Category Archives: Kosher Red Wine

Domaine Netofa Winery – March and November 2018

As always, I am super late on posting notes, and this post is no different. This past year, I have been really busy, and while I am thankful for that fact, it has put a crimp on my wine posts. Well, now I have been freed up a bit, and I am catching up on lost time.

In March 2018, I visited with Mr. Miodownick and on my latest trip in November, I had no time to get up north. So, I got all the current wines from Pyup and tasted them as part of the two blind tastings. Domaine Netofa is a winery I have posted about often and maybe the most posted about winery 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 this winery, as he has been 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. Sadly, at the blind tasting, the 2017 Domaine Chenin Blanc was corked, but my notes for it from the March tasting can be found here. The 2016 red wines were a bit of a mixed bag, with some of them showing more ripeness, even for Netofa. The 2017 roses were fun, but they are all sold out already, and that is good, as 2017 roses should not be around anymore. The 2017 white Latour seemed to feel lacking in the blind tasting, though it was still elegant.

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.

My many thanks to Mr. Miodownick and the winery for letting me come by and enjoy the wines with him, even if this post is many months late! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2017 Domaine Netofa Chenin Blanc – Score: 91
Really lovely wine, showing hints of oak which does not exist in this wine, along with lovely flint, peach, dry straw, and yellow pear, with mineral. The mouth is really lovely with nice bracing acid, followed by tart grapefruit, citrus, quince, and great mineral. The finish is crazy fun, with intense pith, spice galore, and lovely herb, slate, and pith. Lovely! Drink by 2020. (Sadly this is only available in Israel).

2017 Domaine Netofa Tel Qasser, White – Score: 91 to 92 (tasted blind in November)
Lovely wine, sadly I knew what it is, lovely Roussanne, showing earth, mineral, rich brightness, with loads of heather, lovely floral notes, with straw, yellow plum, and apple. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is layered, rich, and nicely extracted, showing rich oily structure, with layers of green apple, quince, lovely richness, with mineral, grass, straw, and lovely acidity showing long with flowers, and rich lemongrass. Lovely!! Drink until 2022. (Sadly this is only available in Israel). Read the rest of this entry

Tzora Vineyards Winery latest release – November 2018

My posts on the wines and wineries I visited in Israel 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. When I got to Israel I made it my business to get to the winery and drove poor Eran Pick nuts. He and the winery were so kind as to make time for us on a short Friday, and I really wanted to thank them for that.

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!!

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 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 reds and the 2017 whites, as well. Sadly, Mr. Pick was busy elsewhere but the winery made time for us, and it was a real treat as always. 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 a 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, OM, AD, and myself. We had the chance to taste through the current wines.

The tasting consisted of the current 2017 whites, the 2016 reds, along with a brand new 2017 Judean Hills, red, and the now bottled 2016 Misty Hills, and the 2017 Or dessert wine.

My thanks to Mr. Eran Pick and the winery for a wonderful tasting. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2017 Tzora Judean Hills, White – Score: 91 to 92
This wine is a blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is lovely, definitely one of my top white wines of 2017. The nose on this wine starts with rich vanilla that gives way to sweet green Apple, lovely grapefruit with bright fruit and classic cleanliness. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has great acid with Asian pear, rich lemongrass, and a great tart freshness. The finish is long and bright, with great tart fruit, lovely slate, and mineral. Drink by 2019. Read the rest of this entry

Yaacov Oryah Winery – latest wines

Having just posted my take on where Israel’s wines are at this point, especially in regards to red wines, there is still a silver lining, the white wines from top Israeli wine producers. Those include Vitkin, Domaine du NetofaCapsouto, Covenant Winery Israel, Tzora Winery, and of course Yaacov Oryah’s not so well known masterpieces of white wines.

You can read my last post on Yaacov Oryah and his wines here. I visited Israel for a short trip, but I was sure to contact Yaacov and he was very kind to make time to meet once again at the lovely Red and White Wine Bar of Jerusalem. The bartender is the owner, sommelier, coffee bean roaster, and the cheesemonger – Mark Arnold Jam.

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!

When we arrived for the tasting, I was joined by OU, AD, JK, and NA, along with Arnold and of course Yaacov Oryah. We were there to taste the wines he released recently for 2018.  Yaacov’s white wines are pure joy, he gets what works, for people like me, and for others as well. The wines are always enjoyable, well made, balanced, and really rich and layered. The only con to the wines may be the price, but hey greatness comes at a cost.

Yaacov is currently the head winemaker at Psagot Winery and he also makes wines under his own label and some special wines just for restaurants around Israel. His winery is proof that Israel can make great wines. It is further proof, that for now, Israel may well be better served to concentrate on white wines than red ones. The 2017 Yaacov Oryah Silent Hunter, to me, is the best white wine I have tasted this entire year. Better than the 2017 Jean-Pierre Bailly Pouilly-Fume, Sauvignon Blanc, or the other top white wines from 2017. There is no denying it, Semillion in the hands of Yaacov, is like lead in the hands of an Alchemist. The other white and orange wines he made this past year are also quite impressive. Truly a tour de force – Bravo!!!

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:

2017 Yaacov Oryah Light from Darkness (אור מאופל in Hebrew) – Score: 91 to 92
This wine is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Tempranillo. This is a classic Blanc du Noir using beautiful Rhone Valley grapes.
The nose on this wine shows beautiful and crazy aromatics, with great notes of tart lemon, yellow Apple, with straw, mineral, and lemongrass. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is joy, showing great acid and a tactile mouthful with screaming tart peach, fun and tart lime, with screaming grapefruit, tart, and juicy nectarines, and mineral galore. The finish is long, green, and joyous with more citrus, rich salinity, slate, and rock. Bravo! Drink until 2020.

2017 Yaacov Oryah Silent Hunter (הצייד השקט in Hebrew) – Score: 92 to 93
From what I have tasted so far, this may well be the best white wine of 2017 from Israel, and maybe around the world, though I have others still to taste from Cali and France. This wine is a blend of 60% Semillon and 40% Chenin Blanc. This wine’s name is a nod to Hunter Valley in Australia, and its ability to create Semillion based wines that last forever.
The nose on this wine is a crazy flint bomb, with dry quince, sweet and spicy ginger, rich saline, and paraffin, with rich yellow plum, apple, lemongrass, honeydew, honeysuckle, followed by rich floral notes, and rich mineral. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is an oily texture with rich fruit, showing lovely mineral, with a mouthfeel of rich earth, straw, and crazy grapefruit with lemongrass and rich pear, all balanced by an acidity that is off the charts. The finish is long, mineral-driven, with more floral and green notes, with incredible acid, dry quince, and floral notes lingering long. Bravo!! Drink by 2030.

2017 Yaacov Oryah Chenin Blanc, Alpha Omega – Score: 91
Another vintage and another Orange wine from Yaacov. In 2017 he made one orange wine. In 2018, he will be making 10 of them!!!
The nose on this wine is almost pure funk! Really funky, nutty and really floral with straw, mad honeysuckle, and rich sweet nectarines, with crazy yellow plum. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely and intense with an oily and crazy mouthfeel, that comes at you in layers and hits you with balanced tannins that give this wine an incredible structure, the tannins, and the acid combine to pucker the mouth with funk madness. The middle of the wine shows that lovely nutty characteristic of orange wines,  showing with almond and halva, followed by with honeyed fruit and hints of oxidation. The finish is long acidic, and earthy, with green notes, spice, ginger, and lovely almond pith and orange peel that lasts forever. Bravo!!! Drink until 2024.

2016 Yaacov Oryah Alpha Omega – Score: 90
This wine is a blend of Roussanne, Semillon, and Viognier, that sat and fermented for three weeks on the white grape skins.
The nose on this wine is really fun and crazy, with intense richness and lovely fruit, white chocolate, raspberry, with floral notes galore, and rich orange blossom with orange and rich mineral and spice. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is crazy rich, mouth coating, with lovely nectarines, more yellow plum, with intense acidity, showing rich oak and butterscotch, balanced well with mouth-drying tannin, quince, and more floral notes. The finish is long, sweet, and tart with crazy graphite, saline, and tannin that give way to orange fruit, and cloves and sweet spices. Fun! Drink until 2024.

2016 Yaacov Oryah Eye of the Storm (עין הסערה in Hebrew) – Score: 89
This wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. The nose on this wine shows lovely blue and black fruit, with a smoke bomb redolence, followed by tar and rich roasted animal fat, with a huge pile of blackcurrants. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is tar driven, with chocolate and tobacco, with a long and balanced wine finish showing a bit of green, with loads of ripe and juicy blueberry, slightly pushed blackberry, and lovely tobacco that lingers long. Nice! A bit too ripe for me, but very well made. Drink until 2023.

Red Israeli wines are essentially dead to me, the white wines overall are not much better

Another year and another disappointment for Israeli wines overall. I have recently returned from a quick trip to Israel to be at the last of three JK and LK’s weddings that they have thrown this year for their boys. This was the oldest son, and a young man I saw grow up before my eyes, much akin to his younger twin brothers, which as stated above, also got married this year.

This trip we tried to concentrate on reds and whites, I am done with Rose wines for the year. Much to my chagrin, the 2016 reds are a dud at best. The only 2016 red Israeli wine that I would buy, and have bought, are the 2016 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin and the 2016 Domaine du Castel Petit Castel. I will be honest, it was a shocker. Tzora’s 2016 wines and even Domaine de Netofa’s 2016 reds were ripe, riper than I would invest in. I have yet to taste the 2016 Domaine du Netofa Latour Red, I hope to taste that on my next trip to Israel.

Sadly, the 2017 whites were not much better, they all had a serious lack of complexity and acid. Sure, winemakers can and do add tartaric acid to their wines, but clearly, the wine was not showing that in ways that impressed me or others who tasted many of these wines blind.

Now, to be fair, there were some 2017 whites that did show well, and they are listed in a previous post here. With that said, the best 2017 white so far this year, that I have tasted came from Yaacov Oryah. His 2017 whites blew me away, and in 2018, he took all his red grapes and only made white and orange wines, and YES finally even a Rose wine from them! Talk about betting on anything other than red wines! Looking forward to tasting them next year! I will post the 2017 whites in my next post.

Red Wine for the masses

I know this post will offend people, and that is really not the point of the post. The point of me stating that I could care less for Israeli red wines at this point is to show the sad progression of the date juice crisis.

Look, this is nothing new, since 2009 for most Israeli wineries, and especially following the 2011 vintage (for the rest of them), Israeli wineries changed their style of winemaking to please the masses. Take Teperberg as a perfect example. Their 2011 wines were awesome, old-world in so many ways, but in 2012, they went the opposite direction and have been selling their wines in mass, to the masses, by changing their winemaking style, and yeah their labels, but everyone changed their labels. They went to a far more fruit-forward and ripe wine, one that I cannot begin to appreciate, but one that sells fantastically here in the USA, and in the end, that is really all a massive winery like Teperberg cares about.

I do not mean that in an offensive way at all. Wineries are a business and if they are not able to sell the millions of bottles that they make with a certain style of wine than they have to change the product.

That is what most of Israel’s wineries did. They changed to fruitier and riper wines and they have been succeeding so far with that approach. What that means for me, is that I will continue to concentrate on Europe and America, in terms of the wines I buy.

Too Much Wine

Besides the mass of date juice bottles that now exists on the shelves across the wine shelves in Israel, Europe, and the United States, there is just too much of it. There are new wineries popping up every year, more and more of these boutique Israeli wineries, that have no way to differentiate themselves from the next, other than more years in oak and more fruit and tannin, and of course more exclusivity and higher prices, like that would ever make me want to buy a wine! But I assure you, for the masses, it is like a moth to the flame.

The wines all taste the same. I went to a wine tasting a couple of months ago in NY, and the wines were all horrible date juice, but they were the same date juice, nothing that differentiated them from the next wine over. Not a single unique aspect.

Israel will face the issue soon if it is not already facing it now. I ask the winemakers and they say they are selling all the wines perfectly well. But when I talk to shop owners the story I get is very different. Wines are not moving and they sit on the shelves, the prices are too high, they are no different than the wine on the shelf over, and they all look the same.

Different varietals

At least a few wineries are trying to make something other than Cabernet Sauvignon, but sadly those do not sell well. There is a reason why Herzog Winery has some 20+ Cabernet Sauvignon wines! YES! 20 plus, closer to 25 or more I think. Same with Yarden and other wineries in Israel, where the focus continues to be on Cabernet.

Vitkin, Domaine du Netofa, Recanati, Capsouto, Covenant Winery Israel, Tzora Winery, and others are trying to change the ONENESS that plagues Israeli wineries, but they too have been hitting resistance. Why? Because as much as they and others talk about the need for more options outside of Cabernet, and how the ecology and terroir of Israel are more suited to Rhone or Spanish varietals, the truth is that Israeli and American palates only understand Cabernet Sauvignon. That is the sad truth. It takes a lot of money and perseverance to try to push a rock up the hill or change the palates of the kosher wine masses. So far, the date juice palates are pummeling the old-world palates. There is no real way to hide from this simple and true fact, and while I guess I could care less, I wonder when this will all come back to roost on the Israeli wineries.

As I have stated many times, red wines have at least a 2+ year cost from crush until the release and then the next red wine vintage’s release. If the public starts to move or change their desires, wineries will be left holding the bag, a very expensive bag. Until then, the wine is selling, even if they are all the same stuff. Even among the red non-Cabernet Sauvignon wineries, the wines when tasted blind really do taste the same. There is little to no uniqueness. It is just really ripe dry red wine, some showing some finesse, but for the most part, sledgehammer wines that meet the least common denominator requirement of ripe and round wines that can be consumed ASAP.

Again, I know I will receive lots of hate mail, I understand, that is fine with me. I am simply stating things as I see it. Sadly, there are others as well that have the same issues, in varying degrees, and the sad truth is that Israel does not have the desire today, to make a wine that is as good as some of the wines from California, let alone Europe. They have proven in the past that they CAN make wines that are as good as California’s kosher options, but almost all of them have sold out to what is selling today, at the cost of the lowest common denominator consumer, who are seemingly holding them all hostage.

I hope the 2017 vintage of red wines will turn things around but I highly doubt it. Sadly, the 2015 and 2016 Capcanes reds have also joined this very fruit forward winemaking approach. The 2015 Peraj Ha’abib was not a wine I bought much of if any, outside of the few I needed for three tastings. The 2016 vintage, here so far is mevushal and is a disaster. The 2016 and 2017 Peraj Petita, NOT mevushal, are not fun to horrible wines. The earlier vintages continue to show well, and time will tell for the newer vintages, the Carignan and Grenache wines, we have yet to see the 2015 vintages of those wines. The 2015 Capcances Pinot Noir was and is still very nice and 2016 is not yet available here in the USA.

The Blind Wine Tastings

There were two separate wine tastings, one at JK’s office and one at AD’s house in Beit Shemesh. My many thanks to both of these guys for putting up with me, and my many thanks to the gang of guys who joined us and brought wines, and were able to put up with me during the tastings. Those would be AD, JK, AO, OM, AK, and NA. Again, my many thanks and the wines were brought by both me and the other guests. The wines were all tasted blind with silver foil wrapping the bottles.

Read the rest of this entry

Sulfites, Cilantro, and Or Haganuz Elima, a no sulfite added wine – revised

This is not the first time I have posted about Or Haganuz and its sulfite-free Cabernet wine. They have been making this wine for many years now, I remember as early back as 2009, maybe earlier.

We have spoken before about sulfites when I posted an article, about the then ONLY Kosher Sulfite Free wine that I knew of. The Bashan Winery is a lovely small winery in the Galilee that only produces sulfite-free wine.

So what are Sulfites? They are nothing more than a preservative for wine. They were added into wine staring in the last century or so. Before then people got along fine without using them – why? Because sulfites occur naturally in wine. The extra sulfites one may add allow for the wine to stay on the shelf or in the cellar longer. So most winemakers that bottle organic wine will say that white wines should be drunk within the year and within the day of opening it. Red wines have a bit more life to them – 5 years or so, as sulfites are far more prevalent in red wines.

Many wineries have wines made from organically grown grapes – this is a trend that many wineries are trying to push, in ways as part of the whole natural wine story. Also, because organic grapes are more than just a selling point, it because organic grapes are good for the vines, the vine workers, and ultimately, the customer.

When we talk about sulfite-free wine, it does not always mean organic wine! In the USA, the rules are VERY simple, you CANNOT add any preservatives in ANY manner – as described here, (sorry the data is in a PDF) on the USDA website if you wish to put the word Organic on the wine label. An organic wine means ZERO SO2 was added to the wine at any time in the processing of the wine. The wine will still have sulfites unless they were fined out because sulfites occur naturally in the grape skins. Also, the wine must be made from organic grapes and many other requirements. The U.S. differs in what it defines as “organic” wine from the EU or other countries. In the E.U. they can call a wine organic, as long as:

  • These include: maximum sulfite content set at 100 mg per liter for red wine (150 mg/l for conventional)
  • 150mg/l for white/rosé (200 mg/l for conventional),
  • with a 30mg/l differential where the residual sugar content is more than 2g per liter.

Please note – that this is not additive sulfite count/numbers, but rather that TOTAL amount of sulfites allowed in the wines. Again, sulfites occur naturally in grape skins, so if you macerate your wine for 2 months (or something long like that anyway), you will get a fair amount of sulfite in your wine without ever adding any actual SO2 into your wine, manually. Also, sulfite is a naturally occurring byproduct of the fermentation process.

So why all the buzz around sulfites in wine? Because some people are supposedly allergic to the sulfites. What is the percentage of people with this ailment? The USDA describes it as 1/100 as stated here, far fewer people than the percentage of folks who think Cilantro is the Devil’s spawn (I am one of them by the way, Cilantro hater, not Sulfite hater).

So, when my local Rabbi, who says he is allergic to Sulfites asked me to look at options, I told him the only kosher mass-produced “no sulfite added” option out there is the Or Haganuz Elima.

So, when I had the opportunity to taste the recent vintage, I was happy to do so, so that I could decide for myself if this wine was drinkable or not. When I tasted it I was shocked, for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was Or Haganuz, come on, their wines are undrinkable by default. They are classically built Israeli wines, oak monsters, with unbearable tannin structure, and date juice drove. So, when I tasted the Elima, I was shocked that it was a well-balanced wine, with good fruit focus, and to boot, it had no added sulfites. Now, from the structure of the wine, I can tell they macerated this wine for a good amount of time. How long, I have no idea, but they “added” sulfites by extracting all the sulfites they could from the grape skins as they could. Now, I am no doctor or professor, but well before reading the back label of the bottle, I could tell you this wine was macerated for a long period of time. Sure, enough the back label says exactly what I had surmised from my palate, that they had used a method of winemaking developed by Dr. Arkady Papikian (a consulting winemaker in Israel), which used a long maceration process and then a long and cold fermentation. Both of which, as stated above create natural sulfites. I have no idea if naturally occurring sulfites cause people with allergies, fewer issues, but my Rabbi, who says he is allergic to sulfites has no issues with this particular wine.

Please NOTE – this is NOT an organic wine, it does not use the word organic, nor does it advertise as such. It simply states that they did not add in sulfites to this wine, at least in an unnatural manner anyway.

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

2016 Or Haganuz Elima – Score: 90 (no added sulfites)
This wine is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc.
The wine is a classical new world wine, very ripe, and concentrated, still the lack of sulfites do not affect it to me. This wine has no added sulfites – but a sulfite-free red wine does not exist, as all red wines have naturally occurring sulfites.
The nose on this wine is ripe, with nice green notes, garrigue, and good notes of earth and spice, with anise galore, menthol, some black fruit, and hints of red berries. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich and layered, a wine that will sell well for those that like wine like this, it is well balanced with good acidity, tobacco galore, with rich smokey meats, blackberry, cassis, and ripe juicy dark plums, all wrapped in good tannin and a nice fruit structure. The finish is long and green, with foliage, sweet dill, and nice green and red fruit on the long linger. Nice! As the wine opens the chocolate emerges.

Top Grenache wines available now

Well, I just posted by Pinot Noir post, and as I have stated before, Grenache is the Pinot Noir of the Rhone Valley.

So, there we are – I hope we understand the dearth of options that exist in the kosher Pinot Noir landscape. With that in mind, I thought it was high time to have a Pinot Noir tasting, along with the fact that a guest who came to our house said he liked Pinot Noir and Grenache! In a way, it was the perfect wine combo! Grenache is called the “Pinot noir of the Rhone Valley” for its finicky growing style as well, so the combo was chosen.

Now if good kosher Pinot Noir is a pain to find – forget about Grenache!! Here is the list – the TOTAL list that I know of (whether I would or would not drink them):

  1. Hajdu Winery (much epic Grenache including 2007, 2010, and 2012, 2014)
  2. Capcanes Winery
  3. Ramon Cardova (undrinkable)
  4. Galil Winery (last I had was OK)
  5. Shirah Winery
  6. Vitkin Winery
  7. Dalton Estate (Last I had was really sweet)
  8. Kos Yeshuous (only in 2016)

After those – the rest are blends, including the lovely Elvi, Netofa, and onwards:

  1. Vignobles David (The last Vignobles I had were not fun, I hope to taste them again soon) – he has many wines with Grenache in them, in varying degrees of percentages.
  2. Elvi Winery (Great wines indeed)
  3. Netofa Winery (they recently added Grenache to their famous SM wines).
  4. Capsouto Winery (they too only have 30% or so from Grenache)
  5. Capcanes Winery (yes again because they make the famous Peraj Ha’Abib with Grenache as part of the blend)
  6. Yaacov Oryah Wines (he makes a Blanc de Noir from Grenache and a few GSM as well). Sadly, I have not tasted his new wines. I hope to be doing that soon.

Sadly, in the world of white – there are only TWO full Granche Blanc wines:

  1. Hajdu Winery (much epic Grenache including 2007, 2010, and 2012, 2014)
  2. Vitkin Winery

Also, like the Noir, there is a winery that uses the Grenache Blanc in a blend:

  1. Capsouto Winery (they use 60% of it or so in the Eva)
  2. Vignobles David (The last Vignobles I had were not fun, I hope to taste them again soon and new ones as well) – he has a wine or two with Grenache Blanc in them, in varying degrees of percentages.
  3. Shirah Winery made a Vintage White in 2016 that was mostly Grenache Blanc, but this year, they went back to using Viognier as the major varietal in this white blend.

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A Horizontal of 2013 Pinot Noirs and other top Pinot Noir to buy now

A few weeks ago, Benaymin Cantz from Four Gates Winery and friends came over for a Friday night dinner, and I thought it was a good time to open my 2013 Pinot Noirs that I have been saving. I must say, in hindsight, I should have done it earlier, as some of the wines were already past their time or DOA.

My love for all things Pinot is well known, and I had such high hopes. Overall, the night was fine, it was just not at the level I had hoped for. Thankfully, Benyo brought two extra wines, and they made the night super special! They were, a 1997 Four Gates Pinot Noir and a 2005 Four gates Merlot. M.S.C.

It is funny how the media can change people’s perspectives, and in some cases twist it in a way that we would not expect.  Say Pinot Noir and most wine drinkers will think of the enigmatic anti-hero Miles Raymond, and his explanation on his love for Pinot Noir; “…It’s, uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know?…“.  Pinot is a complicated grape – but not to its own detriment.  Listen to Miles throughout Sideways and you may come to think that Pinot is fleeting, flinty, thin, and complicated. In the end, as you watch that horrible movie, you quickly realize that Miles was simply projecting in a fire fueled rambling and using Pinot Noir as his conduit.

To the French, Pinot Noir is called Burgundy – following the tradition of French wineries to name their wines after the region where the grapes are grown. Americans have had success with Pinot – in California, Oregon, and Washington State. New Zealand, has really taken the lead in bringing the grape into the 21st century. The French Burgundy has its terroir (earthy dirt flavors, sometimes barnyard flavors as well). The New Zealand and American Pinots show characteristics that are more akin to Syrah then Burgundy – fruit forward, meaty wines with soft caressing tannins. The rest of the world is choosing sides. Though true terroir flavors are hard to replicate outside of Burgundy, many countries have been successful at bringing out the true fruit characteristics that the land is willing to share and are creating wonderful Pinot Noirs. Israel was starting to come into its own with Pinot Noir, now all I would buy from Israel, in regards to Pinot would be from Gvaot. Even if the 2013 Pinot was DOA, I have had good success with Gvaot Pinot Noir. Right now, the best bet is France and the USA, with a drop from Israel, and after that, we are on empty.

Sadly, Pinot Noir to me is one of those wines that is so badly mangled in the kosher wine world, that it is no shock that most kosher oenophiles, turn face when u say Pinot Noir. Not on account of the Pinot Noir grapes themselves, but rather on account of the pathetic state of kosher Pinot Noir wine on the market.

Say, Pinot Noir to me, and sadly I can only think of:

Read the rest of this entry

2017 Herzog Rose of Pinot Noir, Tasting Room Reserve, Clarksburg

When I was in Oxnard, tailing along with Gabriel Geller to taste the new wines from Herzog Winery, late in 2017 (a couple of months after the harvest), we met with Joe Hurliman and Joe Herzog. As they were showing us around, I saw my old friend Josh Goodman standing next to a barrel. Josh used to live in San Jose, CA early in his career with Herzog, when the winery was situated in San Martin, CA.

Herzog Cellars started in 1985 and it was located in the old San Martin Winery. Josh and Jordana were members of our shul for close to two years. It was heady years in those days, lots of young and hip folks. Wine and food was center of what was our shul at that time, and it was fun hanging with Josh in those days.

Sadly, in 1998, Herzog moved the winery to CWS in Santa Maria, and they hired the now head winemaker, Joe Hurliman. I would see Josh every year at either the IFWF or the KFWE first in Los Angeles, in varied locations.

Josh was hovering over that barrel and its contents, like a mother hen over its fledglings, and personally, I saw that love in the wine. It was a Rose from Pinot Noir, and Joe and Josh would continue to perfect that wine until it was worthy of the tasting room reserve label.

I really enjoyed the wine, I must say and it showed quite well for me. The weight and the oak were clearly perceived, but they were in balance and control, and I found those characteristics to be more enjoyable than I would have expected in a rose.

Clearly, this is not a quaffing rose, it is more an appetizer rose, and one that can be enjoyed with a slightly larger range of food options.

Bravo to Josh and the Herzog winery. In my opinion, and in regards to my notes, this is ts best rose from Herzog for me this year.

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

2017 Herzog Rose, Pinot Noir, Tasting Room Reserve, Clarksburg – Score: 90
This wine is fun, it has done so much right with things that could go so wrong. Sadly, I have been asked to taste horrible oak driven roses, or acid-free disasters, or dark roses that make me wonder why the word rose is on the bottle.
This wine has so many things that may make me wonder if I was being punished yet again, but thankfully this wine is truly fun, yes it has oak, but in lovely control, followed by a darker than normal color for a rose but hey not everyone loves Gris, finally the wine is well balanced with fruit, and it is not a tropical fruit bomb – bravo!
The nose on this wine shows lovely smoky oak notes, with lemongrass, ripe strawberry, with hints of passion fruit, and lovely summer fruit. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is really fun, it shows a great acid core, followed by more oak, nice salinity, pink grapefruit, that gives way to flint, smoke, and green notes. The finish is long, sweet, with hints of oak, rich vanilla, and lovely tart fruit that lingers long, with flint. Lovely – Bravo! Drink Now.

2016 Chateau Lamothe-Cissac (kosher)

I recently had the chance to sit down and taste this wine in my house. I tasted it twice at KFWE and in the end, it was better in the home, after it had the chance to decant and show its real potential.

The wine is made at Domaines Fabre in the Haut-Médoc AOC. The wine is classified under Cru Bourgeois, which while may not be a top classification, includes 267 estates today! One of my all-time favorites is under the Cru Bourgeois classification, Fourcas Dupre!

The classification has wineries from many regions on the left bank and the vast majority of these wines are Cabernet Sauvignon dominated.

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

2016 Chateau Lamothe-Cissac, Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Médoc – Score: 91 (QPR)
This wine is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 8% Petit Verdot. This is a fun wine, remember that we have not yet seen the big wines of 2016. As I have said many times on this blog, the 2016 vintage in Bordeaux may well be better than the 2015 vintage! For now, the few 2016 reds we have seen from Bordeaux are showing nicely.
The nose on this wine shows very nicely with rich loam, dirt, green notes, followed by bright and big black fruit, with hints of mushroom in the background, lovely mint, and menthol notes abound as well. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is fun and alive, with screaming acid, that gives way to intense tannin that is soft and yet rich and mouth coating, with great fruit focus, showing blackcurrant, blackberry, with red cherry, and olives, that give way to green notes, mouth scraping mineral, foliage, and tobacco. The finish is long and green, at the start it is a bit too astringent and green to truly enjoy, with time it comes around with nice spice, earth, graphite, sour notes, more red and black fruit, and nice coffee/chocolate mix. Nice! It can be drunk now, but to really appreciate it, I would decant it for a good 3 hours, to cut some of the green and astringent notes. Drink now (with decanting) till 2027.

The best/top kosher wines for Passover 2018 in all price ranges

As 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 really hard for me to get my head wrapped around this year, last year’s list was better. Still, it is a list and a resource you can use as you see fit, 95% of those wines will not be on my list. As I walked around both KFWE this year, and sommelier (in the past) – 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 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 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 WinesGotham WinesSuhag Wine, and of course 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 dollar 2016 Chateau Les Riganes Bordeaux, 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 2016 Chateau Les Riganes Bordeaux, as wonderful 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 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 a 90 (A- of old) 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 2016 rose wines! PLEASE! They are muted and a waste of your hard-earned money. Wait for the 2017 Roses that will be released 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 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 Tzora, Netofa, Flam, or Castel wine. This is explained more below.

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 list, because 2015 in Israel was a total disaster, outside of a few winners. The reds from 2015 in Israel, started to show nicely, but now they are falling apart, and the 2016 reds from Israel are flat or worse.

With Terrenal gone and the 2015/2016 Baron Herzog wines not showing really well, sadly, there will be fewer options out there, IMHO.

In the end, these are my picks, they are easy to find and in my opinion, really good. There is also the Jewish Week’s list and Yossie Horwitz (of Yossie’s Corkboard) also comes out with a list.

So there you have it – enjoy good kosher wine for a reasonable price and enjoy the Passover holiday for what it should be, which is enjoying time and our heritage with our families! Happy Passover to you all. Post what wine you will be enjoying, I would love to hear from you guys on what you will be drinking throughout the holiday!

Wines below 10 dollars:

2017 Baron Herzog Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg (QPR)  (mevushal)
2016 Chateau Les Riganes (mevushal) (QPR KING)

Wines below 15 dollars:

2016 Baron Herzog Chardonnay (QPR)  (mevushal)
2014/2015 Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso (QPR)  (mevushal)
2016 Elvi Winery Rioja Herenza (QPR)
2015 Ramon Cardova Rioja (mevushal) (QPR)
2014 Chateau du Grand Barrail, Blaye, Cotes de Bordeaux (sadly only in France)

Wines below 20 dollars:

2016 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc (mevushal) (QPR)
2015/2016 Yarden Gewurztraminer (2015 is Shmita)
2015 Capcanes Peraj Petita (NOT 2016 that is really NOT a fun wine)
2013/2014 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico (Great QPR)
2016 Psagot Viognier
2013 Cote de Brouilly Beaujolais
2016 Dalton Pinot Gris (QPR)
2017 Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc (mevushal) (QPR)
NV Elvi Adar Brut (some are mevushal) (QPR)
2016 Jacques Capsouto Cuvee Eva, Blanc (QPR) Read the rest of this entry

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