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.
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 an A- to A or higher. Also, there are a few lower scoring wines here because of their uniqueness or really good QPR. I also included some of the best wines I tasted this year – they are at the bottom.
This year I am adding the “wine of the year”, and “best 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. This year, it is not the QPR King of 2017, that went to the 2016 Chateau Des Riganes. No, this year “the wine of the year” is indeed a QPR superstar, but not the king, it is the 2014 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley. The best wine of the year, well that was easy, it is the 2015 Chateau Leoville Poyferre. So, yes, that means that the top wines of the year are both made by Royal wines, such is life, and I could care less for the most part.
Again, the list is missing wines I have yet to taste, like the 2015 Chateau Pape Clement, which I am sure would have been on this list if I had tasted it, or the 2015 Hajdu Proprietary Red. 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, they did not even crack the interesting list. Also, this year, we were given a bounty of top wines and finding the list this year was really a task of removing then adding.
The supreme bounty comes from the fact that Royal released the 2014 and 2015 French Grand Vin wines within the same year! The 2014 vintage wines were released in 2017 and the 2015 wines were released (in France in 2017 as well)! 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 all we had this year that were exceptional, were epic Rieslings from Germany (Von Hovel) and the fantastic sweet wines from Sauterne and Yaacov Oryah. But dry white wines from elsewhere in the world was sadly lacking. There were a few exceptions, and they were all Chardonnays, but to me, the winner in that story (dry white wine that was not a German Riesling), was the 2015 Herzog Chardonnay, Reserve, Russian River. It does not rate in the wine of the year list, but it is in the interesting wines below. The new Chablis is also nice, as is the Shirah Whites.
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 2017 kosher wine of the year!
This one was a no-brainer to me. The 2014 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley is a crazily affordable wine that got rave reviews from me and from the press. Congratulations to Herzog Winery and Royal Wines.
2014 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley – Score: 92 to 93 (QPR Superstar)
Lovely nose, impressive elegant and old world nose, peaking with a blackcurrant showing blackberry and lovely smoke and tar. The mouth is old world, wow, give me a break, in ways the wine is crazy better than the Warneke (Special Edition), but with years the Warneke will pass it. The mouth on this medium body, is great layered and rich, green, spicy, and rich with concentration, with sweet oak and sweet dill galore, with green notes, loads of foliage, showing dried strawberry, ripe raspberry, black forest berry, all wrapped in mouth coating and drying tannin, with earth and spice. The finish is long, and richly green, with nice spicy notes, leather and scraping mineral, showing bright and ripe fruit that is impressive, elegant, rich, and layered, with licorice, graphite, and forest floor that lingers long. Bravo!! Drink from 2020 till 2030.
The 2017 best kosher wine of the year!
This one was really tough. First of all, the one I chose is not available yet for purchase in the USA. Also, in terms of score, it did not beat out the Von Hovel Rieslings of 2014 or the 2014 Tour Blanche Sauternes, or the 2015 Chateau Giscours, or the 2014 Chateau Smith Haute Lafite. In the end – for its sheer awesomeness it beat out a very crowded field. In the end, the winner of the BEST kosher wine of 2017 goes to the 2015 Chateau Leoville Poyferre, and it deserves the crown – bravo!!
2015 Chateau Leoville Poyferre – Score: 95
This wine was very close to what we tasted from the barrel. The nose on this wine is rich and black, with floral hints, smoke, mineral, and really pushed for now, but incredible and redolent with a perfume of ripe fruit, chocolate, and green notes. The mouth is rich and layered with an incredible finesse of perfection, richly extracted and incredible with rich mineral and saline that is so perfectly hedonistic it is impressive, with chocolate heaven, showing earth, loam, finesse, and elegance beyond explanation, showing soft yet focused with a tight-mouthfeel, with rich raspberry, blackberry, ripe plum, all focused and concentrated with perfection. The finish is long and rich and paired with an acid and mineral that is never-ending, almost ripe and tart at the same time, with draping tannin, graphite, and charcoal with expressive and focus. Drink from 2022 to 2040.
Rest of the top 25 kosher wines of 2017
2015 Chateau Grand Puy Ducasse – Score: 94
This wine was very close to what we tasted from the barrel. What a nose, this wine is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and a drop of merlot. This nose is green and red and really mineral focused with dark but red fruit focused, showing lovely elegance, dirt, and herb. The mouth is medium bodied with rich extraction, rich currant, red fruit, with dirt in the background, wrapped in rich and searcing tannin mouthfeel, with roasted herb, and rich tobacco that is backed by elegance and control, blackberry, plum, that gives way to dark chocolate epic control, foliage, and oregano that lingers long with graphite, pencil shavings, and rich leather. Drink from 2024 to 2034
2015 Chateau Giscours – Score: 95
This wine was very close to what we tasted from the barrel. The nose on this lovely wine is super dry, with more of a classic Bordeaux nose, less ripe than some of the previous wines, with the ever classic blueberry notes of Giscours, with black and red fruit galore backed by roasted herb, rich mineral, and lovely saline. The mouth is rich, incredible, massive, full-bodied and incredibly extracted with rich saline, with layers of unstoppable concentrated fruit, with blackberry, raspberry, with blueberry, rich spice, mushroom, and herb. The finish is never ending with green notes, roasted herb, incredible drying tannin, with a deep fruit base followed by the mineral, black fruit, earth, graphite, and rich spice, cloves, and dark chocolate. BRAVO! Drink from 2023 to 2035
2015 Chateau Lascombes – Score: 94.
WOW, how this wine changed from when we tasted it in the barrel. This wine is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Merlot, and 3 to 4% Petit Verdot. It is the flagship wine of Chateau Lascombes. The nose on this wine is even crazier than the Chevalier, showing more umami and soy sauce if that is possible, with incredible finesse, showing massive power, but great mineral and concentration, with black and red fruit, foliage galore with tar and roasted animal. The mouth is full bodied and incredible with the same style as the Chevalier, but with more finesse, mouth coating soft tannin that is extracted with blue fruit, earth, rich concentration, with more saline and power, yet showing incredible precision that is coating and impressive. The finish is long and lovely, with saline, mineral, tobacco, refined dark chocolate, and rich mushroom. Incredible! Drink from 2022 to 2032. Read the rest of this entry
This past weekend we had the distinct pleasure and honor of hosting Yaacov Oryah and friends for meals at our house. It was great to finally return the favor to YC and his lovely wife, from the epic dinner he threw for me, my wife, and my brother, two years ago. Anyone who has read this blog knows who Yaacov Oryah is – he was the winemaker of Asif Winery, which turned into Midbar Winery, and is now the new winemaker at Psagot Winery.
It was a true joy spending a shabbat with one of Israel’s answers to date juice. Yaacov Oryah, may well be the new winemaker at Psagot Winery, but he is also the winemaker for his winery – Yaacov Oryah Winery. Remember, Oryah was the winemaker and partner of Asif Winery – but when that did not work out he still had his vineyards and he still needed a place to make wines. Oryah is like Tabor Winery , Netofa Winery, Recanati Winery, Tzora Winery, Flam Winery, Domaine du Castel, Matar, Tura, Adir Winery, and others – Israeli wineries who pick early and understand balance is more important than imperfect wines that have perfect phenolic qualities.
Sadly, the list may not be long, but they are the answer to Israel’s overripe red wine problem. They are proof that it can be done, even at millions bottles! I hope others will follow. From what I saw on my latest trip to Israel, change is afoot, especially at the smaller producers.
Yaacov Oryah Winery
In 2011 Mr Oryah, was faced with a problem, Asif was essentially gone, Midbar had yet to come to life, and so the grapes needed a home – hence was the creation of Yaacov Oryah – private winery and winemaker! It is the age-old story – Necessity is the mother of all invention! The grapes had a need and Oryah was the answer. What was created was a lovely pair of Rioja style wines – with Tempranillo being the major component. Read the rest of this entry
These past two weeks have been what the Jews call the 9 days that are rather famous for the infamous events that have occurred in this specific span of time. Thankfully, once they were passed Herzog Cellars and Royal Wines put on an encore event of the IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival), this time in the Herzog Winery itself, to celebrate the winery’s 25th year in the industry! What an event and celebration it was! It brought back memories of the old IFWF events that were held in Oxnard, since the inaugural IFWF event in 2008.
Sure there were some 200 or so in attendance, but with the fully expanded setup, including an enclosure in the back that housed the French wine table, dessert table, and room to hunker down, it felt spacious and very comfortable.
In many ways, this event felt like an almost exact replay of the first International Food and Wine Festival. The crowd size was perfect, there was room for you to hunker down and taste wines and there was room for you to huddle up and talk with friends or people of like or dislike opinions.
Besides the layout and crowds, the food was absolutely fantastic, just like in previous events here. Once again, Todd Aarons and Gabe Garcia created wondrous delights that were so wrong in all the right ways! Of course, I came to the food area too late to partake of all of the goodies, but I still got to taste many fantastic culinary treats, including the absolutely stunning puffed chicken nuggets topped with incredibly tasty barbecue sauce.
Unfortunately, I came a bit late to this event because of what I came to call parking lot A and B (405 and 101 respectively). Whenever, I watch the Dodgers or the Angels, I can now understand why the crowds are so empty for the first three innings, because everyone is parked on one or more highways! My guess to why they all leave by the 7th inning is that after the folks get so aggravated waiting in the traffic, they get tired and want to go home. Quite clearly getting to and from any event in LA adds a few hours to the overall time and that is aggravating and tiring. However, like I, once the guests arrived they had to almost physically throw us out. The place did start to peter out in the last hour, but the place was still humming and drinking until the last second. Read the rest of this entry
As stated in the previous posting on this lovely event, there were many wines to taste and there was no way I could post all the wine notes in a single posting. Here is my follow-up posting on the wines tasted at the event, including the wines that I loved and did not love.
The wine notes are listed in the order that I tasted them:
2010 Domaine Netofa – White – Score: B++
The nose on this light gold colored wine shows clean and lovely nose of green apple, peach, grapefruit, kiwi, light quince, and rich/nice loamy dirt and mineral. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and balanced with nice minerality, along with nice bright fruit that mingles well in the mouth. The finish is long and spicy with nice quince, tart green apple, grapefruit, and green tea.
2010 Binyamina Chardonnay, Reserve, Unoaked – Score: B
This wine did not show nearly as well as its 2009 sibling, the wine was flat without much to grab your attention. The nose on this straw colored wine has apple, lemon, nice mineral, bright acid, and melon. The mouth is somewhat plush and the finish has citrus to round out the wine.
2010 Binyamina Chardonnay, Reserve – Score: B+
This wine did not show nearly as well as its 2009 sibling, though not as bad as its unoaked twin. The nose on this dark straw colored wine has light oak, brioche, lemon, nice spice, light creme, and honey. The mouth is round with spice, summer fruit, and oak influence.
2011 Tulip White Tulip – Score: B++
This wine is a blend of 70% Gewurztraminer and 30% Sauvignon Blanc with the sweet and floral notes of the Gewurztraminer showing nicely with honey and guava, while the green apple and bright lemon notes from the Sauvignon Blanc blend together in a unique manner. The nose on this straw colored wine hits you with mineral, light honey, bright lemon, green apple, and guava. The mouth is nice and honeyed with light petrol, and citrus. The finish is long with both sweet lemon creme and bright lemon at the same time, along with fig, and tart notes. This is a great wine that would go well with fish or sushi.
Kalamata Olive and White Bean Soup, Yellow Tail Sushi, Yarden Viognier, and some assorted Purim Wines
This past weekend we had a lovely and enjoyable double whammy! A Shabbos on Saturday and the Purim holiday on Sunday. The festivities started with a lovely bowl of Kalamata olive and white bean soup, followed by a bunch of Yellow tail, avocado, cucumber Sushi rolls. The funny thing about sushi rolls is that even if you eat a bunch of them, you end of being hungry. To meet that concern, we eat a bunch of fresh green salad topped with some Italian Vinaigrette. The fish did taste a bit metallic and that was unfortunate, almost to the point where I was not enjoying it that much. We bought the fish at 5 or so PM and ate it at 7:30 PM, so it was really not cool, that the fish was not perfect. Personally, the next time we make sushi rolls and go to the store to buy the fish, I will ask to taste the fish before I buy it. The soup was a killer hit again and one I really think it is a recipe that you MUST find and make a batch.
To pair with these dishes I chose a fun and vibrant white wine; the 2006 Yarden Viognier. It is a lovely wine that is showing more honey notes than earlier and clearly a wine that needs to be drunk up very soon. It is not actually showing age or faults; rather it is showing weaker fruit, more honey, oak, and butterscotch.
On Sunday Purim arrived and with it some chances to taste more wines that were quite nice and some that were OK. I did not take serious notes after a while, but at least some heads up are in order.
2008 Golan Heights Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Golan Kosher (Israel, Golan) – Score: B to B+
This is an OK wine but not one that really grabs you. The nose on this dark garnet colored wine has dark cherry, blackberry, vanilla, and oak. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is soft with integrated tannin, blackberry, and cherry. The mid palate is balanced with acid, soft tannin, and light hints of oak. The finish is long and spicy with more black fruit, vanilla, and some crushed herbs.
2006 Casa Da Corca Douro Reserva (Portugal, Douro) – Score B+
I drank this wine again recently and the notes are holding well. The nose on this dark ruby to garnet colored wine is screaming with coffee, smoky notes, black cherry, raspberry, blackberry, fig, crushed herbs, mint, and oak. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine turns full in the mouth after a bit of time, along with blackberry, plum, and dark cherry. The mid palate transition has a quick note of what I can only call a combination of green bean/fig/mint, along with acid, oak, nice tannin, and coffee. The finish is long and spicy with plum, nice oak, tannins that linger along with vanilla. This is a nice wine that should be bought once to open your mind to what the heat of Spain can bring you with its unique fruit and terroir.
N.V. Elvi Wines Adar Brut Cava (Spain) – Score: B+
The notes on this wine are consistent with my last tasting. The nose on this bubbly and effervescent light pink colored wine, is hopping with strawberry, lemon, and cherry. The mouth on this light to medium bodied wine is packed with small bubbles that are active and alive; they mingle well with the strawberry and cherry. The mid palate is alive with bracing acidity. The finish is medium long with core acidity, strawberry, bubbles, and a lemon burst at the very tail end. Drink UP!
2006 Yarden Viognier (Israel, Galilee, Golan Heights) – Score: B++
This wine has lost a step or two and is now on its way down. It does not taste like a lost puppy, but clearly one that is looking for its owner. The nose on this dark gold colored wine is filled with floral notes, along with petrol/gasoline flavors, toast, honey, butterscotch, melon, pear, peach, and oak. The mouth on this full bodied wine is oily in nature with almost glycerol viscosity, showing rich honey, melon, pear, and peach flavors. The mid palate is nicely balanced with acid, oak, and floral notes. The finish is long and tenacious with more floral characteristics, oak, a hint of butterscotch, and a heavy dose of honeyed mead like flavors and pear.
2006 Herzog Merlot, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley (Mevushal) – Score B++ to A-
The nose on this dark garnet to purple colored wine is packed with black fruit, blackberry, raspberry, currant, oak, cherry, chocolate, and tobacco. The mouth on this full bodied wine is soft, rich, and mouth coating from lovely integrated tannin, along with blackberry, currant, and cherry. The mid palate is balanced with acid, rich oak, lovely tannin, and tobacco. The finish is long and spicy with black fruit, raspberry, oak, and tobacco. Drink up.
I have a couple of these and will taste them again soon. For now, the wine tasted OK with clear and strong upfront black currant fruit along with cherry, crushed herbs, and raspberry. I hope to taste this again and give more data.