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Covenant Wines’ latest releases – September 2022

Last week, California was overrun by a nasty heatwave, besides breaking records and driving me and everyone else crazy, it meant my entire week was open as mountain climbing was off the table. That left lots of time to go see Jeff Morgan (founding winemaker and co-owner of Covenant Wines) and family (Jodie and Zoe), literally, and Jon Hajdu at Covenant Wines. They were already taking in fruit for the 2022 harvest and it was extremely kind of them to carve up some time for me during this busy time of year.

I remember well the time I was in Canada with Jeff for a vertical tasting of all the Covenant Cabernet, at that time, it was a wonderful experience and tasting! I have said many times, that Covenant Winery is one of the original California wineries that makes solid wines, especially in the Cabernet Sauvignon space. I found some of the wines taken a step back in recent years. The white wines were always enjoyable, like the Sauvignon Blanc and the Lavan white, but that changed recently from what I see in this tasting.

Tasting

I was at the winery in March for a local RCC (Rosh Chodesh Club) and I got to taste one of the wines but it was not a setting to write notes and appreciate wines. I do remember the wines we had and one wine, in particular, did not show nearly as nicely as it did at our tasting last week. So, I am happy for many reasons to have driven up to Berkeley, CA to taste the 7 wines. All of them were quite enjoyable.

First, we tasted the Covenant Solomon Blanc a new white wine on the Covenant label and the only white wine on the Covenant Solomon level. The 2020 Covenant Solomon Blanc was the wine I tasted back in March and it showed far superior last week. It finally came out of its shell and had fully integrated with the sweet oak, it was a lovely wine indeed! The 2021 vintage, which was newly bottled was a drop better, showing a bit more acidity and an overall complex mouthfeel that did remind me of the 2019 Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt, Blanc. Both showed lovely gooseberry and ripe fruit but also bracing acidity and controlled yet lovely oak, very well made.

After the lovely Sauvignon Blanc wines, we moved to another white wine the 2021 Covenant Lavan, Chardonnay. I am being honest here, I have been falling into the new version of ABC (Anything But Chardonnay). It is new but old, the same old same old, fat, blubbery, overoaked, under-acidified, flat wines. ABC was a thing in 1995 when the MY Times wrote a piece on it and it is coming back with a vengeance again. Much akin to the date juice fiasco in the kosher wine market, Chardonnay is also moving to its old roots and they are being made into oak-driven apple juice that is honestly boring and uninteresting. Thankfully, we have been saved by the two incredible Burgundy Chardonnays for the Meursault region, by Taieb Wines, and by IDS. Those wines are clean and correct, they speak to the place and the time they were made. So, when I had the lovely Sauvignon Blanc wines it further solidified my belief in what I desire, clean and well-made ABC wines. With that as a disclaimer, the 2021 Covenant Lavan Chardonnay, was properly made. It was well balanced and showed a fruit focus that would make an ABC drinker, like myself, enjoy and drink the wine.

Five Red Wines

After the three white wines, we moved the line along to 5 red wines. In some ways, white wine is harder to make than red wine. White wine has fewer places to hide as a winemaker though I am far harsher, as a wine taster, in the land of red wine, simply because I am sick and tired of lazy winemaking or worse, purposeful and mindful winemaking that removes the grapes from their natural state of being and place to make fruit juice that is sweetened by whatever actions the winemaker has in his/her arsenal that week. Wineries will tell you it sells better but to me, that is just selling out and I have no time or interest in tasting wines like that. So, when I see 5 red wines, I am thinking, like I always do, even in Europe, I hope there is a desire here to let the fruit talk. Sure enough, the team has pulled the winery along into an impressive place where you can find some lovely wines and even some that garner the QPR WINNER score along with quality scores that make me want to buy and drink the wines. Bravo!

The first wine was a lovely Pinot Noir from under the Landsman label. The 2021 Landsman Pinot Noir had just been bottled and it showed no bottle shock. The lines on this wine were clean, with red juicy fruit, floral, earthy, and smoky. No baby fat, just clean lines, and good fruit. Nice! Another WINNER from the Carneros wine region in Sonoma County. Carneros has the moderating influence of the San Pablo Bay, the northern portion of the greater San Francisco Bay, which keeps Carneros cool and windy, but not too cold. We then moved to two Syrah followed by two Cabernet Sauvignon, the flagship wines of the winery.

The first Syrah was the 2020 Landsman Syrah, Santa Rita Hills, Robert Rae Vineyards. This was a new one for me, I was unaware that Syrah grew well in the Santa Rita wine region. Of course, I love the Santa Rita Pinot Noir from the Herzog Reserve line and their more exclusive Eagle’s landing wine lines. So, when I tasted the Landsman Syrah from 2020, I was not surprised to find it more of an old-world style wine than the next wine we would be tasting. The Landsman Syrah reminded me of the Shirah Syrah from 2013, a dirty, earthy, smoky, meaty animal that was more old-world than new from Santa Barbara County. This wine is comparable if not a bit better, here the fruit is more controlled, yet very present, focused, and precise, I bought what was left – one bottle, maybe Jeff or Sagie can scrounge another one or two up. Either way, lovely wine!

Finally, we tasted a new wine on the Covenant label, the 2020 Covenant Syrah, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. This is one of the most famous vineyards in Santa Barbara County, very difficult to get into and even tougher to keep. In 2020 some folks were too worried about smoke damage and bailed on their allocations. Covenant found out about the availability and jumped on it, there is no smoke taint on this wine, it is smoky, but from the lovely french oak used to age the wine. A lovely wine, one that is balanced, but a bit too new-world for my taste. This is a perfect example of how new-world wine can be made to its place and its fruit without turning it into an abomination. Here the team took beautiful fruit and let the fruit speak to its true nature, lovely! Hopefully, there will be more of this wine being made, it shows great potential.

Two big yet elegant Cabernet Sauvignon wines

The tasting ended with two lovely Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Napa Valley, the Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Covenant Solomon, Lot 70. I claimed, in a previous post, that the crown for the best red 2019 kosher wine had been given to Chateau Smith Haut Lafite, with the disclaimer that I had yet to taste the Four Gates or Domain Roses Camille wines yet. I should have added that I had also not yet tasted the 2019 Covenant Solomon, Lot 70. The Solomon, as nice as it was, did not eclipse the Chateau Smith Haut Lafite or the Chateau Pontet Canet, but it is indeed up there on the list of top wines of 2019.

The two Cabernet wines were quite lovely though the Solomon was a step above the Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon. The Solomon was so elegant, powerful, and yet precise, with great fruit focus and control, quite a lovely wine that deserves your attention and a place in your wine cellar for many years from now! I say that, but Mr. Morgan will tell you it is just lovely now as well, and while I wholeheartedly agree with him, get a few and enjoy one now, if you must, and then enjoy the rest later!

My many thanks to Jeff Morgan, Sagie Kleinlerer, Jonathan Hajdu, and the rest of the Covenant team and family for setting up the meeting, sharing their wines with me, and taking time out of their busy harvest schedule to meet with me. The wine notes follow below in the order they were tasted – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:

2020 Covenant Solomon Blanc, Bennett Valley, Sonoma County, CA – Score: 92.5 (QPR: WINNER)
This wine is from the Moaveni Vineyard, in Bennett Valley, Sonoma County.
The nose of this wine is a perfect blend of sweet oak and sweet fruit, showing lovely peach, apricot, bright fruit, green apple, sweet orange marmalade, orange blossom, sweet melon, and sweet Asian pear. The mouth of this medium-plus-bodied wine is incredibly fun, with screaming acidity, lovely minerality, and so refreshing, with lovely sweet oak, lovely green apple, orange marmalade, yellow Asian pear, peach, apricot, and cloves. The finish is long, tart, and balanced, with sweet fruit, incredible balance, loam, flint, and lovely sweet smoke and orange peel. Drink by 2027. (tasted September 2022) (in Berkeley, CA) (ABV = 13.90%)

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Herzog Wine Cellars’ latest releases – August 2022

Like much of my posts I am a bit behind, I received these wines in June 2022 and sadly, it took until this week to post them. The truth is that the notes are written quickly, but the delay is caused by the amount of time spent writing the post, with all the metadata in and around the post and the images.

In case you missed the last Herzog Wine Cellars post – please check that out here, the story and background around Herzog Wine Cellars is truly imperative to better appreciate what they have accomplished these many years! One large change since the last post would be the hiring of David Galzignato as Director of Winemaking and Operations. Joe Hurliman is now Winemaker Emeritus. As always I have incredible respect and appreciation for what both Joseph Herzog and Joe Hurliman have done for Herzog Wine Cellars. Their vision, drive, and continued passion for improving the wines and the winery are truly incredible and one that we should all aspire to learn from.

In shortened story form Herzog Wine Cellars is a fascinating story. It started with Eugene Herzog immigrating to the US from Czechoslovakia in 1948 after the war and after communism took over his winery. He worked for a small winery in NY, and by 1958 he became the majority owner of it. In deference to his grandfather, they called it Royal Wines, as he was given the title Baron in Czechoslovakia. By 1985, the family decided that they needed a California presence, and so they hired the famous Wine Maker Peter Stern, to build their initial footprint in the world of high-end wines. After that, they moved to Santa Maria, hired Joe Hurliman, and leased space from Coast Wine Services (CWS), all the while knowing that they needed a place that they could call home. In the end, Joe went looking for a plot of land, that was as close to a Jewish Community as possible (for the Kosher Wine managers) and landed on Oxnard. Not a classic place to house a winery, but one that is close to the highways to truck in the grapes and one close enough to a Jewish Community to allow for full-time Jewish supervision. The winery opened in 2005, and three years later it started hosting the International Food and Wine Festival. In my last post about this year’s KFWE I threw down a gauntlet, I wonder if anyone read/saw it, I think it is time for Herzog Wine Cellars to bring back IFWF, in the summer for a throwback! Time is ticking – the ball is in your court guys!

Now to the wines. The 2017 vintage was tough, it was tough for all of Cali, it was a bad vintage. The 2018 vintage was far better, but still not as good as the 2016 or 2014 vintages. We were all interested in the full 2019 vintage to see if Herzog could break the odd-year curse that has hung over them since the nice 2013 vintage. I guess I will have to say, the answer is maybe. There are clear QPR WINNER wines, but they do not shine as bright as in the even years of 2014, 2016, or 2018. They are riper and less focused, and while they show minerality, it feels/seems secondary to the larger picture.

Generally, when we look at Herzog, and their success for a year, we use the big three, the Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley, the Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Edition, Warnecke Vineyard, and the Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Edition, Clone Six. However, there is also the burgeoning Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon, and of course the lovely Edna Valley and Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noirs, from both Eagle’s Landing and the Reserve line. There are the second-level wines from the Variations collection, which also weigh in a bit on a successful year for Herzog, IMHO, but the main wines drive the success ratio the most.

Still, Herzog is never resting on their laurels, in the past they were driving hard with a yearly Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, to add to the Cabernet Sauvignon rotation. However, in 2016, they paused the Single Vineyard Program. The good news is that starting in 2021 the Single Vineyard program is back online! After that, they started sourcing Stag’s Leap fruit in 2018 and then expanded the Special Edition line with Oakville and Rutherford.

One final statement around two wines in the lineup. One is Choreograph, it is a wine that has been around for a long time, started in 2016, the earlier name Camouflage started in 2014. It is a serious sleeper in the Mevushal Lineage line. In the first few years, the wine tasted like the makeup of the wine a hodgepodge of grapes, one of the classic issues with large field blends. The larger the number of fruit the harder it is for them to all get together and make the wine work. However, in 2020 and 2021, whatever Herzog is doing, they have been hitting a home run for the price. This is the absolute PERFECT BBQ wine, IMHO. Mevushal, served cool, with meat, chicken, or even fish, all will work if grilled or smoked, just a perfect wine with great acidity and balance.

The other sleeper is the Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa is either at max or close to the max price, at least for now, though everything was high, price-wise in 2021 and the Napa fruit prices may max out in 2022. They are not pretty! Many a winery has dropped serious money into Lake County, look at Andy Beckstoffer, AKA, Mr. Tokalon. He bought into Lake County in 1997 and continues to invest. This line has been showing great promise from the start and every year the wine improves or keeps the previous vintage’s quality. Bravo! It is not at the quality yet of Alexander Valley Cabernet, but it quickly making its way into that quality level.

Finally, this is more of a PSA, please cool your red wines in the fridge, for say thirty minutes before enjoying them, if they are at, what we call room temperature. If the room is at 75 degrees Farenheight, 20 to 30 minutes in the refrigerator will help to bring the red wine temperature down to what it should be enjoyed at, which is 60 degrees, or so.

There will be no 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap, but interestingly, there will be a 2020 vintage, as it was picked just before the fires. There will also be a bit of 2020 Alexander Valley and Rutherford. Overall, 2019 turned out to be the best odd-numbered year in a long time, and while it does not rise to the quality of 2014/2016/2018 it is a solid showing for a not-so-good vintage.

The wine notes listed below shows seven wines that garnered the QPR (Quality to Price) WINNER score. That is a lovely list of wines the majority of them are 2020 or 2021 wines. There are two 2019 QPR WINNER wines, and they are the ususal suspects, the Alexander Valley and the Warnecke Vineyard.

I will keep this short, so my many thanks to Joseph Herzog, David Whittemore, Joe Hurliman, and Alicia Wilbur for answering my many emails and calls. Be well all of you! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:

2021 Herzog Sauvignon Blanc, Lineage, Lake County, CA (M) – Score: 91 (QPR: WINNER)
The nose of this wine is more restrained than other Sauvignon Blanc out there, it is less ripe, it is dirtier, with mineral, floral notes, violet, rose, lemon, lime, yellow plum, and dryer sheet notes. The mouth of this medium-bodied wine is fun, refreshing, tart, acidic, and enjoyable, with green notes, lemon, lime, wet grass, mint, lemongrass, saline, hints of passion fruit, and otherwise, green notes, herbs, spices, flint, and rich mineral. The finish is long, green, spicy, and flinty, with saline, smoke, roasted herb, grass, and hay. BRAVO! Drink now. (tasted May 2022) (in San Jose, CA) (ABV = 14.5%)

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The 2022 Kosher rose season is open and I am underwhelmed – Part 2

I started tasting some of these wines in January and February of this year and at the start, some of them were nice to GREAT. Then the rest of the wines were average to poor. I posted my first round of roses here, in May. Then I posted many posts with roses in each of them from my time in Paris. We have found another WINNER in the USA and one more in Europe, and the best Rose so far, as well. However, I have still not tasted many roses from France, which is unfortunate, as it is already August! They are released in Europe but none of them are here still, such is life! Still, this post has all the roses I have tasted so far this year, some 53 roses in total.

While rose wine in the non-kosher market is exploding – especially Rose wine from Provence; a wine region of France, kosher roses have ebbed and flowed. Last year, the kosher market for roses went into overdrive with options and thankfully this year it is slowing down! Some lovely roses are not on this list and while they will not be QPR WINNER they are quite nice. I will be posting those wines when I post my Paris wine tastings. Still, IMHO, who cares, as I have stated a few times, why are we looking at 35-dollar or more roses when we have better scoring whites wines?

QPR and Price

I have been having more discussions around my QPR (Quality to Price) score with a few people and their contention, which is fair, in that they see wine at a certain price, and they are not going to go above that. So, instead of having a true methodology behind their ideas, they go with what can only be described as a gut feeling. The approaches are either a wine punches above its weight class so it deserves a good QPR score. Or, this other wine has a good score and is less than 40 dollars so that makes it a good QPR wine.

While I appreciate those ideals, they do not work for everyone and they do NOT work for all wine categories. It does NOT work for roses. Look, rose prices are 100% ABSURD – PERIOD! The median rose price has risen a fair amount from last year, some are at 40 to 45 dollars – for a rose! So far, it is around 29 bucks – that is NUTS!

As you will see in the scores below, QPR is all over the place and there will be good QPR scores for wines I would not buy while there are POOR to BAD QPR scores for wines I would think about drinking, but not buying, based upon the scores, but in reality, I would never buy another bottle because the pricing is ABSURDLY high.

Also, remember that the QPR methodology is based upon the 4 quintiles! Meaning, that there is a Median, but there are also quintiles above and below that median. So a wine that is at the top price point is by definition in the upper quintile. The same goes for scores. Each step above and below the median is a point in the system. So a wine that is in the most expensive quintile but is also the best wine of the group gets an EVEN. Remember folks math wins!

Still, some of the wines have a QPR of great and I would not buy them, why? Well, again, QPR is based NOT on quality primarily, it is based on price. The quality is secondary to the price. For example, if a rose gets a score of 87 points, even though that is not a wine I would drink, if it has a price below 29 dollars (that is 7 dollars more than last year – like I said crazy inflation) – we have a GREAT QPR. Again, simple math wins. Does that mean that I would buy them because they have a GREAT QPR? No, I would not! However, for those that still want roses, then those are OK options.

Please remember, a wine score and the notes are the primary reason why I would buy a wine – PERIOD. The QPR score is there to mediate, secondarily, which of those wines that I wish to buy, are a better value. ONLY, the qualitative score can live on its own, in regards to what I buy. The QPR score defines, within the wine category, which of its peers are better or worse than the wine in question.

Finally, I can, and I have, cut and paste the rest of this post from last year’s rose post and it plays 100% the same as it did last year. Why? Because rose again is horrible. There is one Israeli rose, that I have tasted so far, that I would drink, but I would not buy!

The French roses are OK, but nothing to scream about. I still remember fondly the 2015 Chateau Roubine, I tasted it with Pierre and others in Israel, what a wine! I bought lots of that wine in 2016. Last year, I bought no roses, other than for tastings.

The weather in the USA is now getting hot and that unfortunately does not allow me to ship wines from the usual suspects, like kosherwine.com or onlinekosherwine.com. So, while I have tasted many roses, I wish I could order more and get up to date, but sadly, the shipping options are truly slim for now.

So, if you know all about rose and how it is made, skip all the information and go to the wines to enjoy for this year, of the wines I have tasted so far. If you do not know much about rose wine, read on. In a nutshell, 2021 roses are a waste of time. Please spend your money on white wines instead. They exist for a better price, and value, and garner better scores. IF YOU MUST have a rose wine stick to the few that I state below in my Best roses section, right above the wine scores.

Kosher Rose pricing

I want to bring up a topic I have been hammering on in my past posts, price! Yeah, I hear you, Avi Davidowitz, of KosherWineUnfiltered, please quiet down, gloating does not suit you – (smiley face inserted here). The prices of Rose wines have gotten out of control. They are now median priced at 29 dollars with some crazy outliers like 45 or 50 dollars, for a rose! The worst offenders are from Israel followed by the U.S.A. Interestingly, Europe is not the high-priced leader, though that will change once the new Roubines arrive here in the USA, they are already released in Europe.

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Final Tasting from my trip to Paris – May 2022

As stated in my previous post, I was in Paris in May, without Avi Davidowitz, from the Kosher Wine Unfiltered blog, his lame excuse involved something about marrying off his first child, or something like that, whatever! He was missed but yeah, Mazel Tov!

I kept to my hotel room for much of the trip. All these wines were tasted in my room. Also, as tested before, because of supply chain issues and frankly because there were still too many 2020 wines around, there were very few 2021 wines available for me to buy online or in stores and taste. What I could find, at that time, in May, I bought and I am posting here now.

White & Roses

After tasting roses from Taieb and Royal I had a few more that I found around town. The clear winners here were the 2021 Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel, Cotes de Provence, and the 2021 Chateau Maime Rose, Collection, Cotes de Provence. The 2020 Koenig Riesling is nice and a good rebound for the winery.

Two red wines from Tek Wines

I was sent a few wines from Tek Wine but the two best wines were ones I bought from MesVinCacher, the 2015 Chateau Tour de Bossuet, and the 2015 Chateau La petite Duchesse. The two wines tasted too similar to be different, but try them yourself. The other wines are simple.

Two Israeli wines

As I stated in my IDS Post, Alexandre was in Paris at the same time as I was and he brought along a nice wine from Israel, the 2021 Peer Winery Ayala, another wine with the name Ayala! Anyway, it was nice enough, with good acidity, but a bit short. The other was the 2021 Recanati Sauvignon Blanc, which is too simple to be interesting.

A Magrez wine that works

The 2019 Chateau Pape Clement is the closest thing we have had to a good Magrez wine since the epic 2014 vintage. The wine is nice but the oak and fruit are overpowering and while I liked it to start after a bit of time it felt a bit flabby and oak-driven.

Various Bordeaux Wines

This group had too many poor wines, the nice surprise was a wine from the Ministers of Wine, the 2018 Chateau des Places, Graves. There was also, a non-mevushal Victor 2019 Chateau Guimberteau Graves de Laborde, Cuvee Prestige, Lalande de Pomerol. The rest, were poor.

One Italian Wine

The Aglianico that I had in paris really did not show well and I hope to taste it again soon, maybe here in the USA. But I have posted it here as a baseline.

Thoughts on this tasting

Overall, none of these wines are available in the USA, other than a couple of the roses. The rest will maybe get to the USA eventually or never. If they do get to the USA, by the time you throw in the extra costs, they will not be QPR WINNER.

The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:

White Wines

2020 Koenig Riesling, Alsace (M) – Score: 91 (QPR: WINNER)
After the mess that was the Pinot Blanc, I was worried the Riesling would also be oxidized, thankfully, that is not the case! The nose of this wine is what I love in lovely Riesling wines, minerality, fruit, honeysuckle, honeyed yellow fruit, and nice petrol. The mouth of this medium-bodied wine is fun, bright, tart, and refreshing, with great intense acidity, gooseberry, honeysuckle, honeydew melon, petrol, funk, tart yellow fruit, and lovely green apple, Nice!!! The finish is long, tart, and refreshing, showing tension, intense minerality, slate, smoke, flint, petrol, crazy acidity, and good fruit focus. Bravo! Drink until 2023. (tasted May 2022) (in Paris, France) (ABV = 12%)

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Another round of QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) Hits and Misses, Nine QPR WINNERS – May 2022

A side note before we get to the QPR list. I just returned, B”H, from Paris and I know many are interested in my notes from the trip, along with all the roses that are NOT on this list. So, for full disclosure, I will be posting the rose list next and then I will be getting to the wines I enjoyed and suffered in Paris. The good news, there are lots of wonderful wines from the Paris tastings and many will be making their way here. Sadly, the rose list is not that interesting at all. Now on to the QPR list, which will catch me up to almost all the wines before my Paris trip, other than the roses.

QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) Wines

It has been a few months since my last QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) post and many people have been emailing me about some unique wines I have tasted and some lovely wines that are worth writing about.

Thankfully, no matter how garbage and pain I subject myself to, we are still blessed with quite a few wonderful QPR wines out there. This post includes some nice wines and some OK wines with the usual majority of uninteresting to bad wines.

I had the fortune of going to Hagafen Wine Cellars with Neal and Elk and the 2018 and 2019 vintages continue to impress. The prices are a bit high but with the price of land and fruit in Napa Valley, the fires, the lack of water, and so much more, the price is what it is. Still, the two QPR winner wines were lovely as were the vast majority of all the wines we enjoyed.

I also had the chance to go to Marciano Estates Winery and the wines showed beautifully there as well. The same can be said about Marciano, in regards to the pricing, both at the price and the reasons for them, so read the notes and make up your minds.

The story of 2021 Israel whites and roses is very unfortunate, it started with a bang. Matar and a couple of others showed very well. Sadly, after that, every other white and rose wine from Israel was not as impressive. They all show middling work and product, very disappointing indeed.

We have a nice list of QPR WINNERS:

  1. 2019 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, CA
  2. 2018 Hagafen Pinot Noir, Prix, Napa Valley, CA
  3. 2020 Domaine du Castel Blanc du Castel, Judean Hills
  4. 2020 Ramon Cardova Albarino, Rias Baixas
  5. 2021 Baron Edmund de Rothschild Rimapere, Marlborough
  6. 2021 Matar Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, Galilee
  7. 2021 Gush Etzion Sauvignon Blanc, Judean Hills
  8. 2021 Herzog Sauvignon Blanc, Lineage, Lake County, CA
  9. 2019 Hagafen Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, CA

There were also a few wines that are a slight step behind with a GREAT or GOOD QPR score:

  1. 2018 Hagafen Syrah, Napa Valley, CA
  2. 2019 Hagafen Malbec, Napa Valley, CA
  3. 2019 Carmel Gewürztraminer, Late Harvest, Single Vineyards, Galilee
  4. 2021 Dalton Chardonnay, Unoaked, Galilee
  5. 2020 Pascal Bouchard Chablis, Chablis
  6. 2021 Tabor Sauvignon Blanc, Galilee
  7. 2020 Matar Chardonnay, Galilee
  8. 2015 Louis Blanc Crozes Hermitage, Vintage, Crozes Hermitage
  9. 2019 Koenig Riesling, Alsace
  10. 2019 Matar Stratus, Galilee
  11. 2021 Or Haganuz Blanc, Galille
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A tasting of M & M Importers’ latest imports – March 2022

Well folks it has been too long since my last post, Passover, life, lots of work, anyway, I have a lot of notes to post, so look for them to be coming very soon., For now, I need to post the lovely wines I received from Ralph Madeb, president and CEO of M & M Importers. These are all Italian options and some of them can be found in Europe from Honest Grapes while most of them are here in the USA from some stores in and around NY and NJ.

The simpler wines have a new label, gone is the Botteotto brand and now we have the wines under the original winery’s brands. A few of these wines are Mevushal and while I have my issues with the need for Mevushal in our lives today, it seemed to have little to no effect on the wines themselves.

Also, I finally had the chance to taste the 2016 Tassi Brunello di Montalcino Franci, Bettina Cuvee, Brunello di Montalcino, for a second time. I had it in France last year, and while I liked the wine it did not blow me away, as I was expecting. I am happy I had the chance as I felt the wine did not show well in pairs. Sure enough, the wine was indeed better and the revised score and notes can be found below.

The wine list is another example of why Italy is a wonderful wine region to find QPR stars. This entire list is either GOOD to WINNER. No duds. Overall another great list from M &M Importers.

My sincerest thanks to Ralph and his partner at M & M Importers for sharing their wonderful wines with us all! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:

2020 Cristallo Pinot Grigio, Colline Pescaresi, IGT (M) – Score: 89 (QPR: GREAT)
This wine is fun, it is simple but fun, refreshing, funky, and enjoyable.
The nose of this wine is funky, with notes of straw, rosebud, rose petals, green apple, slate, white flowers, and more hay!
The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is fun, simple, refreshing, well-balanced, with lovely acidity, nice weight, good fruit focus, orange notes, nectarine, tart lemon/lime, and citrus, but what sticks with you is the refreshing weight and salinity.
The finish is long, green, tart, balanced with good acidity, hay, straw, violet, and long lingering tart green fruit with minerality. Lovely! Drink now. (tasted March 2022) (in San Jose, CA) (ABV = 12.5%)

2020 Illuminare Dry Moscato, Colline Pescaresi, IGT (M) – Score: 89 (QPR: GREAT)
This wine reminds me of the other dry Muscat wine I know of on the market – Michael Kaye’s lovely wine. Michael’s wine is fruitier, this wine is lean, very floral, but also shows tart/dry tropical notes, really very different but also similar and equally fascinating.
The nose of this wine is intoxicating, it pulls you in and grabs you, showing tart and dry pineapple, intense jasmine, white flowers, tart green and yellow mango, lychee, smoke, flint, and more floral notes. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is fun, showing lovely saline, refreshing, tart, with great acidity, sweet Mandarin orange, pineapple, sweet pear, Meyer lemon, honeyed notes, and lovely honeysuckle.
The finish is long, tart, green, yet nicely ripe, very floral, with good saline, minerality, and more fruit. Bravo! Drink Now (tasted March 2022) (in San Jose, CA) (ABV = 12.5%)

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The top 10 Kosher Mevushal wines of 2021

If you ever wondered what Kosher wine or the Mevushal process is, well I made a post these many years ago and nothing has changed about those facts, because kosher wine is kosher wine! The Mevushal process has evolved a bit over the years but the premise is still the same and the best craftsman in this space are Hagafen Cellars and Herzog Wine Cellars.

Royal Wine Europe does a good job as well, though from time to time, the white wines do not show as well after they go through the Mevushal process. The red wines are indeed done very well as I saw this past November 2021.

The whole premise for Mevushal wine is really a U.S. concept. Europe and much of Israel do not care for or need the wine to be Mevushal to serve at restaurants or events. The USA Rabbinic leaders think that there are too many issues and potential concerns at events and restaurants – given the vast number of servers being non-Jewish. As such, they demand Mevushal wines be served at the events. I have been to events where the pourers were all Shomer Shabbat Jews and that is what they do in Europe and Israel, but those are far and few between, here in the USA.

Overall, the 10 Mevushal wines below are not great, they are not bad, but not great. Now, this is not a cause and effect – meaning Mevushal does not ruin the wines. Mevushal – done incorrectly absolutely does cause damage to wine, and I have had many a “cooked” Mevushal wine. However, Herzog and Hagafen do not have these issues. Royal Europe, does a good job, but not as good as the previously mentioned wineries. Last year’s mevushal list would have had lovely wines as it would have included the 2018 Herzog wines! Also, we do not have examples of Mevushal wines that scored 95 points that are mevushal, again this is not a cause and effect but rather the issue that people do not yet Mevushal Pontet-Canet! Mind you, as I stated before, it is not from a lack of desire, on behalf of Royal Wines, they would boil anything to be able to sell more Mevushal wines. Still, so far, of the top wines that I have scored, the highest scored Mevushal wine is 2014, 2016, and 2018 Herzog Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon.

More and more wines are being made Mevushal to meet the needs of restaurants and caterers that want high-end Mevushal wines for their venues and events. The theme of the wines here is mostly Hagafen or Herzog with some smattering of European names as well.

Here is my list of the top 10 Mevushal wines that are available here in the USA. They are listed by score and after that in no particular order. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:

2019 Chateau Le Crock, Saint-Estephe, Bordeaux (M) – Score: 92+ (QPR: WINNER)
This wine is a blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon and 41% Merlot. While I liked the 2018 vintage some did not, but this is a nice wine either way.
The nose on this wine is perfectly balanced, with lovely fruit, loam, dirt, smoke, bright and ripe plum, black and red fruit, with ripe dried strawberry, Tisane tea, and rich mineral. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is ripe, layered, beautifully controlled, with rich smoke, saline, lovely loam, beautiful graphite, pencil shaving, sweet oak, mouth-draping tannin, blackberry, dark plum, strawberry, elegance, and control, that gives way to some extraction, with sweet tobacco, and mineral. The finish is long, green, loam, dirty, rich, and yet elegant, with roasted meat, smoke, draping elegance, incredible richness without the show, really a wine to hold but one that can be enjoyed now. Drink from 2027 until 2036. If you must have it now decant for 2 hours. (tasted November 2021) (in Paris, France) (ABV = 13%)

2019 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Lake County (M) – Score: 92+ (QPR: WINNER)
This is a lovely wine, it reminds me of the 2017 lake County Cabernet Sauvignon, just a tad less ripe and more fruit-focused. The nose on this wine is lovely. This is a classic Cabernet Sauvignon, in all the right ways, screaming mineral, insane graphite, pencil shavings, with ripe green, black, and lovely red fruit, with tar, loads of roasted herb, and classic garrigue. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is softer than the 2017 vintage, with nice acidity in the middle, wrapped by intense tannin, nice extraction, blackberry, juicy raspberry, hints of boysenberry, and loads of minerality, all coming together quite nicely. The finish is long, green, mineral-driven, but black and blue, with leather, sweet spices, with mineral lingering long, sweet smoking tobacco, and juicy boysenberry staying long. Bravo!!! Drink from 2023 until 2030. (tasted April 2021)

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My top 25 kosher wines of 2021, including the Wine of the Year, Winery of the Year, the Best Wine of the Year, and the Best Mevushal wines of the year awards

Like last year, 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 a 92 or higher. Also, there are a few lower-scoring wines here because of their uniqueness or really good QPR.

We are returning with the “wine of the year”, “best wine of the year” along with “Winery of the Year”, and “Best White wine of the year”, along with a new one – “Best Mevushal wine of the year”. Wine of the year goes 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. The wines of the year are a type of wine that is severely unappreciated, though ones that have had a crazy renaissance, over the past two years. The Best Wine of the year goes to a wine well worthy of the title.

The Mevushal wine of the year is something I personally dread. I understand the need for a wine that can be enjoyed at restaurants and events, but when we start seeing Château Gazin Rocquencourt and Chevalier de Lascombes go Mevushal – we know we have a problem. As I have stated in the past, if this is what needs to happen, then please sell both options as many do with Peraj Petita/Capcanes, Psagot wines, and many others. Still, it is a wine and as such, it needs a best-of-the-year moniker, so this will be the first year where we do it.

This past year, I tasted more wines than I have ever, in the past. Now to be clear here, I did not taste many Israeli wines as they have proven to me over and over again, even with the much-ballyhooed 2018 vintage that they are not worth me spending my money on. So, no I have not tasted as many Israeli wines as I have in the past, but overall, this is the largest number, for me. I spent a fair amount of time tasting all the French and European wines I could get my hands on and I feel that is where I added the most value, IMHO. For those that like the Israeli wine style – other writers/bloggers can point you in some direction.
IMHO, this past year brought the best wines I have seen in a long time.

IMHO, this past year brought the best wines I have seen in a long time. No, I do not just mean, the lovely 2019 Chateau Pontet Canet, but overall, the scores garnered this year are on keel with my top wines of 2017, which included the best wines from 2014 and 2015 vintages. Nothing has come close since that list, until this past year – so that really excites me as there are still a few wines from the 2019 vintage that I have yet to taste.

As I will talk about in my year in review post, 2014 will come out as the best vintage for the past decade in France. That is a hotly debated subject, but IMHO, in the world of kosher wine, there were FAR more best wine options in the 2014 vintage than any other vintage in the past decade. That may not be the case for non-kosher wines, but news flash, I do not drink non-kosher wines, or even taste them, and further this blog is about kosher wines. The 2018 vintage may well have some serious “best wine of the year” candidates, but sadly, not all of those wines are here and I could not travel to France to taste them all, as I do commonly. The 2019 vintage may have as many once we taste them all, but for now, the 2014 vintage across all wine producers has created a far more complete and consistent product than any of the years, up until 2019.

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. If last year, I thought the roses were pure junk, this year, you can add another nail in the coffin of rose wines, IMHO. Thankfully, the task of culling the bounty of great wines to come to these top wines was more a task of removing than adding. We are blessed with a bounty of good wines – similar to 2017. To highlight the last point, I scored 109 wines with a 92 or higher, and 66 of those were given the QPR score of WINNER (or WINNER in FRANCE).

The supreme bounty comes from the fact that Royal released the 2019 French wines a bit early! 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, we had no new wines from Germany, still. Thankfully, we have some awesome new entries, from the 2019 Chateau Malartic and the 2019 Château Gazin Rocquencourt (NON-Mevushal), and the new 2020 Meursault!

The wines on the list this year are all available here in the USA, in Europe, and a few can be found in Israel, as well. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:

The 2021 kosher wine of the year – is new!

This is a new wine for the kosher wine market and it sits a bit above where I would like it, price-wise, but it is the best wine for a price that is still comfortable for the value. It is one of the rare wines that score a GREAT QPR – when priced above 100 dollars. Still, it fits right there to make it GREAT. There were so many to choose from this year – I am so happy to restate, but in the end, this award goes to a reasonably priced wine that garnered the highest score. The 2014 and 2015 Domain Roses Camille was an option, but the price pushed out of the competition. There was the 2017 Elvi Clos Mesorah, at a far better price than the LaGrange, but again, the LaGrange fit right in that space, barely above the Clos (quality-wise), and within the range of QPR. There was the 2018 Malartic and the 2017 Leoville, but they, like the DRC, were priced out. Finally, there was the 2019 Jean Luc et Paul Aegerter Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru, Les Vallerots, but that wine is almost impossible to find, sadly!

If there was a single QPR WINNER that blew me away – it would be the 2012 Château Cru Ducasse – in France, I can see no reason not to buy as much of this as humanly possible! Either way – the new Chateau LaGrange is a wonderful wine and one that is worthy of the 2021 wine of the year!

2019 Chateau LaGrange Grand Cru Classe En 1855, Saint-Julien – Score: 94+ (QPR: GREAT)
WOW, what wine for a 12.5% ABV wine, come on, the next time someone says I need to wait for the phenolics to talk with me, the answer is this wine! This wine is a blend of 80% cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, & 2% Petit Verdot.
The nose on this wine is lovely and perfumed with rich minerality, dense loam, graphite, smoke, roasted animal, clay, black and red fruit, all wrapped in more dirt, tar, and licorice, wow!
The mouth on this medium-plus bodied wine is beautiful, the acid is perfect, balanced and tart, elegant and layered, with lovely raspberry, plum, dark currants, hints of blue fruit, with ripe cassis, scraping mineral, dirt, loam, roasted herbs, menthol, with sweet vanilla, and lovely licorice.
The finish is long, with draping tannin, scraping mineral, and lovely tar, loam, nice leather, and rich garrigue, really lovely! Drink from 2031 until 2042. (tasted November 2021) (in Paris, France) (ABV = 12.5%)

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A few good red wines along with too many misses – Jan/Feb 2022 Tasting

This is my second QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) WINNER Hit and Miss post of 2022 and while this started in January as a poor showing, I had two more wines in February that made the overall post much better. We started with one QPR WINNER and that grew to three WINNER by February. Still, the star of the show was the first QPR WINNER, the 2016 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico, Assai, Gran Selezione, Chianti Classico!

This post is filled with many more examples of what people are raving about from Israel, the 2018 red vintage, and all I can say is, yes they are not date juice! They are not uncontrolled madness, they are OK, they lack acidity and mostly they are copy and paste of each other with different fruit. Still, an improvement over other vintages. Essentially, much like the 2016 vintage, another highly vaunted vintage, which I described to my buddy EA as: “milk chocolate, either blue or black fruit, loads of cedar and tobacco – copy and paste wines”.

I wish it was better, even when God forces a winery to make good wine by keeping the temperatures at bay, they still make mediocre stuff. Such is life! Thankfully, we are blessed with Terra di Seta, aka TDS, which won my first ever winery of the year in 2019 and a winery that I have been touting for many years now! The newly released 2016 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico, Assai, Gran Selezione, is a stunning wine and maybe their best Assai so far!

The next two QPR WINNER are the 2019 Herzog Winery Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, and the 2020 Chateau Signac Pliocene, Cotes du Rhone. I must say, the 2019 Herzog is shockingly ripe but the level of acidity it has really helped to tamp down the fruit and with time they all work together to make a harmonious wine. Still, it is ripe to start so leave this wine alone for many years. The 2020 Chateau Signac Pliocene, on the other hand, is lovely and ready to go. It is NOT as ripe as the 2018 vintage, but it is nice and very enjoyable for the next few years.

Finally, there is a repeat tasting of the 2019 Pavillon du Vieux Chantre, Puisseguin Saint-Emilion. As I stated in the Moises Taieb post, I needed to taste a few wines a second time and I am happy I did. The 2019 Pavillon du Vieux Chantre showed beautifully and just as I expected it to, after having tasted all the previous vintages. Thankfully, this wine is available in the USA in an easy-to-find location, from Andrew Breskin and Liquid Kosher.

The rest are OK, QPR score-wise, with only one wine garnering a score of GREAT, which is the 2017 Ma’ayan Asis Blend, these are relabeled wines from Tom Winery. The Tzora was nice but overpriced for what it gives.

I also tasted three 2019 Pinot Noirs and the clear winner, of those three, was the 2019 Goose Bay Pinot Noir, Small Batch. It is a lovely wine and one to enjoy over the next couple of years.

The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:

2016 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico, Assai, Gran Selezione, Chianti Classico – Score: 93.5 (QPR: WINNER)
This vintage of Assai is its best and this wine is 100% Glorious, rich, elegant, focused, balanced, fruity, but tart, refreshing and concentrated – WOW! BRAVO!!! The nose on this wine is pure heaven, it is soy sauce, funk, forest floor, mushroom, fruity, red and black fruit, tar, smoke, violet, very floral, wild herbs, and rich mineral. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is ripe, concentrated, but well-controlled, with ripe plum, dark strawberry, candied raspberry compote, with menthol, licorice, baking spices, all wrapped in dense sweet oak and elegant draping tannins, just incredible! The finish is long, dense, dark, rich, layered, concentrated, yet perfectly balanced, with screaming acidity, rich espresso coffee, mushrooms, almost truffle, forest floor, mineral, charcoal, graphite, and star anise. WOW!!! Drink from 2026 until 2033. BRAVO!!! (tasted January 2022) (in San Jose, CA) (ABV = 15%)

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Four Gates Winery’s January 2022 new releases

I was not going to post these notes but I received too many requests – so OK, here you go!.

As you all know, I am a huge fan of Four Gates Winery, and yes Benyamin Cantz 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. The slowest releaser may well be Domaine Roses Camille.

Four Gates grapes versus bought grapes

It has been stated that great wine starts in the vineyard, and when it comes to Four gates wine, it is so true. I have enjoyed the 1996 and 1997 versions of Benyamin’s wines and it is because of his care and control that he has for his vineyard. That said, the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes he receives from the Monte Bello Ridge show the same care and love in the wines we have enjoyed since 2009.

I have immense faith in Benyo’s wines that are sourced from his vineyard and the Monte Bello Ridge vineyard. The other wines, that he creates from other sources, are sometimes wonderful, like the 2010 Four Gates Syrah that I tasted recently, and I would have sworn it was a Rhone wine, crazy minerality, acid, and backbone, with fruit NOT taking center stage, though ever so evident, the way is meant to be! Others, while lovely on release may well not be the everlasting kind of Four Gates wines.

No new wines

This year there are no new wines, there is a red blend, but that is a blend of existing red fruit that Benyo owns. The Petit Verdot is from Santa Clara Valley AVA, and another Malbec from the same vineyard as in 2017, in Santa Cruz, but not from the Four Gates vineyards. The Chardonnay is under the Ayala label, and I did not get good notes on it to post them.

The rest of the wines are the normal suspects, but this year’s crop is less ripe than last year. First, you have the 2018 Four Gates Cabernet Franc, N.V. Four Gates Red Blend, which is a blend of his fruits, 2016 Four Gates Merlot, M.S.C., last year we had the non-M.S.C., the 2017 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2016 Four Gates Fraire Robaire, which was a no-show last year.

Prices and Quantities

I have heard it over and over again. That I and others caused Benyo to raise his prices. First of all that is a flat-out lie. I never asked for higher prices, but when asked about the value of his wines, the real answer I could give was more than 26 dollars.

Let us be clear, all of us that got used to 18/26 dollar prices and stocked up on his wines in those days should be happy. The fact that he raised prices, is a matter of basic price dynamics, and classic supply and demand. Four Gates has been seeing more demand for the wines while the quantity of what is being made is slowing down.

The law of Supply and Demand tells you that the prices will go up, even if I beg for lower prices.

Four Gates Winery is one of the few cult wineries in the kosher wine world that releases wines every year. Sure there have been crazy cult wines, like the 2005 and 2006 DRC wines, or some other such rarities.  His wines are in a class of their own, especially when it is his grapes, and there is less of it out there.

Lastly, the fact that he sold out his year’s stock of wine in 9 minutes or so, tells you that his wines are in demand and that the prices will reflect that. This year’s sale lasted 2 minutes longer but there were more wines to sell. Benyo and I did have conversations on how to get the tech better, there are clear issues, hopefully, next year it will be better, but no promises there, and I am not involved!!

So, I am done with the discussion, and I hope you all got some of the wines. Sadly, all the wines we tasted were shiners, so there are no pictures.

The notes speak for themselves. Again, this year, I “liked” all the options for sale, though I did not buy Malbec or Petit Verdot, in case anyone is asking. I did not get to taste the Chardonnay in the best manner, so there are no notes for it. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:

2019 Four Gates Malbec, Santa Cruz, CA – Score: 90 (QPR: POOR)
This vintage is a bit more balanced than in the past with nice blue and black fruit, nice herb, root beer, good smoke, and a nice overall approach. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is nice, with good fruit, saline, smoke, good acidity, blueberry, blackberry, boysenberry, with hints of raspberry, earth, and smoke. The finish is long, acidic, with mouth-draping tannin, good fruit focus, and nice earth. Drink by 2026. (tasted January 2022) (in San Jose, CA) (ABV = 14.20%)

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