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Vitkin, Tzora, and Flam Winery tastings along with 2015 rosé and whites from Israel

KotelWell, I am back, landing the day before the Shabbat preceding Shavuot. I was there for my Nephew’s wedding and we stopped off in Paris for two days – that post can be read/seen here. From there we jumped on an EasyJet plane and we were in Israel, but those kind of things do not just happen. In hindsight I would use EasyJet again – simply because there really were few other options. The direct flights were these (listed in cost order); Transavia (I wonder if the count sleeps in luggage), EasyJet, Arkia (Israel’s second largest airline), El Al, and Air France. I tried to use miles on AF – but they were crazy high. So, in the end, EasyJet it was.

EasyJet is one of those airlines that will nickel and dime you all the way to and in the plane. But the best plan (since I had no checked luggage), is to pay for seat assignment and then you get a roll on and backpack. I was stressing about my rollon, it was a bit heavy, and I was worried they would nickle me to death. In the end, the dude at the counter was very nice and they took the rollon – asking to check it, which was fine with me. The trip was fine, as there is a lounge in the CDG terminal, and what we really wanted was just a place to be normal in a land of madness.

Once we got to the gate they were boarding us only to leave us in the gateway for a good 25 minutes – no idea why. Once we boarded, I was asleep, which was a blessing. I had lots to watch – but sleep was what I craved. Once I awoke we pretty much landed, with maybe 20 minutes or so before landing anyway. Once we landed we disembarked quickly, and then well – no one was there at security check. There were loads of people backing into the anteroom. It would be another 20+ minutes before folks actually arrived and started to cut through the backlog.

Once we got through our bags were there already and we were off to get our car – or try! Look I like Budget in Israel, they normally treat me well, but this trip was horrible! They made us wait 1 hour or more and then they treated us in classic Israeli style and gave us a car that was smaller than what we ordered/paid for and then told us to leave them alone! Love people like that!

Anyway, we were off and really that is what I cared about – I wanted to be home! After that, I can say that the trip was really about tasting late 2014 released wines and 2015 wines. Before, I get into that – let’s recap the state of 2015. As stated here, this is what happened in 2015 and after tasting some 40+ wines from 2015 – nothing has changed my opinion.

Well after two world-class vintages in 2001 and 2008, 2015 was a huge letdown. The white and rose are for the most OK, and nice. The white and rose wines are not at the level of 2014 (more on that below), but they are very respectable. The 2015 reds on the other hand is an entirely different subject.

Shmita 2015

A few things going on here – first of all the weather was perfect through August – looking like yet another blockbuster Shmita vintage. Wet winter, tons of rain and no deep freezing, followed by very moderate spring (making for good bud formations). This was followed by temperate highs and nice cool evenings throughout the summer, except for a few spikes here and there, that was all until August! In August nature took a very dark view on Israel – starting with some of the worst highs in the history of Modern Israel, and power consumption that peaked for an entire week that broke record after record. August continued with crazy heat – but it was early September when all hell broke loose. September saw a return of the epic sandstorm – but this time it reached almost biblical proportions in September. Just look at these satellite images – they are crazy!

Overall, the season was not what it was meant to be. The sand storms brought even higher temps, it all unravelled at the end. The funny thing is that – the wineries that pull early, AKA do not produce date juice, were affected far less – like Recanati and Tabor. The ones who pull later or pull from the Galilee – even if they are great wineries – were affected. In some ways it will mean that lower level wines at wineries will have normally better fruit. It will also mean that many wineries will have less of their flagship wines. Of course this is all from what winemakers and wineries have told me so far. Only time will tell to see what really comes out, but agriculturally, it was not a great year. Read the rest of this entry

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My wonderful and wine eventful Jerusalem whiteout – Day 1

Snow mountains surrounding JerusalemTwo weeks ago I was in Jerusalem and all I can say is that the words, “in God We Trust” cannot have been more fulfilled than on this journey. To start, I had flown into Israel for one of my nephew’s weddings, and a lovely wedding it was, but that is getting ahead of ourselves. I arrived on Tuesday the 10th and while deplaning, I was asked to join in on a group prayer – which initially I was not so interested in, as I had a ton of things to get done in the day. Thank goodness I agreed and while talking with the group at the conclusion of the services, I hear my name being bellowed out! Now, sure I love Israel, and I know people there, but I am not Netanyahu or Gal Gadot, nor do I know anyone who knows Gal Gadot (trying to stay current and yes I know she is a female model – just making sure you are following), so I had no idea why someone was calling out my name!

So, I turn around and lo and behold who is there, Mendel! Now you may not remember Mendel, but he has been canonized on this very virtual pages, here and here (de-boning a duck) – though incorrectly familiarly associated with Elchonon. I state this because it will be with Mendel’s hands that my wine salvation will be realized. He wondered if I remember who he was, and after sharing a few pleasantries, we agreed to keep in touch as he was interested in joining me on my wine escapades, which sounded great to me!

From there we both got our cars and I went off to see my sister in HarNof. That evening I was so exhausted, I tried to order a burger from a place that will go nameless. Two hours later, no burger and my card was charged! To be fair, after much cajoling they did refund my money, which I understand in Israel is requires an act from God to implement, but equilibrium was returned.

The next day, I WhatApp Mendy and sure enough he is up and ready – like I was, so I asked if he minded to drive and off we went to pursue the wineries around Jerusalem. I must start by saying that I have no issue driving, but as I explained many times in the past, Israeli drivers have no drive control or manners, they are 100% certifiable! Well, I guess either work; “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” or “Fight fire with fire”, and that is exactly what Mendy does so well. The roads were slick with rain, at some points the roads were almost washed out with a literal deluge of rain, making the roads slick and a perfect pairing for hydro-planing. No worries, Mendel is at the wheel! So, our first stop was Castel!

Domaine du Castel

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2013 Kosher Food and Wine Experience (KFWE) lived up to all its billing

For years I have always sported a purple colored beaming grin when I finish my tasting at the IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival) in LA, which hid my grumbling stomach’s discontent. Like I have documented for years, I never get to eat at the events, even as the entire food court mocks me, attempting to pull me into their warm, delicious, and very present embrace, with their wafting and intoxicating aromas. Still, I stand strong and I taste through the night until my teeth are purple and my stomach is close to rioting on the lack of food. Truth be told, I am not that good at taking notes when eating – the flavors of the food cover up and belie the flavors and aromas of the glass that beckons me closer with its “come hither” look and aromas. So every year, after the event I go to dinner at Jeff’s Sausage (down the street from the new location of the IFWF). Which is sheer madness of course, here I have half the Pavilion at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, filled with food from one of the best kosher restaurants in the world – Tierra Sur Restaurant, and I pass on that for the spicy and homely fare of Jeff’s Sausage. In no way is this a slight to the joy of Jeff Rohatiner’s cookery and food. Rather, it has been my conscious tradeoff, throughout my many year experience at IFWF to drink through as much of the world-class wine I can before my taste-buds shutdown, rather than give them to the food court, no matter how wonderful it is.

This year was a massive shift for me, gone was the purple grin and my mutinous stomach, as I visited and added the New York KFWE to my travel dates. To say the KFWE was different than the IFWF would be an extreme understatement, the IFWF has close to 1000 people at the show, while the KFWE has closer to 2000 people. Further the event hall at Pier 60 is some 2 to 3 times larger than the Pavilion tent at the Hyatt Regency. Also, there were many options for lunch and dinner from the myriad of NY restaurants that all share half the hall, all clamoring to share their wonderful fare with great fanfare. The Pier 60 overlooks the Marina and Harbor and many folks were outside braving the cold to grab a smoke, but at least they had some comfort of looking at the marina and its waterfront.

To really appreciate the event you had to come to it with a game plan, and there were many guests who had a few of their own. The event started at Noon for those in the trade, a new thing that the KFWE started last year and something that the IFWF has been doing from the start (though initially with a smaller trade time). The trade event was crowded but there could not have been more than a thousand folks there, so access to wine was not a problem in any way. The event hall can easily handle 1000 people, it is a bit more complicated when the number swells to two thousand people, but still there was no pushing or shoving going on even at the end of the public tasting, when the number of guests was at its maximum. But I digress; the trade tasting allowed me to focus solely on wine and the winemakers, which was great. Read the rest of this entry

Kosher wine blends tasting from around the world

Two weeks ago we enjoyed a lovely meal with friends and family and it was centered around meat lasagna and kosher wine blends from around the world. We had some vegetarians over, so I made lasagna with soy instead of meat, and in the end both pans of food disappeared, so I think it came out OK.

The lasagna dishes used the same recipe as I have here, but one used trader joe’s soy meat and the other used plain old beef chuck ground up.

I am cutting it short today – so this is the wine list and thanks to everyone for coming by and making the meal that it was:

2010 Don Ernesto Clarinet – Score: B+
2010 Don Ernesto ClarinetThe nose opens with lovely blueberry, the blend is undocumented but is quite nice for Hagafen’s entry-level wine, along with raspberry, ripe black and blue fruit, along with butterscotch. The mouth has nice toast, chocolate, mouth coating tannin, along with espresso coffee, and black cherry. The finish is long and spicy, with graphite, toast, boysenberry, and more cinnamon.

2009 Karmei Yosef Winery Bravdo Coupage – Score: B+ to A-
2009 Bravdo CoupgaeThe wine is one of my favorites and a wine that needs time to open, but I also think this wine is in a bit of a funk and needs more time to find itself, such is the way of wine – time to time. For now the score is lower than in previous tastings as it was in a funky mood.

The nose on this deep black colored wine is rich with mineral, herbaceous, black cherry, raspberry, and rich plum. The mouth on this full bodied wine is lovely but closed for now, with blackberry, heavy not integrated tannins that coat the mouth, and cedar. The finish is super long and rich with ripe fruit, heavy tannin, lovely vanilla, tobacco, and rich chocolate. Give this wine 6 months and it should start showing its real self.

2006 Elvi Wines Priorat EL26 – Score: A-
2006 Elvi Wines EL26I know this wine continues to have its polarizing following, with passionate lovers and haters, given its unique and clearly earthy qualities, I love it. The earth and mineral almost accentuate every flavor in the mouth and add so much complexity to it – that I think the mouth will explode.

This wine is a lovely blend of 35% Grenache, 35% Syrah, and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. It starts with an aromatic nose of anise, ripe blackberry, black pepper, raspberry, and plum. The mouth is full and concentrated with mouth coating tannin, nice dirt, graphite, black cherry, ripe fruit, with spicy wood all coming together into a nice mouth. Finish is long with spice, mineral, herb, eucalyptus, tobacco, and chocolate. This is a massive and extracted wine with ripe fruit and one that balances well with the oak and spice. 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

Flam Winery – The venerable European-styled family boutique winery, that is now kosher

Our culture is very quick to exaggerate for the sake of sensationalism and many in the wine industry press or bloggers have never missed a chance to prove it. Still, every so often we get it right! Use the word boutique in conjunction with a winery, and everyone from Mondavi down to your local corner Garagiste, will lay claim to being one. If you then throw in the terms family owned and European styled, believe it or not, you can still find many who are willing to lay claim to them as well. Thankfully, I was able to spend some quality time at a perfect example of exactly what we are talking about, the Flam Winery, in the rustic Judean Hills.

In a previous post concerning Ella Valley Winery, I have already discussed what I believe to be the definition of a boutique winery. In a sentence or more, it means a crazy (in a good way) level of oversight from the mundane to the essential. Of course, my take leaves a large enough space to drive a semi-trailer through, as exemplified in these retorts to my post. With that said, to me Flam Winery exemplifies many of the aspects of what I look for when talking about a boutique winery. Yes, they are smallish, at some 120 thousand bottles a year, along with very tight oversight of their vineyards. Flam leases five vineyards throughout the country, three in the Judean hills area and two in the upper Galilee. The vineyards are leased so that Golan Flam, the head winemaker, can work hand in hand with the vineyard manager, and know that they will both get what they want. The vineyard knows it will be paid on a consistent manner, per acre. While, Golan knows that the vineyard will be managed with quality as the benchmark and not quantity. Also, Golan has the opportunity to work hand on with the vineyard manager to maximize the potential of the grapes, in the direction that he thinks is most beneficial to the vineyard and the winery.

There are a few famous family owned wineries, including Castel Winery in the Judean Hills, and Tulip Winery in the Galilee. Flam Winery, of course is also on the short list of quality family run wineries. Flam Winery, which was started in 1998, is a personification of Golan’s dream to create an Israeli wine estate, focused on premium quality wines. The dream was hatched after graduating from Hebrew University with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, on a trip through Tuscany, Italy in 1996. While on a fascinating tour amongst the splendid wineries of this enchanting region, Gilad & Golan decided to build a boutique winery in the Land of Israel, which should be surrounded by superb vineyards, and would be the source of the best possible Israeli wines. Golan returned to Italy to get his Master’s degree in Enology, and worked at Carpineto Winery in Tuscany, and in Australia as well. In 1998 Golan returned to Israel to be the wine maker of Flam, and joined forces with his brother Gilad, a successful lawyer and businessman, who runs marketing and Business Development. They recruited their mother, Kami, a successful businesswoman to be the winery’s CFO, and they leaned heavily in the beginning on their father, who was then the head wine maker for Carmel Winery.

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Elvi Wines Classico, Yatir Blend, and Eagles Landing Sauvignon Blanc

Last week I was invited by my friend to his house to taste a wine I do not have access to, as it is only available to Herzog Wine Club members. The wine is the 2008 Eagles Landing Sauvignon Blanc. Please DO NOT confuse Herzog’s Eagles Landing wines with the Iowan Eagle’s Landing Winery – that is NOT kosher!

Disclaimer – I do NOT work for Herzog, but this question keeps coming up on Daniel Rogov’s forum.

So start of tangent.

What are the Eagles Landing and Waterford Lismore Reserve wines that are popping up here and there? They are wines crafted by Herzog and Joe Hurliman to showcase the winery and give the wine club an air of exclusiveness, as these wines are not available in any other way, other than through the wine club.  The wines are made in limited supply, and according to Jay Buchsbaum of Royal Wines/Herzog:

“Eagles landing is similar to Herzog reserve and Weinstocks cellar select (reserve) wines. Meaning same winemaking (and attention to grape selection) care with perhaps a slight difference and oak treatments etc than the Herzog reserve, without the ‘kosher’ recognizable brand labels. It was created as a direct request of one of our largest distributors, who recognized the, ‘Herzog reserve quality but wanted something that was not recognized as kosher, for non kosher restaurants’ (paraphrasing their words not ours). Voila, Eagles landing was born”.

In full disclosure, the Sauvignon Blanc bottle I tasted had a clear and present OU certification on the back label. I admit this is a bit different from all other Herzog bottles, which have the OU on the front and back. However, the Chardonnay bottle that my friend also received from the wine club, had ZERO kosher certification on the labels, but one was added to the bottle after the labeling was complete. A friend that I respect told me that the most recent Eagles Landing Cabernet Sauvignon was less than exciting, while the Chardonnay was nice. I tasted the Sauvignon Blanc and that was OK, but a bit funky. It is an interesting marketing idea and one that I hope gains some sea legs, as it is about time for Kosher to lose its stigma. The Waterford Lismore Reserve wines were received with a far more warm reception from my friends. I hope to taste these wines one day. Till then I will rely on my friends to keep you all up to date.

End of tangent

We were invited for Friday night to a different friend’s house, so no recipes or other designs. That said, we brought a fun bottle of ELVI Wines Classico from Spain to our friends and they shared an interesting bottle with us as well. Finally (one more), some friends of mine swung by the house and I cracked open a wonderful bottle of the 2004 Yatir Blend. We had this bottle for a fleeting moment at the Carlebach Shabbaton. This time I had more time with the wine. There is no change to report about the initial blush of this wine, but some more data about how it acts after a few more hours. So, it was a nice wine filled weekend and one that I am happy to share with you all.

The wine notes follow below in order they were tasted:

2008 Eagles Landing Sauvignon Blanc – Score: B++
The nose on this straw colored wine starts off with a nasty damp and almost petrol smelling “aroma” that dominates the nose and takes forever to blow off. Once the nose clears up, it has displays kiwi, tart lemon, slight oak, nice butterscotch (from the oak), and a balancing orange peel.  The mouth on this medium bodied wine starts off tart and acidic but rounds out over time. This is not a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, and is not a bottle that will ever travel there. The mouth starts with lemon and kiwi. The mid palate flows into a round-like acidic core with orange peel peeking out from under the acid haze. The finish is long, spicy, and tart with orange peel and slight custard notes. As this wine opens, it shows far more oak extraction. The wine fleshes out with a nice bright, round, spicy, and butterscotch persona. This is not your classic Sauvignon Blanc, but then, this is not a wine that everyone gets to taste, so why not shake it up a bit. Cool.

2007 Elvi Wines Classico, Ribera del Jucar – Score: B+
The nose on this garnet colored wine, which is a blended wine of 87% Tempranillo and 13% Merlot, is ripe with plum, cherry, raspberry, and spice.  The mouth of this medium bodied wine is soft with raspberry, cherry, and plum.  The mid palate is bright with core acidity and a hint of coffee.  The finish is medium long and spicy with more acid, soft tannins, coffee, and pepper/spice. This winery keeps delivering.

PLEASE NOTE – This is the ONLY Mevushal wine from the Elvi Wines group. All other wines from them are not Mevushal.

2003 Kiddush Hashem Syrah – Score: B to B+
This wine has a fair amount of lore, much of it not true. That said, it was a lovely wine some time ago. It is also a wine that the wine maker was still selling on his web site a few months ago. Recently he starting liquidating his stock, and it was a good idea. The bottles are hit and miss. I tasted this wine years ago and it was OK. Three weeks ago I tasted it again, while visiting a friend of mine, and it was felshy, black with ripe blackberry, nice tar, pepper, and licorice. This past week, it was not as good, though the fruit, tar and licorice were present. Still, the wine was unbalanced, off kilter, and trying too hard to make me like it.

2004 Yatir Blend (40% Cabernet, 40% Merlot, 20% Shiraz) – Score: A-
The nose on this dark purple to black colored wine is hopping with coffee to start, mint, dates, crushed herbs, rich oak, blackberry, ripe black plums, and tobacco. The mouth on this full bodied wine is concentrated with fruit that follows the nose, blackberry, ripe black plum, rich oak, along with nicely integrated tannins. The mid palate flows off the mouth with bracing acid, oak, tannin, rich tobacco, and licorice. The finish is long and spicy with ripe plum, oak, and a cloud of tobacco. This is a nice full bodied wine.

BBQ Glazed Salmon, Mock Spinach Soufflés, and ElviWines Classico

This past evening, my in-laws whipped up a really awesome dinner.  It consisted of a Sweet and Sour glazed BBQ Salmon, along with a Quick Spinach Soufflés, and a lovely assortment of fresh vegetables.  The evening was really quite nice, and well enjoyed by all.  My wife’s uncle joined us and brought along a lovely bottle of Elvi Wines Classico Ribera del Jucar, which is mevushal and quite tasty.  This is not a wine that will blow you away, but it is still a wine that is quite a nice quaffer.

Thanks to Mom and Dad, and Reuben for a lovely evening.  The wine note follows below:

2008 Elvi Wines Classico, Ribera del Jucar – Score: B+
The nose on this garnet colored wine, which is a blended wine of 88% Tempranillo and 12% Merlot, is ripe with plum, cherry, raspberry, and spice.  The mouth of this medium bodied wine is soft with raspberry, cherry, and plum.  The mid palate is bright with core acidity and a hint of coffee.  The finish is medium long with more acid, soft tannins, coffee, and pepper/spice.  This is a real nice wine that is a solid quaffer for almost anyone and mevushal to boot.  By the way, this is the only mevushal wine from this awesome Spanish Kosher Winery, one of my favorites out there.

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