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Some great kosher Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot

I have been flying far too much for business reasons this past year, and this past week is a perfect example of the madness. I flew 20 hours of plane time in a day, and I never left the country. Sure, part of that was mileage running, but the first part was business. So, that left me very little time to cook before some of my favorite guests, what I call the “gang” was coming over for a Friday night meal.

To fix that I made all the food the day before I left, froze it and unfroze it on Friday and served it Friday night. Do not fear, there were no leftovers. The wine selection was meant to be 2013 Cali Pinot Noir, but thanks to the generosity of many of the gang, that was thrown for a loop, and I am very thankful for that, as I got to taste some epic wines indeed.

So, instead of just 2013 Cali, we started with a very nice 2007 Gush Etzion Spring Red, brought by AS and that was followed by a wine that I loved very much the last time I had it, the 2014 Eagle’s Landing Sauvignon Blanc. Sadly, something went VERY wrong, since we tasted it in the summer at the winery. Gone was the ripping acid and saline, in its place is more tropical fruit, banana and sweet notes. Sadly, I was not the only one to say this, as others I respect told me this very same thing a few weeks ago. I was shocked and argued vehemently that this was just not true. Sadly, once I tasted the wine that was shipped directly from the winery as part of the wine club, my friend’s allegations were brought to the forefront. This was a real shame and one that left me wanting information – if it was available.

After that we started with a run of Pinot Noir wines, starting with 2012 Makom Pinot Noir, which was as good as it was last week! That was followed by the 2009 Four Gates Pinot Noir – which is hedonistic and rich in so many ways, a wine that was not appreciated at release, but one I held onto. This bottle in particular was brought by its creator – Benyamin Cantz and it was just lovely! The next wine was the 2011 Gvaot Gofna Pinot Noir, and what can I say at the meal it was DEAD! DOA was all I could say, I triple aerated it and nothing helped. THANKFULLY, I saved a bit and after 24 hours the wine was alive and beautiful. In hindsight I should have just read my own notes about this wine – and I would have seen that the wine was closed and sleeping a year ago, sadly it has yet to waken. Give this wine another year or decant it for 12 hours – which I think is absurd! Buy the wine and wait – you will be happy for it.

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My Dear John letter to overripe wines and a few winners

cc licensed flickr photo from irishdragongreen

With the Jewish Holidays at their end, I must say that I really did enjoy them, but spiritually and wine wise! I have been slowly but surely changing over my collection from wines that I thought I liked to wines I actually do like. Sure, I have a few duds here and there, but for the most part, I think I have thinned the ranks of the unwanted.

Years ago – I blindly bought whatever red reserve Yarden wines the late Daniel Rogov scored a 92 or higher, and to his credit it was a grand time for a bit. But sadly before he passed, his  golden touch, in terms of picking the perfect Yarden Reserve red was losing its aura. To be fair it is not a detriment to the man I truly respected. It is simply that my palate and interest have moved so starkly from the overripe notes of old, that I have finally broken down and written my Dear John letter to many Israeli wines.

As I stated 9 months ago in my year in review and ahead, I stated that I would start to track wines that I find overly ripe in style, whether it comes from Israel or anywhere else. I have been doing that in my wine notes, but I and finding less and less of them, simply because I am turning over my library in the direction of wines like Tzora, Yatir, and so on.

To be fair, wineries are making wines like this because that is what the public wishes, or so they say. I understand that a palate is a hard thing to come by, and that it may well be an evolutionary road for many. Still, there is a thing called nuance and then there is a thing called a 2×4. To create wines that are so obtusely in your face – one has to stop and wonder if the winemaker is actually unwilling to trust his wines to you. Maybe it his/her way of saying – here I dare you not to taste something in this wine! Mocking you as the winery takes your money and you are left with that aching feeling that is more akin to a used car lot than a culinary experience.

So, I thought it was time to publicly publish my Dear John letter to wines from Israel or elsewhere that continue to cater to the LCD (least common denominator) – and make wines that only a dead person could miss notes in.

Dear overly ripe wines,

I have to be honest, for the longest time you were a wonderful accompaniment to my weekend dinners. However, in these past 5 years, I cannot help but think that we have drifted apart. Oh come on, do not flutter those sweet and cloying tannins at me, you know how I hate that so. I wish I could say it is me and not you, but I would be lying. This is all on you!

This is not about you or about me “winning or losing”, you know I have lost so much over the years when I happily gave away bottles of the 2004 Ortal Merlot and so much more. There is no denying that we have changed so much, you continue to be so sweet, of course, but what I finally realized is that you are also so empty. Sure you have those wonderful structural qualities, that we all look for in a companion, but the rest is hollow, no stuffing, no meaning, just a flat and empty being.

I tried so hard to make it work, to ignore my wine friends, telling them that it was just a bad night or a really bad weekend, like that bender in December. Sadly, it always turns out the same way when I wake from another night of debauchery, I am thankfully a bit lighter of you and you are always the same – big, bold, loud, and empty!

So, I am happy to say I think I am rid of you from my cellar. I have worked hard to empty it of your kind and thankfully, I can now say that you are in my past. I waited too long to write this letter, for that I am sorry to you and my guests. However, going forward I know that I have made the correct decision and wish you and those wineries all the best. I even have a lovely new moniker for you DJL – if you see that on a note I write, you will know that you have found a wine you will truly come to love. For me, it will be a badge of shame.

Thanks for all the great times, and I am also happy to say good riddance and bon voyage! Read the rest of this entry

More kosher Rhone varietals over Shavuot and afterwards

Over the Holiday of Shavuot, and weeks that followed, I have been continuing my love for all things Rhone, meaning Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and things like Petite Sirah and others. Over Shavuot we had one half of the Weiss Brothers with us, and it was a great time to break out my last bottle 2007 Brobdingnagian Grenache! We had a few other bottles as well, of course, but that was the winner of the night for sure.

Many of the wines we have had over the past few weeks are still available now, while some are those MUST keep wines that I hope you all start to build from great 2009/2010/2012 wines (yeah 2011 was a tough one).

Over Shavuot we served rib eye and some brisket, and it went so well with the sweet Syrah and bold wines that we enjoyed. I hope you all enjoyed the Shavuot time with wine, learning, and friends!

Over the following weeks after that we opened Summer wines, many were rose and white, which I will post separately, and many were perfect BBQ wines, like the 2011 Chabad Cuvee Zinfandel. Along with the 2011 Netofa Red made of 60% Syrah and 40% Mourvedre. We truly enjoyed the 2012 Landsman Syrah, which is good news, as some of the other Landsman have been OK but not as good as this one.

We also enjoyed a few lovely Israeli blend wines, with a mixture of Cabernet, Syrah, and other varietals. Like the 2009 Kitron Reserve LIKA, a wine named after one of his children. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot. The Tzora Shoresh was awesome, and the 2011 Trio was nice, but not great. I hear the 2012 Trio Grenache, a wine only available in Israel, is really impressive, look for that when in Israel next time.

Finally, the 2012 Capcanes Peraj Petita continues to blow me away, and the mevushal version of it is also very good and is actually more accessible now than the non mevushal version, which feels too tight still.

The wine notes follow below:

2007 Brobdingnagian Grenache, Santa Barbara County – Score: A
The name comes from the colossal, gigantic, extremely tall, and giant creatures discovered by Gulliver in his travels on the Northwest coast of California and is used today (although not by anyone I know) to describe anything of colossal size. That said, the wine does in many ways follow the moniker. The wine has a 16.3% alcohol, is massive in the mouth, and in the bottle! The bottle (empty) is one of the heaviest I have ever seen, quite extreme. The name of the winery, though unpronounceable by me, is one you already know by association. The wine is made by Jonathan Hajdu, the associate wine maker for Covenant Wines, owned and operated by Jeff Morgan.

The last time we opened this wine, the wine was inaccessible for many hours. However, this time the wine was immediately accessible with concentrated dried red fruit, raspberry, toast, smokey aromas, roasted animal, sweet cedar, insane and mad milk chocolate, and spice. The mouth on this browning colored wine is super concentrated, almost laser focused, and layered with dried strawberry, cranberry, raspberry, blueberry, root beer, and plum. The attack is what makes this wine; it is clean lined with heft and power, yet focused on delivering not a single but many blows of dried fruit and oak. The mid palate flows from the mouth with acidity to balance the beast, along with still searing tannins, cedar oak, and tobacco. The finish is super long and concentrated with more mouth coating tannin, sweet herb, licorice, white pepper, cloves, lovely acidity, sweet watermelon, and more spice – BRAVO!!!!

This wine has a year or so left – but I would start drinking them now for another year – drink UP mode.

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California Local Area Rabbis – the new purveyors of artisanal kosher wines

This past weekend my good friend, Benyomin Cantz from the Four Gates Winery brought over a nice gift – a bottle of the 2011 La Fenetre Merlot, Mesa Verde Vineyard from the Santa Ynez, CA AVA. If that wine region sounds familiar, well that is because it is the same region where the now defunct California Classic Cellars used to be based out of. But before, we get ahead of ourselves, we need to jump into the semi-way back machine and set it for circa 2007 in Napa Valley, CA!

Hajdu and TenenbaumThere you will find a successful and passionate Chabad Rabbi and his wife, Rabbi Elchonon and Chana Tenenbaum, two people who chose to bring Torah into the vast spiritual desert of Napa Valley. Though Napa is known world wide for its agricultural and vinicultural excellence, true Torah observance was not an ingredient readily found there. For that reason, Tenenbaum decided that Napa was just the place for the two of them and so they hopped on a plane from their east-coast religious dwellings to the west coast easy-going California.

Wine seems to be finding its way into the culture of Rabbis around the area, but much of that can be properly accredited to the insanely hard work and dedication of Rabbi Tenenbaum. You see, it was soon after he arrived that he caught the “good wine vibrations”, of course good kosher wine vibrations! Soon Tenenbaum was enjoying the joys of good dry wines, and he quickly realized that the hobby/interest comes at a price – his pocketbook! Good kosher wine is not cheap and so, in 2007 Tenenbaum set out to make some wine of his own. He had no training, but with the help of friends, and following protocols that he found in winemaking books, Rabbi Tenenbaum made a case of wine from grapes left over from a Rudd Winery vineyard, located in Oakville. He got the grapes (some 30 pounds or so), crushed them by hand/foot, and went on to ferment the wine, age it, and bottle it all by himself! With proper respect, he called the wine “King Salomon” and ode to the Hebrew name of the vineyard’s owner, Leslie Rudd, whose Hebrew name is Solomon.

Just to digress for a moment, I have not delved into the kosher wine idea here, because I have already hit that subject in my post called – kosher wine 101, and my rebuttal to many incorrect concepts in the world of kosher wine – Kosher Wine 101 2.0 and my rebuttal to many poorly written articles on kosher wine. So, with that understood, you realize that the Rabbi had to do all the work himself, even when he had help from knowledgeable non-Jewish winemakers.

Pardes wines from 2008 and 2009Well fast-forward a year, and Rabbi Tenenbaum goes from playing with the idea of wine making to become a true vigneron (a person who does everything regarding the wine making process)! A friend of Jeff Morgan, head wine maker at Covenant Winery asked Mr. Morgan if he knew of anyone who could manage his vineyard. The vineyard was a field blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah. One of the wonderful parts of this story is about a barn that resides on the same property as the vineyard. Engraved on the Barn is the following quote from Leviticus: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not strip your vineyard bare nor gather the overlooked grapes; you must leave them for the poor and the stranger.” When Rabbi Tenenbaum saw that, it was hook line and sinker! So, for 7 months the Rabbi, with initial help and direction from a vineyard manager of David Abreu Vineyard Management, pruned and sulfured the vines, and managed them to the point of leaf thinning and fruit dropping. All of this was done on a vineyard of 400 vines, far less than an acre, but the vines were still fruitful enough to produce a barrel of wine. The wine was made in combination with Jonathan Hajdu. Jonathan took a portion of the bottles and sold it under the Besomim Cuvee Chabad label. We had the chance to taste a bottle of the 2008 Besomim, Cuvee Chabad (which is the same wine as the Pardes), and the wine note can be found here. The Rabbi bottled his wines under the Pardes Cuvée Chabad label. Read the rest of this entry

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