Category Archives: Wine Industry
OK, so let’s start this whole discussion once again with a massive disclaimer – I am not a food scientist or a chemist, but I know what the USDA says about wines, so let’s go with that!
As with other USDA organic products, organic wine is made without using prohibited substances or genetic engineering (see Allowed and Prohibited Substances). It undergoes the same rigorous requirements of USDA organic certification as other products throughout its lifecycle (see Five Steps to Organic Certification). And, in addition to being overseen by the USDA National Organic Program, it has to meet the requirements of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, especially for sulfite labeling requirements.
Before a wine can be sold as organic, both the growing of the grapes and their conversion to the wine must be certified. This includes making sure grapes are grown without synthetic fertilizers and in a manner that protects the environment and preserves the soil. Other agricultural ingredients that go into the wine, such as yeast, also have to be certified organic. Any non-agricultural ingredients must be specifically allowed on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (see Allowed and Prohibited Substances) and can’t exceed 5% of the total product. And, while wine naturally produces some sulfur dioxide (sulfites), they can’t be added to organic wine. Sulfites are commonly added to wines to stop the fermentation process or preserve the flavor profile.
Wines that are sold as “made with organic grapes” have different requirements than organic wine. When a wine is labeled as being made with organic grapes 100% of those grapes used must be certified organic. Yeast and any other agricultural ingredients aren’t required to be organic but have to be produced without excluded methods (like genetic engineering). As for non-agricultural ingredients, these have to be specifically allowed on the National List. Finally, sulfites may be added to wines that carry the “made with organic grapes” label—up to 100 parts per million.
So, that clears things up, scientifically, for the USA! Meaning that for you to say you have an organic wine in the USA on a US wine label, you cannot add sulfites and the grapes must have been grown organically. All good.
Let’s look at other countries – this is where things become a bit murkier. The biggest of them is Europe and they allow the “small” addition of sulfites to organic wine and those rules went into effect in 2012.
In contrast, the new EU rules for “organic wine” allow a maximum of 100 parts per million for red wine (compared to 150 for conventional reds) and 150 parts per million for whites and rosés (compared to 200 for their conventional counterparts). Sweet wines are allotted an extra 30 parts per million as more sulfites are typically needed to prevent residual sugar from fermenting in the bottle. Canada allows up to 100 parts per million in its organic wines.
In saying that, organic wine does contain half the maximum legal limit of sulphur dioxide (220) – a common preservative in wine that is used to inhibit or kill unwanted yeasts and bacteria, and the main culprit for those shocking hangovers, the next day.
The maximum allowable limit of “pres 220” in Australian wine is 300 parts per million (ppm). For Australian certified organic wine, it’s 150 ppm. To give a little context, most dry wines usually won’t exceed 200 ppm, and dried fruits can contain anywhere between 500 and 3000 ppm. If you are overly sensitive to sulphur, then drinking organic wines can be a “healthier” choice and will usually make the next day’s declarations of a sober future a lot less necessary.
I could find no real laws in regards to Israeli wine production – please send me more info – if you can find – ACTUAL Israeli laws regarding Organic wine production requirements – thanks!
Organic kosher wine options
Now that we have covered the gamut of wine rules and regulations in regards to organic and no-sulfite added wines, by definition, on a label, we can look at the kosher wine options that exist, sadly there are few.
It all started with Four Gates Winery making wine from Organic CCOF grapes, in 1997. After that, we had some wine from Yarden Odem Winery that used Organic grapes as well, but the label kept getting into trouble with the USDA – as there was no way to state “using Organic Grapes” in those days.
We had the first TRULY organic winery in the Bashan Winery until they closed and we had the lovely Harkham wines from Australia, but they are really hard to find here in the USA now, and they would not get the USDA Organic wine label, as they do throw in a sparingly small amount of sulfites. My guess is, they sell perfectly well in Australia, so why bother with shipping.
So, where does that leave us now – actively, outside of Four Gates and Yarden Odem Chardonnay that are not organic wines, but rather a wine made with organic grapes?
We have three options today:
- Herzog Wine cellar’s brand new 2019 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Variation Be-leaf. It is the 1st wine made in the USA that deserves the USDA organic wine label, and widely available now.
- Elima from Or Haganuz – was the first no-sulfite added wine that was mass-produced and marketed here in the USA and it is still widely available. It is not made with organic grapes.
- Camuna Wines from Camuna Wine Cellars has wines that – though not “officially” organic wine were made in a natural manner and with minimal intervention. Like added sulfites. Sadly, it does not look like they made any new wines recently.
I would suppose the real question what is the market out there for such wines in the kosher wine world? In the non-kosher wine world, the market for natural wines is massive and Alice Feiring and others are the drivers for this change.
Maybe now with two large companies producing Organic kosher wines – the market will grow, time will tell.
Where is the USDA Organic label?
As we have described above – the USDA label requires nothing more than organic grapes and no added sulfites. So, when Herzog released their 2019 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon Be-Leaf I was wondering why the label did not have the USDA Organic certification?
Sadly, the requirements to meet the USDA label versus actually getting the label are not in the same ballpark. While, the requirements are not complicated, getting a third party to the winery to observe and validate the requirements and then validating it with the USDA makes for such an arduous task that Herzog chose the CCOF route, the same route that Four Gates uses – for just Organic grapes. Since the CCOF route was taken and they wanted to denote the organic nature of the wine – without the USDA organic label, the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) required the label have more additions to make it all good. All in all, a classic example of what is wrong with bureaucracy. Take a simple-ish idea and complicate so horrible that the outcome – is more complicated than where we started! Bravo TTB and USDA!!
Either way, the outcome is more options for the kosher market, notwithstanding the complications and headaches for all!
2019 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Variation Be-leaf (M) – Score: 88
This is not the first wine to use organic grapes, Four Gates has used CCOF grapes for as long as it has been around, 1997. As described above, an organic wine means that the wine is, of course, using Organic grapes (CCOF Organic as Herzog is a California winery) and there were no sulfites added at all. As I have posted many times when I talk about the only other no-sulfite-added wine, the Or Haganuz Elima, that all wine has sulfites. All wine has sulfites naturally. Still, Herzog added no sulfites to this wine and as such, it could have garnered the USDA Organic certification if it were not such a huge hassle.
Finally, come on guys, wines like this deserve a DIAM cork, enough already! Heck other wines with bigger price points and “theoretical” lifespans use DIAM, even Château Guiraud uses DIAM cork, for the Grand Vin – come on guys – MOVE ON!
This is the second time I have had this wine and it is finally calming down. The nose is still very fruity, not overly ripe, but the fruit is very present, with notes of blueberry, black fruit, licorice, red fruit, and more dense fruit that has not had a chance to calm down and integrate. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is fun, it shows lovely boysenberry, dark cherry, cassis, and draping sweet tannin, with nice menthol, mineral, and pencil shavings, with an ever-present ripeness that is not going to go away. The finish is a pith attack, with loads of almond, citrus pith, and sweet/ripe fruit that lingers long with a good minerality and tannin structure that will keep this no-sulfite added wine fine for a couple of years. Drink by 2022.
2018 Or Haganuz Elima – Score: 82
This wine has no added sulfites and it is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc. The nose on this wine is ripe and at 14% ABV, on the label, I think it is a bit higher, with heat and alcoholic aromas, sweet oak, cassis, black fruit, and red fruit in the background. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is ripe and uncontrolled, sadly, with clear leanings of overripe fruit, blackberry, candied cherry, overripe currants, and loads of oak and smoke, with nice enough tannin and more oak. The finish is long, sweet, oaky, and sweet, with sweet chewing tobacco galore and a hint of graphite. Drink until 2023.
Well, yes, I am on a warpath this year, and I am using math to prove that the prices of kosher wines are out of control. This year so far, we have no roses that I would give a QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) score of WINNER. This is a slight revision to my QPR 2.0 post, and I have already amended that post with the WINNER value.
Please look back at my QPR revised 2.0 post. I have been getting a lot of comments on people’s feelings. The overarching interests by many are that I am focusing too much on cost, which I am 100% happy about, as that is a fact that needs serious focus.
I repeat what I stated in my year in review, for something like 7 years now, LOL! We need quality wines AND we need them at a reasonable price. The QPR score is exactly what is says – QUALITY to Price Ratio. The qualitative score is the priority, but if that nice and highly scored wine is more expensive than its peers, it is not a good QPR wine. Simple.
So to stress what I have stressed on my last 4 posts about this subject – here I go again!
Please remember, a wine score and the notes are the primary reason why I would buy a wine – PERIOD. The QPR score is there to mediate, secondarily, which of those wines that I wish to buy, are a better value. ONLY, the qualitative score can live on its own, in regards to what I buy. The QPR score defines, within the wine category, which of its peers are better or worse than the wine in question.
Said in other words. Buy high scoring wines – DONE! Now, if you want to know which of those high scoring wines is a good deal – well look at the QPR scores. DONE!
Rose wine QPR scores graphed out
To make this simple there are no rose wines, that I have tasted so far, this year that I would consider a winner. The winner quintile is the gradient blue box and it is empty. It was close-ish. The 2019 Cantina Giuliano Costa Rosato came in under the median line (the y-axis) but not over or equal to the 91 point score that I need from a wine before I think about buying it. The same goes for the 2019 Chateau Roubine Rose, La Vie, it is a fine wine which garnered a score of 91, but it costs more than the Median price of 22 dollars. Therefore, there are no winners in the kosher rose market, for me, so far, this year. This chart looks akin to the Gartner magic quadrant, but where they are shooting for the upper right quintile, here, we are looking for the lower right quintile, as we want lower-priced wines that have solid scores.
The next post I drop, God Willing, will be the white wines for 2020, and that has a few winners, but that is also because the prices are st STUPID high that some wines can sneak in under the absurdly high Median price! Still, PRIORITY is white wines with a score of 91. So far, there are just TWO new white wines, that are from the 2019 vintage, which has garnered a 91 score. They are BOTH Californian wines and only ONE will get the coveted QPR WINNER score. The other Californian 2019 white wine will get a QPR score of GOOD, which is well good!
Last year, in 2019, we had at least 6 new whites that were under 20 dollars and that scored 91 points or more. The N.V. Gilgal Brut, 2018 Ramon Cardova Albarino, 2018 Chateau Riganes, 2018 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc, 2017 Herzog Chardonnay, Lineage, and the 2018 Or Haganuz Amuka White. We also had the 2018 Elvi Wines Invita, but it was not officially here, that, of course, has been fixed thankfully, and it is on the new list. The 2017 Albarino was below 20, I think the 2018 vintage went up in price afterward. I hope we will find more wines that are worthy of our dollars and our time.
In closing, quality reigns supreme, but as many people have told me this week alone, prices for kosher wines are too high. Very few people can buy the wines from my Top Flight Wines, in my Passover wine list for 2020, even the Yarden Rose Brut has been going up in price consistently. Again, thankfully we have good wines to enjoy, but they should not be for the few! Sorry, that needs to change.
Well, my part of California is locking us away for another month and I thought it was high time to talk a bit about the kosher wine industry in light of the situation we are all facing – the Coronavirus.
Kosher Wine business
This is not rocket science, us jews are not drinkers. Relax, I know some of you are tipplers, but the vast majority of the kosher wine world drinks on the weekend, no matter how much certain people complain about it.
Now, that is predicated on the theory that we are home and such. However, when we are invited to a party, wedding, dinner, etc. (remember those things where we actually sat next to someone that was not your wife or child)?? Yeah, in those settings we drink, it is simple, and yes, we may drink more than we expect, because well, we are out for an occasion. It is the common trait of most Jews I know. Throw in a dinner, event, party, and yeah, Jews drink, but we are still moderates.
Now, throw in restaurants, business dinners, evenings out with your wife or friend and we get a fair amount of wine/alcohol action.
Sadly, these events, these dinners, they do not come back when this insanity is over, we cannot make up for it. This is lost revenue that is not coming back. The longer people stay in the house, the longer we are locked up, the longer caterers, restaurants, and wine producers/importers will be in pain. The weddings may come back, those Mosdos/organizational dinners you hated going to may also make a rebound, but I do not see it coming back to the levels we saw in the past any time soon. Restaurants may not come back either and I think two things will change for the next few years:
- Mevushal wine will take a hit. This is not a new thing IMHO. The kosher wine world has been pushing this so hard recently that I think many have either become numb to it or have given up hope for change. With the lack of public occasions for the next two years, minimally, we will see a huge drop in Mevushal wine interest, and I feel no sadness, it is time for the kosher wine world to move on. This will affect Israeli Mevushal more than say the few Cali or french that exist. Cali means Herzog and their Mevushal is irrelevant IMHO, I buy their wines and I never think Mevushal at all. Israel though will feel this the most I fear.
- Home Delivery is on the rise and it will not stop anytime soon. The recent events will seriously change the way people see wine buying in the future. No, the average New Yorker will still go to his/her local shop, but there will be fewer. I have heard it over and over by the online wine guys – NYC was a large buyer these past months, and that will not come to a screaming halt in the future. It will slow, but there will be lingering and residual folks who continue buying online, and that is a GREAT thing. The power of the local wine shop is seriously bad and it is time for the kosher wine industry to be further democratized, with better information and better selection. I see this in the USA and not so much in Israel for many reasons. Europe has been delivering wines for decades already and I do not see a huge shift there either.
- No matter how much wine you THINK you are drinking and no matter how much you think you are buying, the wine importers are in pain. There is ZERO need to cry for Royal wines, they could care less about what is happening, they have the food business and they are run with extreme efficiency.
We do need to care about what happens next for the other importers. The majority of the wine they sell is not to people’s homes. It is for dinners, restaurants, caterers, and so on. With all that out of commission, for the time being, we really have to pray for the welfare of the kosher wine importers, if this goes on for as long as I fear we may lose a few and that is not such a good thing when all that means is that Royal will get bigger.
- QPR will mean more going forward. Look, I have received a fair amount of feedback from my last post, and thanks. That said, I have heard from more than a few about how their ability to buy has been curtailed and that they are on a tighter budget than in the past. People are suffering unless you work in grocery, healthcare, hi-tech, they are in a less comfortable place. Lawyers have fewer clients, the same goes for CPAs. The famous Jewish jobs are not all they are cut up to be in this particular environment. Many business owners have no access or ability to run their businesses. This is a crazy world we live in and people will be looking for more affordable wines.
Hence, QPR is the answer and yes, I think as I roll it out more you will see wines that you did not expect to be so interesting become more valuable, given where some are today financially.
- Wine sales will slow on the higher prices and the French wines will sell but even slower. Look now, 2016 is on the shelves everywhere when 2017 in the vintage in question. The 2015s are almost all gone and a few of the higher-priced 2014s linger. This will pass, but I hope it does not impact Royal and others. The main goal is to have wines for sale not to be sold out of wines.
Having an empty warehouse of fewer French wines is not a victory it is a loss for all. Making less of the wine, producing controlled amounts, numbers, where everyone gets a shot to buy but also balancing the book, is the correct manner to approach a sustainable longterm business in the world of wine that lasts a generation.
We have Royal, IDS, and others to thank for the plethora of great wines to enjoy. This will be a blip on the long term screen of life, a painful, unfortunate, sad episode, but a blip none the less. One cannot make a year-by-year decision on wine production, especially, when you have such good relationships with wineries and the industry as a whole.
Overall, the industry will change and people’s buying habits may shift a bit, but a time will come when importers will need to look at the non-kosher world and ask, why do they sell 2014 and 2015 vintages of Giscours at the same time? Because they are different wines, very different, and buyers know it. Soon, Royal and IDS will have a pipeline of continuous vintages from some wineries in France and elsewhere throughout Europe, and having vintages back to back on the shelf is a badge of honor not a badge of shame or poor salesmanship.
The kosher market does not need to blaze new trails we need to start to appreciate what we have and what wonderful worlds of wine we have been given the chance to enjoy.
I hope everyone is well, healthy, safe, and taking a moment to appreciate the family we have around us. Prayers continue for those less fortunate and I hope they are all answered quickly with good tidings.
So, my buddy, Avi Davidowitz of Kosher Wine Unfiltered, and I have been harping on the absurd price of wines in the kosher wine world. I do it yearly, in my year in reviews. I have also done it, in a positive light, in my QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wine posts. Avi does it on every score by baking the QPR score into the qualitative score itself, but by also calling out whether he would buy the wine again or not.
However, over the past couple of months, I have personally spent an absurd amount of money to taste wines and they were all a waste of my money. Now, while that is my own personal cross to bear, it is getting out of control. Kosher wine prices continue to rise and the values continue to plummet. I literally, screamed about this in my year in review.
However, until this point, all I have been doing is preaching this subject, and extolling the good, in regards to the QPR score. It has come time to make clear what is a logical buy and what is illogical.
Quality to Price Ratio Valuation
Now, to be clear, just because a wine is 150 dollars it does not make it a good wine, and that is clear by the wine’s score, and score alone, whose methodology I define here. I am NOT going to change my wine scores, those are qualitative in nature and need no new tweaking. If a distributor or winery, or BOTH, wants to price a GREAT wine at 200 dollars that is their prerogative.
Value is defined in the dictionary to mean: the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something. Far too many people hold something in high regard based upon its price or its label or other such characteristics. That is not an objective or even a logically subjective approach or methodology for defining value or regard for an item’s worth, in the world of wine.
Initially, there have been many drafts of this post and methodology, the focus was on price, and even I fell into that mistake. In the end, value, as it is defined below works for any price point.
So, stated simply, the QPR score is based SOLELY on the wine’s qualitative score and its price in comparison to other wines with equal or greater quality scores, within the same wine category. Simple. Read the rest of this entry
As always, I start my posts by thanking God and my wife for allowing me to go and taste wines around the world. With the Coronavirus (COVID-19) going strong around the world, I was sure the planes would be emptier, but they were not. Thankfully, I flew and returned home, safely, Shomer Petayim Hashem. Now, on to show.
This year, I flew to London, and was in London for less than 24 hours, before, going on a train to Paris, where I stayed until after Shabbat, then I flew to NYC for KFWE there, then to LA, for KFWE there and then on home. Our plane to London came after the storms that terrorized Europe. First came Ciara on Feb 9th, a week before KFWE, but then came Dennis, the Sunday before KFWE, which was on Monday. What a beast that was, look at these videos, intense flooding! Ciara was so crazy that it blew a British Airways 747 825 MPH! The flight from NYC to LHR took under 5 hours, the fastest on record! I have a few snapshots on my flight going 700 MPH but come on, we were getting the leftovers of Denni’s fury or help, depending on how you see it and understanding the context of where you were at that moment.
Sadly, Dennis was so destructive, it did not stop at London or Paris, it continues throughout Europe. Sadly, that meant that wineries from Italy and Spain were not able to attend the KFWE. So Elvi Wines’s Moises Cohen and David Cohen were not able to make it, and nor was Eli Gauthier from Cantina Giuliano.
Overall thoughts of the new wines
Throughout the travels, I really did not find any new wine that I would kvell about. I STRESS NEW wine. Sure, there are many great wines, but they were wines I had already tasted. I did taste a few very special wines in Paris, that is another three posts from now. Other than that, all the roses I tasted from 2019 carried forth the flaws of 2018, flat, boring, and maybe showing a bit more acid, but who really cares. If there was ONE takeaway, from all the KFWE and other tastings like Bokobsa, and tastings I did in private, it would be that 2019 roses are a HARD pass from Israel and USA so far. The thankful note goes to Royal Europe for bringing back the rose love with the 2019 Chateau Roubine, La Vie! Also, Bravo to the unbottled Costa Rosato from Cantina Giuliano, sadly Eli was not there, because of the storms, but the rose showed very well, more of a Gris than a rose, and lovely. The other takeaway I had from all of the KFWE was that 2017 was a VERY hard year for California. It shows in every 2017 red and white wine, that I have tasted so far, except for the 2017 Herzog Chardonnay, Lineage, which is lovely, and which was on my QPR of the year list. The 2017 vintage, throughout the world, actually sucked. Spain had hail and other issues, Israel was a mess, California had two HUGE heat waves hit it and many lost their fruit, along with the smoke taint from the fires, and France had the freeze that culled many vineyards, while also just being an average vintage for Bordeaux and Burgundy. Yes, there were a few very nice wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy from 2017, but the vintage was no 2015 or 2016. On average 2017 in Bordeaux was no homerun. The 2017 California wines either taste overly ripe and fruity or they taste green and under-ripe. Either way, 2017, IMHO, is a vintage I will pass on from California, sadly.
Getting back on topic, the reason for coming to KFWE London was simply that I like London, it is a great city, and even if I am there for less than 24 hours, it is still fun to see the environment of what is becoming quite a kosher food and wine enclave. The issues I brought up on my post last year, being the distribution of kosher wines is still hanging over London. I spoke with many of the buyers that I know of in London, and they all agree, none of the enophiles buy their wines from a store. This issue is one I highlighted in my year in review, and it is one that needs to be answered long term.
KFWE London 2020
So, in my review last year of KFWE London 2019, I summed it up in one sentence:
So, in a single sentence to wrap up KFWE London 2019, an elegant hall and presentation, solid wines served, ok crowd control, poor implementation of the venue, glasses were OK and could be improved, and the food needs help.
This year things changed, well most of them anyway. Let us start with the good, the hall continues to be a huge highlight of the event, both the general hall and the VIP hall/rooms are quite beautiful. They are elegant and regal, all the ways you expect a London event to be held. The wines were solid again if you wanted to taste the new 2017 Royal wines, this was the ONLY KFWE event that had them all, ONLY! Sure, Menahem Israelievitch was nice to bring the 2017 Leoville Poyferre, by hand, from Paris, but if you wanted to taste the 2017 Chateau Giscours or the 2017 Les Roches de Yon Figeac, you were out of luck. Throw in the fact that ALL of the 2017 Herzog Wine Cellars Winery also had all of their 2017 wines there, along with the yet unlabeled 2016 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga, Single Vineyard. Once again, Herzog Wine Cellars came to play and came with all their wines. Though it was an absolute miracle for Jospeh Herzog to have even made it to London, he too was disrupted by the storms, but he was there, with maybe an hour of sleep, promoting hos wines, Bravo Joseph!!
I continue to lament the lack of QPR wines. If there was ONE thing I wanted on my year in review than anything else, it was lower prices. To be fair, this year’s list of QPR wines is longer than last year, and the scores are higher, but I also moved the QPR price bar up a bit to 40 dollars. So, what we are seeing here is price inflation for QPR, at least the higher-end QPR wines.
Once again, Royal has some crazy good wines, even from the 2017 vintage, but the prices are high. Yes, there are some nicely priced wines, but to get the 2017 Montviel or the 2017 Gazin, you will be in the 50 to 70 dollar range.
Also, in my top wines of the year, there was only ONE wine that clocked in at 95, and yeah, that wine is priced accordingly, at 140 dollars.
Netofa Wines are finally back and it shows! They are all over this QPR list. This list is not a list of wines that are meant for cellaring, though many can withstand a few years. The idea here is to enjoy these wines now while you let the long-term wines cellar and age. We all have that interest to drink interesting wines and while I agree with that, that is NO excuse to raid the cellar when u have a hunkering for a complex nose or flavor. Many of these wines will scratch the itch while the beasts’ lie and settle.
This year, the list came to a total of 26 names, and none had to dip below 90 in the scores, which is a large number and better scores overall than last year, but again, the pool from where they are culled continues to grow, and the diamonds in the rough are getting harder and harder to find.
I have added a few new things this year. The first is QPR for France, the prices for many wines there, are dirt cheap! Maybe, Avi Davidowitz, from kosher wine unfiltered, can create a list like that for Israel, this year, a bunch of wines became available there, and a proper QPR list would be worthwhile!
Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – but they are worth the effort. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
The 2019 Red QRP kosher kings
2017 Chateau Royaumont, Lalande de Pomerol – Score: 93 (QPR Superstar)
The wine is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. I liked the 2016 vintage but this one may be better! The nose on this wine is pure hedonism, with incredible soy sauce, mushroom, and loads of umami, with crazy smoke, blueberry, earth, mineral galore, and black fruit, with herbs. WOW!!! The mouth on this wine carries the umami madness, with a richness in the mouth that is plush, and layered with less mushroom and more truffles, with loads of blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, smoke, mineral, all wrapped in a rich, layered, umami madness, with tobacco mineral, graphite joy, wow!! Incredible. The wine is ripe, and the voluptuous mouthfeel comes from the combination of oak, ripe fruit, mushroom, and mineral, it will be fun to see this one in three years. The finish on this wine is nuts, layered and ripe, with smoke, mushroom, and tobacco, graphite, charcoal, and more mushroom. Bravo!! Drink from 2021 until 2028. This can be drunk almost now, but it needs time to really be appreciated.
2017 Les Roches de Yon-Figeac, Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru – Score: 93 to 94 (QPR Superstar)
This is great, the Royaumont is mushroom and soy sauce and the Les Roches de Yon-Figeac is mushroom and barnyard heaven, it is insane. The nose on this wine is crazy barnyard, mushroom, forest floor, with freshly tilled earth, followed by a stick of graphite right in the eye, with crazy salinity, and loads of black fruit, wow! The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is really fun, layered, with squid-ink notes, with layers upon layers of plush and rich fruit structure, with incredible acidity, salinity, and graphite core, with crazy blackberry, blackcurrant, with dark berries, and smoke, with graphite taking center stage, followed by intense acid, and more mineral, with layers of earth, and lovely roasted herb, and screaming tannin structure that will last for a long time. The finish si long, green and ripe, with mineral at its core, followed by more squid ink, plushness that belies the searing tannin, and a fruit structure that lasts forever. Incredible! Bravo! Drink from 2023 until 2030. (the price is a bit too high to make it on this list and it is not in the USA, but it is so good, I cannot ignore it)
2015 Clos Lavaud, Lalande de Pomerol – Score: 92 to 93 (QPR madness)
The nose on this wine is lovely, far more controlled than the 2014 vintage while also being richer and brighter, showing notes of dark fruit, followed by loads of incredible mineral, with saline, graphite, forest floor, and mushroom, with dark red fruit, and loam that goes on forever. The mouth on this wine is ripe, but in such an old-world manner, with rich loam, bright fruit, great acidity, mouth-draping tannin that is elegant, well-structured, and a focal point for the layers of elegant blackberry, smoke, blackcurrant, dark ripe cherry, wrapped in plush tannin, sweet cedar notes, with incredible saline and mineral, with a plush forest floor that will give way to mushroom madness in the future, with an elegance that is really impressive, and a wine that is now just starting to show its potential. The finish is long,m green, with garrigue, foliage, more forest floor, with a plush yet velvety structure that is vacked with core-acidity and mineral, dark chocolate, licorice, leather, and fine spices. Bravo!! Drink from 2021 until 2028. Read the rest of this entry
My top 30 kosher wines of 2019 including wine of the year, Winery of the year, and best wine of the year awards
Like last year, I wanted to make this post short and sweet – so the criteria are simple I could care less about price, color, or where it was made. All that matters is that it is/was available this year sometime to the public at large and that I tasted it in a reliable environment, not just at a tasting, and that it was scored a 93 or higher. Also, there are a few lower scoring wines here because of their uniqueness or really good QPR.
We are returning with the “wine of the year”, and “best wine of the year” while adding in a new category called “Winery of the Year”, and another new category, the best White wine of the year. Wine of the year will go to a wine that distinguished itself in ways that are beyond the normal. It needs to be a wine that is easily available, incredible in style and flavor, and it needs to be reasonable in price. It may be the QPR wine of the year or sometimes it will be a wine that so distinguished itself for other reasons. The wines of the year are a type of wine that is severely unappreciated, though ones that have had a crazy renaissance, over the past two years. The Best Wine of the year goes to a wine well worthy of the title, especially with its 2016 vintage.
This past year, I think I am pretty sure about my statement. In the past, I had not yet tasted the pape Clement or other such wines. However, over the past year, those have been covered, and they were a serious letdown. As stated in the article, I truly believe the entire kosher production of the Megrez wines, following the EPIC 2014 vintage of the Pape Clement and others, to be below quality and seriously overpriced and without value in every category, which is a true shame. The 2015 reds are all poor quality and the whites are not much better, in 2015 and 2016. The 2016 Pape Clement, while better, is a total ripoff for what it is.
There are also interesting wines below the wines of the year, think of them as runner-up wines of the year. There will be no rose wines on the list this year – blame that on the poor crop or rose wines overall, it was, by far, the worst kosher Rose vintage. Thankfully, the task of culling the bounty of great wines to come to these top wines was really more a task of removing then adding. I may have stated the obvious in my last post, about the state of kosher wine in general, and not all of it was very good. Still, as I stated, we are blessed with more QPR wines and more top wines, while the core pool of wines, which are horribly poor, continue to grow larger and larger.
The supreme bounty comes from the fact that Royal released the 2017 French wines a bit early! Throw in the incredible number of kosher European wines that are coming to the USA and being sold in Europe and this was truly a year of bounty for European kosher wines.
Now, separately, I love red wines, but white wines – done correctly, are a whole other story! Sadly, in regards to whites, we had no new wines from Germany. Thankfully, we had Domaine Netofa and Yaccov Oryah’s Orange and white Wines to come to the rescue. Throw in Vitkin’s good work, and more great work by Royal Europe, including the new Gazin Blanc, and others, and you have quite a crop of fun white wines!
Some of these wines are available in the USA, some only in Europe, and a few only available in Israel.
Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – but they are worth the effort. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
The 2019 kosher wines of the year – we have a four-way TIE all from Yarden!
Yes! You have read it correctly, the wines of the year come from Golan Heights Winery (AKA Yarden Winery), the 4th largest date juice producer in the entire world! The top date juice honor belongs to Barkan Winery, but I digress.
So, why is Yarden here, because albeit’s deep desire to throw away years of work creating very nice wines, at a reasonable price, with its wines from the early 2000s and before, it still makes the best kosher sparkling wines, and it is time that it receives its due.
As I stated in my year in review, the kosher wine public has finally awoken to the joy of sparkling wine! Last week I told a friend I popped a sparkler for Shabbat lunch and he replied in a sarcastic tone, “Oh only a sparkler”, like that was a crazy thing to do. I replied that the Gamla (AKA Gilgal) Brut costs less than most white wines do! Why not pop one with lunch on Shabbat??? Others tell me, yes there is more a public appreciation for Sparkling wines, but it is a different wine category. I do not agree! Sure, sparkling wine has bubbles, so yeah, it is different. However, that is EXACTLY what is wrong here, Sparkling wine is just white or rose wine with bubbles. Who cares? When it is well made, it is a wine like any other wine.
Well, it is another Gregorian year and though there have been many new things going on in the world of the kosher wine world, with European Wine Tariffs maybe being the biggest of them. Still, maybe even bigger, is that for ONCE we have finally had some movement on my yearly and unchanged list of issues in the kosher wine industry. Maybe someone is listening.
First, let us do a quick recap of last year’s issues and the state of them, and then a few new things to think about as well!
We have too much wine out there for the official kosher wine buying populace. How do I know this? Because the amount of wine being dumped on the non-kosher market for a pittance in countries that no one visits is absurd! Wine is being dumped all over the place, and it is not going to get better anytime soon. Why? Because wineries are still popping up all over the place, and they are making really average wine at best!
Which brings me to the same issue, but in more detail. We have lots of horrible wine out there. Yes, I know I am a broken record, get over it. The kosher wine market in Israel and California needs to get better at making wines for a decent price. But I would be happy with just good wine – for a not decent price.
Again, besides the price, the overall quality of the wines is just not acceptable. The good news is we have lots of wine, but sadly the quality is not there. We need to raise the quality and then work on lowering the price.
State after 2019 of the Economics of kosher wine
Nothing has changed here. Israel is even worse than it was in 2017. Red wines from Israel were undrinkable last year, (with maybe one exception), and the white wines were boring for the vast majority, including roses. Truly, the 2018 vintage for Israel was a major bust, other than the few good wineries.
I will say that Herzog has stepped up its game. While 2015 Herzog Cabernets were boring, 2016 Herzogs were really nice. Four Gates is always the same – mostly great wines with a mix of a few misses. Shirah Winery and Hajdu Winery have both moved to the darker side, with riper and more fruit-forward wines that are not as unique as they used to be, making them less interesting to me. Thankfully, Shirah made some great white wines last year that was nice! Hagafen Winery continues to make the lovely Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and sparkling wines, but all the red wines are a waste of time. Covenant Winery has been making Cabernet Sauvignon for 17 years now, and Chardonnay for 12 years and they are consistently on my list of top best wines for Passover, the hits keep coming! Still, overall even within California, there is a lot of work to be done in regard to improving the quality and the prices.
Personally, California is backsliding, mostly because Shirah and Hajdu have not been making the same level of red wines as they have in the past. Throw in Hagafen’s total disregard for anything red and well all you have left is a few nice Herzog Cabernets, Four Gates, and Covenant Cabernets as well. Though, Kos Yeshuos is helping.
Europe is mostly a push. There are tons of bad wines coming from France, Italy, Spain, and elsewhere. In the past few years, I have been saying France needs no help, but that is not true! France is pumping out loads of useless garbage, we are just blessed with having the famous French wines that are really nice. Look at the disastrous tasting I had with Nathan Grandjean and Avi Davidowitz last year, and you can see that France is also not doing great, and those were handpicked wines!
Italy could use better options outside of Terra de Seta! Sadly, Capcanes has gone to the dark side as well. There is a new winemaker, and so far the wines are clearly riper, and less balanced than previous vintages. 2015, 2016. 2017, and 2018 vintages all show a wine style that is in your face and so foreign to what Capcanes was until 2015. A truly huge loss for the kosher wine market, IMHO. Thankfully, we have Elvi Wines, which is showing far more control and I am waiting to taste the new wines. Personally, Terra Di Seta may well be the best winery out of Europe. They have consistently delivered quality wines, at incredibly reasonable prices. Bravo guys!!!! Read the rest of this entry
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. 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. The TRUE shocker this year is that KFWE Miami will not be held during Hannukah! Here I thought it was an actual requirement from the folks down under in Miami, I guess I must be mistaken!
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 I hope the L.A. KFWE is back in Hollywood, at the world-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. Last year I was sad to see the L.A. KFWE move from the Petersen Automotive Museum, where it has been for two years, 2016 and 2017. However, the 2018 KFWE L.A. at the Palladium was freaking EPIC and I expect more greatness!
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 tons of wineries that 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 many wineries that do not come to other shows, like Jonathan Jadu’s wines, and a few other boutique Israeli wineries, 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 are 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 last year, which is NOT officially part of the KFWE family, but Royal wines are represented there as are other wineries that Bokobsa imports into France. Read the rest of this entry
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.