Kosher Riesling Horizontal Tasting
It was time to taste all the Rieslings that I had been gathering up for some time. The problem was that I had no time to do it, given all the events I was traveling to, along with some personal needs as well. So, I finally found a day that would work, a week ago Thursday night and we gathered to taste them all.
So let me start with why Riesling and what is Riesling? First, this grape has many names, White Riesling, Riesling, Johannisberg Riesling, and others are real names of the Noble grape, while Emerald Riesling or Welsch Riesling – not so much!
Riesling is old, like ancient, it is documented to exist in Mosel dating back to the early 1400s! It is one of the Noble Six grapes that define wine history, but that is all marketing hooey IMHO. In terms of kosher wines, this variety did not really become special until recently, with Hagafen and Carmel doing wonderful jobs with the grape.
Riesling wines can be made in so many ways. The most common are sweet wines, like the impressive Hagafen Rieslings, that Ernie Weir makes every year, or the less impressive Giersberger Riesling, or the even less impressive Gilgal Riesling. These wines all have some amount of RS (Residual Sugar), whether they are called off-dry, semi-sweet, or sweet, they all need a very important component to make them work – ACID! They desperately need acid to balance the sweet notes. Hagafen is the only off-dry Riesling I have ever liked, that I remember anyway.
It is sad, but while Jews do not seem to enjoy white wines, they do drink sweeter wines, and if there was a bit more acid to balance it out, I think they would show better. That said, I brought this subject up to many a winemaker, and the response was all the same. People like it simpler to drink, so spiking the wine with acid would not sell as well, IE, customers like sweet alcoholic water. Acid tends to discourage gulping or whatever to these people do. Truly sad.
I am finding that Riesling is quickly becoming my favorite white wines. The dry wines from Hagafen, Nik, and Carmel bring a smile to my face. They are rich, layered, oily and balanced, with good acid that makes them enjoyable during almost any part of the meal. That is what makes acid work so well. Food dishes, wine, even dessert, all need some amount of acid to balance out the palate.
There are many other white wines out there for sure, look at my list of whites from 2015. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling are all noble grapes, and they are all lovely when done correctly. Still, Riesling has something going for it, that none of the other white varietals have, funk!
When the wine is done correctly, and then aged for even a year, the wine starts to display notes of petrol and oil. Some may find that offensive, but to me, it is yet another aspect of how I love mineral based wines. The great thing is that these wines come from all around the world! You can find kosher Riesling from California, France, Germany, and Israel!
Riesling wines in the Kosher market
France has been making kosher Riesling since the 1960s, with Koenig and later with others. They are made in the region of France called Alsace, which is a five-hour drive east of Paris, on the eastern Border of France, where it abuts up to Germany. Alsace has been making Riesling for almost as long as Germany, with documented proof of Riesling wine starting in 1477, when it was spelled Rissling.
Sadly, until 2008 or so, we only had sweet Rieslings here in the USA and Israel. Starting in 2008, Willm Riesling was brought to the USA, and it was an instant hit. It lasted a good many years, but then it died. It showed bracing acidity, awesome mineral, and good fruit. Still, that never reached the level of the 2014 Nik Weis wine or even the 2014 Hagafen Riesling, both of which we tasted this past week again, and both are as close to an A- to A score, without being one.
In 2009 Carmel’s Riesling was pretty close to bone dry, and that really started the dry Riesling train going. We hit the next plateau with the 2012 Hagafen Riesling dry, it was their first dry Riesling and it was sensational. Last year, we hit the next level with the release of the 2014 Nik Weis Riesling. There is a new 2015 Riesling, which is not bone dry like the 2014 vintage, more like the 2% Hagafen Rieslings with well-integrated acid, from what I hear, but I will soon be tasting a bottle.
Riesling wines available now
Right now the best options from California are either the 2014 or the 2016 Hagafen dry Riesling. Get the 2014 vintage if you can, it is drinking now like a monster winner. In a year or two, the 2016 vintage will be beautiful, right now it is tropical but very nice. Benyo said it best at the tasting, it is a really nice, fun, and enjoyable wine to drink, one you have a hard time putting down. The sweet Hagafen Rieslings are really nice and well balanced, in now way am I disparaging them, I just like the dry options better.
Right now, I would pass on the few Alsace kosher Rieslings for now, and wait for a new vintage. They are either sweet and unbalanced or dying very soon. There are better Riesling options out there. The only “redeeming” feature of the Koenig or the Abarbanel are that they are Mevushal.
Israel is booming with great Riesling options. Sadly, we are in the shmita transition period, so the 2015 wines are not coming to the USA (they are shmita wines), and the 2016 Riesling vintage is not ready yet. So, your best bet is either the 2014 Kishor Riesling, which I missed when I was at the winery (but that is sold only in Israel)! There is the 2013 Carmel Riesling, which is lovely and widely available. Tabor is selling the 2015 vintage now, and the 2016 vintage will not be available till later this year. Tabor’s Rieslings are an Israel only wine. Gush Etzion has a lovely Riesling, but I have yet to taste the latest vintage, and it too is an Israel only wine. So, your best bet from Israel right now, in the USA, is the Carmel.
Finally, there is the new 2015 Nik Weis Riesling, it is nothing like the 2014 vintage, but may be worth your time. You can get it at Taste Co. Best way to get in touch with Gary (the shop owner) is over the phone, 212-461-1708, that is where I buy the Nik Weis wines from.
Well, there you have it. Like I said, I have been collecting these wines and it was time to taste them. many of them were exactly where I thought they should be. The Nik has not moved anywhere in the last year, sick and rich. The 2014 Hagafen Riesling is really the shocker, WOW! It was always nice, but this is a new level for it, truly impressive. Sadly, the Koenig Riesling and the Abarbanel (the two Alsace wines we had) are in drink now mode. They have another 6 months in their tank, open and drink right away. The wines we opened did not last long, they went flat pretty soon. Which is a shame, as we enjoyed both of them not so long ago.
Next, there were the Israeli wines, and they showed well, with the weird exception of the 2014 Carmel Riesling, which seems to be going through some reduction, it showed very strange sulfur or stink that was not enjoyable. The Tabor was steely and less tropical than the other wines but without the insane acid.
The 2012 Carmel Riesling, which was the oldest of the wines we had that night, showed very well. Riesling has the ability to age when it has the acid or the sweetness to keep the wine alive. In this case, the wine was bright and fruity, very nice.
Finally, there were two other wines brought to the tasting. One was the epic and always enjoyable 2014 Shirah Gruner Veltliner, John Sebastiano Vineyard, and the other was the 2013 Shirah Bro.Deux. Both were brought from Heshy Fried of Epic Bites, in the Bay Area of Northern California. I will post them at the end of this post for completeness.
I brought all the Rieslings, other than the 2016 Hagafen Riesling which was served by Josh Rynderman. Thanks go out to Josh’s father, who joined us for the tasting, and in whose house the tasting took place. My thanks to Josh, Heshy, and Benyamin Cantz who joined us, along with Josh’s father and JR. Josh made food for post-tasting, so thanks again.
The wine notes follow below in the order they were tasted:
2014 Koenig Riesling – Score: B+ to A- (mevushal)
This wine goes for 5 Euro in Europe and goes for 3x that here in the USA! Another example of price escalation for reasons that I do not understand. This wine nose has opened up more since the last two times I had it, with nice honeyed notes followed by floral aromas, slate, and sweet notes. The mouth on this wine is refreshing and that is what matters, Sadly the acid is slowing down, with good weight from the residual sugar, gooseberry, mad citrus, candied grapefruit, with some sugar making an appearance, but even with the slowing acid, it is balanced with great green apple, mineral, and more fruit. DRINK UP!!!
2012 Abarbanel Riesling, Estate Bottled – Score: B+ to A-
A lovely wine, very surprising with great acid and elegance. The nose is classic with petrol and good spice. The mouth is weighty, with honeysuckle, peach, honey notes, followed by good fruit focus, elegance, and pith. Drink UP!
2014 Tabor Riesling, Shahar, Adama II – Score: A- (QPR) Sold only in Israel
The nose on this wine shows lovely petrol, with bone dry tart fruit, straw, honeysuckle, guava, pink grapefruit, and pineapple. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and textured with great gooseberry, yellow grapefruit, intense citrus, lovely melon, honeydew, and nice warm spices. The finish is long with crazy acid, herb, bitter notes, intense tart fruit, floral notes, slate, almond pith, and acid linger long. BRAVO! This wine is only getting better with age!
2015 Tabor Riesling, Shahar, Adama II – Score: A- (QPR) (Shmita) Sold only in Israel
This wine is more fun, in some ways than the 2014 vintage. It is more steely, leaner, with far drier and less tropical fruit, which was really fun to taste side-by-side the 2014 vintage. This is a lovely wine showing a very earthy side, with flint, rich fruit, petrol, crazy dry peach, with a soap/lavender aroma. The mouth is rich, layered, funky, richer than the 14, rich and yet really bright and showing great pith with great lovely acid, followed by bright summer fruits, no tropical fruit, with lovely Meyer lemon, orange and tangerine pith, and citrus galore. Really nice, floral and funky. Bravo!
2012 Carmel Riesling, Kayoumi Vineyards – Score: A- (QPR)
Nice nose on this lovely wine, super floral, with great bright fruit, showing petrol, less honey than in the past, with violet, rich herb, citrus, and earth. The mouth is lovely and mineral driven, with crazy acid, really nice saline, great funk, with lovely peach, rich apricot, great chemical notes, quince, and grapefruit. The finish is rich and fruit structure driven, showing beautifully, with acid, pith, great citrus, nice slate/rock, and rich summer fruits. This wine is a more lean Riesling than the 2013 or the 2014 vintages.
2013 Carmel Riesling, Single Vineyard, Kayoumi – Score: A- (QPR) (NOT tasted at tasting)
The nose on this lovely wine is crazy, with petrol, rich notes of honeysuckle, dried green tea, and fresh cut straw. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine is ripping with intense acid, lovely yellow grapefruit, lemon, tart green apple, sweet melon, pear, that flows into crazy mineral, pineapple, spice, and garrigue. The finish is long and spicy with tart fruit, slate, and hints of bitter almonds. (This wine is posted here as a reference only).
2014 Carmel Riesling, Kayoumi – Score: A-
This wine screams Alsace – CRAZY!! The nose is crazy, pure funk, petrol, flint, mineral, WOW! Cannot find much fruit on the nose to start but with time peach shows, but who cares! Sadly, this bottle was tainted with some sort of reduction or Sulfur, it is not clear what the issue was to be honest, it smelled like actual “trash can”. The mouth on this full bodied wine is insane! Layered and complex with rich acidity, dried fruit, dried apple, litchi, floral notes abound, with rich elegance, followed by nectarines, orange, orange zest, bravo! The finish goes on forever, and I mean not stopping with crazy petrol and floral notes lasting all along – WOW!!! This wine was clearly off to start, but with time it came around and was very close to its old self, sadly the reduction lingered in ways.
2014 Hagafen White Riesling Dry, Rancho Wieruszowski – Score: A- (QPR) (mevushal)
This wine is crazy good, many thought it was better than the Nik Weis, and many days later, I enjoyed them side by side, and I would agree, this wine is going to be fun to keep around to taste with the Nik for years to come.
It is another hit for this lovely bone-dry riesling. Ernie has been making them every two years now, starting with the inaugural 2012 vintage.
The nose on this lovely wine has stopped being all about tropical notes and much more about the insane petrol, mineral, and intense saline, with lovely floral notes, that gives way to ripe melon, guava, peach, and apricot. The mouth on this medium plus body wine has a nice almost viscous, but clearly mouth filling mouthfeel, that is now showing surprisingly oily in nature, it was not as viscous in the past, with intense acidity, honeyed notes, grapefruit, citrus, along with great tart fruit. The finish is long and refreshing, crisp and intense, with nice mineral, slate, and spice that lingers long, with the honey/petrol/citrus/honeysuckle lingering for almost ever! BRAVO!
2016 Hagafen White Riesling Dry, Rancho Wieruszowski – Score: A- (QPR) (mevushal)
In so many ways this wine reminds me of the 2014 in its infancy, though it lacks the intense mineral that was already present in the 2014’s adolescence. Still, the wine does have a lot going for it.
The nose on this wine is richly tropical, showing a nose of intense guava, passion fruit, with hints of petrol starting to emerge, with peach and apricot and ripe pineapple. The mouth is beautiful with sweet fruit, intense funk, and insane honeysuckle, floral notes abound, with great acid, intense honeyed notes of sweet fruit, ripe citrus, nectarines, and ripe fruit, earth and hay/straw, lovely. The finish is long with more funk, mineral, with sweet and crazy tart fruit and rich acid, crisp, refreshing, and downright enjoyable/fun wine. Look for more petrol to emerge with time, and for the tropical notes to subside as well. Bravo! Once more Mr. Weir has done an impeccable job.
2014 Nik Weis Riesling, Selection Gefen Hashalom – Score: A- (QPR)
What a wine! This is the first kosher “dry” German Riesling from Mosel that I know about and it is a major hit. This is old world, with a great sweet body. The nose on this wine is insane, showing intense orange blossom, intense flint and smoke, followed by peach, honeysuckle, lovely green apple, and honeyed notes, with a bit of time the incredible petrol comes through beautifully. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is in your face from the get-go, with impressive floral notes, wrapped in an incredibly oily texture, followed by orange, nectarines, impressive mineral, saline galore, sweet notes, with guava, kumquat, mad ripe and racy grapefruit, and pineapple. The finish is long and really well balanced with ripping acid, great flint and sweet spices on the long and lingering finish. BRAVO!!! Drink now till 2023. I really want to watch this age.
Shirah Wines at end of tasting
2014 Shirah Gruner Veltliner, John Sebastiano Vineyard – Score: A- (QPR)
This is a lovely wine that comes from the Weiss brothers, AKA Shirah Winery, and it is so not Cali it is wonderful!!!! This may become my goto white when I am in the mood for cold fruit and mineral. The nose on this wine starts with cold summer fruit, along with mounds of mineral and dirt. With time, the nose turns to vanilla, smoke, and flint along with floral notes of rose hip. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich with Alsace style approach, mineral, slate, rock, dirt, and some very cold fruit, mad quince bomb with some pepper/spice/smoke, along with green apple as well, herb and hints of nectarine. The finish is long and dirty with lovely dark fruit pith, more floral notes, straw/hay, and hints of sweet fig. Lovely and Bravo!
2013 Shirah Bro.Deux – Score: A-
Lovely nose of black fruit, and hints of blue, with smoke, green notes, and ripe dark fruit. The mouth is medium body bodied, and has great acid, with nice layers and spice, showing boysenberry, rich pith, with great rich notes of black plum, blackcurrant, crazy earth, toast and great foliage, with green notes, lovely charcoal, and graphite. The finish is long and green, with good spice, vanilla, toast, and earth. Nice!
Posted on March 2, 2017, in Israeli Wine, Kosher French Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting and tagged Abarbanel, Bro Deux, Carmel Winery, Gefen Hashalom, Gruner Veltliner, Hagafen Winery, kayoumi, Koenig, Nik Weis, Riesling, Shahar, Shirah Winery, Tabor Winery. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.
Hey David Good seeing you at kfwe (I’m the guy who was chatting with you for few minutes a herzog table…) Great article about the rieslings!
Hi David, did you tested Argentinian Malbec Wines like Terrenal, Guillermo de Mendoza, Or Wild Goat, I wait your opinion, Thanks a lot,
Luis Chami from Argentina
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