My top 30 kosher wines of 2019 including wine of the year, Winery of the year, and best wine of the year awards
Like last year, 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 a 93 or higher. Also, there are a few lower scoring wines here because of their uniqueness or really good QPR.
We are returning with the “wine of the year”, and “best wine of the year” while adding in a new category called “Winery of the Year”, and another new category, the best White wine of the year. Wine of the year will go to a wine that distinguished itself in ways that are beyond the normal. It needs to be a wine that is easily available, incredible in style and flavor, and it needs to be reasonable in price. It may be the QPR wine of the year or sometimes it will be a wine that so distinguished itself for other reasons. The wines of the year are a type of wine that is severely unappreciated, though ones that have had a crazy renaissance, over the past two years. The Best Wine of the year goes to a wine well worthy of the title, especially with its 2016 vintage.
This past year, I think I am pretty sure about my statement. In the past, I had not yet tasted the pape Clement or other such wines. However, over the past year, those have been covered, and they were a serious letdown. As stated in the article, I truly believe the entire kosher production of the Megrez wines, following the EPIC 2014 vintage of the Pape Clement and others, to be below quality and seriously overpriced and without value in every category, which is a true shame. The 2015 reds are all poor quality and the whites are not much better, in 2015 and 2016. The 2016 Pape Clement, while better, is a total ripoff for what it is.
There are also interesting wines below the wines of the year, think of them as runner-up wines of the year. There will be no rose wines on the list this year – blame that on the poor crop or rose wines overall, it was, by far, the worst kosher Rose vintage. Thankfully, the task of culling the bounty of great wines to come to these top wines was really more a task of removing then adding. I may have stated the obvious in my last post, about the state of kosher wine in general, and not all of it was very good. Still, as I stated, we are blessed with more QPR wines and more top wines, while the core pool of wines, which are horribly poor, continue to grow larger and larger.
The supreme bounty comes from the fact that Royal released the 2017 French wines a bit early! Throw in the incredible number of kosher European wines that are coming to the USA and being sold in Europe and this was truly a year of bounty for European kosher wines.
Now, separately, I love red wines, but white wines – done correctly, are a whole other story! Sadly, in regards to whites, we had no new wines from Germany. Thankfully, we had Domaine Netofa and Yaccov Oryah’s Orange and white Wines to come to the rescue. Throw in Vitkin’s good work, and more great work by Royal Europe, including the new Gazin Blanc, and others, and you have quite a crop of fun white wines!
Some of these wines are available in the USA, some only in Europe, and a few only available in Israel.
Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – but they are worth the effort. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
The 2019 kosher wines of the year – we have a four-way TIE all from Yarden!
Yes! You have read it correctly, the wines of the year come from Golan Heights Winery (AKA Yarden Winery), the 4th largest date juice producer in the entire world! The top date juice honor belongs to Barkan Winery, but I digress.
So, why is Yarden here, because albeit’s deep desire to throw away years of work creating very nice wines, at a reasonable price, with its wines from the early 2000s and before, it still makes the best kosher sparkling wines, and it is time that it receives its due.
As I stated in my year in review, the kosher wine public has finally awoken to the joy of sparkling wine! Last week I told a friend I popped a sparkler for Shabbat lunch and he replied in a sarcastic tone, “Oh only a sparkler”, like that was a crazy thing to do. I replied that the Gamla (AKA Gilgal) Brut costs less than most white wines do! Why not pop one with lunch on Shabbat??? Others tell me, yes there is more a public appreciation for Sparkling wines, but it is a different wine category. I do not agree! Sure, sparkling wine has bubbles, so yeah, it is different. However, that is EXACTLY what is wrong here, Sparkling wine is just white or rose wine with bubbles. Who cares? When it is well made, it is a wine like any other wine.
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.
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
Over the past week, I have been posting on winery’s that I visited while in Israel and the new 2014 French wines, that I tasted in Paris. Well, the funny thing is that I did not need to leave the United States to taste all of the newest releases of Elvi Wines (or current releases if you live or visit Europe, yeah we are always last to get Elvi wines here in the USA), along with an epic vertical of the Clos Mesorah wines.
I have been a fan of Elvi Wines for a long time, ever since I posted my first in-depth article on their wines, in 2012. Dr. Moises Cohen, the owner and the head winemaker of Elvi Wines, continues to create masterpieces that grace my top 25 wines of the year, every year running.
A year after I wrote my article, I was honored to meet Moises’s entire family, first at the KFWE in NYC in 2013, and then two years after that, when my wife and I stayed at Clos Mesorah just two hours by train outside of Barcelona, Spain.
One of the biggest issues I think that has held back this lovely winery, has been the labels. I am really happy to see that they are being streamlined under six major labels, though more streamlining would be better still, and is coming soon, as you read on. The major issue is that Dr. Cohen makes a lot of wines from all around Spain. Starting in Rioja, where he makes his epic Herenza wines. Next we move on to Priorat, where he makes the lovely EL26 wines. Then on a 20 minute ride east to the Montsant region, which is really a sub-region of Priorat, where he makes his world-famous Clos Mesorah wines. Moving south to the center of Spain, you will come upon, the La Mancha wine regions, where the Adar red comes from, along with Invita, and the Vina Encina wines. Finally, there is the Cava region, where the lovely Cava is made.
With all these DOC, wine regions, the labels were hard to manage. You see, by law you could not have a single label, that included multiple wine regions, under the Spanish wine laws, until recently! So until now, even if you wanted to have three total labels, it would not be legally possible in Spain, and you cannot sell wines in the USA with illegal Spanish labels. Unless, you made all the wine labels, with the all-inclusive – table wine moniker! Which is a horrible and stupid idea, because the meaning, life, and reality of Elvi Wines and the ship as its logo, is that they are all sourced from different regions throughout Spain! EL26 does not taste like Clos Mesorah at all, and the vineyards are only a 15 minute drive away from each other. Sure, they have some different varietals in the blends, but the point of wine regions is the differing soil, climate, and environment that makes for vastly different wines.
This is still taking shape, but I look forward to the seeing what Elvi will turn out now that they can legally keep the distinct wine regions on the label, while merging the marketing angles down to fewer overall labels.
If you look at all of the wines that Elvi makes – they do fall into three overarching categories. There are the upper level wines, the middle ones, and the lower level labels.
The upper level wines, include the EL26, Adar red, Clos Mesorah, and Herenza Reserva. The El26 has been made in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. The Adar red has been made in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2012. The Clos Mesorah has been made in 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2014. Finally, the Herenza Reserva has been made in 2009 and 2010. All of these are up to the current releases, there are more vintages not yet released. Read the rest of this entry
Well, 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 Condissas, 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
It always starts the same way, a blank page, you can look at it as a blank slate/canvas, or you can look at it as yet another post that feels at time like you are bearing your soul and feelings for all to ponder. Still, when it comes to writing about stuff you love, the fear of a blank page turns into a flowing river of text, the hard part is cutting it down to something manageable!
When it comes to Elvi Winery – I can only let my fingers do the talking, much like Moises Cohen’s wines do for themselves. It was our first day in Barcelona, and it saw my wife and I making our way to Clos Mesorah, a lovely vineyard 2 hours out of Barcelona, by train. Of course, things do not always go as planned, Moises the epitome of a host sent us detailed instructions for how we are to get from BCN to his lovely home. Sadly, time and luck were not on our side, two times on our travels to the lush vineyards of Montsant, we ran into Murph. First the train from BCN to the main train station of Barcelona was just pulling out as we walked from the ticket handler, a minute faster and we were on that one. Well, then the next domino fell, the next train would get us to the train station after the first of two trains to Clos Mesorah was pulling out, of course! So, a minute delay cost us two plus hours, such is life when traveling in a country that is foreign and complex like Spain.
But I am digressing, if anyone has read this blog before, you will know my appreciation for all things Spanish, when it comes to wine. To me they are the best kept secret in the world of kosher wine. Sure, Royal Wines has jacked the prices up on Capcanes – ever since taking over the distribution in the US from Solomon Wines. The prices are almost double for the Peraj Habib and Flor du Flor, and they almost double the Clos Mesorah prices in the US, as well. Still, if you go for the lower priced wines, there is nothing close in terms of QPR, and that is what makes kosher Spanish wines so special.
The best part of Spanish wines is that over ripe and unbalanced flavors do not find their way into the kosher Spanish offerings. Do not get me wrong, they are new-world wines of course, but they are balanced and controlled, something I think Israel could emulate, if they wanted to move to the next level. Read the rest of this entry
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
For years I have always sported a purple colored beaming grin when I finish my tasting at the IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival) in LA, which hid my grumbling stomach’s discontent. Like I have documented for years, I never get to eat at the events, even as the entire food court mocks me, attempting to pull me into their warm, delicious, and very present embrace, with their wafting and intoxicating aromas. Still, I stand strong and I taste through the night until my teeth are purple and my stomach is close to rioting on the lack of food. Truth be told, I am not that good at taking notes when eating – the flavors of the food cover up and belie the flavors and aromas of the glass that beckons me closer with its “come hither” look and aromas. So every year, after the event I go to dinner at Jeff’s Sausage (down the street from the new location of the IFWF). Which is sheer madness of course, here I have half the Pavilion at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, filled with food from one of the best kosher restaurants in the world – Tierra Sur Restaurant, and I pass on that for the spicy and homely fare of Jeff’s Sausage. In no way is this a slight to the joy of Jeff Rohatiner’s cookery and food. Rather, it has been my conscious tradeoff, throughout my many year experience at IFWF to drink through as much of the world-class wine I can before my taste-buds shutdown, rather than give them to the food court, no matter how wonderful it is.
This year was a massive shift for me, gone was the purple grin and my mutinous stomach, as I visited and added the New York KFWE to my travel dates. To say the KFWE was different than the IFWF would be an extreme understatement, the IFWF has close to 1000 people at the show, while the KFWE has closer to 2000 people. Further the event hall at Pier 60 is some 2 to 3 times larger than the Pavilion tent at the Hyatt Regency. Also, there were many options for lunch and dinner from the myriad of NY restaurants that all share half the hall, all clamoring to share their wonderful fare with great fanfare. The Pier 60 overlooks the Marina and Harbor and many folks were outside braving the cold to grab a smoke, but at least they had some comfort of looking at the marina and its waterfront.
To really appreciate the event you had to come to it with a game plan, and there were many guests who had a few of their own. The event started at Noon for those in the trade, a new thing that the KFWE started last year and something that the IFWF has been doing from the start (though initially with a smaller trade time). The trade event was crowded but there could not have been more than a thousand folks there, so access to wine was not a problem in any way. The event hall can easily handle 1000 people, it is a bit more complicated when the number swells to two thousand people, but still there was no pushing or shoving going on even at the end of the public tasting, when the number of guests was at its maximum. But I digress; the trade tasting allowed me to focus solely on wine and the winemakers, which was great. Read the rest of this entry