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Kosher Riesling Horizontal Tasting

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It was time to taste all the Rieslings that I had been gathering up for some time. The problem was that I had no time to do it, given all the events I was traveling to, along with some personal needs as well. So, I finally found a day that would work, a week ago Thursday night and we gathered to taste them all.

So let me start with why Riesling and what is Riesling? First, this grape has many names, White Riesling, Riesling, Johannisberg Riesling, and others are real names of the Noble grape, while Emerald Riesling or Welsch Riesling – not so much!

Riesling Grape

Riesling is old, like ancient, it is documented to exist in Mosel dating back to the early 1400s! It is one of the Noble Six grapes that define wine history, but that is all marketing hooey IMHO. In terms of kosher wines, this variety did not really become special until recently, with Hagafen and Carmel doing wonderful jobs with the grape.

Riesling wines can be made in so many ways. The most common are sweet wines, like the impressive Hagafen Rieslings, that Ernie Weir makes every year, or the less impressive Giersberger Riesling, or the even less impressive Gilgal Riesling. These wines all have some amount of RS (Residual Sugar), whether they are called off-dry, semi-sweet, or sweet, they all need a very important component to make them work – ACID! They desperately need acid to balance the sweet notes. Hagafen is the only off-dry Riesling I have ever liked, that I remember anyway.

It is sad, but while Jews do not seem to enjoy white wines, they do drink sweeter wines, and if there was a bit more acid to balance it out, I think they would show better. That said, I brought this subject up to many a winemaker, and the response was all the same. People like it simpler to drink, so spiking the wine with acid would not sell as well, IE, customers like sweet alcoholic water. Acid tends to discourage gulping or whatever to these people do. Truly sad.

I am finding that Riesling is quickly becoming my favorite white wines. The dry wines from Hagafen, Nik, and Carmel bring a smile to my face. They are rich, layered, oily and balanced, with good acid that makes them enjoyable during almost any part of the meal. That is what makes acid work so well. Food dishes, wine, even dessert, all need some amount of acid to balance out the palate.

There are many other white wines out there for sure, look at my list of whites from 2015. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling are all noble grapes, and they are all lovely when done correctly. Still, Riesling has something going for it, that none of the other white varietals have, funk!

When the wine is done correctly, and then aged for even a year, the wine starts to display notes of petrol and oil. Some may find that offensive, but to me, it is yet another aspect of how I love mineral based wines. The great thing is that these wines come from all around the world! You can find kosher Riesling from California, France, Germany, and Israel!

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The state of aged carignan wine from Israel and many others

2015 Don Ernesto Clarinet, 2012 Hagafen Cabernet Franc, 2012 Matar Petit Verdot, 2010 2012 Bro.Deux, 2005 Four Gates Syrah, 2012 Trio Carignan, 2012 Mia Luce Carignan, 2012 Recanati Carignan, 2007 Gush Etzion Blessed Valley, 2012 Shirah Whites

I have been offline for a month because of many reasons – the chief among them being that we were away for a trip through South Dakota and Montana. South Dakota was a bore, but Montana and Glacier National park are impressive, worth the insane drive.

Now on to wine, before I left we had a dinner with friends and I opened the remnants of what I had in the world of kosher Carignan (yeah there is a new one from Hajdu, I know). As of now, there really is just four main wineries in Israel making good to great Carignan. The list in order of ageability by far is Mia Luce, followed by Trio, then Recanati, and finally Jezreel Winery. Now before, you scream at me, yes, Recanati makes a lovely Carignan – but after three years it is date juice. Many of my friends love them, date and all, good for them! To me and the folks at the table that night – it was the least drunken wine of the night! The Mia Luce was slow to come around – but it was lovely. The Trio was epic from the start till the last drop. Yotam Sharon was the winemaker at Trio till 2013 and the wines he made during his short time there are indeed impressive.

The Jezreel Carignan is nice, but not in the same league as the first three – but once the Recanati turns to date juice, it is indeed better. We tasted the three Carignan from 2012 and yes – the Recanati is not fun any longer, neither was the 2011 Mia Luce (but that was a one vintage issue for Kobi). The saddest part of all of this to me is that Mia Luce is no longer making Carignan wines. The 2012 was the last available Carignan on the market. The 2013 was pre sold and by 2014 – he has gone to Syrah. Trio is now in another winemaker’s hand and it is not the same quality – maybe that will improve. The Recanati, as I have said turns too quickly – the 2009, 2010, the 11, and the 12 are all date juice. Great quality wines – structure wise, professional in nature, but still – they turn too quickly.

So, IMHO Carignan is in a perilous state if you like them aged. Otherwise, continue to enjoy the Recanati Carignan and drink it within two years – three at most. The 2014 Recanati Carignan is epic, sadly the 2015 (shmita) is not as good, and not one I would invest in.

YG reminded me correctly, that I had forgotten the 2013 Capcanes La Flor Del Flor Samso, which is 100% Carignan. It is not from Israel, and I was talking about Israel alone, but sure it is good to remind people that the capcanes is epic, and is a better option than the rest but it is also almost double the price, though the price on the Recanati Carignan has gone up a bunch as well, in the past few years – which is very sad. Also, there is the epic 2013 Elvi Clos Mesorah which is 50% Carignan. Also a top-tier wine. I have added the two scores below to be complete.

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Kosher Rose wine options for 2016 – as the weather heats up

Rose wine in the non kosher market is exploding – especially Rose wine from Provence; a wine region of France. Sadly, in the kosher wine market – that is not quite the case. I did not stress my previous statement with a suffix of AT ALL, even though I am not allowed to open a bottle of rose on my Shabbos table with guests – why? Well that is simple – no one will drink it!!

Still, Gary Wartels of Skyview Wines told me recently that there is an uptick in interest, especially in the newly released Vitkin Rose 2015. I need to get back to that wine and other shmita wines, but first we need to talk about what Rose is and why the current craze in the non kosher market is just an uptick in the kosher.

Wine Color

Well simply said, rose is a wine that can best be defined as the wine world’s chameleon. Where white wine is a pretty simple concept – take white grapes squeeze them and out comes clear to green colored juice. Yes, white grape juice is clear – well so is red grape juice, but more on that in a bit.

White wine is not about color – almost all color in a white wine comes from some oak influence of some sort. So, an unoaked Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris can sometimes look almost clear, depending on the region and how the wine was handled. Now oaked Chardonnay of course is what most people use as an example of a dark white wine. As the Wine folly linked above states, different wine regions oak their Chardonnay differently and as such they are sold with different hues from the start. With age – the wine patenas even more and the gold moves to auburn.

The only real exception to the stated rule above – that white grape juice without the influence of oak is somewhere in the clear to green color spectrum, is – orange wines. We have spoken about orange wines – mostly thanks to Yaacov Oryah. Outside of Yaacov’s work there really is no orange wine in the kosher world to speak about. Orange wine is made exactly like red wine, which means that the clear grape juice is left to sit on the yellow-ish to dark yellow grape skins (depending upon what varietal is used to make the orange wine).

Red wine juice – straight from the grape comes out the same color as white grapes. You see the juice from grapes is mostly clear to greenish in color. The red wine color comes from macerating the juice on the grape skins. The longer the juice sits on the grape skins (wine must) the redder in color the wine becomes until it reaches its maximum red color potential.

The only real exception to the rule of a grape’s juice color are the Teinturier varieties. The grapes are called Teinturier, a French language term meaning to dye or stain. The list of grapes whose juice is actually red, are long – but the list of kosher wine options that is a wine made from these grapes – is the Herzog Alicante Bouschet. The Gamay de Bouze is not a normal Gamay grape, it is one of those grape mutations that are very red in nature.

Rose wines are the in between story – hence the chameleon term I used above.

Rose Wine

Rose wine is made in one of three ways. I will list the most dominant manners and leave the last one for last.

Maceration:

This is the first step of the first two options and the only difference is what you do with the rest of juice after you remove it? You see, as we stated above, the color of the juice from red grapes is clear to green and for one to get the lovely red hues we all love from red wine, it requires the juice to lie on the grape skins – AKA maceration.

The rose hue depends on how long the juice macerates. I have heard winemakers say 20 minutes gives them the color they like, and some say almost half a day or longer. The longer the juice macerates the darker the color. While the wine is macerating, the skins are contributing color by leaching phenolics – such as anthocyanins and tannins, and flavor components. The other important characteristic that the skins also leach are – antioxidants that protect the wine from degrading. Sadly, because rose wines macerate for such a short period of time, the color and flavor components are less stable and as such, they lack shelf life – a VERY IMPORTANT fact we will talk about about later. Either way, drinking rose wine early – like within the year – is a great approach for enjoying rose wine at its best!

Now once you remove the liquid, after letting it macerate for the desired length of time, the skins that are left are thrown out or placed in the field to feed organic material into the vines. This is a very expensive approach indeed, because the grapes are being thrown away, instead of doing the saignee process which is described in option #2. This approach is mostly used in regions where rose wine is as important as red wines, like Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon. Mind you, the grapes used in this method are most often picked early, as they are being used solely for making rose. 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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My top kosher 25 wines of 2015

wall of wineWell, I have posted my year in review, and now I wanted to get to my top wines for 2015. Please beware that I know I missed many wines and that this list does not include wines that I have tasted that are not available on the open market – like older Covenant Wines and the sort.

I wanted to make this post short and sweet – so the criteria are simple I could care less about price, color, or where it was made. All that matters is that it is/was available this year sometime to the public at large and that I tasted it in a reliable environment, not just at a tasting, and that it was scored an A- or higher. Anything less would not be on my list.

On an aside, there continues to be a whole mess of madness around wines notes and scores, even the Jewish Week weighed in on the matter. So, let me explain this really simply – go look at some of my recent blog posts – they talk about some nice enough wines, but wines I would not specifically buy. They have all the nice words and such, which were all true and to the point. But without the final value score, I can tell you a Cabernet is full bodied with good fruit and spice – and you may say cool I want that – but then I would say well, yeah but it was not complex or layered. You could try to reason that out of the words I wrote, because the words complex and layered are missing. However, the simple fact that it was scored a B+ or whatever, would have told you that it is not always a wine worth going after (unless it is the Terrenal or such where it gets a QPR moniker).

My point being that wine notes – without a proper context (AKA a real score) – is like looking at a wedding hall through a slit in the window. Sure you can “see” the hall, but are you really sure you want to get married there? I never scored wines to tell people to listen to my score. I score wines to set the context and to always read the notes to see if that sort of wine works for you!

OK, enough of the darn score rant for the day, back to the matters at hand, being wines of the year. The list is long – get over it. It is a list of wines that I would buy, have bought, and will buy again – simple enough I hope. I did not differentiate by another other criteria or aspect – if it was solid (A- or higher) it made the list. I hope you enjoy!

2013 Elvi Wines Clos Mesorah – Score: A- to A
This is the flagship wine of Elvi Wines (though the Herenza Reserva may have a word to say about that) and it is a blend of 50% Carignan, 30% Grenache, and 20% Syrah. Elvi Wines makes 7K of these bottles. The wine was sourced from vines that are 20 to 100 years of age. The nose on this wine is insane and intoxicating with aromas of watermelon, root beer, ripe boysenberry, blueberry, along with chocolate and black fruit. The mouth on this full bodied wine hits you with layers of concentrated fruit, with an attack of blue and black fruit, balanced perfectly, showing great elegance, along with mad mineral, graphite, slate, rich and freshly tilled earth, along with deeply concentrated black fruit. The wine is the perfect example of elegance and balance with ripe fruit that flows into a plush mouth made from mouth coating tannin and rich fruit structure. This is truly a wine speaks for itself. The finish is long and intense, showing rich roasted animal, lovely mushroom, and floral notes. With time, the wine shows mad barnyard, mushroom, and even more loamy dirt. Bravo!!!

2010 Elvi Wines Herenza Rioja Reserva – Score: A- to A
There are only 4K of these bottles made and each one is a true gift! The wine is closed and slow to open, but with time and a fair amount of decanting, the nose shows of mad soy sauce (like the 2009 Herenza Reserva), chocolate, richly tilled earth, loam, along with crazy mushroom and mad mineral. This wine is the epitome of umami, showing intense layers of umami with white summer fruit, cranberry, craisins, blackberry, pomegranate, and tart cherry in the background with mounds of earth. The finish is intensely long and dirt filled, with  dark chocolate, licorice, blueberry and red fruit. BRAVO!!!!

2012 Chateau Haut Condisas, Medoc – Score: A- (and much more)
The 2011 was very nice, but the 2012 a slight step up. The nose on this wine is rich and redolent with lovely dirt, dark black fruit, barnyard, earth, and mushroom. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, ripe, and in your face with nice chocolate, mad toast, mouth drying tannin, all wrapped in crazy acid, but bigger and riper than the 2011, almost Israeli in nature, but classically French controlled, with blackberry, raspberry, plum, with mineral and graphite. The finish is long and dirty, with hits of herb, along with layers of concentrated fruit, more mad mineral/earth/dirt/mushroom with dried raspberry, and rich garrigue. WOW! BRAVO!

2010 Chateau Fourcas Dupre, Listric – Medoc – Score: A- (and more) (CRAZY QPR)
This wine is on the list for its insane value and its goto ability above all wines from France for the price! The 2010 was a nice wine – but the 2012 is even better! The nose on this wine is lovely with rich dirt, cherry, crazy tart and juicy raspberry, followed by more dirt and mineral galore. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely and still young but give it time, the acid is impressive along with nice spice, mouth coating tannin that is gripping along with lovely blackberry, cassis in the background, along with crazy mushroom, and layers of fruit and earth and forest floor that come at you and do not give up. The finish is long, with insane acid and more mouth drying tannin, more earth, dirt, tart lingering fruit, and lovely mineral/graphite. The fruit and mineral lingers long – BRAVO!!!! Read the rest of this entry

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

California kosher wine living for 2015

As you all can see I hope, I have been trying to place some focus on the kosher wines from around the world, Israel, France, and my most recent post of the top whites, rose, and bubblies. But to a certain extent, I have been leaving my roots behind, California kosher wines. So this week, I thought I would just work on the notes that I have for all the kosher wines that I have tasted this past year that have been in California, both north, central, and south.

Of course, the list is well known, staring in Napa, that would be Hagafen Winery, and Covenant Winery (though not officially in Napa any longer, it sources the majority of its fruit from Napa) and Hajdu Winery (both are made now in Berkeley, CA). Next is Four Gates Winery, followed by Shirah Winery and La Fenetre, and then finally Herzog Winery, and the 2010 wines from Agua Dolce (AKA Craig Winchell).

To be honest some of these wines are all sold out already, as I slept on the job, but hey I will post them anyway, also it is good to keep track of the wines you have in the cellar.

California kosher Wines

Before I go to the notes, I wanted to talk about California wines for a bit. California wines, for the most part, are sweet wines. Please note the term “sweet” but not date! They are controlled and ripe, but round and full powered. Sadly, there were one or two occasions where the wine had a mind of its own, one Shirah wine and one Agua Dolce wines, that come to immediate memory. But otherwise, they are on the whole very round, ripe, and in your face. There are also, non sweet wines from California, almost old world in nature, like the Covenant wines – for the most part, along with the higher end Herzog wines that are not quite old world – but are indeed mineral or dry fruit based. Four Gates wines are starting to get a bit more ripe, but for the most part continue to show old world style wines, based on the intense acid and lovely mineral notes.

So, how does this compare to Israel and other locals? Well, Spain continues to make great wines for reasonable prices; except for a few Capcanes wines whose prices have went higher after Royal took over distribution. Still, Spanish kosher wines continue to be one of the best places for consistently good, unique, and balanced wines. California to me is the dark horse, sure some of the prices are higher, especially Four Gates, which has been raising prices over the past few years, but California kosher wines continue to be a great place to find wines that are balanced and not overly fruit forward.

As stated, of the list of previously described kosher wines in Cali, and listed below as well, I must say that Covenant, Four Gates, and Herzog are producing new world wines with a clear old world bent. The rest are creating lovely and extremely good new world wines – while showing control with only a couple of exceptions.

In comparison to Israel, I must say that Cali and Spain have Israel beat, for someone like myself. The proof to my statement is in my cellar, over the past year I have moved away from Israel and over to Spain and Cali, with the obvious exception to the wonderful whites/rose/bubbly coming from Israel, and the few red producers that are making great wines. The hope, as I continue to say, is that more wineries follow them and create better wines in Israel, till then I will be shifting hard to France, Spain, Cali, and only the very top Israeli wineries.

So, what makes Cali wines better to me than Israeli wines? Simple, control and balance. California wines, kosher or not, are ripe, the heat demands it, still, it is how those grapes are managed afterwards. I have been able to be part of the wine making at some wineries, and it is a real education to watch wines evolve, simply because the juice is not where the work ends. Once the red grapes are crushed there are two more stages in the wine’s development that define the wine; Fermentation(s) and barrel/tank aging. I am skipping bottle aging, not because it is not important, but because few wineries really do that here in California. The exceptions are Four Gates Winery (that keeps its Merlot some 3-5 years in bottle before releasing), and some of Herzog’s Eagles Landing wines as well.

Oak Usage

Issues that occur in the fermentation(s) stage are not unique to Cali, in any manner, but California has been seeing a fair amount of stuck fermentations in both alcoholic and malolactic fermentations recently. More importantly though is that once the first fermentation is complete the red wines enter the next stage of wine management; barrel aging (unless there is a prolonged cold soak – like Shirah and a few other Wineries do).

It is in the barrel aging where Cali is unique, in its usage of American Oak – which gives wines here those green basil and dill notes, along with coconut/extreme vanilla notes. When people think of Zinfandel, they think Cali and the classic sweet notes that American oak gives those wines. Again, this is really only prominent in the lower level wines of most wineries, kosher or not, but the sweet noted American Oak nuances can be found in more wines – than just those baseline wines. I always ask what barrels were used to make the wine, sometimes I am told a mix or pure American, but when I am told the oak used was all French or Hungarian, I listen but verify! Read the rest of this entry

California Wines and friends make for a great combination!

Well as you can tell from my previous post about this last shabbos, this past week or so was all about California wines in my household. Friends from New York came in for a visit, very much akin to the EY visit in 2012. They came in last week and it was all Cali all the time!

So, these are the wines I took out for the two evenings we were at the house. One of these was my last bottle and it is still showing well, the 2008 Shirah 1-2 punch – beautiful! The 2004 Hagafen melange was the most famous Kosher wine for some time, till the 2006 Yarden Rom was released. I never cared for the Rom, but the 2004 Melange was lovely! Elegant and refined. The rest are also doing well, thank goodness, no duds!

The wine notes follow below:

2004 Hagafen Prix Melange Reserve – Napa Valley – Score: A- to A
What can I say, this wine is mesmerizing, it is soft and intense at the same time with structure and finesse, with power and elegance. WOW! The nose on this wine is sick with layers of black and red fruit, what a crazy perfume of sweet notes, chocolate covered cherry, sweet dill, and sweet plum. The mouth on this full bodied wine hits you in layers of sweet concentrated fruit, plum, sweet cedar, chocolate, intense tannin, layers of fruit, and oak all working in perfect harmony with balancing acid and sheer perfection in a glass. The finish is long and sweet and perfectly balanced with chocolate, cinnamon, roasted herb, spice. Crazy! What a wine!!! Double Bravo!!!

2011 Shirah Coalition – Score: A-
The 2010 blend was dominated by the Touriga, while in this blend it plays more of a mop up roll, with the Zinfandel taking center stage. The zinfandel adds more insane spice that is the hallmark of the Coalition blend, but also adds more heft. The wine loses the blue fruit (from the lack of Syrah), but the white fruits show up from the small but still important role that the Touriga plays! The wine is more ripe and richer than the 2010, making for a fuller body and a more extracted madness.

This wine is a blend of 60% Zinfandel, 12% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Touriga Nacional. The wine is a unique blend, just like its older 2010 vintage. The nose explodes with crazy wine aromas – the kind of attack that only the Weiss brothers can bring you, heavy notes of blackberry, burnt raspberry, watermelon, and spice. The mouth on this crazy full bodied wine is ripe, concentrated, extracted, and layered with control and style, with mad acid, insane zinberry, black cherry, and cranberry, (no more showing any note of date) that almost creates a platform upon which the other fruits stand, ripe zesty raspberry, apricot, white peach, mounds of tannin, and sweet cedar. The finish is long and spicy with cloves, black pepper, insane mouth coating tannins that linger long, nice coffee, zesty strawberry, candied currant, fig, tobacco, and mineral. This is a wine that is ripe and full bodied, but balanced with crazy tart fruit, great acid, balance, and citrus fruit!! The last time I had this wine, I seemed to have sensed date, there is NONE of that here now. BRAVO GUYS!!!

2014 Covenant Mensch White – Score: B+ to A- (mevushal)
This is a mevushal wine that is closed and not fun to start, but with time shows nice tropical and stone fruit. This wine is 85% Roussanne and 15% Sauvignon Blanc. The nose is tropical with guava, citrus, wet grass, straw, hay, and nectarine, and citrus. The mouth on this lovely wine is ripping with good acid, pith, grapefruit, orange blossom, floral notes, with sweet oak, and mineral, with sweet herb, and spice. The finish is long with slate and spice and mad pith.

2012 Shirah Rosé – Score: A- (and more)
This wine is still killing it!!!! WOW!! What a rose! This wine is 100% rose of Grenache. The nose is bright and tart with crunchy roasted herb, forest floor, garrigue, red fruit, strawberry, black currant, and spice. The mouth is insane on this medium bodied wine, it starts with an attack of red currant, followed by blue fruit, tart blackcurrant, and crazy acid. The finish is long and attacking with mad acidic tart summer fruit, kiwi, candied strawberry, intense slate, mineral, and crazy tart zinberry that lingers forever, long after the wine is gone. The acid is so intense it is awesome and the fruit is ripe and expressive – BRAVO!!! This wine has not lost a step!

2008 Syraph One | Two Punch 50% Grenache & 50% Syrah – Score: A- (and more)
This was my last bottle, and it started off funky in the nose, but that blew off quickly and now the blue nose is perfume – AHH how I adore you! This wine is so unique in its nose and wine notes – that it is heresy to write them down! LOL! I am not sure if this will last for days like the previous bottle two years ago, but we will see.
The nose on this purple-black colored wine is truly unique and very hard to pin down. Where before the wine was not consistent in its style and notes, this wine is now showing consistent perfume and redolence that is not normal. The wine starts off with lovely sweet cherry, blueberry, juicy raspberry perfume, lovely floral notes, candied fruit, INSANE milk chocolate, and bramble. The mouth on this medium bodied wine forced me to write this acronym down for a second time in days – AYFKM (Are You Freaking Kidding Me)!! OMG and silence. The mouth is now not tart anymore, it is more round and ripe, and rich, crazy watermelon, with CRAZY ripping acid, mango, tropical fruit, followed by massive spice, ripe plum, coffee machine innards and grinds, sweet cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, other baker spices, and rich mouth coating tannin that linger long. The finish is long and luscious with sweet cedar, tobacco, crazy blue fruit that appears after sometime, and jam that lingers long. BRAVO!!

2011 Makom Carignan – Score: A-
This is a Hajdu wine – Makom is one of his labels, that he started in conjunction with Yitzchok Bernstein. The nose on the Carignan wine is rich with toast notes and bushels of red fruit, ripe fruit, hints of blue fruit, roasted herb, and nice baking spices. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine is screaming with lovely acid, ripe fruit, blackcurrant, cranberry, and sweet boysenberry, all wrapped up with lovely mouth coating tannin and sweet oak. This wine is not slowing down at all, the tannins are searing, the acid is pumping, and the wine structure continues to impress! The finish is long and tart with ripe blackberry, watermelon, and lovely layers of spice, white pepper, sweet vanilla, lingering tart red and black fruit, and sweet tannin – lovely!

2012 Shirah Bro.Deux – Score: A- (and then some)
This is a lovely wine and one that is a bit better than the epic NV (AKA 2010) Bro.Duex. The wine starts off with a nice mineral nose with black fruit. The wine shows a nice medium body with fleshy fruit and layers of green and red fruit and black berry and currant. With sweet cedar and spice. The finish is long and acidic with graphite and slate and crazy mouth coating tannin with nice sweet notes and spice, tobacco and chocolate. Over time, the nose opens to lovely ripe and fleshy strawberry, sweet spices, and blue notes. On the mouth the tannins come out and the fruit does as well, with blackberry, blackcurrant, concentrated fruit, lovely extraction and good fruit structure. The acid is true and good. Bravo!

Wines enjoyed over purim

Well, the OTBN of last week flowed right into Purim this year and that meant there as a lot of wine consumed over a short period of time. That is all fine with me, but it took some time to get this down is all. Though I will be very short this time, I did want to highlight a few wines that surprised me on the good and the bad. The 2011 Hagafen Cabernet Sauvignon opened nicely, but then turned on me very hard – not quite dates, but far too sweet and unbalanced for my liking. The 2010 Carmel Cabernet Franc, while showing nicely in Israel, and lush here was fine for the first few hours, but then went straight to date juice. This was the Israeli label I hand carried back home, so I do not think this wine is long for cellaring – but nice out of the bottle.

Finally, the 2013 Dalton Viognier is ready to go. Last year the wine was tight and closed, and needed a real decanting to bring it to life. That is not needed any longer! It is delightful from the bottle and I think has three or so years left in the tank, but it is clearly ready and very close to peak, if not there already.

The wine notes follow below:

2013 Dalton Viognier Reserve – Score: A- (and more)
All I can say – IT IS BACK!!! Thank goodness for that! It has been too long without a GREAT kosher Viognier option. The 2012 was a nice wine, but it paled in comparison to the 2007-9 vintages. The 2013 is CRUSHING in comparison and is the best kosher Viognier I have ever tasted, so BRAVO!
The last time we had this wine it needed air galore, that is not the case anymore. Beyond that, there is not much that has changed about this wine!
The wine continues it heritage of wild yeast fermentation and was aged in French oak for four months. The nose on this wine shows beautiful notes of ripe melon, pear, peach, along with crazy floral notes of violet and rose. The mouth on this full bodied wine is oily and textured with layers of honeyed notes of peach and apricot, spiced melon, mango, crazy acid and intense concentration of ripe summer fruits, all balanced with bracing acidity, bitter notes, and sweet oak. The finish is long and intensely spicy with saline, mineral, slate, white pepper and hints of vanilla and lovely bakers spices. BRAVO on many levels!!!!!

2009 Shiloh Legend – Score: A-
The nose on this mevushal purple colored wine explodes with ripe blueberry, dark cherry, ripe raspberry, licorice, and lovely spice, with a hint of roasted meat and smokiness which leaves soon enough for more crazy spices and ripe fruit. The mouth on this full bodied, ripe, round wine is expressive with sweet fruit, blackberry, ripe strawberry, plum, more blue fruit, along with sweet cedar, and mouth coating tannin that lingers and makes the mouth feel ripe, sweet, and round. The finish is long and spicy with nice vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate mocha, black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and mint.

This wine is slowing down – so DRINK UP!!!

2013 Don Ernesto Vin Gris – Score: A-
WHAT a nose fresh squeezed strawberry, rose hips, raspberry, and peach. The mouth on this Syrah rose, is viscous, medium weight, and lovely, with great acid, lovely mineral, and awesome fruit. The strawberry explodes with kiwi, guava, currant, quince, cranberry, and orange marmalade. The finish is long and spicy and bitter with hints of herb, orange pith, saline, mineral, and slate – BRAVO!!!!

2005 Hagafen Zinfandel, Reserve, Estate Bottled, Moskowite Ranch Block 61 – Score: B+
Sadly I kept this too long. This bottle felt thin and dying, still had great acid and spice, with OK fruit. Drink up!!!

2011 Hagafen Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Score: B+
The nose on this purple colored wine is rich with prefume of blackberry, lovely black fruit, hints of blueberry, nice anise, and dirt. The medium body is tinged with mad acid and mineral, along with a lovely mouth coating tannin that gives the wine body, along with great acid and mad graphite, cassis, CRAZY kirsch black cherry, and green foliage. The finish is long and green with bright fruit, leather, chocolate, vanilla, and lovely sweet dill and tobacco leaves. Very nice.

With time, an hour or two, this wine breaks down very quickly. I would be careful.

2010 Carmel Cabernet Franc, Vineyards – Score: B+
Vineyards is essentially the Appellations label and a lovely CF it is. This is the Israeli label, the US label continues with the appellations label and animals.
This wine is blend of 85% Cab Franc, 10% Cabernet, and 5% Petit Verdot. The nose on this wine is rich and lovely with raspberry, dark cherry, plum, sweet cedar green herb, and foliage. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich and unctuous with mad green bell pepper, tart juicy raspberry, mad tobacco, and lovely mouth coating tannin. The finish is long and green, with sweet herb, firm tannin and more tobacco.
I did like this wine from the start, but after an hour or two it went straight to dates, this is not a wine for long cellaring – and this was the Israeli label.

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