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Tasting of kosher wines from Italy and Italian varietals

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

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

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

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

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

2013 Jewish Week kosher wine tasting at the City Winery in New York City

City Winery PictureAs I stated in my previous post, my heart was in the Shabbos but my mind was on my trip that I was taking to New York. All the thinking did not help make the trip any less miserable. Once again I have proven to myself that flying to New York is hard enough, doing a stop in between is miserable and downright idiotic. Lets take a step back here and explain the situation. The Jewish Week holds a wine tasting every year, showing of the top kosher wines they thought made an impression to the wine judges. This past year, they tasted through some 400+ wines and came up with a long list of wines, many of which I like and some I did not like. Anyway, the tasting was this past Sunday, the 3rd of March, 2013, at 1 PM. To get there from the west coast, it would mean either sleeping in NY for Shabbos (not an option), or flying out Saturday Night.

I LOVE Jet Blue, but they canceled flying out Saturday night from San Jose airport, and now only fly out Saturday night from SFO – AHHH!!! So, the only other option was Delta, which I should never have done, because it meant a stopover in Atlanta. The idea was to fly out by 10:45 PM, have an hour in Atlanta and hop on the 9 AM flight to NY. That all sounded OK, no storms in the forecasts, no crazy storm trackers or watcher on the news – so it looked like I was in the clear! Not so fat, turns out that there may not be Godly reasons to not fly – but Delta is more than capable of creating man-made disasters – all by itself!

I arrived to the airport with an hour to go, and by the time we took off, I was in the airport for some 3 and a half hours! AHH!! Yep, you guessed it Delta screwed up and lost a tire on landing so the plane could not take us to Atlanta. By the time they fixed the plane, the man fixing it broke another part and we had to deplane and get on another plane – a gate over. By the time that plane was fueled and had everyone’s bags repacked – we were two+ hours behind. I slept like a baby on the plane, but by the time we arrived in Atlanta – I knew I was cooked. The connecting flight was 5 terminals over and the “plane train” could not get me there in time to save my bacon. So here comes the best part – I arrive at the gate and the plane was not departed, but the man would not let me on – no matter how much I screamed and begged. However, he gave me a printed ticket (I have not sen one of those in years) and told me to run to the next terminal where the Laguardia flight was boarding. I ran like a mad man, and in the interim broke my hand luggage! One thing after another – I know! Anyway, as I get to the gate the lady tells me that there is no such flight, I say what – the man told me there was a plane boarding now! She says – oh sure – that is one gate over, the dude gave me the incorrect gate number! Anyway, she walks me over and I start talking to the gate agent who tells me – once again – sorry the gate is closed and the plane is leaving. This is when the other gate woman turns into SuperWoman! She says – OH NO – this poor man has been through enough. She swipes her card, opens the gate door, walks me down the jetway – and bangs on the plane door! Seriously! She screams – open this door!

Now – let me please recap, I have a ticket – printed ticket, for JFK. I am trying to board a plane for which I have NO TICKET – none whatsoever! Actually I have a ticket for a totally different airport! Think of me as one of those lost souls dropped on a plane. That was me! Of course, I have no checked luggage – for two days, but still, this is COOL! The unflappable stewardess, behind a massive closed door replies; the door is closed. The gate attendant is equally unflappable, and she fires back (sorry bad use of verbage) open the door, you forgot this guy! Will you believe – the stewardess blinked and opened the door! Heck these folks were half way through the security demonstration! I was told grab any seat – we need to move. I grabbed the first window seat I could find, and promptly went back to sleep! WOW!! By the time I land in Laguardia, I had two hours to go and once I finished davening, I hopped in a taxi and found my way to the City Winery. Read the rest of this entry

Kosher European Wines, Hagafen Wine, Kosher Meat Lasagna, White Bean and Kalamata Soup, Vegetable Kugel

This past weekend we had a bunch of friends over to the house and we were so happy to celebrate the good health and recovery of a dear friend of the family who honored us by coming on over for the meal. It is starting to feel a bit chilly around here, so we thought it would be great to try some lovely White Bean and Kalamta Olive Soup. The link to the recipe was the best I could find on the web. The one I use is from Mollie Katzen’s cookbook, which I have no right to place on my blog, please buy her book she is a genius!

The soup is simple to make, and I follow her recipe to the tee, short of adding in a wee bit more wine than her recipe calls for. Personally, that is the ultimate compliment, using someone’s exact recipe, with little or no change, because it is perfect as it is.

We then cooked up meat lasagna. I have modified the lasagna many times, as I am constantly looking for the perfect lasagna that is not too dry or too runny. I think I have finally done that! This past week the lasagna was killer, very tasty, and it was solid without being the least bit dry. The recipe is a change from another cookbook I use, but I have modified this one to not worry about sharing it. Also, I wrote a lot about the process, so the recipe looks long, but I am just adding in my years of struggle with these recipes to make sure you do not. Overall a pretty easy recipe:

Meat Lasagna Recipe: (Makes two pans of lasagna)
2 Tbsp. Oil
2 chopped onions
5 garlic cloves smashed (or just use the frozen garlic)
2 lb. of ground meat
1 sliced green pepper
1 sliced orange or yellow pepper
3 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
2 15 oz. cans of tomato sauce
12 oz. of red wine (more acid and tannin the better)
4 to 5 Tbsp. parsley
2 tsp. sugar
3 tsp. of basil
salt and pepper to taste

16 oz. (18 pieces) of dry lasagna noodle (normal pasta that needs to be cooked)
1 LARGE eggplant sliced 1/2 inch thick

In a large Dutch oven or tall walled pan, heat up the oil until shimmering and then throw in the chopped onions and cook them till they are close to being browned. Then throw in the crushed garlic and as soon as it starts to smell garlicky, throw in the ground meat. Be careful never to burn the garlic, as that is nasty! Move around the meat and make sure it nice and browned. Now throw in the sliced peppers and lets cook until tender. Then throw in the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, red wine, herbs, salt and pepper. Now mix the pot around a fair amount until the wine color disappears and the tomato color is bright. Keep cooking the sauce until it reduces by 20% or until the sauce looks nice and thick. This step is VERY important, so do not skimp on this, it takes time but you will be generously rewarded.

At this point, bring a very large pot of water to boil and then place the lasagna noodles and cook them 1 to 2 minutes before al dente. We do this because we want them to finish in the oven. NEVER TRY the already cooked or NOT cooked pasta – it does not work. Cook the pasta and you will get the lovely texture that is not available any other way. Once cooked, pour out all the water, and put in some cold water in the pot to keep the pasta from drying up. Read the rest of this entry

Lentil Rice Pilaf, Lemon & Pepper Roasted Chicken, and Borgo Reale Chianti Classico Vespertino

On the week of 5/28/2010 we were again staying low, after having had a previously hectic week.  So when lying low, we always go for lemon roasted chicken and rice.  However, like I stated in my previous post, I had bought some pilaf mixture at a spice store in the famous Jerusalem shuk of Mahane Yehuda.  The mixture (from what I can tell) was made up of olive oil, raw lentils, dehydrated raw onions, and a couple of spices.  The spices were not initially obvious, but the ones I could pick out were curry, cumin, paprika, and maybe cloves or ginger, though I could not be sure.

This time I poured the rest of what I had (a cup or two) of the pilaf mixture and two cups of brown rice into a pan.  I let the lentils and rice soak up the oil that was in the pan, and then hit it with a cup of white wine, and three cups of water.  The rice came out nicely, and we had a fresh green salad to go along with it.

I was in the mood of a red wine, so we went with the Borgo Reale Chianti.  I must say that when looking for kosher Italian wines there are really only two options; Borgo Reale and Cantina Gabriella.  They are both fine wine procurers and are almost always have a high QPR (Quality to Price Ratio).  The wine was a bit weird I must say out of the bottle, but with time it got better.  I would recommend opening the bottle and trying it, and then making sure to have drunk enough to lower the level below the shoulder (wide part of the bottle), let it air for a few hours or more and try it again.

The wine note follows below:

2007 Borgo Reale Chianti Classico Vespertino – Score: B+
The nose on this dark ruby to light garnet colored wine starts off closed and inaccessible. As it gains some air it starts to show tart cherry, plum, coffee, dirt and loam, along with cranberry. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has not yet integrated tannins that softens with more air, and lends to a fuller mouthfeel, but out of the bottle, the wine is unbalanced with acid, fruit, and bracing tannins that are like a bunch of kindergarten kids, who refuse to play nicely together. Once the wine opens, after 4 or so hours, the mouth opens with date, cranberry, crushed herbs, dark plum, along with a soft and round mouth, that is spicy and smoky. The mid palate is unbalanced, acidic and tannic, but after air, it gets balanced with acid, oak, and coffee. The finish is long and fascinating, with tannin, coffee, lingering acid, along with dark tart cherry that lingers long on the palate after the wine is gone. This is a nice wine that lives up to its Chianti name, after you give it enough time and air. Drinks well with tomato sauces or stews.

2006 Borgo Reale Chianti Riserva, a lovely parve Spaghetti Bolognese (san fromage), and the Brunello di Montalcino story

Two weeks ago saw us laying low and the weather was turning cold and wet.  It was also the night before Halloween (Hallows Eve’s).  We love when the kids come around the house and we get the chance to hand out candy.  This week after shabbos was over, we handed out Halloween pencils and it was a ton of fun.  It was even more enjoyable because last year was a train wreck.  You see Halloween fell on Friday Night last year, and since we cannot hand out food or anything else on shabbos, we were not able to share stuff with the families that came by.  So given the situation, we went with Spaghetti Bolognese (san fromage), which we have had a few times in the past.  A quick aside, we almost exactly copied the past attempt, without even trying – which is cool!  Anyway, to pair with this dinner, I chose a bottle of wine that I have been looking forward to trying, because I love Chianti and it is Mevushal, and further, it is a Chianti Riserva.  You see Italy defines its regions and regulations through an older and somewhat maligned group called the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and the more reputable Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).  The DOCG was created after many in Italy’s food industry started to raise serious concerns over the DOC’s “loosey-goosey” denomination that it seemed to give to anything that was not moving.

In many ways this is all quite ironic and sad, because the very accusations that were levied on the DOC are now bearing down on the DOCG, like a freight train down the Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Incline Railway (sorry I got caught up with Tennessee – watching the CMAs).  For the better part of three years the DOCG’s reputation has been under fire because of an allegation against some of the top red wine producers in all of Italy, the famed wines of Brunello di Montalcino.  These wines were given the coveted DOCG recognition in 1980, and quickly became one of the best red wines in all of Italy.  But in September 2007, the wine world was shell shocked by acquisitions that one or more percent of the Brunello wineries and some major ones as well, were substituting grape varietals for the requisite Brunello Sangiovese grape!  The very same accusations that were leveled on the DOC were being brought down on the DOCG in late 2007.  But the story only gets better!  A month or so after the accusations were leveled, the consortium of Brunello producers voted to keep Brunello 100% Sangiovese.  To put perspective on this, say U.S. orange juice producers (who placed a label of 100% orange juice on their containers) were to be accused of not using oranges for their juice, and so the USDA started pulling the orange juice containers from the store shelves.  So what contrived answer would they come up with?  Why that is obvious of course, we will just change what 100% orange juice means!  AHH!!!  Are you kidding me!  What a joke!  Well, thankfully, they all voted to keep things status quo, but to me, just the vote alone shows the corruption and ineptitude that riddles the DOCG and the DOC.  Well, if you thought that is where it ended, just you wait!  Man we need to make a movie out of this stuff!  If there were not enough bureaucracies (DOC, DOCG, Siena public prosecutor, etc.), involved in this mess, the USA had to way in!  Yep – we always need to stick our noses where it does not belong.  Under the guise of consumer protection the TTB has demanded that all Brunello bottles have a label reassuring consumers that the Brunello bottles sold here in the USA are 100% Sangiovese.  Well, after two plus years of investigating, the Italian authorities have come back, and have stated that they have magically closed the case.  So, you would think it would be riddled with accusations, charges, fines, etc. – NOPE!  No real data at all.  So in a game of chicken, the TTB has come out saying that they will not play these games, and require a real answer and continued labeling until they have more answers, and as of this pointing it is still the case.  Even if the consumer is not the real story, we have to be happy to see the TTB strut their stuff, and try to get to the bottom of this mess.

So where does all this leave us?  I saw a wonderful posting by Tom Maresca, and it does have its points.  Still, I have serious issues with what lies below the surface.  We as a nation and a country are slowly becoming more and more desensitized to wrong doers.  We are also willing to let things go when they are actually not such a light subject.  You see, the real issue here my friends is that if the DOCG and the Brunello producers were serious about their jobs, and prideful about their history and artistry, they should either fess up to what they really are (or are not) or just admit that they are not doing their job.  The DOCG should maybe rethink their name FDOCG (Forse Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) or DOCG?  Come on, The DOCG cannot guarantee anything it is not scientifically or conceptually enforceable.  It is the classic story of trying to sell yourself as more than you are.  The DOCG should not be selling themselves as more than what they are – an organization that defines the rules, but not one that can or should be attempting to enforce them.  If there is a closing line to this whole thing – I would go with a small Brunello producer, who under a veil of anonymity, spoke with Jeremy Parzen, and came up with an awesome line and story.

As a small producer, we have been treated like we had nothing to say. We felt absolutely NOT represented by the Consortium, neither protected. DOCG means that our Appellation of Origin is Controlled and Guaranteed. This was the only supposed role of the Consortium. None of these things was provided by them: obviously NOT the controls, NOT the guarantee and, sometimes, NOT even the origin. So I am asking myself what is the reason of the Consortium to be. Right now, the Consortium is just a cost for a small producer, and it’s giving no advantages at all. Many people will soon leave, I am sure.

I could not have said it better myself!  I hope I have brought a different angle to this madness and I hope you have enjoyed it.  The wine notes for the Chianti follows below:

2006 Borgo Reale Chianti Riserva – Score: B – B+
The nose on this dark ruby to garnet colored wine is initially hot but blows off soon, rich cherry, raspberry, roasted herbs, and heavy vanilla. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is soft and mouth filling without it being mouth coating, the tannins are integrated nicely, and give the wine a slight lift, along with cherry, raspberry, and plum. The mid palate is brightly acidic, along with coffee and vanilla. The finish is medium long with bright red fruit that lingers long on the palate after the wine is gone. The wine need to be drunk ASAP, it is throwing sediment, and does not last long after the bottle is opened. I opened the bottle Friday night and by Saturday day it was astringent and most of the fruit is gone.

Mevushal Wine Tasting – Part II

This past week found us tasting some more wines from Royal Wines that came from France and Italy.  Two of the wines were DOA.  They were the — already fading Rashi Barolo 2000, and the Rashi Select Barbera d’Alba 2003.  Both were brown and oxidized, which is a shame, as I was looking forward to the Barbera d’Alba.  Other than those two misses there were three nice wines to enjoy.

I want to thank my friend who shared the wines with us and Royal Wines.  The wine notes follow below:

Chateau de Parsac Montagne-St-Emilion 2007 – Score: A-
The nose on this deep garnet colored wine was screaming with earth, raspberry, currants, and anise.  The wine is a Bordeaux blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc.  This medium to full bodied wine starts with a caressing mouth, that is supported by more earth, raspberry, and currants.  The mid palate has more caressing tannins, acidity, and oak.  The finish is long with more acidity, tannins, and coffee.  We highly recommend opening this bottle at least two hours before it reaches its peak.  This wine is really young and will age well for many more years to come.  An impressive showing for a mevushal wine.

Bartenura Barbera D’Asti 2006 – Score: B
The nose on this electric violet garnet colored wine is filled with earth, raspberry, blackberry, and floral notes.  The mouth on this soft light to medium bodied wine starts with earth, raspberry, currants, and cloves.  The mid palate is soft with an acidic core and light oak flavors.  The finish is medium long with more acid and earth on the palate after the wine is gone.

Bartenura Chianti 2006 – Score: B+
The nose on this vibrant garnet colored wine is packed with cherry, coffee, chocolate, oak, mild heat, and raspberry.  The mouth on this medium bodied wine starts off a bit hot, but burns off quickly.  The mouth continues with cherry and raspberry.  The mid palate is dominated by pepper and acidity.  The finish is medium long with classical Chianti acid and pepper, along with a nice dollop of coffee.  A nice showing for the price.

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