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Sommelier 2017 results – sadly few highlights

sommelier-2017To say there were few highlights at this year’s sommelier, would be an understatement. Though, many of the “stalwarts” were absent this year. The consensus was that while Sommelier is a great marketing tool, it does not reach the end consumer well enough, and as such it is really a better tool for startup wineries – to display their wares to professional wine buyers, than bigger and more established brands.

The problem I have with that mentality from these wineries, is that they are missing point of Sommelier! Sommelier is not a wine venue it is a wine promotion vehicle, and there is the rub! More on this in a bit.

A few larger brands were indeed here this year, but they used it for displaying new varietals, like Tabor pouring their Tannat and Marselan wines. Yarden was also at the show, but they were highlighting the 2008 Blanc de Blanc bubbly, which makes little sense to me, as it is a past vintage in Israel, they are now on 2009 in Israel, though the 2008 is available in the USA and Duty Free. Of course, it did not diminish my happiness in seeing the wine, I used it predominantly as a means to cleanse my palate after a tasting far too many of the smaller winery wines, which were undrinkable, and that is truly being nice/PC.

Sadly, for me, Gvaot was a no-show, which is understandable at this point given their brand recognition and quality. Same goes for Netofa which also bowed out this year. Carmel and Yatir were also no shows, along with no Midbar, no Kishor, or Galil, or even Barkan (more on that in a minute). Really, it was new or fairly new wineries covering the walls like lilies on a summer day. Sadly, lilies would have been a better use of the space, but that is not my call of course.

So, all this means is that another year has passed, and nothing has changed, which is exactly what I was worried about in my last post.

State of Israel’s wine industry

My clear unhappiness, is not pointed at the Sommelier event itself, or at its promoters. On the contrary, the way I see it, it is a badly needed wine event. To me is is the event where we find the next Netofa, or Capsouto (who was there pouring his 2014 wines), but it is also the only event revolving around the wine industry as a whole left in Israel. Sure, we see it as the event where we get to taste lots of wine is a single place, but there are other aspects that I am now understanding about Sommelier that are very important as well.

Sommelier plays a vital part in the Israeli wine world, is is currently the only Israeli wine event that is focused on the wine industry. Sadly, ISRAWINEXPO died after the 2012 vintage, and even that one was a bit of a disappointment. Sure, there is the PYUP and Jerusalem, tel Aviv, and other festival wine events, but those are far more consumer wine related events than industry focused. Without the constant marketing of Israeli wines – at large to the global public, Israel becomes a one trick pony – kosher wine.

I have asked countless wineries why there is no REAL Israeli wine association, one that is fully inclusive to all wineries that export to major outlets around the world? Their answer, the government does not deem them agriculture and they have no interest in helping. OK. But Napa Valley has received no Government help, neither has Paso Robles (LOVE these ads), or most any in the USA or South Africa.

That was why I was so impressed by the Judean Hills Quartet, first of all they contain three of the best wineries in Israel. Maybe four, but Doron’s Sephora is not kosher, so I have no personal knowledge to its quality. On an aside, I remember with great glee the day Doron shared with me the an almost full vertical of his Chardonnay – what a joy they were. The three kosher wineries are stalwarts in their space, and while I can have issues here and there with certain vintages or certain wines, from Flam or Castel, the consistency and quality of these wineries, be they kosher or not, is truly impressive, and they make a great quartet to promote the Judean Hills region. Read the rest of this entry

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Sommelier 2015 results – White wines ruled along with a few reds

Sommelier 2015Sadly, Sommelier 2015 has come and gone and I can fairly state that I found nothing to be heartened about, in terms of the Israeli kosher wine scene. To be fair, the issue is still the same, wineries are deepening their love for all things over ripe and the excuse of poor vintages is really just that – an excuse. Having tasted almost every viable kosher wine at the event, I can safely say that only a few wineries care to make wines that are not over ripe, and the rest are the usual suspects. Before, anyone says there were many great wines, I can say I totally agree! The clear winners, winery wise were:
1.    Tzora Winery (the 2012 vintage is insane)
2.    Gvaot Winery (the 2012 Masada may well be their best ever)
3.    Recanati Winery (clearly the biggest winery with a desire to build very good wines from the bottom up)
4.    Tabor Winery (they continue to excel at the Adama series, though the Adama II wines have lost a step since 2010). Still, the whites, rose, and reds of Adama were impressive.
5.    Carmel Winery (the whites continue to excel and even the reds are solid, sadly the US labels are date juice)
6.    Yatir (nothing new here they are one of the best of the bunch)
7.    Yarden – SOLELY for the whites and bubbles. The reds were all date juice, the classic example of a winery that has purposely and consciously taken the road of over ripe fruit.
8.    Netofa Winery (the 2013 and 2014 wines will blow your socks off) – not listed here because I will post separately
9.    Mia Luce (Another winery made by a Recanati Associate Winemaker, this one being kosher) – maybe the best wines of the entire event
10.   Tura Winery (continues to push the boundaries and improving mightily. Love the Merlot, blends, and the new Gewurztraminer. Will post their wines on a separate post).

A few to keep track of – if they keep things up:
1.    Kishor Winery (some of their reds were truly impressive, their new whites were a step behind 2013)
2.    Jezreel Winery (Their white blend and the Carignan were nice, they need to tighten up the rest)
3.    Gush Eztion (Their whites were solid though they too need to tighten up on the reds)

Sadly, of the 200+ kosher wines at the event, fewer than 40 reds were anything to write about. It was the whites, even at wineries that I found physically painful to taste at, were quite acceptable. In the end it was the white wines that saved the event for me. White wines are the clear new trend in Israeli wineries and a trend that continues to impress. Sadly, the 2014 whites are step behind the 2013 vintages, as many did not add acid to the wines, but they are very solid none the less. Read the rest of this entry

Teperberg Wines at the 2012 Gotham Tasting and Sommelier

This is the tenth article I am writing on wineries from the Judean Hills wine region of Israel. No matter where you look around the landscape of Israeli wines and wineries you will find story after story of rebirth, renewal, and a fair amount of plain old new! Carmel, Binyamina, Barkan, were all producing mass consumption/bulk wine up until 1o to 15 years ago. Since then, they have seen serious rebirth, still selling almost undrinkable swill for the masses, and also selling high-end, and very respectable wines for us wine aficionados.

Personally, I think it is the correct business structure to have for a growing winery. You need simple bulk wines that have high margins and can be sold anywhere and everywhere. Wines that people buy in the millions, literally. Then you need wines that bolster the lineup, entry-level wine-drinker wines, that can be the bridge to take you from swill to paradise. Think white zinfandel from Herzog Wine Cellars, they sell those bottles by the millions and they are the perfect gateway drug to get you to Chenin Blanc and then maybe to Chardonnay or Black Muscat, and finally to some real dry red wines.

Today the winery we are looking at is the Teperberg winery which was founded in 1870 by the Teperberg family (from where the name of the winery is derived) in the Old City of Jerusalem. Actually, to be accurate it was located in an alleyway of the old city of Jerusalem, and may well have been the first winery in the modern era of Israel. Later in 1964, the winery moved outside of Jerusalem, to the then quiet suburb of Motza (now a thriving community), and took on the name Efrat. The winery, ignoring its many name changes, continues to mostly produce sacramental sweet wines, as that is what its main clientele are looking for. However, in the 1990s Efrat started to create dry red wines, and to be honest they were a disaster. I remember always passing up on them, even when in school, and buying Carmel dry or semi-sweet wines instead. Read the rest of this entry

The 2017-2018 kosher wine tasting event season is upon us!

When most people think of seasons – they think of either the 4 environmental seasons, or the holiday seasons (Jewish or otherwise), and then there are the more obscure – seasons, like the kosher wine tasting season. Yes, it is a once a year season and it starts in December and goes through late March. The exact dates are not set, as they depend on the Jewish Lunar calendar with the start of Passover. Yup! Passover drives the entire kosher wine tasting season – and that makes sense since 40 to 50% of ALL kosher wine sold, happens in the month around and before Passover! That is totally crazy!

So, with that in mind let the festivities begin! The first tasting that kicks off the season happens in Miami, and it has finally been “officially” added to the KFWE calendar. The KFWE family has officially expanded and subsumed what was already really KFWE events (including Israel and Miami) and now just made it official.

KFWE – Kosher Food and Wine

KFWE has been around since 2007 in NYC, and it keeps evolving and growing. Originally, the Los Angeles version was called International Food and Wine festival (IFWF) it started in 2008. It is not the oldest kosher wine tasting event, that would be the now-defunct  Gotham Kosher Wine Extravaganza. Sadly, they stopped hosting those tastings, such is life, their first one was in 2004, and it ran until 2014.

As I have pounded on and on in these virtual pages, we need more wine education and the wine education leader, IMHO, is also the kosher wine 800-pound guerilla, Royal Wines. Recently I did a quick check in my mind of the top kosher wineries or kosher wine runs from around the world, and Royal probably imports about 80+% of them. Sure, there are hundreds of wineries they do not import, but they are also not wines that I particularly buy and covet. It is just a very interesting fact IMHO, somewhat scary but also very telling. Here is a wine distributor and importer that gets what sells and what does not, and has successfully found the better options out there and keeps adding more.

Cross distributor tastings

Besides the Royal wine events – AKA KFWE, there are events in Israel, namely Sommelier, the only wine event in Israel publicizing Israel’s diverse wine culture. That happens every year in and around the month of January, as stated earlier exact dates for any of these events is only locked down a few months in advance and the date changes every year.

Israel wines may be going off the deep end, in terms of date juice and all, but Sommelier continues to do a wonderful job of keeping a continuous focus on Israel and its potential in the wine world. Bravo to them!

There is also the Bokobsa event in Paris, which I went to this past year, which is NOT officially part of the KFWE family, but Royal wines is represented there as are other wineries that Bokobsa imports into France.

Royal wine imports many Bokobsa wines into the USA, but Bokobsa itself makes kosher wines (like the fantastic 2007 and 2012 Sancerre Chavignol, though I wish they made a new one already), and imports wines into France as well. The whole kosher wine import game is what drives these events. These are importers/winemakers that need to sell product and they need to advertise what they are selling, so these events are a win-win for us all!

Besides, Sommelier, there are a couple of wine events that happen closer to Passover that is not about a single importer but rather about kosher wine options overall. These events are not as deep as the Royal or Bokobsa wine events, which will showcase almost every single wine these importers make/import. Rather, it is a curated and diverse set of wines that span across multiple importers and distributors. So, Yarden, Rashbi, and others are at these events and it gives the chance to taste other wines outside of the deep vertical shows like KFWE.

One of them is The Grapevine Wines & Spirits Kosher Grand Tasting, it is a very nice event that normally in the middle of the kosher wine tasting event season, they will be hosting their 6th event in 2018. The last event of the season is always the biggest of this style, the Jewish Week Grand Wine Tasting, they are in their 9th year (this coming 2018).

Another event that sadly has stopped was the Kosher Wine Society’s wine tasting which was also one of those cross distributor wine tasting event, but that has gone away with the KWS founder, Aaron Ritter, getting married and I guess being too busy to pull it off any longer. As much as I may miss the event, I am super happy for him and his family!

Wine events happening all the time

So there you have a quick history of the wine events that are coming up. There are also a few one-off events going on in NYC (nothing happens in LA or Norcal other than KFWE), like the upcoming Shirah event on December 3rd and the 2017 Long ISLAND kosher Wine EXPO that just completed on November 7th. Keep an eye open for them!

Kosher wine tasting events this season – in chronological order:

Name: Bon & Oak Tour De France – a pre-Miami KFWE event showcasing Royal’s new 2015/2016 kosher French wines
When: December 11th, 2017
Time: 7 PM to 11 PM
Where: 26 Bridge
26 Bridge St
Brooklyn, NY 11201 United States
Link to signup or for more information: http://www.bonandoak.com/event/tour-de-france-kosher-french-wine-and-culinary-experience – use the code KOSHERWINE15 for a 15% discount!

Name: KFWE Miami
When: December 13th, 2017
Time: 7 PM to 10 PM (6 PM VIP access)
Where: Turnberry Isle Miami
19999 W Country Club Dr, Aventura, FL 33180
Link to signup or for more informationhttp://www.kosherfoodandwinemiami.com/

Name: Sommelier
When: January 15th and 16th, 2018
Time: 1 PM to 6 PM Trade and 6:30 PM to 10 PM public
Where: Heichal HaTarbut
Huberman St 1, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel
Link to more informationhttp://www.sommelier.co.il/sommelier/
Sign up linkhttps://events.eventact.com/runreg2/event/RegForm.aspx?Event=29365&Company=61&Form=24639&Account=0&lang=he&hc&login=383773245964

Name: KFWE Tel Aviv
When: January 29th, 2018
Time: TBA
Where: Tel Aviv, Israel
Link to signup or for more information: TBA

Name: Bokobsa tasting of Grand Cru Cachers
When: January 30th, 2018
Time: 4 PM to 5:30 PM Trade and Public 5:30 PM till 9:30 PM
Where: Intercontinental Paris – Avenue Marceau
64 avenue Marceau, 75008 Paris, France
Link to signup or for more informationhttps://www.weezevent.com/degustation-de-vins-11

Name: KFWE London
When: January 31st, 2018
Time: 3:30 PN for trade and 6:30 PM for public
Where: Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
Piccadilly, London W1J 7BX, United Kingdom
Link to signup or for more information: TBA

Name: KFWE NYC
When: February 5th, 2018
Time: TBA
Where: TBA
Link to signup or for more information: TBA

Name: KFWE LA
When: February 7th, 2018
Time: TBA
Where: TBA (I hope it returns to the Petersen)
Link to signup or for more information: TBA

Name: The Grand Kosher Wine Tasting
When: February 18th, 2018
Time: 6 PM – 9 PM
Where: The Grapevine Wines & Spirits
455 Route 306 Wesley Hills, New York
Link to signup or for more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/331269254056948/

Name: Grand Wine Tasting and Kosher Wine Guide
When: March 12, 2018
Time:  5:00 PM for premium tasting, 6 PM to 9 PM for general admission
Where: City Winery NYC
155 Varick St, New York, NY 10013
Link to signup or for more information
: TBA

 

 

Flam Winery latest releases

As I have been posting so far, I enjoyed my last trip to Israel and Europe, and this will be the last post about Israeli wineries for this trip anyway! Last we left off, I was talking about – Tzora Vineyards Winery. However, that was the third winery that we visited that day – the third of the four wineries that make up the Judean Hills quartet, three of which are kosher. We visited all three of the kosher wines from the Judean Hills Quartet on that Friday, and in this post, I will cover the first of those three that we visited that day – that one being Flam Winery. This will be my last post from my trip to Israel, the next ones will be about my epic tasting in France and Riesling wines from Mosel. Also, a side note, the winery that brings us the wonderful Rieslings and Sylvaner – Nik Weiss, is a sister winery to Flam Winery. Actually, Gilad brought out a bottle of the 2015 Nik Weiss Riesling and we told him that we had issues initially with the wine, but now understand that these wines take years to come around (flavor and fruit characteristic wise) and that he should save his next bottle for a few years from now.

Judean Hills Quartet

I have already posted here about my appreciation for the Judean Hills quartet, I think what they are doing is great and is the correct way to go after the gaping sinkhole in what some would call Israeli wine education. They happen to also be some of the best wineries in Israel, which is a blessing. Who would want Yarden pushing their date juice and declaring this is the future of Israel’s wine revolution?? Instead, you have wineries like Domaine du Castel WineryFlam Winery, and Tzora Vineyards, along with a winery I wish I could enjoy, though sadly it is not kosher – Sphera Winery – run by Doron Rav Hon, who made some of the best Chardonnays and Pinot Noir in Israel when he was in Ella Valley – those were great days!!

If you look at the four wineries in the quartet, three of them have used Judean Hills grapes since the very beginning, Domaine du Castel WineryTzora Vineyards, and Sephora Winery. Both Castel and Tzora built their name and reputation and essence upon the terroir of the Judean Hills. Flam has always been using Judean Hills fruit in its wines, but the reserve wines have been sourced from the Upper Galilee (Ben Zimra and Dishon). That is changing now, the winery has planted 100 dunams on the beautiful slopes near Ein Kerem and the first wine from the Judean Hills is the 2015 Merlot Reserve.

Once they complete the move from the Galilee to the Judean Hills for their reserve wines as well, the majority of its red wines will be sourced from the Judean Hills. At this time, the Rose, Blanc, and Classico are all sourced from the Judean Hills, with the most of the reserve wines being sourced from the Upper Galilee.

Tasting

We were a large group that descended upon the winery, AO, JK, and his wife, OM, MB, and myself. We had the chance to taste through the current wines plus the not yet released but already bottled 2013 Flam Noble – the winery’s flagship wine. We were met by both Gilad and Golan Flam, and later for a bit by Israel as well. Golan, the winemaker, and Gilad who runs the winery were very kind to meet with us as was visible from the previous posts of this trip, it was harvest time, and Golan had to run to tend to the grapes. We did get a chance to watch some of the winemaking activities and then it was off to taste the currently released wines.

The wines once again show the professionalism and passion that is Flam Winery. As the first post I ever wrote about the winery shows, this is a family run winery and that focuses as much of its efforts in the vineyards as they do in the winery itself.

My thanks to Gilad, Golan, and Israel Flam, and the winery for a wonderful tasting. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2016 Flam Blanc – Score: B+
This wine tasted better than the last time we had it, with tart and crisp fruit, showing nice pith, lovely grapefruit, and green apple galore. The mouth is crisp and alive and tart with good balance and nice fruit and good spice, but lacks anything to grab you. The finish is long and rich and crisp, very refreshing.

2015 Flam Classico – Score: B+
The wine shows a bit too much oak now,  nice enough, but a bit too much oak with crazy chocolate and elegance with more of the reserve fruit going into the Classico in 2015. The nose shows herb sweet dill, and good earth, and red fruit. The mouth is medium bodied and dark cherry, rich roasted herb, nice round and spicy with great sweet but controlled fruit and menthol and green notes abound. The extra syrah is showing with hints of blue notes but really nice with foliage and tobacco galore, but lacking complexity of previous vintages and a bit too much oak.

2015 Flam Merlot, Reserve – Score: A-
This is the first vintage being sourced from the Judean hills. The nose on this wine shows a very rich oaky nose with red fruit and green notes. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and layered but lacking the acid, but really impressed by what the be vineyards will bring. The mouth shows mouth coating tannin with elegance, dark raspberry, with hints of dark currant, mineral, foliage, dirt, and loam galore, with great potential. The finish is long and elegant with chocolate, tobacco, and ripe fruit lingers long.

2015 Flam Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve – Score: B+
Nice nose of bright mineral, rich earth and really ripe fruit. The mouth is ripe and plush with green notes and really accessible showing nice tannin and plush blackberry and foliage. The finish is long and green and soft with mineral and tobacco and loam.

2015 Flam Syrah, Reserve – Score: A-
The nose on this wine shows lovely blue and black fruit, with perfumed boysenberry, with less herb and more floral and blue fruit instead. The mouth is rich and full bodied and really accessible with a plush and a bit less pushed than the other two reserve wines, with nice extraction, good sweet fruit, controlled with green notes again and foliage that is wrapped in plush but firm tannin and great spice. The finish is long and sweet and really impressive with leather galore and tobacco that is backed by tar and roasted animal.

2013 Flam Noble – Score: A-
Really lovely old world nose with nice mineral, rich black and elegant fruit with great roasted herb. The mouth is full bodied, plush, not overly tannic with nice elegance and good complexity that is ripe and round and yet balanced with chocolate and nice graphite and mineral. The finish is long and green with tobacco, sweet dill, rich extraction that shows searing tannin that lingers and ripe black fruit with juicy tart raspberry, and fun blue notes in the background, with ripe fruit lingering long.

 

Tzora Vineyards Winery continues to impress

As I have been posting so far, I enjoyed my last trip to Israel and Europe, and I am almost done with my Israeli winery posts. Last we left off, I was talking about – Domaine du Castel Winery. However, that was the third winery that we visited that day – the third of the four wineries that make up the Judean Hills quartet, three of which are kosher. We visited all three of them on that Friday, and in this post, I will cover the second of those three – that one being Tzora Vineyards Winery.

Judean Hills Quartet

I have already posted here about my appreciation for the Judean Hills quartet, I think what they are doing is great and is the correct way to go after the gaping sinkhole in what some would call Israeli wine education. They happen to also be some of the best wineries in Israel, which is a blessing. Who would want Yarden pushing their date juice and declaring this is the future of Israel’s wine revolution?? Instead, you have wineries like Domaine du Castel Winery, Flam Winery, and Tzora Vineyards, along with a winery I wish I could enjoy, though sadly it is not kosher – Sphera Winery – run byDoron Rav Hon, who made some of the best Chardonnays and Pinot Noir in Israel when he was in Ella Valley – those were great days!!

Tzora Vineyards Winery

As we arrived that morning, Eran Pick was busy crushing the last of his red grapes – the Petit Verdot. The last grape that Tzora takes in is the late harvest Gewurztraminer that is used in the making of the lovely Or wine – that is “frozen” late harvest Gewurztraminer.

Of course, you all know my great affinity for all things Tzora Vineyards! It is clearly one of the top 3 wineries in Israel and one that continues to focus on old-world style wines in the new world and fruit forward crazed wineries of the Holyland.

If there is a winery that gets terroir in Israel it would be Tzora. I wrote about the late founder, Ronnie James, who sadly passed away in 2008. He saw the power of terroir in Israel. He understood what vines to plant where and why! It was his passion and belief that great wines could be made in Israel, that continues to fuel Eran Pick MW (Master Of Wine), the head winemaker and General Manager of Tzora Vineyards and the rest of the winery, forward. I love that the winery is defined by its vineyards both in name, Tzora Vineyards and in reality! I have had the honor to meet with Mr. Pick many times at the winery now, and each time it is always a joy to see how the winery continues to grow leaps and bounds above the rest of Israel’s date juice producing masses. For the few that can understand the quality and beauty of Tzora’s wines, there is a treasure to be reaped for sure! Here is a winery that cares, and does not sell out to the million bottle siren and the date juice wines that it demands.

It had not been long since I was last at Tzora Winery, but there were new wines to taste, the newly bottled Misty Hills and the 2016 whites, as well. Sadly, as stated, Mr. Pick was busy with the last of harvest, but we still had the chance to taste the wines with him, as he came to talk to us for a few minutes, and he even threw a few barrel/tank tastings in as well. Once again, the winery put out these incredibly fragile and lovely wine glasses, from Zalto – just to make sure we were on our toes during the tasting and very careful!

The wines continue to be imported by Skurnik Wines, who has been importing Tzora wines for many years now, and they have all of these wines in NYC, even the shmita wines! I continue to buy from NYC, either kosherwine.com or Gary at Taste Co – email him at info@tastewineco.com or call at (212) 461-1708, even though Skurnik has set up a west coast operation.

As always, Tzora Winery has three labels. The first is Judean Hills with two wines under it, a red blend and a white blend. Next is the Shoresh label, it also has a red blend and a white wine as well, that is pure Sauvignon Blanc. The Shoresh brand also has the dessert wine called Or. Finally, there is the flagship wine – Misty Hills.

Tasting

We were a large group that descended upon the winery, AO, JK, and his wife, OM, MB, and myself. We had the chance to taste through the current wines plus two extra older library wines, and some early barrel tastings, but I did not post those as barrels are for Eran to work with, I normally only write notes of bottled wines. Last time we were at the winery was in March, and we tasted many great wines – and we did taste a few of those wines again, along with the now bottled 2015 Tzora Misty Hills, and some library wines.

The tasting consisted of the newly released 2016 whites along with two library wines and the now bottled 2015 Misty Hills. It was great to taste the 2013 Shoresh white, it is a wine I had not tasted in some time. The wine showed how much it can change is so short a time. The last time I tasted it was already past its oaky start, showing crazy acid and lovely brioche. Now, the wine is balancing out very well, showing a balance between oak, fruit, and mouth texture – impressive. It is so vastly different than the 2016 vintage which shows far less oak. I asked Mr. Pick when he was so kind to join us, and he agreed that indeed there is less oak showing on the 2016 Shoresh white, but he said rest assured it is there and may well come out with time. The other library wine was the 2012 Tzora Shoresh Red. It was beautiful and showing very well. Read the rest of this entry

Domaine du Castel Winery latest releases

 

2016 Domaine du Castel Rose, 2016 LaVie Blanc du Castel, 2014 & 2016 Blanc du Castel C, 2015 & 2016 lave Rouge du Castel, 2012 & 2015 & 2016 Petit Castel, 2015 & 2016 Grand Vin du CastelAs I have been posting so far, I enjoyed my last trip to Israel and Europe, and I am almost done with my Israeli winery posts. Last we left off, we had just had our second kosher wine tasting at DD’s house. The actual winery visit to Domaine du Castel Winery came before the 2nd tasting, but as I stated already, I wanted to cover the tastings first.

Shmita Effect

This was my latest visit to Domaine du Castel Winery, and as I have stated many times already, the reds were still from the 2015 vintage, with a couple of reds being released now from the 2016 vintage. The 2015 vintage was tough as I explained here, it was one of the worst Shmita years that I can remember, but I do not remember was the 1994 vintage in Israel was like. The 2001 and 2008 vintages were epic years for Israel, while the 2015 vintage was not quite the same.

More than the poor quality of the 2015 vintage is the 2015 Shmita overhang – forcing wineries to sell all their wines locally, as most locales like the USA and others do not buy the 2015 wines.

Castel grows and expands facilities

We arrived a bit early and hung around walking around the new winery that Castel put up a year ago, in Yad HaShmona, after a 23-year run in Ramat Raziel. The winery is stunning plain and simple. The winery is stunning and the tasting room is gorgeous, with massive logs, exposed beams, making for a cozy ski chalet feel. The barrel room below the winery is even more beautiful than the one they had in Ramat Raziel, and again is an ode to the barrel room of Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Pauillac. With a beautiful hearth, fireplace and of course wines all around you. The tasting room a perfect melding of the beautiful mountain and hills surrounding it that are visible from the massive windows

This is not my first visit to the winery, but my last full-scale post of the winery is old, so it needed a refresh. Besides the expansion of facilities, the winery also expanded its wines as well. This all came together in 2015 when the new winery and new wines were brought together. The winery in Ramat Raziel is still in operation, but it will slowly be phased out over time. Until then it continues to be a dual winery arrangement.

With the expanded facilities the winery scaled up from 140K bottles in 2014 to 250K bottles in 2016. With that large change in bottles came three new wines, two that are already released and one new one that is or will be soon released. The two known wines are the La Vie wines, with a white and a red. They are meant to be easier drinking wines, wines that do not need waiting like the Petit Castel requires some vintages.

Read the rest of this entry

Red and White Wine Bar of Jerusalem and Yaacov Oryah Winery

The next wines that I enjoyed on my last trip to Israel and Europe, are made by the ever capable Yaacov Oryah (head winemaker at Psagot Winery) and we tasted his wines at one of the newest hip kosher wine bars in Jerusalem – the Red and White Wine bar – kitty-corner from the beautiful Mamilla hotel (8 Shlomo HaMelech Street at the corner of Yanai Street).

I was traveling to Jerusalem after visiting Gvaot Winery and I was talking with Yaacov Oryah about where we could meet to taste his wines. We were supposed to meet in Psagot Winery, where he is the winemaker, but things came up at the winery and there was no open space that was available for us to sit and hang. I was traveling to Jerusalem anyway, and I recommended that we meet somewhere in Jerusalem, and Yaacov suggested that we should meet at the Red and White wine bar.

Now, I had never heard of this wine bar, and that is shame on me because Sarah Levi had already covered the bar in this lovely piece in early April 2017. The wine bar is one of those few bars that is very particular about what wines are served on their menu. They have top flight wines from Castel, Flam, Gvaot, Adir, Psagot, Matar, and Yaacov Oryah. Of course, not everyone is on the same page as I am, so they have wines from other Israeli wineries, but the majority are wines I would drink! They also have great food, his menu consists of omelets, cheese, and butter (from Naomi Farm in the Golan), great bread, fresh pasta, and fish dishes. However, do not forget the great dessert options as well!
The overall feel of the bar is old school, but equally current, with a bartender that understands food, service, and wine are all intertwined into a single vision that is focused on people first, wine and food second. The bartender is the owner, sommelier, coffee bean roaster, the cheesemonger – Mark Arnold Jam. If you ever get the chance to sit down for an hour in this lovely place you will quickly find that his last name equates well to his musical tastes. Mark gets the vision and he is a one-man show that weaves poetry, music, an old school vibe, and great food and wine knowledge into the ideal renaissance man at your service!

Red and White Bar - behind the bar

I arrived after parking my car in the Mamilla parking lot and making my way across the street and walked into the bar, and I immediately walked over to the two wine dispensing machines and the wine fridge. The bar has a huge fridge in the back of the bar and it was stacked with lots of great wine. The bar also has two dispensing machines each stacked with eight wines, at reasonable prices and backed by Mark’s great wine knowledge.

Once I finished perusing the wines, Yaacov arrived with boxes of his wines to taste and it was off to the races. We sat down at the bar and I tasted through the wines as I peppered Mark with questions, and though he is the classic Renesaince man, he is very humble and really wanted to let the bar and the atmosphere speak for itself. About halfway through tasting the wines, I started to nibble at the bread and butter and they were both very nice. The cheese looked good, but I stuck with the bread and once we were finished I tasted some of them and they were all very impressive, but I was in a rush after that and needed to get to the Kotel and then to the wine tasting at DD’s house – which will be the focus of the next post.

My many thanks to Yaacov Oryah for allowing me to taste all the current wines and to Mark for letting us spend some time in his lovely wine bar! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2014 Psagot blanc de blanc – Score: NA
This wine is still a few years from release, but already it is showing great potential. The wine needs more time on the lees to come together, but it is tart, bright, and starting to get some complexity. The nose on this wine is lovely with rock, limestone, with rich saline and green apple. The mouth shows nice acid, great minerality, lemon fraiche, with gooseberry, kiwi, and lychee, all wrapped in nice small mousse bubbles. Nice.

2009 Yaacov Oryah Emek Hatzayidim (Hunter Valley) Semillon – Score: A-
The nose on this wine is lovely, with rich honeysuckle, dry straw, grapefruit, and lovely minerality. The mouth on this wine shows a rich and acidic core, with white peach, rich lemon Fraiche, crazy rich slate, mineral, dry straw and dry kiwi all wrapped in an incredible fruit focus that is really all about the perfect balance of acid, mineral, saline, and slate. The finish is long and tart with green apple, yellow/pink grapefruit, and green notes, tart notes lingering long. Bravo. Drink by 2019. Read the rest of this entry

The best kosher wines for Passover 2017 at all price ranges

wall of wineAs many have read on these pages, a few wine events have come and gone, – with the last one happening in NY, at the City Winery, this coming Monday.  Over the past two years, the Jewish Week/City Winery event has really changed its stripes and has improved quite impressively from the previous years. The Jewish Week’s kosher wine list for Passover is nice, but you will not find many of their favorites on this list. As I walked around both KFWE this year, and sommelier – I was asked again for a list of my top kosher wines for Passover, so here it goes! This is my list of great and reasonably priced kosher wines.

So, with some weeks before Passover – here is my list. A few caveats first, this is MY list! This is not a list that will make many happy. These wines are the wines that make me happy. No wines here would be considered over ripe, over sweet, or all over the place. The wines here are listed in the order of cost. That said, the top line wines – what I call Top Flight wines, are not defined by cost at all. In that list, you can find a 2009 Yarden Blanc de Blanc or the Yarden Brut Rose, both are great sparkling wines. At the same time, the list includes some of the best high-end kosher wines I have ever tasted that go for $100 or so a bottle. The list of Top Flight wines are ALL wines that I would buy without hesitation, no matter the cost (if I can afford it of course).

Passover is a time of year when Jews buy the most wine, along with Rosh Hashanah, and the American New Year. That is why all the kosher wine events happened a month or two before the Passover festival. It gives the wineries and distributors a chance to showcase all their wines that each appeal to different market segments. So, no there are no sweet or semi-sweet baseline wines here. There are many very good 15 or so dollar bottles of wine, that can be bought at Skyview Wines, Gotham Wines, Suhag Wine, and all the other wine stores I have listed on the right-hand side of this blog (as always I NEVER make money from them and I never know or care what people buy, the list is whom I buy wines from and so I can recommend them to others).

Also, the amount of money you spend does not define the value or quality of the wine. Take for example the less than 20 dollar Capcanes Peraj Petita, or the slightly more expensive Herenza Crianza, and many others. These are great wines and the price is only an added benefit. However, there are many low priced wines that are not on this list, as they lack the quality required, IMHO.

Seeing the list and checking it twice (could not help myself), I am sure there will be a question – what defines a wine as a Top Flight wine and why are there wines that are not on it? The Top Flight wines, is a list of wines that personally was wowed when tasting them. That does not mean that the Peraj Petita, as wonderful as it is may or may not compare to another wine on the 50 dollars and above list – that would not be fair. What it does mean was that when I tasted it, I was wowed, and I said this is a wine that everyone should get – no matter the price. In the end, this is not about which is better than the rest it is a way to whittle down the list of wines that I enjoyed from a massive set of thousands of kosher wines available here in America. That is why I made the list. In hindsight, I am sure I will have missed some wines. If you do not see a wine you love and it scored an A- or higher on this blog somewhere, then I can assure you that it was probably an oversight on my part.

Also, this is a PSA – please do not buy 2015 rose wines! PLEASE! They are muted and a waste of your hard earned money. Wait for the 2016 Roses that will be released soon.

Arba Kosot (The Four cups of Passover)

Finally, it is our custom to drink four cups of wine on Passover, but to power down these wines is far too hard for me. I rather decide to drink simple wines like the Tabor Via bubbly red, non-mevushal wine. It is simple to chug, tasty, and perfectly fulfills the custom. For the main course, I am happy to open a Top Flight wine and enjoy that at a calm and enjoyable pace. Another option is to get some of these great glasses from Stolzle, that fulfill the official four cups requirements in terms of volume and respect, according to most Rabbis. The glasses hold 3.5 fluid ounces of wine, which according to almost every source fulfills the concept of Revi’it. It does not fulfill the Chazon Ish’s requirements of 5.1 ounces, but if you wish to meet that requirement use these glasses from Arc International. Also, remember that the first cup should be drunk in totality, according to most authorities.

A few more comments here. I hope I have gotten all the wines that I have tasted here, but I almost posted this a few times, and then only at the end did I remember I forgot a few. Also, this year’s list is not as long as last year’s lost, because 2015 in Israel was a total disaster, outside of a few winners. The reds from 2015 in Israel, are showing well from the best wineries, but that list is short.  Read the rest of this entry

Tzora Vineyards Winery and the latest releases

Tzora Winery 4

Well, I have finished all the KFWE posts, and my past personal wine tastings posts, and now it is time to get back to posting about wineries I visited on my last trip. To remind you, I came to Israel for Sommelier 2017, then flew to Paris and back the next morning for the Bokobsa tasting. Upon my return to Israel, I drove north for a day, before coming back to the Jerusalem area, and then flying home. I have already posted all the wineries I visited in Israel’s North. I also visited wineries in the Jerusalem area, including one of my absolute favorite kosher wineries in the world – Tzora Vineyards Winery. Why? Because Tzora (and Domaine Netofa Winery as well) are wineries that prove you can make GREAT old-world style wines in the new world of Israel! All that you really need to make great balanced and beautifully made wines is to care, and Tzora winery cares!

If there is a winery that gets terroir in Israel it would be Tzora. I wrote about the late founder, Ronnie James, who sadly passed away in 2008. He saw the power of terroir in Israel. He understood what vines to plant where and why! It was his passion and belief that great wines could be made in Israel, that continues to fuel Eran Pick MW (Master Of Wine), the head winemaker and General Manager of Tzora Vineyards and the rest of the winery, forward. I have had the honor to meet with Mr. Pick many times at the winery now, and each time it is always a joy to see how the winery continues to grow leaps and bounds above the rest of Israel’s date juice producing masses. For the few that can understand the quality and beauty of Tzora’s wines, there is a treasure to be reaped for sure! Here is a winery that cares, and does not sell out to the million bottle siren and the date juice wines that it demands.

It had not been long since I was last at Tzora Winery, but there were new wines to taste, the new Misty Hills and the new red Shoresh, as well. Mr. Pick was very kind to do the tasting with us, and he even had the winery put out these incredibly fragile and lovely wine glasses, from Zalto – just to make sure we were on our toes and very careful! The glasses were the first surprise, but the second one was the insane wine we tasted at the end of the tasting. It was a wine that is yet to be bottled but one that has already been pulled from the barrel, the 2015 Misty Hills. I swear that if I was tasting blind, I could have guessed it was a 2012 Saint Emilion. It was bone dry, old-world in the absolute real sense, and did not taste ripe or Israeli in any manner. We also got a blind taste test and sadly this time, I did not get it. The blind tasted wine was a glass of pure Petit Verdot, it was very ripe and somewhat unidimensional, but its color, depth, and tannin were really impressive. Eran allowed us to taste components of the Judean Hills Blanc 2016 and some of the 2016 Shoresh blanc as well, they both showed beautifully, but till those wines are complete and put in a bottle, I will hold my notes.

The best news (for me anyway) is that Skurnik Wines, who has been importing Tzora wines for many years now, has all of these wines in NYC! However, the even better news is that they will also be on the west coast very soon! Yes, can you believe it, someone finally listened to me, and Skurnik will have a West coast distribution setup, and ready to go by May 2017! Finally!

The wines are available from Gary at Taste Co – email him at: info@tastewineco.com or call at (212) 461-1708. Some of them are also available at kosherwine.com and skyviewwine.com.

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