Category Archives: Winery Visit

Covenant Wines’ latest releases – September 2022

Last week, California was overrun by a nasty heatwave, besides breaking records and driving me and everyone else crazy, it meant my entire week was open as mountain climbing was off the table. That left lots of time to go see Jeff Morgan (founding winemaker and co-owner of Covenant Wines) and family (Jodie and Zoe), literally, and Jon Hajdu at Covenant Wines. They were already taking in fruit for the 2022 harvest and it was extremely kind of them to carve up some time for me during this busy time of year.

I remember well the time I was in Canada with Jeff for a vertical tasting of all the Covenant Cabernet, at that time, it was a wonderful experience and tasting! I have said many times, that Covenant Winery is one of the original California wineries that makes solid wines, especially in the Cabernet Sauvignon space. I found some of the wines taken a step back in recent years. The white wines were always enjoyable, like the Sauvignon Blanc and the Lavan white, but that changed recently from what I see in this tasting.

Tasting

I was at the winery in March for a local RCC (Rosh Chodesh Club) and I got to taste one of the wines but it was not a setting to write notes and appreciate wines. I do remember the wines we had and one wine, in particular, did not show nearly as nicely as it did at our tasting last week. So, I am happy for many reasons to have driven up to Berkeley, CA to taste the 7 wines. All of them were quite enjoyable.

First, we tasted the Covenant Solomon Blanc a new white wine on the Covenant label and the only white wine on the Covenant Solomon level. The 2020 Covenant Solomon Blanc was the wine I tasted back in March and it showed far superior last week. It finally came out of its shell and had fully integrated with the sweet oak, it was a lovely wine indeed! The 2021 vintage, which was newly bottled was a drop better, showing a bit more acidity and an overall complex mouthfeel that did remind me of the 2019 Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt, Blanc. Both showed lovely gooseberry and ripe fruit but also bracing acidity and controlled yet lovely oak, very well made.

After the lovely Sauvignon Blanc wines, we moved to another white wine the 2021 Covenant Lavan, Chardonnay. I am being honest here, I have been falling into the new version of ABC (Anything But Chardonnay). It is new but old, the same old same old, fat, blubbery, overoaked, under-acidified, flat wines. ABC was a thing in 1995 when the MY Times wrote a piece on it and it is coming back with a vengeance again. Much akin to the date juice fiasco in the kosher wine market, Chardonnay is also moving to its old roots and they are being made into oak-driven apple juice that is honestly boring and uninteresting. Thankfully, we have been saved by the two incredible Burgundy Chardonnays for the Meursault region, by Taieb Wines, and by IDS. Those wines are clean and correct, they speak to the place and the time they were made. So, when I had the lovely Sauvignon Blanc wines it further solidified my belief in what I desire, clean and well-made ABC wines. With that as a disclaimer, the 2021 Covenant Lavan Chardonnay, was properly made. It was well balanced and showed a fruit focus that would make an ABC drinker, like myself, enjoy and drink the wine.

Five Red Wines

After the three white wines, we moved the line along to 5 red wines. In some ways, white wine is harder to make than red wine. White wine has fewer places to hide as a winemaker though I am far harsher, as a wine taster, in the land of red wine, simply because I am sick and tired of lazy winemaking or worse, purposeful and mindful winemaking that removes the grapes from their natural state of being and place to make fruit juice that is sweetened by whatever actions the winemaker has in his/her arsenal that week. Wineries will tell you it sells better but to me, that is just selling out and I have no time or interest in tasting wines like that. So, when I see 5 red wines, I am thinking, like I always do, even in Europe, I hope there is a desire here to let the fruit talk. Sure enough, the team has pulled the winery along into an impressive place where you can find some lovely wines and even some that garner the QPR WINNER score along with quality scores that make me want to buy and drink the wines. Bravo!

The first wine was a lovely Pinot Noir from under the Landsman label. The 2021 Landsman Pinot Noir had just been bottled and it showed no bottle shock. The lines on this wine were clean, with red juicy fruit, floral, earthy, and smoky. No baby fat, just clean lines, and good fruit. Nice! Another WINNER from the Carneros wine region in Sonoma County. Carneros has the moderating influence of the San Pablo Bay, the northern portion of the greater San Francisco Bay, which keeps Carneros cool and windy, but not too cold. We then moved to two Syrah followed by two Cabernet Sauvignon, the flagship wines of the winery.

The first Syrah was the 2020 Landsman Syrah, Santa Rita Hills, Robert Rae Vineyards. This was a new one for me, I was unaware that Syrah grew well in the Santa Rita wine region. Of course, I love the Santa Rita Pinot Noir from the Herzog Reserve line and their more exclusive Eagle’s landing wine lines. So, when I tasted the Landsman Syrah from 2020, I was not surprised to find it more of an old-world style wine than the next wine we would be tasting. The Landsman Syrah reminded me of the Shirah Syrah from 2013, a dirty, earthy, smoky, meaty animal that was more old-world than new from Santa Barbara County. This wine is comparable if not a bit better, here the fruit is more controlled, yet very present, focused, and precise, I bought what was left – one bottle, maybe Jeff or Sagie can scrounge another one or two up. Either way, lovely wine!

Finally, we tasted a new wine on the Covenant label, the 2020 Covenant Syrah, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. This is one of the most famous vineyards in Santa Barbara County, very difficult to get into and even tougher to keep. In 2020 some folks were too worried about smoke damage and bailed on their allocations. Covenant found out about the availability and jumped on it, there is no smoke taint on this wine, it is smoky, but from the lovely french oak used to age the wine. A lovely wine, one that is balanced, but a bit too new-world for my taste. This is a perfect example of how new-world wine can be made to its place and its fruit without turning it into an abomination. Here the team took beautiful fruit and let the fruit speak to its true nature, lovely! Hopefully, there will be more of this wine being made, it shows great potential.

Two big yet elegant Cabernet Sauvignon wines

The tasting ended with two lovely Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Napa Valley, the Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Covenant Solomon, Lot 70. I claimed, in a previous post, that the crown for the best red 2019 kosher wine had been given to Chateau Smith Haut Lafite, with the disclaimer that I had yet to taste the Four Gates or Domain Roses Camille wines yet. I should have added that I had also not yet tasted the 2019 Covenant Solomon, Lot 70. The Solomon, as nice as it was, did not eclipse the Chateau Smith Haut Lafite or the Chateau Pontet Canet, but it is indeed up there on the list of top wines of 2019.

The two Cabernet wines were quite lovely though the Solomon was a step above the Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon. The Solomon was so elegant, powerful, and yet precise, with great fruit focus and control, quite a lovely wine that deserves your attention and a place in your wine cellar for many years from now! I say that, but Mr. Morgan will tell you it is just lovely now as well, and while I wholeheartedly agree with him, get a few and enjoy one now, if you must, and then enjoy the rest later!

My many thanks to Jeff Morgan, Sagie Kleinlerer, Jonathan Hajdu, and the rest of the Covenant team and family for setting up the meeting, sharing their wines with me, and taking time out of their busy harvest schedule to meet with me. The wine notes follow below in the order they were tasted – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:

2020 Covenant Solomon Blanc, Bennett Valley, Sonoma County, CA – Score: 92.5 (QPR: WINNER)
This wine is from the Moaveni Vineyard, in Bennett Valley, Sonoma County.
The nose of this wine is a perfect blend of sweet oak and sweet fruit, showing lovely peach, apricot, bright fruit, green apple, sweet orange marmalade, orange blossom, sweet melon, and sweet Asian pear. The mouth of this medium-plus-bodied wine is incredibly fun, with screaming acidity, lovely minerality, and so refreshing, with lovely sweet oak, lovely green apple, orange marmalade, yellow Asian pear, peach, apricot, and cloves. The finish is long, tart, and balanced, with sweet fruit, incredible balance, loam, flint, and lovely sweet smoke and orange peel. Drink by 2027. (tasted September 2022) (in Berkeley, CA) (ABV = 13.90%)

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Four Gates Winery’s January 2022 new releases

I was not going to post these notes but I received too many requests – so OK, here you go!.

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

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

Other than maybe Yarden and Yatir (which are off my buying lists – other than their whites and bubblies), very few if any release wines later than Four Gates. The slowest releaser may well be Domaine Roses Camille.

Four Gates grapes versus bought grapes

It has been stated that great wine starts in the vineyard, and when it comes to Four gates wine, it is so true. I have enjoyed the 1996 and 1997 versions of Benyamin’s wines and it is because of his care and control that he has for his vineyard. That said, the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes he receives from the Monte Bello Ridge show the same care and love in the wines we have enjoyed since 2009.

I have immense faith in Benyo’s wines that are sourced from his vineyard and the Monte Bello Ridge vineyard. The other wines, that he creates from other sources, are sometimes wonderful, like the 2010 Four Gates Syrah that I tasted recently, and I would have sworn it was a Rhone wine, crazy minerality, acid, and backbone, with fruit NOT taking center stage, though ever so evident, the way is meant to be! Others, while lovely on release may well not be the everlasting kind of Four Gates wines.

No new wines

This year there are no new wines, there is a red blend, but that is a blend of existing red fruit that Benyo owns. The Petit Verdot is from Santa Clara Valley AVA, and another Malbec from the same vineyard as in 2017, in Santa Cruz, but not from the Four Gates vineyards. The Chardonnay is under the Ayala label, and I did not get good notes on it to post them.

The rest of the wines are the normal suspects, but this year’s crop is less ripe than last year. First, you have the 2018 Four Gates Cabernet Franc, N.V. Four Gates Red Blend, which is a blend of his fruits, 2016 Four Gates Merlot, M.S.C., last year we had the non-M.S.C., the 2017 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2016 Four Gates Fraire Robaire, which was a no-show last year.

Prices and Quantities

I have heard it over and over again. That I and others caused Benyo to raise his prices. First of all that is a flat-out lie. I never asked for higher prices, but when asked about the value of his wines, the real answer I could give was more than 26 dollars.

Let us be clear, all of us that got used to 18/26 dollar prices and stocked up on his wines in those days should be happy. The fact that he raised prices, is a matter of basic price dynamics, and classic supply and demand. Four Gates has been seeing more demand for the wines while the quantity of what is being made is slowing down.

The law of Supply and Demand tells you that the prices will go up, even if I beg for lower prices.

Four Gates Winery is one of the few cult wineries in the kosher wine world that releases wines every year. Sure there have been crazy cult wines, like the 2005 and 2006 DRC wines, or some other such rarities.  His wines are in a class of their own, especially when it is his grapes, and there is less of it out there.

Lastly, the fact that he sold out his year’s stock of wine in 9 minutes or so, tells you that his wines are in demand and that the prices will reflect that. This year’s sale lasted 2 minutes longer but there were more wines to sell. Benyo and I did have conversations on how to get the tech better, there are clear issues, hopefully, next year it will be better, but no promises there, and I am not involved!!

So, I am done with the discussion, and I hope you all got some of the wines. Sadly, all the wines we tasted were shiners, so there are no pictures.

The notes speak for themselves. Again, this year, I “liked” all the options for sale, though I did not buy Malbec or Petit Verdot, in case anyone is asking. I did not get to taste the Chardonnay in the best manner, so there are no notes for it. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:

2019 Four Gates Malbec, Santa Cruz, CA – Score: 90 (QPR: POOR)
This vintage is a bit more balanced than in the past with nice blue and black fruit, nice herb, root beer, good smoke, and a nice overall approach. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is nice, with good fruit, saline, smoke, good acidity, blueberry, blackberry, boysenberry, with hints of raspberry, earth, and smoke. The finish is long, acidic, with mouth-draping tannin, good fruit focus, and nice earth. Drink by 2026. (tasted January 2022) (in San Jose, CA) (ABV = 14.20%)

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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

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