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.
Couscous Au Poulet, Boulette, Makoud, 2007 Hagafen Lodi Roussanne, 2004 Four Gates Chardonnay, N.V. Four Gates Pinot Noir, 2006 Four Gates Cabernet Franc, 2005 Herzog Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Zinfandel/Syrah
Two weeks ago saw us huddled around our shabbos table enjoying some wonderful company, friends, family, food, and wine. This past Friday Night we had my family and friends over for a classical Tunisian Friday Night dinner – Couscous Au Poulet and Boulette. Many have had couscous, which is fine, but proper boulette(s) and fluffy couscous is what makes a couscous dish work. Boulette is French for balls, which in this context mean meat balls. But if you think Italian meatballs, again, you are missing the point. My family makes boulette by frying the meatballs, and then topping them with slices of potato, obviously they are thank god all very healthy! However, being that I care for my heart and arteries, and they work far better when not stuffed with cholesterol, I go with lean meat and braise them in a pan of tomato sauce and wine. The meat sauce is a hit on the table often, though not true to the Couscous heritage. But the main ingredient to meatball heaven (other than the meat), is the Quatre Epices! WAIT! If you are wondering what the heck is going on – yeah that is the last bit of French, I hope – 🙂 . Truly, there are few things that totally metamorphosize a dish like FRESH Four Spices! What an explosion of flavor that is tempered by the sweet flavor of cinnamon. There are those who use Four Spices that is based on Ginger – but that is not what we use! The Four Spices we use is based on: Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, and Black Pepper, though the black pepper is not in equal proportions as the other three spices, but that is fine with me.
2 pound of sliced onions
2 tbsp of olive oil
2 tbsp of sea salt
1 pound of finely diced onions
1 pound of finely diced zucchini
4 tbsp of Four Spices
3 pounds of meat
3 slices of thick bread soaked in rice milk
5 cans of 10oz tomato sauce (or 2 large cans of tomatoes)
Heat the wide and deep pan with olive oil, once the oil starts to shimmer, add the sliced onions and sprinkle them with salt (to help them release their water), and then sauté them until they brown nicely. In the mean time mix the rest of the ingredients (except for the tomato sauce) until the meat moves well in your hands but can keep its form. I find that the meat we order is rarely the same in terms of consistency. So at times it is really thick, while other times it moves far better. I can only guess it depends on how much fat, versus God knows what else, makes the meat more solid or more fluid. This time, we added rice milk to the mixture to make it more fluid, as after the mixture was made, it was far too thick. Roll the meat into balls that have a rough diameter of one and half inches to two inches. Once the onions are browned, add the tomato sauce to the pan, along with some basil, and pepper. Cook the sauce until it starts to reduce slightly. Then drop in the rolled meatballs and simmer them for 1 hour.
Bouillon Au Poulet (Chicken soup) Recipe:
1 chicken cut up
Cubed Sweet Potato
Tons of Garlic
This all depends on the size of your pot, and I always overdo the amount that I cook, which is fine with me, but too much leftovers, becomes a hassle! So, keep the amount to a single large pot with a double boiler to cook the Couscous. This part is important, the only way you will get the correct texture and flavor in your couscous, is to boil it over the Bouillon. First drop the chicken into the pot and start browning the meat. Next throw in the hard vegetables and let them get some of the chicken fat. Once some of the chicken fat is rendered, mix the vegetables around and then remove the chicken for a bit. Place the rest of the softer vegetables in, and then place the chicken and spices on top. We do this to allow you access to the chicken for later on, when it is removed for making the Makoud. Finally fill the pot till the top with water and you are good to go. Boil the soup for an hour or two. Be careful to not overcook the sweet potato or zucchini. I normally pull them after an hour (or a bit less), and let them cool. At that same time (about an hour in), I pull the chicken meat off and then return the carcass back to the soup to help it thicken the soup more. After the soup is fully cooked, we let the soup cool and throw it into the fridge for the next day. I find the soup tastes much better after a few hours of chill on it. Normally, I cook this Thursday night for Friday night dinner – the classic Tunisian meal for Friday Night. The next day I will reheat the soup, and at that time I drop on the double boiler, wet the holes so that the couscous sticks to the pot, and then I pour in two boxes of dry couscous. Now, on an aside, the folks who make couscous from scratch need to be praised, but I have no time to do that. There is a GREAT video on how to make couscous from scratch. I guess it is a touchy issue to the real Tunisian cooks, much like dry vs. fresh pasta is to a true Italian cook. Now, once the double boiler it hot and MAKE SURE that there is a GOOD INCH at least between the boiling liquid and the bottom of the double boiler. Remember, we want steamed couscous and NOT boiled couscous. Another very important tip is that once you have poured in either the fresh or dry couscous in the double boiler make sure to create three holes in the couscous layer. By doing this you will have three circles in the couscous layer and should be able to see the double boilers holes. By making these holes into the couscous layer, you allow the soup steam to rise from out of the bottom pot and circulate inside the upper boiler. Also, start the process by ladling a few ladles of broth from the bottom into the double boiler. This will allow the top layer of couscous to not get dry off the bat.
This dish has been described by Ashkenazim as Potato Kugel! AHAHHH! What a shanda! No way my friends, Makoud is NOT potato kugel. It is more of a chicken potato Soufflé. Like any good potato casserole, you MUST preheat the pan with the oil, so that the potatoes and mixture get crispy underneath and on top (from the oven heat). Further, do NOT overcook the makoud! In the beginning, I was like – what we do not need all of those eggs! Wow was I wrong. The eggs of course make it a soufflé instead of a kugel!
Potatoes (from the chicken soup) – just add more to the soup for the second hour
Chicken from the soup, pulled and cubed
2 eggs per pound of chicken
White or Black Pepper
Place the oil in the casserole dish and preheat for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. In the mean time mash the rest of the ingredients together, and place into preheated dish and then cook for 40 minutes or until crispy on top. This is simple as can be, the most difficult part is stripping down the chicken when it is still boiling hot!
That makes up the Couscous menu. There are two side dishes of sliced carrots (classic middle-eastern carrot salad) BUT without Cilantro (Cilantro is the work of the devil!), along with Marmouma (a pepper and tomato salad).
To pair with all of this lovely food, we chose a set of wines, as I wanted to taste a few of them and well, it was time to drink some of them already. So enjoy the recipes and the wine notes follow below (in the order they were drunk):
2007 Hagafen Lodi Roussanne (15% of Marsanne) – Score: B+
This was not a winner on the table, but I kind of liked it. It is deceptive in its nose and mouth. Initially, you think it is bone dry from the nose. Then you taste it and you think it is actually sweet, to only concentrate a bit more and realize that this wine is as dry as a Sancerre, but ripe with fresh fruit flavors, quite a ride. The nose on this golden straw colored wine is popping with kiwi, melon, lemon, and dry green grass. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is ripe with melon, kiwi, grapefruit, and lemon. The mid palate quickly flows from the mouth in an almost shocking manner. The fruit just ends and then there is an onslaught of bone dry green tea, flowers, and bright acidity. The finish is long with summer fruit, slight bitterness, and toasty flavors. The fruit attacks to start and is then annihilated by the bitterness and green flavors that come bright into the finish. I think the finish is what turned off the crowd. I can see this work with sweeter flavored foods, with something like maple glazed salmon, or veal. Interesting wine indeed that exhibits characteristics that are not commonly seen in the other kosher white wines. The closest that I have tasted recently, that compares to the Roussanne is this Chilean Chardonnay. It may not as good as the Roussanne; but has many commonalities, the most striking one is its green dryness.
2004 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A
Well, after tasting that bone dry wine, any Kosher California Chardonnay will taste sweet! Still, the 2004 vintage has a bit more residual vintage than do the 2005 or 2007 vintages. This wine has not really changed much since our last tasting. The oak is ever present, and the sweet tooth is receding, which gives rise to the acidity and the fresh fruit flavors that still abound. Thank goodness I have a few more leftover. I want to taste these soon side by side my 2005 and 2007 vintages that will be a real kick!
N.V. Four Gates Pinot Noir – Score: A-
This wine is still holding to our previous tastings, with the tannins receding further, which is allowing the dark cherry fruit to come through, while showing a bit more wood as well.
2006 Four Gates Cabernet Franc – Score: A-
What a treat, we have recently had this wine a few times, and the latest tasting is still true (which after a few weeks is almost obvious with this winery). Of course we are not complaining. Many thanks to Benyamin for bringing this wine to the dinner.
2005 Herzog Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Zinfandel/Syrah – Score: B – B+
What can I say; this is normally a wine that we love! This vintage or bottle was not a winner. Almost no one took more than a drop. The wine was overly Zinny — tasting of rose and blackberry intertwined. It may sound cool, but not great. The wine was left open in the fridge for a couple of days and the Zin flavors (31%) finally gave way to the dominantly measured Cabernet (66%) and Syrah (3%). At that point the American Oak and full body of the Cabernet were tempered by time and vanilla. Still, the wine was way off balance and overall off putting. I would recommend decanting this for a few hours in advance to give a chance for all the flavors to come out and play.