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Kosher Riesling Horizontal Tasting

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It was time to taste all the Rieslings that I had been gathering up for some time. The problem was that I had no time to do it, given all the events I was traveling to, along with some personal needs as well. So, I finally found a day that would work, a week ago Thursday night and we gathered to taste them all.

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.

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 during 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 2015. 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!

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The state of aged carignan wine from Israel and many others

2015 Don Ernesto Clarinet, 2012 Hagafen Cabernet Franc, 2012 Matar Petit Verdot, 2010 2012 Bro.Deux, 2005 Four Gates Syrah, 2012 Trio Carignan, 2012 Mia Luce Carignan, 2012 Recanati Carignan, 2007 Gush Etzion Blessed Valley, 2012 Shirah Whites

I have been offline for a month because of many reasons – the chief among them being that we were away for a trip through South Dakota and Montana. South Dakota was a bore, but Montana and Glacier National park are impressive, worth the insane drive.

Now on to wine, before I left we had a dinner with friends and I opened the remnants of what I had in the world of kosher Carignan (yeah there is a new one from Hajdu, I know). As of now, there really is just four main wineries in Israel making good to great Carignan. The list in order of ageability by far is Mia Luce, followed by Trio, then Recanati, and finally Jezreel Winery. Now before, you scream at me, yes, Recanati makes a lovely Carignan – but after three years it is date juice. Many of my friends love them, date and all, good for them! To me and the folks at the table that night – it was the least drunken wine of the night! The Mia Luce was slow to come around – but it was lovely. The Trio was epic from the start till the last drop. Yotam Sharon was the winemaker at Trio till 2013 and the wines he made during his short time there are indeed impressive.

The Jezreel Carignan is nice, but not in the same league as the first three – but once the Recanati turns to date juice, it is indeed better. We tasted the three Carignan from 2012 and yes – the Recanati is not fun any longer, neither was the 2011 Mia Luce (but that was a one vintage issue for Kobi). The saddest part of all of this to me is that Mia Luce is no longer making Carignan wines. The 2012 was the last available Carignan on the market. The 2013 was pre sold and by 2014 – he has gone to Syrah. Trio is now in another winemaker’s hand and it is not the same quality – maybe that will improve. The Recanati, as I have said turns too quickly – the 2009, 2010, the 11, and the 12 are all date juice. Great quality wines – structure wise, professional in nature, but still – they turn too quickly.

So, IMHO Carignan is in a perilous state if you like them aged. Otherwise, continue to enjoy the Recanati Carignan and drink it within two years – three at most. The 2014 Recanati Carignan is epic, sadly the 2015 (shmita) is not as good, and not one I would invest in.

YG reminded me correctly, that I had forgotten the 2013 Capcanes La Flor Del Flor Samso, which is 100% Carignan. It is not from Israel, and I was talking about Israel alone, but sure it is good to remind people that the capcanes is epic, and is a better option than the rest but it is also almost double the price, though the price on the Recanati Carignan has gone up a bunch as well, in the past few years – which is very sad. Also, there is the epic 2013 Elvi Clos Mesorah which is 50% Carignan. Also a top-tier wine. I have added the two scores below to be complete.

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A Shabbat with Yaacov Oryah, his new and old wines, and friends

Wines Enjoyed over the weekendThis 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 CastelMatarTura, 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

Yaacov Oryah Wines

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

California Wines and friends make for a great combination!

Well as you can tell from my previous post about this last shabbos, this past week or so was all about California wines in my household. Friends from New York came in for a visit, very much akin to the EY visit in 2012. They came in last week and it was all Cali all the time!

So, these are the wines I took out for the two evenings we were at the house. One of these was my last bottle and it is still showing well, the 2008 Shirah 1-2 punch – beautiful! The 2004 Hagafen melange was the most famous Kosher wine for some time, till the 2006 Yarden Rom was released. I never cared for the Rom, but the 2004 Melange was lovely! Elegant and refined. The rest are also doing well, thank goodness, no duds!

The wine notes follow below:

2004 Hagafen Prix Melange Reserve – Napa Valley – Score: A- to A
What can I say, this wine is mesmerizing, it is soft and intense at the same time with structure and finesse, with power and elegance. WOW! The nose on this wine is sick with layers of black and red fruit, what a crazy perfume of sweet notes, chocolate covered cherry, sweet dill, and sweet plum. The mouth on this full bodied wine hits you in layers of sweet concentrated fruit, plum, sweet cedar, chocolate, intense tannin, layers of fruit, and oak all working in perfect harmony with balancing acid and sheer perfection in a glass. The finish is long and sweet and perfectly balanced with chocolate, cinnamon, roasted herb, spice. Crazy! What a wine!!! Double Bravo!!!

2011 Shirah Coalition – Score: A-
The 2010 blend was dominated by the Touriga, while in this blend it plays more of a mop up roll, with the Zinfandel taking center stage. The zinfandel adds more insane spice that is the hallmark of the Coalition blend, but also adds more heft. The wine loses the blue fruit (from the lack of Syrah), but the white fruits show up from the small but still important role that the Touriga plays! The wine is more ripe and richer than the 2010, making for a fuller body and a more extracted madness.

This wine is a blend of 60% Zinfandel, 12% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Touriga Nacional. The wine is a unique blend, just like its older 2010 vintage. The nose explodes with crazy wine aromas – the kind of attack that only the Weiss brothers can bring you, heavy notes of blackberry, burnt raspberry, watermelon, and spice. The mouth on this crazy full bodied wine is ripe, concentrated, extracted, and layered with control and style, with mad acid, insane zinberry, black cherry, and cranberry, (no more showing any note of date) that almost creates a platform upon which the other fruits stand, ripe zesty raspberry, apricot, white peach, mounds of tannin, and sweet cedar. The finish is long and spicy with cloves, black pepper, insane mouth coating tannins that linger long, nice coffee, zesty strawberry, candied currant, fig, tobacco, and mineral. This is a wine that is ripe and full bodied, but balanced with crazy tart fruit, great acid, balance, and citrus fruit!! The last time I had this wine, I seemed to have sensed date, there is NONE of that here now. BRAVO GUYS!!!

2014 Covenant Mensch White – Score: B+ to A- (mevushal)
This is a mevushal wine that is closed and not fun to start, but with time shows nice tropical and stone fruit. This wine is 85% Roussanne and 15% Sauvignon Blanc. The nose is tropical with guava, citrus, wet grass, straw, hay, and nectarine, and citrus. The mouth on this lovely wine is ripping with good acid, pith, grapefruit, orange blossom, floral notes, with sweet oak, and mineral, with sweet herb, and spice. The finish is long with slate and spice and mad pith.

2012 Shirah Rosé – Score: A- (and more)
This wine is still killing it!!!! WOW!! What a rose! This wine is 100% rose of Grenache. The nose is bright and tart with crunchy roasted herb, forest floor, garrigue, red fruit, strawberry, black currant, and spice. The mouth is insane on this medium bodied wine, it starts with an attack of red currant, followed by blue fruit, tart blackcurrant, and crazy acid. The finish is long and attacking with mad acidic tart summer fruit, kiwi, candied strawberry, intense slate, mineral, and crazy tart zinberry that lingers forever, long after the wine is gone. The acid is so intense it is awesome and the fruit is ripe and expressive – BRAVO!!! This wine has not lost a step!

2008 Syraph One | Two Punch 50% Grenache & 50% Syrah – Score: A- (and more)
This was my last bottle, and it started off funky in the nose, but that blew off quickly and now the blue nose is perfume – AHH how I adore you! This wine is so unique in its nose and wine notes – that it is heresy to write them down! LOL! I am not sure if this will last for days like the previous bottle two years ago, but we will see.
The nose on this purple-black colored wine is truly unique and very hard to pin down. Where before the wine was not consistent in its style and notes, this wine is now showing consistent perfume and redolence that is not normal. The wine starts off with lovely sweet cherry, blueberry, juicy raspberry perfume, lovely floral notes, candied fruit, INSANE milk chocolate, and bramble. The mouth on this medium bodied wine forced me to write this acronym down for a second time in days – AYFKM (Are You Freaking Kidding Me)!! OMG and silence. The mouth is now not tart anymore, it is more round and ripe, and rich, crazy watermelon, with CRAZY ripping acid, mango, tropical fruit, followed by massive spice, ripe plum, coffee machine innards and grinds, sweet cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, other baker spices, and rich mouth coating tannin that linger long. The finish is long and luscious with sweet cedar, tobacco, crazy blue fruit that appears after sometime, and jam that lingers long. BRAVO!!

2011 Makom Carignan – Score: A-
This is a Hajdu wine – Makom is one of his labels, that he started in conjunction with Yitzchok Bernstein. The nose on the Carignan wine is rich with toast notes and bushels of red fruit, ripe fruit, hints of blue fruit, roasted herb, and nice baking spices. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine is screaming with lovely acid, ripe fruit, blackcurrant, cranberry, and sweet boysenberry, all wrapped up with lovely mouth coating tannin and sweet oak. This wine is not slowing down at all, the tannins are searing, the acid is pumping, and the wine structure continues to impress! The finish is long and tart with ripe blackberry, watermelon, and lovely layers of spice, white pepper, sweet vanilla, lingering tart red and black fruit, and sweet tannin – lovely!

2012 Shirah Bro.Deux – Score: A- (and then some)
This is a lovely wine and one that is a bit better than the epic NV (AKA 2010) Bro.Duex. The wine starts off with a nice mineral nose with black fruit. The wine shows a nice medium body with fleshy fruit and layers of green and red fruit and black berry and currant. With sweet cedar and spice. The finish is long and acidic with graphite and slate and crazy mouth coating tannin with nice sweet notes and spice, tobacco and chocolate. Over time, the nose opens to lovely ripe and fleshy strawberry, sweet spices, and blue notes. On the mouth the tannins come out and the fruit does as well, with blackberry, blackcurrant, concentrated fruit, lovely extraction and good fruit structure. The acid is true and good. Bravo!

Shirah Winery (AKA Weiss Brothers) – sensory overload in a kosher wine bottle

 

Benyo, the Weiss brothers, and graig at ADSAfter having a quiet set of days at my friend’s homes and at our house, without any guests, it was time to open the wine spigots and see what we could get going. It has been too long since we enjoyed some Shirah Wines – wines from the now famous Weiss Brothers. The winery is in Southern California, but the wines are now very easy to buy, as they are being sold in NY and Chicago, (distributed by River Wines – thanks Ami!!) The wines are also online at Kosherwine.com (where you can get some of the now sold-out 2010 Coalition), Gotham Wines, and SkyViewWine.com.

It almost seemed like Shirah Wine became famous after my original post about the Weiss brothers (all I did was give them their due and rightful respect – their wine did the rest!). They are two wine hell bent (in the right way) brothers who went out on a ledge, and almost went over it, to make great kosher wine and spirits! Throughout all the crazy tribulations they continued and believed in themselves, a truly rare and awesome trait – if I say so myself.  You have to have a very strong internal compass and self-belief to build a wine when all seems to be going against you. I really do have great respect for the two of them, but that does not bias my feelings about their wines – they just happen to make damn good wines!

The first time we tasted their wines, was indeed at the now famous Benyamin Cantz (Benyo of Four Gates Winery) and Rabbi Naftali Citron Shabbaton, where they shared with us the just bottled 1-2 punch and Syraph. Since then we re-tasted the 2008 Syraph again along with the 2009 Power to the People and it was truly a joy tasting them side by side the much heralded and hot Israeli Ortal Syrah from Yarden, which to me felt underwhelming in comparison!

The Weiss brothers, is not just a saying or moniker, they are actually brothers! They consist of Shimon Weiss (the hands and crazy good palate of the pair) and Gabriel Weiss (newly married with a family) is the winemaker. However, they really are the “brothers”, nothing gets done without the two of them. I recently visited the Agua Dolce Winery, where the Shirah Winery is currently stationed, on the way home from the 2013 IFWF, and Shimon was going to Israel in the next few days. To get ready for his departure, they had to get everything bottled and ready to go for the Passover sales. Why? Because the bottling line, labeling, and the entire complex minutia that goes into bottling a wine after the wine is made, was being handled by Shimon at that time. That included bottling the new 2011 Coalition and the new 2010 Single V. Thompson, Syrah/Mourvedre, both of which I tasted and blogged about at the 2013 Jewish Week City Winery tasting.

It all started in 2004 when Gabriel moved from the east coast to the other side of the country to work for Herzog Winery. He worked as a cellar rat (person who moves around wine, cleans out barrels and tanks, etc.) there for almost a year before the opportunity to make wine almost literally fell into his lap! The 2005 season was a bumper crop and in November, the vineyard, from where they sourced the grapes, still had grapes on the vines! The vineyard owner told Gabe to come on by and harvest all the Syrah grapes he wanted – free of charge! So, in 2005 Gabe made the first ever Shirah wine, a wine label that would go dormant for three years, but not forgotten! The wine was made with a bunch of friends in a garage! Now that is what I call Garagiste wine! Read the rest of this entry

2013 Jewish Week kosher wine tasting at the City Winery in New York City

City Winery PictureAs I stated in my previous post, my heart was in the Shabbos but my mind was on my trip that I was taking to New York. All the thinking did not help make the trip any less miserable. Once again I have proven to myself that flying to New York is hard enough, doing a stop in between is miserable and downright idiotic. Lets take a step back here and explain the situation. The Jewish Week holds a wine tasting every year, showing of the top kosher wines they thought made an impression to the wine judges. This past year, they tasted through some 400+ wines and came up with a long list of wines, many of which I like and some I did not like. Anyway, the tasting was this past Sunday, the 3rd of March, 2013, at 1 PM. To get there from the west coast, it would mean either sleeping in NY for Shabbos (not an option), or flying out Saturday Night.

I LOVE Jet Blue, but they canceled flying out Saturday night from San Jose airport, and now only fly out Saturday night from SFO – AHHH!!! So, the only other option was Delta, which I should never have done, because it meant a stopover in Atlanta. The idea was to fly out by 10:45 PM, have an hour in Atlanta and hop on the 9 AM flight to NY. That all sounded OK, no storms in the forecasts, no crazy storm trackers or watcher on the news – so it looked like I was in the clear! Not so fat, turns out that there may not be Godly reasons to not fly – but Delta is more than capable of creating man-made disasters – all by itself!

I arrived to the airport with an hour to go, and by the time we took off, I was in the airport for some 3 and a half hours! AHH!! Yep, you guessed it Delta screwed up and lost a tire on landing so the plane could not take us to Atlanta. By the time they fixed the plane, the man fixing it broke another part and we had to deplane and get on another plane – a gate over. By the time that plane was fueled and had everyone’s bags repacked – we were two+ hours behind. I slept like a baby on the plane, but by the time we arrived in Atlanta – I knew I was cooked. The connecting flight was 5 terminals over and the “plane train” could not get me there in time to save my bacon. So here comes the best part – I arrive at the gate and the plane was not departed, but the man would not let me on – no matter how much I screamed and begged. However, he gave me a printed ticket (I have not sen one of those in years) and told me to run to the next terminal where the Laguardia flight was boarding. I ran like a mad man, and in the interim broke my hand luggage! One thing after another – I know! Anyway, as I get to the gate the lady tells me that there is no such flight, I say what – the man told me there was a plane boarding now! She says – oh sure – that is one gate over, the dude gave me the incorrect gate number! Anyway, she walks me over and I start talking to the gate agent who tells me – once again – sorry the gate is closed and the plane is leaving. This is when the other gate woman turns into SuperWoman! She says – OH NO – this poor man has been through enough. She swipes her card, opens the gate door, walks me down the jetway – and bangs on the plane door! Seriously! She screams – open this door!

Now – let me please recap, I have a ticket – printed ticket, for JFK. I am trying to board a plane for which I have NO TICKET – none whatsoever! Actually I have a ticket for a totally different airport! Think of me as one of those lost souls dropped on a plane. That was me! Of course, I have no checked luggage – for two days, but still, this is COOL! The unflappable stewardess, behind a massive closed door replies; the door is closed. The gate attendant is equally unflappable, and she fires back (sorry bad use of verbage) open the door, you forgot this guy! Will you believe – the stewardess blinked and opened the door! Heck these folks were half way through the security demonstration! I was told grab any seat – we need to move. I grabbed the first window seat I could find, and promptly went back to sleep! WOW!! By the time I land in Laguardia, I had two hours to go and once I finished davening, I hopped in a taxi and found my way to the City Winery. Read the rest of this entry

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