Category Archives: Kosher Dessert Wine
There are a few lovely old and pretty good Hungarian sweet wines from the old days, the last time I had them, they were nice, now they are dead. However, there are some new ones out, recently released which have yet to get to the USA. I tasted them by Andrew Breskin’s house – the founder of Liquid Kosher, along with Gabriel Geller, and he was tasting them to understand their potential here in the USA.
For full disclosure, these wines do not have an OU or OK, or such, they have off-brand supervision. I checked into it and I found it OK for ME, you need to do your research before trying them, IMHO.
There are a total of 5 of these new Hungarian wines, four of them are off-dry to sweet and one is a stunning dry wine, which in the USA will not garner a WINNER as the costs to get them here will evade the QPR price. However, the dry Furmint is awesome and exactly what I crave in a dry white wine.
Of the 4 off-dry to sweet sweet wines I tasted three of them, and I would only buy one of them. The five wines are:
- 2019 Tischler & Halpern Reserve Tokaji Dry Furmint (Dry)
- 2015 Tischler & Halpern Reserve Furmint Tokaji Félédes (Semi-Sweet) (NOT TASTED Yet)
- 2015 Tischler & Halpern Reserve Tokaji Late Harvest (Semi-Sweet)
- 2015 Tischler & Halpern Reserve Tokaji Szamorodni Édes (Sweet)
- 2015 Tischler & Halpern Reserve Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos (Sweet)
The wines have not yet been imported in by Liquid Kosher, but they are available in Europe, my buddy Ari got some, and they are priced perfectly well for the European market. The Dry Furmint is a screaming WINNER there along with the 5 Puttonyos. The other two that I tasted are reasonable, for the price paid in Europe, but not worth the trouble. I have not yet tasted the Feledes.
The 5 Puttonyos is nice now, but I think it will evolve, even more, it has the fruit and the acidity to go to the next level. The Dry Furmint will be good for a year or so, but why wait – the wine is beautiful as it is – right now!
The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2019 Disznoko Tischler & Halpern Furmint Reserve, Dry Tokaji – Score: 91.5 (QPR: EVEN – USA, WINNER – EUR)
The nose on this wine is lovely, with beautiful floral notes of lemon blossom, honeydew, honeyed notes of Meyer lemon, wax, straw, lavender, and flint, lovely! The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is lovely, showing straw, Meyer lemon, green apple, incredible acidity, lovely tannin, ginger, with weight and density, showing rich saline, mineral, straw, and peppercorn. The finish is long, spicy, tart, with white pepper, ginger, smoke, flint, and mineral, wow! Bravo! Drink until 2023 (maybe more). (tasted April 2021)
2015 Disznoko Tischler & Halpern Tokaji Aszu, 5 Puttonyos – Score: 92.5 (QPR: GREAT – USA, WINNER – EUR)
While I think this wine is nice enough it is not as good as the previous vintages and it hits the point but this is missing a few steps. The nose on this wine is nice showing rich funk, brown sugar, sweet notes, guava, candied peach, apricot, candied ginger, lemon, and lemon zest. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is nice, with good enough acidity, lovely funk, good mouthfeel, plush, rich, concentrated, unctuous, with more citrus, lemon, mineral, and clay, nice and while I like it the wine lacks the punch, but still very nice, with intense pith, zest, funk, and acid lingering long. Very nice – Drink until 2030. (tasted April 2021)
2015 Disznoko Tischler & Halpern Tokaj, Late Harvest Furmint – Score: 90 (QPR: POOR – USA, EVEN – EUR)
This wine is fascinating as it has common notes to the dry younger wine. The nose on this is nice is off-dry, with wax, Meyer lemon, honeysuckle, sweet brown sugar, good enough acidity, and while I like it I want more acid. Drink by 2025. (tasted April 2021)
2015 Disznoko Tischler & Halpern Tokaji Szamorodni – Score: 90 (QPR: POOR – USA, EVEN – EUR)
Szamorodni, which takes its name from the Polish word ‘Samorodno’ meaning ‘as it comes’, is made from whole bunches that combine the treasured noble rot grapes and the healthy ones.
The nose on this wine starts with hints of funk with good saline, but after a few minutes, it explodes with pure funk, lovely socks, peach, guava, candied apricot, and Meyer lemon. It does show a nice blend of funk and fruit, but it has issues in the middle that may calm over time. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is rich, layered, but still showing a hollow with nice ripe and candied fruit, with good acidity, after a few minutes, and nice enough fruit, but it lacks the punch I crave. The finish is long and sweet with more acid, saline, mineral, slate, and lots of tannin and wax. Drink by 2025. (tasted April 2021)
Thankfully, the world is slowly coming alive, and while life has not returned to the days of old, the most recent CDC statement allowing people who have received the Covid Vaccine to hang out with other Vaccinated people is truly heartwarming and gives us hope for the future and maybe even a Passover together. Last year, I was extremely tentative about writing this yearly post, but I am happy that many found it useful and enjoyable, even in those extremely early bleak times. I hope this year the post finds you and your families well, and your lives beginning to find a rhythm that is more of the old than the current! Happy Passover to you all!
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 overripe, 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 2014 Yarden Blanc de Blanc or the 2014 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. In the end, price does not define your place on the Top-Flight Wines, nor does QPR (Quality to Price Ratio), only pure quality gets you on this list. The list of Top-Flight wines is 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, normally, happen 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, Liquid Kosher, onlinekosherwine.com, kosherwine.com, and a new store I have been buying from kosherwinedirect.com (they also ship for free if you buy a case), along with 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 13 of so dollar 2019 Chateau Riganes Bordeaux, red, or the slightly more expensive Herenza Crianza, or the Terra di Seta Chianti Classico, and many others. These are great wines and the great price is only an added benefit. However, many low-priced wines 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 are wines that impressed me when tasting them. That does not mean that the 2019 Chateau Riganes Bordeaux, as nice as it is may or may not be, can compare to another wine on the Top-Flight Wine list. What it does mean was that when I tasted one of these Top-Flight wines, I was wowed, and I said this is a wine that everyone should get – no matter the price. In the end, the Top-Flight Wines is my way to whittle down the list of wines that I enjoyed from a set of thousands of kosher wines available here in America. In hindsight, I am sure I will have missed some wines. If you do not see a wine you love and it scored a 90 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 2019 rose wines! PLEASE! They are muted and a waste of your hard-earned money. Sadly, so far, the 2020 roses I have tasted, are also a waste of your money! The best of them are just arriving and I wanted to get this list out ASAP! I will post about them after I taste them soon.
Arba Kosot (The Four cups of Passover)
Finally, it the Jewish custom to drink four cups of wine on Passover, but to power down these wines are far too hard for me (the concept here is to drink the base quantity of wine to fulfill your requirement – which is a Revi’it, within a certain period). In the past, I was drinking red, Israeli wines that were simple to drink, not complex or impressive. However, with time, I found a better option, drink the majority of a small cup that fulfills the Revi’it quantity of wine. This way, I can drink an Israeli, not Mevushal, red wine – like a Netofa wine. This is explained more below. This year, I think I will go with Yarden Rose Brut Sparkling wine, again. It is Israeli, not Mevushal, “red”, a lovely wine, and an acid BOMB!
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.
NOTE! This year all 4 cups are NOT a D’oraysa, but rather a rabbinic requirement. Therefore, you can stay at 3.5 ounces. The only day you will need to go to the 4.42-ounce sized cup would be Shabbat night.Read the rest of this entry
As I am want to do, it is another year on the Gregorian calendar and I have already posted the wines of the year and the QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wines of the year. Now it is time for the year and decade in review. I had to wait until now, to talk about the decade in review, because there is a clear disagreement on when the new decade begins, so I went with the non-computer science approach (0-based systems), which is not what most people believe. To this point I quote Library of Congress’s estimable Ruth S. Freitag:
Dilemmas over marking time have been going on for years. In the late 1990s, the Library of Congress’s estimable Ruth S. Freitag famously compiled a 57-page research document titled The Battle of the Centuries, in which she called out people who celebrate any era before its time.
“When the encyclopedia of human folly comes to be written, a page must be reserved for the minor imbecility of the battle of the centuries — the clamorous dispute as to when a century ends,” Freitag wrote. Noting that there was no “year 0” in history, she said, “In fact, there has never been a system of recording reigns, dynasties, or eras that did not designate its first year as the year 1.”
To bolster her argument, Freitag, who was then a senior science specialist in the library’s Science and Technology Division, cited historical records that showed similar disputes had erupted when calendars were turned to 1900.
But even Freitag acknowledged that she was swimming against the tide of popular opinion.
It may seem obvious to many, but there was never a year 0, so let’s go with the obvious fact that the decade has finally passed us and we can discuss it in regards to all things kosher wine. IMHO, I will go with the glass half empty metaphor, as no matter how hard I try, there is no real way to look at this past decade in a glass-half-full approach – give the utter disregard from much of the world for anything approaching wine I would buy.
Where are we now??
Well, that is pretty simple, IMHO, we are WORSE than we were last year, and that was worse than we were in the years before. Essentially, we are continuing the slide down, maybe even at a faster rate, with a slight caveat to the positive on high-end white wines. That would be my summation – hence the glass-half-empty reference.
COVID and what it has done to the kosher wine industry
I could not talk about 2020 in a review, or the decade in a review, without at least mentioning Covid! The clear impact of the Virus on our lives is not wine, or food, or any other material impact. What truly has changed are the people we have lost, friends or family that have been sick or passed, and jobs and families crushed by this pandemic. Those things are REAL and those real things are truly very sad and are hard to move on from.
Yes, we have lost freedom of movement, we have been locked away from our friends and family, but it all pales in comparison to the true loss of life, income, and time. Many, if not all of them, have been lost forever, and that is the true loss and suffering.
Still, there is a need/desire to talk about how COVID changed the wine industry – over the past 12 months. As such, I wrote a post – some 7 months back, and I am shocked and saddened by how much it has not changed at all over these past many months. There were some missing points so let us hit them:
- There will be no in-person KFWE or any other tasting this year, sadly. To that point, Royal Wine has made a KFWV this year and I hope you can listen in at least and maybe join in with the tasting as well!
- As I stated in the post the online stores have come through. But even more so than that were the local stores that supported the communities and I can only repeat, support your local wine merchants if you have them! Sadly, our merchants, here in NorCal, while they exist, do not quite have what I am looking for, but they are trying – so kudos to them for that! However, those of you on the east coast – BUY LOCAL! Come on, folks! Your local store is there, you have the same taxes, buy local, and make sure they feel the love!
- Restaurants may finally be coming back, but wine sales are still very low to zero, and again, why do we need Mevushal?? I pray the biggest outcome of all of this madness is the production of dual labels M and not). I know it is a pipe dream, like a real Shmitta game plan – dream on. IMHO, Mevushal will take a hard hit soon, people will see it for what it is, a sham on the kosher wine market. If a wine needs to be Mevushal then go buy a beer and move on!
- The lack of travel and access to wineries is a real issue here. I would have already have been in France twice since my last year in review and Israel, at least once. The lack of access to wines impacts my ability to properly score and grade, but thankfully the UPS/FedEx of the worlds have been doing a yeoman’s job and they do truly deserve a cheer every time they drive by! Please show them the love (from a distance) that they deserve!
- Finally, to repeat – the lack of KFWE or any other tasting this year, or even marketing of wines in-person, will further complicate the lack of wine education in this industry and I fear it will sadly slow or hurt the sales of many wineries.
My yearly blog disclaimer about me and wine
I try to get this disclaimer into every year of my posts – but this year – for reasons I do not know, I have been receiving a lot of questions about my posts. So let me be 100% clear here:
- I NEVER HAVE AND NEVER WILL receive a penny for ANYTHING I write on this blog – PERIOD!
- I do not advertise and I do not receive money for advertisements. I PAY WordPress.com to NOT advertise on my blog. Again, there will never be ads or money on this blog.
- The next most prevalent question is: do I get a kickback for anything I recommend?? LOL! People do not know me well to be asking that question! NEVER! I write what I think – almost literally at times, so NO!
- Next question – do I receive an item of value for my posts? NEVER.
- The only thing I receive, having nothing to do with my posts is access to tastings or wine to taste. Also, I have received passes to KFWE, or this year, the KFWV. The coupon codes are not affiliated links or deals for me! Again, I get no money from this blog – I hope this starts to come across soon!
- Am I receiving money or any other item of value from Royal or an affiliate for the use of the ‘MUSINGS’ discount code? Again NO! NEVER!
- Do I spend money on my notes or wines? I promise you there are VERY few people in the kosher wine world who spend more money than I do on wines that I DESPISE! Very few! There are loads of people who spend more money than I do on wine – I am not a Macher! But I buy the majority of the wines I taste and post on. In the past year that has changed a bit, but no, I buy most of the wines and it sickens me to spend so much money on wines I would never drink or even cook with! Sadly, that is what I like to do. So, sure if the importer will help me and send me samples, great! I will still post my notes and scores based 100% on the way I see and taste the wine. NOTHING else goes into my scoring.
- Finally, I have people in the industry that I call friends. When I taste those wines I always disclaim those as well.
So, that wraps up my yearly post on how I, my blog, or my life is ever gaining anything from the world of wine! I hope that is clear. I do not do any business in wine, I do not sell any wine, I do not transfer wines, I am not a middleman for people who buy wines. I do not in any manner, way, or form, work in the world of wine – period!
Finally, I do help Elvi Wines, at times, to pour wine, at a KFWE or the such, and act as their US contact for the USDA. I have again, never received compensation for those pouring’s. My travel costs are sometimes reimbursed, but that is the totality of my relationship, financially speaking, with Elvi Wines or any other winery or wine business. I am a software architect by trade and that is where I make my money. Be well!
This past year I wanted to drive home the need for QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wines. So I set out to create what I thought a QPR metric should be! Gone were arbitrary price ranges and the such. Instead, I let the market define what the QPR price range should be. I did this by grouping the wines by their type (white, red, rose, sparkling, and dessert) and then further refined the grouping by age-ability within the white and red wines. This gave me the following groups:
- Drink “soon” White Wine (Simple whites)
- Rose Wine (always drink soon)
- Drink “soon” Red Wine (Simple reds)
- Mid-range aging Reds (4 to 11 years)
- High-end Red wines (11 and more years)
- High-end White wines (7 and more years)
- Sparkling Wine (No need here for extra differentiation)
- Dessert Wine
I then made the mistake of trying to create an Orange wine range/group – that was a HUGE mistake. Again, the wines themselves were not the issue, the issue revolved around trying to group such a small sample set into its group. They will go into their respective white wine category, next year.
Throughout the year, I posted many QPR posts, for almost all of the main categories. I will continue down this road until I find a better way to categorize and track wines that are QPR WINNERS. Talk about WINNERS, that secondary QPR score was a 2.1 revision to my QPR scoring, and that is explained in this post. All the wines listed here are QPR WINNERS from my tastings in 2020.
This year, the list came to a total of 25 names, and none had to dip below 91 in the scores, which is a large number and better scores overall than last year, but again, the pool from where they are culled continues to grow, and the diamonds in the rough are getting harder and harder to find.
I have added a few new things this year. The first is QPR for France, the prices for many wines there, are dirt cheap! Maybe, Avi Davidowitz, from kosher wine unfiltered, can create a list like that for Israel, this year, a bunch of wines became available there, and a proper QPR list would be worthwhile!
Shoutout to TWO GREAT wines that are just sitting around!
I am sorry to get on my soapbox before we get to the top QPR wines of 2020. But I have to ask what is wrong with Les Roches de Yon-Figeac? What is wrong with Albarino?
The 2016 Les Roches de Yon-Figeac is sitting around and no one is buying it! WHY??? It sits around and there is no real better option, IMHO, at this price point, currently. Yet, the wines sit! The crazy part is that the 2016 Les Roches is lovely, but 2017 is even better!!! The 2016 vintage has been here in the USA for years already! The price is perfect, 36 or 37 dollars for an impressive wine that can be enjoyed now, if you decant it well or age for 12 more years!
What about the Albarino wines? There is the cheap but wonderful 2018 Ramon Cardova Albarino, along with the 2018 Herzog Albarino, Special Reserve, at 2x the price. They are wonderful wines and they too sit on the sidelines! Horrible Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay wines sellout but these far better white options sit around. It is great that some of you have been enjoying Riesling, Grenache Blanc, and other varieties, but COME ON FOLKS – try other white wines – PLEASE!!
Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – but they are worth the effort. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
The 2020 White QPR kosher WINNERS
The Dampt Grand Cru from 2018 was the white wine of the year and the 2017 Dampt is the white Co-QPR white wine of the year. The other Co-QPR white wine of the year is the lovely 2019 Pescaja Terre Alfieri Arneis Solei. It is almost as unique as the 2013 Eccelenza, Bianco Umbria, which was crazy cool. These wines are worth the effort to find them, IMHO!
2019 Pescaja Terre Alfieri Arneis Solei – Score: 92+ (QPR: WINNER)
WOW! this is Arneis fruit, but to me, it is Sauvignon Blanc all the way, but where it departs from classic SB is the pear and almond which should tell you that something is either very wrong or this is not SB, which in case, is the latter, this is not Sauvignon Blanc! If anything this is more a perfect blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, incredible!
PSA – This wine needs to be CHILLED – LIKE Champagne chilled, PLEASE!
The nose on this wine is truly redolent and super-expressive, if this is lost on you, please do not buy the wine, leave it for others who can appreciate it! This wine does indeed have notes of gooseberry, and cat pee, and lovely green notes, but it also has loads of floral notes, showing violet, rose, salted almond, chamomile, white flowers, and sweet ripe pear, and grapefruit. The mouth on this medium-bodied white wine is INCREDIBLE, nuts, with layers upon layers of incredible fruit, sure it has a drop of RS, but who cares! The mouth is layered with ripe pear, peach, apricot, ripe pomelo, with incredible honeysuckle, followed by honey, honeyed and spiced Citron, and incredible mineral, slate, spice, nutmeg, freshly-cut grass, straw, hay, and lovely roasted almond on the super longer lingering finish – WOW!! This is fun! Drink until 2024. (tasted August 2020)
2017 Dampt Freres Chablis, Premier Cru, Cote de Lechet – Score: 93 (QPR: WINNER)
OK, so, 2017 is the year for Chablis, and of what I had from Dampt Freres, two years ago, a few showed quite well. Those were Petit and a more minor vineyard. This wine is the 2017 Premier Cru and what a wine it is! My goodness, this is what Chardonnay, unoaked of course, ie meant to smell and taste like. It is pure mineral and fruit, with loads of dirt, smoke, and flint – a true joy – BRAVO!!!
The nose on this lovely wine is purely mineral notes, sure there is apple, peach, apricot, and some other white fruit, but who cares, what shines here is the mineral attack, shist, rock, flint, along with lovely white flowers, almonds, and hints of mushroom – I WANT THIS! The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is lovely, layers upon layers, come at you, with non-stop attack of mineral, fruit, earth, rich spices, and more mineral. The apricot, peach, yellow and green apple from the nose are present, as are hints of lychee, lovely Meyer lemon, and a tiny amount of crazy Kafir lime leaves and juice – WOW! The finish is so long, with incredible minerality, showing flint, rock, shist, and lovely straw, that brings the entire wine together – wow! A true joy – get this!! Drink until 2025. (tasted December 2020)
Herzog Wine Cellars (which now go by herzogwine.com not herzogwinecellars.com, no idea why they dropped that and emails bounce all over the place, a better idea would have been simple web/MX record routing/forwarding – but enough tech talk) has been in the wine business, in California, since 1984. The days of San Martin, when I met Josh Goodman and his wife (PSA – be careful with how you pronounce her name) when they were in the San Jose Jewish community. In those days, San Jose was the closest thing to a community for them, that was close enough to San Martin, for them to live a Jewish life and work as cellar rat/master at Herzog Wine cellars. With time, the Herzog moved to Santa Maria, which was closer to the L.A. area and then they finally moved to the location they are today, in Oxnard, in 2005.
In the start, the head winemaker was Peter Stern, mostly as a part-time winemaker. In 1998, Joe Hurliman joined as the full-time winemaker at Herzog Wine and they have not looked back, thankfully! In that time, Joseph Herzog took over running the winery and Tierra Sur, the wonderful restaurant attached to the winery. Soon after moving into the Oxnard winery/facility, Herzog undertook multiple manners to interact with their customers. The first approach was the winery’s tasting room, which is still highly pivotal in attracting all members and customers into tasting Herzog wines. They also started with many wine clubs, with the most influential one being Eagle’s Landing. It has become the area where Mr. Hurliman can truly experiment, at smaller scales, than even the Special Edition series and craft wines that he would love to see become mainstream. Things like Santa Rita Pinot Noir, Templeton Pass Zinfandel (we need more of that kind of Zin being made!!), and Paso Robles Syrah. These are not new to the kosher world as much as they are good to see at the scale and care that Herzog can bring to these varietals and wines.
One cannot talk about Herzog without talking about a few very poignant points:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- L.A. KFWE/IFWF/Tierra Sur – Todd Aarons
Herzog did not invent the Mevushal methodology in the new era of kosher wine, which was done by Hagafen Winery, but Herzog has been equal or slightly better than Hagafen as time has progressed. When you ask who does the best with Mevushal in wines – the answer is Hagafen and Herzog, there is no one else in their league. Royal Wines Europe does a nice job as well, but they are two peas in the same pod. Rollan de By does a very good job as well.
The next question you will consistently get is – does the Mevushal process hurt wine? The answer is complex and like everything in this world, it depends. It depends on the process you use, the varietals you “boil”, and for how long you do the process, and at what temperature. Long ago, people have stopped boiling wine – they moved to Flash pasteurization or Flash Detente, both in the kosher wine world and outside of it. The length of time and the temperature of the flash is one that is hotly debated in the Rabbinic kosher world, which is why you will see many put the temperature the wine was flashed at, on the wine bottle itself. Few wineries will flash Pinot Noir or Grenache as these wines are delicate and will not gain from the flash process. Herzog does flash their Lineage Pinot and it is not a wine for long holding so that works with what they are shooting for. Hagafen, flashes everything and as such, they do flash the Pinot and Pinot Prix, but IMHO it has been hurting the wines in recent vintages. Doing the Mevushal process to Cabernet Sauvignon is one that works and may well be the most prevalent of the varietals out there that go through the Mevushal process.
This leads us to the standing joke, in regards to Herzog Wine Cellars, that Herzog makes more Cabernet Sauvignon, in a single vintage, than almost any winery makes wine, across all labels. They are the Cab Kings like Oryah is the Orange wine Factory. My last count was 27 Cabernet sauvignons across all labels, which is a crazy number, but to be fair, they know what their customers want. No matter the price, style, makeup, or focus of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Herzog has a Cab for you and that has been their motto for as long as they have been at Oxnard, and maybe even a bit before in Santa Maria.
Herzog has done a very good job in both managing leases/relationships with vineyards – dating back to the early days of the 1990s. Chalk Hill and Alex Reserve are both examples of vineyards they have managed to lease and continue to do so for decades. This is not anything new in any way, but it was for kosher California wines in the 1990s. Hagafen Winery has had vineyards that they have leased or owned for long stretches’ of time as well. It is just a very impressive thing to have done back then.
They have quietly been buying vineyards all around California. It started in 2010 when they were forced to buy the land or lose their longtime relationship with Clarksburg grapes. Then in 2017, they bought 2 plots of land in lake County. Then in 2018, they bought the Herzog Ridge Vineyard in Napa Valley. The new 2018/2019 Forebearer wines (listed below) are from that vineyard.
There are not many wineries today, in the kosher market, that have wines dating backing to 1996 that still blow my mind. yes, I continue to have my mind blown by 1997 Four Gates Merlot or Pinot Noir, and Yarden made some wines back then that were pretty good as well. However, to have made wine continuously, minus a few years here and there, I would have to say, the only ones that come to mind are Capcanes (until 2015), Herzog, and Four Gates. That is quite an impressive feat and one that helps me to buy their wines on an almost yearly basis.
L.A. KFWE/IFWF/Tierra Sur – Todd Aarons
Tierra Sur was a smash hit years before IFWF came to Los Angeles in 2008. Todd Aarons was running the ship and he could well have been the first kosher Chef-Driven restaurant, at least in the USA. There were a few in Paris in the late 1990s that were quite the thing. Still, Chef Aarons brought that flair, focus on ingredients, and presentation to a far-flung location, outside of L.A., but within driving distance, that made Tierra Sur world-famous for kosher and non-kosher consumers alike.
The IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival), the west coast’s KFWE was Herzog’s way of showing off the food over the wine. The 2007 KFWE, and many after it, was more focused on the wine and good for them! What Herzog has done for so long with the IFWF or the KFWE is to showcase what Los Angeles has over the east coast, at least at that time for sure, which was the weather and great food!
Now on to the wines! The 2017 vintage was not kind to much of California and sadly it affected Herzog wines as well. I did like the 2017 Lineage Chardonnay and the 2017 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County, with the Clone Six showing some elegance from under the issues of the vintage. All of that is in the past and the 2018 vintage is another winner. These wines are rich and layered and truly a joy – I would not sit long on the sidelines, I would buy these ASAP before they all go away. So to those that ask me – why did you not warn me – you have been warned!
In the end, this vintage is a WINNER across the board. The Forebearers are nice wines but they are relatively expensive, in comparison to other Herzog options, from 2018. The Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lineage, Reserve, even the Baron Herzog line have great deals and lovely wines. Overall, if I was standing in front of Joe Hurliman at KFWE, I would have said what I am oft to say – Bravo my good sir – BRAVO!
I will keep this short, so my many thanks to Joseph Herzog, David Whittemore, Joe Hurliman, and Alicia Wilbur for answering my many emails and calls. Be well to you all, California is getting even crazier – stay safe guys! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2018 and 2019 Forebearers Wines
2018 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Forebearers, Napa Valley (M) – Score: 92+ (QPR: POOR)
The wine is very slow to open, this wine needs time, so give it the respect it deserves. The nose on this wine is lovely, not one of those “Brilliance” fruit bombs, this is a lovely earthy, anise filled joy, with smoke, tar, fruit galore, but well-controlled, with loam, candied ginger, and more fruit. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is oaky, it starts off with a clear focus of oak, and has a bit of a hole, but with time, as I said, this needs it, the hold fills in well, with a rich coat of mouth-draping tannin, earth, sweet dill, oak, blackberry, dark cherry, hints of plum, and currants, all wrapped in tannin and oak, very nice. The finish is plush, and tart, with good acidity, earth, more dill, sweet smoking tobacco, dark chocolate, and anise. Really nice, a wine to get and store away. Bravo!
With loads of time, this wine really starts to shine and I highly underestimated it, this wine is super young and needs time. I would wait 3 years to play with this again. Let this beast lie. Drink from 2024 until 2028 maybe longer. (tasted Nov 2020)
I understand that these are incredibly trying times, however, people ask me for this list so I am putting it out there. My hope is that it brings happiness to someone. Even if it does not, as I always say, this blog is for me, and I mean no disrespect in posting this here and at this time. My hope is that it finds the value to some. My sincere best wishes for health, success, and safety to all!
As many have read on these pages, a few wine events have come and gone, – with the last couple being canceled given the world we live in today. As I walked around KFWE this year – 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.
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 overripe, 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 2011 Yarden Blanc de Blanc or the 2013 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 is 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 of course onlinekosherwine.com, kosherwine.com and Gary’s store, along with 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 10 dollars 2018 Chateau Riganes Bordeaux, white or red, 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 2018 Chateau Riganes Bordeaux, as nice as it is may or may not be, can 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 one of these Top Flight wines, 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 a 90 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 2018 rose wines! PLEASE! They are muted and a waste of your hard-earned money. Sadly, the 2019 roses I have tasted so far are a WASTE of time. The best of them are still in France and not here in the USA yet.
Arba Kosot (The Four cups of Passover)
Finally, it the Jewish custom to drink four cups of wine on Passover, but to power down these wines are far too hard for me (the concept there is to drink the base quantity of wine to fulfill your requirement – which is a Revi’it, within a certain time period). In the past, I was drinking red, Israeli wines that were simple to drink, not complex or impressive. However, with time, I found a better option, drink the majority of a small cup that fulfills the Revi’it quantity of wine. This way, I can drink an Israeli, not Mevushal, red wine – like a Netofa wine. This is explained more below. This year, I think I will go with Yarden Rose Brut Sparkling wine. It is Israeli, not mevushal, “red”, and lovely wine, and an acid BOMB! Read the rest of this entry
My top 30 kosher wines of 2019 including wine of the year, Winery of the year, and best wine of the year awards
Like last year, I wanted to make this post short and sweet – so the criteria are simple I could care less about price, color, or where it was made. All that matters is that it is/was available this year sometime to the public at large and that I tasted it in a reliable environment, not just at a tasting, and that it was scored a 93 or higher. Also, there are a few lower scoring wines here because of their uniqueness or really good QPR.
We are returning with the “wine of the year”, and “best wine of the year” while adding in a new category called “Winery of the Year”, and another new category, the best White wine of the year. Wine of the year will go to a wine that distinguished itself in ways that are beyond the normal. It needs to be a wine that is easily available, incredible in style and flavor, and it needs to be reasonable in price. It may be the QPR wine of the year or sometimes it will be a wine that so distinguished itself for other reasons. The wines of the year are a type of wine that is severely unappreciated, though ones that have had a crazy renaissance, over the past two years. The Best Wine of the year goes to a wine well worthy of the title, especially with its 2016 vintage.
This past year, I think I am pretty sure about my statement. In the past, I had not yet tasted the pape Clement or other such wines. However, over the past year, those have been covered, and they were a serious letdown. As stated in the article, I truly believe the entire kosher production of the Megrez wines, following the EPIC 2014 vintage of the Pape Clement and others, to be below quality and seriously overpriced and without value in every category, which is a true shame. The 2015 reds are all poor quality and the whites are not much better, in 2015 and 2016. The 2016 Pape Clement, while better, is a total ripoff for what it is.
There are also interesting wines below the wines of the year, think of them as runner-up wines of the year. There will be no rose wines on the list this year – blame that on the poor crop or rose wines overall, it was, by far, the worst kosher Rose vintage. Thankfully, the task of culling the bounty of great wines to come to these top wines was really more a task of removing then adding. I may have stated the obvious in my last post, about the state of kosher wine in general, and not all of it was very good. Still, as I stated, we are blessed with more QPR wines and more top wines, while the core pool of wines, which are horribly poor, continue to grow larger and larger.
The supreme bounty comes from the fact that Royal released the 2017 French wines a bit early! Throw in the incredible number of kosher European wines that are coming to the USA and being sold in Europe and this was truly a year of bounty for European kosher wines.
Now, separately, I love red wines, but white wines – done correctly, are a whole other story! Sadly, in regards to whites, we had no new wines from Germany. Thankfully, we had Domaine Netofa and Yaccov Oryah’s Orange and white Wines to come to the rescue. Throw in Vitkin’s good work, and more great work by Royal Europe, including the new Gazin Blanc, and others, and you have quite a crop of fun white wines!
Some of these wines are available in the USA, some only in Europe, and a few only available in Israel.
Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – but they are worth the effort. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
The 2019 kosher wines of the year – we have a four-way TIE all from Yarden!
Yes! You have read it correctly, the wines of the year come from Golan Heights Winery (AKA Yarden Winery), the 4th largest date juice producer in the entire world! The top date juice honor belongs to Barkan Winery, but I digress.
So, why is Yarden here, because albeit’s deep desire to throw away years of work creating very nice wines, at a reasonable price, with its wines from the early 2000s and before, it still makes the best kosher sparkling wines, and it is time that it receives its due.
As I stated in my year in review, the kosher wine public has finally awoken to the joy of sparkling wine! Last week I told a friend I popped a sparkler for Shabbat lunch and he replied in a sarcastic tone, “Oh only a sparkler”, like that was a crazy thing to do. I replied that the Gamla (AKA Gilgal) Brut costs less than most white wines do! Why not pop one with lunch on Shabbat??? Others tell me, yes there is more a public appreciation for Sparkling wines, but it is a different wine category. I do not agree! Sure, sparkling wine has bubbles, so yeah, it is different. However, that is EXACTLY what is wrong here, Sparkling wine is just white or rose wine with bubbles. Who cares? When it is well made, it is a wine like any other wine.
My posts on the wines and wineries I visited in Israel for Passover continue with my visit to Tzora Vineyards Winery. I have posted many times about Tzora Vineyards and as always I am impressed by the winery, it continues to push back against the tide of date juice. Even before I got to Israel I was texting with Eran Pick, the head winemaker, and General Manager of Tzora Vineyards Winery. Once again, Avi Davidowitz, of KosherWineUnfiltered, joined me on Monday, and I really have to thank Mr. Pick for allowing us to come while work was being done in the cellar.
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 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!!
Tzora Vineyards Winery
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 well balanced new-world style wines, while Israeli wineries continue to create fruit-forward crazed wines that lack balance and something to call their own.
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, 2017 red and the 2018 whites, 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 email@example.com or call at (212) 461-1708, even though Skurnik has set up a west coast operation. Read the rest of this entry
I have written before about Vitkin last year, and this year (2018 production), makes it the third year of kosher production for the winery! Yes, as stated last during the 2015 vintage, Asaf believed that it was time to go kosher, so why not make it on a shmita year! They moved from 60K bottles in 2014 to 100K bottles in 2015 and on. The hope there is that expansion would be possible by moving kosher. Royal Wines is the USA importer for their wines from 2016 and on.
The winery has grown from its early days in 2001 to now making 100,000 or so bottles of wine, and though it has space for more, it will stay there for now. Avi Davidowitz, of KosherWineUnfiltered, and I arrived during the start of post-production work on the 2018 vintage for reds and some of the special whites, that we will talk more about later on.
The winery does not use pumps to move the wine must to the top tanks, but rather they use hydraulics to move the bins to the top of the tank and drop them into the tank. This makes sure that the fruit and it’s must is not crushed a second time, allowing for better wine. After the wine is finished fermenting, using gravity the grapes and the must are placed into the press and then the resulting wines are then dropped into the barrels. Tank to press to barrels all using gravity, with an assist from the hydraulics at the start. This is not a new scheme, it can be seen all over France, but it is nice to see it in Israel as well (Galil Mountain winery also does this along with others, but not many family-run boutique wineries show such care and concern).
Vitkin has three main lines of wines; Israeli Journey, Vitkin, and Shorashim (the elite wines), and some dessert wines as well. The kosher line started in 2015 and so initially the whites and rose were the only available options. Of the wines, we tasted this year, the rose is in the Israeli Journey line, along with the white Israeli Journey. The other three whites; Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Grenache Blanc are all in the Vitkin line, with the Grenache Blanc and The Gewurtztraminer adding the Collector’s Edition moniker.
The current red wines that are kosher all fall into the Vitkin wine label, both the 2018 Vitkin Israeli Journey, Red, along with the 2017/2018 Vitkin Pinot Noir, the 2016 Vitkin Cabernet Franc, the 2016 Vitkin Petite Sirah, old vines, Collector’s Edition, and the 2016 Vitkin Carignan, old vines, Collector’s Edition.
There are two fascinating aspects of the wines produced the Vitkin Winery. One is that more than 55% of the bottles produced are either rose or white! Think about that for a second! Are you kidding me, that is really impressive if you ask me personally. Israel has changed so much in the last 10 years, in two core aspects. The Israeli public now drinks more wine, and they like white/roses and the second is that red wines are turned riper – a drum I constantly beat – and one that is not changing yet. Read the rest of this entry
For the first time in a long time, my post on Netofa winery is not months after I visited! I went with Avi Davidowitz of Kosher Wine Unfiltered, and as always Pierre Miodownick, head winemaker of Domaine Netofa Winery was beyond gracious with his time and his wines.
I have already posted my feelings about the 2017 whites and the 2016 reds in my previous post on the Domaine Netofa Winery in December 2018. I have also already posted some of the 2018 whites and rose wines as part of a large blind tasting after the winery visit. Domaine Netofa is a winery I have posted about often, and it may well be a winery I post the most of on my blog, besides Tzora Vineyards. That kind of tells you what I think about those two wineries. Pierre Miodownick is the head winemaker at Netofa, and he has been there since the winery’s inaugural 2009 vintage.
Thankfully, the winery is still one of the last bastions of normalcy, when it comes to white and red wines in Israel, along with a few others. I have found Netofa’s white and rose wines from the 2018 vintage to be quite lovely and unique. The red wines are solid with only the red Tel Qasser from 2016 being a wine I still cannot bring myself to love.
Sadly, the availability of these wines continues to be an issue here in the USA. I really wish Netofa could find an importer already and get us some fun Israeli red and white wines to enjoy here in the USA. Until then, you need to go to Israel to buy and enjoy them.
Yes, I know the rumors, I know. However, until their wines are in the USA and in my house I will reserve my optimism. That is in no way a judgment on Netofa, but more of a hope and a way to not jinx the return of one of the best kosher wineries in Israel from returning to our shores.
Wines to come:
- There will be a 10-year Tawny port released soon from the 2010 vintage.
- There will be a 2018 wine based upon Mourvedre, with a bit of Syrah. Look for it in a year or so.
My many thanks to Mr. Miodownick and the winery for letting me come by and enjoy the wines with him! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2018 Domaine Netofa, White – 90 to 91
I have had this wine 4 times now. Some shows like pineapple juice and others show beautiful like this one here. What can I do, I think this wine has a deep-rooted tropical backbone, but the mineral up front is so good that it hides the backbone.
The nose on this wine shows a lovely nose of straight up hay, mineral, and fruit, with apple and quince galore, and lovely fruit and blossom. The mouth on this wine is crazy good, with a clear ripe backbone, yet steely tart and bright with crazy saline and herb, with mineral galore, with crazy apple, and rich quince, with an incredible tension between the ripeness and the tart/dry fruit and minerality. The finish is long and green, with slate, more hay, and lovely freshness and minerality! Bravo! Drink by 2021.
2017 Netofa Latour, White – Score: 91 to 92
Crazy Oak nose with yellow pear and apple, quince and rich saline with hay and dry herb. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is crazy good, layered, extracted and richly round, but tart, and saline bomb, with lovely tension and rich herb, and lovely sweet spices and sweet Oak. The finish off long, green, with vanilla, herb, and mint, and lemongrass, with tart lemon curd and spices. Read the rest of this entry