Category Archives: Israel

The 2019 Kosher rose season is open but I am underwhelmed at best

It is not yet summer and here in NorCal, it feels more like winter with these strange May storms with thunder and hail. Sorry, but in NorCal, we do not get thunder, it is very strange indeed! Anyway, enough with my meteorologist fanboy moment, the weather was not conducive for my last tasting here in San Jose with a group of folks, but Rose was on the docket so rose it was.

Rose wine in the non-kosher market is exploding – especially Rose wine from Provence; a wine region of France. Sadly, in the kosher wine market – that is not quite the case. I did not stress my previous statement with a suffix of AT ALL, even though I am not allowed to open a bottle of rose on my Shabbos table with guests – why? Well, that is simple – no one will drink it!!

Even worse, is that wine manufacturers may well have jumped the shark! There will be some 60+ kosher roses available in the USA this year! That may not sound like a lot, but when all you had was Herzog White Zinfandel 10 years ago – it is insane. The first high-end rose was Castel’s 2009 rose and that was only 10 years ago. Back then, there were few to no real Rose wine options, other than a handful of Israeli wines and almost no French Rose made it here. Now we will have tons of Rose, and I really think the real question here is will people drink it all?

Also, I want to bring up a topic I rarely talk about – price! Yeah, I hear you, Avi Davidowitz, of KosherWineUnfiltered, please quiet down, gloating does not suit you – (smiley face inserted here). The prices of Rose wines have gotten out of control. QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) has become nonexistent, essentially here in the USA, for the kosher rose market. Finally, I am sorry, but I really feel that wineries were either horribly hampered in some way with the 2018 rose vintage, or honestly, they just threw in the towel, The 2018 vintage is the worst one in the last 10 years. We have hit Peak Rose, we really have. Peak X is when X becomes so default within the construct of our lives, and the quality and quantity of X peaks. Clearly, calling peak kosher rose is a subjective call, but look around. The roses of 2018 feel commodity at best, they feel rushed, no real care, rhyme, or reason. They feel like we have peaked. They are nowhere near 2017, and 2017 was nowhere near 2016, and so on. I am sure next year may be another peak rose, and to be honest, many have called for Peak Oil and Peak TV, so maybe I am just projecting what I see around me, but this year’s crop of roses feel half-hearted pure cash cows, and really without love behind them.

As always, I will be chastised for my opinions, my pronouncements, and I am fine with that. This is wakeup post, there may be ONE or two roses I would buy, but respectfully, given the prices, I would rather buy, the 2018 Covenant Sauvignon Blanc, 2017 O’dwyers Sauvignon Blanc, the 2018 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc, and so on. Throw in the 2018 Tabor Sauvignon Blanc and the 2018 Or Haganuz Amuka Blanc Blend, and really who cares about a rose?

I was thinking about going with the title: 2018 kosher roses, thanks, but who cares? Because that is how I feel. This vintage is a massive letdown, prices are too high, quality has hit rock bottom, and overall professionalism, IMHO, has gone along with the quality. Wineries have been getting away with less and less quality for years, raising prices, and this is the worst I have seen in the rose market overall. So, yeah, who cares?

Wine Color

What is rose wine? Well, simply said, a rose is a wine that can best be defined as the wine world’s chameleon. Where white wine is a pretty simple concept – take white grapes, squeeze them, and you get clear to green colored juice. Yes, the white grape juice is clear – well so is red grape juice, but more on that in a bit. Read the rest of this entry

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

My recent visit with Yaacov Oryah and the white and orange wine factory

Anyone who has enjoyed an old white wine from Yaacov Oryah’s mind and hands can understand my choice of title. As long as you were not born in this century, of course (OMG, do not bring up the abomination that was the remake).

Yaacov Oryah has had many wineries that he has worked for, made wines for others, and/or consulted with. The official list that I know of is Asif Winery, Midbar Winery, Yaakov Oryah, Ella Valley, and now Psagot, where he is the head winemaker.

For the longest time, as long as I have known the man when we first met at Midar Winery in 2013, I have been struck by his passion, drive, and single-mindedness in creating great white wines in Israel.

Yes, Mr. Oryah can make fine red wines, like the 2011 Yaacov Oryah Iberian Dream, Gran Reserva, and Reserva, the Claro wines he makes for a restaurant called Claro, and others. Still, what I really crave and admire are the white and orange wines.

I have already spoken at length about Mr. Oryah here so I will concentrate on the 2019 releases. Also, if you think that the names of Yaacov Oryah wines are a bit whimsical, then good for you! You are starting to get a glimpse into the operation that is Yaacov Oryah Winery, a blend of whimsical genius, alchemy, great winemaking, and downright unique color all wrapped into a unique lineup of wines that define Mr. Oryah himself.

Orange wine factory

Mr. Oryah keeps saying that the white wines on the market today are a stripped down version of what a white wine should be. Sure, Europe has superstar white wines that can last decades, but that requires unique soil, fruit, terroir, and of course, history. In Israel, where the only thing that really sells well is date juice, that kind of wine is a dream. Still, Mr. Oryah thinks that he can create wines that are still quite unique indeed.

I have had the 2009 Midbar Semillon, and though the tasting in 2016 did not show well, that wine continues to blow me away in tasting after tasting. A Semillon that is 10 years old, and may now finally be reaching its limits. It is not a white wine covered in oak makeup, it is a wine that is pure and truly professional. It is what Mr. Oryah thinks can be done in Israel with white varietals. Yet, each and every year he makes more and more crazy wines. Each one is a data point for a growing list of wines that he sees as potential suitors for the wines he dreams of building.

Until he creates the perfect wine, the wines and data points he is building along the way, are getting better and better. The map and path he is building are not pointing towards another mass produced winery. The data points point towards a more precise and surgically built winery. Where plots or even rows of vines may well define the data point for his dream wine.

Factory of the future

When I heard that Mr. Oryah was creating 10 Orange wines (only 9 are publically available, the other is for a restaurant), four white wines (the varietal Semillon is for a later date), and one rose wine, I thought – I need to taste these!

So, Avi Davidowitz of Kosher Wine Unfiltered, and I made our way to the only real place to taste wine in Jerusalem, the Red and White Wine Bar. Yes, I have spoken about Mark and the bar before. It is still kitty-corner from the beautiful Mamilla hotel (8 Shlomo HaMelech Street at the corner of Yanai Street). Mark is still the ever present and mindful host, and while we tasted through 20+ wines, Mark was there with us through every wine, with food, heady music, with an uncanny ability to feel the room and timing throughout it all. I really feel horrible that I never had the time to go back to the bar and hang with Mark for an evening and watch him ply his trade, teaching the world about the world of Kosher Wine while serving great food and playing really fun music. Hopefully, next time!

I have spoken about orange wines in the past. Orange wine is simply the process of leaving white grapes to ferment on their skins, like red wine. To Mr. Oryah it is the truest expression of a white varietal and one that Israel can use now to create great white wines, while it searches for more data points on the path for Israel’s white varietals of the future. He calls the wine line Alpha Omega (AO) because it is greek for A to Z, to represent that this wine has it all, skin, pulp, and seed, not juice white juice, like most white wines are made.

The skins add more than just a bit of color, they add a huge amount of natural phenolics, along with tannin (yes tannin in white wine), and then it adds a few extracurricular notes, that some could find challenging. Notes that are defined as nuts and other aspects of reduction or oxidation. The point though is that the Alpha Omega line is a showcase of control and experimentation. Many of the wines show the proper and incredible next step beyond white wines we all know. The rich and layered complexity that skins add without some of the extracurricular notes. Some of the wines show those notes and many will find them wonderful, like myself, but in all, it is a show of control, experimentation, and more dots on the plot to a richer future. 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

Israeli White and Rose wines along with a few others thrown in

As the weather starts to warm up, it is time to start enjoying the white and rose wines that come from Israel. With that said, there is a lot of buzz recently that 2018 is the new year for white and rose Israeli wines, well I can personally attest that the noise is a red herring and a gross over exaggeration.

Are there a few more wines that work in 2018 than in 2017, 2016, or 2015? Yes, but the 2018 vintage is NOTHING like the epic 2014 vintage for Israeli white and rose wines. Still, I am happy to say that there are a few wines that I have enjoyed and I am posting them here.

I had a large tasting with the Israeli/French/American wine tasting group in Jerusalem, and there were a few winners. I am posting here wines that I tasted with them, along with a few that I have tasted before and after the event. Also, since we had many wines, we did not write long notes for wines I disliked and some wines I liked elsewhere are either missing notes or I cannot find them, but I do my best to describe those as well.

Thanks to Avi Davidowitz of Kosher Wine Unfiltered, and the rest of the French wine group on Facebook for helping with the tasting, and a big shout out to Joel and his company for letting us have the tasting at his office.

Finally, as always! PLEASE only drink 2018 roses and finish them by October 2018 or so. Also, if you wish to read how rose wine is made, please read this post from last year. Same can be said for many of these simple white wines, other than where I give an actual drinking window.

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

2018 Tabor Sauvignon Blanc – Score: 90
The nose on this wine is pure gooseberry, slate, mineral, lemon, and cat pee. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is nice, dry, and very good, with floral notes, of orange blossom, and lovely control with good acidity, fruit focus, and lovely passion fruit. The finish is long, green, and slate, with good salinity, and blossom. Nice!

2018 Segal Chardonnay, Wild Fermentation – Score: 80
The nose on this wine is boring and closed, with bits of peach, orange blossom, and not much else. The front and middle of this wine are flat as a crepe, with hints of hay and slate, with a bit of acidity on the end.

2018 Shiran Semillon – Score: NA
The nose is 100% apple juice, and not much else. The mouth is offensive. Candied quince with lemon juice, all over the place and nasty.

2018 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc – Score: 90
This is a nice wine, yay, it is a nice SB, nice gooseberry, passion fruit, and citrus. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is nice, really acidic, well balanced, with good fruit structure, with nice weight and structure, showing peach, hints apricot, and nice hay, and orange blossom, and orange pith, with good structure and balance. Nice! Pith, acidity, salinity, and nice ripe but balanced fruit linger long.

2018 Flam Blanc – Score: 86
The nose on this wine is boring, flat, no life, with hints of orange, blossom, and not much else. The mouth on this wine is pure lemon/lime/orange juice, and not much else, very little complexity, but nice acidity. Nice enough.

2018 Ramat Negev Sauvignon Blanc – Score: 70
This is another bummer wine, big pass. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is acidic quince juice. Boring, move on.

2018 Vitkin Gewurztraminer – Score: 91 to 92
This wine is dry and lovely pineapple, with ripe melon, and green notes and lychee galore, with funk and hints of soap, incredible aromas, white pepper, smoke, flint, and redolence. The mouth on this wine is lovely, with grapefruit, citrus, lovely pith, with apple, pith galore, followed by complexity and bitter notes of melon, yellow Apple, lovely weight, slight tannin, with sweet notes honeysuckle, sweet pineapple, and balance. The finish is long and green and sweet and mineral balanced. Bravo! Drink by 2021. 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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Wine for the masses

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

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

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

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

Too Much Wine

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

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

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

Different varietals

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

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

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

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

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

The Blind Wine Tastings

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

Read the rest of this entry

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