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

Like last year, I wanted to make this post short and sweet – so the criteria are simple. I could care less about price, color, or where it was made. All that matters is that it is/was available this year sometime to the public at large and that I tasted it in a reliable environment, not just at a tasting, and that it was scored a 92 or higher. Also, there are a few lower-scoring wines here because of their uniqueness or really good QPR.

We are returning with the “wine of the year”, “best wine of the year” along with “Winery of the Year”, and “Best White wine of the year”, along with a new one – “Best Mevushal wine of the year”. Wine of the year goes to a wine that distinguished itself in ways that are beyond the normal. It needs to be a wine that is easily available, incredible in style and flavor, and it needs to be reasonable in price. It may be the QPR wine of the year or sometimes it will be a wine that so distinguished itself for other reasons. The wines of the year are a type of wine that is severely unappreciated, though ones that have had a crazy renaissance, over the past two years. The Best Wine of the year goes to a wine well worthy of the title.

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

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

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

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

There are also interesting wines below the wines of the year, think of them as runner-up wines of the year. There will be no rose wines on the list this year. If last year, I thought the roses were pure junk, this year, you can add another nail in the coffin of rose wines, IMHO. Thankfully, the task of culling the bounty of great wines to come to these top wines was more a task of removing than adding. We are blessed with a bounty of good wines – similar to 2017. To highlight the last point, I scored 109 wines with a 92 or higher, and 66 of those were given the QPR score of WINNER (or WINNER in FRANCE).

The supreme bounty comes from the fact that Royal released the 2019 French wines a bit early! Throw in the incredible number of kosher European wines that are coming to the USA and being sold in Europe and this was truly a year of bounty for European kosher wines.

Now, separately, I love red wines, but white wines – done correctly, are a whole other story! Sadly, in regards to whites, we had no new wines from Germany, still. Thankfully, we have some awesome new entries, from the 2019 Chateau Malartic and the 2019 Château Gazin Rocquencourt (NON-Mevushal), and the new 2020 Meursault!

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

The 2021 kosher wine of the year – is new!

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

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

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

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Paris tasting of Royal’s 2019 and other French wines – November 2021

So, in June I made my way to Paris and I posted the Royal wines I tasted, they were mostly white, rose, and a few red wines as well. For the past many years I have been tasting the new releases from Royal wines with Menahem Israelievitch. Sadly, last year, because of COVID I tasted the 2018 vintage in my house. Thankfully, Paris was open in November, and I returned to taste more wines.

The 2014 vintage to me, was crazy fun because it is less ripe than the 2015 or 2016 vintages. They were also FAR cheaper. Then you had the 2015 wines which were more expensive and far riper than the 2014 vintage. This 2016 vintage is the best of both worlds, but it comes at a crazy high price. I warned you at that time, during the epic post of my visit to Bordeaux with Mr. Israelievitch, that you better start saving your money, sadly nothing has changed about that. The REAL shocker price-wise of the 2016 vintage was Chateau Malartic, which rose to almost 150 or more a bottle! That was close to double the 2014 vintage.

In a previous post about the most recent French wines (at that time in 2017) 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.

While the 2015 and 2016 vintages were ripe, the 2017 vintage was not ripe at all, with the 2018 vintage making the 2015 ripeness look tame! Well, I am happy to say that the 2019 vintage is far more in control, less heat is obvious, though it showed up in a few wines below. Now that is a very broad-stroke statement that cannot be used uniformly, for the most part, go with it! Thankfully, the 2019 vintage will be priced slightly lower than 2018, overall, more on that below.

The Mevushal push, from Royal wines, is continuing for the USA labels. More wines are being made Mevushal and while I wonder if this is good overall for myself, it makes sense for Royal wines, which in the end, I guess is what matters to them. Will this be an issue? In the past, I have found that the mevushal work of Mr. Israelievitch is top-notch, and just ages the wine rather than ruining it.

The Mevushal wines from France for the 2018/2019/2020 vintages will be the

  • 2020 Les Marrionniers Chablis, Chablis
  • 2020 Chateau Les Riganes, Bordeaux
  • 2020 Chateau Genlaire, Bordeaux Superieur
  • 2018 Des Barons Edmond & Benjamin de Rothschild Les Lauriers, Montagne Saint-Emilion
  • 2019 Des Barons Edmond & Benjamin de Rothschild Les Lauriers, Montagne Saint-Emilion
  • 2018 Barons Edmond & Benjamin de Rothschild, Haut-Medoc
  • 2019 Chateau Greysac, Medoc
  • 2019 Chevalier de Lascombes, Margaux – YES this is new for 2019 OH! How exciting (note by sarcasm!!!)
  • 2019 Chateau Le Crock, Saint-Estephe, Bordeaux
  • 2018/2019 Chateau de Parsac
  • 2019 Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt, Blanc, Grand Vin – YES this is new for 2019 OH! How exciting (note by sarcasm!!!)
  • 2019 Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt, Red, Grand Vin – YES this is new for 2019 OH! How exciting (note by sarcasm!!!)
  • 2018/2020 Chateau Les Riganes, Blanc
  • 2017/2019 Chateau Mayne Guyon

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 and it was aging beautifully! Same with the Chateau Le Crock, over the past few years. So, would I buy the mevushal versions of the wines I tasted below! The answer is yes! Would I age them? Yes, I would hold them for slightly fewer years. To me personally, it is very clear, if Royal had their way they would make the Pontet Canet Mevushal! Nothing to Royal is sacred and this will not stop with the list above, it will grow, proof is Chevalier and Gazin!

Other than the mevushal aspect, there are no differences between the European version of the wines and the USA version of the wines. While that sounds obvious, I am just stating it here. The wines will be shipped now and the temperature issues that affected Israel’s wines of old, have not been a factor here.

The 2019 Pricing and access

When the 2019 wines were released “En primeur” the date was late May 2020. The world, at that time, knew nothing about COVID other than it was killing thousands and questions were all we had. Still, wineries in Bordeaux decided to plow on and the first of the virtual tastings took place on May 28th, 2020 – from Chateau Pontet Canet! This was the non-kosher tasting but at that moment when wines were shipped the world over, wineries decided to lower prices! Remember, we had been raising prices year over year, 2014 to 2015, to 2016, to 2018, it was time to reset. The pandemic allowed for that. Thankfully, and sadly, the world has slowly come back from the brink of death, and now, the 2020 vintage, which has the “En primeur“, in Bordeaux, June 2021, raised prices – so yeah, the 2020 Chateau Pontet Canet is more expensive than the 2019 vintage.

On top of that, the 2019 Chateau Pontet Canet is going to be impossible to buy. I have asked why certain wines in the past were not made more often or the such? Like why do we have Leoville every 2 or more years? Why can it not be more like Giscours? The answer I have received, from many at Royal is that folks still fear what happened during the last recession of 2007/2008. They had made too much of Leoville and Pontet Canet, in a short period, and well, sadly it sat. I get it, who wants to stare at walls of wine they cannot sell?
My issue with that is – well that was more than 15 years ago guys! Maybe a better way to say it is to channel Dorthy – Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Do we believe that another 100 cases would not sell?? The Malartic white is almost sold out! Malartic white! A wine no one thought they could sell 10 years ago. The world of the kosher wine consumer has moved in leaps and bounds – to continue to think like it is still 2008 is to belittle us and deny many what they want – more Pontet Canet! I will get off my soapbox, but it is truly time to stop with the kneejerk mindset. Like no 2019 Chateau Leoville Poyferre, why? Look at the famous 2014 Chateau Montviel story! It sold out in a week. Why? Because there was so little made. Again, the kosher consumer has moved past the days of old – I think it is time for Royal to do the same.

I understand that when Pontet Canet started up, again, with a new run of kosher wine, they created a separate sub-winery for the production. Further, they replicated the process, the varietal blend, and overall physical impact. The physical impact does define the total potential output, but it is time to start to grow the market. The market can and should support large output, especially in the trophy wine space, you can always control the output by skipping a vintage, in the end, Giscours and Leoville have proven it is doable, and I hope that Royal will continue to feel comfortable and grow Pontet and Leoville as we progress down the road.

Still, as always, we are indebted to the work of Menahem Israelievitch and Royal Wines for producing so many wonderful wines, even if they are in low supply. The 2019 Chateau Pontet Canet is a very different wine than the 2003 or the 2004 Chateau Pontet Canet. First of all, the system used to make those wines, back then, have changed drastically in the past 10 years, at the Chateau. Everything is now over the top, in regards to everything there. All production is done by hand and that adds to the cost. To me, the wine is also very different, stylistically, gone is the powerhouse, what we have now is a refined masterpiece. It may shock some people, and that is good, but to me, it is a classically styled and built wine for the future, and the best wines I have tasted this year, so far anyway.

Tasting in Paris

I landed in Paris, the day before this tasting and I met up with Avi Davidowitz from the Kosher Wine Unfiltered blog. It was a true joy to hang out with Mr. Davidowitz for a few days. It was so nice of him to fly from Israel to join me in the tastings. We also tasted over 70 wines – outside of the planned tastings. We thankfully had a great hotel room and it gave us loads of space to hang out and taste through those wines.

We had the chance to taste both the Mevushal and the non-Mevushal versions of two wines, side-by-side. Those were the 2019 Chevalier de Lascombes and the 2019 Chateau Le Crock. I missed the Chevalier de Lascombes but I got the Chateau La Crock. In my defense, both of the Chevalier de Lascombes are ripe, and differentiating the ripe from the riper was not obvious, but hey, I missed it!

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. My many thanks to Mr. Israelievitch, Royal Europe, and Royal Wines for making this tasting possible in the first place, and secondly, for taking the time to taste the wines with me.

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

2019 Domaine Ternynck Bourgogne, Les Truffieres, Burgundy (M) – Score: 87 (QPR: BAD)
The nose on this wine is ripe apple, pear, melon, a bit of citrus, and spice. The mouth on this wine is nice but lacks the acidity to make it come together well, with melon, pear, mineral, and spice. The finish is a bit short with hints of nectarine, orange, mango, and sweet mint. Drink now. (tasted November 2021) (in Paris, France) (ABV = 13%)

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Yitzchok Bernstein and Jonathan Hajdu excellent 27 course tour de force

On Sunday night we were blessed to be part of an extremely exclusive 27-course meal, well more like 30 or so – if you count the decadent small dishes after dessert, but who is really counting. The event was put on by the dynamic duo of Chef Yitzchok Bernstein and Brobdingnagian Wine maker Jonathan Hajdu. The event was a fundraiser for Beth Jacob, Oakland’s Orthodox Synagogue – and what an event it was!

When I have tried to explain the event, attempt to verbalize the magnitude of the effort, and the uniqueness of it all, I have so far failed, till now I hope, to transport the listener, or reader, to the mind-blowing state of conscious that we were all leaving within for 6 or so hours – this past Sunday night. The meal was a, 27 or so course, of mind-blowing culinary talent – coming to life in front of us lucky few. Each dish was hand plated with such exacting detail, that not only did each plate fill us gastronomically, but also the visual sumptuousness of each and every plate truly was equally a feast for one’s senses. The funny thing was that the meal started at 24 courses, as I had an early preview of the menu. However, by the time we lived it, it had grown to 27 and could have been 30, if the participants could have kept up with Bernstein. I was more than happy to taste the other two or so courses, but I did not call it a 30 course meal, as they were not formally served to the participants.

The second we entered the home of the host and hostess we knew we were in for a real treat. The house is a lovely sprawling ranch style home, remodeled to as close as possible to the mid-century modernism style of some 60 years ago, while all the while bringing the current century’s modern touches to life in a truly non-obtrusive manner – a real success in my humble opinion. If the home is an extension of the owners, than the simplest way to summarize the hosts is, sleek, modern, highly functional, with an ode to the past and arms open as wide as the glass sliding doors that truly define minimalist architecture and the MCM movement. The openness and warmth that are exuded by the home’s colors and textures truly reflect the host and hostess, and all of us were constantly in awe of their ability to deftly steer the epic culinary adventure to the success that it was. While the event may have stretched a bit longer than some were ready for, as most needed to go to work the next day, the intimate setting and cosmopolitan mix of people truly added to the entire evening.

With the well-deserved forward now handled, it is only fair to throw the light unto the culinary genius of the evening – Chef Yitzchok Bernstein. Mr. Bernstein is mostly self-taught, but has also received formal training in Bread Baking at French Culinary Institute. He also studied pastry and advanced bread baking at SFBI. (san francisco bakers institute), and has been working in and around restaurants, since the age of 14. Food is a truly passionate thing to Mr. Bernstein; you can see his persona expressed clearly in his food and in his open and warm demeanor. Throughout the evening the dishes were harmonious, balanced, tempered, but never losing focus and always packing more than enough bite, texture, and complexity to grab and keep your attention, until magically there was yet another unending course to partake from. Each course built on the past one, adding layers and nuances that were not lost to the foodies that ensconced the close-knit twin table setting.

The other resident genius at the event was Jonathan Hajdu (jonathan@hajduwines.com), the associate wine maker at Covenant Winery, and is also the wine maker for wines from the Brobdingnagian and Besomim wine labels. The Brobdingnagian/Besomim winery is located in Napa CA. Hajdu wines was started in 2007, by owner and winemaker Jonathan Hajdu. Hajdu produces small lot artisan wines, with a focus on Rhone varietals under the Brobdignagian, and Besomim labels, though the newer wines are veering all over to where Hajdu can find the highest quality grapes. The Brobdignagian name is derived from Jonathan Swift’s giants, in Gulliver’s Travels, and attests to the winemakers’ proclivity towards intense and powerfully flavored wines. Wine produced under the Besomim label, is a blend of varietals with a focus on complex aromatics. These limited production wines are available directly from the winery. Read the rest of this entry

International Food & Wine Festival (IFWF) in Oxnard brings back great memories!

These past two weeks have been what the Jews call the 9 days that are rather famous for the infamous events that have occurred in this specific span of time. Thankfully, once they were passed Herzog Cellars and Royal Wines put on an encore event of the IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival), this time in the Herzog Winery itself, to celebrate the winery’s 25th year in the industry! What an event and celebration it was! It brought back memories of the old IFWF events that were held in Oxnard, since the inaugural IFWF event in 2008.

Sure there were some 200 or so in attendance, but with the fully expanded setup, including an enclosure in the back that housed the French wine table, dessert table, and room to hunker down, it felt spacious and very comfortable.

In many ways, this event felt like an almost exact replay of the first International Food and Wine Festival. The crowd size was perfect, there was room for you to hunker down and taste wines and there was room for you to huddle up and talk with friends or people of like or dislike opinions.

Besides the layout and crowds, the food was absolutely fantastic, just like in previous events here. Once again, Todd Aarons and Gabe Garcia created wondrous delights that were so wrong in all the right ways! Of course, I came to the food area too late to partake of all of the goodies, but I still got to taste many fantastic culinary treats, including the absolutely stunning puffed chicken nuggets topped with incredibly tasty barbecue sauce.

Unfortunately, I came a bit late to this event because of what I came to call parking lot A and B (405 and 101 respectively). Whenever, I watch the Dodgers or the Angels, I can now understand why the crowds are so empty for the first three innings, because everyone is parked on one or more highways! My guess to why they all leave by the 7th inning is that after the folks get so aggravated waiting in the traffic, they get tired and want to go home. Quite clearly getting to and from any event in LA adds a few hours to the overall time and that is aggravating and tiring. However, like I, once the guests arrived they had to almost physically throw us out. The place did start to peter out in the last hour, but the place was still humming and drinking until the last second. Read the rest of this entry

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