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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

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Tasting of Royal’s 2015 French wines in France

As I stated recently in my original post about my most recent trip to Israel, France, and Germany, I had the opportunity to sit with Menahem Israelievitch and taste through all of Royal France’s new 2015 wines in France. So, I am going to take a break from my Israel wine trip posts and skip to the France portion (chronologically speaking) to post my notes on the French wines that are slowly making their way to the market now.

2015 Royal Europe French wines

Last year I was given the opportunity to taste these wines from the barrel at each of the wineries in Bordeaux. Since then, some have changed, with some improving, and some not so much. The wines were only recently bottled and I am sure they will change more now, and of course, as the wines evolve and age they will change in very different ways along the way, mostly for the positive.

In my last post about the most recent French wines that were arriving on the market – I already spoke about pricing and supply, so there is no need to talk that over again in this post.

The interesting changes this year for these wines is that more of them will be coming to the USA in mevushal format. Will that be an issue? You will see below that there are two notes for the 2015 Chateau La Crock – one was tasted from the non-mevushal 750ml bottle and one was from a 375ml mevushal bottle. Clearly, they are not an apple to apple comparison, as bottle format affects the aging of wine, as I described here. However, these wines were only recently bottled and as such, it was far more of an apple to apple comparison than it may seem at first blush. The mevushal wine was clearly different, but it did not taste flawed, it was just further aged than the non-mevushal bottle. We have found so far from history, that Royal wines know how to do mevushal well already. The perfect proof of that is the wonderful 2010 Rothschild Medoc wine that was luscious and beautiful and mevushal.

Now does mevushal impede the long-term viability of aging in regards to the wine? Well, that too is not something that we have scientific proof on. I have tasted a mevushal 1999 Herzog Special Edition wine that wine was mevushal and it was aging beautifully! So, would I buy the mevushal versions of the wines I tasted below – absolutely! Would I age them? Yes, but one of the byproducts of the mevushal process is to make them more accessible earlier. So, when the mevushal wines come to the USA, I will taste them and post the notes – then you can make your own opinions after that.

Other than the mevushal aspect, there are no differences between the European version of the wines and the USA version of the wines. Which should be obvious, but just stating it here. The wines will be shipped now and the temperature issues that clearly affected Israel’s wines of old, have not been a factor here, at least based upon the 2014 wines I tasted in France and in Here in the USA.

Tasting

I landed in Paris, got showered and the such, and then made my way to lunch with Menahem Israelievitch. After lunch, we went to a lovely home to do the tasting. The wines were all laid out in the order for the tasting, and one by one we went through the 20 wines. The only wine missing was the 2015 Rothschild Haut Medoc. It was a lovely wine from the barrel and it was a shame that it was not available in time. The real shame is that I will not get to taste that wine for a long time still. Why? Because of what I explained already in my previous post of French wines and Bordeaux. The 2013 vintage was a mess and there is still far too much of the 2013 vintage left for them to start selling the 2014 vintage here in the USA. So before we see the 2015 vintage, the 2014 vintage would need to be sold out. That is two full vintages that need to disappear before I will get to taste the 2015 vintage. The 2014 vintage, which I tasted last year was lovely, and it has very little to do in comparison to the half bottles of 2014 that are available here in the USA. The 750ml version of the 2014 vintage was lovely, the half bottles of the 2014 vintage that is available here in the USA, felt flat and hollow.

My many thanks to Menahem Israelievitch for going out of his way to help me to taste all the current French wines from Royal Wines before they were publicly released. The labels on the pictures may not all have a kosher symbol, but that was because they rushed some of the bottles to Mr. Israelievitch before they were properly labeled with supervision symbols attached. As in Israel, the wineries all around Europe were deep in the throes of harvest and it was really very kind of Mr. Israelievitch to make them available in the first place, and secondly, to make time to taste the wines with me. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2016 Les Marronniers Chablis – Score: 92 (mevushal)
Finally! A reasonably (not cheap but reasonable) priced white wine that is more mineral than fruit focused – nice! The nose on this wine is lovely, with green apples, ripe melon, green notes, with nice mineral and lovely herbs galore. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely, it is really well balanced, showing lovely mineral, nice grapefruit, nice acid that is citrus in nature, as it gives way to a lovely round and yet tart mouth with yellow plum and good herb. The finish is long and really tart, lovely citrus pith, with lemon fraiche, lemongrass, with slate, saline, tart fruit, and nice floral notes lingering long. Bravo! Drink by 2021.

2015 Ramon Cordova Rioja – Score: 88 (mevushal)
The nose on this wine is ripe, very ripe, with ripe blueberry, nice red berry, garrigue, menthol, green notes, roasted notes, and lovely herb. The mouth is medium bodied and round with good sweet oak, sweet dill, tobacco, mint, eucalyptus, that gives way to mouth coating tannin, good spice, mounds of earth, sweet raspberry, mineral, and nice graphite. I just wish it had more acid. The finish is long and salty, with rich saline, nice spice, pepper, and mineral that lingers extremely long. Nice. Drink by 2019. Read the rest of this entry

2017 Bokobsa Wine Tasting in Paris

mbokobsa-tasting-in-parisWell, if you read my previously posted notes of my one day at Sommelier in Israel, you may be wondering why I am posting about Paris France? The apropos answer to that question can be summed up with this beautiful pasuk from Psalms “Shomer petaim Hashem,” literally “God protects the foolish,”.

So, let’s start from the beginning. As I posted here, about the coming wine events of 2017, there were many options for you to get out and taste great wines almost across the globe. Well, this year I finally wanted to put more focus on France, so I was in Bordeaux later last year, and now I wanted to get to Paris again to taste through the new 2014 wines. My desire was to get to one day at Sommelier, and the Bokobsa wine tasting in Paris, but skip the epic Zur wine tasting this year, the first time since its inception 😦

Thankfully the plans worked out, and for that I thank God and my wife. Last year I was in Israel a total of 6 times, including a stop over in Bordeaux, where I tasted some of the best wines from the 2015/2016 vintage, thanks to Royal Europe. So, this year, we had to keep the number of round trips to Israel to a more reasonable number, and staying home a bit more was also on the table. That meant doing crazy things to get an elephant of activity, squeezed into a thimble sized amount of time. A total of five days, including travel both ways, to squeeze in a trip to Israel, a Monday in Israel for Sommelier, then a day trip to paris for the Bokobsa tasting (Tuesday), returning at 4AM on Wednesday back to Israel. Then going north to visit 5 wineries (Kishor, Matar, Adir, Lueria, and then Netofa part 1 of 2017). Then return back to sleep (preferably not in the car while driving). Get up Thursday, drive to a bris, then to my beloved sister (GREAT hanging with her), then to Tzora, Flam, and then flying home. So yeah, I have lots of posts coming soon, but for now, this is about Paris and France’s wines!

It started Saturday night, with a dash out the door to catch the 8PM direct flight to Israel. Thank God the plane was not packed and I arrived in time. We landed in Israel, and found my way to the hotel, where I would stay for two days. The next day was Sommelier, then dinner with friends, and then a half attempted night’s sleep. Then Tuesday, go to the airport and take the El Al flight to paris France for the Bokobsa tasting at the Intercontinental Hotel. By the way, charging 8 Euro at the hotel bar, for a cup of coffee is crazy, just an aside! Read the rest of this entry

2015 and 2016 – are Royal years indeed in Bordeaux

Bordeaux, the cradle of the modern wine revolution, for both the kosher and nonkosher worlds, is a beautiful realization of the past and present coming together to build a fabulous future. The world of true kosher wine, started before Hagafen, before Herzog, though maybe not before Carmel, who made a beautiful kosher wine in 1901 and then again in 1976, one that I tasted, but one that is now a shadow of its former self. Still, before Carmel’s rebirth, there were kosher wines being made in the 1970s, and those were the first kosher wines, that were not sacramental wines. Koenig was making kosher wines in the 1960s, and there were kosher Bordeaux wines being made in the 1970s as well.

The story of Carmel starts with a wonderful man, whose philanthropic desires led to the largest outside investment into the former Palestine in the 19th century, and his history is deeply intertwined in the world of kosher wine, since the 80s. Winemaking in Israel had enjoyed a long and successful run in biblical times. Wine presses used thousands of years ago are still visible today. However, during the Roman conquest of Judea in 70 A.C., many vineyards were destroyed, and the remaining vines were destroyed during the period of Muslim rule that began in 636 C.E. The Muslim rule led to a 1,200-year halt in local wine production. Wine production returned to Israel in 1882, when Baron Edmond de Rothschild funded the creation of vineyards and a few wineries – one of which we know today as Carmel. However, after the massive success of Carmel’s Cabernet Rishon (#1) (where it won a Gold Medal) at the Paris World Fair of 1900, Carmel winery went into a long and deep slumber. It re-awoke for a brief moment in 1976, and then again in 1979 when the Carmel Special Reserve wines again made history.  The shocking fact is that the Baron spent less money in France to buy Lafite (4.4 Million Francs), than he invested in Israel, a shocking 11 Million Francs. His shocking generosity was not lost, even if Carmel did fade for almost a century, it was his rallying cry to not forget our brethren, who threw caution to the wind to rebuild Israel, that helped bring focus to their need and was the first true power behind the future land of Israel! In many ways, he was one of the founding father’s of present day Israel.

Kosher Wine

Seeing how close Bordeaux touches the life of all kosher wine drinkers, one has to stop and ponder what if? What if Baron Edmond (Benjamin) de Rothschild had simply made Lafite kosher instead of investing in Carmel? Does that question offend you? I hope it does! If you track the sheer amount of money that has been invested into Carmel, it is staggering! Mind blowing! Is this post about Carmel? Of course not! What I am offering is a clear reminder that kosher wine, is a three-legged stool of complexity. Please look at my post about the myriad and complex web of kosher winemaking requirements to refresh yourself. But as a reminder, the main three-legged stool, is Religious Jews touching the wine, kosher for Passover ingredients, and the hardest one of them all, the one that should be clear, but one that is often forgotten, these two restrictions, and all of the other ones, start from the very beginning. Meaning that if you walk up to a winery and taste their wine and like it – that means the EARLIEST you can make a kosher version of that wine is next year (unless you taste an earlier vintage and it is still before harvest).

I have spoken about this subject before, really, when talking about Flam, and others that have moved from the non-kosher market to the kosher market in Israel. The issue here is that it is a minimum of a three-year investment for good reds before you see the money. If it involves vineyards, then that is a minimum investment of 6 years for good reds in Israel! You could make them inside of four years, outside of Israel, but really? Who would want wine from a two-year-old vine? Not many! Throughout my time in Bordeaux, the terroir was a common theme, an obvious one of course, but one that shows itself more in wine than in the conversations. Why? Well, most people already know that the land of Bordeaux is hallowed ground for great wines. People make yearly pilgrimages to the storied En Primeur, where the likes of Robert Parker used to cast his shadow, and where Neal Martin till does, along with many of the top Negociants who come to set up shop for the three-day event.

Kosher Bordeaux Wine – the state of affairs

A side topic about the state of kosher Bordeaux wine. People often wonder why there is not a kosher vintage of the most famous chateau every year? Why did we miss out on the famous 2009 Leoville Poyferre? Why is there no 2009 Malartic? Sadly, the answer is that as much as French kosher wine is growing in popularity, it is not that popular.

The issue lies around the cost to make these wines, the knowledge that people have of them, along with the fact that they are well, old world! Also, there is the supply and demand vector that I will keep throwing in along the way.

So let’s start with the last and go backward, old world wines are what I crave, and many of the wine nuts I know. However, it is NOT what the wine drinkers crave in the kosher wine market. OK, cue broken record, ok it is on, the kosher red wine palate is punch drunk on sweet overripe wines, wines that I abhor. Look at the average kosher wine tasting event, one that has french wines, and you will see that the table fills up quickly, and then is empty as the night progresses. Why? Because French wines are a curiosity to the kosher wine palate, and not much more. Now that is a gross oversimplification, yes I agree. Still, it is far closer to the truth than many are making it out to be. Read the rest of this entry

Back to the Future – the kosher French wines available today

Well, I hope all of you enjoyed the Passover respite (some see it as a stressful time, I see it purely as a joyous time, and yes I do a lot of cleaning as well). This post I wanted to talk about the kosher French wines that I have tasted recently.

Now I must stress that these are the wines that I have tasted, not ALL the wines that are available. There are hundreds of kosher French wines, and the vast majority of them never make it to the USA. With that said, I really LOVE the new crop of 2011 and 2012 wines that have made their way to the US and around the world. But before we jump into the nitty gritty and the tastings we need to take a step back and talk about French wines for a second.

Let us start with some very basic concepts around France and its wines. To start it is one of the oldest wine making locations in the world. Sure, Israel, may well be the oldest, but it stopped making wine for a very long time – till around the 1870s or so. Even then, they did not start making real world class wines till the 1980s (ignoring the 1901 and 1970 successes of Carmel).

France is once again the largest wine producer in the world, as of 2014, and most of it is quality wine. It is hard to find another country that makes so many good wines, so many vastly different wines – each from their own terroir – with such a long and storied history. The wines I will be talking about today are mostly from Bordeaux, the home of the “noble grapes of the world” – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc (not on the official noble list), and Sauvignon Blanc. To be fair there are other noble grapes not in Bordeaux, like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Burgundy. Riesling – mostly from Alsace and Sauvignon Blanc again from Upper Loire. Toss in Syrah and Grenache from the Rhone and that comprises the wines that I am noting today.

I did not write Pinot Noir notes – I did that recently here and you can read my French wine notes there.

I have written often about the wines of the Rhone – because many of my favorite wines from California (Shirah and Hajdu) make most of their wines that comprise the region called Rhone. Those would be Syrah (as noted previously), Grenache, and Petite Sirah (not really Rhone at all, but the Rhone Rangers love it). With some Grenache Blanc and Viognier thrown in.

In case you have not yet realized it, but I have pretty much listed many of my own favorite varietals, and they all come from France. Truly France is the cradle of the wine world. Sadly, there was little to no kosher options in the 1980s, even though France itself was producing 10s of millions of cases of wine at that time.

Of course of all the varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot tend to grab all the headlines. Rightfully so to some, but to many the wines of the Rhone and Burgundy are of more interest. So, how does all of this work? France long ago decided to control what varietals would be planted and within the regions of its country that would produce the best wines possible. It is a foreign thought to many still, even here in the USA. Terroir defines France. Essentially the 300 or so appellations d’origine contrôlee (AOC) within the country are so designed and controlled to allow for creating the best wines possible. Planting Syrah in Bordeaux can be done – but why? Syrah requires far more heat and sun that Bordeaux can dish out – so Syrah was defined as a southern grape location – AKA Rhone, where it can flourish in all of its glory. Read the rest of this entry

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