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The good and the ugly state of kosher wine in South Africa and Chicago

Well, we are back home, thank God for that! I really enjoyed my time in South Africa (Cape Town, Johannesburg, and then Kruger), but while the Jews of South Africa are truly wonderful, the life there is less than so.

In case South Africa is a new thing to you, let me start with the simple fact that there are 54 or 55 countries in the African continent! South Africa may well be the most Southern of them, but it is just ONE country in Africa and only one country of many in what is called Southern Africa.

In the end, the trip was marred by things being stolen from our luggage and the overall sense of hope but desolation that seems to be a default in Johannesburg and in many of the shantytowns (AKA townships) that are scattered throughout South Africa.

The clear separation of the haves and have-nots was tough to see. Not because I am in ANY WAY blind to it here in our country, but more because it is as in your face as it is in places like India or China.

Though what made us happy was the reason we came to South Africa, to dance at the wedding of Josh And Chana, and it was a really lovely event indeed! I have written a few times now about Josh Rynderman, a good friend, and a wonderful up and coming, kosher winemaker.

Aside from the wine at the wedding (the 2017 Backsberg Chardonnay and the NV Backsberg Sparkling wine), I can honestly say that the wines of South Africa are not fit for print! Throw on to that the selection they do have of kosher wines, outside of what is made in South Africa and well yeah, there was no real option for Shabbat – total failure!

I walked into three different places and the wine selection was horrible in all of them. Mostly a combination of ancient and poorly stored undrinkable Israeli wines and some newer South African wines that are really not fun at all.

State of Jews in South Africa

Although the Jewish community peaked in the 1970s (at around 120,000[1]), about 70,000 mostly nominally Orthodox, remain in South Africa. A proportion is secular, or have converted to Christianity. Despite low intermarriage rates (around 7%),[1] approximately 1,800 Jews emigrate every year, mainly to IsraelAustraliaCanada and the United States. The Jewish community in South Africa is currently the largest in Africa, and, although shrinking due to emigration, it remains one of the most nominally Orthodox communities in the world, although there is a significantly growing Progressive community, especially in Cape Town. The current Orthodox Chief RabbiWarren Goldstein (2008), has been widely credited for initiating a “Bill of Responsibilities” which the government has incorporated in the national school curriculum. The Chief Rabbi has also pushed for community-run projects to combat crime in the country.

The community has become more observant and in Johannesburg, the largest center of Jewish life with 66,000 Jews, there is a high number and density of kosher restaurants and religious centers.

Having spent a Shabbat in Johannesburg, and many days in Cape Town, I can attest to the words taken from the history of Jews in South Africa – Wikipedia post. Read the rest of this entry

Passover Seder, Four Cups of wine, Matzoh, meatballs, Qinuoa, and kugel

This past week was Passover, which started on Monday night. We always enjoy Passover with a few of our friends, with each of us trading off for who hosts the Seder, this year we did the hosting and it was a lovely party! We opened some wines, some nice, some OK, and some close to being duds. In the end it was a true joy and was enjoyed by all who attended, at least that is what they told me 🙂 We started the Seder off with some nice wines, listed below, and then moved on to whole-wheat hand shmurah Matzoh! This was the first year that we were lucky to get our hands on whole-wheat hand shmurah matzoh. It is very easy to get whole-wheat, spelt, or other cool versions of the five grains matzoh. However, this is the first year that I could easily get our hands on whole-wheat hand shmurah matzoh. The matzoh was thin and lovely but a bit stale, so we had to reheat the matzoh for 10 or so minutes in the oven to revive them and get them nice and crispy.

After that we had some lovely herb encrusted Gefilte fish loaf along with eggplant, onion, and mushroom salad. For the main course we had some lovely meatballs, kugel, quinoa, and a fresh green salad.

Now before you call me a heretic, yes I eat Quinoa on Passover, as does the CRC and the Star-K, while the OU has backed away from this whole mess and let people decide for themselves. We have been eating Quinoa for sometime on Passover and though others have an issue, we feel fine about it, though it is best to contact your own local area Rabbi. The New York Times heard about the tumult and wrote an article all about it.

Kosher for Passover Meatball Recipe (modified from the Early Show recipe):
3 tablespoons of Olive oil
2 coarsely chopped Onions
8 ounces of tomato sauce
4 tablespoons of  Parsley
3 broken up square Matzohs
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 eggs

Tomato Sauce for Braising the meatballs:
2 tablespoons of Olive Oil
2 finely chopped Onions
1 28 oz can of Tomato Puree or Tomato Sauce
2 cups of red wine

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onions and sauté over a high flame stirring constantly until soft. Add the tomato sauce and parsley and continue to cook for three minutes. Remove the onions from the heat and set aside and cool. Once cool, add all of the ingredients to a large bowl and mix thoroughly by hand and roll the meatballs into golf ball sized meatballs.

Now we need to create the braising sauce. Chop the two onions and saute them in the olive oil. Once browned nicely throw in the tomato sauce and wait for the sauce to thicken by a quarter. Then add in the wine and mix thoroughly. Then add in the meatballs one at a time into the hot braising sauce and cook the meatballs for 20 to 30 minutes.

The funny thing about the Early Show recipe was that it had liver in it, which is not for me. Also, they were roasting the meatballs and that is a no-no for the first two nights, as one cannot eat any type of roasted meat for the first two nights of passover, as it may look like the Passover Sacrifice which we do not have today. Yes, meatballs do NOT look like a sacrifice! Still, the law is: any meat braised is fine, any meat roasted (cooked without a sauce) is NOT. You can eat roasted vegetables.

For the four cups (arba kosos) and beyond we enjoyed the wines listed here in the order they were served:

2004 Golan Heights Winery Pinot Noir Yarden Kosher – Score: B++ to A-
This wine is really hitting its stride and may well be time to drink up! The nose on this dark garnet colored wine opened with black fruit that lays deep within this wine’s veins, but hidden initially under a blanket of oak. This wine opens with sweet oak, blackberry, raspberry, plum, and classic Pinot cherries along with coffee, dirt, and a hint of herbaceous mint. The mouth on this full bodied wine was velvety and mouth coating. The tannins are now well integrated and not mouth puckering and give a richness to the wine. The mouth starts with blackberry, raspberry, plum, and cherry, and flows into a mid palate of more oak, coffee, dirt, and some middling acidity. The finish is long with rich fruit, oak, chocolate, vanilla, and a bit of chocolate that rounds out the wine. This is a nice wine that is showing well but is time to drink up!!!

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Purim 2010 Wines

This past Purim my friends and I enjoyed a wonderful meal at the synagogue, along with a few wines that I brought along, and a couple of wines that were brought by some other congregants.  Some of the wines I tasted have notes, while others have just feelings or memories, sorry, this was Purim after all.  My friends still give me a hard time for the one time that I actually took notes on Purim.  To me, tasting wine is about friends, memories, along with a bit of a job.  To others, especially on Purim, it is about friends, memories, and a bit of a buzz.

Anyway, the wine notes follow below in the order that they were tasted:

Tzuba Port Style Wine – Score: A-
This is a wine that I brought back from my last trip to Israel, one that I bought during my visit to the Tzuba Winery.  The nose on this dark garnet to black colored wine shows rich loamy dirt, bright oxidation, rich spicy oak, ripe fig, blackberry, and spice.  The mouth on this full-bodied and mouth filling wine, starts with a concentrated attack of spicy oak, rich sweet and ripe blackberry, and fig.  The wine is layered and concentrated with ripe fruit and spicy oak, yes I repeated that because it is so nice.  The mid palate is filled with nice acidity, integrated yet still gripping tannins, and spice that flows into a lush loam and oak forest.  The finish is crazy long with rich chocolate, oak, mounds of spice, rich and ripe black fruit, and a lingering palate of oak extraction, spice, and more black fruit.  A nice bottle that can handle just about any sweet desert you throw at it.

2004 Four Gates Rishona (375 ml) – Score: A-
Well, we tasted the larger format of this bottle last week and this week we opened the 375 ml size, which was the originally released format.  We still loved it and it is still drinking really well, though the color throws you and the flavor is a bit dingy, the rest of the wines notes are exactly as the previous tasting, and listed here.  The color on this brown tinged/dark ruby colored wine, was hopping with chicken cherry cola, coffee, mature oak, fig, and raspberry.  The mouth on this intense and full-bodied wine was layered with bright black cherry, coffee, and oak.  The mid palate was bracing with bright acidity and oak.  The finish was long and tantalizing with more cherry, oak, and coffee, layered under a canopy of mature flavors.  This is clearly a wine that needs to be consumed now, but to some, this was one of the winners, which was shocking given the list of wines we enjoyed.

2006 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve, Napa Valley – Score: B/B+
The wine was OK, but it had a huge hole in the middle with almost no acidity to be found.  It was OK, but uni-dimensional with almost no fruit and a bit of oak.  Not fun.

2006 Baron Herzog Cabernet/Zinfandel/Syrah Special Reserve – Score: B++
Yummy, fruity, acidic, rich, with black fruit showing well from the Cabernet, while standing tall with enough oak and tannins from the Syrah.  Nice and one that is probably at or close to its peak.

2006 Hagafen Merlot, Napa Valley – Score: A-
I remember loving it that night for its classic Hagafen soft yet layered mouth feel, along with rich and ripe black fruit and chocolate.

2007 Barkan Classic Petite Sirah – Score: B/B+
This is a nice and lively wine with rich blackberry and smoke on the nose and mouth, along with a firm and structured mouth feel that allows the wine to stand up to meat and rich sauces.  A nice and simple wine that is enjoyable by all.

2007 Backsberg Pinotage – Score: B++
The nose on this bright purple colored wine is packed with loamy dirt, mineral, rich black cherry, mulberry fruit, spice, vanilla, oak, and pepper.  The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and spicy though not complex in nature, along with mulberry, Kirsch cherry, and a hint of strawberry.  The mid palate is bracing and almost tart with code acidity, nice soft yielding tannins, spice, and dirt.  The finish is long with layers of smoke and spice, along with red fruit, and a nice dollop of vanilla.  A nice wine for the price, quality, and its mevushal status.

2006 Rashi Select Barbera d’Alba – Score: B/B+
The nose on this wine moved from being bright and red to rich and chocolate.  Not a bad wine, but one that did not live up to my hopes for it.  The tannins were nice and helped to highlight the soft mouth, bright acidity, and red fruit.  With air the fruit disappeared, the mouth was still bright but turning fast, and the finish was packed with chocolate and vanilla.  I guess it is an OK wine, but drink up fast, and not  a wine worth its cost.

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