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Sommelier 2017 results – sadly few highlights

sommelier-2017To say there were few highlights at this year’s sommelier, would be an understatement. Though, many of the “stalwarts” were absent this year. The consensus was that while Sommelier is a great marketing tool, it does not reach the end consumer well enough, and as such it is really a better tool for startup wineries – to display their wares to professional wine buyers, than bigger and more established brands.

The problem I have with that mentality from these wineries, is that they are missing point of Sommelier! Sommelier is not a wine venue it is a wine promotion vehicle, and there is the rub! More on this in a bit.

A few larger brands were indeed here this year, but they used it for displaying new varietals, like Tabor pouring their Tannat and Marselan wines. Yarden was also at the show, but they were highlighting the 2008 Blanc de Blanc bubbly, which makes little sense to me, as it is a past vintage in Israel, they are now on 2009 in Israel, though the 2008 is available in the USA and Duty Free. Of course, it did not diminish my happiness in seeing the wine, I used it predominantly as a means to cleanse my palate after a tasting far too many of the smaller winery wines, which were undrinkable, and that is truly being nice/PC.

Sadly, for me, Gvaot was a no-show, which is understandable at this point given their brand recognition and quality. Same goes for Netofa which also bowed out this year. Carmel and Yatir were also no shows, along with no Midbar, no Kishor, or Galil, or even Barkan (more on that in a minute). Really, it was new or fairly new wineries covering the walls like lilies on a summer day. Sadly, lilies would have been a better use of the space, but that is not my call of course.

So, all this means is that another year has passed, and nothing has changed, which is exactly what I was worried about in my last post.

State of Israel’s wine industry

My clear unhappiness, is not pointed at the Sommelier event itself, or at its promoters. On the contrary, the way I see it, it is a badly needed wine event. To me is is the event where we find the next Netofa, or Capsouto (who was there pouring his 2014 wines), but it is also the only event revolving around the wine industry as a whole left in Israel. Sure, we see it as the event where we get to taste lots of wine is a single place, but there are other aspects that I am now understanding about Sommelier that are very important as well.

Sommelier plays a vital part in the Israeli wine world, is is currently the only Israeli wine event that is focused on the wine industry. Sadly, ISRAWINEXPO died after the 2012 vintage, and even that one was a bit of a disappointment. Sure, there is the PYUP and Jerusalem, tel Aviv, and other festival wine events, but those are far more consumer wine related events than industry focused. Without the constant marketing of Israeli wines – at large to the global public, Israel becomes a one trick pony – kosher wine.

I have asked countless wineries why there is no REAL Israeli wine association, one that is fully inclusive to all wineries that export to major outlets around the world? Their answer, the government does not deem them agriculture and they have no interest in helping. OK. But Napa Valley has received no Government help, neither has Paso Robles (LOVE these ads), or most any in the USA or South Africa.

That was why I was so impressed by the Judean Hills Quartet, first of all they contain three of the best wineries in Israel. Maybe four, but Doron’s Sephora is not kosher, so I have no personal knowledge to its quality. On an aside, I remember with great glee the day Doron shared with me the an almost full vertical of his Chardonnay – what a joy they were. The three kosher wineries are stalwarts in their space, and while I can have issues here and there with certain vintages or certain wines, from Flam or Castel, the consistency and quality of these wineries, be they kosher or not, is truly impressive, and they make a great quartet to promote the Judean Hills region. Read the rest of this entry

QPR Kosher wine options that I have been enjoying recently

In my state of kosher wine industry post – I lamented at the lack of QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) options in the kosher wine world. Now that is not to say that the options do not exist, as you can see by the number of QPR options on my top wines for Passover last year. Still, given the sheer number of wines in a kosher wine store (many hundreds) and the number of kosher wines on the open market (many thousands), we are left with a very small minority – sadly.

So, I thought I would list the most recent QPR wines I have enjoyed over the past 6 months. I wanted to catch up with wines I had not had till later last year and place them in a single easy to find place.

My hope is that people will enjoy the wines and demand more of them. For instance, the lack of many of the QPR wines from Elvi Wines on the open market. I can find them on Royal’s website and on Elvi’s website, but sadly I cannot find them at many wine stores. Thankfully, Kosherwine has gotten the Elvi Cava back along with the Gilgal Brut, but they have older vintages or no vintages of the Elvi options. Onlinekosherwine.com, also has many of the older Elvi wines. I have spoken with Moises and he says they exist here somewhere in the USA – only God knows where though!!! Sadly, the exact same can be said for Netofa wines – another QPR superstar! Where are the wines? I taste them at KFWE – but they are not at stores, online or at shops!

I hope to one day write a post about wine cellaring, but till I do, understand that certain wines are made to enjoy early, like Cava, most 2014 white wines, and lighter reds. The richer and tannic reds can use time in the cellar and that is normal. This list is not a list of wines that are meant for cellaring, though many can withstand a few years. The idea here is to enjoy these wines now while you let the long-term wines cellar and age. We all have that interest to drink interesting wines and while I agree with that, that is NO excuse to raid the cellar when u have a hunkering for a complex note or flavor. Many of these wines will scratch the itch while the beasts’ lie and settle.

Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – I will point out when an older one will be an issue or a newer vintage would not be on the list (like the 2011 Ella Valley Cabernet Franc versus the 2012). The 2012 Ella Valley Cabernet Franc would never be on this list. The 2011 is a fine wine for another year, after that I fear it will turn to date juice.

Also, many of the white/rose/bubbly wines will be repeats from the various posts I made, as most of the 2015 whites and rose are not coming to the USA as they are shmita in Israel. I tried to keep these wines under 30 dollars or so, some are more most are less and that is the point of this list. Of course, that means that for some wineries there will be one or no options, like Matar or Four Gates Winery. Though I could have thrown in the Four Gates Chard – which is a lovely wine, it is still far from my goal to add into this bucket. The same can be said for many more wineries. Also, 2015 Israeli wines are not on this list, actually no 2015 wines are on this list, though Hagafen Winery, has released their 2015, but I have yet to taste them and the 2014 Hagafen wines are the ones on the market anyway. Finally, wines that can only be found in Israel like the epic Tabor Rose of 2014 and the 2014 Reca Gris du Marselan and the yatir rose and the new 2014 Yatir Viognier – and so on. All of these wines are not on this list because they are hard to find, but they are on previous lists I have posted.

So, without further ado – here is my list of kosher QPR winners so far and if you have any more please tell me!! They are listed below without any real order.

2014 Domaine Netofa White – Score: A- (Crazy QPR)
I must say this is clearly the best Netofa white so far, and I hope they continue to impress! The wine is 100% Chenin Blanc sourced from the slopes of Mount Tabor. The nose is redolent with rich and bright quince, straw, mineral, lemongrass, and wet grass. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely and rich mineral bomb, with more hay, spiced quince, now dry fresh cut grass, green apple, Asian pear, along with a crazy dry and insanely tart crab apple. The finish is long – spicy, dirty, and mineral based, with dry fruit, rich ripping acid, cloves, and nutmeg – BRAVO!!!

2013 Domaine Netofa Red – Score: A- (and more) (QPR!)
This wine is a clear step up from the 2012 Netofa Red, that is not putting the 2012 down in any way, it is just that this wine is even better! This wine is a blend of 65% Syrah and 35% Mourvedre. The nose on this wine is redolent and packed with mineral, lovely smoke, flint, ripe plum, lovely blueberry, with currants in the background. The mouth on this full bodied wine is attacks you first with lovely currants, followed by layers of blueberry, floral notes, richer and more extracted than the 2012, with great mineral, dried strawberry, all wrapped in ripping acid, and lovely tannin. The finish is long, extracted, and richly mineral in style, with blackcurrant, draping tannin, while being spiced with cloves, black pepper, sweet her, and hints of pith and lovely acid. BRAVO!!!

2012 Weinstock Cabernet Franc, Cellar Select – Score: A- (Mevushal) (QPR!)
This is not the same wine as the 2011 vintage, which was crazy and great this vintage started off closed and disjointed, but is now showing far better. The nose on this wine is mad green with red fruit notes, and herb. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is nice and round, with green notes, well balanced with good acid, raspberry, plum, earth, more bell pepper, crazy sweet dill, mouth coating tannin, and green foliage. The finish is long with nice enough acid, forest floor, nice butterscotch, good sweet tobacco, cedar, with tannin adding weight. Read the rest of this entry

A nice cross-section of kosher Cabernet Franc and QPR Merlot wines

2011 Chateau RoyaumontThis past weekend we had many guests over and we enjoyed a lovely cross-section of kosher Cabernet Franc and Merlot wines. Most of them were from Cali – but we had a nice Israeli wine in there as well. The real winner of the blind tasting was the 2011 Ella Valley Cabernet Franc, but I liked the 2011 Four Gates Cabernet Franc more because of the acid. It was clear that certain wines were better appreciated for the depth and power they had, more in your face and full bodied wines.

Many have spoken about the demise of Merlot and the rise of Pinot Noir from what is now called the “Sideways Effect.” Miles (the movie’s protagonist) proclaims his hatred for Merlot and his love affair for Pinot Noir, in the movie Sideways. While this has been confirmed by many trusted sources, what has been glossed over is the hammer blow that Miles delivered to Cabernet Franc. In the very same movie, Miles is poured a glass of Cabernet Franc, he smells it, sips it, and ceremoniously pours out the glass into the spit bucket, while dropping an anvil on all Cab Franc fans, as he states “”I’ve learned never to expect greatness from a cab franc, and this is no exception”. “Ouch!” This is the exact kind of snobbery and lack of appreciation for the varietal’s unique qualities, mentioned earlier, that has kept the masses away from Cabernet Franc. In the end of the movie, we find Miles drinking his vaulted and prized bottle of 1962 Cheval Blanc, which is composed of 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!

Ask a winery why they do not sell Cabernet Franc, and they will start by disparaging it as a blending grape, and then add that it is not a noble variety. What’s so funny is that the vaulted Cabernet Sauvignon – the archetype noble grape, is actually a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc – go figure! You see, perception (and a lack of marketing) is reality, and while many have complained that Cabernet Franc is a thin and green flavored wine, that has more to do with the vintner’s and vineyard manager’s incompetence than it has to do with the grape. Cab Franc needs a fair amount of heat to bring it to its true potential, but too much heat, and it gets toasted. Poor viticulture is the grape’s Achilles Heel. Still, the wine’s olfactory charm and bright fruity composition makes it a clear contrast from today’s fat and fruit forward wines. Sure, you find wineries styling the poor Cabernet Franc grape into a Cabernet Sauvignon by suffocating it in oak and tannins. However, the wine’s true beauty lies in its clean lines, bright red fruit, and it’s crazy floral/fruity nose, that may be accompanied by some bell pepper, which causes many a wine critic to turn up their noses to this wonderful wine.

Even further is that many a winery, including one from the tasting will say that they would rather have a Cabernet Franc that lacks green notes than one that shows it. Why? Because truly Cabernet Franc started as a grape grown in France, and in a region that does not get very warm, namely Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Napa and Israel, however, does get warm, and some in Napa would like their wines to taste along the lines of their preferences, namely less green notes. Green notes normally arise from the lack of ripeness, think of vegetal notes you sometimes taste in fruit when the fruit is less than ripe. As the fruit ripeness, the Pyrazines within the grapes are killed off by the sunlight and ripe flavors appear. I love green notes in Cabernet Franc and am not turned off by them, in my opinion of course.

Wines from Shabbat

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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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Kosher wine and food madness – New York style

2004 Ella Valley RR, 2007 Carmel Shitaz Kayoumi Single Vineyard, 2007 Ella Valley Cab Vineyard Choice, 2005 Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003 Malartic LagraviereBack In March I had the opportunity to spend some time in NYC and hang with some friends. It was three days of wine tasting in foodie heaven and I wanted to post about the wines and the food, because some of it was just spectacular! It all started on a Monday night after the very average City Winery event, I made my way to SB and DF’s home and continued the wine tasting there. Sadly, I seemed to have misplaced my notes for two of the wines; namely the 2007 Ella Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Vineyard Choice and the 2004 Ella Valley RR, Vineyard’s Choice. The RR, if I remember correctly was all over the place and on the other side already in puppy heaven. The 2007 VC Cab was rocking, with rich layers and lovely barnyard, but for some reason I do not have the notes, no idea why! Of what I do remember the 2007 Cab VC was very old world in style with barnyard and lovely dirt and mushroom notes, with blackberry and plum, lovely! The 2007 Carmel Kayoumi Shiraz started off OK, but went all over the place quickly and went into blackcurrant madness and lost all balance, sadly. The 2004 Castel C was DOA, not fun at all. In the end, the first night was ruled by the epic 2007 Hagafen Late disgorged Brut and the 2007 Ella Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Vineyard Choice.

After that, it was off to bed, as we had a long day ahead. I woke up pretty much on time the next day, and we were off to see a wine store in the area, where I picked up a few bottles for the next few nights festivities and then it was back to the house to enjoy bubbly and some insane meat along with two wicked red wines; the 2005 Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2003 Malartic Lagraviere, Pessac-Leognan. Both were insane, but the Malartic is an entirely different world wine, with filthy layers of fruit, tannin, and barnyard – madness!!! Still, the 2005 Yatir Cabernet (their first varietal cab) was really impressive and had no flaws.

The next day I jumped on a bus and made my way to Brooklyn where I hung out with friends of ours, and for dinner I made my way to YC’s house, where a crazy dinner was being setup. By the time I arrived, YC and YB were going mano-a-mano, side by side, with varying types beef tartare, and rib roasts, while YB handled the burgers exclusively. Humorously, looking back at the dinner it really turned out to be an entire night of uncooked fish and beef tartare – really! When I arrived I was famished so we ordered in a LOT of Sushi for the guests who were already arriving, while the two cavemen “prepared” the meat, there really was no cooking going on here! Once we had inhaled the sushi (or most of it) and were accepting of a time-out, I ripped through a few of the white and bubbly wines described below, for note purposes only (they were not that enjoyable) and then we were ready for the serious food, cooked or not! On a total aside, the sushi came from an establishment called Five day sushi! Now, I am not into marketing, seriously, but who the heck came up with that name?? Do you think anyone who looks at that name, would care that fish were created on the fifth day of creation?? NOT ME!! All people looking at that name, for the most part, will think they sell sushi that is five days old, how safe or appetizing do they think that sounds?? With that said, the sushi was great, albeit the horrific name.

The meat evening started with two courses – one made each by YC and YB – of beef tartare, YC’s was more Dijon mustardy and spice, while YB’s had smoked tongue rilletes, oil, and lots of herb – if I remember correctly. From there they went to rib eye two ways, which was essentially raw meat with a  slight sear – LOL!!! Actually, YB brought this sick looking chunk of meat and that went on the girl for about 30 seconds, maybe a drop more! The inside was still moving and blue while the outside was well seared, as I said raw meat night! Next, there were burgers, of which I cannot remember, but again it was well seared raw beef patties, really beef tartare but in a ufo shape! Finally, YC brought out a huge chunk of rib eye meat (AKA roast) and I grabbed the bone, and finally there was actual cooked meat! However, to be honest, by then I was cooked, I was not spitting much and the raw meat was fermenting in my stomach and I was out for the count.

While the food was lovely, and equally beautiful to look at, the true stars of the evening were the wines. I started with a bottle of Rambam Prosecco, which was drinkable, I spat that one! The next was another white wine, a bottle of 2012 Giersberger Riesling, and it was nice enough, clearly the best of the lineup they bring to the US, but a B+ at best. Next we moved to the 2007 Yarden Pinot Noir, and while it is nice, it is nowhere near the epic 2008 PN. The 2007 was a solid B+ wine that is in drink up mode. Next was the 2012 Hajdu Cabernet Franc, which is a lovely wine, but it is starting to show a bit more ripe than I remember last, and while it is not flawed it did not show well that night. That was followed by two wines that are clearly lightning rods for me. I posted before about the two new Lewis Pasco wines, and while they are clearly ripe, some do not think they are over the top. To me, they have power but they are unbalanced and not wines I would stock up on. The 2012 – project #1 is going sweet, so watch out. The Liquidity 2012 is sadly over the top, and when I had it in 2013, from barrel, at sommelier it was beautiful. When I had it in 2014, from bottle, at sommelier – I posted that I thought they were over the top. I wanted to get a bottle here in the USA and get a chance to sit down with them and taste them over a dinner or more, and sadly after doing so, my opinion of them is worse than it was in Israel. Yes, I am in the minority, and I have no issue with that. I find them rich and extracted and unctuous, but also too ripe, unbalanced, and date like. I understand this will not be accepted well by many, but these are my notes, for my tracking, and do with them as you see fit. Read the rest of this entry

The kosher wines I enjoyed this past Passover

Well, Passover has come and gone and while I will not bore you with the details, I did get to cook my brisket and drink some very lovely wines. I have to say, I was away for this Passover from our home, and I brought some wines with me, many of which were great. However, I also visited Hungarian Kosher in Skokie, IL, the original home of kosherwine.com before they sold out to JWines.

When I was there I was happy to see that they were still selling lots of wine from all of the main distributors. The entire story of what happened to kosherwine.com and why it moved over to JWines, is not a mystery and much as it is politics and stuff I do not get into. This blog again, to remind many, is really for me to keep track of my notes and my wines, something I also do on Cellar Tracker. Still, when massive chances like this happen to the kosher wine industry some think I need to talk about it. Well, I do not agree. I like to converse about the overall wine industry, and the things I find issue with, such as the high cost of kosher wine, French Wines, and the date juice coming out of Israel.

The story of kosherwine.com is really not my business; it is between Dan and JWines and other people who I am friendly with, and something that is better left for table fodder.

Now, on to the wines. I was very happy to see a bottle of the 2002 Chateau Leoville Poyferre. WOW what a bottle! Another blockbuster wine that I enjoyed was the 2013 Harkham Shiraz, Aziza. We have spoken about the Harkham Winery and Richie Harkham here and here. The funny thing about this Aziza bottle is that the KA kosher supervision is not actually printed on the label! Mr. Harkham told me it was because of some glitch, and  he sent me a letter from the KA, which stated clearly that the wine is officially kosher.

The next blockbuster was the 2009 Four Gates Merlot and the 2011 Four Gates Chardonnay. Both of them were insane and rich and really opened some few days after they were opened. Finally, the rose and whites from Hajdu and Shirah are still rocking and rolling and so are their new ones! Bravo guys!

After the blockbuster wines – I was lucky to spend some time with friends and family and we each shared wines with each other. My uncle shared a lovely bottle of the 2012 Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde Kosher Grinalda! I have never had this wine before, it is a white blend of some crazy grapes, I never heard of that was made in Portugal. I was skeptical to start – but WOW what a great wine and it is DIRT cheap. Sadly, it is only sold in Illinois. So, go to Binny’s or Vineyard’s in Lincolnwood and buy some.

My other friends, GM and RM shared two bottles of wines that they were aging for some time, maybe a bit too long (wink). They were a 1994 Yarden Merlot and a 1999 Hagafen Pinot Noir! Wow, sadly, they were both over the hill for sometime, but what a joy, honor, and experience to enjoy then with my friends. I shared with them a bottle of the 2013 Goose Bay Fume Blanc. The trade was nowhere near fair, but they were just being kind and I was happy to share more, but they seemed happy with that option. Shockingly, the star was yet another wine – a 2003 Weinstock Cellar Select Cabernet Sauvignon! That puppy was insane, rich, layered, black and mouth coating – LOVELY! That was a wine that was opened at its peak and we all GREATLY enjoyed!

The other visit was to BC and CG, CG made some two wicked cool brisket and other tasty side dishes. I shared the left overs of the 2002 Leoville Poyferre, the 2013 Aziza and they shared with me a lovely bottle of the 2008 Ella Valley Vineyards Vineyard’s Choice Personal and the 2012 La Fenetre Red Blend. Many thanks guys and feel better soon CG!!!!

Please post what you had for Passover, or at least your favorites ones from Passover!!

The wine notes follow below:

2003 Weinstock Cabernet Sauvignon, Cellar Select – Score: A- (and more)
WOW! Bravo guys, this is a wine, that is stored well will pay you back in deep dividends! The nose on this wine is redolent with dark brooding fruit, with hints of green notes and lovely cedar. The mouth is full and rich with layers of black and red berry, along with lovely and very elegant mouth coating tannin – lovely! The finish is long with roasted herb, vanilla, tobacco, sweet dill, and chocolate galore! Read the rest of this entry

Ella Valley Syrah and Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon- oldies but goodies

2006 and 2007 Ella Valley SyrahThis past week we were enjoying some steak for shabbos, so I reached for for two wines that I thought would go well with a hunk of meat. I have been talking a bit about the state of israeli wines and their over ripe wine drunken stupor. Yes, I have clearly moved from the sweet, bold, 2×4 wines of old, but the good news is that there are wines from before 2009 that continue to age well and show well.

So, it was time to see how the 2006 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon was showing. I also wanted to see where the 2010 Herzog Petite Sirah, Prince Vineyard. Last week, the Herzog PS2 was DOA. I stated there that PS is one of those finicky wines, they can be big, burly, and in your face one day and DEAD the next. We have spoken about Durif before, yes the official name of Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah is a moniker/marketing scheme name that was used in the US, as Durif made no sense, and also because some thought it was related to the Syrah grape, at least until UC Davis disproved that. We have had two vertical tastings of PS, here and here, and each time we find it not an overly complex wine, but one that is very enjoyable. With the release of Recanati’s PS and Hajdu’s PS, along with Ella Valley as well, I have found that you can find complex in the world of PS.

The grape was always a blending grape adding mad tannin, color, and mineral (in some cases) to a blend. However, it is a soft and accessible wine if created for the mass market, like Dalton and other do. Still, I would not hold on to these wines for too long, even the complex one, because you are just asking for trouble. They tend to fall off the cliff very quickly, depending on the grape quality, vintage, and length of time held. That said, after 5 to 6 years for the top line wines, at least the kosher ones, I would drink them up.

The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Yarden was sweet, that is undeniable, but its complexity, structure, and overall balance made for a wine that was truly enjoyable. The Ella Valley Syrah were beyond enjoyable! Not a sense of sweet notes at all, the 2007 even had barnyard on it. Sure, it was breaking down, but it was luscious and rich, while the 2006 was beautiful, extracted, blue and black and crazy earth. If you have either – drink NOW! Enjoy! The wines this week were all winners – I hope you enjoyed great wines as well.

The wine notes follow below:

2007 Ella Valley Syrah – Score: A-
This wine is at peak so drink NOW! The nose on this dark purple colored wine has ZERO bricking – but has brown halos, with rich tar, licorice, spice, sweet wood, and roasted herb. The mouth on this full bodied wine is massive, rich, concentrated, and richly extracted, showing lovely blackberry, plum, dark tart cherry, along with crazy roasted herb, sweet cedar, and lovely tannin that are well integrated. The finish is long and spicy, with leather, hints of barnyard, black pepper, citrus pith, and tart black fruit on the long linger. This wine was ready to go out of the bottle and what a joy! Bravo to Doron!

2006 Ella Valley Syrah – Score: A- (and more)
The nose on this garnet colored wine is rich with crazy roasted animal, tar, mad charcoal, blueberry, and lovely just smoked dark chocolate. The full bodied wine is rich, layered, and extracted with lovely mouth coating tannins that are still gripping, along with anise, blackberry, mint, and with crazy earth, literally like eating a fist full of dirt, and dark cherry that carries the mouth, with layers of Mediterranean herbs and sweet spices. The finish is long and charcoal and chocolate, with mounds of dirt, great acid, licorice, and mad spice. What a joy! This wine is at peak and has at least another year or two in its tank – BRAVO DORON!!!!!

2006 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: A-
This wine is not going to sneak up on you – it is more like a combination of a sledge hammer and a two-by-four hitting you right between your eyes. The nose on this massive, complex styled wine explodes with super ripe blackberry, raspberry, chocolate, herbs, rich oak, licorice, plum, tobacco, and sweet cedar. The mouth on this massive full bodied wine is now showing softly integrating tannins that give the wine a super lovely mouth feel, along with clear sweet fruit, ripe sweet black plum, but tart fruit as well that balances out the date notes. The dates give way to sweet cedar and good acid. The finish is super long and spicy, with nice spice, cassis, date, oak, chocolate, tobacco, and still gripping tannins.

2010 Herzog Petite Sirah Prince Vineyard – Score: A-
The wine is at its peak and is really ready to drink. It still needs a bit of air, but I do not see this wine lasting for another year in this state. The nose started off nicely with good floral and violet notes, along with blueberry ribbons, smoky aromas, mint, green notes of bell pepper. The mouth is medium in body with layers of concentrated strawberry notes, dark cherry, and spiced plum, all wrapped up in a cedar box with lovely mouth coating tannin and anise. The finish is long with smokey notes, vanilla, white pepper, oriental spice, licorice, and mineral. The wine was in slumber before, but now it is ready to go. Air it for an hour an enjoy.

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

A wonderful horizontal tasting of older kosher Cabernet Franc wines

This past weekend saw us enjoying a lovely round of Cabernet Franc wines and our patented Herb encrusted gefilte fish loaf, which was followed by sausage stew. What can I say, I have a true soft spot for GREAT Cabernet Franc, and thankfully there are a few VERY good options. When I think of Cabernet Franc, top on my list is Four Gates Winery followed by Ella Valley Winery. After that, there is Hagafen Winery, Carmel Winery, Psagot Winery, and the new comer is Teperberg Winery’s 2011 Cabernet Franc – that is off the charts!

Many have spoken about the demise of Merlot and the rise of Pinot Noir from what is now called the “Sideways Effect.” Miles (the movie’s protagonist) proclaims his hatred for Merlot and his love affair for Pinot Noir, in the movie Sideways.  While this has been confirmed by many trusted sources, what has been glossed over is the hammer blow that Miles delivered to Cabernet Franc.  In the very same movie, Miles is poured a glass of Cabernet Franc, he smells it, sips it, and ceremoniously pours out the glass into the spit bucket, while dropping an anvil on all Cab Franc fans, as he states “”I’ve learned never to expect greatness from a cab franc, and this is no exception”.  “Ouch!” This is the exact kind of snobbery and lack of appreciation for the varietal’s unique qualities, mentioned earlier, that has kept the masses away from Cabernet Franc. In the end of the movie, we find Miles drinking his vaulted and prized bottle of 1962 Cheval Blanc, which is composed of 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!

Ask a winery why they do not sell Cabernet Franc, and they will start by disparaging it as a blending grape, and then add that it is not a noble variety.  What’s so funny is that the vaulted Cabernet Sauvignon – the archetype noble grape, is actually a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc – go figure! You see, perception (and a lack of marketing) is reality, and while many have complained that Cabernet Franc is a thin and green flavored wine, that has more to do with the vintner’s and vineyard manager’s incompetence than it has to do with the grape.  Cab Franc needs a fair amount of heat to bring it to its true potential, but too much heat, and it gets toasted.  Poor viticulture is the grape’s Achilles Heel.  Still, the wine’s olfactory charm and bright fruity composition makes it a clear contrast from today’s fat and fruit forward wines.  Sure, you find wineries styling the poor Cabernet Franc grape into a Cabernet Sauvignon by suffocating it in oak and tannins.  However, the wine’s true beauty lies in its clean lines, bright red fruit, and it’s crazy floral/fruity nose, that may be accompanied by some bell pepper, which causes many a wine critic to turn up their noses to this wonderful wine.

Even further is that many a winery, including one from the tasting will say that they would rather have a Cabernet Franc that lacks green notes than one that shows it. Why? Because truly Cabernet Franc started as a grape grown in France, and in a region that does not get very warm, namely Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Napa and Israel, on the other hand, do get warm, and some in Napa would like their wines to taste along the lines of their preferences, namely less green notes. Green notes normally arise from the lack of ripeness, think of vegetal notes you sometimes taste in fruit when the fruit is less than ripe. As the fruit ripeness, the Pyrazines within the grapes are killed off by the sunlight and ripe flavors appear. I love green notes in Cabernet Franc and am not turned off by them, in my opinion of course.

That said, Hagafen works hard to get the green out of the Cabernet Franc, saying the green is seen as a flaw and they work hard to make sure it does not appear in the wine. Sure, many wineries feel the same way, but Franc is green – it is the definition of the grape – but this is the new century and I guess it is time to evolve the Franc ideal, but in my books it is wrong.

The interesting fact is that Ella Valley is really the hot bed for all things kosher and Franc and I was happy to showcase two very different styles of the wine from the same winery. The 2006 Vintage is all fruit and green, while the 2009 vintage is all about the tannin and spice and fruit, with the fruit taking a back stage presence. That will change as the wine evolves and the tannin and mineral recede to show the fruit, but for now the two wines could not be more different – which is why it is so IMPORTANT to age Franc!

If you are interested in getting into the Franc scene, the best options now are:

  1. The 2010 Carmel Cabernet Franc (or the 2009 as well)
  2. The 2010 or 2009 Ella Valley Cabernet Franc
  3. The 2009 Gush Etzion Cabernet Franc
  4. The Teperberg 2011 Cabernet Franc (2010 with its new age label is good enough as well)

Well, here are the wines we had, the crowd was meant to be larger, and I was supposed to get to a Psagot and a Gush, but such is life. The Four gates Francs were not meant to be on the menu – we had them last year, at our previous Franc horizontal. The wine notes follow below:

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Some Great and some OK kosher Rose and white wines for summer along with BBQ reds

Summer is here and man is it hot! When I think summer wines I think rose and tart/bright white wines. We have been tasting some of these wines and they have been fantastic, for the most part. There have been some very nice reds as well, including the 2005 Hagafen Zinfandel. Sadly, 2006 was the last vintage for Hagafen and Zinfandel, because they needed to cut down on the number of labels they produce, and Zinfandel got the boot – very sad indeed.

The best rose by far was the Netofa, along with the Recanati and the Castel was OK. The 2011 Covenant Sauvignon Blanc was mind-blowing and still kicking in all the right ways. It stood up well to the 2013 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, which is also great! The 2012 Dalton Viognier is nice, but it never had the star qualities of the 2009. I hear the 2013 is as good or better than the 2009, so I am hoping to taste it soon! The 2013 Shirah Vintage Whites is not as good as the 2012, but it is nice enough and needs TONS of time to open and really come together, so open this one and let it air!

The 2010 Ella valley Cabernet Franc is finally in the country and it is equally as good as it was in Israel! The 2009 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Edition, Clone # Six, is really nice but much sweeter than the 2008 which was/is a rock star! Both of these reds would go really well with BBQ chicken or hanger steaks, or a burger with roasted onions – yum!

Well there you go, I hope you get to enjoy some or all of these and post back what you thought! The notes follow below:

2013 Domaine Netofa Rose – Score: A- and more (CRAZY QPR)
This wine is blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Mourvedre. The nose on this beautiful cherry colored wine, is ripe with peach aromas, intense floral notes, hints of kiwi, quince, rich herb, and spice. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has lovely strawberry, tart cherry, with nice fruit structure, along with insane acid, nice melon, and tart fruit that keeps on coming. The finish is long and spicy with rose petals, green and red apple sauce, and spiced apples.
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