Category Archives: Israeli Wine
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 Winery, Flam 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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
Having just posted my take on where Israel’s wines are at this point, especially in regards to red wines, there is still a silver lining, the white wines from top Israeli wine producers. Those include Vitkin, Domaine du Netofa, Capsouto, Covenant Winery Israel, Tzora Winery, and of course Yaacov Oryah’s not so well known masterpieces of white wines.
You can read my last post on Yaacov Oryah and his wines here. I visited Israel for a short trip, but I was sure to contact Yaacov and he was very kind to make time to meet once again at the lovely Red and White Wine Bar of Jerusalem. The bartender is the owner, sommelier, coffee bean roaster, and the cheesemonger – Mark Arnold Jam.
The wine bar is one of those few bars that is very particular about what wines are served on their menu. They have top flight wines from Castel, Flam, Gvaot, Adir, Psagot, Matar, and Yaacov Oryah. Of course, not everyone is on the same page as I am, so they have wines from other Israeli wineries, but the majority are wines I would drink! They also have great food, his menu consists of omelets, cheese, and butter (from Naomi Farm in the Golan), great bread, fresh pasta, and fish dishes. However, do not forget the great dessert options as well!
The overall feel of the bar is old school, but equally current, with a bartender that understands food, service, and wine are all intertwined into a single vision that is focused on people first, wine and food second. The bartender is the owner, sommelier, coffee bean roaster, the cheesemonger – Mark Arnold Jam. If you ever get the chance to sit down for an hour in this lovely place you will quickly find that his last name equates well to his musical tastes. Mark gets the vision and he is a one-man show that weaves poetry, music, an old school vibe, and great food and wine knowledge into the ideal renaissance man at your service!
When we arrived for the tasting, I was joined by OU, AD, JK, and NA, along with Arnold and of course Yaacov Oryah. We were there to taste the wines he released recently for 2018. Yaacov’s white wines are pure joy, he gets what works, for people like me, and for others as well. The wines are always enjoyable, well made, balanced, and really rich and layered. The only con to the wines may be the price, but hey greatness comes at a cost.
Yaacov is currently the head winemaker at Psagot Winery and he also makes wines under his own label and some special wines just for restaurants around Israel. His winery is proof that Israel can make great wines. It is further proof, that for now, Israel may well be better served to concentrate on white wines than red ones. The 2017 Yaacov Oryah Silent Hunter, to me, is the best white wine I have tasted this entire year. Better than the 2017 Jean-Pierre Bailly Pouilly-Fume, Sauvignon Blanc, or the other top white wines from 2017. There is no denying it, Semillion in the hands of Yaacov, is like lead in the hands of an Alchemist. The other white and orange wines he made this past year are also quite impressive. Truly a tour de force – Bravo!!!
My many thanks to Yaacov Oryah for allowing me to taste all the current wines and to Mark for letting us spend some time in his lovely wine bar! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2017 Yaacov Oryah Light from Darkness (אור מאופל in Hebrew) – Score: 91 to 92
This wine is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Tempranillo. This is a classic Blanc du Noir using beautiful Rhone Valley grapes.
The nose on this wine shows beautiful and crazy aromatics, with great notes of tart lemon, yellow Apple, with straw, mineral, and lemongrass. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is joy, showing great acid and a tactile mouthful with screaming tart peach, fun and tart lime, with screaming grapefruit, tart, and juicy nectarines, and mineral galore. The finish is long, green, and joyous with more citrus, rich salinity, slate, and rock. Bravo! Drink until 2020.
2017 Yaacov Oryah Silent Hunter (הצייד השקט in Hebrew) – Score: 92 to 93
From what I have tasted so far, this may well be the best white wine of 2017 from Israel, and maybe around the world, though I have others still to taste from Cali and France. This wine is a blend of 60% Semillon and 40% Chenin Blanc. This wine’s name is a nod to Hunter Valley in Australia, and its ability to create Semillion based wines that last forever.
The nose on this wine is a crazy flint bomb, with dry quince, sweet and spicy ginger, rich saline, and paraffin, with rich yellow plum, apple, lemongrass, honeydew, honeysuckle, followed by rich floral notes, and rich mineral. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is an oily texture with rich fruit, showing lovely mineral, with a mouthfeel of rich earth, straw, and crazy grapefruit with lemongrass and rich pear, all balanced by an acidity that is off the charts. The finish is long, mineral-driven, with more floral and green notes, with incredible acid, dry quince, and floral notes lingering long. Bravo!! Drink by 2030.
2017 Yaacov Oryah Chenin Blanc, Alpha Omega – Score: 91
Another vintage and another Orange wine from Yaacov. In 2017 he made one orange wine. In 2018, he will be making 10 of them!!!
The nose on this wine is almost pure funk! Really funky, nutty and really floral with straw, mad honeysuckle, and rich sweet nectarines, with crazy yellow plum. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely and intense with an oily and crazy mouthfeel, that comes at you in layers and hits you with balanced tannins that give this wine an incredible structure, the tannins, and the acid combine to pucker the mouth with funk madness. The middle of the wine shows that lovely nutty characteristic of orange wines, showing with almond and halva, followed by with honeyed fruit and hints of oxidation. The finish is long acidic, and earthy, with green notes, spice, ginger, and lovely almond pith and orange peel that lasts forever. Bravo!!! Drink until 2024.
2016 Yaacov Oryah Alpha Omega – Score: 90
This wine is a blend of Roussanne, Semillon, and Viognier, that sat and fermented for three weeks on the white grape skins.
The nose on this wine is really fun and crazy, with intense richness and lovely fruit, white chocolate, raspberry, with floral notes galore, and rich orange blossom with orange and rich mineral and spice. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is crazy rich, mouth coating, with lovely nectarines, more yellow plum, with intense acidity, showing rich oak and butterscotch, balanced well with mouth-drying tannin, quince, and more floral notes. The finish is long, sweet, and tart with crazy graphite, saline, and tannin that give way to orange fruit, and cloves and sweet spices. Fun! Drink until 2024.
2016 Yaacov Oryah Eye of the Storm (עין הסערה in Hebrew) – Score: 89
This wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. The nose on this wine shows lovely blue and black fruit, with a smoke bomb redolence, followed by tar and rich roasted animal fat, with a huge pile of blackcurrants. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is tar driven, with chocolate and tobacco, with a long and balanced wine finish showing a bit of green, with loads of ripe and juicy blueberry, slightly pushed blackberry, and lovely tobacco that lingers long. Nice! A bit too ripe for me, but very well made. Drink until 2023.
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.
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.
When most people think of seasons – they think of either the 4 environmental seasons, or the holiday seasons (Jewish or otherwise), and then there are the more obscure – seasons, like the kosher wine tasting season. Yes, it is a once a year season and it starts in December and goes through late March. The exact dates are mostly set now, but a few are still missing, as they depend on the Jewish Lunar calendar with the start of Passover. Yup! Passover drives the entire kosher wine tasting season – and that makes sense since 40 to 50% of ALL kosher wine sold, happens in the month around and before Passover! That is totally crazy!
Now last year I forgot to add in the Long Island Kosher Wine Expo until it was too late. To be fair they are now the start of the wine tasting season, and this year looks even better!
So, with that in mind let the festivities begin! As stated above, the first tasting is the Long Island Kosher Wine Expo, followed by the KFWE Miami, and as of last year, it has finally been “officially” added to the KFWE calendar. The KFWE family has officially expanded and subsumed what was already really KFWE events (including Israel and Miami) and now just made it official.
KFWE – Kosher Food and Wine Experience
KFWE has been around since 2007 in NYC, and it keeps evolving and growing. Originally, the Los Angeles version was called International Food and Wine festival (IFWF) it started in 2008. It is not the oldest kosher wine tasting event, that would be the now-defunct Gotham Kosher Wine Extravaganza. Sadly, they stopped hosting those tastings, such is life, their first one was in 2004, and it ran until 2014. In 2015, the first year that the IFWF became the west coast KFWE, David Whittemore, and the gang from Herzog Winery pulled out all the stops and created what I still think was the best ever KFWE, with the first ever VIP session, which has been copied in almost every KFWE version, and hey “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. Well, this year the L.A. KFWE is back in Hollywood, no not at the W like in 2015, but rather at famous Hollywood Palladium, a true slice of Hollywood nostalgia if there ever was one. According to Wikipedia, it is a theater located at 6215 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California. It was built in a Streamline Moderne, Art Deco style and includes an 11,200 square foot dance floor including a mezzanine and a floor level with room for up to 5,000 people. There will be little to no dancing going on or performances from world-class musicians, which is normally what happens at the venue, but instead, it will have even a larger number of wines and food options. I will be sad to see the L.A. KFWE move from the Petersen Automotive Museum, where it has been for the past two years, 2016 and 2017. However, this looks like crazy fun, Sunset Boulevard reminds me of so many songs singing about its fame. It sounds like they have listened to my issues with the past LA KFWE, and are shooting to bring back the glitz and success of the 2015 KFWE LA. They will bring back the library wines, continue with the cigar bar, and up the ante with Tierra Sur dining experience. Looking forward indeed. Get your VIP tickets ASAP and use the promo code below for an early bird discount!!
As I have pounded on and on in these virtual pages, we need more wine education and the wine education leader, IMHO, is also the kosher wine 800-pound guerilla, Royal Wines. Recently I did a quick check in my mind of the top kosher wineries or kosher wine runs from around the world, and Royal probably imports about 90+% of them. Sure, there are hundreds of wineries they do not import, but they are also not wines that I particularly buy and covet. It is just a very interesting fact IMHO, somewhat scary but also very telling. Here are a wine distributor and importer that gets what sells and what does not, and has successfully found the better options out there and keeps adding more.
Cross distributor tastings
The Long Island Kosher Wine Expo is actually the first of many cross-distributor wine events, and as stated above will kickoff the wine tasting season. It will showcase Jonathan Jadu this year, along with many other wineries and wines from around the world!
Besides the Royal wine events – AKA KFWE, there are events in Israel, namely Sommelier, the only wine event in Israel publicizing Israel’s diverse wine culture. That happens every year in and around the month of January, as stated earlier exact dates for any of these events is only locked down a few months in advance and the date changes every year.
Israel wines may be going off the deep end, in terms of date juice and all, but Sommelier continues to do a wonderful job of keeping a continuous focus on Israel and its potential in the wine world. Bravo to them!
There is also the Bokobsa event in Paris, which I went to two years ago, which is NOT officially part of the KFWE family, but Royal wines are represented there as are other wineries that Bokobsa imports into France.
Royal wine imports many Bokobsa wines into the USA, but Bokobsa itself makes kosher wines (like the fantastic 2007 and 2012 Sancerre Chavignol, and the lovely 2017 Fume Blanc, still I wish they made a new Sancerre already), and imports wines into France as well, and they are Royal’s distributors in France. The whole kosher wine import game is what drives these events. These are importers/winemakers that need to sell product and they need to advertise what they are selling, so these events are a win-win for us all!
Besides, Sommelier, there are a couple of wine events that happen closer to Passover that is not about a single importer but rather about kosher wine options overall. These events are not as deep as the Royal or Bokobsa wine events, which will showcase almost every single wine these importers make/import. Rather, it is a curated and diverse set of wines that span across multiple importers and distributors. So, Yarden, Rashbi, and others are at these events and it gives the chance to taste other wines outside of the deep vertical shows like KFWE.
One of them is The Grapevine Wines & Spirits Kosher Grand Tasting, it is a very nice event that normally in the middle of the kosher wine tasting event season, they will be hosting their 7th event in 2019. The last event of the season is always the biggest of this style, the Jewish Week Grand Wine Tasting, they will be celebrating their 10th year this coming 2019, impressive staying power indeed!
I hear there will be a new one to add to the list, but I will wait for them to announce it themselves. I hope it is successful. It will also be a cross-distributor wine tasting. Good luck! We need more education!!!
Wine events happening all the time
So there you have a quick history of the wine events that are coming up. There are also a few one-off events going on in NYC (nothing happens in LA or Norcal other than KFWE). Keep an eye open for them!
I will keep updating this page – so bookmark it and I will try my best to keep it up to date!
Kosher wine tasting events this season – in chronological order:
Name: Long Island Kosher Wine Expo
When: October 28th, 2018
Time: 5 PM to 9 PM (VIP is 5 PM to 6 PM)
Where: Cradle of Aviation Museum. Garden City, New York
26 Bridge St
Brooklyn, NY 11201 United States
Link to signup or for more information: https://kosherwineexpo.com
Admission Options: $125 for VIP, $85 for General Admission, $99 at the door ($15 for bus transportation option see ticket options)
Name: KFWE Miami
When: December 6th, 2018
Time: 7 PM to 10 PM (6 PM VIP access)
Where: Turnberry Isle Miami
19999 W Country Club Dr, Aventura, FL 33180
Link to signup or for more information: http://www.kosherfoodandwinemiami.com/
When: January 28th and 29th, 2019
Time: 11:30 AM to 6 PM Trade and 6:00 PM to 9:30 PM public
Where: Heichal HaTarbut
Huberman St 1, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel
Link to more information: http://www.sommelier.co.il/sommelier/
Sign up link: Will post when it shows up
Name: KFWE Tel Aviv
When: February 4th, 2019
Where: Tel Aviv, Israel
Link to signup or for more information:
Name: Bokobsa tasting of Grand Cru Cachers
When: February 4th, 2019 (yes the same day as the KFWE Israel)
Time: Pavillon des Princes in the 16th district
Where: 4:30 PM until 10 PM
Link to signup or for more information: https://www.weezevent.com/degustationdevinbokobsa2019
Name: KFWE London
When: February 6th, 2019
Time: 3:30 PM for trade and 6:30 PM for public
Where: Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
Piccadilly, London W1J 7BX, United Kingdom
Link to signup or for more information: https://www.kfwelondon.com/
Name: KFWE NYC
When: February 11th, 2019
Time: 12PM trade, 5:30 PM – 9:30 PM EST (VIP is 5:30 PM)
Where: Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers, New York, NY
Link to signup or for more information: http://thekfwe.com/ (choose New York – then buy a ticket)
USE PROMO CODE: EARLYBIRD (through December 16th)
This looks to be a smash hit – get your VIP tickets ASAP!!!
Name: KFWE LA
When: February 13th, 2019
Time: 1PM Trade, 6:00 PM – 9:30 PM PST
Where: Hollywood Palladium (6215 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028)|
Link to signup or for more information: http://thekfwe.com/ (choose Los Angeles – then buy a ticket)
USE PROMO CODE: EARLYBIRD (through December 16th)
This looks to be a smash hit – get your VIP tickets ASAP!!!
Name: The Grand Kosher Wine Tasting
Link to signup or for more information:
Name: Grand Wine Tasting and Kosher Wine Guide
When: April 1st, 2019
Time: 5:00 PM for premium tasting, 6 PM to 9 PM for general admission
Where: City Winery NYC
155 Varick St, New York, NY 10013
Link to signup or for more information:
This is not the first time I have posted about Or Haganuz and its sulfite-free Cabernet wine. They have been making this wine for many years now, I remember as early back as 2009, maybe earlier.
We have spoken before about sulfites when I posted an article, about the then ONLY Kosher Sulfite Free wine that I knew of. The Bashan Winery is a lovely small winery in the Galilee that only produces sulfite-free wine.
So what are Sulfites? They are nothing more than a preservative for wine. They were added into wine staring in the last century or so. Before then people got along fine without using them – why? Because sulfites occur naturally in wine. The extra sulfites one may add allow for the wine to stay on the shelf or in the cellar longer. So most winemakers that bottle organic wine will say that white wines should be drunk within the year and within the day of opening it. Red wines have a bit more life to them – 5 years or so, as sulfites are far more prevalent in red wines.
Many wineries have wines made from organically grown grapes – this is a trend that many wineries are trying to push, in ways as part of the whole natural wine story. Also, because organic grapes are more than just a selling point, it because organic grapes are good for the vines, the vine workers, and ultimately, the customer.
When we talk about sulfite-free wine, it does not always mean organic wine! In the USA, the rules are VERY simple, you CANNOT add any preservatives in ANY manner – as described here, (sorry the data is in a PDF) on the USDA website if you wish to put the word Organic on the wine label. An organic wine means ZERO SO2 was added to the wine at any time in the processing of the wine. The wine will still have sulfites unless they were fined out because sulfites occur naturally in the grape skins. Also, the wine must be made from organic grapes and many other requirements. The U.S. differs in what it defines as “organic” wine from the EU or other countries. In the E.U. they can call a wine organic, as long as:
- These include: maximum sulfite content set at 100 mg per liter for red wine (150 mg/l for conventional)
- 150mg/l for white/rosé (200 mg/l for conventional),
- with a 30mg/l differential where the residual sugar content is more than 2g per liter.
Please note – that this is not additive sulfite count/numbers, but rather that TOTAL amount of sulfites allowed in the wines. Again, sulfites occur naturally in grape skins, so if you macerate your wine for 2 months (or something long like that anyway), you will get a fair amount of sulfite in your wine without ever adding any actual SO2 into your wine, manually. Also, sulfite is a naturally occurring byproduct of the fermentation process.
So why all the buzz around sulfites in wine? Because some people are supposedly allergic to the sulfites. What is the percentage of people with this ailment? The USDA describes it as 1/100 as stated here, far fewer people than the percentage of folks who think Cilantro is the Devil’s spawn (I am one of them by the way, Cilantro hater, not Sulfite hater).
So, when my local Rabbi, who says he is allergic to Sulfites asked me to look at options, I told him the only kosher mass-produced “no sulfite added” option out there is the Or Haganuz Elima.
So, when I had the opportunity to taste the recent vintage, I was happy to do so, so that I could decide for myself if this wine was drinkable or not. When I tasted it I was shocked, for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was Or Haganuz, come on, their wines are undrinkable by default. They are classically built Israeli wines, oak monsters, with unbearable tannin structure, and date juice drove. So, when I tasted the Elima, I was shocked that it was a well-balanced wine, with good fruit focus, and to boot, it had no added sulfites. Now, from the structure of the wine, I can tell they macerated this wine for a good amount of time. How long, I have no idea, but they “added” sulfites by extracting all the sulfites they could from the grape skins as they could. Now, I am no doctor or professor, but well before reading the back label of the bottle, I could tell you this wine was macerated for a long period of time. Sure, enough the back label says exactly what I had surmised from my palate, that they had used a method of winemaking developed by Dr. Arkady Papikian (a consulting winemaker in Israel), which used a long maceration process and then a long and cold fermentation. Both of which, as stated above create natural sulfites. I have no idea if naturally occurring sulfites cause people with allergies, fewer issues, but my Rabbi, who says he is allergic to sulfites has no issues with this particular wine.
Please NOTE – this is NOT an organic wine, it does not use the word organic, nor does it advertise as such. It simply states that they did not add in sulfites to this wine, at least in an unnatural manner anyway.
The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2016 Or Haganuz Elima – Score: 90 (no added sulfites)
This wine is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc.
The wine is a classical new world wine, very ripe, and concentrated, still the lack of sulfites do not affect it to me. This wine has no added sulfites – but a sulfite-free red wine does not exist, as all red wines have naturally occurring sulfites.
The nose on this wine is ripe, with nice green notes, garrigue, and good notes of earth and spice, with anise galore, menthol, some black fruit, and hints of red berries. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich and layered, a wine that will sell well for those that like wine like this, it is well balanced with good acidity, tobacco galore, with rich smokey meats, blackberry, cassis, and ripe juicy dark plums, all wrapped in good tannin and a nice fruit structure. The finish is long and green, with foliage, sweet dill, and nice green and red fruit on the long linger. Nice! As the wine opens the chocolate emerges.
Well, I just posted by Pinot Noir post, and as I have stated before, Grenache is the Pinot Noir of the Rhone Valley.
So, there we are – I hope we understand the dearth of options that exist in the kosher Pinot Noir landscape. With that in mind, I thought it was high time to have a Pinot Noir tasting, along with the fact that a guest who came to our house said he liked Pinot Noir and Grenache! In a way, it was the perfect wine combo! Grenache is called the “Pinot noir of the Rhone Valley” for its finicky growing style as well, so the combo was chosen.
Now if good kosher Pinot Noir is a pain to find – forget about Grenache!! Here is the list – the TOTAL list that I know of (whether I would or would not drink them):
- Hajdu Winery (much epic Grenache including 2007, 2010, and 2012, 2014)
- Capcanes Winery
- Ramon Cardova (undrinkable)
- Galil Winery (last I had was OK)
- Shirah Winery
- Vitkin Winery
- Dalton Estate (Last I had was really sweet)
- Kos Yeshuous (only in 2016)
After those – the rest are blends, including the lovely Elvi, Netofa, and onwards:
- Vignobles David (The last Vignobles I had were not fun, I hope to taste them again soon) – he has many wines with Grenache in them, in varying degrees of percentages.
- Elvi Winery (Great wines indeed)
- Netofa Winery (they recently added Grenache to their famous SM wines).
- Capsouto Winery (they too only have 30% or so from Grenache)
- Capcanes Winery (yes again because they make the famous Peraj Ha’Abib with Grenache as part of the blend)
- Yaacov Oryah Wines (he makes a Blanc de Noir from Grenache and a few GSM as well). Sadly, I have not tasted his new wines. I hope to be doing that soon.
Sadly, in the world of white – there are only TWO full Granche Blanc wines:
Also, like the Noir, there is a winery that uses the Grenache Blanc in a blend:
- Capsouto Winery (they use 60% of it or so in the Eva)
- Vignobles David (The last Vignobles I had were not fun, I hope to taste them again soon and new ones as well) – he has a wine or two with Grenache Blanc in them, in varying degrees of percentages.
- Shirah Winery made a Vintage White in 2016 that was mostly Grenache Blanc, but this year, they went back to using Viognier as the major varietal in this white blend.
A few weeks ago, Benaymin Cantz from Four Gates Winery and friends came over for a Friday night dinner, and I thought it was a good time to open my 2013 Pinot Noirs that I have been saving. I must say, in hindsight, I should have done it earlier, as some of the wines were already past their time or DOA.
My love for all things Pinot is well known, and I had such high hopes. Overall, the night was fine, it was just not at the level I had hoped for. Thankfully, Benyo brought two extra wines, and they made the night super special! They were, a 1997 Four Gates Pinot Noir and a 2005 Four gates Merlot. M.S.C.
It is funny how the media can change people’s perspectives, and in some cases twist it in a way that we would not expect. Say Pinot Noir and most wine drinkers will think of the enigmatic anti-hero Miles Raymond, and his explanation on his love for Pinot Noir; “…It’s, uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know?…“. Pinot is a complicated grape – but not to its own detriment. Listen to Miles throughout Sideways and you may come to think that Pinot is fleeting, flinty, thin, and complicated. In the end, as you watch that horrible movie, you quickly realize that Miles was simply projecting in a fire fueled rambling and using Pinot Noir as his conduit.
To the French, Pinot Noir is called Burgundy – following the tradition of French wineries to name their wines after the region where the grapes are grown. Americans have had success with Pinot – in California, Oregon, and Washington State. New Zealand, has really taken the lead in bringing the grape into the 21st century. The French Burgundy has its terroir (earthy dirt flavors, sometimes barnyard flavors as well). The New Zealand and American Pinots show characteristics that are more akin to Syrah then Burgundy – fruit forward, meaty wines with soft caressing tannins. The rest of the world is choosing sides. Though true terroir flavors are hard to replicate outside of Burgundy, many countries have been successful at bringing out the true fruit characteristics that the land is willing to share and are creating wonderful Pinot Noirs. Israel was starting to come into its own with Pinot Noir, now all I would buy from Israel, in regards to Pinot would be from Gvaot. Even if the 2013 Pinot was DOA, I have had good success with Gvaot Pinot Noir. Right now, the best bet is France and the USA, with a drop from Israel, and after that, we are on empty.
Sadly, Pinot Noir to me is one of those wines that is so badly mangled in the kosher wine world, that it is no shock that most kosher oenophiles, turn face when u say Pinot Noir. Not on account of the Pinot Noir grapes themselves, but rather on account of the pathetic state of kosher Pinot Noir wine on the market.
Say, Pinot Noir to me, and sadly I can only think of:
- Four Gates Winery
- Gvaot Winery
- Covenant Winey’s Landsman Pinot Noir (the 2016 vintage is really fun)
- 2013 Eagle’s Landing Pinot Noir (the 2015 and 2016 were too ripe for me)
- Hajdu Makom Pinot Noir (though no new ones recently)
- 2014 & 2015 Chantal Lescure Burgundy from Pommard
- 2010 Domaine Gachot-Monot Beaune 1er Cru Les Cent Vignes
- 2016 Maison Roy & Fils Shai Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
- Hagafen and Vitkin have left me wanting more, and forget the rest of Israel’s Pinot Noirs. Same goes for Pacifica, which has also been lacking, other than one vintage.
If you have read my blog before, you know I love all things Pinot, Cabernet Franc, and Riesling. Yeah, the less loved grapes. Pinot is too loved in too many ways in the Non-Kosher market, and that sideways buzz is not dying down.
So let me start with why Riesling and what is Riesling? First, this grape has many names, White Riesling, Riesling, Johannisberg Riesling, and others are real names of the Noble grape, while Emerald Riesling or Welsch Riesling – not so much!
Riesling is old, like ancient, it is documented to exist in Mosel dating back to the early 1400s! It is one of the Noble Six grapes that define wine history, but that is all marketing hooey IMHO. In terms of kosher wines, this variety did not really become special until recently, with Hagafen and Carmel doing wonderful jobs with the grape.
Riesling wines can be made in so many ways. The most common are sweet wines, like the impressive Hagafen Rieslings, that Ernie Weir makes every year, or the less impressive Giersberger Riesling, or the even less impressive Gilgal Riesling. These wines all have some amount of RS (Residual Sugar), whether they are called off-dry, semi-sweet, or sweet, they all need a very important component to make them work – ACID! They desperately need acid to balance the sweet notes. Hagafen is the only off-dry Riesling I have ever liked, that I remember anyway, though the German wines are off-dry, but, they are on a different level.
It is sad, but while Jews do not seem to enjoy white wines, they do drink sweeter wines, and if there was a bit more acid to balance it out, I think they would show better. That said, I brought this subject up to many a winemaker, and the response was all the same. People like it simpler to drink, so spiking the wine with acid would not sell as well, IE, customers like sweet alcoholic water. Acid tends to discourage gulping or whatever to these people do. Truly sad.
I am finding that Riesling is quickly becoming my favorite white wines. The dry wines from Hagafen, Nik, and Carmel bring a smile to my face. They are rich, layered, oily and balanced, with good acid that makes them enjoyable for almost any part of the meal. That is what makes acid work so well. Food dishes, wine, even dessert, all need some amount of acid to balance out the palate.
There are many other white wines out there for sure, look at my list of whites from last year. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling are all noble grapes, and they are all lovely when done correctly. Still, Riesling has something going for it, that none of the other white varietals have, funk!
When the wine is done correctly, and then aged for even a year, the wine starts to display notes of petrol and oil. Some may find that offensive, but to me, it is yet another aspect of how I love mineral based wines. The great thing is that these wines come from all around the world! You can find kosher Riesling from California, France, Germany, and Israel!
Riesling wines in the Kosher market
France has been making kosher Riesling since the 1960s, with Koenig and later with others. They are made in the region of France called Alsace, which is a five-hour drive east of Paris, on the Eastern Border of France, where it abuts up to Germany. Alsace has been making Riesling for almost as long as Germany, with documented proof of Riesling wine starting in 1477, when it was spelled Rissling.
Sadly, until 2008 or so, we only had sweet Rieslings here in the USA and Israel. Starting in 2008, Willm Riesling was brought to the USA, and it was an instant hit. It lasted a good many years, but then it died. It showed bracing acidity, awesome mineral, and good fruit. Still, that never reached the level of the 2014 Nik Weis wine or even the 2014 Hagafen Riesling, both of which we tasted this past week again, and both are as close to a 95 score without getting it.
In 2010 Carmel’s Kayoumi Riesling was pretty close to bone dry, and that really started the dry Riesling train going. We hit the next plateau with the 2012 Hagafen Riesling dry, it was their first dry Riesling and it was sensational. Then we hit the next plateau with the release of the 2014 Nik Weis Riesling. There was the 2015 Riesling, which is not bone dry like the 2014 vintage, more like the 2% Hagafen Rieslings with well-integrated acid, it was OK, but it needs lots of time to better integrate. Finally, there was the epic Von Hovel Rieslings, which are on the top of the mountain, in regards to the best kosher Rieslings made so far, even if they are slightly off-dry! Read the rest of this entry
Well, after the first post I stated that I would be doing this rose wine post a few times. The subsequent posts would have the original content, and the newly revised or added rose wines as well. Well, this is part 3, and I hope this is the last one! My schedule was insane, but it is now slowing down, thankfully, so I hope to be adding more posts as well!
It is still officially Summer, which means it is Rose time! 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 50 dry-ish 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 9 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?
What is a 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.
White wine is not about color – almost all color in a white wine comes from some oak influence of some sort. So, an unoaked Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris can sometimes look almost clear, depending on the region and how the wine was handled. Now oaked Chardonnay, of course, is what most people use as an example of a dark white wine. As the Wine Folly linked above states, different wine regions oak their Chardonnay differently and as such, they are sold with different hues from the start. With age, the wine changes color and the light gold moves to darker gold shades.
The only real exception to the stated rule above – that white grape juice without the influence of oak is somewhere in the clear to green color spectrum, is – orange wines. We have spoken about orange wines – mostly thanks to Yaacov Oryah. Outside of Yaacov’s work there really is no orange wine in the kosher world to speak about. Orange wine is made exactly like red wine, which means that the clear grape juice is left to sit on the yellowish to dark yellow grape skins (depending upon what varietal is used to make the orange wine).
Red wine juice – straight from the grape comes out the same color as white grapes. You see the juice from grapes is mostly clear to greenish in color. The red wine color comes from macerating the juice on the grape skins. The longer the juice sits on the grape skins (wine must) the redder in color the wine becomes until it reaches its maximum red color potential.
The only real exception to the rule of a grape’s juice color is the Teinturier varieties. The grapes are called Teinturier, a French language term meaning to dye or stain. The list of grapes whose juice is actually red colored is long – but the list of kosher wine options that is a wine made from these grapes – is the Herzog Alicante Bouschet. The Gamay de Bouze is not a normal Gamay grape, it is one of those grape mutations that are very red in nature. Read the rest of this entry
Ok, let’s start with the obvious, I have been so busy this year that I have had zero time to work on these posts. So, ahead of the High Holiday Crescendo, I wanted to post a quick note about the 2017 vintage and my hopes for a great new year, filled with joy, success, health, and lots of great wine to all.
So far the 2017 vintage has been much akin to the 2016 vintage – last year. The 2017 roses have been a letdown overall, much akin to the 2016 vintage of roses that were a letdown after the epic 2015 vintage. Sure, we have a few rose winners, like the lovely 2017 Les Lauriers de Rothschild Rose, and the nice 2017 Covenant Blue C Rose, and 2017 Netofa Latour Rosado.
Still, the whites have been a real letdown, much akin to what happened in the 2016 vintages. We have not had a GREAT vintage out of Israel since the INSANELY good 2014 vintage.
So, Israel has been a letdown white wine-wise and rose overall these past few years. But there are some winners as usual. I have yet to taste the 2017 Tzora wines. The Netofa whites are lovely, along with the fun and very enjoyable 2017 Covenant Israel Viognier. There is also some nice Dalton Sauvignon Blanc wines.
The true savior is once again, the old-world region. France has a few great whites! Yes, I said whites! Throw in California, and we have enough whites, just not a bounty.
I hope you enjoy these great white wines in your Succah and with your family. Wishing you all a healthy year signed and delivered!
The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2017 Chateau Lacaussade Saint-Martin, Vieilles Vignes – Score: 90
The wine is a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is very slow to open, it may need a quick decanting, for an hour or so. The nose is slightly tropical in nature with lovely with melon, guava, and hints of passion fruit to start, over time it recedes to show lemongrass, straw, mineral, grapefruit, citrus, and honeysuckle notes. Just like the nose the mouth also starts off with crazy tropical notes that also recede with time, to show a very different wine. After some time, the mouth on this wine is not complex, but very nice, with rich acidity, showing a good balance of fruit, green apple, heather, tart pear, and mineral. The finish is long, super long, with southern tea, and rich acidity, and lovely pith. Drink by 2021.
2017 Chateau Guiraud ‘G’, Sec – Score: 92
Finally, a French white I can really appreciate! This is really fun, the wine is a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, showing notes of pure funk, wax, green notes, with cucumber, mineral, old-world notes, showing honeysuckle, and floral notes, with green apple, quince, lovely straw, and rich minerality. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is fun, with more funk, nice complexity, with rich salinity, followed by rich dry and tart Asian pear, with nice gooseberry, and graphite. The finish is long and green, with lemongrass, stone, rock, with more wax and flint. Bravo! Drink by 2021.
2017 Jean-Pierre Bailly Pouilly-Fume, Sauvignon Blanc – Score: 92
WOW! This wine has quite the nose, screaming with fresh orange blossom, ripe yellow grapefruit, with hints of nectarines, cat pee, and lovely citrus. The mouth on this unoaked Sauvignon Blanc is dry, bone dry, not quite a Sancerre, but impressive, with lovely weight, and great fruit focus with a crazy core of acid that keeps going long after the wine is gone, followed by rich mineral, slate, saline galore, and a lovely core of lie and lemon that mingle well and play with each other. The finish is long, crazy long, with more mineral, floral notes, lovely bitter notes of citrus pith, and just fun, tart citrus that lingers forever. BRAVO!!! Drink till 2021 Read the rest of this entry