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Wines I enjoyed over Passover 2017

Well, I have been off for too long, that is for sure. First Passover, then travels to Japan and more work. Finally home for a bit, Passover was great as it was enjoyed with family and that is what makes the holidays so great!

I will keep this short and sweet – the wines were mostly good to great, except for one wine that I was really looking forward to tasting – sadly it was clearly not stored well. Other than the single disappointment – the rest of the wines were solid wines.

I also had the opportunity to enjoy some wines with friends at EZ’s house, with BC and CG. It was a lovely evening and we enjoyed 6 wines – the best of which was the 2012 Domain Netofa Latour Red, followed by 2010 Hajdu Grenache, 2011 Netofa Red, the 2004 Chateau Montviel (which is in drink up mode at this point), and the 2011 Hajdu Grenache. Many thanks to EZ and his wife for hosting us so graciously.

The wines are listed below – and I hope you had a great Passover as well:

2012 Herzog Petite Sirah, Clarksburg, Prince Vineyard – Score: A-
I found this wine to be showing better than the Hajdu PS, at least for now. Lovely blueberry jam and crazy black plum, with mounds of fresh vanilla, sweet cedar, with lovely floral notes, and sweet spices. Lovely full body wine with still searing tannin and lovely acid showing rich extraction and crazy spices with boysenberry and blackberry with rich sweet spices and elegance at the same time, along with ribbons of charcoal, and mineral. The finish is long and jammy, with rich leather, and mounds of mineral and black tea, with sweet tobacco, and sweet fruit lingering long. Drink by 2020.

2012 Hajdu Petite Sirah, Brobdingnagian – Score: A-
This wine was really a wine I was looking forward to tasting again, and it is either in a real funk, or it has taken a step back from its earlier stature. The wine opened quickly, it was not as closed as in the past, showing ripe blackberry, blueberry, and lovely dirt, and earth, with root beer galore and spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, but lacking the impressive extraction of old, with rich layers of blue and dark fruit, sweet oak, and tannin that does not let up. The finish is long with layers of dark fruit, leather, spice, Swiss mocha, boysenberry, and nice tart, and sweet fruit. This wine is on target, but lacking the complexity of old. Drink by  2021.

2007 Yarden Blanc de Blanc – Score: A- to A
Same as last time, deep, mineral, and attack that is almost hedonistic.

NV Gamla/Gilgal Hashmura Brut – Score: A- (crazy QPR)
This is the new vintage (which is now out of stock in most places). The way to know it is the most recent vintage is to check if the wine says extra dry – otherwise, it is a previous vintage and not as fun, the wine is mostly 2011 grapes. The nose on this bubbly is sick with lovely quince, apple cider, with straw and tart citrus. The mouth is full and an attack force of small mousse bubbles, followed by yeast and rich undertones, followed by layers of pear and madly refreshing with crazy acid and pith, and more bubbles that do not give up. The finish is long with dried fruit, nice dry mouthfeel, that flows into nice dried herb, and rich white tea. BRAVO!!!!

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A birthday party long in the makings

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

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

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

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

Lovely California, French, and Israeli Merlots that prove Miles Raymond wrong

This past weekend we had a few friends over for a lovely Friday night dinner, and I decided it was time to drink some great kosher Merlot wines. To be honest, to me Merlot is one of those wines that rarely find the sweet spot, it either boring, nondescript, or overly green. However, there are still many great Merlot wines out there. Of course this was Miles point in the now famous, but to me disgusting movie called Sideways. I felt that the subject matter was so poorly projected that I always feel sick when I think of that movie. Still, the debased yet highly quoted cult movie had a huge impact on the Merlot and Pinot Noir sales in the US. It was the average Merlot’s nondescript attributes that so viscerally turned the protagonist off of the grape variety. Clearly, as I have described many times, here most recently, and more in depth here, that his prized Cheval Blanc was made up of the very varieties he so deeply despised and dissed in the movie, being 66% Cab Franc, 33% Merlot, and 1% Malbec!  We do hope that the irony is not lost on you, as it was certainly not lost on the producers!

A fair amount of the problem starts in the vineyard, as always wine is 90% vineyard management, 5% winemaker, and 5% science/luck (those number can be moved around a bit but not much). Some of the very best Merlot wines out there are French. For instance one of the famous kosher French Merlot wines out there are the 2005 and 2006 DRC – Domain Roses Camille. They hail from the Merlot dominated Pomerol wine region of Bordeaux. The DRC is mostly Merlot with a bit of Cabernet Franc thrown in, while the non kosher and world-famous Petrus – is mostly all Merlot with a bit of Franc thrown in some years.

There are two other French Pomerol kosher wines, the Chateau Montviel and the Chateau Royaumont. I recently tasted the two of them, and I loved the 2003 Chateau Montviel, while the 2011 Chateau Royaumont was nice enough, but at that price, a B+ wine is not worth the effort for me.

France has cool summers and some years are great while some are not so much. However, in other regions where heat is the not the issue, it is about elevation and the land that makes the grapes sing. For instance, to me, the best dollar for dollar kosher Merlot wine out there has to be Four Gates Merlot. The DRC is fantastic as is the Montviel, but the DRC is vastly more expensive and the Montiel is harder to find. That said, outside of Santa Cruz County, the next best option is Israel, and that is like saying the best place to play golf in the world would be in the middle of the Sahara Dessert!

With the high temperatures that Israel has, one legitimately has to ask – what were they thinking of planting Merlot there? The answer “Location, Location, Location” does not only apply to real estate prices, it matters in the world on vineyards as well. When it comes to grapes, it is all about the vineyard, its location, its soil, and most importantly; its elevation. Read the rest of this entry

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