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A wine tasting of some great and sadly poor to uninspired 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 kosher French wines with Nathan Grandjean

When I last left off on the story of my trip to France, I had just ended an epic tasting of the new 2017 wines from Royal Wines. I then jumped on a train, and I was once again joined by Avi Davidowitz from the Kosher Wine Unfiltered blog, and we made our way to Strasbourg for a tasting of Alsace wines and other wines that are not made by Royal. It included some new 2016, 2017, and 2018 wines, but once again it mostly involved French wines from the 2014 and 2015 vintage.

2018 French wines to the rescue

Now, I need to get on my soapbox for two major topics, the first is how AWESOME the 2018 vintage is showing right now. At this tasting and again with Yoni Taieb of Taieb Wines, the 2018 vintage shows itself incredibly well wit the simple entry-level wines of Bordeaux. It takes them from tinny and boring wines to rich and well-balanced wines, that sell for 8 euros or less! This is something that we will never get in the USA! Sadly, the only wine that comes close to this is the 2018 Chateau Les Riganes, Bordeaux and maybe the 2018 Chateau Genlaire, Bordeaux Superieur, but I think this wine will be above the 10 dollar price of the Chateau Les Riganes.

On the trip to France, two things came up often, when I was speaking French with the natives, something I was not able to do as much with Avi around, as Avi still needs to learn French! One, and this really shocked me, was how common French folk think California is dangerous when I would tell them where I am from, because of all the media of the horrific shootings we have had in our state. Besides that, the Jews I spoke to, especially the ones who drink kosher wine, complain bitterly about the cost of French wines! The more I look at this issue the more it makes me wonder, why are the wines so expensive? Yes, there is a cost for kosher supervision, but that cost does not explain the double or triple pricing of the non-kosher cost. That question is even more exaggerated in France, where there is no three-legged-stool in regards to wine distribution. Yes, France has Negociants, but for the lower level wines that is a practice that is going the way of the dodo bird.

The truth is that what is needed are reasonably priced wines. Avi Davidowitz, on his Kosher Wine Unfiltered blog scores wines partially based upon price. I do not agree for many reasons, which we discussed over our trip, but it does NOT diminish the overarching issue which is 100% true, kosher wine prices have gotten 100% OUT OF CONTROL. Sorry, this is insane and before someone tells me it is the Chateau’s fault for having such high En Primeur pricing, the kosher wine prices are shockingly higher. This really needs to be rebooted, IMHO, but sadly, it will stay the same until we get into a serious crunch or glut, whichever occurs first. Yes, we are blessed with some QPR wines, and I always post about them, but overall, the grand cru wines are getting out of control.

That is why I am so happy with the 2018 simple wines from Bordeaux. Sadly they will not come to the USA under those prices, but for those in France, there are serious options.

2015 and 2016 Magrez wines are a total failure, IMHO

Last year, I wrote that this post was coming, but I had to taste the 2015 and 2016 Pape Clement first before I could make my feelings clear. At this point, I have tasted the 2015 Magrez reds 5 times and the 2016 whites 2 times. I am 100% comfortable with saying they have all taken a seriously far step backward from the epic 2014 vintage. The 2014 Magrez were world-class wines and wines I have bought happily. However, I can not say the same for any of the 2015 or 2016 kosher Magrez wines I have tasted to date. I was very disappointed when I tasted the kosher 2015 Pape Clement, and I was shocked by the results of the 2015 Tour Carnet, Fombrouge, and others. The 2016 Pape Clement is better than the 2015 vintage, but it is not worth the bottle it is in. The whites have all also lost a few serious steps from the 2014 vintage. Personally, I will not be buying any of the 2015 or 2016 Magrez wines I tasted, other than the Pape Clement wines I tasted that I bought En Primeur.

Now, with that aside, I can clearly state that the wines are not undrinkable, they are not date juice, they are not unprofessionally made, they are simply boring, lackluster, and flat, with little to grab your attention. They are simply not wines worthy of the price or their names, sadly, they are what they are.

I miss Weingut Von Hovel and the Gefen-Hashalom wines

Two years ago Nathan Grandjean and I made a run for Von Hovel, and I wanted to do that again year after year, and maybe even Nik Weis. Sadly, they told me there were no new wines for 2017 or 2018, and now I just heard there was none made in 2019 either. I am really so sad, those wineries have so much potential, but I guess Gefen Hashalom (“Vine of Peace”) felt they had too much inventory already. I am really not sure what they have that is not sold? All the Nik Weis wines are sold, from what I know, Gary got the rest of the 2016 wines. Von Hovel did not make any wines after the 2015 vintage, and they have nothing left either. I really hope they make wines in 2020.

Wine Tasting at Nathan Grandjean

After last year’s solid tasting with Nathan Grandjean, I had tasted all of the 2015 French wines that I know of. The 2016/2017/2018 wines are slowly being released, from producers other than Royal. Kosher Wine International, the producers for all the Magrez wines, has now fully released the 2015 wines. Two days after this tasting we would be tasting Taieb wines, but we wanted to taste the 2017 Domaine Lescure Pommard, so that was on the list.

After last year’s tasting of a few Magrez 2015 wines and my other tastings of them at two wine events, I wanted the chance to taste them YET AGAIN, with both of the Pape Clement and the new 2016 Clos Haut-Peyraguey, Sauternes. So, I had Nathan get all the 2015 and 2016 Magrez wines that are available and we tasted them over two days. Thankfully, we also had a couple of wonderful wines and some duds.

Finally, we tasted all of Nathan Grandjean’s Les Vins de Vienne wines from both the 2017 vintage and the 2018 whites. He had some tank samples of the 2018 reds, but honestly, they were not ready for me to write proper notes on. Read the rest of this entry

Riesling – is finally getting its due in the kosher market

If you have read my blog before, you know I love all things Pinot, Cabernet Franc, and Riesling. Yeah, the less loved grapes. Pinot is too loved in too many ways in the Non-Kosher market, and that sideways buzz is not dying down.

So let me start with why Riesling and what is Riesling? First, this grape has many names, White Riesling, Riesling, Johannisberg Riesling, and others are real names of the Noble grape, while Emerald Riesling or Welsch Riesling – not so much!

Riesling Grape

Riesling is old, like ancient, it is documented to exist in Mosel dating back to the early 1400s! It is one of the Noble Six grapes that define wine history, but that is all marketing hooey IMHO. In terms of kosher wines, this variety did not really become special until recently, with Hagafen and Carmel doing wonderful jobs with the grape.

Riesling wines can be made in so many ways. The most common are sweet wines, like the impressive Hagafen Rieslings, that Ernie Weir makes every year, or the less impressive Giersberger Riesling, or the even less impressive Gilgal Riesling. These wines all have some amount of RS (Residual Sugar), whether they are called off-dry, semi-sweet, or sweet, they all need a very important component to make them work – ACID! They desperately need acid to balance the sweet notes. Hagafen is the only off-dry Riesling I have ever liked, that I remember anyway, though the German wines are off-dry, but, they are on a different level.

It is sad, but while Jews do not seem to enjoy white wines, they do drink sweeter wines, and if there was a bit more acid to balance it out, I think they would show better. That said, I brought this subject up to many a winemaker, and the response was all the same. People like it simpler to drink, so spiking the wine with acid would not sell as well, IE, customers like sweet alcoholic water. Acid tends to discourage gulping or whatever to these people do. Truly sad.

I am finding that Riesling is quickly becoming my favorite white wines. The dry wines from Hagafen, Nik, and Carmel bring a smile to my face. They are rich, layered, oily and balanced, with good acid that makes them enjoyable for almost any part of the meal. That is what makes acid work so well. Food dishes, wine, even dessert, all need some amount of acid to balance out the palate.

There are many other white wines out there for sure, look at my list of whites from last year. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling are all noble grapes, and they are all lovely when done correctly. Still, Riesling has something going for it, that none of the other white varietals have, funk!

When the wine is done correctly, and then aged for even a year, the wine starts to display notes of petrol and oil. Some may find that offensive, but to me, it is yet another aspect of how I love mineral based wines. The great thing is that these wines come from all around the world! You can find kosher Riesling from California, France, Germany, and Israel!

Riesling wines in the Kosher market

France has been making kosher Riesling since the 1960s, with Koenig and later with others. They are made in the region of France called Alsace, which is a five-hour drive east of Paris, on the Eastern Border of France, where it abuts up to Germany. Alsace has been making Riesling for almost as long as Germany, with documented proof of Riesling wine starting in 1477, when it was spelled Rissling.

Sadly, until 2008 or so, we only had sweet Rieslings here in the USA and Israel. Starting in 2008, Willm Riesling was brought to the USA, and it was an instant hit. It lasted a good many years, but then it died. It showed bracing acidity, awesome mineral, and good fruit. Still, that never reached the level of the 2014 Nik Weis wine or even the 2014 Hagafen Riesling, both of which we tasted this past week again, and both are as close to a 95 score without getting it.

In 2010 Carmel’s Kayoumi Riesling was pretty close to bone dry, and that really started the dry Riesling train going. We hit the next plateau with the 2012 Hagafen Riesling dry, it was their first dry Riesling and it was sensational. Then we hit the next plateau with the release of the 2014 Nik Weis Riesling. There was the 2015 Riesling, which is not bone dry like the 2014 vintage, more like the 2% Hagafen Rieslings with well-integrated acid, it was OK, but it needs lots of time to better integrate. Finally, there was the epic Von Hovel Rieslings, which are on the top of the mountain, in regards to the best kosher Rieslings made so far, even if they are slightly off-dry! Read the rest of this entry

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