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Four Gates Winery’s January 2018 new releases

As you all know, I am a huge fan of Four Gates Winery, and yes he is a dear friend. So, as is my custom, as many ask me what wines I like of the new releases, here are my notes on the new wines.

I have written many times about Four Gates Winery and its winemaker/Vigneron Benyamin Cantz. Read the post and all the subsequent posts about Four Gates wine releases, especially this post of Four Gates – that truly describes the lore of Four Gates Winery.

Other than maybe Yarden and Yatir (which are off my buying lists – other than their whites and bubblies), very few if any release wines later than Four Gates. This year is a re-release of the 2014 Petite Sirah and 2014 Zinfandel in a blended format called – MPSZ. Of course, it includes the 2014 Mourvedre, which is also being released a single varietal under the Ayala label.

Another wine this year under the Ayala label is the NV Chardonnay, it is a nice wine that did not go through malolactic fermentation, so while it has creamy notes, the rich butter and butterscotch notes of previous chardonnays will not be found here.

The rest of the wines are the normal suspects, but this year’s crop, like last years, is really impressive. You have a 2014 Four Gates Pinot Noir, an NV Four Gates Cabernet Franc (a blend of the 2014 & 2015 vintages), the 2013 Four Gates Merlot, La Rochelle, the 2013 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Betchart Vineyard, and the 2013 Four Gates Frere Robaire.

The notes speak for themselves. These are the wines I liked, there are two other wines that will be sold, but I am not a fan of them, I am sure others will be. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

NV Ayala Chardonnay – Score: 90
Lovely nose of ripe melon, lovely lemon curd, with green and yellow apple, and spice galore. The mouth on this lovely medium to full-bodied wine is nice and richly acidic, with a creamy mouth, showing lovely green notes, sweet dill, with butter notes, lovely sweet and ripe fruit, and lovely sweet spices. The finish is tart, refreshing, lively, with acid madness, showing a style of sweet and tart fruit, and nice complexity. Drink by 2025

2014 Four Gates MPSZ – Score: 91
This wine is a blend of Mourvedre, Petit Sirah, and Zinfandel. This is a fun classic Cali wine, floral, sweet, spices galore, with sweet oak, and lovely red and blue fruit. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is fun with raspberry, plum, ripe juicy strawberry, blueberry, all wrapped in nice tannin, with nice mineral, spice, and zesty fruit. The finish is long and rich, with sweet notes, black olives, and cinnamon. Drink by 2021

2014 Four Gates Pinot Noir – Score: 92 to 93
This nose is a classic Four Gates Pinot, with chicken cherry cola, sweet raspberry, lovely spices, menthol, herb, and rich spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, layered, elegant, lovely, with green notes, lovely foliage, sweet oak, with sweet cherry, raspberry galore, and crazy Benyo acid, with smoke, vanilla, hints of mushroom (which will show more with age), earth, and loam. The finish is long and green, richly acidic, menthol galore, herb, coffee, loads of tart red fruit, and more smoke. Bravo!!! Drink from 2019 to 2027

NV Four Gates Cabernet Franc – Score: 93
This is a blend of 2014 and 2015 vintages. This wine is a classic Benyo special, what a wine, this is crazy fun, what a rich floral, raspberry nose, with violets, rich tart fruit, with cherry, chocolate, mushroom, and foliage galore. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is really fun, rich, layered, with a real mouthfeel that gives way to mushroom, rich tilled earth, with red fruit, plum, raspberry, vanilla, and lovely focus, that gives way to great acid and sweet forest floor. The finish is long and green, with bell pepper, foliage, with vanilla, leather, and heather. Bravo!!! Drink 2020 to 2027

2013 Four Gates Merlot, La Rochelle – Score: 94
The nose on this wine is plum heaven, with crazy truffle, mushroom, and rich tart raspberry, followed by black fruit, and rich dirt. The mouth on this full bodied wine is crazy, rich, layered, with layer after layer of concentrated fruit, nice extraction, and intense acidic, with tannin galore, perfectly balanced, with sweet red raspberry, plum, sweet currant, black forest berry, and dark cherry. The finish is long and green, with foliage, mushroom, vanilla, sweet oak, spice, with menthol, mineral, graphite, sweet red fruit, and acid plays well together. Bravo!! Drink from 2020 to 2030.

2013 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Betchart Vineyard – Score: 94
Lovely nose of earth, dirt, green notes, caraway seeds, coffee grinds, with black fruit hiding behind good bright notes, and mineral. The mouth on this full bodied wine, is rich and layered, showing lovely extraction, rich blackberry, blackcurrant, with impressive fruit structure, showing elegance and attack, with great focus and spice, spicy oak wrapped in earth and mouth coating and expressive tannin, with so much tar that it feels like road work in the mouth, and green notes galore. The finish is long and green with focus and power, showing dark chocolate, foliage, with scraping mineral, graphite, and mounds of earth lingering long. BRAVO! Drink from 2021 to 2031.

2013 Four Gates Frere Robaire – Score: 94
Another stunning wine, come on, this wine will and always reminds me of Chateau Malartic, and depending on how long you age it, the Malartic vintage compares well. The nose on this wine is lovely, as it opens, it is ripe to start with loads of fruit, mounds of finesse, and sweet oak, with rich mineral, herb, black fruit, with a bit of red in the background, and lovely graphite, and spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is ripe and opens slowly with rich layers upon layers of sweet fruit, followed by earth, tilled loam, with green notes galore, sweet blackberry, plum, with concentration and rich extraction that gives way to layers of mouth coating tannin, vanilla, and spice. The finish is long and earthy, with foliage, green notes, anise, earth, leather, rich sweet milk chocolate, mushroom, and loads of forest floor. Drink from 2021 to 2030.

Four Gates Winery – the newest wines for 2017

In case you have all been sleeping under a rock for the past 10 years – you all know my deep love for all things Four Gates. Last year was a great year for Four Gates Wine, and this year is no different. Once again, I have been asked about prices, and I am seriously not sure why this is being directed towards me. Sure, I am his friend, but prices are not my decision. Four Gates makes a tiny amount of wine and it is his business what he charges for them.

With that business out-of-the-way, let’s get to the wines for this years release. This year there is a new varietal, a Petite Sirah and there is a return of a Zinfandel, and there is a re-release of the 2013 Syrah and the 2013 Chardonnay. The Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel, are not his grapes of course, as Four Gates vineyards is made up of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

The Cabernet Franc from this year’s release, also a 2013, comes from his aforementioned vines. It is a vastly different wine than the 2013 Cabernet Franc that he released last year, that was made from grapes sourced from the Monte Bello Ridge area. The Monte Bello Ridge CF was pure mineral and less fruit. This 2013 Cabernet Franc is a return of the classic Four Gates Cabernet Franc, rich in its floral and fruit notes.

There are two 2013 Merlot, and sadly I only have notes on the MSC, but from what I remember the non – MSC is lovely. The notes follow below, in the order they appear on his website:

2013 Four Gates Merlot, M.S.C – Score: A- to A
I really love this wine, it shows really old style notes, showing mushroom, earth, with bright red and black fruit mingling into pure hedonism. The mouth on this beautiful and elegant wine is layered and concentrated with ripe blackberry, plum, and rich earth, mushroom, and forest floor, with green notes, and old world structure and mineral, with new world fruit, all wrapped in mouth draping tannin and green notes. The finish is long and green, with earth, menthol, coffee grinds, and roasted herb.

2013 Four Gates Cabernet Franc – Score: A- to A
It is back!! The Franc is classic, with lovely floral and feminine notes, showing rose, floral notes, with green notes, earth, raspberry, and red fruit. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is lovely, old world, and expressive, with ripping acid, wrapped in lovely mouth coating tannin, showing red fruit, with black currant, rich earth, lovely garrigue, earth, and green foliage abounds, all with epic focus and bright fruit. The finish is long and green with spice, mint, lovely saline, graphite, mineral galore, with coffee notes and roasted herb. BRAVO!

2013 Four Gates Syrah – Score: A-
In the past year, little has changed in this wine. One word does correctly define this wine – FILTHY!!! The wine opens slowly – but once it does, the wine opens to a crazy redolence of blue fruit, followed by squid ink, licorice, sweet oak, intense black fruit, mushroom, and wondrous spice. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is layered and extracted to the max with intense black and blue fruit, blueberry, blackberry, blackcurrant, followed by lovely barnyard, crazy earth, mineral, graphite, rich extraction, dense concentration of fruit and mineral, and great acid. The finish is long and spicy, with cinnamon, all spice, root beer, and hints of asian spice, and roasted animal, and miso! BRAVO!

2014 Four Gates Zinfandel – Score: A-
This is a fun wine, a lovely classic California Zin, with blue notes galore, raspberry, currants, followed by bright fruit, and earth. The mouth on this full-bodied is really fun, full throttle California, showing lovely acid, zesty fruity juicy wine, with fun blueberry, blackberry, and zesty fruit, wrapped in a nice cloak of tannin and zesty spice. The finish is long and spicy with cloves, cracked black pepper, and nice spice. Nice!

2015 Four Gates Pinot Noir – Score: A-
This wine reminds me of the Cali Pinot Noirs to start, rather than the older world style of Benyo’s wines, to start. The nose on this wine is ripe and sweet, with sweet cherry notes, raspberry coulis, and baking spices. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is ripe and round, with good fruit structure, nice earth, dirt, and good sweet spices, that are wrapped in lovely searing tannins to start, but give way eventually to mouth coating tannins that integrate slowly. The finish is long and both tart and spicy, with great tobacco, earth, dill, and menthol that lift the ripe fruit and give it elegance and complexity.

2014 Four Gates Petite Sirah – Score: A-
The nose on this wine is dark and brooding, with hints of blue notes, followed by blackberry, plum, earth, and good mineral focus, with time the nose is redolent with blue notes, black fruit, and root beer. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is fun, it is slightly rustic in style to start, but that passes and turns more elegant, with mouth drying and coating tannin, giving way to a lovely inky structure, that is backed by lovely blueberry, boysenberry jam, balanced well with mineral and tobacco, with dark chocolate, and luscious tart and juicy strawberry, all wrapped in sweet oak. The finish is long and tart, with good sweet fruit focus, nice mineral, graphite, great tart fruit structure linger long, with tart boysenberry sorbet, and bright fruit lingering long. Nice!!

2013 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A-
The nose on this lovely gold colored wine screams of sweet oak, with honey notes, peach, apricot, guava, mad butterscotch, and creamy sweet notes. The mouth on this full bodied beast is rich, opulent, and viscous with layers of brioche, followed by rich summer fruit, quince, pineapple, grapefruit, lemon/citrus notes, creamy notes, vanilla, and lovely crème fraîche. The finish is long and creamy with lingering oak, great spice, nutmeg, cloves, mad intense acid, and overall balance from the oak and fruit. This is clearly Benyo’s first heavy oaked Chard, but give this wine time to settle out and round out. With time it will show the trademark creamy, buttery notes that make his wines so appealing.

Four Gates Winery – the newest wines for 2016

2012 Four Gates Cabernet SauvignonIn case you have all been sleeping under a rock for the past 5 years – you all know my deep love for all things Four Gates. Last year was an OK year for Four Gates Wine, but this year – may well be his best of all time. Now, I have got way too many emails and posts on FB asking me about the wines and the prices, that have gone up a bit. So, I thought I would post this article earlier than I would have to get people the information they have asked for.

The prices are a bit higher, but to be honest that is none of my business. Four Gates makes a tiny amount of wine and it is his business what he charges for it. That said, the Pinot is one of the best out there – with exception to maybe the 2012 Masada Pinot Noir – which is more expensive. Same goes for the new Cabernet Franc. The 2013 Cabernet Franc that Benyo is selling on his website is NOT from his vineyard, but rather from a vineyard on the Monte Bello Ridge area, close to the vineyard from where he sources his Cabernet Sauvignon that he is selling as well.

Prices are not what I get involved in, I am very adamant that wineries work to lower their prices – to make good kosher wine more accessible to the kosher consumer, but in Four Gates case – I guess it is up to you to decide what you want to buy.

Now to the wines, the Petite Verdot is the last one that will be made from that vineyard, so if you liked the 2010 PV – which was OFF the charts, the 2013 is almost as good, but with time it may be better. Also, being it is the last – get some while it is available.

Finally, as I said before, the Cabernet Franc is a new wine for Four Gates – as this is a new vineyard and while he did get some in 2015 (none in 2014), it was so small that it was blended into the Cabernet from ridge. The 2015 vintage overall is really small all around California, so do not expect too much from any of the vendors – though I think Covenant did well. So, in my opinion those would be the three MUST buys of the list.

After that, in terms of the rest of the wines, the Chard is very oaked – like crazy! But I had it twice and each time I let it sit for a day and after that it was one of the best Chardonnays I have had in a long time. Rich, fruity, but supple, with great butter and butterscotch, and so viscous that it really made me take notice.

The two Merlot are very nice as is the Cabernet Sauvignon. The Frere Robaire is crazy as always – the blend of Cab. Merlot, and CF really does make for an epic Bordeaux-like wine. Finally, the Syrah is very unique and the last for a few years, hopefully benyo can get more this year. The wine is very dirty, mushroom, and almost barnyard – very unique. It will make for a Syrah that is different than many have had in the past.

So, there you have it – the wine notes follow below:

2012 Four Gates Merlot – Score: A- (and much more)
This is yet another lovely classic Four Gates Merlot nose with raspberry and plum, with lovely briery, garrigue, and juicy fruit berry. The mouth on this full bodied wine is lovely with sweet cedar, crazy sweet dill, with layers of concentrated black fruit, blackberry, dark plum, all balanced with searing acid, sweet fruit notes, hints of coconut, and sweet herb. The finish is long and inky with rich black fruit, chocolate, leather, intense sweet tobacco, black fig, and black and red jam. BRAVO!!

2012 Four Gates Merlot, MSC – Score: A- (and much more)
Another lovely classic Four Gates wine nose with rich black fruit, with elegance and restraint. The mouth on this med to full bodied wine is another example of sheer elegance, with layer of concentrated juicy blackberry jam, mouth coating tannin, currant, green herb, bell pepper, with hints of sweet cedar, sweet basil, and dill, with sweet milk chocolate, and cocoa. The finish is long and black, with rich layers of licorice, more sweet herb, and lovely green notes backed by black plum, and sweet spices. LOVELY!

2013 Four Gates Cabernet Franc, Monte Bello Ridge – Score: A- to A
The nose on this lovely wine is ripping with rich tart and black fruit, along with mounds of dry dirt, loam, and earth, followed by incredible mineral, graphite and #2 pencil. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, layered, and complex, and comes at you first with rich roasted herb along with lovely blackberry, tart raspberry, dark plum, with green notes, bell pepper, and lovely foliage, all wrapped in mouth drying tannin, mad acid, garrigue, and black currant. The finish is long and refreshing, with a huge backbone, along with tart, full, and rich fruit, followed with leather, leafy tobacco, sweet dill, more green notes, licorice, along with saline and salt lick, and lovely pith. A very unique and special wine worth finding!

2012 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge – Score: A- (and much more)
This is a far more restrained wine than the Merlot wines – less fruit on the nose with jammy red fruit, raspberry jam, vegetal notes, and spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is inky perfect the perfect balance between the Merlot wines, plush and rich, nicely extracted but controlled, with a bit less dill, with lovely sweet tannin, balanced nicely with searing acid, black plum, sweet herb, mounds of ripe cassis, blackberry, sweet fruit jam, mouth coating and drying tannin, and blackcurrant, with great finesse and control. The finish is long with great balance, sweet chocolate, sweet basil, lovely earth, mineral, graphite, and sweet tobacco. BRAVO!!

2012 Frere Robaire, Bordeaux Blend – Score: A- (and much more)
This is another wine with a far more red nose profile, showing redder fruit, with plum and raspberry, ripe candied cherry, and cassis in the background. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich and perfect with layers of dark fruit, sweet herb, and insane tart and ripe fruit, all balanced with layers of concentration and control. The mouth is layered and rich with an inky fruit structure that gives way to sweet oak, blackberry, and sweet herb. The finish is long and tart with nice tannin and dirt, showing well with dark chocolate, and sweet herb. Very Nice!

2013 Four Gates Petit Verdot – Score: A-
The nose on this wine is earthy, dirty, toasty, and mushroom, with tart red fruit lurking, and with time shows floral notes. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich with intense sweet dill, sweet plum, and toasty and smokey notes, with roasted animal, and heavy rich sweet tannin, that gives way to more dirt and sweet spices and intense and crazy acid. The finish is long and mineral with a rich fruit structure showing blackberry, crazy tobacco, and vegetal notes, with dark chocolate, and roasted toasty notes.

2013 Four Gates Pinot Noir – Score: A- (and much more)
The nose on this lovely wine starts with a hit of alcohol, but that blows off quickly to show the classic Benyo Chica cherry cola, followed by rich tilled earth, nice crunchy herb, and rich sweet spice. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich and bold and it needs time to come together, with classic cherry, raspberry, dark currant, along with intense acid, and lovely garrigue with impressive fruit structure that is packed with toasty oak, rich tannin, along with layers of fruit, graphite, mineral, and more dirt. The finish is long and vanilla, with great structure and tobacco, with sweet slices, cinnamon, and crushed herb. BRAVO!

2013 Four Gates Syrah – Score: A- (and much more)
One word does correctly define this wine – FILTHY!!! The wine opens slowly – but once it does, the wine opens to a crazy redolence of blue fruit, followed by squid ink, licorice, sweet oak, intense black fruit, mushroom, and wondrous spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is layered and extracted to the max with intense black and blue fruit, blueberry, blackberry, blackcurrant, followed by lovely barnyard, crazy earth, mineral, graphite, rich extraction, dense concentration of fruit and mineral, and great acid. The finish is long and spicy, with cinnamon, all spice, root beer, and hints of asian spice, and roasted animal, and miso! BRAVO!!!

2013 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A-
The nose on this lovely gold colored wine screams of sweet oak, with honey notes, peach, apricot, guava, mad butterscotch, and creamy sweet notes. The mouth on this full bodied beast is rich, opulent, and viscous with layers of brioche, followed by rich summer fruit, quince, pineapple, grapefruit, lemon/citrus notes, creamy notes, vanilla, and lovely crème fraîche. The finish is long and creamy with lingering oak, great spice, nutmeg, cloves, mad intense acid, and overall balance from the oak and fruit. This is clearly Benyo’s first heavy oaked Chard, but give this wine time to settle out and round out. With time it will show the trademark creamy, buttery notes that make his wines so appealing.

Another great Shabbos at Four Gates Winery with good friends – 2015

Four Gates lineup

This thing is starting to be a habit! Last year we did it with the boys, but that trip we got totally shnockered, and I never did get good notes, but man did we move though a lot of wine! This trip, was a bit more shabbos like, we sang, actually spoke about things relating to the weekend, and yes we drank a fair amount of wine. However, the wines for this trip were purposely dedicated to the west coast, no wines at all from Israel or France of the like. Of course the vast majority of them were Four Gates wines, but we also had a Shirah wine in there, the new Aglianico, and a very nice Covenant Sauvignon Blanc from 2011 that was screaming!!

I will skip the pleasantries and the such, as we all know who Four Gates Winery is and that he is a friend of mine, which is why we have our “yearly” Guys outing there! This year the shabbos was not just friends of mine from out of town but also some friends from here in San Jose! Of course none of this would have or could have happened without Binyamin Cantz, winemaker, owner, cask washer, cellar rat, vineyard manager, and all around dude of Four gates Winery – you get the point!

I was happy that I may have only gotten him angry at me once over the shabbos, maybe twice, which for me is a record!

Anyway, the notes and the pics of the wines follow – have a great week all!

1997 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A- (and more)
lovely and screaming! The nose is lovely and citrusy, with sweet oak and oriental spice. The mouth is more polished and elegant with great acid, guava, pineapple and great acid with great sweet fruit and fig. The finish is long work lovely fruit, hints of butterscotch and rich summer fruit.

2002 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A-
What a joyous wine the nose is rich with a classic Meyrieux nose of pineapple, sweet fruit and lovely spice. The mouth is lovely and medium bodied with great apple pie, kiwi, pineapple, along with crazt tart fruit, with lovely rich acid and intense layers of brioche and fruit. The finish is long and sweet with nutmeg and candied pineapple, with sweet cedar bringing it all together. The acid is what rocks this wine along with the tart and sweet wine notes. Bravo!!! Read the rest of this entry

Four Gates Winery’s new vinatges continue to impress – but slightly weaker

Four Gates Winery welcome sign and road upI have written often about Four Gates Winery, here in 2008, again for a Shabbaton, and then when I crashed Alice Feiring’s visit to the Four Gates Winery, and then my last writeup – the most complete to date. As always, I state up front that the winemaker, Benyamin Cantz (Benyo) is a good friend of mine and that in the end, the wine talks and scores and notes I give on wines are unbiased, as much as I can be.

I get a bunch of “smack” about being a good friend of Benyo, which is true, still I write what I smell and taste. Clearly, Four Gates Winery is one of those California wineries that is very different. It is different because of a few factors:

  1. Benyamin is a Vigneron – as explained before, Vigneron is French for wine maker and winery owner, but it also means that it is a person who does it all – wine wise. He manages his vineyard, he manages his cellar, and makes the wine – a nice way to say one-man shop. Is that good? Well, I can say it is awesome because he gets to know his vines and wines, but really it is just a view into the unique man who is himself the physical embodiment of the Four Gates Winery.
  2. The vines are grown organically and meet the CCOF standards of organic farming. Please do not think that a Vigneron is not a farmer. Remember he grows his grapes and knows his grapes and does so in an ecologically sustainable manner – since he started in 1997. This is NOT a fad for Binyamin – it is part of his way of life.
  3. His vines are dry farmed (there is that word again) – and for good reason. The Pinot pops because of it, as does the Chardonnay and Merlot. Essentially, dry farming allows for the fruit flavors to concentrate as the vine stresses. Stress, for a vine, is great. Too much stress, like in humans is BAD! Luckily it does not get that hot in the mountains and therefore, the water requirements are lower, keeping the stress constant – but maintainable.
  4. The climate in the vineyard and winery, as mentioned earlier, is indeed cooler than the city it overlooks and that helps the vines in many ways. The obvious benefit is that the vines need less water than they would elsewhere. It also allows the vines to cool down over night and it allows the vines to stay cool for longer, meaning more ripening time, but in a controlled manner.
  5. The cooler climate makes for perfect Pinot, Chardonnay, and Merlot and believe it or not Cabernet Sauvignon, which is why the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Monte Bello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains is so FANTASTIC!  Yes, I am sure you would think that Cabernet in a cooler region would be a disaster, as it would never fully ripen. Well, a not-so well-known fact is that the 2005 Four Gates Merlot M.S.C. has a bit of Benyamin’s Cabernet Sauvignon in it. WHAT? Yes, Benyamin grows a very small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon (I hope he does not kill me – LOL!) His Cabernet Franc also benefits from the cooler weather.
  6. Finally, what makes this winery unique is Benyamin Cantz himself! On this bullet point, I must pre-warn that I am very biased. To me Benyamin Cantz is one of those people where the expression stands true – good things happen to good people. Sure, he is my friend, but it does not take long to talk with him and feel the same way. He is like a few wine makers I found in Israel, that are humble, with so much to be arrogant about. The wine talks for themselves, but he is a unique man in that his actions may be wrapped up in the winery and vines, but they revolve around his religion, and that is more than most of us can ever say about ourselves. Read the rest of this entry

Four Gates Winery – a terroir driven kosher winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Four Gates Winery welcome sign and road up

I must start this posting by saying, I could not believe that I have waited this long to write an update to my previous postings on the Four Gates Winery. I did post about the time I crashed the Alice Feiring visit to Four Gates, which is almost fully documented in the last chapter of her new book: Naked Wine, more on that when I do my write up on the book. I also posted many wine notes along the way. Still the last real post I did on my friend’s winery is almost 4 years ago! Are you kidding me?

Once again, I was driving up this time to see Benyamin Cantz, the winemaker, vineyard manager, and Numero Uno of Four Gates Winery, in the rolling hills of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. It was a beautiful winter day in February that felt like a spring day in Northern California, another lovely reason to live in NorCal. The drive to the winery winds through the twisting roads that crest and wrap around the Santa Cruz Mountains. By the time you arrive at the address of the winery, you will notice a Bruchim Habaim (translated loosely to mean blessed be those who are arriving) sign to the left and a driveway in front of you. As you look at the driveway that will take you to the top of the hill upon which the winery is perched, the thoughts of stairway to heaven cannot help but play in your head! The drive up the hill to the winery used to be a dirt road long ago, and with all the switchbacks and near vertical climbs, it dumbfounds me how Binyamin (and many others who lived on the hilltop) ever drove up and down that mountainside many times a day. Since then, the road has been paved and now by comparison, it feels like a highway. Once you have circumnavigated the circuitous drive to the top, the vineyard will be visible flanking the driveway from both the right and the left. The larger block of vines is on the right, but the Pinot and part of the Chardonnay are on the left. Read the rest of this entry

Four Gates Winery Syrah Vertical

On October 22, our friends invited us along with Benyamin Cantz, proprietor of Four Gates Wine, and a few other friends for a Friday Night meal that would be accompanied by a vertical tasting of all currently released Four Gates Syrah(s). A vertical tasting is what it sounds like; vintages of a similar wine from a single winery. A horizontal tasting is common wines and varietals from multiple wineries and vintages.

We had the wonderful opportunity to taste the 2003, 2004, and 2005 Four Gates Syrah in the same sitting. The meal started off with a tasting of the 2004 Four gates Chardonnay. I have had two different tasting notes about this wine, one with toasted oak and butterscotch, and one being oaky and fruity. This time the wine showed off its toasty oak, butterscotch, ripe fruit, and lemon/citrus fruit, another hit.

I want to thank our friends for hosting the wine vertical. The meal was awesome and one that paired extremely well with the wines being served.

The wine notes follow below in the order they were enjoyed:

2004 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A- (no change from last tasting other than color being darker)
The nose on this electric gold colored wine is filled with heavy and luscious toasted oak, a whiff of burnt oak, lemon, melon, peach, toasted almond, spice, Crème brûlée, and butterscotch. The mouth on this full bodied wine is spicy with Crème brûlée, layers of concentrated toasty oak, along with butterscotch, melon, and a hint of almonds. The mid palate is packed with more oak, lemon, and bright acidity. The finish is long and spicy, with tasty oak, butterscotch, and lemon. The oak calms down a bit with time, but the flavors are still there with tight concentration and brightness.

2005 Four Gates Syrah – Score: A-
The nose on this purple to black colored wine filled with tar, chocolate, black pepper, licorice, alcohol, oak, black plum, blackberry, and thyme.  The mouth of this full bodied and layered wine is filled with mouth coating tannins, black plum, blackberry, and tar.  The mid palate plays off the mouth coating palate with more tannin, acidity, oak, and chocolate. The finish is long and smoky, with tar, black pepper, plum, and acidity.  Quite a nice wine that has a few more years left in it.

2004 Four Gates Syrah – Score: A- to A
The nose on this deep to brooding purple to black colored wine is screaming with inky black ripe fruit, cassis, blackberry, raspberry, plum, chocolate, tar, black pepper, and oak.  The mouth on this full bodied and velvety wine is inky and dense, along with waves of cassis, blackberry, and plum.  The mid palate of this wonderfully complex wine has integrating tannin, oak, acid, and tar.  The finish is long with tar, oak, chocolate, cassis, plum, and black pepper.

2003 Four Gates Syrah, Special Reserve, Santa Clara Valley (same as the last tasting) – Score: A
WOW! This is a killer wine. The first thing that hits you when you open this bottle of wine and peer into its purple-black stare is the ripe blueberry notes that come screaming out at you, along with blackberry, cassis, plum, tobacco, chocolate, tar, and rick oak. The mouth on this full bodied, mouth filling, concentrated, and structured wine comes at you in layers with fruit that follows the nose, ripe blackberry, plum, blueberry, tar, and oak. The mid palate is balanced with acid, oak, tobacco, and chocolate. The finish is super long, black, and spicy, with rich oak, chocolate, tobacco, tar, leather, and blackberry. This is a truly wonderful wine that is highly structured with lovely tannins and a wine that still has a few years left under its belt. The nose is killer with the lovely ripe blueberry and blackberry, along with the oak, tar, chocolate. It follows through with the mouth till its tantalizing finish. Quite a powerful that has its sea legs beneath it and bright horizon ahead.

Carlebach Shabbaton at Four Gates Winery

This past week saw me hanging out with Benyo at his house for his yearly Carlebach Shabbaton. For some 15 or more years Benyamin Cantz has very kindly offered his home and space to some 40 or so souls who wish to spend time with each other and Rabbi Naftali Citron (who is currently the Rabbi of the Carlebach Shul in NY). Starting in the mid nineties, Benyamin kindly agreed to host a group of Rabbi Citron’s follower’s for a shabbaton – Carlebach Style.

This year many of the old timers were there, along with many new faces, like my own. This was a spiritual experience for me personally. Many of you who know me, know I am a religious person, but still this rustic setting, surrounded by 40 Jews who just want to get closer to God, friends, and the Rabbi, made it that much more special.

It all started on Friday day when I arrived at the winery to help prepare for the upcoming shabbos. Normally a shabbos meal is a breeze for me and /or my wife. However, 40 guests descending upon the hilltop in the middle of nowhere is not quite a normal shabbos. Along with the fact that the housing surrounding the winery and Benyamin’s house made Yosemite’s outback look like small. For as far as your eye could see around the winery there were tents upon tents. As we were preparing folks started showing up looking for a good place to drop their wares and tent. The old timers knew the best nooks, while the newbies, well they were left to fare with the second run spots. Still a hilltop surrounded by a winery, vineyard, friends, and an awesome Jewish experience is hard to call a second run spot. People would kill to be able to just park themselves down and relax among the picture perfect nature that surrounds you. The soaring Redwoods provide shade, the sounds of nature abound around you, the farm life walks about you, including horses (that show up like clockwork during the prayer service), goats, and chickens, along with the wild life as well. The feeling permeates you, no matter what you are doing. Whether I was chopping vegetables, slaving over my vegetarian lasagna, cleaning up whatever was not physically moving, implementing traffic control within the house, managing to catch a glimpse of the whitesox losing to the Orioles, it did not matter. No matter what – it was a ball and there was this palpable level of suspense and awe around the shabbos that was fast approaching. It held so much promise, mystery, and lore, that it was sure to be a grand time.

Of course Benyamin did not just wake up on Friday and start getting ready for the event. As usual, Benyamin is the cog that runs the event, but it was nice to see many step up and pitch in. As night fall quickly approached the window that overlooked the land around the winery was filled with the hustle and bustle of classic Jewish life on a Friday evening. Except here it held itself to an almost different rhythm and cadence, one filled with unbridled enthusiasm of what the wonderful shabbos held in store for them all. Ladies helped check and clean the vegetables of bugs, my most hated task in the entire world. Others made the fish or the myriads of salads that later graced the tables that evening and the following lunch and sholesh seudot.

Finally, shabbos arrived and everyone’s pulse calmed to a stillness that is reticent of a person lying on a beach in the evening watching a meteor shower. True calm and relaxation coupled with awe and excitement, waiting for the next starburst or streak of light in the sky. Things started a bit later as people arranged their lives outside. Soon we prayed the afternoon prayers and started the Kaballat Shabbat. It was at this time that I had my first real glimpse of Rabbi Citron. Until this moment I was either working, getting dressed, or leading the prayers. However, as the shabbos came into fold Rabbi Citron lit up the sky with his relaxed pace and delivery, glistening eyes, and calm and soothing voice laying out how the evening prayers would progress, culminating with a single file walk in the pitch black darkness to the overlook of the vineyard and Santa Cruz below from the peak of the hilltop, to shepherd in the Shabbos Queen, during the completion of Sholom Alechem.

The davening was led by Rabbi Citron using many Carlebach famous melodies, while also masterly weaving in some current ones as well. Once evening prayers were completed, the room transformed into what can only be explained as a version of musical chairs, except utilizing chairs, tables, partitions, and humans, all moving in a wonderful fluid dance, choreographed and masterfully managed by Benyamin and a few very nice old timers.

One | Two PunchThe meal was quickly laid out on the tables, a bounty of food, wine, and beverages. The meal started with Kiddush over a yet to be released Four Gates red wine blend. It was followed by blessing over challah. Soon, we were served an almond/carrot bisque, seasoned with a unique set of spices and flavors, including fennel/anise. This was paired with a never released 2002 Chardonnay, which is screaming with characteristics easily associated with the Meyrieux barrels the wine was aged in. The main course consisted of caper roasted salmon (awesome recipe), with the capers infusing the very flesh of the salmon, fantastic. This was accompanied by a myriad of salads and side dishes that I have honestly forgotten, there were so many! The main course was paired with a wine that I had not tasted up to that point called the 1-2 punch, a 50/50 GS mix of Grenache and Syrah. The wine was so fun, original in styling, flavor, and structure. I do not remember ever tasting a 50/50 kosher GS, so that was cool. The wine was made by Shimon & Gavriel Weiss, who started a garage winery in 2008, and have since moved a couple of times but have expanded their wines and bottle count. I hope to do a more complete write-up on them both very soon – God Willing.

The next day the day started late with a 10 AM start to prayers (give or take a bunch of minutes). The Rabbi started with a short but extremely powerful discussion of theology and the Torah portion from Rav Nachman of Breslov. The words were deep and hit home hard and often, truly wonderful. The prayers carried on for 3 plus hours, and throughout the entire service, there was a cacophony of chopping noise coming out of the kitchen, as the ladies chopped their way to the finish line, with the only proof left over being a compost bin full of vegetable carcasses and massive bowls of fresh green salad and a bunch of assorted salads, just crazy. Mega kudos go to the ladies who did all the checking and cleaning of the vegetables. However, once again it cannot be underestimated the huge round of applause that Benyamin deserves. If you can imagine a bunch of strangers showing up at our doorstep, chasing you out of your home, and setting up shop in your kitchen chopping, cutting, cooking, and cleaning, while you stood by helpless. Now I am not, God Forbid, calling the people who helped this past shabbos thugs, heaven forbid, but to Benyamin having that many people in his kitchen without being able to manage and overlook the work being done, it causes him to be uneasy and some anxiousness, both of which are not fun. Anyone in his shoes would feel the same, essentially giving over the keys to his kitchen, home, land, and sanity for an entire weekend, would drive any many batty. Yet Benyo was the consummate gentleman and host throughout the weekend, so many thanks to you my friend!

Once again the room did a quick change from prayer hall to lunch room! Once again the partitions removed, tables added, chair placements reset, and tables set with eating utensils and loaded high with food. My lasagna was served along with a lovely trout and mounds of salads and dips. The food was paired with more 2002 Chardonnay, the 2004 Yatir mix, a bottle of 2006 Four Gates Merlot, a bottle of the 2005 Red Fern Merlot, and a crazy bottle of Syraph made by the Weiss brothers. This may well have been the highlight of the day for me when everyone around the tables went around and all said a quick word on the Torah portion, or told us history of the event, or just introduced themselves. Either way it was clearly a situation where all the participants opened themselves to the group, making them openly vulnerable by allowing us to see them all in a different light. Once again Rabbi Citron orchestrated the turns, allowing us all to partake and make it a memorable part of the shabbaton.

There was even a clandestine meat cholent after lunch served outside on paper plates of course. The cholent was constructed by Gavriel before shabbos, and I helped a bit cutting the vegetables up. However, he brought the meat and stuffing – it was a killer cholent! The Weiss brothers kindly poured a bottle of 1-2 punch and it was awesome again.

After the meals and the cholent it was time for a pair of classes from Rabbi Citron and they were wonderful. The first parlayed off my daily Daf Yomi studies, while the second was more teachings from Rav Nachman of Breslov. That was followed by Mincha services and are you kidding me – more food!!!! Yep, sholesh seudot! I could barely eat. I ate my requisite slice or two of bread, so no wine consumed.

Finally, the evening came to an end with a lovely havdalah service, once again led by Rabbi Citron. My personal take aways from it all was the warmth, the openness, the nature and the slow pace, the lovely voice and davening of Ra bi Citron, his classes, and all the awesome food. It was a wonderful event and one that I hope will continue so that I can lend a hand again and partake of it powerful messages.

Normally I give notes for wine I taste, but this time, I can only state a few take aways and score for each of the wines. So with my disclaimers stated the wine notes follow below:

2008 One Two Punch (Grenache/Syrah 50%/50% Blend) – Score: A-
The nose on this blue to purple colored wine is screaming with either chocolate malt or espresso coffee (different nose between two bottles), sweet oak, crushed herbs, and lovely red fruit. A medium bodied wine that plays into a bigger wine in your mouth from its mouthfeel of integrating tannins, oak, and chocolate malt/espresso coffee. The fruit peeks out in the mid palate along with acidity that is slightly unbalanced. The finish is long with herbs, more malt/coffee, and oak. The tannins are nicely integrating creating a more plush mouthfeel.

2005 Red Fern Cabernet – Score: Drink up
This wine is in a world of hurt and needs to be drunk now. Not memorable in any way.

2005 Red Fern Merlot – Score: B to B+
After the Cabernet debacle I was not expecting anything from this wine. However, it was barely alive showing nice mouthfeel, along with oak, black plum, and raspberry. Not bad, drink up.

2004 Yatir Blend (40% Cab/40% merlot/20% Shiraz) – Score: A-
The nose on this purple to black colored wine is screaming with tobacco, oak, spice, blackberry, and plum. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is packed with blackberry and nicely integrating tannins. The mid palate is balanced with oak and acidity. The finish is super long with tobacco, spicy oak, blackberry, and plum.

2008 Syraph (85% Syrah and 15% Grenache) – Score A-
The nose on this screaming eagle of a wine is packed with tar, oak, blackberry, plum, pepper, malt chocolate, and spice. The mouth follows the nose with crazy concentration of tar, blackberry, and oak. The mid palate is balanced with oak, nice tannins, and chocolate malt. The finish is super long and elegant with more tar, blackberry, chocolate malt, and pepper. Quite a nice bottle.

For those interested in buying some of the Syraph wine or the 1-2 (One Two) Punch wine please post a comment to get Shimon Weiss email address. I do not want to post it here, as it would just mean more spam for Shimon. I receive ZERO from their business. I am not affiliated or in business with them in anyway. I will reply to your comment via email with Shimon’s email address.

Wine Tasting Crasher – Alice Feiring style at Four Gates Winery

On May 21st, the day after Shavuot, I found myself driving the winding hills of Highway 17, that lead me to the even more bewildering roads of the Santa Cruz Mountains, to go see Benyamin Cantz and Alice Feiring at the Four Gates Winery. Alice was in the area, and called up Benyamin to ask if he was up to a visit by herself and her colleague, Jose Pastor, Benyamin said sure, and so the game was afoot.  I of course also asked Benyamin if I could attend, and he graciously allowed me entrance – but ONLY if I would be at my very best behavior.  I have had a deep interest in meeting this women, after reading her book; The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.  Here is a women with a great palate, wine lover, Jewish, and a person with a keen understanding of the madness of living the “frum” life, as is visible from her blog, and the three-part article on Benyamin and Four Gates Winery (yes that is me in the third installment).

I arrived at Benyamin’s house, where the wine tasting was taking place, just after the 2006 Four Gates Cabernet Franc was opened, which Alice seemed to like.  Benyamin had already shown Alice and Jose the grounds, vineyard, and winery, and was now sitting them down for some wine tasting and up close and personal examples of life on the farm (read the blog post).  I started to talk with Alice and Jose about her book, blog, and Parker – the single palate for the world.  I have slammed the single palate a couple of times here and here, and other places on Rogov’s forum.  After that, Benyamin opened a bottle of N.V. Four Gates Cabernet Franc (1999/2000), it was soft, full in the mouth, with bright acidity, bing cherries, oak, raspberry, with a hint of chocolate.  A nice bottle for being 10+ years old, I would have loved to hear what Alice and Jose thought of that one.  My notes from a year ago, when we did a Four Gates Vertical of his Cabernet Franc wines – can be found here.  While we were enjoying the wine, I kept asking questions, yes that is what I do.  I asked Alice where her fascination for natural wine comes from?  She was honest and clear, that she has no interest in changing my drinking habits, but she does want people to know what is out there, and make them realize what they are missing.  I asked that the hallowed DRC uses oak, why is that OK? I also stated that I understand that coffee and vanilla and the such are not a natural part of the wine, but can we really say that they do not add to the wine experience?  Her answer was fair, in that oak is not offensive, but it is when it is overused like so many do, or when it defines the wine, rather than helping round the wine, or allowing the wine to show its better characteristics.

Benyamin then opened his N.V. Pinot Noir, which was tasting exactly as my last notes here show.  Alice commented on the N.V. label, which Benyamin went on to explain was nothing more than the a great example of “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts”.  They then went into wine and winery talk for a bit, which was fine, as I was feeling like I was a bit too talkative, and I was after all crashing the wine tasting.  It was at this point that Benyamin remembered having made a basically natural wine, or as natural a wine as he could make, other than his one and only natural wine that he made (or God made), which was used under a wedding canopy (story in Alice’s blog).  The wine was a 1996 un-sulfited Chardonnay (yep 14 or so years old)!!!  Are you kidding me!  The wine was OFF the charts!  It was packed with lemon, oak, butterscotch, some melon, and yep some more oak.  That said, the wine was super full in the mouth, still ripe and alive, and so crazy fresh, that I begged for the left overs to take home, which Benyamin was VERY kind to give up.  Finally, Benyamin opened a yet to be released red wine blend, that tasted much like I tasted it the last time, but it needs a bit of time to reach its true potential.  I think Benyamin is almost ready to release it, though when, is beyond my knowledge.

After having met Alice and seen her in action, I can see why she so deeply wishes for natural wine to be more prevalent in the market place. She is a woman endowed with a keen palate, and a great understanding of viticulture and its abilities to influence wine making.  She must be screaming from the top of her lungs – “can you not see what you are missing”?  It is a cruel double edged sword to have such a gift and wonder why the rest of the world is so blind to the reality of wine in its natural state.  Clearly there are times when we all can see how the viticulturist has purposely modified the fruit to meet the needs of the post-Parker world.  There is a story in her book where a wine maker described how he made his wine.  He started with grape must, added in tannins from nuts, oak, and G-D only knows what else and then let the concoction ferment and age, and then slowly, filtered out what he did not like until he had a true Parker styled wine.  That is not wine making that akin to beer making.  That is using science to be 100% accurate in the reproduction of a wine target, no matter the grape state – which is what beer making is except with different ingredients.  When Joe the Plumber wants to kick back and pop open a cold one, he expects that beer to taste just like it did yesterday, or the day before, or the week before, or the year before – simply stated 100% reproducible, no matter the state of the grain, hops, or water.

But that happens only when I taste an over the top Cabernet that is coated in oak and fat with plump fruit that is so ripe, it almost tastes oxidized.  Yes, that is egregious, and unacceptable.  However, many other wines taste fine to me, some taste awesome to me, and they are not natural.  I guess I will leave it with the fact that I was humbled in her ability to appreciate and understand the true nature of the grape, vine, and wine, and that maybe one day, I will be able to get to the point of seeing what I am missing.

I want to thank Alice for letting me crash her wine tasting, and Benyamin for letting me enjoy more of his wonderful wine, hospitality, and down home cooking (that too is in Alice’s third part of the article).

Four Gates Winery – 2009 Wine

This past evening saw a group of us getting together to taste some wines that have yet to be released.  The wines were opened at the start of the tasting and were tasted again at the end.  We drank the wines in the order that they are listed below.  I had tasted these wines before, but we had a chance to sit down with a few other folks and so Benyamin swung on by and we had a formal group tasting.

I want to thank Four Gates Winery for the opportunity to taste the wines, the wines notes follow below:

Four Gates Chardonnay 2007 – Score: B+ – A-
The nose on this bright light straw colored wine is filled with lemon, apple, pear, and oak.  The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine starts off with lemon custard pear, and apples.  The mid palate starts off over acidic, but mellows down and reaches a nice balance as it airs out with core acidity and rich oak.  The finish is long and spicy with more oak, and lemon tartness.

Four Gates Chardonnay 2005 – Score: A-
The nose on this straw colored wine is filled with creamy caramel, peach, pear, and oak.  The mouth on this full bodied and rich wine is full in the mouth with caramel, pear, and apple.  The mid palate is opulent with rich oak, acidity, and nutmeg that is in almost perfect harmony.  The rich oak plays in your mouth with the core acidity in a perfect duet.  The finish is long with rich oak, mild acidity, and nutmeg with sage.

Four Gates Merlot La Rochelle 2006 – Score: B+
The nose on this vibrant light garnet colored wine is hot to start, but blows off quick enough, with black cherry, cola, sweet carob, and Italian spices.  The mouth of this medium to full bodied wine has a nice complex layering of cranberry and cherry.  With air, the mouth turns blue, with hints of blueberry and more cranberry.  The mid palate is filled with core acidity, tannins that have yet to integrate, and oak.  The finish is long and spicy with more oak, tannin, and coffee.

Four Gates Merlot M.S.C. 2006 – Score: A- (not yet for sale)
The nose on this black garnet colored wine filled with candied raspberry, blackberry, anise, and intense sweet wood.  The nose changes with more air to a richer nose of opulent wood and more cranberry.  The mouth on this full bodied wine is full in the mouth with mouth coating tannins, and complex layers of raspberry,  blackberry, and cherry.  The mid palate is a balance of oak and acid that play off the full mouth.  The finish is long and spicy with more sweet wood, acidity, coffee, and vanilla.

Four Gates Syrah 2005 – Score: A-
The nose on this black colored wine filled with tar, pepper, oak, black plum, eucalyptus, and thyme.  The mouth of this full bodied and layered wine is filled with mouth coating tannins, black plum, and black fruits.  The mid palate plays off the mouth coating palate with more tannin, acidity, and oak.  The finish is long with tar, pepper, and acidity to help balance out the wine.  Quite a nice brooding wine, that will age nicely over time.

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