Category Archives: Israeli Wine

Recanati Winery’s latest releases

2016 Recanati Shiraz, Upper Galilee Series, 2015 Recanati Purple Blend, 2015 Recanati Merlot, Reserve, 2015 Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, 2015 Recanati Syrah, Reserve, 2015 RecanAs I stated in my last post, I landed in Israel and I had very few days to see a lot of wineries. Recanati Winery was the second winery I visited. Kobi Arviv, who is now the head winemaker at Recanati Winery. He is also the head winemaker at his own winery, Mia Luce Winery, and had been the associate winemaker at Recanati Winery, until June this year.

I have posted in the past about Recanati Winery, and the only real change since that post is that Kobi is now the new head winemaker and that their wines had moved riper in the past few years, my hope is that they return to the control they showed in 2010 and 2011. Since then, it seems they have moved to riper wines, like the rest of Israel.

The wines have stayed the same for the most part, with slight changes to the makeup of some of them. The biggest change overall is to the labels and some new fun and easy drinking reds and whites have been added in.

  • Yasmin/Jonathan – these are the entry-level labels, that are also mevushal
  • Upper Galilee Series – these used to be the diamond series or the baseline series. Not much has changed here other than the labels, though they have been a bit riper these past few years.
  • Then the roses along with this new French Blend wine. The roses have become dryer and are lovely, but the French blend is too sweet for me.
  • Specials – these are fun and well-made wines that are made for either restaurants or the Derech Hayayin stores in Israel.
  • Single Vineyard Wines (Also called Reserve Wines) – this is the largest change of them all – labels wise. Here they have moved the Med series under the single vineyard label concept, though the labels themselves have not really changed. Actually, the reserve wines of old have folded under the Med series and now all the wines show the vines from which the wine was made. This is where the new Marawi wine lives.
  • Flagship wines – what used to be called Special Reserve wines are now flagship wines. It consists of the red and white Special reserve wines.

While the number of labels may have expanded and their look changed, the essence of the winery which was the thrust of my previous post has not changed at all. The winery’s main focus is quality, and for most people, that continues to be the winery’s rallying cry. The prices of the single vineyard wines have gone up, which to me is a real problem because another of Recanati’s rallying cries was price control, and to me, they have lost control of that one, at least here in the USA. I think that issue is a combination of Palm Bay making hay while the sun shines (Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, and others), and Recanati moving its prices up a bit as well. Read the rest of this entry

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Vitkin Winery’s latest releases

2016 Vitkin Israeli Journey, White, 2016 Vitkin Grenache Blanc, Vitkin Gewurztraminer, 2016 Vitkin Israeli Journey pink, 2015 Vitkin Pinot Noir, Vitkin Grenache, Vitkin Cabernet Franc, VAs I stated in my last post, I landed in Israel and I had very few days to see a lot of wineries. Vitkin Winery was the first winery I visited and I finally got the chance to taste the entire kosher line. Asaf Paz, is the head winemaker there now, after spending so much time helping at Vitkin for years, he is finally at home in his family’s winery for good I hope.

I have written before about Vitkin in passing last year when I tasted his 2015 wines, the first year he made the winery kosher! Yes, as stated last year, 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 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, sadly there was no 2016 Riesling. The 2016 Gewurztraminer and Grenache Blanc, have the added collector’s edition moniker on them. The current red wines that are kosher all fall into the Vitkin wine label, both the 2015 Vitkin Israeli Journey, Red and the 2016 Vitkin Israeli Journey, Red, along with the 2015 Vitkin Pinot Noir, 2015 Vitkin Cabernet Franc, 2015 Vitkin Petite Sirah, 2015 Vitkin Carignan. The 2015 Vitkin Grenache Noir is the only red with the collector’s edition moniker.

There are two fascinating aspects of the wines produced the Vitkin Winery. One is that 50% 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

State of the kosher wine industry – circa 2017

Kotel - 2017.jpg

Well, it has been a long time since I have posted, mostly because work is really keeping me busy, thankfully. So, Shana tova to you all, and a Gmar Chatima Tova. So, in a span of fewer than two weeks, in early September, I flew to Israel to taste the wines I had missed this year. I then flew to France to do a tasting of Royal’s French wines from the 2015 vintage and then I attempted to taste as much French wine as I could get my hands on.

The State of Israeli wine

Besides having the opportunity to visit many wineries in Israel, I had many wine tastings of Israeli wines and I can now say sadly that 2016 was not the year we had all hoped for and that Israel wines as a whole are improving, but are not yet at the stage where I can really just buy them and hold them.

The 2015 vintage is one I have described and posted about a few times now, it was not a great year unless you took super care to be careful with it and harvested early, like Tzora’s 2015 wines. The 2015 reserve reds are slowly being released throughout the country and they have no real appeal to me. Yes, as a person I know is wont to say, wine is not coca cola (or beer for that matter), we get what we are given. I agree wine is vintage based, that is for sure, but so far the wines are really not showing well across the board.

Thankfully, though I say 2015 was not a huge winner for reds, roses, or whites, 2016 was a better year for the whites and roses, as I have posted here many times throughout the past few months. It is too early to say if the vintage will be kind to the reds as well. The 2015 Shmita still has a large overhang over Israeli wines, and it needs to be fixed sooner rather than later! We are enjoying the 2016 vintage here in the USA, but in Israel, those wines are not yet released. Why? Because there is too much 2015 that is not sold outside of Israel and that is a lot of wine to sell in a country that drinks 5 liters a person, and that is on a non-shmita year! In shmita years where the Haredi do not drink shmita wines, that is a lot of wine to sell.

Still, the 2016 wines are slowly appearing, the most recent release was the 2016 Carmel Riesling Kayoumi vineyards, and it is nice, but not anything like the 2014 vintage – one of their best ever.

Overall, the 2016 vintage did not impress in regards to it being a savior from the failed 2015 vintage. While there are a few gems from the 2016 vintage, Psagot whites, Tzora whites and so on, it is not a blanket endorsement vintage like 2014 was for Israeli whites. Overall, while I continue to strongly believe that Israel is the top region for white and rose kosher wines, the past two years have made me pause and take notice to regions outside of Israel that are also helping to shape kosher non-red wine landscape.

In regards to red wines from Israel, what can I say, not much has changed on that front at all. The wines continue to be either very fruit forward or outright prune/date juice. Throughout the blind tastings we had, it was painful to drink many of the wines, and none of those wines were cheap or what Israel calls “Supermarket wines” (the baseline plonk of wineries that sell well to the unknowing).

No, these were wines that should have shown far better but did not, simple as that. In the mix of tastings were also many older vintages that were scary to taste three years or two years after release. The wines have fallen from where they were a few years ago. Again, the issue at hand is the out of balance wines that are either flawed or just too ripe for the wine to bear.

I was talking with a few winemakers in Israel on this trip, and one told me that watering back the wines are officially not legal in Israel. California is the “watering-back” capital of the world, as this economist article so well points out. Bordeaux 100% disallows the use of water in wines, well – because it never gets hot enough there to need to water back wine! Israel, which gets hotter than California, though this year felt crazy hot to me in Cali, is not allowed to water back – “officially”. Read the rest of this entry

Top kosher White and Sparkling wines that I have tasted in 2017

Over the past three months, I have been trying as many rose, white, and sparkling wines as I could find and it is time to post what I think of them. In the grand scheme of things, 2016 is not much better of a year than 2015 was. The white and rose wines from the 2015 vintage in Israel were a complete disaster. I have stated that many times and that is why I did not post this list last year at all. I was almost not going to post this list this year, but what the heck – it will not be very good information – as many of the wines were boring to painful with a few good exceptions.

To recap, red wines overall from Israel are a total letdown and nothing has changed in that department. However, the 2015 and 2016 vintages for whites and roses have overall been a huge disappointment, in regards to either lack of focus in the wines or lack of acid.

I have covered Rose – many times now, but the latest and last was here and a few French roses that were not worth much as well. The whites and sparkling wines were what I needed to post – so I guess it is time to post them already.

The State of Israeli wines from the 2016 vintage

Israel really got me excited about the rose and white wine potential, but the last two years have totally squashed those aspirations. I really hope 2017 brings it back. Sure, we can always count on Domaine Netofa and Tzora Winery for great wines. Netofa has released some brand new wines and I look forward to being able to taste those wines very soon. The new 2016 Tzora white wines are now in the USA and they are lovely wines that have a good few years in their tanks. The new 2016 Psagot are also quite nice.

Of course, Yarden winery continues to be the best kosher Sparkling winery in the world. Sure, there are great sparkling wines from France and even some nice one from Spain and the USA, but for the price, quality, and enjoyment – you cannot beat the Yarden Sparkling wines. Their white wines are very professional, they may not blow you away, but they are always clean, well balanced, and fun to drink, which is what matters. Their lower level labels (Gilgal here in the USA), have had some issues in the white wines, and Galil Mountain Winery has also been slipping a bit, which is sad.

In regards to Israeli red wines, nothing new here. A great red Israeli wine has gone the way of the dodo bird. Other than Tzora, Netofa, Mia Luce, and some others here and there,  I cannot safely recommend reds from Israel to my friends.

Two years ago when I last compiled a cross varietal white wine list, I was praising Israel for its wonderful whites and rose – sadly that was the wonderful 2014 vintage! It was and is still crazy good for some wines like Matar and Tzora. Then we had 2015 and 2016! While the 2016 vintage is better than the 2015 vintage, well anything would have been better than 2015, it is still severely lacking.

My cellar has gone primarily to the USA, then France, then Spain, and then stuff here and there. The USA, mostly because I love all things Four Gates Winery, and a bunch of others as you will see below. That is a sad state of affairs, but it is one that has been created by the Israeli wineries themselves. They always have the chance to change back, till then I will enjoy the wines made in California, Spain, France, and wait for bell curve to shift like it has in France and California. I hope Israel is only slightly behind them, but from what I had over the past couple of years now, things are still going the wrong way in the world of kosher Israeli wines. Read the rest of this entry

Kosher Rose wines of 2017 – final take

After all the tastings I have had for rose wines this year – I can say for now, that I am as far along as I can go without being in Israel, or asking people to schlep wines for me from Israel. I am still missing the new 2016 Elvi Wines Rose, the 2016 Terra de Seta Rose, the 2016 Matar Rose, and the 2016 Gvaot Rose. I guess that will have to be. When I get to Israel soon enough I will post again, but just on those wines.

In the end, my overall take on Israeli roses this year has been a huge and utter letdown. To me, there are few roses that I would waste my time drinking. In the end, the Netofa, Vitkin, Psagot, and Castel Roses are the only roses that I would buy this year, other than the untasted wines listed above (Matar and Gvaot), which may well be good.

The real saviors for us have indeed been Spain and USA. France has thrown in the La Vie Roubine, but it is not as good as the Ramon Cardova rose.

So, in closing, I will repeat what I listed the last posting. These wines are the best for each category, nothing I tasted in the last tasting has changed much around them, other than the sweet rose entry, which I would never buy, but is useful for those that like rose that way.

So, here are my recommendations based upon the wines I have tasted:

  1. 2016 Ramon Cardova Rose, is the best rose so far, but it is not a Provence style wine, it is more of a tweener.
  2. The 2016 Chateau Dubois is the best French rose I have tasted so far, but it is a clear non-Provence style rose.
  3. 2016 Chateau Roubine la Vie, is the best French classic Provence style rose.
  4. 2016 Ramon Cardova Rose is the best Spanish rose (that I have had the chance to taste so far, sadly I have yet to taste the new 2016 Elvi Rose)
  5. The 2016 Shirah Rose is the best USA rose. It is not a Provence style wine, it is a massive wine but a really fun one.
  6. The 2016 Netofa Rose is the best rose from Israel, it is as close to a Provence style wine I have found so far in Israel. Vitkin is right behind, along with Castel (but it is really expensive for the wine), and Psagot in the bigger/fuller rose category for Israel.
  7. The 2016 Psagot Rose (when it is on) is the best full bodied rose wine from Israel.
  8. The best sweet rose that is drinkable is the 2016 Contessa Annalisa Rose. Hopefully, a gateway rose to the drier and better options above.

Rose winemaking approaches

If you read the previous article, you would have read that there are classically three ways to make Rose; Maceration, Saignée, and blend.

The interesting thing we are seeing is a slight variation to the rose making – that is after they make the rose, using any of the aforementioned approaches, they are adding in some white wine! This is straight up genius! Why? Because as explained in the previous post, red grape juice has very few phenolics in it! The real phenolic powerhouse – for red wines, are the skins! White wine does not need skins to give it their phenolics, they have it innately from the juice alone. So, when you take red grapes and essentially crush them and bottle them, with minimal grape contact, what you get is a fun wine, that has very few phenolics in it. So, you have a few options, either let the liquid sit longer on the grape skins, thereby improving the phenolics, but that takes away from the classic rose look, as skin contact turns the juice darker. So, if you want more phenolics and less grape skin contact to keep the classic rose color, you can add in white wine!

The Ramon Cardova is a perfect example of this. As is the Elvi Rose (a wine I have not tasted), and the Jezreel Rose (see below). These three wines all added in different white wines, and it is a clear bump in the correct direction, but to the purists, it is not cool! I cannot speak to the purist’s issues, and yes, I can see that the Cardova is not a classic Provence wine, but it is a very enjoyable summer wine, and in the end, that is what rose to me, is all about!

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The kosher roses – so far – of 2017

It is almost Shavuoth, which means it is almost Summer, so that 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 7 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?

Wine Color

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 out comes clear to green colored juice. Yes, 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).

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Wines I enjoyed over Passover 2017

Well, I have been off for too long, that is for sure. First Passover, then travels to Japan and more work. Finally home for a bit, Passover was great as it was enjoyed with family and that is what makes the holidays so great!

I will keep this short and sweet – the wines were mostly good to great, except for one wine that I was really looking forward to tasting – sadly it was clearly not stored well. Other than the single disappointment – the rest of the wines were solid wines.

I also had the opportunity to enjoy some wines with friends at EZ’s house, with BC and CG. It was a lovely evening and we enjoyed 6 wines – the best of which was the 2012 Domain Netofa Latour Red, followed by 2010 Hajdu Grenache, 2011 Netofa Red, the 2004 Chateau Montviel (which is in drink up mode at this point), and the 2011 Hajdu Grenache. Many thanks to EZ and his wife for hosting us so graciously.

The wines are listed below – and I hope you had a great Passover as well:

2012 Herzog Petite Sirah, Clarksburg, Prince Vineyard – Score: A-
I found this wine to be showing better than the Hajdu PS, at least for now. Lovely blueberry jam and crazy black plum, with mounds of fresh vanilla, sweet cedar, with lovely floral notes, and sweet spices. Lovely full body wine with still searing tannin and lovely acid showing rich extraction and crazy spices with boysenberry and blackberry with rich sweet spices and elegance at the same time, along with ribbons of charcoal, and mineral. The finish is long and jammy, with rich leather, and mounds of mineral and black tea, with sweet tobacco, and sweet fruit lingering long. Drink by 2020.

2012 Hajdu Petite Sirah, Brobdingnagian – Score: A-
This wine was really a wine I was looking forward to tasting again, and it is either in a real funk, or it has taken a step back from its earlier stature. The wine opened quickly, it was not as closed as in the past, showing ripe blackberry, blueberry, and lovely dirt, and earth, with root beer galore and spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, but lacking the impressive extraction of old, with rich layers of blue and dark fruit, sweet oak, and tannin that does not let up. The finish is long with layers of dark fruit, leather, spice, Swiss mocha, boysenberry, and nice tart, and sweet fruit. This wine is on target, but lacking the complexity of old. Drink by  2021.

2007 Yarden Blanc de Blanc – Score: A- to A
Same as last time, deep, mineral, and attack that is almost hedonistic.

NV Gamla/Gilgal Hashmura Brut – Score: A- (crazy QPR)
This is the new vintage (which is now out of stock in most places). The way to know it is the most recent vintage is to check if the wine says extra dry – otherwise, it is a previous vintage and not as fun, the wine is mostly 2011 grapes. The nose on this bubbly is sick with lovely quince, apple cider, with straw and tart citrus. The mouth is full and an attack force of small mousse bubbles, followed by yeast and rich undertones, followed by layers of pear and madly refreshing with crazy acid and pith, and more bubbles that do not give up. The finish is long with dried fruit, nice dry mouthfeel, that flows into nice dried herb, and rich white tea. BRAVO!!!!

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The best kosher wines for Passover 2017 at all price ranges

wall of wineAs many have read on these pages, a few wine events have come and gone, – with the last one happening in NY, at the City Winery, this coming Monday.  Over the past two years, the Jewish Week/City Winery event has really changed its stripes and has improved quite impressively from the previous years. The Jewish Week’s kosher wine list for Passover is nice, but you will not find many of their favorites on this list. As I walked around both KFWE this year, and sommelier – I was asked again for a list of my top kosher wines for Passover, so here it goes! This is my list of great and reasonably priced kosher wines.

So, with some weeks before Passover – here is my list. A few caveats first, this is MY list! This is not a list that will make many happy. These wines are the wines that make me happy. No wines here would be considered over ripe, over sweet, or all over the place. The wines here are listed in the order of cost. That said, the top line wines – what I call Top Flight wines, are not defined by cost at all. In that list, you can find a 2009 Yarden Blanc de Blanc or the Yarden Brut Rose, both are great sparkling wines. At the same time, the list includes some of the best high-end kosher wines I have ever tasted that go for $100 or so a bottle. The list of Top Flight wines are ALL wines that I would buy without hesitation, no matter the cost (if I can afford it of course).

Passover is a time of year when Jews buy the most wine, along with Rosh Hashanah, and the American New Year. That is why all the kosher wine events happened a month or two before the Passover festival. It gives the wineries and distributors a chance to showcase all their wines that each appeal to different market segments. So, no there are no sweet or semi-sweet baseline wines here. There are many very good 15 or so dollar bottles of wine, that can be bought at Skyview Wines, Gotham Wines, Suhag Wine, and all the other wine stores I have listed on the right-hand side of this blog (as always I NEVER make money from them and I never know or care what people buy, the list is whom I buy wines from and so I can recommend them to others).

Also, the amount of money you spend does not define the value or quality of the wine. Take for example the less than 20 dollar Capcanes Peraj Petita, or the slightly more expensive Herenza Crianza, and many others. These are great wines and the price is only an added benefit. However, there are many low priced wines that are not on this list, as they lack the quality required, IMHO.

Seeing the list and checking it twice (could not help myself), I am sure there will be a question – what defines a wine as a Top Flight wine and why are there wines that are not on it? The Top Flight wines, is a list of wines that personally was wowed when tasting them. That does not mean that the Peraj Petita, as wonderful as it is may or may not compare to another wine on the 50 dollars and above list – that would not be fair. What it does mean was that when I tasted it, I was wowed, and I said this is a wine that everyone should get – no matter the price. In the end, this is not about which is better than the rest it is a way to whittle down the list of wines that I enjoyed from a massive set of thousands of kosher wines available here in America. That is why I made the list. In hindsight, I am sure I will have missed some wines. If you do not see a wine you love and it scored an A- or higher on this blog somewhere, then I can assure you that it was probably an oversight on my part.

Also, this is a PSA – please do not buy 2015 rose wines! PLEASE! They are muted and a waste of your hard earned money. Wait for the 2016 Roses that will be released soon.

Arba Kosot (The Four cups of Passover)

Finally, it is our custom to drink four cups of wine on Passover, but to power down these wines is far too hard for me. I rather decide to drink simple wines like the Tabor Via bubbly red, non-mevushal wine. It is simple to chug, tasty, and perfectly fulfills the custom. For the main course, I am happy to open a Top Flight wine and enjoy that at a calm and enjoyable pace. Another option is to get some of these great glasses from Stolzle, that fulfill the official four cups requirements in terms of volume and respect, according to most Rabbis. The glasses hold 3.5 fluid ounces of wine, which according to almost every source fulfills the concept of Revi’it. It does not fulfill the Chazon Ish’s requirements of 5.1 ounces, but if you wish to meet that requirement use these glasses from Arc International. Also, remember that the first cup should be drunk in totality, according to most authorities.

A few more comments here. I hope I have gotten all the wines that I have tasted here, but I almost posted this a few times, and then only at the end did I remember I forgot a few. Also, this year’s list is not as long as last year’s lost, because 2015 in Israel was a total disaster, outside of a few winners. The reds from 2015 in Israel, are showing well from the best wineries, but that list is short.  Read the rest of this entry

Tzora Vineyards Winery and the latest releases

Tzora Winery 4

Well, I have finished all the KFWE posts, and my past personal wine tastings posts, and now it is time to get back to posting about wineries I visited on my last trip. To remind you, I came to Israel for Sommelier 2017, then flew to Paris and back the next morning for the Bokobsa tasting. Upon my return to Israel, I drove north for a day, before coming back to the Jerusalem area, and then flying home. I have already posted all the wineries I visited in Israel’s North. I also visited wineries in the Jerusalem area, including one of my absolute favorite kosher wineries in the world – Tzora Vineyards Winery. Why? Because Tzora (and Domaine Netofa Winery as well) are wineries that prove you can make GREAT old-world style wines in the new world of Israel! All that you really need to make great balanced and beautifully made wines is to care, and Tzora winery cares!

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 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 new Misty Hills and the new red Shoresh, as well. Mr. Pick was very kind to do the tasting with us, and he even had the winery put out these incredibly fragile and lovely wine glasses, from Zalto – just to make sure we were on our toes and very careful! The glasses were the first surprise, but the second one was the insane wine we tasted at the end of the tasting. It was a wine that is yet to be bottled but one that has already been pulled from the barrel, the 2015 Misty Hills. I swear that if I was tasting blind, I could have guessed it was a 2012 Saint Emilion. It was bone dry, old-world in the absolute real sense, and did not taste ripe or Israeli in any manner. We also got a blind taste test and sadly this time, I did not get it. The blind tasted wine was a glass of pure Petit Verdot, it was very ripe and somewhat unidimensional, but its color, depth, and tannin were really impressive. Eran allowed us to taste components of the Judean Hills Blanc 2016 and some of the 2016 Shoresh blanc as well, they both showed beautifully, but till those wines are complete and put in a bottle, I will hold my notes.

The best news (for me anyway) is that Skurnik Wines, who has been importing Tzora wines for many years now, has all of these wines in NYC! However, the even better news is that they will also be on the west coast very soon! Yes, can you believe it, someone finally listened to me, and Skurnik will have a West coast distribution setup, and ready to go by May 2017! Finally!

The wines are available from Gary at Taste Co – email him at: info@tastewineco.com or call at (212) 461-1708. Some of them are also available at kosherwine.com and skyviewwine.com.

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Lueria Winery and the latest releases

Lueria Winery Tasting Room.jpg

Well, I have finished all the KFWE posts, and my past personal wine tastings posts, and now it is time to get back to posting about wineries I visited on my last trip. To remind you, I came to Israel for Sommelier 2017, then flew to Paris and back the next morning for the Bokobsa tasting. Upon my return to Israel, I drove north for a day, before coming back to the Jerusalem area, and then flying home. I have already posted all the wineries I visited in Israel’s North, excepting for my visit with Gidi Sayada at the lovely new visitor tasting room of Lueria Winery. We tasted all the new releases and as always, it is a joy to sit down and taste wines with Gidi.

The wines that Gidi makes use the grapes that were planted by his father, Yosef Sayada some 22 years ago. The vines were planted on the hills surrounding Moshav Safsufa. Interestingly, Safsufa is an Aramaic word meaning – late ripening fruit. The burial place of the revered kabbalist Rav Yitzchak Luria, who was one of the foremost Kabbalist experts in his time, overlooks the vineyards. It is in his honor that the winery is called Lueria Winery.

Lueria Winery has been growing slowly but surely, going from a few thousand bottles in 2006 to more than 100K bottles in 2016. Most people would not think that Lueria Winery is pumping out that much wine, but since Gidi started making wine, after learning winemaking in Israel, and cutting his teeth with Tal Pelter of Pelter Winery (not kosher) and Matar Winery, it is clear to see that he has found his own way now. With the abundance of his father’s grapes to choose from, some 45 acres, comprising many classic varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, along with some more Mediterranean varietals, like Syrah, Sangiovese, Barbera, and Roussanne.

This winery, like many throughout Israel, is not afraid to make half of their wines – white wines. Why? Because contrary to the USA palate, Israelis have finally found the love for all things white and rose! Sadly, this year, Gidi did not make a rose. In its place, he started a new label, the 2016 Roussanne! Also, gone is the pure dry Gewurztraminer that we had a few years here and there. Now, he is making some dry Gewurztraminer and placing it into the lovely, Lueria White wine. The white varietals used in the winery are Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Roussanne. There are very few wineries in Israel making Pinot Grigio, the ones I know of are Dalton (a five-minute drive from Lueria Winery), Lueria Winery, and Yarden Winery. Each wine is stylistically different from each other. The Dalton PG is all about acid and fruit and is light on the mineral. Shockingly, the Yarden PG is less about fruit and more a balance between the fruit and mineral. Finally, the Lueria Winery PG is smoky and mineral rich, with nice fruit as well. Get them all and then taste them in a blind tasting!

The red wine labels have been cleaned up, in both appearance and names. Now it is just two blends Rosso and Terrace at the first level, followed by two single varietal dominated wines, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon. With the Grand Vital being the flagship wine of the winery, which is a blend of the best barrels from each vintage. Its parts change each year but it’s mostly dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, along with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Sometimes Syrah is added as well, but in the past many years that has not been the case. I think the streamlining and simplification of the labels, along with cleaning them up a bit as well, really makes for a lovely lineup of wines.

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