Riesling – is finally getting its due in the kosher market

If you have read my blog before, you know I love all things Pinot, Cabernet Franc, and Riesling. Yeah, the less loved grapes. Pinot is too loved in too many ways in the Non-Kosher market, and that sideways buzz is not dying down.

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 Grape

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, though the German wines are off-dry, but, they are on a different level.

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 for 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 last year. 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 a 95 score without getting it.

In 2010 Carmel’s Kayoumi 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. Then we hit the next plateau with the release of the 2014 Nik Weis Riesling. There was the 2015 Riesling, which is not bone dry like the 2014 vintage, more like the 2% Hagafen Rieslings with well-integrated acid, it was OK, but it needs lots of time to better integrate. Finally, there was the epic Von Hovel Rieslings, which are on the top of the mountain, in regards to the best kosher Rieslings made so far, even if they are slightly off-dry!

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. The 2016 vintage is already showing beautifully as well, it is less tropical than it was before. The sweet Hagafen Rieslings are really nice and well balanced, in no way am I disparaging them, I just like the dry options better.

Alsace is FINALLY back! There is the lovely 2016 Koenig Riesling, which is mevushal, cheap, and really nice!

Israel is booming with great Riesling options. Thankfully, we are PAST the shmita transition period. We have the 2017 Kishor DRY Riesling – yes I said DRY!, but that is sold only in Israel. There is the 2014 Carmel Riesling, which is lovely and widely available. Tabor is selling the 2017 vintage now, but it too is only sold in Israel. There is also, Vitkin’s dry 2017 Riesling. That said, 2017 was a poor season for whites IMHO, as I have described here already.

Finally, there is the 2016 Nik Weis Riesling, it is nothing like the 2014 vintage, but may be worth your time. I think Gary has some of it still, call him 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.

The new Rieslings from the west coast!

With all of that joy, there is still more! Three new wineries made Rieslings, Shirah Winery, Goblet Winery, and Pacifica Winery. I wrote about the Shirah Riesling here, and the Pacifica Riesling as well.

The Goblet Riesling was nice, but I found it a bit unidimensional, so that was why it was not on the top wines of 2017. The Goblet is made by Yanky Drew, he cut his teeth as the kosher hands of City Winery in NYC.

Well, that is the list of wines I know of. I have not yet tasted the 2017 Carmel Riesling. I had the 2016 Carmel Riesling, and it was OK, nothing special. Nor have I tasted the new 2017 Vitkin Riesling, or the new 2017 Tabor Riesling. I have notes on the 2016 Tabor Reisling here.

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



2014 Carmel Riesling, Kayoumi – Score: 93 (QPR)
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. Drink by 2020.

2016 Carmel Riesling, Kayoumi – Score: 91
The wine started off very slowly, in a closed state, and it was inaccessible for a day. A lovely nose, but after smelling the German wines, this pales, with nice petrol, honeysuckle, good spices, but very tropical with guava, passion fruit, and pineapple. The mouth is nice, but a far cry from the 2014 vintage, with nice acidity but not near enough, it is ok but it lacks a clear direction, not a sweet wine and not dry enough, with a unidimensional approach with no focus and a short finish with floral notes, slate, and mineral.

After some time – this wine really comes into its own, showing a nose of nice petrol, grapefruit, kiwi, with green apple, and hints of pineapple. The mouth is nicer with time, showing impressive fruit focus, with great searing acid, but still tropical, with passion fruit, green apple, rich mouthfeel, and lovely gripping fruit that is well balanced and tart with lemon Fraiche, rich floral notes, and good spices. The finish is long and spicy, with ripping acid, lovely fruit, earth, incredible mineral, slate, and rock, with floral notes, and mineral galore. Nice! Drink till 2021

2017 Kishor Vineyards Riesling – Score: 90
Yes! There is finally a new dry Riesling in Israel! The wine is fun, it showed well at the winery but not at another tasting, so I did not post it on my top wines from 2017. The nose is really fun, petrol starting to show, with saline, grapefruit, and mineral, slate. The mouth is layered and really fun, tart, and rich with earth, rock, with crazy citrus, peach, and guava all coming together to show tart fruit, rich acidity, and lively mineral, and an oily. texture The finish is long, with honeysuckle, hints of petrol, melon, and green notes. Bravo!

————— German wines that are available ——————–

2016 Nik Weiss Riesling, Ockfener – Score: 92
This wine was sourced from a more expensive vineyard than the previous 2014 and 2015 vintages. To me this wine is really not ready – but it will be ready in a few months to start enjoying. It took a long time to open for me. The nose starts off closed but with time it opens with hints of petrol (which will come with more time), with sweet lovely notes of coconut, ripe peach, honeysuckle, floral notes, with bright and ripe guava, tart melon, and mineral, and slate galore. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is nice and round, with good saline, but now the acid is even crazier than when first opened, with a still rich round mouth but now it is perfectly balanced with the ripping acid, crazy candied grapefruit, lime galore, with kiwi, and sweet gooseberry notes, all wrapped in an oily texture and rich tart fruit. The finish is long, tart, yet very sweet, but not cloying, very refreshing, with mineral, slate, rock, and hints of flint that will expand with time, along with nice sweet spices and sweet dark tea. Bravo!!! Drink from 2019 to 2028.

——————— Alsace Rieslings ————————

2016 Koenig Riesling, Alsace – Score: 91 (mevushal) (Crazy QPR)
The nose on this wine is lovely, showing ripe peach, apricot, with great grapefruit, followed by petrol funk, lovely honeysuckle, more floral notes, and nice mineral. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is an acid bomb, and thank god, we really needed a dry, well priced, acid bomb, with petrol notes, and this one is mevushal to boot! The mouth is dripping with acid, followed by rich lanolin, with a nice weight, followed by sweet guava notes and tart Asian pear, impressive. The finish is long, tart, crazy acid, with wax, petrol, honeyed fruit, and more sweet notes lingering long! Bravo!!!! Drink by 2020.

—————— United States Rielsings ———————–

2017 Shirah Riesling – Score: 91
OK, this wine like the BroDuex Blanc needs time! Open it an hour ahead of time. This wine starts with a torrent of tropical notes that are never-ending and ever flowing, with time, they calm and in their place comes rich mineral, hints of petrol (that takes a day to really show). It starts with a lovely nose of crazy tropical fruit, nice guava, melon, with passion fruit and slate and mineral, with time the notes turn to rich quince, guava, passion fruit, and rich mineral. The mouth on this wine is beautiful with great acid, lovely mineral, along with a great with a great weight that adds so much, followed by great citrus, grapefruit, with lemongrass, floral notes galore, with a nice viscous body and rich stone fruit. The finish is long and acidic, with slate, rock, straw, and rich fruit and mineral-driven. The weight and acid on this wine allow it to be enjoyed with so many more options, like truly acidic and slightly sweet dishes, Bravo! Drink until 2021.

2014 Hagafen White Riesling Dry, Rancho Wieruszowski – Score: 93 (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/oily as 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! Start drinking up!

2016 Hagafen Riesling, Wieruszowski Napa Valley, Dry – Score: 91 to 92 (QPR)
Please understand, this wine is epic, but it still is not the 2014 Dry Hagafen Riesling, which is so far the best dry or sweet Riesling from Hagafen Wineries. WOW, what a joy! The nose has changed, it is now redolent with intense petrol, the gift from the Riesling fruit, you need to give Hagafen’s Riesling a year to truly show its inner being. After that, the nose shows rich guava and passion fruit, with peach and apricot, lovely floral notes, and ripe pineapple. The mouth is beautiful with sweet fruit, but what hits you first is that funk, rich, concentrated, and never-ending, a funk that is layered, with petrol, intense insane honeysuckle, floral notes, with great acid, intense honeyed notes of sweet and ripe fruit, and earth and hay/straw, lovely. The finish is incredible, it lingers so long, with more petrol and mineral, nice slate, with sweet fruit, and more lime/lemon notes. Bravo!! Drink by 2020.

2017 Pacifica Riesling, Evan’s Collection, Washington (mevushal) – Score: 90 (QPR)
This wine starts off slowly, but with time the nose opens to show a ripe nose of lime, lemon, grapefruit, guava, and kiwi. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is well balanced and very fun, it is clearly off-dry, but showing great acid, green apple, petrol funk already, with gooseberry, and mad citrus zest and pith, giving way to a zesty, tart fruit-focused wine, with honeysuckle, pineapple, tart nectarines, and some sweetly candied orange peel. The finish is long and zesty, with great lingering acid, mineral, slate, tart fruit, and pith that linger long – nice!!

2017 Goblet Riesling, Seneca Lake – Score: 88 – 89
This is another newcomer to the game of Riesling, and I must be honest we owe Hagafen Winery a HUGE thanks for creating the initial buzz around dry Riesling with their 2012 dry Riesling. Yes, Carmel had some as well, but to me, Hagafen drove the show. However, it was the Gefen Hashalom gang that took the show to an entirely new level. This year there are THREE new Rieslings on the market and this is the last one to be released, from what I have seen anyway.
The wine deserves a bit of time to open, please do not pop this and drink, show the wine a bit of respect. Take it from the fridge, open the bottle, and leave it there open, until it reaches 60 degrees Fahrenheit or so.
The nose on this wine starts off closed, but with time it shows proper petrol notes, with citrus galore, followed by incredible floral notes of honeysuckle, jasmine, and then the citrus bowl hits you, with gooseberry, and tart fruit notes. The mouth on this light to medium bodied wine opens with air and as it warms up, to show a mouth that is well balanced, with more citrus, showing lemon Fraiche, tart guava, with dry pink grapefruit, with mineral, and slate. The finish is long and green, with passion fruit, mint, menthol, and lovely earthy notes that linger long with tart green notes, petrol, orange pith, and citrus madness. Nice!


Posted on September 26, 2018, in Israeli Wine, Kosher French Wine, Kosher White Wine, Wine Tasting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Fun fact. Karl Marx’s father, Hershel Marx Ha-levi, owned vineyards and made wine in Mosel. Marx’ grandfather was chief rabbi of Trier. Not unlikely that the wine was kosher.  But maybe not after Herschel became Heinrich Marx and converted. 

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