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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

My top 25 kosher wines of 2014

Well, 2014 has come and gone and my top wines of the past year were too many to limit to 10. Now these wines comprise a list of wines I enjoyed over the year. Some were released in 2014 and many were released a long time ago. Either way these are wines that made an impression upon me and that is the only characteristic that I used to define this list.

Some of these wines may not score a solid A, but they deserve to be here because of their trail blazing characteristics Take for instance – the 2012 Recanati Marselan. It is the only kosher Marselan and it is very good. The 2013 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, one of the best whites to come out of Israel along with the 2012 Tzora Shoresh White, a wine that I believe is better than the 2013 Shoresh white, were both on my list last year, so they are not on it this year. The 2013 Tzora Shoresh is on this year’s list and if you have not gotten any – you are making a huge mistake. I had both in 2014, and even though I liked the 2012 a bit more, the 2013 is an epic white wine, in its own right. The best rose, hands down, was the 2013 Hajdu Pinot Gris rose. It is tied for best ever kosher rose with the 2012 Shirah rose, but that was already enjoyed in 2013. The next white wine was the epic 2013 Dalton Viognier, a wine that is worthy, once again, of the Dalton reserve label. It beats the 2012 hands down, and reclaims the title as the best kosher Viognier that is available in the US or Israel. There may be a French Viognier that is available there, but I do not know of them. The final non red wine was the 1996 Four Gates Chardonnay, which while never released officially, it was an awesome wine indeed! I tasted while tasting an entire vertical of all of Benyamin’s Chardonnay wines and this was the best of the bunch. Many others were solid A- and maybe a bit more wines, but the 1996 was a A- to A wine that was truly epic.

The rest of the wines are red, and there are many special wines there including the fantastic 2012 Recanati wild Carignan and Syrah/Viognier wines. BRAVO! There were many more French wines, but they will have to fall till next year, when I get a chance to sit down and enjoy them over a long meal. The 2012 Chateau Giscours, the 2012 Pavillon de Leoville Poyferré, and the 2012 Roches de Yon Figeac are lovely wines and may well get on the list next year. In the end, California, France, and Spain continue to be my sweet spot. There are a few exceptional wines from Israel, like the epic and insane 2000 Yarden Katzrin and others. Along with current releases from Tzora Winery, Recanati Winery, and Yatir Winery. In the end, Israel will improve by having 2009, 2010, and 2011 in their rear view mirror, all the while enjoying the new 2012, 2013, and from what I hear 2014 vintages.

The wine notes follow below:

Wines of Spain

2012 Capcanes Peraj Habib (Crazy QPR) – Score: A- to A
Before I talk about this epic wine, I must sadly say that one of the wines that was on my list last year – the 2012 Capcanes Carignan – never made it into its own bottle. Sadly, it was not deemed worthy of a leading role. Thankfully, it found its place here, in this fantastic 2012 Peraj Habib! The wine blend for 2012 is not far off from 2011, consisting of 40% Grenache, 30% Carignan, and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from very old vines.

The nose on this dark and impenetrable purple colored wine is redolent with roasted animal, intense black fruit, and mounds of dirt and mineral. The mouth on this full bodied wine hits you with an intensely inky structure, filled with layers of of rich concentrated fruit, ripe freshly squeezed black berries, cassis, plum, along with tart fruit, spice, and mouth coating tannins that may well make some people think that this is the best Capcanes Peraj Habib ever made. The finish is long and purely mineral based to start, like sucking on a salt and graphite stick, as it recedes, you sense the incredible balancing acid, which is then immediately replaced with richly roasted coffee, sweet and herbal spices, more black fruit, a sense of animal fats, leather, hints of tobacco, and finally followed by bitter notes on the long finish. BRAVO!!!! Read the rest of this entry

More kosher Rhone varietals over Shavuot and afterwards

Over the Holiday of Shavuot, and weeks that followed, I have been continuing my love for all things Rhone, meaning Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and things like Petite Sirah and others. Over Shavuot we had one half of the Weiss Brothers with us, and it was a great time to break out my last bottle 2007 Brobdingnagian Grenache! We had a few other bottles as well, of course, but that was the winner of the night for sure.

Many of the wines we have had over the past few weeks are still available now, while some are those MUST keep wines that I hope you all start to build from great 2009/2010/2012 wines (yeah 2011 was a tough one).

Over Shavuot we served rib eye and some brisket, and it went so well with the sweet Syrah and bold wines that we enjoyed. I hope you all enjoyed the Shavuot time with wine, learning, and friends!

Over the following weeks after that we opened Summer wines, many were rose and white, which I will post separately, and many were perfect BBQ wines, like the 2011 Chabad Cuvee Zinfandel. Along with the 2011 Netofa Red made of 60% Syrah and 40% Mourvedre. We truly enjoyed the 2012 Landsman Syrah, which is good news, as some of the other Landsman have been OK but not as good as this one.

We also enjoyed a few lovely Israeli blend wines, with a mixture of Cabernet, Syrah, and other varietals. Like the 2009 Kitron Reserve LIKA, a wine named after one of his children. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot. The Tzora Shoresh was awesome, and the 2011 Trio was nice, but not great. I hear the 2012 Trio Grenache, a wine only available in Israel, is really impressive, look for that when in Israel next time.

Finally, the 2012 Capcanes Peraj Petita continues to blow me away, and the mevushal version of it is also very good and is actually more accessible now than the non mevushal version, which feels too tight still.

The wine notes follow below:

2007 Brobdingnagian Grenache, Santa Barbara County – Score: A
The name comes from the colossal, gigantic, extremely tall, and giant creatures discovered by Gulliver in his travels on the Northwest coast of California and is used today (although not by anyone I know) to describe anything of colossal size. That said, the wine does in many ways follow the moniker. The wine has a 16.3% alcohol, is massive in the mouth, and in the bottle! The bottle (empty) is one of the heaviest I have ever seen, quite extreme. The name of the winery, though unpronounceable by me, is one you already know by association. The wine is made by Jonathan Hajdu, the associate wine maker for Covenant Wines, owned and operated by Jeff Morgan.

The last time we opened this wine, the wine was inaccessible for many hours. However, this time the wine was immediately accessible with concentrated dried red fruit, raspberry, toast, smokey aromas, roasted animal, sweet cedar, insane and mad milk chocolate, and spice. The mouth on this browning colored wine is super concentrated, almost laser focused, and layered with dried strawberry, cranberry, raspberry, blueberry, root beer, and plum. The attack is what makes this wine; it is clean lined with heft and power, yet focused on delivering not a single but many blows of dried fruit and oak. The mid palate flows from the mouth with acidity to balance the beast, along with still searing tannins, cedar oak, and tobacco. The finish is super long and concentrated with more mouth coating tannin, sweet herb, licorice, white pepper, cloves, lovely acidity, sweet watermelon, and more spice – BRAVO!!!!

This wine has a year or so left – but I would start drinking them now for another year – drink UP mode.

Read the rest of this entry

Hajdu Winery (AKA Brobdingnagian Winery) continues to prove he has more than just a cool name

1978828_10153902224780507_1359934116_nIf you follow my blog at all, you will find references to Brobdignagian, Brobdingnagian, and Hajdu all over – go ahead and search! Anyway, with the number of times that I have been writing about Hajdu, and Covenant (where he is associate winemaker), I realized it was due time to talk about one of California’s best and still hidden kosher wineries.

I met Jonathan quite a few years back, but even before that I “met” him through the Weiss Brothers (AKA Shirah Winery) and Benyamin (Four Gates Winery). Hajdu is one of those consummate winemakers that has continuously, through the years, shown his mettle and amazing palate. However, before we get ahead of ourselves we need to step back and weave in the background story of Hajdu. Hajdu fell into the world of wine when he was studying archeology at University at Albany-SUNY in NY. It was there, when bored with studies of things buried deep in the ground, dating back thousands of years ago, that he found the wonderful elixir called wine in local area wine bars. This was in the late 1990s, and I find it amazing that wine bars existed in a college town so many years ago!

Well soon after school, Hajdu went to study in Yeshiva in Israel, and it was there that he met a woman, and followed her to Melbourne Australia, which turned out to be a great place to study viticulture at the Swinburne University, and to work on a few vineyards in the Yarra Valley. Things did not work out on the dating front, so Hajdu returned to New York, and one thing led to another and a friend told him about a job at Copain Custom Crush Llc in 2003. It was a great job for so many reasons, the main one being that there Hajdu honed his winemaking skills, till now he was a viticulturist, and he learned the skill of working on many small lots and crushes inside a very large wine facility, something that would come in very handy in the coming years at Covenant, but again we are getting ahead of the story.

In late 2003 Herzog was in need of more skilled hands, so Hajdu signed on – and it was at this point that one has to see the hand of God here. First of all, it was here that the Shirah/Weiss boys would eventually meet up with Hajdu, along with Jack Levin, who was part of the initial Shirah creations. This group (Levin was not yet there in 2005) was the group that created the first Shirah wine – 2005 Shirah Syrah with fruit from Alamo Creek. For the next two years they worked together at Herzog and it was that time, in my opinion, that the desire and yearn to build great wines from both Shirah and Hajdu was created.

While, Hajdu was at Herzog winery another very important coincidence occurred, it was there that Hajdu met Jeff Morgan, co-owner and winemaker of Covenant Winery. At that time, Covenant was making their 2003 through 2006 vintages in Herzog’s winery in Santa Maria, CA where the winery existed before it moved to Oxnard. It was then that Hajdu worked with Jeff on the 2003, 2004 vintages of Covenant wines in Santa Maria (where Herzog was before Oxnard) and then 2005 in Oxnard as well.

In 2006 Hajdu had a yearning to return to Israel, so he picked up and went to work in Carmel winery after talking with Sam Saroka, then the head winemaker at Carmel Winery, Saroka is now the head winemaker of Mony Winery. After a year in Israel, Hajdu returned without any real plans but in search of more than just a wine job but also a person who would eventually become his wife. However, when he first arrived in NY, he tried to line things up, but one thing did not lead to another and plans kept falling through, which was for the best in so many ways! It was in NY, late 2007 that he met his to-be wife and where he re-caught the bug and passion to create his own wines – under the Brobdingnagian label. Read the rest of this entry

Blind tasting of all 2009 kosher California Syrah

2009 Shirah Syrah, McGinley VineyardsThis past weekend friends from the kosher wine forum were coming over for the Sabbath and it was time to do my long-awaited blind tasting of the only 6 wines from California’s 2009 Syrah vintage (there may be another out there but it is not yet available). I wanted it to be blind, as all our favorites were in this one and I wanted all the table to vote without any prejudices.

Another friend from the shul brought two wines from Italy of which his brother is the kosher supervisor. We had the first one for kiddush and the second one later on, more on those in a minute. Finally, we my last  – which was awesome!

For the fun we threw in another non- Cali Syrah (really an SMV) from Dalton – pre Shabbos meals, which was lovely – but not up to the caliber of the top wines we had later that evening.

Food wise, same old same old – which is great to me! We started the meal with some lovely Herb encrusted gefilte fish and then moved on to some sausage stew. For dessert, ER or HK made a crazy good blueberry topped crisp – which was served alongside some non-dairy vanilla ice cream.  All in all a great meal, made better by the friends that were there – and of course by the lovely wines we had to enjoy with them all.

To start the evening we enjoyed a nice bottle of Dalton Alma, a lovely wine though not as complex as the rest of the big wines we had that night. Blue and lovely – a very nice wine. Read the rest of this entry

Smoked Salmon, Bison Vegetable Stew, Spinach Kugel, Roasted Vegetables, Quinoa, and some great wines

On June 18, 2010 it was finally party time again, but in a more calm and controlled manner.  My nephew and his friend were back from their trips, so it was time to get party!  I invited Benyo, and he brought along his friend who I have heard of many times, from Benyo and his sister.  So it was the six of us, and we had a ball.  We made a classic vegetable stew with bison meat, my wife made a lovely spinach kugel (parve soufflé), and we once again bought some awesome roasted vegetables.  The farmer’s market was almost closing so we had to motor through it, and only found some fennel, yellow & red beets, and squash.  We cubed the vegetables and roasted them in the oven after covering them with garlic and olive oil.

Benyo brought some bottles over and I opened a couple of mine.  We started with Benyo’s yet to be released wine, so sorry no notes.  We followed that with another bottle of the 1996 Sulfite Free Chardonnay.  This bottle was not as good, but it was still nice.  It was a bit musty to start, but over time the musty smell dissipated, and it came close to the home run we had at Benyo’s house.

We then opened a bottle 2003 Carmel Kayumi Cabernet Sauvignon.  I must say, it may still not be at its peak.  That said, the bottle we had was wonderful and will last at least another year.  However, given that I have had too many of my wines that were past their time, I am more than happy to consume the wine a bit early.

We finished the meal with a bottle of Brobdignagian Wines Grenache, from Santa Barbara California.  This is a wine made by Jonathan Hajdu, who is the associate winemaker at Covenant Wines.  This is not a Covenant wine, but rather a wine made by Jonathan on the side; he is still the associate wine maker at Covenant, and doing a great job of it.

The wine notes speak for themselves.  We also “opened” a bottle of wine for Saturday day.  The real story was that I put the bottle in the freezer to cool down, and I forgot about it!  AHHH!!  Well, the cork popped, so I was “forced” to try it out, and it was pretty nice.

The wine notes follow below:
2007 Brobdignagian Wines Grenache Santa Barbara County – Score: A- to A
The name comes from the colossal, gigantic, extremely tall, and giant creatures discovered by Gulliver in his travels on the Northwest coast of California and is used today (although not by anyone I know) to describe anything of colossal size. That said, the wine does in many ways follow the moniker. The wine has a 16.3% alcohol, is massive in the mouth, and in the bottle! The bottle (empty) is one of the heaviest I have ever seen, quite extreme. The name of the winery, though unpronounceable by me, is one you already know by association. The wine is made by Jonathan Hajdu, the associate wine maker for Covenant Wines, owned and operated by Jeff Morgan. Jonathan also makes a Syrah, which I hope to get to taste soon.

The nose on this massive wine is almost unapproachable out of the bottle. It is closed, with just hints of what is to come. After 30 minutes of sitting in the glass, the wine’s nose pulls the wool out from under its eyes and exposes a world of joy, starting with expressive oak, cedar, tobacco, concentrated dried red fruit, raspberry, and spice. The mouth on this currant colored wine is super concentrated, almost laser focused, and layered with dried cranberry, raspberry, and plum. The attack is what makes this wine; it is clean lined with heft and power, yet focused on delivering not a single but many blows of dried fruit and oak. The mid palate flows from the mouth with acidity to balance the beast, along with nice tannins, cedar oak, and tobacco. The finish is super long and concentrated with more oak, red dried fruit, tobacco, and spice. This is quite a wine and one that should be enjoyed first from the glass, and then with food.

2003 Carmel Cabernet Sauvignon Kayoumi (Israel) – Score: A- to A
The nose on this expressive yet refined royal blue to purple colored wine is exploding with heaps of tobacco leaf, rich ripe black plum, blackberry, crushed herbs, smoked meat, and spicy oak. The mouth on this big and refined wine is layered, complex, and somewhat concentrated all at the same time. The mouth is coating and full with mostly integrated tannins that give the mouth a soft and refined feel while still having heft. Black plum and blackberry are all buoyed by core acidity and spicy oak that borders on cedar, black plum, spice, tobacco, smoked meats, and soft caressing tannins. The mid palate flows balanced and full from the mouth with more core acidity, cedar oak, and tobacco. The finish is super long, luscious, and fantastic, with black plum and blackberry fruit, along with oak, spice, tobacco, and smoked meats that linger long after the wine is gone.

2009 Backsberg Estate Chardonnay (Paarl) – Score: B++
I threw this bottle into the freezer by accident, so I was stuck drinking this one during the week. The nose on this light straw colored wine explodes with ripe melon, kiwi, tart green apple, crème, and orange peel. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is tart up front with green apple and ripe melon, kiwi, and pear coming along for the ride. The mid palate is packed with bracing acidity and spicy notes. The finish is long with spice, orange peel, and ripe summer fruit that linger. A nice quaffing wine for sure, but also one that will stand up to light dishes, white meat, and soft cheese.

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