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A Horizontal of 2013 Pinot Noirs and other top Pinot Noir to buy now

A few weeks ago, Benaymin Cantz from Four Gates Winery and friends came over for a Friday night dinner, and I thought it was a good time to open my 2013 Pinot Noirs that I have been saving. I must say, in hindsight, I should have done it earlier, as some of the wines were already past their time or DOA.

My love for all things Pinot is well known, and I had such high hopes. Overall, the night was fine, it was just not at the level I had hoped for. Thankfully, Benyo brought two extra wines, and they made the night super special! They were, a 1997 Four Gates Pinot Noir and a 2005 Four gates Merlot. M.S.C.

It is funny how the media can change people’s perspectives, and in some cases twist it in a way that we would not expect.  Say Pinot Noir and most wine drinkers will think of the enigmatic anti-hero Miles Raymond, and his explanation on his love for Pinot Noir; “…It’s, uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know?…“.  Pinot is a complicated grape – but not to its own detriment.  Listen to Miles throughout Sideways and you may come to think that Pinot is fleeting, flinty, thin, and complicated. In the end, as you watch that horrible movie, you quickly realize that Miles was simply projecting in a fire fueled rambling and using Pinot Noir as his conduit.

To the French, Pinot Noir is called Burgundy – following the tradition of French wineries to name their wines after the region where the grapes are grown. Americans have had success with Pinot – in California, Oregon, and Washington State. New Zealand, has really taken the lead in bringing the grape into the 21st century. The French Burgundy has its terroir (earthy dirt flavors, sometimes barnyard flavors as well). The New Zealand and American Pinots show characteristics that are more akin to Syrah then Burgundy – fruit forward, meaty wines with soft caressing tannins. The rest of the world is choosing sides. Though true terroir flavors are hard to replicate outside of Burgundy, many countries have been successful at bringing out the true fruit characteristics that the land is willing to share and are creating wonderful Pinot Noirs. Israel was starting to come into its own with Pinot Noir, now all I would buy from Israel, in regards to Pinot would be from Gvaot. Even if the 2013 Pinot was DOA, I have had good success with Gvaot Pinot Noir. Right now, the best bet is France and the USA, with a drop from Israel, and after that, we are on empty.

Sadly, Pinot Noir to me is one of those wines that is so badly mangled in the kosher wine world, that it is no shock that most kosher oenophiles, turn face when u say Pinot Noir. Not on account of the Pinot Noir grapes themselves, but rather on account of the pathetic state of kosher Pinot Noir wine on the market.

Say, Pinot Noir to me, and sadly I can only think of:

Read the rest of this entry

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My top 25 kosher wines of 2017 including wine of the year and best wine of the year awards

I wanted to make this post short and sweet – so the criteria are simple I could care less about price, color, or where it was made. All that matters is that it is/was available this year sometime to the public at large and that I tasted it in a reliable environment, not just at a tasting, and that it was scored an A- to A or higher. Also, there are a few lower scoring wines here because of their uniqueness or really good QPR. I also included some of the best wines I tasted this year – they are at the bottom.

This year I am adding the “wine of the year”, and “best wine of the year”. Wine of the year will go to a wine that distinguished itself in ways that are beyond the normal. It needs to be a wine that is easily available, incredible in style and flavor, and it needs to be reasonable in price. It may be the QPR wine of the year or sometimes it will be a wine that so distinguished itself for other reasons. This year, it is not the QPR King of 2017, that went to the 2016 Chateau Des Riganes. No, this year “the wine of the year” is indeed a QPR superstar, but not the king, it is the 2014 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley. The best wine of the year, well that was easy, it is the 2015 Chateau Leoville Poyferre. So, yes, that means that the top wines of the year are both made by Royal wines, such is life, and I could care less for the most part.

Again, the list is missing wines I have yet to taste, like the 2015 Chateau Pape Clement, which I am sure would have been on this list if I had tasted it, or the 2015 Hajdu Proprietary Red. There are also interesting wines below the wines of the year, think of them as runner-up wines of the year. There will be no rose wines on the list this year – blame that on the poor crop or rose wines overall, they did not even crack the interesting list. Also, this year, we were given a bounty of top wines and finding the list this year was really a task of removing then adding.

The supreme bounty comes from the fact that Royal released the 2014 and 2015 French Grand Vin wines within the same year! The 2014 vintage wines were released in 2017 and the 2015 wines were released (in France in 2017 as well)! Throw in the incredible number of kosher European wines that are coming to the USA and being sold in Europe and this was truly a year of bounty for European kosher wines.

Now, separately, I love red wines, but white wines – done correctly, are a whole other story! Sadly, in regards to whites all we had this year that were exceptional, were epic Rieslings from Germany (Von Hovel) and the fantastic sweet wines from Sauterne and Yaacov Oryah. But dry white wines from elsewhere in the world was sadly lacking. There were a few exceptions, and they were all Chardonnays, but to me, the winner in that story (dry white wine that was not a German Riesling), was the 2015 Herzog Chardonnay, Reserve, Russian River. It does not rate in the wine of the year list, but it is in the interesting wines below. The new Chablis is also nice, as is the Shirah Whites.

Some of these wines are available in the USA, some only in Europe, and a few only available in Israel.

Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – but they are worth the effort. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

The 2017 kosher wine of the year!

This one was a no-brainer to me. The 2014 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley is a crazily affordable wine that got rave reviews from me and from the press. Congratulations to Herzog Winery and Royal Wines.

2014 Herzog Cabernet SauvignonSpecial Reserve, Alexander Valley – Score: 92 to 93 (QPR Superstar)
Lovely nose, impressive elegant and old world nose, peaking with a blackcurrant showing blackberry and lovely smoke and tar. The mouth is old world, wow, give me a break, in ways the wine is crazy better than the Warneke (Special Edition), but with years the Warneke will pass it. The mouth on this medium body, is great layered and rich, green, spicy, and rich with concentration, with sweet oak and sweet dill galore, with green notes, loads of foliage, showing dried strawberry, ripe raspberry, black forest berry, all wrapped in mouth coating and drying tannin, with earth and spice. The finish is long, and richly green, with nice spicy notes, leather and scraping mineral, showing bright and ripe fruit that is impressive, elegant, rich, and layered, with licorice, graphite, and forest floor that lingers long. Bravo!! Drink from 2020 till 2030.

The 2017 best kosher wine of the year!

This one was really tough. First of all, the one I chose is not available yet for purchase in the USA. Also, in terms of score, it did not beat out the Von Hovel Rieslings of 2014 or the 2014 Tour Blanche Sauternes, or the 2015 Chateau Giscours, or the 2014 Chateau Smith Haute Lafite. In the end – for its sheer awesomeness it beat out a very crowded field. In the end, the winner of the BEST kosher wine of 2017 goes to the 2015 Chateau Leoville Poyferre, and it deserves the crown – bravo!!

2015 Chateau Leoville Poyferre – Score: 95
This wine was very close to what we tasted from the barrel. The nose on this wine is rich and black, with floral hints, smoke, mineral, and really pushed for now, but incredible and redolent with a perfume of ripe fruit, chocolate, and green notes. The mouth is rich and layered with an incredible finesse of perfection, richly extracted and incredible with rich mineral and saline that is so perfectly hedonistic it is impressive, with chocolate heaven, showing earth, loam, finesse, and elegance beyond explanation, showing soft yet focused with a tight-mouthfeel, with rich raspberry, blackberry, ripe plum, all focused and concentrated with perfection. The finish is long and rich and paired with an acid and mineral that is never-ending, almost ripe and tart at the same time, with draping tannin, graphite, and charcoal with expressive and focus. Drink from 2022 to 2040.

Rest of the top 25 kosher wines of 2017

2015 Chateau Grand Puy Ducasse – Score: 94
This wine was very close to what we tasted from the barrel. What a nose, this wine is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and a drop of merlot. This nose is green and red and really mineral focused with dark but red fruit focused, showing lovely elegance, dirt, and herb. The mouth is medium bodied with rich extraction, rich currant, red fruit, with dirt in the background, wrapped in rich and searcing tannin mouthfeel, with roasted herb, and rich tobacco that is backed by elegance and control, blackberry, plum, that gives way to dark chocolate epic control, foliage, and oregano that lingers long with graphite, pencil shavings, and rich leather. Drink from 2024 to 2034

2015 Chateau Giscours – Score: 95
This wine was very close to what we tasted from the barrel. The nose on this lovely wine is super dry, with more of a classic Bordeaux nose, less ripe than some of the previous wines, with the ever classic blueberry notes of Giscours, with black and red fruit galore backed by roasted herb, rich mineral, and lovely saline. The mouth is rich, incredible, massive, full-bodied and incredibly extracted with rich saline, with layers of unstoppable concentrated fruit, with blackberry, raspberry, with blueberry, rich spice, mushroom, and herb. The finish is never ending with green notes, roasted herb, incredible drying tannin, with a deep fruit base followed by the mineral, black fruit, earth, graphite, and rich spice, cloves, and dark chocolate. BRAVO! Drink from 2023 to 2035

2015 Chateau Lascombes – Score: 94.
WOW, how this wine changed from when we tasted it in the barrel. This wine is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Merlot, and 3 to 4% Petit Verdot. It is the flagship wine of Chateau Lascombes. The nose on this wine is even crazier than the Chevalier, showing more umami and soy sauce if that is possible, with incredible finesse, showing massive power, but great mineral and concentration, with black and red fruit, foliage galore with tar and roasted animal. The mouth is full bodied and incredible with the same style as the Chevalier, but with more finesse, mouth coating soft tannin that is extracted with blue fruit, earth, rich concentration, with more saline and power, yet showing incredible precision that is coating and impressive. The finish is long and lovely, with saline, mineral, tobacco, refined dark chocolate, and rich mushroom. Incredible! Drink from 2022 to 2032. Read the rest of this entry

Top QPR Kosher wine winners of 2017

In my state of kosher wine industry post – I lamented at the lack of QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) options in the kosher wine world. Now that is not to say that the options do not exist, as you can see by the number of QPR options on my top wines for Passover last year. Still, given the sheer number of wines in a kosher wine store (many hundreds) and the number of kosher wines on the open market (many thousands), we are left with a very small minority – sadly.

So, I thought I would list the most recent QPR wines I have enjoyed over the past year. I wanted to catch up with wines I only had recently and with ones that are finally here in the USA.

My hope is that people will enjoy the wines and demand more of them. For instance, the lack of many of the QPR wines from Elvi Wines on the open market. I can find them on Royal’s website and on Elvi’s website, but sadly until recently, they were not available on the internet. Thankfully, Kosherwine.com has gotten the Elvi wines back, but Netofa wines are still not available here in the USA.

This list is not a list of wines that are meant for cellaring, though many can withstand a few years. The idea here is to enjoy these wines now while you let the long-term wines cellar and age. We all have that interest to drink interesting wines and while I agree with that, that is NO excuse to raid the cellar when u have a hunkering for a complex nose or flavor. Many of these wines will scratch the itch while the beasts’ lie and settle.

Sadly, the main wines I have yet to taste and those that I think belong on this list, based upon what I hear of them, are the 2016 Capcousto wines, but I cannot find them online.

Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – but they are worth the effort. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

QPR KING of 2017

2016 Chateau Des Riganes – Score: 90  (mevushal)
This is the third vintage from the winery and the best one by far! The 2015 vintage was boring and the 2014 vintage was not as good. I tried writing the notes for this wine a few times and then I threw them all out, only because it keeps changing – the core stays the same but the issues I had, hollow notes, mad fruitiness, go away with time/air. So, to start – leave this wine open for two hours before enjoying it and that removes two rounds to three rounds of evolution from my notes.
After it has opened for a couple of hours, now the wine is ready to enjoy. The nose opens to rich loam, earth, gone are the fruit bomb notes, with lovely mushroom, foliage galore, with classic bramble, dark cherry, currant, and hints of raspberry. With time the wine opens to a fuller mouth than first perceived, gone is the hollow notes, with a nice fruit focus, good tannin structure, gone is the country style wine, now the wine is richer, and fuller, with a lovely green foliage focus, followed by dark red forest berry, cherry, hints of black fruit, great saline, earth, mushroom, and lovely spice. The finish is long and spicy, with more green notes, an almost lush forest with good spice, and pith. Nice! Drink till 2021.

QPR top 10 Winners (in no particular order)

2016 Domaine Netofa White – Score: A- (Crazy QPR)
Nothing new here, other than the label. The wine continues to impress, throw in the fantastic joy of Chenin Blanc, and the price and we have another winner from Netofa!
Lovely floral nose still closed, but lovely with straw, hay, rich green apple, quince, and lovely bright fruit. What can I say, this medium-bodied wine is another acid homerun, showing lovely bright and fresh fruit, that gives way to a great acid core, with mineral, mad citrus, grapefruit, with lovely dried white currant, herb, and more floral notes. The finish is a long and fruity acid trip, with rich mineral, followed by lovely lemon curd, more citrus, with bright fruit. Bravo! Drink by 2020. (Available only in Israel, for now anyway) 

2015 Capcanes Peraj Petita – Score: A- (Crazy QPR)
This wine is a blend of 50% Grenache, 20% Merlot, 15% Tempranillo, and 15%Syrah. This wine is much akin to the 2014 vintage, in that it is immediately accessible, but I like the 2015 vintage more. Really nice nose, with rich toast, smoke, followed by rich tar, asphalt, with lovely black fruit, tobacco, and more mineral. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is really fun, layered and concentrated with dark fruit, blackberry, hints of blue fruit, with ribbons of scrapping mineral, graphite, followed by nice Kirsch cherry, with great earth and dirt. The finish is long and earthy, with great dirt, mineral, green notes, and hints of mushroom and black tea. Bravo!!! Drink by 2021.

2014 Herzog Cabernet SauvignonSpecial Reserve, Alexander Valley – Score: 92 to 93 (QPR Superstar) (mevushal)
Lovely nose, impressive elegant and old world nose, peaking with a blackcurrant showing blackberry and lovely smoke and tar. The mouth is old world, wow, give me a break, in ways the wine is crazy better than the Warneke (Special Edition), but with years the Warneke will pass it. The mouth on this medium body, is great layered and rich, green, spicy, and rich with concentration, with sweet oak and sweet dill galore, with green notes, loads of foliage, showing dried strawberry, ripe raspberry, black forest berry, all wrapped in mouth coating and drying tannin, with earth and spice. The finish is long, and richly green, with nice spicy notes, leather and scraping mineral, showing bright and ripe fruit that is impressive, elegant, rich, and layered, with licorice, graphite, and forest floor that lingers long. Bravo!! Drink from 2020 till 2030.

2013 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico – Score: A- (QPR)
Wild nose of rich mushroom, dirty diaper, crazy mineral, rich loam, and lovely black and red fruit. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is ripping with rich acid, mineral, and saline, and lovely mouth draping tannin, with gripping tannin, showing blackberry, dark cherry, currant, with coffee grinds, and mineral. The finish is long and pith-laden, with espresso, and rich graphite, and scraping mineral that lingers long. Bravo!!! Drink till 2020.

2014 Carmel Riesling, Kayoumi – Score: A- (QPR)
This wine screams dry Alsace Riesling!! The nose is crazy, pure funk, petrol, flint, mineral, WOW! Cannot find much fruit on the nose to start but with time peach shows, but who cares! Sadly, this bottle was tainted with some sort of reduction or Sulfur, it is not clear what the issue was, to be honest, it smelled like actual “trash can”. The mouth on this full bodied wine is insane! Layered and complex with rich acidity, dried fruit, dried apple, lychee, floral notes abound, with rich elegance, followed by nectarines, orange, orange zest, bravo! The finish goes on forever, and I mean not stopping with crazy petrol and floral notes lasting all along – WOW!!! This wine was clearly off to start, but with time it came around and was very close to its old self, sadly the reduction lingered in ways. Drink by 2020.

2016 Shirah Vintage Whites – Score: A- (QPR)
This wine is a blend of 70% Grenache Blanc and 30% Viognier. The nose on this wine is screaming Viognier and far less Grenache Blanc, with epic peaches and creme, showing rich notes of honeysuckle, honeyed notes of fruit, a truly perfumed nose that is a joy to smell. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is layered and rich, with great acid, lovely fruit pith, that is both unctuous and yet lithe at the same time, with nice summer fruit focus, showing apricot and hints of the Grenache Blanc with green apple, and lovely mineral. The finish is rich and lovely with joyous fruit pith, lovely spices, and lingering green tea. Bravo!!! Drink by 2021.

2016 Shirah Rose – Score: A- (QPR)
This wine needs to be aerated to open up its nose and to remove some of the lingering chemical notes, but do not let this deter you from enjoying this lovely wine! This wine reminds me so much of the 2013 rose, epic and screaming acid based. The nose on this wine is classic Cali rose, with ripe strawberry, raspberry, with rich peach, and lovely floral notes. The mouth on this wine has a lovely body, with a great acid punch, with rich fruit red berry focus, followed by lovely citrus, grapefruit, and nectarines. The finish is long and red berry, with more acid, lovely fruit pith that lingers long, followed by light tannin, sweet hints of pineapple, and lovely acid lingering long. BRAVO!! This is a top 3 non-Provence style rose for 2017. Drink by Summer 2018.

2015 Herzog Chardonnay, Reserve, Russian River – Score: A- (mevushal) (QPR)
This wine is ripe, no denying that but by far the most balanced of many years with a far better control on the “Oak Monster”. The nose on this wine is under control, with great buttery notes, sweet apple, pear, hints of guava, and nice quince, but balanced well with herb and spice. The mouth on this wine is nice and full bodied, but it needs time, with nice saline, mineral notes that are unique for this wine, well balanced with screaming acid, nice butter, showing a creamy and almost oily texture, nectarines and orange, with sweet quinine and white chocolate. Nice and elegant with grapefruit and citrus and oak. Drink by 2024. Read the rest of this entry

Four Gates Winery’s January 2018 new releases

As you all know, I am a huge fan of Four Gates Winery, and yes he is a dear friend. So, as is my custom, as many ask me what wines I like of the new releases, here are my notes on the new wines.

I have written many times about Four Gates Winery and its winemaker/Vigneron Benyamin Cantz. Read the post and all the subsequent posts about Four Gates wine releases, especially this post of Four Gates – that truly describes the lore of Four Gates Winery.

Other than maybe Yarden and Yatir (which are off my buying lists – other than their whites and bubblies), very few if any release wines later than Four Gates. This year is a re-release of the 2014 Petite Sirah and 2014 Zinfandel in a blended format called – MPSZ. Of course, it includes the 2014 Mourvedre, which is also being released a single varietal under the Ayala label.

Another wine this year under the Ayala label is the NV Chardonnay, it is a nice wine that did not go through malolactic fermentation, so while it has creamy notes, the rich butter and butterscotch notes of previous chardonnays will not be found here.

The rest of the wines are the normal suspects, but this year’s crop, like last years, is really impressive. You have a 2014 Four Gates Pinot Noir, an NV Four Gates Cabernet Franc (a blend of the 2014 & 2015 vintages), the 2013 Four Gates Merlot, La Rochelle, the 2013 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Betchart Vineyard, and the 2013 Four Gates Frere Robaire.

The notes speak for themselves. These are the wines I liked, there are two other wines that will be sold, but I am not a fan of them, I am sure others will be. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

NV Ayala Chardonnay – Score: 90
Lovely nose of ripe melon, lovely lemon curd, with green and yellow apple, and spice galore. The mouth on this lovely medium to full-bodied wine is nice and richly acidic, with a creamy mouth, showing lovely green notes, sweet dill, with butter notes, lovely sweet and ripe fruit, and lovely sweet spices. The finish is tart, refreshing, lively, with acid madness, showing a style of sweet and tart fruit, and nice complexity. Drink by 2025

2014 Four Gates MPSZ – Score: 91
This wine is a blend of Mourvedre, Petit Sirah, and Zinfandel. This is a fun classic Cali wine, floral, sweet, spices galore, with sweet oak, and lovely red and blue fruit. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is fun with raspberry, plum, ripe juicy strawberry, blueberry, all wrapped in nice tannin, with nice mineral, spice, and zesty fruit. The finish is long and rich, with sweet notes, black olives, and cinnamon. Drink by 2021

2014 Four Gates Pinot Noir – Score: 92 to 93
This nose is a classic Four Gates Pinot, with chicken cherry cola, sweet raspberry, lovely spices, menthol, herb, and rich spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, layered, elegant, lovely, with green notes, lovely foliage, sweet oak, with sweet cherry, raspberry galore, and crazy Benyo acid, with smoke, vanilla, hints of mushroom (which will show more with age), earth, and loam. The finish is long and green, richly acidic, menthol galore, herb, coffee, loads of tart red fruit, and more smoke. Bravo!!! Drink from 2019 to 2027

NV Four Gates Cabernet Franc – Score: 93
This is a blend of 2014 and 2015 vintages. This wine is a classic Benyo special, what a wine, this is crazy fun, what a rich floral, raspberry nose, with violets, rich tart fruit, with cherry, chocolate, mushroom, and foliage galore. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is really fun, rich, layered, with a real mouthfeel that gives way to mushroom, rich tilled earth, with red fruit, plum, raspberry, vanilla, and lovely focus, that gives way to great acid and sweet forest floor. The finish is long and green, with bell pepper, foliage, with vanilla, leather, and heather. Bravo!!! Drink 2020 to 2027

2013 Four Gates Merlot, La Rochelle – Score: 94
The nose on this wine is plum heaven, with crazy truffle, mushroom, and rich tart raspberry, followed by black fruit, and rich dirt. The mouth on this full bodied wine is crazy, rich, layered, with layer after layer of concentrated fruit, nice extraction, and intense acidic, with tannin galore, perfectly balanced, with sweet red raspberry, plum, sweet currant, black forest berry, and dark cherry. The finish is long and green, with foliage, mushroom, vanilla, sweet oak, spice, with menthol, mineral, graphite, sweet red fruit, and acid plays well together. Bravo!! Drink from 2020 to 2030.

2013 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Betchart Vineyard – Score: 94
Lovely nose of earth, dirt, green notes, caraway seeds, coffee grinds, with black fruit hiding behind good bright notes, and mineral. The mouth on this full bodied wine, is rich and layered, showing lovely extraction, rich blackberry, blackcurrant, with impressive fruit structure, showing elegance and attack, with great focus and spice, spicy oak wrapped in earth and mouth coating and expressive tannin, with so much tar that it feels like road work in the mouth, and green notes galore. The finish is long and green with focus and power, showing dark chocolate, foliage, with scraping mineral, graphite, and mounds of earth lingering long. BRAVO! Drink from 2021 to 2031.

2013 Four Gates Frere Robaire – Score: 94
Another stunning wine, come on, this wine will and always reminds me of Chateau Malartic, and depending on how long you age it, the Malartic vintage compares well. The nose on this wine is lovely, as it opens, it is ripe to start with loads of fruit, mounds of finesse, and sweet oak, with rich mineral, herb, black fruit, with a bit of red in the background, and lovely graphite, and spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is ripe and opens slowly with rich layers upon layers of sweet fruit, followed by earth, tilled loam, with green notes galore, sweet blackberry, plum, with concentration and rich extraction that gives way to layers of mouth coating tannin, vanilla, and spice. The finish is long and earthy, with foliage, green notes, anise, earth, leather, rich sweet milk chocolate, mushroom, and loads of forest floor. Drink from 2021 to 2030.

Flam Winery latest releases

As I have been posting so far, I enjoyed my last trip to Israel and Europe, and this will be the last post about Israeli wineries for this trip anyway! Last we left off, I was talking about – Tzora Vineyards Winery. However, that was the third winery that we visited that day – the third of the four wineries that make up the Judean Hills quartet, three of which are kosher. We visited all three of the kosher wines from the Judean Hills Quartet on that Friday, and in this post, I will cover the first of those three that we visited that day – that one being Flam Winery. This will be my last post from my trip to Israel, the next ones will be about my epic tasting in France and Riesling wines from Mosel. Also, a side note, the winery that brings us the wonderful Rieslings and Sylvaner – Nik Weiss, is a sister winery to Flam Winery. Actually, Gilad brought out a bottle of the 2015 Nik Weiss Riesling and we told him that we had issues initially with the wine, but now understand that these wines take years to come around (flavor and fruit characteristic wise) and that he should save his next bottle for a few years from now.

Judean Hills Quartet

I have already posted here about my appreciation for the Judean Hills quartet, I think what they are doing is great and is the correct way to go after the gaping sinkhole in what some would call Israeli wine education. They happen to also be some of the best wineries in Israel, which is a blessing. Who would want Yarden pushing their date juice and declaring this is the future of Israel’s wine revolution?? Instead, you have wineries like Domaine du Castel WineryFlam Winery, and Tzora Vineyards, along with a winery I wish I could enjoy, though sadly it is not kosher – Sphera Winery – run by Doron Rav Hon, who made some of the best Chardonnays and Pinot Noir in Israel when he was in Ella Valley – those were great days!!

If you look at the four wineries in the quartet, three of them have used Judean Hills grapes since the very beginning, Domaine du Castel WineryTzora Vineyards, and Sephora Winery. Both Castel and Tzora built their name and reputation and essence upon the terroir of the Judean Hills. Flam has always been using Judean Hills fruit in its wines, but the reserve wines have been sourced from the Upper Galilee (Ben Zimra and Dishon). That is changing now, the winery has planted 100 dunams on the beautiful slopes near Ein Kerem and the first wine from the Judean Hills is the 2015 Merlot Reserve.

Once they complete the move from the Galilee to the Judean Hills for their reserve wines as well, the majority of its red wines will be sourced from the Judean Hills. At this time, the Rose, Blanc, and Classico are all sourced from the Judean Hills, with the most of the reserve wines being sourced from the Upper Galilee.

Tasting

We were a large group that descended upon the winery, AO, JK, and his wife, OM, MB, and myself. We had the chance to taste through the current wines plus the not yet released but already bottled 2013 Flam Noble – the winery’s flagship wine. We were met by both Gilad and Golan Flam, and later for a bit by Israel as well. Golan, the winemaker, and Gilad who runs the winery were very kind to meet with us as was visible from the previous posts of this trip, it was harvest time, and Golan had to run to tend to the grapes. We did get a chance to watch some of the winemaking activities and then it was off to taste the currently released wines.

The wines once again show the professionalism and passion that is Flam Winery. As the first post I ever wrote about the winery shows, this is a family run winery and that focuses as much of its efforts in the vineyards as they do in the winery itself.

My thanks to Gilad, Golan, and Israel Flam, and the winery for a wonderful tasting. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2016 Flam Blanc – Score: B+
This wine tasted better than the last time we had it, with tart and crisp fruit, showing nice pith, lovely grapefruit, and green apple galore. The mouth is crisp and alive and tart with good balance and nice fruit and good spice, but lacks anything to grab you. The finish is long and rich and crisp, very refreshing.

2015 Flam Classico – Score: B+
The wine shows a bit too much oak now,  nice enough, but a bit too much oak with crazy chocolate and elegance with more of the reserve fruit going into the Classico in 2015. The nose shows herb sweet dill, and good earth, and red fruit. The mouth is medium bodied and dark cherry, rich roasted herb, nice round and spicy with great sweet but controlled fruit and menthol and green notes abound. The extra syrah is showing with hints of blue notes but really nice with foliage and tobacco galore, but lacking complexity of previous vintages and a bit too much oak.

2015 Flam Merlot, Reserve – Score: A-
This is the first vintage being sourced from the Judean hills. The nose on this wine shows a very rich oaky nose with red fruit and green notes. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and layered but lacking the acid, but really impressed by what the be vineyards will bring. The mouth shows mouth coating tannin with elegance, dark raspberry, with hints of dark currant, mineral, foliage, dirt, and loam galore, with great potential. The finish is long and elegant with chocolate, tobacco, and ripe fruit lingers long.

2015 Flam Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve – Score: B+
Nice nose of bright mineral, rich earth and really ripe fruit. The mouth is ripe and plush with green notes and really accessible showing nice tannin and plush blackberry and foliage. The finish is long and green and soft with mineral and tobacco and loam.

2015 Flam Syrah, Reserve – Score: A-
The nose on this wine shows lovely blue and black fruit, with perfumed boysenberry, with less herb and more floral and blue fruit instead. The mouth is rich and full bodied and really accessible with a plush and a bit less pushed than the other two reserve wines, with nice extraction, good sweet fruit, controlled with green notes again and foliage that is wrapped in plush but firm tannin and great spice. The finish is long and sweet and really impressive with leather galore and tobacco that is backed by tar and roasted animal.

2013 Flam Noble – Score: A-
Really lovely old world nose with nice mineral, rich black and elegant fruit with great roasted herb. The mouth is full bodied, plush, not overly tannic with nice elegance and good complexity that is ripe and round and yet balanced with chocolate and nice graphite and mineral. The finish is long and green with tobacco, sweet dill, rich extraction that shows searing tannin that lingers and ripe black fruit with juicy tart raspberry, and fun blue notes in the background, with ripe fruit lingering long.

 

A vertical tasting of Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon – Betchart Vineyard

2009 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Betchart Vineyard, 2010 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Betchart Vineyard, 2011 and 2012 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Betchart Vineyard.jpg

Over Succoth, we had the chance to taste through the currently released vintages of Four Gates Winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Betchart Vineyard. This wine started off with a blast in 2012 when its first vintage was released, though I really missed the drink-by window in that tasting.

Since then I have had it a few times and it was time to taste the entire line of wines that have been released now over the past 4 years. You can also see that there are another three wines that are yet unreleased and notes for those will have to wait until the wines are released.

This Cabernet is green but also red, black, and blue and the notes evolve as the wine ages, but its core stays true, green and red fruit with black fruit in the background and blue only showing in its youth.

My many thanks to JR for hosting us in their beautiful succah. Also a shout out to Josh Rynderman and his bride to be for being there with us at the tasting, and of course to Benyo for bringing the wines and sharing his knowledge with us as always. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2009 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Betchart Vineyard – Score: 95
The fruit for this lovely old-world Cabernet comes from Betchart Vineyard on Monte Bello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I have been able to watch this wine progress from pressing to bottling, and it has gone from a rich red fruit wine to a hybrid rich old-world wine with big red fruit along with some lovely black fruit.

The wine has evolved a bit from my last tasting. Still, this is a unique Cabernet that is rich, extracted, balanced, yet oak influenced in a lovely manner, this is not just a big black new-world Cabernet, it has strong old world leaning with a deeply rooted new world style!

The nose on this purple to black colored wine, with blue streaks through it is screaming with cloves, graphite, kirsch cherry, raspberry, blackberry, red fruit, tobacco, mint, and anise. The mouth on the full-bodied brute of a wine is super rich, extracted, layered, and concentrated, with nice black and red forest berry, ribbons of blueberry, plum, currant, eucalyptus, and green bell pepper, all wrapped up in a cedar box filled with spice and still big round and mouth coating tannin that makes for a rich and spicy mouthfeel. The finish is long, lovely, smoke, with rich extraction, intense tar, and spicy with more tannin, chocolate, tobacco, cinnamon, red fruit, black pepper, and a nice hit of vanilla. The chocolate, oak, tar, smoke, herbs, red fruit, and vanilla linger long. The wine is starting to open but still needs time.

With time, the wine opens to a beautifully robed wine, filled with mushroom, hints of barnyard, with nice black fruit, all gone now giving way to secondary notes, rich roasted animal, tar, and lovely earth. The mouth stays the same with fruit still strong, earth and dirt, nice balance. Great saline and lovely black fruit, no blue fruit left, with extraction gone but nice acid and good fruit structure, plush, and really fun. I would start drinking it within the year and then finish it by 2021. BRAVO!!

2010 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Betchart Vineyard – Score: 92
This is the second year of Benyo’s ridge mountain fruit and it continues with another rock-solid wine. It is not the 2009 vintage with its deep and rich fruit, but seriously who cares this rocks! The nose on this wine is redolent with lovely green notes, forest floor, garrigue, crazy bramble, earth, roasted herb, and eucalyptus, all hallmarks of this cab for many years now. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine attacks with layers of concentrated fruit, followed by red/black fruit, cranberry, dark cherry, blackberry, along with mouth coating tannin, candied dried fruits, and spicy oak. The finish is long and herbal, with spice, cloves, deep-rooted earth, tobacco, chocolate, and dried basil/oregano. Drink from 2018 to 2022.

2011 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Betchart Vineyard – Score: 93
This wine is the blackest of the bunch by far and a very rich wine as well. The nose on this wine is lovely with mineral, spice, graphite, anise, licorice, blackberry, plum, lovely barnyard, and rich green notes. The mouth on this full bodied wine is dark, brooding, black, and extracted, with layer upon layer of rich fruit, rich saline, black olives, blackberry, crushed herb, great foliage, cloves, and intense graphite and mineral. The finish is long and herbal with intense layers of spice, black pepper, and black fruit with dill and intense forest floor. Very nice! Drink from 2018 to 2024.

2012 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Betchart Vineyard – Score: 94
If the 2011 vintage was black and ripe, the 2012 vintage is even more black, and these last two vintages do contradict my statement at the start that these wines are mostly green and red with black fruit underpinnings. The wines are getting bigger and bolder and yet all are perfectly well controlled with crazy acid and green notes and mineral.
The nose is opening now with bright fruit, showing great acid, but also sweet with jammy red fruit, raspberry jam, vegetal notes, but now also showing mushroom, and spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is inky perfect the perfect balance between the Merlot wines, plush and rich, nicely extracted but controlled, with a bit less dill, with lovely sweet tannin, balanced nicely with searing acid, black plum, sweet herb, mounds of ripe cassis, blackberry, sweet fruit jam, mouth coating and drying tannin, and blackcurrant, with great finesse and control. The finish is long with great balance, sweet chocolate, sweet basil, lovely earth, mineral, graphite, and sweet tobacco. BRAVO!! Drink from 2020 to 2026.

 

Recanati Winery’s latest releases

2016 Recanati Shiraz, Upper Galilee Series, 2015 Recanati Purple Blend, 2015 Recanati Merlot, Reserve, 2015 Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, 2015 Recanati Syrah, Reserve, 2015 RecanAs I stated in my last post, I landed in Israel and I had very few days to see a lot of wineries. Recanati Winery was the second winery I visited. Kobi Arviv, who is now the head winemaker at Recanati Winery. He is also the head winemaker at his own winery, Mia Luce Winery, and had been the associate winemaker at Recanati Winery, until June this year.

I have posted in the past about Recanati Winery, and the only real change since that post is that Kobi is now the new head winemaker and that their wines had moved riper in the past few years, my hope is that they return to the control they showed in 2010 and 2011. Since then, it seems they have moved to riper wines, like the rest of Israel.

The wines have stayed the same for the most part, with slight changes to the makeup of some of them. The biggest change overall is to the labels and some new fun and easy drinking reds and whites have been added in.

  • Yasmin/Jonathan – these are the entry-level labels, that are also mevushal
  • Upper Galilee Series – these used to be the diamond series or the baseline series. Not much has changed here other than the labels, though they have been a bit riper these past few years.
  • Then the roses along with this new French Blend wine. The roses have become dryer and are lovely, but the French blend is too sweet for me.
  • Specials – these are fun and well-made wines that are made for either restaurants or the Derech Hayayin stores in Israel.
  • Single Vineyard Wines (Also called Reserve Wines) – this is the largest change of them all – labels wise. Here they have moved the Med series under the single vineyard label concept, though the labels themselves have not really changed. Actually, the reserve wines of old have folded under the Med series and now all the wines show the vines from which the wine was made. This is where the new Marawi wine lives.
  • Flagship wines – what used to be called Special Reserve wines are now flagship wines. It consists of the red and white Special reserve wines.

While the number of labels may have expanded and their look changed, the essence of the winery which was the thrust of my previous post has not changed at all. The winery’s main focus is quality, and for most people, that continues to be the winery’s rallying cry. The prices of the single vineyard wines have gone up, which to me is a real problem because another of Recanati’s rallying cries was price control, and to me, they have lost control of that one, at least here in the USA. I think that issue is a combination of Palm Bay making hay while the sun shines (Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, and others), and Recanati moving its prices up a bit as well. Read the rest of this entry

Lueria Winery and the latest releases

Lueria Winery Tasting Room.jpg

Well, I have finished all the KFWE posts, and my past personal wine tastings posts, and now it is time to get back to posting about wineries I visited on my last trip. To remind you, I came to Israel for Sommelier 2017, then flew to Paris and back the next morning for the Bokobsa tasting. Upon my return to Israel, I drove north for a day, before coming back to the Jerusalem area, and then flying home. I have already posted all the wineries I visited in Israel’s North, excepting for my visit with Gidi Sayada at the lovely new visitor tasting room of Lueria Winery. We tasted all the new releases and as always, it is a joy to sit down and taste wines with Gidi.

The wines that Gidi makes use the grapes that were planted by his father, Yosef Sayada some 22 years ago. The vines were planted on the hills surrounding Moshav Safsufa. Interestingly, Safsufa is an Aramaic word meaning – late ripening fruit. The burial place of the revered kabbalist Rav Yitzchak Luria, who was one of the foremost Kabbalist experts in his time, overlooks the vineyards. It is in his honor that the winery is called Lueria Winery.

Lueria Winery has been growing slowly but surely, going from a few thousand bottles in 2006 to more than 100K bottles in 2016. Most people would not think that Lueria Winery is pumping out that much wine, but since Gidi started making wine, after learning winemaking in Israel, and cutting his teeth with Tal Pelter of Pelter Winery (not kosher) and Matar Winery, it is clear to see that he has found his own way now. With the abundance of his father’s grapes to choose from, some 45 acres, comprising many classic varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, along with some more Mediterranean varietals, like Syrah, Sangiovese, Barbera, and Roussanne.

This winery, like many throughout Israel, is not afraid to make half of their wines – white wines. Why? Because contrary to the USA palate, Israelis have finally found the love for all things white and rose! Sadly, this year, Gidi did not make a rose. In its place, he started a new label, the 2016 Roussanne! Also, gone is the pure dry Gewurztraminer that we had a few years here and there. Now, he is making some dry Gewurztraminer and placing it into the lovely, Lueria White wine. The white varietals used in the winery are Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Roussanne. There are very few wineries in Israel making Pinot Grigio, the ones I know of are Dalton (a five-minute drive from Lueria Winery), Lueria Winery, and Yarden Winery. Each wine is stylistically different from each other. The Dalton PG is all about acid and fruit and is light on the mineral. Shockingly, the Yarden PG is less about fruit and more a balance between the fruit and mineral. Finally, the Lueria Winery PG is smoky and mineral rich, with nice fruit as well. Get them all and then taste them in a blind tasting!

The red wine labels have been cleaned up, in both appearance and names. Now it is just two blends Rosso and Terrace at the first level, followed by two single varietal dominated wines, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon. With the Grand Vital being the flagship wine of the winery, which is a blend of the best barrels from each vintage. Its parts change each year but it’s mostly dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, along with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Sometimes Syrah is added as well, but in the past many years that has not been the case. I think the streamlining and simplification of the labels, along with cleaning them up a bit as well, really makes for a lovely lineup of wines.

Read the rest of this entry

Adir Winery – Latest releases

adir-winery-and-dairy-2I have been visiting Adir Winery for years now, and it finally dawned on me that I have not yet made a proper post on the winery. I did post about the winery in passing two times, here and here, but it was high time to take a little more time to talk about this winery and to post wines notes for the current releases.

This was my third winery that I visited on my trip to the north, on my last visit to Israel. I had already been Kishor in the early morning, followed by Matar by Pelter after that, and then on to Adir Winery after Matar.

Adir winery started long before it was a winery, long before they thought of a winery. It started with the Rosenberg and Ashkenazi families. The Rosenberg family came to Israel in the late 1940s, leaving war-torn Poland for a new life. The Ashkenazi family immigrated to Israel in the early 1950s from Turkey. Eventually, they both found themselves in the Upper Galilee, near Moshav Ben Zimra. The Rosenbergs started planting vines in the 1980s, and then again in the 1990s, essentially planting much of the vines on the now famous Kerem Ben Zimra slopes and plateaus. In the meantime, the Ashkenazi family raised the largest flock of goats in the north, producing milk and cheese.

In 2003, the families got together and built what to many did not seem obvious from the start, a dairy and a winery in one. The dairy serves lovely cheeses and ice cream to the masses that come to the winery, while the wine is served on the other side of the building.

The winery has three main lines of wines. The first is their Kerem Ben Zimra wines, which has Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Then there is the A wines, which are blends, and have a white and red. Finally, there is the Plato and now a 10th Anniversary wine.

As I was visiting this time, Adir is in the midst of its biggest ever expansion, moving from two large building to 3 even larger buildings. The current wine cellar will move to another building, while the current tasting room will expand into another building as well. It will all be state of the art, and from what I could see very cool, with audio and visual sensory technology, along with lots of space to serve more cheese and wine than before. Read the rest of this entry

A birthday party long in the makings

Well, this past weekend I had a long-delayed birthday party at home, with friends and great wines. In honor of my birthday, I made the classic Tunisian Friday night dinner, but without all the classic trimmings; Couscous with boulettes.

This was one of my better couscous for a few reasons. First of all, the axiom – more is better, is truly meant to describe how much chicken you should throw into a chicken soup recipe. Second, I threw in a bunch of onions, zucchini, and ground up – oven roasted – mushrooms into the meatball recipe. Sadly, the makoud was lacking, because I refused to douse it with oil and eggs. The age old Tunisian cooking rule holds very true to makoud, if the dish does not look like an oil spill, you have done it all wrong. In this case, the lack of 12 eggs and an easy hand on the oil made for more of a potato mash than a souffle.

With that, the rest was up to me and Benyo, from Four Gates Winery to handle the rest of the wine duties. ER and HK brought apple cobbler dessert, while SR and JR brought some dessert that was hijacked by Rochel for later consumption. Fear not, they both know the drill, some things that are dessert based, never make it to the table, they are essentially Teruma to the goddess of the house. Read the rest of this entry

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