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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.

Read the rest of this entry

Vitkin Winery visit – April 2019

I have written before about Vitkin last year, and this year (2018 production), makes it the third year of kosher production for the winery! Yes, as stated last during the 2015 vintage, 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. Avi Davidowitz, of KosherWineUnfiltered, and I arrived during the start of post-production work on the 2018 vintage for reds and some of the special whites, that we will talk more about later on.

The winery does 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 this year, 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, with the Grenache Blanc and The Gewurtztraminer adding the Collector’s Edition moniker.

The current red wines that are kosher all fall into the Vitkin wine label, both the 2018 Vitkin Israeli Journey, Red, along with the 2017/2018 Vitkin Pinot Noir, the 2016 Vitkin Cabernet Franc, the 2016 Vitkin Petite Sirah, old vines, Collector’s Edition, and the 2016 Vitkin Carignan, old vines, Collector’s Edition.

There are two fascinating aspects of the wines produced the Vitkin Winery. One is that more than 55% 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

Petite Sirah Round Two and a few very nice wines

2006 Four Gates Merlot, M.S.C-small_Two weeks ago, before I left for all of the Royal wine events, I went searching through my cellar for more Petite Sirah wines to make up for the sleeping beauties (at least they were beautiful before) I had to endure two weeks ago. Two weeks ago I posted about my failed attempt to find great Petite Sirah wines. Why? I do not know, these wines used to be great and I doubt they are dead, but rather in deep sleep. So, I tried to open all the Herzog Petite Sirah wines I had to see if they were any better. We did have a Herzog petite Sirah two weeks ago – the newest Herzog Petite Sirah that has been released, the 2010 Princeville PS, and it too was so-so, again I think something was wrong with my bottle or I and the rest of the table had an off day.

So, I tried a different table of people (mostly) and a different set of wines, and these came out better, but not awesome, other than the 2009 Baron Herzog Petite Sirah P.S. Limited Edition! That was a beast of a wine and lovely. The clear take away here is that these wines need a lot of time in a decanter and only then are they ready to play. Along with PS wines we also enjoyed three older wines from the Four Gates Winery, and a bottle of the 2005 Galil Yiron.

There was talk that the 2005 Yiron was going down hill, and I can say that the wine is fine and going nowhere but it was shocking when tasted side by side the 2005 Four Gates Merlot M.S.C. The Merlot was bracing with black fruit and acidity, while the Yiron was full of black fruit but flat in terms of acidity, and I think that is what people are concerned about the Yiron. The Yiron is much like many of the older Yarden or Galil wines, they are flabby, oaky/cedar, and black ripe/sweet wines.

It is a continued theme in Israeli wines, the sweet notes and ripe fruit that overpowers the palate and takes away from the other attributes of wines. Having tasted many Israeli wines during my trip to Israel, I have found many wineries who have found a way to calm the sweet or new world notes and show more bright and ripe flavors without overpowering sweetness or fruitiness. The Yiron wines are not one of those, they normally show sweeter notes, and planks of cedar, but they continue to be bold and enjoyable. This one was no different, very enjoyable but the wine’s clear lack of acidity was truly shocking. Read the rest of this entry

Wines from the weekend along with lovely meatballs and spinach kugel

This past weekend we had friends and family around the table to enjoy some great food and some pretty good wines. This week there was no wine theme, actually to be more precise, the theme was that there was no theme. The theme was Drink up or let die. I say this as I have far too much history and track record in this area, and it has been my sworn duty going forward that I would embrace and channel the work of Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher and attempt to always open that bottle in its time. To meet this need I attempt to create wine themes when there is no pressing wine to get to, otherwise, I drink the wines that are up next.

I use drink by dates of the late Daniel Rogov, Cellar Tracker, and of course, my own personal notes. This week it was time to get to some bottles that I have been worried about. I got to a couple of them, but missed out on the 2005 Ella Valley Pinot Noir, which we last tasted on some 3 years ago. We did get to enjoy some wine that we have not tasted in a couple of years, the 2001 Yarden Merlot, Ortal Vineyard, one of the finest Merlot that Yarden has ever produced, along with the 2006 Recanati Cabernet Franc, both of which have a year or maybe more left on them. Both are drinking lovely now, but if you too wish to live the motto “no good wine will be left to die“, drink it now and you will not be sorry.

I often laugh when people ask me when they should drink a particular bottle. In the kosher wine world more and more wines are being created that are built for cellaring. All that means is that the bottle you buy is not quite ready to drink, and the wine maker and winery have decided to diversify their risk and have you cellar the wine rather than them. For the most part, most wine (kosher or not) is made to be drunk within the year or two. There are reserve wines that are built to age a few years maybe 4 years at most. Then there are the a fore mentioned high-end wines that are truly not enjoyable at all from release, and need time to come into their own/peak.

The Recanati Cabernet Franc is at its true peak and can be left for another year or so, but why? Unless you have more pressing wine to enjoy – drink it now! There is only one sure thing, other than taxes, and that is – that the wine will eventually die. Why not enjoy it now. There is rarely a perfect time to drink a wine. There is just the acceptable and peak time to enjoy the wine and the rest is what you make of it! Read the rest of this entry

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