Category Archives: Israel

2020 kosher wine year and decade in review – glass half empty

As I am want to do, it is another year on the Gregorian calendar and I have already posted the wines of the year and the QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wines of the year. Now it is time for the year and decade in review. I had to wait until now, to talk about the decade in review, because there is a clear disagreement on when the new decade begins, so I went with the non-computer science approach (0-based systems), which is not what most people believe. To this point I quote Library of Congress’s estimable Ruth S. Freitag:

Dilemmas over marking time have been going on for years. In the late 1990s, the Library of Congress’s estimable Ruth S. Freitag famously compiled a 57-page research document titled The Battle of the Centuries, in which she called out people who celebrate any era before its time.

“When the encyclopedia of human folly comes to be written, a page must be reserved for the minor imbecility of the battle of the centuries — the clamorous dispute as to when a century ends,” Freitag wrote. Noting that there was no “year 0” in history, she said, “In fact, there has never been a system of recording reigns, dynasties, or eras that did not designate its first year as the year 1.”

To bolster her argument, Freitag, who was then a senior science specialist in the library’s Science and Technology Division, cited historical records that showed similar disputes had erupted when calendars were turned to 1900.

But even Freitag acknowledged that she was swimming against the tide of popular opinion.

It may seem obvious to many, but there was never a year 0, so let’s go with the obvious fact that the decade has finally passed us and we can discuss it in regards to all things kosher wine. IMHO, I will go with the glass half empty metaphor, as no matter how hard I try, there is no real way to look at this past decade in a glass-half-full approach – give the utter disregard from much of the world for anything approaching wine I would buy.

Where are we now??

Well, that is pretty simple, IMHO, we are WORSE than we were last year, and that was worse than we were in the years before. Essentially, we are continuing the slide down, maybe even at a faster rate, with a slight caveat to the positive on high-end white wines. That would be my summation – hence the glass-half-empty reference.

COVID and what it has done to the kosher wine industry

I could not talk about 2020 in a review, or the decade in a review, without at least mentioning Covid! The clear impact of the Virus on our lives is not wine, or food, or any other material impact. What truly has changed are the people we have lost, friends or family that have been sick or passed, and jobs and families crushed by this pandemic. Those things are REAL and those real things are truly very sad and are hard to move on from.

Yes, we have lost freedom of movement, we have been locked away from our friends and family, but it all pales in comparison to the true loss of life, income, and time. Many, if not all of them, have been lost forever, and that is the true loss and suffering.

Still, there is a need/desire to talk about how COVID changed the wine industry – over the past 12 months. As such, I wrote a post – some 7 months back, and I am shocked and saddened by how much it has not changed at all over these past many months. There were some missing points so let us hit them:

  1. There will be no in-person KFWE or any other tasting this year, sadly. To that point, Royal Wine has made a KFWV this year and I hope you can listen in at least and maybe join in with the tasting as well!
  2. As I stated in the post the online stores have come through. But even more so than that were the local stores that supported the communities and I can only repeat, support your local wine merchants if you have them! Sadly, our merchants, here in NorCal, while they exist, do not quite have what I am looking for, but they are trying – so kudos to them for that! However, those of you on the east coast – BUY LOCAL! Come on, folks! Your local store is there, you have the same taxes, buy local, and make sure they feel the love!
  3. Restaurants may finally be coming back, but wine sales are still very low to zero, and again, why do we need Mevushal?? I pray the biggest outcome of all of this madness is the production of dual labels M and not). I know it is a pipe dream, like a real Shmitta game plan – dream on. IMHO, Mevushal will take a hard hit soon, people will see it for what it is, a sham on the kosher wine market. If a wine needs to be Mevushal then go buy a beer and move on!
  4. The lack of travel and access to wineries is a real issue here. I would have already have been in France twice since my last year in review and Israel, at least once. The lack of access to wines impacts my ability to properly score and grade, but thankfully the UPS/FedEx of the worlds have been doing a yeoman’s job and they do truly deserve a cheer every time they drive by! Please show them the love (from a distance) that they deserve!
  5. Finally, to repeat – the lack of KFWE or any other tasting this year, or even marketing of wines in-person, will further complicate the lack of wine education in this industry and I fear it will sadly slow or hurt the sales of many wineries.

My yearly blog disclaimer about me and wine

I try to get this disclaimer into every year of my posts – but this year – for reasons I do not know, I have been receiving a lot of questions about my posts. So let me be 100% clear here:

  1. I NEVER HAVE AND NEVER WILL receive a penny for ANYTHING I write on this blog – PERIOD!
  2. I do not advertise and I do not receive money for advertisements. I PAY WordPress.com to NOT advertise on my blog. Again, there will never be ads or money on this blog.
  3. The next most prevalent question is: do I get a kickback for anything I recommend?? LOL! People do not know me well to be asking that question! NEVER! I write what I think – almost literally at times, so NO!
  4. Next question – do I receive an item of value for my posts? NEVER.
  5. The only thing I receive, having nothing to do with my posts is access to tastings or wine to taste. Also, I have received passes to KFWE, or this year, the KFWV. The coupon codes are not affiliated links or deals for me! Again, I get no money from this blog – I hope this starts to come across soon!
  6. Am I receiving money or any other item of value from Royal or an affiliate for the use of the ‘MUSINGS’ discount code? Again NO! NEVER!
  7. Do I spend money on my notes or wines? I promise you there are VERY few people in the kosher wine world who spend more money than I do on wines that I DESPISE! Very few! There are loads of people who spend more money than I do on wine – I am not a Macher! But I buy the majority of the wines I taste and post on. In the past year that has changed a bit, but no, I buy most of the wines and it sickens me to spend so much money on wines I would never drink or even cook with! Sadly, that is what I like to do. So, sure if the importer will help me and send me samples, great! I will still post my notes and scores based 100% on the way I see and taste the wine. NOTHING else goes into my scoring.
  8. Finally, I have people in the industry that I call friends. When I taste those wines I always disclaim those as well.

So, that wraps up my yearly post on how I, my blog, or my life is ever gaining anything from the world of wine! I hope that is clear. I do not do any business in wine, I do not sell any wine, I do not transfer wines, I am not a middleman for people who buy wines. I do not in any manner, way, or form, work in the world of wine – period!

Finally, I do help Elvi Wines, at times, to pour wine, at a KFWE or the such, and act as their US contact for the USDA. I have again, never received compensation for those pouring’s. My travel costs are sometimes reimbursed, but that is the totality of my relationship, financially speaking, with Elvi Wines or any other winery or wine business. I am a software architect by trade and that is where I make my money. Be well!

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Sadly, simple kosher red wines are uninteresting and have poor QPR scores, for the most part

So, ask me what is the weakest wine category in the kosher wine market? The answer is simple, the simple red wine. Simple red wine is defined here in my QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) post as a red wine that would not last four years. In other words, a wine made to enjoy upon release and hold for a year or two max.

The sad fact is that there are hundreds of wines in this category and they are all poor quality wines. Remember, QPR scores are not controlled by me at all, but rather by the market forces and prices the market forces on the wines. So, a wine that I score a 91 (which is 100% subjective and up to me), like the 2019 Chateau Riganes or the 2018 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Lineage cannot be given a QPR score by what I feel in my gut, or I think.

The QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) score of BAD/POOR/EVEN/GOOD/GREAT (WINNER) is defined by the wine’s category, in combination with the price of the wine compared against the price of its peers in that category. So, once you realize the Chateau Riganes is a simple red wine and that its price is 14 dollars, on average, and then you compare it against the other wines in this category, you quickly realize it has a GREAT QPR score and is a QPR WINNER. The median price for wines in the simple red wine category goes from 13 dollars to as high as 60 dollars and the wine scores go from 58 up to 91. Essentially an abysmal wine category with 100+ wines I have tasted recently and all but 22 of them score below a 90, with just six WINNERS (though some of those are just in France/Europe). So, the Riganes, with a score of 91 for 14 dollars, again on average, shows this wine is below the median price of its peers (20 dollars) and above the median score of its peers (87). So, for 14 dollars, you can get a simple red wine that is better than the vast majority of other red wines in the same category and for cheaper – the very definition of a GREAT/WINNER QPR wine.

If there was ONE take away from the work I have been doing into QPR, that I guess I did not see coming until I did all the work and wrote it all down into a spreadsheet, would be that wines that have a long drinking window also get higher scores and cost more, on average. All that sounds logical but it was not until I wrote it all up that it was glaringly obvious! The high-end kosher wine category’s median wine score is 92! Again, that makes sense as I would not give a wine like the 2017 Raziel a long drinking window. Mind you that wine may well be “alive” in ten years but it would not be a wine I would think about drinking at that time. The ripeness on it would be so overwhelming that it would turn me off more at that time than it does now. That can also be said for the 2016 Chateau Leydet-Valentin, Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru. It will be around for more than almost ANY simple red wine will live, but it will not be enjoyable, to me. So, the drinking window is very short, which places it into a simple red wine category.

It is an interesting byproduct of choosing the vector to compare wines against each other, outside of price, of course. I will keep an eye on it, but for now, the wine category vector that I think gets me the “best” sample size, per wine category option, is the drinking window. This means we will have strange outliers on both sides for sure.

Trying other categories, like wine region or varietal or style will not work – they are not apple to apple. By using the wine’s drinking window we get far more evenly distributed sample sizes and variation in the actual wines.

Finally, many wines are NOT on this list, BECAUSE, this list is of wines that drink NOW to soon. For instance, the 2018 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico, is a GREAT wine and is a QPR WINNER, but it is not on this list. It is not on the next list I will publish either (mid-level red wines). It is on the long aging red wines. It is sub 20 dollars and is a wine everyone should stock up on. Same for the 2015 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico, Riserva, and the 2015 Assai. That is why the price is not the arbiter for what defines a good QPR wine, nor is it based upon a winery, country, region, varietal, and style.

Sadly, the takeaway here is that this wine category is not very interesting. Still, there are a couple of options and six WINNERS, overall, spread across countries, so I guess we should be thankful for that, at least. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2019 Chateau Les Riganes (M) – Score: 91 (QPR: WINNER)
YES!!! The curse is broken! The odd year 2019 vintage is good! Finally! The nose on this wine is fun dirt, earth, bramble, green notes, followed by fun red and black fruit, all coming together into an intoxicating aroma. This is not a top-flight wine, but it is, once again, a very good QPR wine and a sure WINNER.
The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is not layered, but it has enough complexity and elegance to make this work, with a good attack of dark red fruit, with dark currant, dark cherry, hints of blackberry, followed by loads of dirt, mineral, graphite, and a very nice mouth-draping tannin structure, with fun dirt, loam, and loads of foliage. The finish is long, green, and red, with lovely graphite, draping tannin, green olives, and green notes lingering long with tobacco, oregano, and Tarragon. Bravo! Drink until 2024.

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Israel’s lost decade for red wine

Well, it has been too long since I have posted and so I thought I would return with a thought that has been really eating away at me for far too long. Which is, it has been more than 10 years since I have tasted a wine from Israel that I would think would actually improve with age. The last ones that I thought could do it were the Flam 2010 and 2011 Noble, the first kosher vintages for the Flam Noble. Sure, you have Domaine Netofa as well, but that is where it ends.

I recently really enjoyed a 2007 Tzora Misty Hills, sadly I cannot say for any of the recent Misty Hills. Sure they are nice wines, but after a few years, they go really ripe and sweet. The 2013 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin is already tasting very sweet and is a drink-up now for my bottles. The 2016 Domaine du Castel was always super ripe to start and I do not have much hope it will last long either. The 2007 Domaine du Castel, that I had a couple of years ago was STUNNING. I will be honest, until maybe a year ago I thought the 2013 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin would live long, but after tasting it recently, that does not seem to be the case. It may well be the case that 2016 will live up to the original drinking window, but with how 2013 turned, and with where 2016 started, I am seriously worried.

This brings me to my point, in the last ten years Israel has produced hundreds of millions of bottles of red wine and I can honestly say I have bought maybe 20 of them, and of those, they are in drink-now mode. Domaine Netofa stands as the only real red wine that can age, but that is sad for a country with so much potential.

The crazy thing is that Israel has the ability to make great wines, it proved it during the aughts and yet they all decided that it is better to go for the least common denominator than for the world-class moniker. I get it, wine is a business and wineries need to hew to where the money is, and right now, that is riper wines. Wines that may well not hold out for a decade, and if they do, they will be riper and as long as the market holds up, all is good.

Israel produces white and sparkling wines that are world-class. Look at Yaakov Oryah’s work, his 2009 Semillon is getting tired but epic, his 2008/2015 Musketeer is INSANE. The 2005 Yarden Blanc de Blanc is crazy good, and the 2007 vintage is even better!

So, while Israel continues its need to push riper wines we have been blessed with many vintages of world-class wines from all around the world, which includes many Israeli white wines from Domaine Netofa and Yaakov Oryah Wines.

Of course, with time everything changes. Ten years ago, we had almost nothing from Europe, and we relied heavily on Israel, Herzog, and Capcanes/Elvi Wines. Now, that has flipped, and if the current batch of wines from Capcanes is a harbinger of what is to come, they too have sold out to the Parker-side of wines.

Sure, temperatures are rising all around the world, but Europe keeps pumping out great wines with higher temps, so nature is not the issue here, in regards to Israel’s desires, it is a market-driven decision and my response is to buy almost nothing of it.

I wish Israel only the best, it is OUR country, it is the land of the Jews, the land of flowing milk and honey, and it is where I feel at home most. I love the land with all my heart, I am just not a fan of the red wines. May we blessed with a year of success, health, family, great friends, and great kosher wines, no matter their origin.

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

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