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A Shabbat in Jerusalem with epic old world wines

As I have been posting so far, I enjoyed my last trip to Israel and Europe, and I am almost done with my Israeli winery posts. Last we left off, we had just had our second kosher wine tasting at DD’s house, and the first of the three wineries we visited on Friday – Domaine du Castel Winery. However before we get back to the other two wineries we visited on Friday, I wanted to post about the wines we enjoyed over the Shabbat that followed.

I will leave the story for another day, but I can say that Jerusalem was smoking hot Friday and Shabbat (chamsin-like), but thankfully dry. I spat throughout the tastings on Friday, where we went to Tzora Winery, Flam Winery, and the afore-posted Castel Winery. However, some of the group were less careful about spitting and combine that with the searing heat that did not cool till almost midnight – and that made for a viscous 1-2 punch that slowed some folks at the dinner table on Shabbat. However, come Shabbat day all were active and wine was flowing like bonkers. I brought over two wines, as I was asked to drink and forget Israeli wines, please, which is all I could have access to!

However, I was able to find the lovely 2016 La Vie Roubine rose and a total pass of a wine, the 2016 1848 White blend, flat and unimaginative, and the fantastic NV Yaacov Oryah Old musketeer, so I was 2 for 3, which is a very high batting average, but not a good wine present average. Though the NV Yaacov Oryah Old musketeer hopefully makes up for it.

Friday Night

The walk to dinner was preceded by a quick davening in a Sephardic shul that brought back memories of my youth when I spend Shabbosim in Jerusalem. Old and young mingling and davening with their own expressions and intonations, but all still together in spirit and fervor, a real joy. Of course, the other great part is that there was no schlepping of any sort! Gotta love praying in Jerusalem! There was a class by some Rabbi, but I remember none of it, I think that is clear enough.

As we made our way up to our host, the heat was receding a bit, but that is like saying it is easier to walk through torrential rain than a hail storm. It was tough, and it was straight uphill, a small fact that everyone felt free to not disclose to me ahead of time, very nice! To be fair I was not the one schlepping the 8 bottles of wine up that hill, those were strapped to the back of the “not so with us” participant, who courageously powered up the hill, weaving here and fro but upwards all the same! I had to stop once and when we arrived at our host’s home, I was literally blanched and unable to stand – the heat, the hike uphill, it took a toll on me and I must have drunk a gallon of water until I was human again.

Finally, we were ready for kiddush, at least most of us, and that was done on grape juice! Like what! Grape juice! Then I realized – this may be the home of a Frenchman, but it is also home to a few kids who drink grape juice first and then wine. The smallest of the three drinks wine just fine, but the other two enjoy tasting it. The house itself is quite lovely and the fact that it is still standing, notwithstanding the three young terrorists that live within its walls, is a testimony to the building skills of the masons and builders of Jerusalem!

I will skip the food as I was not really tracking what I was eating, not because it was not great, but more because I was greatly enamored by the wines in front of me and the need to sleep ASAP, it had been a long day at that point. Read the rest of this entry

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My top kosher 25 wines of 2016

wall of wineWell, I have posted my year in review, and now I wanted to get to my top wines for 2016. Please beware that I know I missed many wines and that this list does not include wines that I have tasted that are not available on the open market.

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 ebst wines I tasted this year – they are at the bottom.

On an aside, there continues to be a whole mess of madness around wines notes and scores, even the Jewish Week weighed in on the matter. So, let me explain this really simply – go look at some of my recent blog posts – they talk about some nice enough wines, but wines I would not specifically buy. They have all the nice words and such, which were all true and to the point. But without the final value score, I can tell you a Cabernet is full bodied with good fruit and spice – and you may say cool I want that – but then I would say well, yeah but it was not complex or layered. You could try to reason that out of the words I wrote, because the words complex and layered are missing. However, the simple fact that it was scored a B+ or whatever, would have told you that it is not always a wine worth going after (unless it is the Terrenal or such where it gets a QPR moniker).

My point being that wine notes – without a proper context (AKA a real score) – is like looking at a wedding hall through a slit in the window. Sure you can “see” the hall, but are you really sure you want to get married there? I never scored wines to tell people to listen to my score. I score wines to set the context and to always read the notes to see if that sort of wine works for you!

I posted this about my scores – and what they mean, so I hope these are useful to you. OK, enough of the darn score rant for the day, back to the matters at hand, being wines of the year. The list is long – get over it. It is a list of wines that I would buy, have bought, and will buy again – simple enough I hope. I hope you enjoy!

2014 Elvi Wines EL 26 – Score: A- to A
This wine is a blend of 45% Carignan, 35% Grenache, and 20% Syrah. This wine is showing far more accessible than previous vintages. The 2014 vintage in Spain makes fro wines that are easily approachable now and yet has the power to last a long time. The nose on this wine is fruit forward with dark candied raspberry, blackberry, and spiced boysenberry, with root beer and earth, showing spice, anise, and cranberry. The mouth is beautiful and controlled, with great mouth coating tannin, sheer elegance, with great sweet and focused fruit, lovely extraction, showing ripe and tart strawberry, raspberry, and boysenberry all mixed together into a compote, with black fruit and earth. The finish is ridiculous, some of the best of the evening, with sweet fruit and ripe structure, yet balanced and focused, with coffee, leather, and sweet spices, nutmeg, and mineral galore, with scraping graphite, BRAVO!!

2014 Capcanes Peraj Habib – Score A- to A
This wine is a blend of 45% Grenache, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Carignan. This wine is showing far more accessible than previous vintages. The 2014 vintage in Spain makes fro wines that are easily approachable now and yet has the power to last a long time. The nose on this wine shows nicely, with chocolate and oak, along with crazy red fruit, roasted animal, toast, graphite, and lovely smoke, with floral notes galore. What a lovely wine, full bodied with great extraction, ripping acid and great crazy tannin that gives way to blueberry, blackberry, lovely cherry, and insane fruit focus that is backed by intense graphite, and mineral, scraping mineral, with mouth drying tannin all coming together into a far more accessible wine than any year before. The wine is really young but accessible, with insane fruit and mineral all coming together. The finish is long and epic, with leather, and rich extraction lingering with coffee and sweet spices coming together beautifully. Bravo!

2013 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Solomon lot 70 – Score: A- to A
Really lovely but pushed nose, with ripe black fruit, tar galore, with garrigue, earth, and rich blackberry. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich and extracted, showing an impressive attack with rich focus of blueberry, intense gripping tannin, spicy oak, sweet dill galore, with massive almost tactile mouth showing black fruit focus, with impressive inky structure that gives way to black and blue fruit. The finish is long and spicy, with green notes, foliage, good dirt, all wrapped with dark chocolate, leather, tobacco heaven, more green notes, and rich Asian spices.

2014 Elvi Clos Mesorah – Score: A- to A
This wines a blend of 50% Grenache, 35% Carignan from vines that are 105 years old, and 15% Syrah. Wow what a California Syrah nose, with intense root beer, watermelon, crazy how this smells like Shirah Syrah, with blueberry, and boysenberry, and spiced plum punch. The mouth on this full bodied wine wow, the mouth is full bodied, extracted, and crazy rich, with layers of extraction and concentrated fruit, showing searing tannin, ripping acid, that gives way to black and blue fruit, blackberry, plum, with crazy chocolate and coffee coming together to show mouth drying tannin, with earth, spice, cloves, black pepper, and spicy, with heady spice and blue fruit. The finish is long and spicy, with sweet spice and fruit that gives way to chocolate, roasted meat, and graphite. Really impressive wine bravo!

2010 ELvi Wines Rioja Reserva – Score: A- to A
Wow what a glass of umami, pure hedonism, bravo! The nose on this wine is pure joy, with root beer, blueberry, roasted meat, black pepper, mushroom, dirt, smoke, and toast. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is far more accessible than the 09, with sweet fruit, earth, dirt, sweet blue fruit, crazy candied and juicy blue fruit, that gives way to cherry, candied and spiced raspberry, with mouth coating and drying tannin, rich juicy and concentrated fruit, with insane focus and attack. The finish is long and juicy, with sweet fruit, nutmeg, sweet baking spices, milk chocolate, smoke, and crazy spices, anise and licorice. Bravo!

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My top kosher 25 wines of 2015

wall of wineWell, I have posted my year in review, and now I wanted to get to my top wines for 2015. Please beware that I know I missed many wines and that this list does not include wines that I have tasted that are not available on the open market – like older Covenant Wines and the sort.

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- or higher. Anything less would not be on my list.

On an aside, there continues to be a whole mess of madness around wines notes and scores, even the Jewish Week weighed in on the matter. So, let me explain this really simply – go look at some of my recent blog posts – they talk about some nice enough wines, but wines I would not specifically buy. They have all the nice words and such, which were all true and to the point. But without the final value score, I can tell you a Cabernet is full bodied with good fruit and spice – and you may say cool I want that – but then I would say well, yeah but it was not complex or layered. You could try to reason that out of the words I wrote, because the words complex and layered are missing. However, the simple fact that it was scored a B+ or whatever, would have told you that it is not always a wine worth going after (unless it is the Terrenal or such where it gets a QPR moniker).

My point being that wine notes – without a proper context (AKA a real score) – is like looking at a wedding hall through a slit in the window. Sure you can “see” the hall, but are you really sure you want to get married there? I never scored wines to tell people to listen to my score. I score wines to set the context and to always read the notes to see if that sort of wine works for you!

OK, enough of the darn score rant for the day, back to the matters at hand, being wines of the year. The list is long – get over it. It is a list of wines that I would buy, have bought, and will buy again – simple enough I hope. I did not differentiate by another other criteria or aspect – if it was solid (A- or higher) it made the list. I hope you enjoy!

2013 Elvi Wines Clos Mesorah – Score: A- to A
This is the flagship wine of Elvi Wines (though the Herenza Reserva may have a word to say about that) and it is a blend of 50% Carignan, 30% Grenache, and 20% Syrah. Elvi Wines makes 7K of these bottles. The wine was sourced from vines that are 20 to 100 years of age. The nose on this wine is insane and intoxicating with aromas of watermelon, root beer, ripe boysenberry, blueberry, along with chocolate and black fruit. The mouth on this full bodied wine hits you with layers of concentrated fruit, with an attack of blue and black fruit, balanced perfectly, showing great elegance, along with mad mineral, graphite, slate, rich and freshly tilled earth, along with deeply concentrated black fruit. The wine is the perfect example of elegance and balance with ripe fruit that flows into a plush mouth made from mouth coating tannin and rich fruit structure. This is truly a wine speaks for itself. The finish is long and intense, showing rich roasted animal, lovely mushroom, and floral notes. With time, the wine shows mad barnyard, mushroom, and even more loamy dirt. Bravo!!!

2010 Elvi Wines Herenza Rioja Reserva – Score: A- to A
There are only 4K of these bottles made and each one is a true gift! The wine is closed and slow to open, but with time and a fair amount of decanting, the nose shows of mad soy sauce (like the 2009 Herenza Reserva), chocolate, richly tilled earth, loam, along with crazy mushroom and mad mineral. This wine is the epitome of umami, showing intense layers of umami with white summer fruit, cranberry, craisins, blackberry, pomegranate, and tart cherry in the background with mounds of earth. The finish is intensely long and dirt filled, with  dark chocolate, licorice, blueberry and red fruit. BRAVO!!!!

2012 Chateau Haut Condisas, Medoc – Score: A- (and much more)
The 2011 was very nice, but the 2012 a slight step up. The nose on this wine is rich and redolent with lovely dirt, dark black fruit, barnyard, earth, and mushroom. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, ripe, and in your face with nice chocolate, mad toast, mouth drying tannin, all wrapped in crazy acid, but bigger and riper than the 2011, almost Israeli in nature, but classically French controlled, with blackberry, raspberry, plum, with mineral and graphite. The finish is long and dirty, with hits of herb, along with layers of concentrated fruit, more mad mineral/earth/dirt/mushroom with dried raspberry, and rich garrigue. WOW! BRAVO!

2010 Chateau Fourcas Dupre, Listric – Medoc – Score: A- (and more) (CRAZY QPR)
This wine is on the list for its insane value and its goto ability above all wines from France for the price! The 2010 was a nice wine – but the 2012 is even better! The nose on this wine is lovely with rich dirt, cherry, crazy tart and juicy raspberry, followed by more dirt and mineral galore. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely and still young but give it time, the acid is impressive along with nice spice, mouth coating tannin that is gripping along with lovely blackberry, cassis in the background, along with crazy mushroom, and layers of fruit and earth and forest floor that come at you and do not give up. The finish is long, with insane acid and more mouth drying tannin, more earth, dirt, tart lingering fruit, and lovely mineral/graphite. The fruit and mineral lingers long – BRAVO!!!! Read the rest of this entry

Kosher wine and food madness – New York style

2004 Ella Valley RR, 2007 Carmel Shitaz Kayoumi Single Vineyard, 2007 Ella Valley Cab Vineyard Choice, 2005 Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003 Malartic LagraviereBack In March I had the opportunity to spend some time in NYC and hang with some friends. It was three days of wine tasting in foodie heaven and I wanted to post about the wines and the food, because some of it was just spectacular! It all started on a Monday night after the very average City Winery event, I made my way to SB and DF’s home and continued the wine tasting there. Sadly, I seemed to have misplaced my notes for two of the wines; namely the 2007 Ella Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Vineyard Choice and the 2004 Ella Valley RR, Vineyard’s Choice. The RR, if I remember correctly was all over the place and on the other side already in puppy heaven. The 2007 VC Cab was rocking, with rich layers and lovely barnyard, but for some reason I do not have the notes, no idea why! Of what I do remember the 2007 Cab VC was very old world in style with barnyard and lovely dirt and mushroom notes, with blackberry and plum, lovely! The 2007 Carmel Kayoumi Shiraz started off OK, but went all over the place quickly and went into blackcurrant madness and lost all balance, sadly. The 2004 Castel C was DOA, not fun at all. In the end, the first night was ruled by the epic 2007 Hagafen Late disgorged Brut and the 2007 Ella Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Vineyard Choice.

After that, it was off to bed, as we had a long day ahead. I woke up pretty much on time the next day, and we were off to see a wine store in the area, where I picked up a few bottles for the next few nights festivities and then it was back to the house to enjoy bubbly and some insane meat along with two wicked red wines; the 2005 Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2003 Malartic Lagraviere, Pessac-Leognan. Both were insane, but the Malartic is an entirely different world wine, with filthy layers of fruit, tannin, and barnyard – madness!!! Still, the 2005 Yatir Cabernet (their first varietal cab) was really impressive and had no flaws.

The next day I jumped on a bus and made my way to Brooklyn where I hung out with friends of ours, and for dinner I made my way to YC’s house, where a crazy dinner was being setup. By the time I arrived, YC and YB were going mano-a-mano, side by side, with varying types beef tartare, and rib roasts, while YB handled the burgers exclusively. Humorously, looking back at the dinner it really turned out to be an entire night of uncooked fish and beef tartare – really! When I arrived I was famished so we ordered in a LOT of Sushi for the guests who were already arriving, while the two cavemen “prepared” the meat, there really was no cooking going on here! Once we had inhaled the sushi (or most of it) and were accepting of a time-out, I ripped through a few of the white and bubbly wines described below, for note purposes only (they were not that enjoyable) and then we were ready for the serious food, cooked or not! On a total aside, the sushi came from an establishment called Five day sushi! Now, I am not into marketing, seriously, but who the heck came up with that name?? Do you think anyone who looks at that name, would care that fish were created on the fifth day of creation?? NOT ME!! All people looking at that name, for the most part, will think they sell sushi that is five days old, how safe or appetizing do they think that sounds?? With that said, the sushi was great, albeit the horrific name.

The meat evening started with two courses – one made each by YC and YB – of beef tartare, YC’s was more Dijon mustardy and spice, while YB’s had smoked tongue rilletes, oil, and lots of herb – if I remember correctly. From there they went to rib eye two ways, which was essentially raw meat with a  slight sear – LOL!!! Actually, YB brought this sick looking chunk of meat and that went on the girl for about 30 seconds, maybe a drop more! The inside was still moving and blue while the outside was well seared, as I said raw meat night! Next, there were burgers, of which I cannot remember, but again it was well seared raw beef patties, really beef tartare but in a ufo shape! Finally, YC brought out a huge chunk of rib eye meat (AKA roast) and I grabbed the bone, and finally there was actual cooked meat! However, to be honest, by then I was cooked, I was not spitting much and the raw meat was fermenting in my stomach and I was out for the count.

While the food was lovely, and equally beautiful to look at, the true stars of the evening were the wines. I started with a bottle of Rambam Prosecco, which was drinkable, I spat that one! The next was another white wine, a bottle of 2012 Giersberger Riesling, and it was nice enough, clearly the best of the lineup they bring to the US, but a B+ at best. Next we moved to the 2007 Yarden Pinot Noir, and while it is nice, it is nowhere near the epic 2008 PN. The 2007 was a solid B+ wine that is in drink up mode. Next was the 2012 Hajdu Cabernet Franc, which is a lovely wine, but it is starting to show a bit more ripe than I remember last, and while it is not flawed it did not show well that night. That was followed by two wines that are clearly lightning rods for me. I posted before about the two new Lewis Pasco wines, and while they are clearly ripe, some do not think they are over the top. To me, they have power but they are unbalanced and not wines I would stock up on. The 2012 – project #1 is going sweet, so watch out. The Liquidity 2012 is sadly over the top, and when I had it in 2013, from barrel, at sommelier it was beautiful. When I had it in 2014, from bottle, at sommelier – I posted that I thought they were over the top. I wanted to get a bottle here in the USA and get a chance to sit down with them and taste them over a dinner or more, and sadly after doing so, my opinion of them is worse than it was in Israel. Yes, I am in the minority, and I have no issue with that. I find them rich and extracted and unctuous, but also too ripe, unbalanced, and date like. I understand this will not be accepted well by many, but these are my notes, for my tracking, and do with them as you see fit. 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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