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The good and the ugly state of kosher wine in South Africa and Chicago

Well, we are back home, thank God for that! I really enjoyed my time in South Africa (Cape Town, Johannesburg, and then Kruger), but while the Jews of South Africa are truly wonderful, the life there is less than so.

In case South Africa is a new thing to you, let me start with the simple fact that there are 54 or 55 countries in the African continent! South Africa may well be the most Southern of them, but it is just ONE country in Africa and only one country of many in what is called Southern Africa.

In the end, the trip was marred by things being stolen from our luggage and the overall sense of hope but desolation that seems to be a default in Johannesburg and in many of the shantytowns (AKA townships) that are scattered throughout South Africa.

The clear separation of the haves and have-nots was tough to see. Not because I am in ANY WAY blind to it here in our country, but more because it is as in your face as it is in places like India or China.

Though what made us happy was the reason we came to South Africa, to dance at the wedding of Josh And Chana, and it was a really lovely event indeed! I have written a few times now about Josh Rynderman, a good friend, and a wonderful up and coming, kosher winemaker.

Aside from the wine at the wedding (the 2017 Backsberg Chardonnay and the NV Backsberg Sparkling wine), I can honestly say that the wines of South Africa are not fit for print! Throw on to that the selection they do have of kosher wines, outside of what is made in South Africa and well yeah, there was no real option for Shabbat – total failure!

I walked into three different places and the wine selection was horrible in all of them. Mostly a combination of ancient and poorly stored undrinkable Israeli wines and some newer South African wines that are really not fun at all.

State of Jews in South Africa

Although the Jewish community peaked in the 1970s (at around 120,000[1]), about 70,000 mostly nominally Orthodox, remain in South Africa. A proportion is secular, or have converted to Christianity. Despite low intermarriage rates (around 7%),[1] approximately 1,800 Jews emigrate every year, mainly to IsraelAustraliaCanada and the United States. The Jewish community in South Africa is currently the largest in Africa, and, although shrinking due to emigration, it remains one of the most nominally Orthodox communities in the world, although there is a significantly growing Progressive community, especially in Cape Town. The current Orthodox Chief RabbiWarren Goldstein (2008), has been widely credited for initiating a “Bill of Responsibilities” which the government has incorporated in the national school curriculum. The Chief Rabbi has also pushed for community-run projects to combat crime in the country.

The community has become more observant and in Johannesburg, the largest center of Jewish life with 66,000 Jews, there is a high number and density of kosher restaurants and religious centers.

Having spent a Shabbat in Johannesburg, and many days in Cape Town, I can attest to the words taken from the history of Jews in South Africa – Wikipedia post. 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.

Matar made by Pelter Winery’s latest releases

The next winery that I enjoyed on my last trip to Israel and Europe, was Matar by Pelter winery. I have been to the winery a few times over the past years and my posts can be found here, and they continue to impress with their red and whites wines alike. Though I must say, that the red wines have become riper with time. Time will tell if this is a blip or a conscious desire.

There is not much more to say here. Their white and rose wines from 2015 were nice, but nowhere near the level of their 2014 wines. The good news is the 2016 white wines are far closer to the 2014 vintage. Sadly, the 2015 reds are not showing like Matar wines normally do, but again 2015 was a really bad year. They are not date juice, but the 2015 reds, like the Merlot and the Petite Verdot, are just riper than usual and are showing a bit unbalanced.

My many thanks to the winery, and especially Gal Yaniv, the winery’s CEO for going out of his way to help us in many ways – my many thanks, sir! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2016 Matar Sauvignon Blanc – Semillon – Score: A-
Another lovely vintage of this wine. The nose is ripe with gooseberry, green apple, crazy grapefruit, fresh cut grass, and kiwi. The mouth is great, ripping acid, with a super focus along with lovely spice, rich ripe melon, and lovely cloves, with slate and rich citrus pith. The finish is long and green and it is pure acid, bravo with cinnamon and slate. Bravo!!

2016 Matar Chardonnay – Score: A-
The nose on this wine is a lovely chard nose with green apple, a bit of gooseberry, citrus, pear, with herb and lovely foliage and green notes. A nice medium mouth with crazy acid, great fruit focus, with intense citrus pith, lovely tart mouth-filling fruit that gives way to crazy pith, slate, and lemon Fraiche. The finish is long and tart, with good mineral, slate, rock and fruit pith lingering long. Nice!

2016 Matar Chenin Blanc – Score: A-
This may well be their best Chenin Blanc ever, the wine is very close in style to Netofa’s Chenin Blanc, it is far drier than previous vintages and is showing purity and original style.
The nose is very different than previous vintages with great Chenin funk, with honeysuckle, straw, rich floral notes and herb. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lean, rich and yet focused with old world style, great mineral, rich saline, lovely straw, earth, all balanced with epic acid, and great dry yellow melon and pear. The finish is long and mineral-focused, with lovely flint, smoke, earth, slate, backed by crazy saline, acid, and tart fruit. Bravo!

Read the rest of this entry

Pinot Noir wines, Kos Yeshous wines, and red and white QPR winners

Well, Yom Tov is now over, and the Jewish Holiday fall season is over. I will keep this very short, I tasted lots of wines and not all of them are themed or per winery, so here they are. Some were really good, like the impressive but not widely available Kos Yeshuos wines from Josh Rynderman, who continues to impress me and whose wines truly belie his youth.

Besides Josh’s fun wines, I tasted the Gachot Manot Pinot Noir wines from the 2010 vintage. Of the four I have now tasted, the only ones I would buy now is the 1er cru if you can find it. The plain Bourgogne is in drink now mode, it has a year left at most in the tank. The other two wines, the Cote de Nuits-Villages and the Gevrey are really not that interesting and are in serious drink up mode.

Sadly, the 2012 Pacifica Pinot Noir dropped off the cliff, it is in serious drink NOW mode, or you will be left with water. There is a new 2016 vintage, I hope to taste it very soon.

Also, bravo to Menahem Israelievitch and the Royal Europe group. They have created two QPR wines that are nice. The best of the bunch by far is the 2016 Chateau Riganes. It is very cheap, at less than 10 dollars on kosherwine.com, and it is mevushal!! Finally! Finally! We are starting to see real wines in the kosher market that are not jacked up. The Chateau Trijet is nice as well, but more fruit forward than I would like.

Finally, I had the chance to taste the 2016 Capcanes Rosat and it did not crack the top roses of 2017, which is a shame. The new 2016 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc is a real winner and a QPR winner to boot!

We were in a huge rush so my notes are shorter than usual. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

Kos Yeshuos Wines

2016 Kos Yeshuos Grenache, Mokelumne River, Lodi – Score: 90 to 91
The nose is really fun and feminine, with vibrant fruit, juicy strawberry, hints of blueberry, with intensely floral notes showing rose hip and nice sweet baking spices. The mouth on medium bodied is fun, vibrant, and zesty, and with a great backing of good acid that makes it a fun food wine, with good fruit focus showing tart cherry, with a good tannin that carries the wine, with lovely strawberry, and cinnamon at the start that gives way to cloves, allspice, and then great almond pith. The finish is long and spicy, with earth, really fun saline, floral notes, and a backbone of acid that really carries this wine well. Nice! Drink till 2020.

2016 Kos Yeshuos Syrah, Mokelumne River, Lodi – Score: 92
What a lovely Cali nose, a real joy, controlled, fruity, big and bold and really meaty, with really great boysenberry, blueberry, roasted meat, backed by nice floral notes (not weak Australian style – but really rich and floral), with mounds of chocolate, lovely graphite, mineral, and sweet oak. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, layered and inky, a real joy, wow, this is a wine that belies Josh’s young career as a winemaker, a wine with great control and finesse, a true food Syrah (not because it is undrinkable without food, it has ZERO date or sweet issues), but this wine is a beast, it cannot be enjoyed on its own, unless u are a glutton for punishment, showing rich cassis, blackberry, followed by blue fruit galore, juicy and ripe, yet not over the top, wrapped in spicy and sweet oak, with rich ribbons of mineral, earth, and great baking spices to bring it all together. The finish is long and mineral based, with great graphite, rich saline, green and black olives, along with hints of other umami to come, but meaty, blue, mineral, and black lingering long. Bravo! Drink from 2018 to 2023. Not available anymore – I think sold out.

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Top kosher White and Sparkling wines that I have tasted in 2017

Over the past three months, I have been trying as many rose, white, and sparkling wines as I could find and it is time to post what I think of them. In the grand scheme of things, 2016 is not much better of a year than 2015 was. The white and rose wines from the 2015 vintage in Israel were a complete disaster. I have stated that many times and that is why I did not post this list last year at all. I was almost not going to post this list this year, but what the heck – it will not be very good information – as many of the wines were boring to painful with a few good exceptions.

To recap, red wines overall from Israel are a total letdown and nothing has changed in that department. However, the 2015 and 2016 vintages for whites and roses have overall been a huge disappointment, in regards to either lack of focus in the wines or lack of acid.

I have covered Rose – many times now, but the latest and last was here and a few French roses that were not worth much as well. The whites and sparkling wines were what I needed to post – so I guess it is time to post them already.

The State of Israeli wines from the 2016 vintage

Israel really got me excited about the rose and white wine potential, but the last two years have totally squashed those aspirations. I really hope 2017 brings it back. Sure, we can always count on Domaine Netofa and Tzora Winery for great wines. Netofa has released some brand new wines and I look forward to being able to taste those wines very soon. The new 2016 Tzora white wines are now in the USA and they are lovely wines that have a good few years in their tanks. The new 2016 Psagot are also quite nice.

Of course, Yarden winery continues to be the best kosher Sparkling winery in the world. Sure, there are great sparkling wines from France and even some nice one from Spain and the USA, but for the price, quality, and enjoyment – you cannot beat the Yarden Sparkling wines. Their white wines are very professional, they may not blow you away, but they are always clean, well balanced, and fun to drink, which is what matters. Their lower level labels (Gilgal here in the USA), have had some issues in the white wines, and Galil Mountain Winery has also been slipping a bit, which is sad.

In regards to Israeli red wines, nothing new here. A great red Israeli wine has gone the way of the dodo bird. Other than Tzora, Netofa, Mia Luce, and some others here and there,  I cannot safely recommend reds from Israel to my friends.

Two years ago when I last compiled a cross varietal white wine list, I was praising Israel for its wonderful whites and rose – sadly that was the wonderful 2014 vintage! It was and is still crazy good for some wines like Matar and Tzora. Then we had 2015 and 2016! While the 2016 vintage is better than the 2015 vintage, well anything would have been better than 2015, it is still severely lacking.

My cellar has gone primarily to the USA, then France, then Spain, and then stuff here and there. The USA, mostly because I love all things Four Gates Winery, and a bunch of others as you will see below. That is a sad state of affairs, but it is one that has been created by the Israeli wineries themselves. They always have the chance to change back, till then I will enjoy the wines made in California, Spain, France, and wait for bell curve to shift like it has in France and California. I hope Israel is only slightly behind them, but from what I had over the past couple of years now, things are still going the wrong way in the world of kosher Israeli wines. Read the rest of this entry

Tasting of kosher wines from Italy and Italian varietals

This past week the gang gathered at Josh Rynderman house, many thanks to MR for hosting us! I brought a few bottles of Italian wine, and so did others, while some brought non-Italian wines, and in the end, we made it into the wine event I have been waiting to have – as it was time to get down and write up my Italian wines.

It is no new revelation, that my palate has moved more old-world in style. Yes, I still enjoy Four Gates wines (which have moved new-world in style over the past few years), along with Herzog wines, Hajdu wines, mostly white Hagafen wines, and yes, Shirah wines as well (even if they think I do not love their wines). However, I was never a huge fan of Italian wines, even if in the non-kosher world, they make TONS of old-world style wines. Sadly, the issue is that there were few to none that impressed me other than the Falesco wines from 2005 and 2006 and the 2010 Moncheiro. However, recently, things are changing. First is the release of wines from Terra di Seta that I really like, (the original all-kosher winery in Tuscany). Next, is the fact that Hajdu is releasing lovely wines made from Italian varietals. Finally, there is a new all-kosher winery from Tuscany, Cantina Giuliano, who released three new wines, along with the 2014 Chianti he had last year. The 2015 Chianti from Cantina Giuliano is for sale in Europe, but it is not yet available in the USA.

Let me start with answering questions people will have before I start with this article. This may offend some, but hey, what can I do. No, there was no Bartenura wines, why? Simple, I am not a fan. What about Borgo Reale wines and Cantina Gabriela? Well, I like the two top line Borgo wines, the Brunello and Barolo, but the Borgo Reale Barolo pales in comparison to the Paulo Manzone Tenuta Moncheiro Barolo 2010, even though it sells for the same amount of money. The 2010 vintage in Barolo was one of the best in a long time, I would love to try the Paulo Manzone Tenuta Moncheiro Barolo 2010 again in a few years, like 5 or so. We did not taste these three wines at the tasting, but I have added the notes of the Paulo Manzone Tenuta Moncheiro Barolo 2010 below. Sadly, I cannot find my notes for the two Borgo wines I liked.

A bit of background on Italy’s four wine classifications: 

(1) Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) – This classification denotes the highest quality recognition for Italian wines. There are only 20 or so wines meriting this classification. (2) Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) – This is the same classification as the French wine classification, Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC). Wines that fall under the DOC classification must be made in specified, governmentally defined zones, in accordance with particular regulations intended to preserve the wine’s character.  There are some 300 or so wines in this classification. (3) Indicazione di Geografica Tipica (IGT) – These table wines are often ubiquitous wines, grown in specific geographical growing regions. (4) Vino Da Tavola (VdT) – This designates wines that reside firmly on the “low end” of the totem pole. Comprised of Italian table wines, these products must meet the sole criteria of being produced somewhere in Italy.  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.

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Four Gates Winery – the newest wines for 2017

In case you have all been sleeping under a rock for the past 10 years – you all know my deep love for all things Four Gates. Last year was a great year for Four Gates Wine, and this year is no different. Once again, I have been asked about prices, and I am seriously not sure why this is being directed towards me. Sure, I am his friend, but prices are not my decision. Four Gates makes a tiny amount of wine and it is his business what he charges for them.

With that business out-of-the-way, let’s get to the wines for this years release. This year there is a new varietal, a Petite Sirah and there is a return of a Zinfandel, and there is a re-release of the 2013 Syrah and the 2013 Chardonnay. The Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel, are not his grapes of course, as Four Gates vineyards is made up of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

The Cabernet Franc from this year’s release, also a 2013, comes from his aforementioned vines. It is a vastly different wine than the 2013 Cabernet Franc that he released last year, that was made from grapes sourced from the Monte Bello Ridge area. The Monte Bello Ridge CF was pure mineral and less fruit. This 2013 Cabernet Franc is a return of the classic Four Gates Cabernet Franc, rich in its floral and fruit notes.

There are two 2013 Merlot, and sadly I only have notes on the MSC, but from what I remember the non – MSC is lovely. The notes follow below, in the order they appear on his website:

2013 Four Gates Merlot, M.S.C – Score: A- to A
I really love this wine, it shows really old style notes, showing mushroom, earth, with bright red and black fruit mingling into pure hedonism. The mouth on this beautiful and elegant wine is layered and concentrated with ripe blackberry, plum, and rich earth, mushroom, and forest floor, with green notes, and old world structure and mineral, with new world fruit, all wrapped in mouth draping tannin and green notes. The finish is long and green, with earth, menthol, coffee grinds, and roasted herb.

2013 Four Gates Cabernet Franc – Score: A- to A
It is back!! The Franc is classic, with lovely floral and feminine notes, showing rose, floral notes, with green notes, earth, raspberry, and red fruit. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is lovely, old world, and expressive, with ripping acid, wrapped in lovely mouth coating tannin, showing red fruit, with black currant, rich earth, lovely garrigue, earth, and green foliage abounds, all with epic focus and bright fruit. The finish is long and green with spice, mint, lovely saline, graphite, mineral galore, with coffee notes and roasted herb. BRAVO!

2013 Four Gates Syrah – Score: A-
In the past year, little has changed in this wine. One word does correctly define this wine – FILTHY!!! The wine opens slowly – but once it does, the wine opens to a crazy redolence of blue fruit, followed by squid ink, licorice, sweet oak, intense black fruit, mushroom, and wondrous spice. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is layered and extracted to the max with intense black and blue fruit, blueberry, blackberry, blackcurrant, followed by lovely barnyard, crazy earth, mineral, graphite, rich extraction, dense concentration of fruit and mineral, and great acid. The finish is long and spicy, with cinnamon, all spice, root beer, and hints of asian spice, and roasted animal, and miso! BRAVO!

2014 Four Gates Zinfandel – Score: A-
This is a fun wine, a lovely classic California Zin, with blue notes galore, raspberry, currants, followed by bright fruit, and earth. The mouth on this full-bodied is really fun, full throttle California, showing lovely acid, zesty fruity juicy wine, with fun blueberry, blackberry, and zesty fruit, wrapped in a nice cloak of tannin and zesty spice. The finish is long and spicy with cloves, cracked black pepper, and nice spice. Nice!

2015 Four Gates Pinot Noir – Score: A-
This wine reminds me of the Cali Pinot Noirs to start, rather than the older world style of Benyo’s wines, to start. The nose on this wine is ripe and sweet, with sweet cherry notes, raspberry coulis, and baking spices. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is ripe and round, with good fruit structure, nice earth, dirt, and good sweet spices, that are wrapped in lovely searing tannins to start, but give way eventually to mouth coating tannins that integrate slowly. The finish is long and both tart and spicy, with great tobacco, earth, dill, and menthol that lift the ripe fruit and give it elegance and complexity.

2014 Four Gates Petite Sirah – Score: A-
The nose on this wine is dark and brooding, with hints of blue notes, followed by blackberry, plum, earth, and good mineral focus, with time the nose is redolent with blue notes, black fruit, and root beer. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is fun, it is slightly rustic in style to start, but that passes and turns more elegant, with mouth drying and coating tannin, giving way to a lovely inky structure, that is backed by lovely blueberry, boysenberry jam, balanced well with mineral and tobacco, with dark chocolate, and luscious tart and juicy strawberry, all wrapped in sweet oak. The finish is long and tart, with good sweet fruit focus, nice mineral, graphite, great tart fruit structure linger long, with tart boysenberry sorbet, and bright fruit lingering long. Nice!!

2013 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A-
The nose on this lovely gold colored wine screams of sweet oak, with honey notes, peach, apricot, guava, mad butterscotch, and creamy sweet notes. The mouth on this full bodied beast is rich, opulent, and viscous with layers of brioche, followed by rich summer fruit, quince, pineapple, grapefruit, lemon/citrus notes, creamy notes, vanilla, and lovely crème fraîche. The finish is long and creamy with lingering oak, great spice, nutmeg, cloves, mad intense acid, and overall balance from the oak and fruit. This is clearly Benyo’s first heavy oaked Chard, but give this wine time to settle out and round out. With time it will show the trademark creamy, buttery notes that make his wines so appealing.

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