this medium body shows a lovely fruit structure with searing acid, green notes abound, with chocolate, tobacco, along with nice dark cherry, crazy herb, and dirt. The finish is rich with blackberry, currant, and red fruit, with green bell pepper, garrigue, asparagus, with great cloves and anise. This lovely wine is a very old world new world wine, showing lovely green notes, with lush fruit, a plush mouth, with nice fruit structure. BRAVO!
Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder Vineyard – Score: A- (and more)
This is clearly a lovely wine made from Rudd’s Mount Veeder fruit. The wine is fantastic but still a tiny step behind the 2013. The nose on this wine is insane and captivating, with mineral, black fruit, and herb. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is soft yet crazy intense, with multiple layers of rich mineral and concentrated blackberry, cassis, saline, graphite, and rich fruit. The mouth is both supple, concentrated and yet richly layered and extracted at the same time, with crazy extraction that does not give up, dark cherry, and sweet oak. The finish is long and rich with intense spice, nutmeg, leather, crazy lingering tannin, chocolate and dark brooding fruit. The wine with time shows no sign of age and continues to impress with its richness and its salinity – while holding true to its Napa name – BRAVO!!!
Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder Vineyard – Score: A- to A
Personally, this is the best wine so far ever made under the Covenant Cabernet wine label, and its fruit was also sourced from Rudd’s Mount Veeder fruit. The nose on this epic wine shows crazy intense and extracted aromas with mineral, graphite, black cherry, blackberry, and herb. The mouth on this massive and fully extracted wine shows with crazy rich fruit, an inky structure, with layers of concentrated black brooding and intense fruit, currant, cassis, and intense anise with ginger, mineral, graphite, all wrapped in rich dark fruit, along with mouth coating tannin, and rich herb. The finish is long with green notes balanced with crazy ripe fruit, lovely leafy tobacco, dark chocolate, along with pith, intense graphite, bringing imagery to mind of a leather coat with rich cigar smoke. This wine is better than the 2012 vintage, with more extraction and richness, but balanced with ripping acid, herb, pith, anise, and mad mineral. DOUBLE BRAVO!!
Posted on December 22, 2015, in Food and drink, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting and tagged Cabernet Sauvignon, Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Covenant Winery, Jeff Morgan. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.