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A Shabbat in Jerusalem with epic old world wines

As I have been posting so far, I enjoyed my last trip to Israel and Europe, and I am almost done with my Israeli winery posts. Last we left off, we had just had our second kosher wine tasting at DD’s house, and the first of the three wineries we visited on Friday – Domaine du Castel Winery. However before we get back to the other two wineries we visited on Friday, I wanted to post about the wines we enjoyed over the Shabbat that followed.

I will leave the story for another day, but I can say that Jerusalem was smoking hot Friday and Shabbat (chamsin-like), but thankfully dry. I spat throughout the tastings on Friday, where we went to Tzora Winery, Flam Winery, and the afore-posted Castel Winery. However, some of the group were less careful about spitting and combine that with the searing heat that did not cool till almost midnight – and that made for a viscous 1-2 punch that slowed some folks at the dinner table on Shabbat. However, come Shabbat day all were active and wine was flowing like bonkers. I brought over two wines, as I was asked to drink and forget Israeli wines, please, which is all I could have access to!

However, I was able to find the lovely 2016 La Vie Roubine rose and a total pass of a wine, the 2016 1848 White blend, flat and unimaginative, and the fantastic NV Yaacov Oryah Old musketeer, so I was 2 for 3, which is a very high batting average, but not a good wine present average. Though the NV Yaacov Oryah Old musketeer hopefully makes up for it.

Friday Night

The walk to dinner was preceded by a quick davening in a Sephardic shul that brought back memories of my youth when I spend Shabbosim in Jerusalem. Old and young mingling and davening with their own expressions and intonations, but all still together in spirit and fervor, a real joy. Of course, the other great part is that there was no schlepping of any sort! Gotta love praying in Jerusalem! There was a class by some Rabbi, but I remember none of it, I think that is clear enough.

As we made our way up to our host, the heat was receding a bit, but that is like saying it is easier to walk through torrential rain than a hail storm. It was tough, and it was straight uphill, a small fact that everyone felt free to not disclose to me ahead of time, very nice! To be fair I was not the one schlepping the 8 bottles of wine up that hill, those were strapped to the back of the “not so with us” participant, who courageously powered up the hill, weaving here and fro but upwards all the same! I had to stop once and when we arrived at our host’s home, I was literally blanched and unable to stand – the heat, the hike uphill, it took a toll on me and I must have drunk a gallon of water until I was human again.

Finally, we were ready for kiddush, at least most of us, and that was done on grape juice! Like what! Grape juice! Then I realized – this may be the home of a Frenchman, but it is also home to a few kids who drink grape juice first and then wine. The smallest of the three drinks wine just fine, but the other two enjoy tasting it. The house itself is quite lovely and the fact that it is still standing, notwithstanding the three young terrorists that live within its walls, is a testimony to the building skills of the masons and builders of Jerusalem!

I will skip the food as I was not really tracking what I was eating, not because it was not great, but more because I was greatly enamored by the wines in front of me and the need to sleep ASAP, it had been a long day at that point. Read the rest of this entry

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Pinot Noir wines, Kos Yeshous wines, and red and white QPR winners

Well, Yom Tov is now over, and the Jewish Holiday fall season is over. I will keep this very short, I tasted lots of wines and not all of them are themed or per winery, so here they are. Some were really good, like the impressive but not widely available Kos Yeshuos wines from Josh Rynderman, who continues to impress me and whose wines truly belie his youth.

Besides Josh’s fun wines, I tasted the Gachot Manot Pinot Noir wines from the 2010 vintage. Of the four I have now tasted, the only ones I would buy now is the 1er cru if you can find it. The plain Bourgogne is in drink now mode, it has a year left at most in the tank. The other two wines, the Cote de Nuits-Villages and the Gevrey are really not that interesting and are in serious drink up mode.

Sadly, the 2012 Pacifica Pinot Noir dropped off the cliff, it is in serious drink NOW mode, or you will be left with water. There is a new 2016 vintage, I hope to taste it very soon.

Also, bravo to Menahem Israelievitch and the Royal Europe group. They have created two QPR wines that are nice. The best of the bunch by far is the 2016 Chateau Riganes. It is very cheap, at less than 10 dollars on kosherwine.com, and it is mevushal!! Finally! Finally! We are starting to see real wines in the kosher market that are not jacked up. The Chateau Trijet is nice as well, but more fruit forward than I would like.

Finally, I had the chance to taste the 2016 Capcanes Rosat and it did not crack the top roses of 2017, which is a shame. The new 2016 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc is a real winner and a QPR winner to boot!

We were in a huge rush so my notes are shorter than usual. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

Kos Yeshuos Wines

2016 Kos Yeshuos Grenache, Mokelumne River, Lodi – Score: 90 to 91
The nose is really fun and feminine, with vibrant fruit, juicy strawberry, hints of blueberry, with intensely floral notes showing rose hip and nice sweet baking spices. The mouth on medium bodied is fun, vibrant, and zesty, and with a great backing of good acid that makes it a fun food wine, with good fruit focus showing tart cherry, with a good tannin that carries the wine, with lovely strawberry, and cinnamon at the start that gives way to cloves, allspice, and then great almond pith. The finish is long and spicy, with earth, really fun saline, floral notes, and a backbone of acid that really carries this wine well. Nice! Drink till 2020.

2016 Kos Yeshuos Syrah, Mokelumne River, Lodi – Score: 92
What a lovely Cali nose, a real joy, controlled, fruity, big and bold and really meaty, with really great boysenberry, blueberry, roasted meat, backed by nice floral notes (not weak Australian style – but really rich and floral), with mounds of chocolate, lovely graphite, mineral, and sweet oak. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, layered and inky, a real joy, wow, this is a wine that belies Josh’s young career as a winemaker, a wine with great control and finesse, a true food Syrah (not because it is undrinkable without food, it has ZERO date or sweet issues), but this wine is a beast, it cannot be enjoyed on its own, unless u are a glutton for punishment, showing rich cassis, blackberry, followed by blue fruit galore, juicy and ripe, yet not over the top, wrapped in spicy and sweet oak, with rich ribbons of mineral, earth, and great baking spices to bring it all together. The finish is long and mineral based, with great graphite, rich saline, green and black olives, along with hints of other umami to come, but meaty, blue, mineral, and black lingering long. Bravo! Drink from 2018 to 2023. Not available anymore – I think sold out.

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Vitkin Winery’s latest releases

2016 Vitkin Israeli Journey, White, 2016 Vitkin Grenache Blanc, Vitkin Gewurztraminer, 2016 Vitkin Israeli Journey pink, 2015 Vitkin Pinot Noir, Vitkin Grenache, Vitkin Cabernet Franc, VAs I stated in my last post, I landed in Israel and I had very few days to see a lot of wineries. Vitkin Winery was the first winery I visited and I finally got the chance to taste the entire kosher line. Asaf Paz, is the head winemaker there now, after spending so much time helping at Vitkin for years, he is finally at home in his family’s winery for good I hope.

I have written before about Vitkin in passing last year when I tasted his 2015 wines, the first year he made the winery kosher! Yes, as stated last year, Asaf believed that it was time to go kosher, so why not make it on a shmita year! They moved from 60K bottles in 2014 to 100K bottles in 2015 and on. The hope there is that expansion would be possible by moving kosher. Royal Wines is the USA importer for their wines from 2016 and on.

The winery has grown from its early days in 2001 to now making 100,000 or so bottles of wine, and though it has space for more, it will stay there for now. We arrived during the crush for Grenache, so it was fun to see how the tanks are situated in the winery. They do not use pumps to move the wine must to the top tanks, but rather they use hydraulics to move the bins to the top of the tank and drop them into the tank. This makes sure that the fruit and it’s must is not crushed a second time, allowing for better wine. After the wine is finished fermenting, using gravity the grapes and the must are placed into the press and then the resulting wines are then dropped into the barrels. Tank to press to barrels all using gravity, with an assist from the hydraulics at the start. This is not a new scheme, it can be seen all over France, but it is nice to see it in Israel as well (Galil Mountain winery also does this along with others, but not many family-run boutique wineries show such care and concern).

Vitkin has three main lines of wines; Israeli Journey, Vitkin, and Shorashim (the elite wines), and some dessert wines as well. The kosher line started in 2015 and so initially the whites and rose were the only available options. Of the wines, we tasted the rose is in the Israeli Journey line, along with the white Israeli Journey. The other three whites; Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Grenache Blanc are all in the Vitkin line, sadly there was no 2016 Riesling. The 2016 Gewurztraminer and Grenache Blanc, have the added collector’s edition moniker on them. The current red wines that are kosher all fall into the Vitkin wine label, both the 2015 Vitkin Israeli Journey, Red and the 2016 Vitkin Israeli Journey, Red, along with the 2015 Vitkin Pinot Noir, 2015 Vitkin Cabernet Franc, 2015 Vitkin Petite Sirah, 2015 Vitkin Carignan. The 2015 Vitkin Grenache Noir is the only red with the collector’s edition moniker.

There are two fascinating aspects of the wines produced the Vitkin Winery. One is that 50% of the bottles produced are either rose or white! Think about that for a second! Are you kidding me, that is really impressive if you ask me personally. Israel has changed so much in the last 10 years, in two core aspects. The Israeli public now drinks more wine, and they like white/roses, and the second is that red wines are turned riper – a drum I constantly beat – and one that is not changing yet. Read the rest of this entry

Wines I enjoyed over Passover 2017

Well, I have been off for too long, that is for sure. First Passover, then travels to Japan and more work. Finally home for a bit, Passover was great as it was enjoyed with family and that is what makes the holidays so great!

I will keep this short and sweet – the wines were mostly good to great, except for one wine that I was really looking forward to tasting – sadly it was clearly not stored well. Other than the single disappointment – the rest of the wines were solid wines.

I also had the opportunity to enjoy some wines with friends at EZ’s house, with BC and CG. It was a lovely evening and we enjoyed 6 wines – the best of which was the 2012 Domain Netofa Latour Red, followed by 2010 Hajdu Grenache, 2011 Netofa Red, the 2004 Chateau Montviel (which is in drink up mode at this point), and the 2011 Hajdu Grenache. Many thanks to EZ and his wife for hosting us so graciously.

The wines are listed below – and I hope you had a great Passover as well:

2012 Herzog Petite Sirah, Clarksburg, Prince Vineyard – Score: A-
I found this wine to be showing better than the Hajdu PS, at least for now. Lovely blueberry jam and crazy black plum, with mounds of fresh vanilla, sweet cedar, with lovely floral notes, and sweet spices. Lovely full body wine with still searing tannin and lovely acid showing rich extraction and crazy spices with boysenberry and blackberry with rich sweet spices and elegance at the same time, along with ribbons of charcoal, and mineral. The finish is long and jammy, with rich leather, and mounds of mineral and black tea, with sweet tobacco, and sweet fruit lingering long. Drink by 2020.

2012 Hajdu Petite Sirah, Brobdingnagian – Score: A-
This wine was really a wine I was looking forward to tasting again, and it is either in a real funk, or it has taken a step back from its earlier stature. The wine opened quickly, it was not as closed as in the past, showing ripe blackberry, blueberry, and lovely dirt, and earth, with root beer galore and spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, but lacking the impressive extraction of old, with rich layers of blue and dark fruit, sweet oak, and tannin that does not let up. The finish is long with layers of dark fruit, leather, spice, Swiss mocha, boysenberry, and nice tart, and sweet fruit. This wine is on target, but lacking the complexity of old. Drink by  2021.

2007 Yarden Blanc de Blanc – Score: A- to A
Same as last time, deep, mineral, and attack that is almost hedonistic.

NV Gamla/Gilgal Hashmura Brut – Score: A- (crazy QPR)
This is the new vintage (which is now out of stock in most places). The way to know it is the most recent vintage is to check if the wine says extra dry – otherwise, it is a previous vintage and not as fun, the wine is mostly 2011 grapes. The nose on this bubbly is sick with lovely quince, apple cider, with straw and tart citrus. The mouth is full and an attack force of small mousse bubbles, followed by yeast and rich undertones, followed by layers of pear and madly refreshing with crazy acid and pith, and more bubbles that do not give up. The finish is long with dried fruit, nice dry mouthfeel, that flows into nice dried herb, and rich white tea. BRAVO!!!!

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My top 25 kosher wines of 2014

Well, 2014 has come and gone and my top wines of the past year were too many to limit to 10. Now these wines comprise a list of wines I enjoyed over the year. Some were released in 2014 and many were released a long time ago. Either way these are wines that made an impression upon me and that is the only characteristic that I used to define this list.

Some of these wines may not score a solid A, but they deserve to be here because of their trail blazing characteristics Take for instance – the 2012 Recanati Marselan. It is the only kosher Marselan and it is very good. The 2013 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, one of the best whites to come out of Israel along with the 2012 Tzora Shoresh White, a wine that I believe is better than the 2013 Shoresh white, were both on my list last year, so they are not on it this year. The 2013 Tzora Shoresh is on this year’s list and if you have not gotten any – you are making a huge mistake. I had both in 2014, and even though I liked the 2012 a bit more, the 2013 is an epic white wine, in its own right. The best rose, hands down, was the 2013 Hajdu Pinot Gris rose. It is tied for best ever kosher rose with the 2012 Shirah rose, but that was already enjoyed in 2013. The next white wine was the epic 2013 Dalton Viognier, a wine that is worthy, once again, of the Dalton reserve label. It beats the 2012 hands down, and reclaims the title as the best kosher Viognier that is available in the US or Israel. There may be a French Viognier that is available there, but I do not know of them. The final non red wine was the 1996 Four Gates Chardonnay, which while never released officially, it was an awesome wine indeed! I tasted while tasting an entire vertical of all of Benyamin’s Chardonnay wines and this was the best of the bunch. Many others were solid A- and maybe a bit more wines, but the 1996 was a A- to A wine that was truly epic.

The rest of the wines are red, and there are many special wines there including the fantastic 2012 Recanati wild Carignan and Syrah/Viognier wines. BRAVO! There were many more French wines, but they will have to fall till next year, when I get a chance to sit down and enjoy them over a long meal. The 2012 Chateau Giscours, the 2012 Pavillon de Leoville Poyferré, and the 2012 Roches de Yon Figeac are lovely wines and may well get on the list next year. In the end, California, France, and Spain continue to be my sweet spot. There are a few exceptional wines from Israel, like the epic and insane 2000 Yarden Katzrin and others. Along with current releases from Tzora Winery, Recanati Winery, and Yatir Winery. In the end, Israel will improve by having 2009, 2010, and 2011 in their rear view mirror, all the while enjoying the new 2012, 2013, and from what I hear 2014 vintages.

The wine notes follow below:

Wines of Spain

2012 Capcanes Peraj Habib (Crazy QPR) – Score: A- to A
Before I talk about this epic wine, I must sadly say that one of the wines that was on my list last year – the 2012 Capcanes Carignan – never made it into its own bottle. Sadly, it was not deemed worthy of a leading role. Thankfully, it found its place here, in this fantastic 2012 Peraj Habib! The wine blend for 2012 is not far off from 2011, consisting of 40% Grenache, 30% Carignan, and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from very old vines.

The nose on this dark and impenetrable purple colored wine is redolent with roasted animal, intense black fruit, and mounds of dirt and mineral. The mouth on this full bodied wine hits you with an intensely inky structure, filled with layers of of rich concentrated fruit, ripe freshly squeezed black berries, cassis, plum, along with tart fruit, spice, and mouth coating tannins that may well make some people think that this is the best Capcanes Peraj Habib ever made. The finish is long and purely mineral based to start, like sucking on a salt and graphite stick, as it recedes, you sense the incredible balancing acid, which is then immediately replaced with richly roasted coffee, sweet and herbal spices, more black fruit, a sense of animal fats, leather, hints of tobacco, and finally followed by bitter notes on the long finish. BRAVO!!!! Read the rest of this entry

An evening of Kosher Pinot Noir and Grenache

2012 Hajdu GrenacheOn a shabbos, a few weeks ago, we enjoyed a lovely evening of Pinot Noir and grenache wines. It is funny how the media can change people’s perspectives, and in some cases twist it in a way that we would not expect.  Say Pinot Noir and most wine drinkers will think of the enigmatic anti-hero Miles Raymond, and his explanation on his love for Pinot Noir; “…It’s, uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, pinot needs constant care and attention. You know?…“.  Pinot is a complicated grape – but not to its own detriment.  Listen to Miles throughout Sideways and you may come to think that Pinot is fleeting, flinty, thin, and complicated. In the end, as you watch that horrible movie, you quickly realize that Miles was simply projecting in a fire fueled rambling and using Pinot Noir as his conduit.

To the French, Pinot Noir is called Burgundy – following the tradition of French wineries to name their wines after the region where the grapes are grown. Americans have had success with Pinot – in California, Oregon, and Washington State. New Zealand, has really taken the lead in bringing the grape into the 21st century. The French Burgundy has its terroir (earthy dirt flavors, sometimes barnyard flavors as well). The New Zealand and American Pinots show characteristics that are more akin to Syrah then Burgundy – fruit forward, meaty wines with soft caressing tannins. The rest of the world is choosing sides. Though true terroir flavors are hard to replicate outside of Burgundy, many countries have been successful at bringing out the true fruit characteristics that the land is willing to share and are creating wonderful Pinot Noirs. Israel is one of those countries that is starting to really come into its own with Pinot Noir. Israel may still trail France in the number of kosher Pinot Noir wines produced, but in sheer quality it may have it beat.

Say to many that Israel can create Pinot Noir and you will get many people, including wine makers in Israel itself, that rankle at the thought. The temperature is so darn hot there, that in one day the Pinot can go from a lovely grape with a bit more time needed, to a raisin. There is so little leeway with Pinot Noir, that making it in Israel is a nightmare. Still, many have succeeded, and maybe no one more than the INCREDIBLE 2008 Yarden PN! I was shocked! Just shocked. I would NEVER have said it was an Israeli PN.

Sadly, Pinot Noir to me is one of those wines that is so badly mangled in the kosher wine world, that it is no shock that most kosher oenophiles, turn face when u say Pinot Noir. Not heaven forbid on account of the Pinot Noir grapes themselves, but rather on account of the pathetic state of kosher Pinot Noir wine on the market.

Say, Pinot Noir to me, and sadly I can only think of:

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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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Hajdu Winery (AKA Brobdingnagian Winery) continues to prove he has more than just a cool name

1978828_10153902224780507_1359934116_nIf you follow my blog at all, you will find references to Brobdignagian, Brobdingnagian, and Hajdu all over – go ahead and search! Anyway, with the number of times that I have been writing about Hajdu, and Covenant (where he is associate winemaker), I realized it was due time to talk about one of California’s best and still hidden kosher wineries.

I met Jonathan quite a few years back, but even before that I “met” him through the Weiss Brothers (AKA Shirah Winery) and Benyamin (Four Gates Winery). Hajdu is one of those consummate winemakers that has continuously, through the years, shown his mettle and amazing palate. However, before we get ahead of ourselves we need to step back and weave in the background story of Hajdu. Hajdu fell into the world of wine when he was studying archeology at University at Albany-SUNY in NY. It was there, when bored with studies of things buried deep in the ground, dating back thousands of years ago, that he found the wonderful elixir called wine in local area wine bars. This was in the late 1990s, and I find it amazing that wine bars existed in a college town so many years ago!

Well soon after school, Hajdu went to study in Yeshiva in Israel, and it was there that he met a woman, and followed her to Melbourne Australia, which turned out to be a great place to study viticulture at the Swinburne University, and to work on a few vineyards in the Yarra Valley. Things did not work out on the dating front, so Hajdu returned to New York, and one thing led to another and a friend told him about a job at Copain Custom Crush Llc in 2003. It was a great job for so many reasons, the main one being that there Hajdu honed his winemaking skills, till now he was a viticulturist, and he learned the skill of working on many small lots and crushes inside a very large wine facility, something that would come in very handy in the coming years at Covenant, but again we are getting ahead of the story.

In late 2003 Herzog was in need of more skilled hands, so Hajdu signed on – and it was at this point that one has to see the hand of God here. First of all, it was here that the Shirah/Weiss boys would eventually meet up with Hajdu, along with Jack Levin, who was part of the initial Shirah creations. This group (Levin was not yet there in 2005) was the group that created the first Shirah wine – 2005 Shirah Syrah with fruit from Alamo Creek. For the next two years they worked together at Herzog and it was that time, in my opinion, that the desire and yearn to build great wines from both Shirah and Hajdu was created.

While, Hajdu was at Herzog winery another very important coincidence occurred, it was there that Hajdu met Jeff Morgan, co-owner and winemaker of Covenant Winery. At that time, Covenant was making their 2003 through 2006 vintages in Herzog’s winery in Santa Maria, CA where the winery existed before it moved to Oxnard. It was then that Hajdu worked with Jeff on the 2003, 2004 vintages of Covenant wines in Santa Maria (where Herzog was before Oxnard) and then 2005 in Oxnard as well.

In 2006 Hajdu had a yearning to return to Israel, so he picked up and went to work in Carmel winery after talking with Sam Saroka, then the head winemaker at Carmel Winery, Saroka is now the head winemaker of Mony Winery. After a year in Israel, Hajdu returned without any real plans but in search of more than just a wine job but also a person who would eventually become his wife. However, when he first arrived in NY, he tried to line things up, but one thing did not lead to another and plans kept falling through, which was for the best in so many ways! It was in NY, late 2007 that he met his to-be wife and where he re-caught the bug and passion to create his own wines – under the Brobdingnagian label. Read the rest of this entry

Yitzchok Bernstein does it again – a 19 course culinary kosher tour de force

Yitzchok BernsteinA few months ago Heshy Fried, Yitzchok Bernstein’s sous chef and frum-satire blogger, was at the house for a shabbos dinner and he said that Yitzchok Bernstein, was back on the scene. Bernstein is the culinary mastermind behind the epic haute cuisine event that lasted some 27 courses, and which was one of the most often read posts on my blog, in the past year. Bernstein was lurking in NY for a few months – but he returned to Oakland after a short, yet successful, stint at Pomegranate.

The gang unpacking early before the dinner prep 3So, when I heard that Mr. Bernstein was back – we agreed that a dinner was in order. Fried was not sure what the actual cost of a multi-course dinner was, but after a few back and forth discussions with Bernstein we were set. Well, while the dinner was set, the next two hurdles were a bit complicated; finding and arranging with 10 other participants and then locking down a date. Throughout the process, Bernstein was as professional as they come, and responded almost immediately to our correspondences. Getting the final gang together had a few missteps along the way, but while the overall process was a bit long to arrange on my end, the final outcome was an absolute delight, but more on that in a bit.

Surf and Turf Salad- Fried Chicken Skins, Sea Beans, Nasturtium, Pansies, petit onions, root greens, Romaine Puree, Spring Green Pea Gazpacho, Morels, Fiddlehead Ferns, Poached Baby Potatoes, Shaved Chorizo - close upOnce the gang was roughly worked out, we agreed that the date was not going to work until after Passover. So once that was decided the next step was agreeing on a final date – which took a few emails. After that we were set and then came the fun part, deciding the food and wine menu. The dinner does not include wines, which is fine with me as I am picky about my wines, but wow were the dishes impressive! Initially, there was some interest in lamb, but in the end that did not work out, as I am not that in love with lamb. In the end the set of dishes were truly innovative and fascinating and unique – so I am happy we passed on the lamb for the dishes we got instead.

Shortrib Pastrami, Sauerkraut Foam, Deli Rye Gnocchi, Roasted Ramp, Rye CrumbsI laughed so hard throughout the process because initially, the number of courses was set at 12 or so, which was 100% fine. However, throughout the process of setting the menu Mr. Bernstein kept adding courses – it was HILARIOUS, I could not help from laughing whenever I would read the revised menu. It turns out that we were very lucky, Bernstein was trying out some new recipes and we were the beneficiaries of some wicked cool imaginative dishes. To be fair, some worked really well, some were awesome, and some were just 100% off the charts. Read the rest of this entry

Yitzchok Bernstein and Jonathan Hajdu excellent 27 course tour de force

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

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

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

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

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

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