Category Archives: Winery Visit

A lovely and expansive vertical tasting at Elvi Wines Clos Mesorah in Montsant – Nov 2021

So, a quick recap of my life over the past 45 days. I was in Paris in November along with Avi Davidowitz of Kosher Wine Unfiltered. Avi and I tasted lots of wines and more posts about those wines are forthcoming. Avi left a few days after he arrived to return to his family in Israel for Shabbat and I stayed Shabbat in France. On Sunday I flew to Spain to taste wines with Moises and Anne, which I will be posting here. Then I flew back to Paris, hung out with family, and then flew home.

Two weeks later, I was back on a plane to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro. During the 2 weeks I was home I was training or working the entire time, so I barely got the Royal Wine tasting post up! Thankfully I climbed it safely and returned home. The 7 days on that mountain was the longest stretch of my adult life away from a computer, totally surreal for me! Anyway, I am now home and I will be working on my posts, God willing!

So, now back to wine, this post is about Elvi Wines, I have written many times about Elvi Wines, the first post I wrote about Moises and ElviWines is this. Truthfully, nothing has changed about that post, in regards to Elvi Wines, other than the labels and a few wines being dropped to streamline the marketing of the wines. My next main post on Elvi Wines was when I visited the winery with my wife. Before, in between, and after, I have been consistently posting their wines in my QPR posts, wines of the year, and so on. Why? Because they make exceptional wines at reasonable prices and they make a great selection of them under many labels. The labels have evolved, some wines dropped, but overall, since I met Moises one day in San Francisco, tasting through the wines, I heard the story, the dream, and we have all been blessed to watch the trajectory of the winery. It continues to evolve, creating wonderful wines for a reasonable price while proving that Cabernet Sauvignon is not the only red wine that you can sell to the kosher wine buyer.

It is still harder to sell wines as diverse and different as Elvi does. There is no Cabernet, there is no Merlot, sure they find their ways into the EL26 blend, but overall, Elvi is an expression of Spain – not an expression of the kosher wine palate. Elvi typifies Spain to the kosher buyer more than any other option and it has continued to excel in doing it. Sadly, we have seen Capcanes, which is a 5-minute drive from Clos Mesorah, take a large step backward. They too showed the potential of Spain, as a new-world wine in old-world clothing. Sadly, they have drunk from the same fountain of fruit, that so many Israeli wineries have, and they have lost their way. Thankfully, Elvi Wines, Clos Mesorah, and Vina Encina continue to not only execute with great wines they also are improving and growing with new vineyards and winery plans.

I arrived a few hours late because the train systems in Spain are massively antiquated and stopped running for a few hours. Once I arrived, we had the opportunity to start tasting through many a wine. The plan was simple, taste through the wines of Elvi, in a few verticals. A Vertical tasting, in this example, is when you taste the same wine across many vintages. After some tasting, we would have dinner and then go to sleep. The next day we would taste more, go out and see some lovely architecture, then swing by the new vineyards in Priorat, and then finish the tasting, get dinner, and then sleep early as the flight back to Paris is early.

As stated, eventually I got to the winery and the first vertical we did was all the Clos Mesorah wines from 2009 through 2019, except for the 2011 and 2012 vintages that do not exist. That was followed by a partial vertical of Herenza White (AKA InVita) wines. I appreciate tart and acidic wines like the Invita and they showed well, including some with age on them.

The tastings were really fun because tasting through Clos Mesorah is an opportunity to taste through the years of Priorat. Some vintages were very unique, while others were much akin to each other. Each one spoke of the vintage in their own ways, really inspiring. The one constant is acidity, deeply rooted, much akin to Four Gates and Chateau Malartic. Of course, Clos Mesorah is not as old-world as Chateau Malartic, but it has the acidity from its old-world terroir to balance some of its new-world fruit structure. Four Gates Merlot has the same staying power because of the acid that is so deeply core to its very being.

Tasting with Moises Cohen and Anne was a real joy. I have tasted with them before but this time the lineup was far more extensive and that gave me a chance to see what they look for in wine as they described what they thought they liked about the wines and what stood out in each of them, from their perspective. My notes are always what I taste, but my blog will attempt, at times, to emote some of what I hear from the winemaker or the host. In this case, Anne is very clearly passionate about the wine, it shows from the conversations and the notes she describes. Moises is equally passionate, but you can see him defer to Anne when it comes to the wine. Moises cut his teeth in the wine world on the vines and the terroir but eventually, that comes to the wine. The saying goes; wine is made in the vineyard. Together they make a dynamic duo that comes out in many ways. The artistry of the wine, the labels, the overall style they want – that is a duality between Anne and Moises, but Anne seems to take the lead there. In regards to the vineyards, the plushness of the wine, the weight, the overall mouthfeel, there Moises tends to lead, though Anne is side by side as well. The dance is fascinating to watch, explore, and just stand to the side and let happen. Overall, this tasting left me super happy for many reasons. First of all, Clos Mesorah is one of the most consistently great wines out there, even if the track record is a bit short. However, what stood out is the dance between Moises and Anne and the mutual respect they have for each other. Fun times indeed.

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I traveled to Paris amid France’s awakening from its COVID-19 Slumber

Most who know me would say I am not like the classic common man, I move to the beat of my drum, and it was drumbeat that said I needed to be in France as soon as it opens. It cost me loads of aggravation, more on that below, and it was not at the perfect time either, but it was 100% worth it!

The insanity started when Gabriel Geller showed me the webpage, in May, that said that France was going to open to American tourism without quarantine, in June, as long as they had been vaccinated. Since I was vaccinated that interested me and I called United. There were flights and they did not look booked up as this was too early for most Americans to jump on the train. I asked for the week of June 14th and it looked good. I booked it but I kept it low-key as it would not be until June 1st that France would say more about it. For the next month, the French site which would define the very protocols for entry into the country would NOT change until 1 day before entry was legal! Still, they had a small link that would go on to describe the stoplight approach and the protocol for each of the three colors, green, orange, red. Now, I do not know about you, but France and the United States do not have orange-colored stoplights! Either way, the protocol stated that if you were vaccinated from a Green country (which the United States was not part of AT THAT time, more on the below) you could show the vaccine card and enter. Even at that time, I wondered why the United States was not a green country given our rates of infection, our vaccination rates, and so on, still countries like Israel, and others were on it. Then there were the Orange countries, among which the United States was one, which stated, that if you were vaccinated you could enter as long as you had a negative test result from a PCR test taken 72 hours in advance of your flight to France.

So, once France woke up and updated their entry protocols, and made it official, I had only one week to book my tastings, orders, and so on to taste through all the wines I had not yet had the chance to taste. It was a dizzying week of effort, worked around my actual job, which is being a consulting Software Architect for my clients. Thankfully, it was all planned out, though those very plans would change again, nothing new for such a last-minute approach to France.
Truly, none of this could have happened if it were not for Ari Cohen and his buddies in France that helped me in my planning, logistics, and all the winemakers and distributors who helped me set up the wine tastings.

So, as the time approached, I used United’s partner TrustAssure to book my appointment for my PCR test – WARNING NEVER EVER use these IDIOTS! Sorry for spoiling the story! I booked a convenient time and I drove over to it. It was crazy because the address showed one street while the actual location was on another one. Once I finally found it, I was in and out within a matter of minutes. Now, the way TrustAssure works is that they interact and help you find an appointment with a reputable lab or testing center. They show you possible appointment times and locations for these labs in one convenient app. Then they pass along the time for your appointment to the location and charge you the fee. All of this sounds good enough. It is up to the lab to send you the results, not TrustAssure, as TrustAssure is just a middleman to help you find a said appointment.

Well, let me explain that my flight was Sunday morning and I took my test Thursday night. All good and legal, as that is 72 hours before my flight. Sadly, by Friday afternoon late, I had not yet received my results. By Saturday night, after Shabbat, which is late this time of year, we still had no results! NONE! This now caused me massive aggravation, and sadly my wife as well, as I was freaking out. After a couple of hours of sheer insanity and running around looking for testing that was open at 11 PM, I was ready to give in and call it a massive failure. This is the current issue with COVID-19, testing should available all the time, whether for a job need, athletes, teachers, travelers, etc. If we have drive-in burger joints open all night there should be testing facilities as well. Yes, the comparison to a burger joint is cute at best, but truly the aggravation was massive. I tried calling TrustAssure and I tried calling and going to the test facility, they were all closed, with no way to get hold of anyone my test entered the COVID-19 lab blackhole. To be fair, all of the test facilities are the same, except for a very sparing few, they administer the test, and then they send them out to a much larger testing facility. The results for PCR tests are normally 24 hours or less, nowadays, sadly mine fell into the COVID-19 test black hole of death!

Finally, my friend told me there was a test facility, 10 minutes away from SFO (San Francisco airport) that could test me last minute and get me results in less than an hour. The facility opened at 6 AM and my flight check-in time was 7:40 AM. So, I barely slept that night, I packed, got everything ready, and headed over to the testing site (CovidClinic) which is a trailer parked in the middle of nowhere, I mean that literally. It is three orange trailers parked in the middle of three acres of an empty and deserted parking lot that used to be part of a park-and-fly lot for those that parked their cars before a flight at SFO. Those companies were affected by the COVID-19 impact on the aviation/airline companies.

So, I arrived at the CovidClinic, while still trying to call TrustAssure and the test site I took my test at on Thursday and there was finally someone at TrustAssure – they said there was nothing they could do, so I said I want my money back and if this last-ditch effort of a last-minute tests fails, I will sue them for failing to abide by their promises. Thankfully, that would never be needed, I took the test, and then I took another Uber to SFO and I stood by the check-in counter waiting for my results. Within 40 minutes, the negative results arrived and I went to the counter. If I ever need a test again, I would use CovidClinic without hesitation!

Let me start by now explaining that outside of my lab result blackhole issue, the rest of the international COVID-19 protocols are still not well ironed out. Yes, I understand that it was day 4 of these new protocols, what I mean overall, is that testing and COVID-19 protocols are not new to the airline industry, they have been active for a good year already! The main issue here is that every country does it differently, and so even though Hawaii, which has its stand and protocols on their own, require the same needs to enter their island as many other locals, the protocols for checking this at the counter in SFO was mayhem. Still, after lots of calls, and lots of checks, they allowed me through. Understand that this has been dumped on the shoulders of the airlines, much like all the other validating they do for passports, visas, entry cards, and so on. Who does all this? The airlines and are not compensated. So, when ticket prices go up, remember that the more idiocy and the more one-off rules they drop on entry protocols, the more airlines have to spend money to validate. Now, my flight was not direct, as France is not open directly to California unless you are talking Air France, which I have sworn to never fly again, a different set of stories for a different time. So, my connecting flight was through Newark, United also has Chicago, but at a far less convenient time. Anyway, if United had accepted me and then the Newark-based gate would have denied me who is at fault??? What if United at the Newark would have accepted my papers and then France would have denied me who is at fault? In all the above cases, the answer is United, and the fines are steep! It is for this reason that prices to places like this are higher and they will stay high as long as there are complicated and absurd one-off rules to enter these countries or locales.

So, after all of that madness, I get on the plane to Newark. At Newark, I go directly to the gate and the line is already 2/3 of the way down the concourse! Why? You guessed it, more protocol checks, people crying, screaming, complaining, and of course, people cutting lines, getting aggravated, and almost no one following the rules of wearing a mask! Classic mayhem all over again. Still, this is understandable on day 4 of these protocols. The behavior of the passengers, while horrible, I guess is also to be expected, but still depressing to see. Here too, the gate personnel were on the phone more than they were checking papers, again, new protocols equal confused gate agents. I am sure that this will all get streamlined soon, once the tests and the COVID-19 vaccination cards are digitized so that many of these headaches can be avoided.

Finally, we were on our way to Paris, once we landed it was an hour’s wait to get through border entry. The lady at border entry looked at me and asked why are you coming to France? I was not sure what to say, I came to see Paris, she only got louder and angrier. Now, until this point, no one in front of me was getting screamed at! Well, I said I was there to see my family, which all live in or around Paris, The vast majority of my family live in France. She asked me specific names and locations and then let me on through. Now, if you open a country to Americans, with your rules and protocols, and people follow those to the T, what does one gain by the subsequent questions about why you are here? I have lived in fear for the past year-plus of the COVID-19 madness. I have taken it as seriously as anyone around me. Most of my friends are either lax about it or wonder if it ever existed. So, no, I do not take what has happened lightly. But, if you allow US citizens into the country then let us in! If you want us to wear masks and to follow distance rules and so on, great, we will do that, but the added anger gains no one anything. That is my 2 cents. I asked people what was the reason for this strange attitude and the response was that France was still in its crises and that the United States had not reciprocated with opening its borders, so I felt a bit for the border agents’ frustrations with an American who wanted to come to Paris to enjoy life. Maybe, either way, I will expand on many of these points below.

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Tzora Vineyards Winery latest release – April 2019

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 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 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 info@tastewineco.com or call at (212) 461-1708, even though Skurnik has set up a west coast operation. Read the rest of this entry

Vitkin Winery visit – April 2019

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

Domaine Netofa Winery – 2019 winery visit

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 visitDomaine 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:

  1. There will be a 10-year Tawny port released soon from the 2010 vintage.
  2. 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

Taieb Wine Tasting in France, after four trains, two planes, and two automobiles

The night of the KFWE London tasting, right after I left the tasting, I took the tube to the airport. I slept there overnight and at 7 AM I took a plane to Lyon France to start my journey to meet up with the Taieb wines and to taste through their current offerings.

If you remember the story, I had gone from California to Paris, on to London, for the Blue smoke dinner and then the KFWE London tasting. It was after the tasting that I took the train to the airport. I had heard many things about the Taieb wines and it was time to actually taste through the wines myself.

I had to take a plane to Lyon, two trains, and then a car ride to get there, but I think it was worth it, as I had the chance to taste through wines that are rarely seen or tasted here in the USA. It was the same for the way back, so yeah I could have starred in two movies!

Let me get one thing aside right now. Not all the wines are easy to find here in the USA, other than the Burgundy wines, because of the horrible wine distribution of Victor Wines and Touton wines, here in the USA. As you will see Taieb makes some very solid QPR (for France pricing) wines. You can find some of the wines here but most of them are just in France. With that said, Saratoga Wine Exchange, out of NY, seems to stock almost all of the wines, I have no idea why as they are not a kosher wine or near a large Jewish community.

Taieb Wines

Taieb started making kosher spirits 50 years ago and since then he has added kosher wine to the company. many of the Bordeaux wines that he now makes have been in production for decades. Taieb is famous for the Phenix Anisette, a liquor made from Anis.

Recently, I have been loving the wines coming from Taieb, because they are making some really great Burgundy wines, including maybe the best Burgs to be made kosher in quite some time, the epic Domaine Lescure and the 2012 Domaine d’Ardhuy Gevrey-Chambertin, which may well be the best Burgundy in some time, though I find the 2014 Domaine Lescure to be as good.

Taieb has been spoiling us with great Burgundy wines and the only reason why we know about them is because of Nathan Grandjean and Andrew Breskin. Sadly, distribution of these and many of the lovely Bordeaux wines from Taieb have no distribution here in the USA, without Breskin. Victor Wines officially imports Taieb Wines, but the wines rarely show on shelves, I really hope this will be fixed soon, as the Taieb wines I had in France were wonderful.

Sadly, Domaine d’Ardhuy stopped doing kosher wines with Taieb, after the 2015 vintage, and while Domaine Lescure was epic in 2014 and 2015, the 2016 vintage had some issues. The bottle I had at home showed aspects of Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S), while the bottle I had at the winery had no issues. Others have said they had off bottles as well, though when the wine is good it is great, so I am torn.

The line of kosher wines includes entry level wines for restaurants and weddings. It then has a myriad of wines at the next level, from lovely a Sancerre wine to Brouilly wines. The next level includes some very solid Bordeaux wines and Burgundy wines as well.

Overall, I was very impressed with the lineup of wines and I really dream of being able to have these wines more accessible here in the USA. For now, Liquid Kosher has the wonderful 2015 Domaine Lescure and the very nice 2015 Domaine d’Ardhuy Aloxe Corton.

Jean-Philippe Marchand

In 2017 there was a new wine line from Burgundy, the Jean-Pierre Marchand wines. With the loss of Domaine d’Ardhuy from the kosher ranks, following the 2015 vintage, the Taieb’s went out and made the Jean-Philippe Marchand wines. The baseline Bourgogne is really solid for the price, while the upper line wines are nice as well, but as with all things Burgundy they come at a price. Truly Burgundy’s Achilles heel, especially in kosher, is the price. Also, the upper-level wines from Volnay, Gevrey-Chambertin, and Nuits-Saint-Georges are not available here in the USA. Read the rest of this entry

Vitkin Winery visit – November 2018

As I stated in my last post, I was in Israel for a very short trip, but I wanted to get to Vitkin WInery to taste the new 2016 reds. Vitkin Winery was the first winery I visited and while I came with the entire group of guys to taste AK, AO, JK, OM, AD, and myself, things did not quite work out that way. Somewhere there was a miscommunication, and sadly there was no way to accommodate the guys. Sadly, Asaf Paz was not available, and while he made sure the tasting would happen, it was only me.

I have written before about Vitkin last year, the second year after he made the winery kosher! 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. We arrived during the crush for Grenache, so it was fun to see how the tanks are situated in the winery. They do 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 2016/2017 Vitkin Israeli Journey, Red, along with the 2016/2017 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.
They did make a special run of wine called Emek Hafer, as a private label for a client. I only tasted the Cabernet Sauvignon, in a blind tasting and I was not impressed, though I did not taste the Sauvignon Blanc. Read the rest of this entry

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.

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