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Covenant Wines’ latest releases – September 2022

Last week, California was overrun by a nasty heatwave, besides breaking records and driving me and everyone else crazy, it meant my entire week was open as mountain climbing was off the table. That left lots of time to go see Jeff Morgan (founding winemaker and co-owner of Covenant Wines) and family (Jodie and Zoe), literally, and Jon Hajdu at Covenant Wines. They were already taking in fruit for the 2022 harvest and it was extremely kind of them to carve up some time for me during this busy time of year.

I remember well the time I was in Canada with Jeff for a vertical tasting of all the Covenant Cabernet, at that time, it was a wonderful experience and tasting! I have said many times, that Covenant Winery is one of the original California wineries that makes solid wines, especially in the Cabernet Sauvignon space. I found some of the wines taken a step back in recent years. The white wines were always enjoyable, like the Sauvignon Blanc and the Lavan white, but that changed recently from what I see in this tasting.

Tasting

I was at the winery in March for a local RCC (Rosh Chodesh Club) and I got to taste one of the wines but it was not a setting to write notes and appreciate wines. I do remember the wines we had and one wine, in particular, did not show nearly as nicely as it did at our tasting last week. So, I am happy for many reasons to have driven up to Berkeley, CA to taste the 7 wines. All of them were quite enjoyable.

First, we tasted the Covenant Solomon Blanc a new white wine on the Covenant label and the only white wine on the Covenant Solomon level. The 2020 Covenant Solomon Blanc was the wine I tasted back in March and it showed far superior last week. It finally came out of its shell and had fully integrated with the sweet oak, it was a lovely wine indeed! The 2021 vintage, which was newly bottled was a drop better, showing a bit more acidity and an overall complex mouthfeel that did remind me of the 2019 Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt, Blanc. Both showed lovely gooseberry and ripe fruit but also bracing acidity and controlled yet lovely oak, very well made.

After the lovely Sauvignon Blanc wines, we moved to another white wine the 2021 Covenant Lavan, Chardonnay. I am being honest here, I have been falling into the new version of ABC (Anything But Chardonnay). It is new but old, the same old same old, fat, blubbery, overoaked, under-acidified, flat wines. ABC was a thing in 1995 when the MY Times wrote a piece on it and it is coming back with a vengeance again. Much akin to the date juice fiasco in the kosher wine market, Chardonnay is also moving to its old roots and they are being made into oak-driven apple juice that is honestly boring and uninteresting. Thankfully, we have been saved by the two incredible Burgundy Chardonnays for the Meursault region, by Taieb Wines, and by IDS. Those wines are clean and correct, they speak to the place and the time they were made. So, when I had the lovely Sauvignon Blanc wines it further solidified my belief in what I desire, clean and well-made ABC wines. With that as a disclaimer, the 2021 Covenant Lavan Chardonnay, was properly made. It was well balanced and showed a fruit focus that would make an ABC drinker, like myself, enjoy and drink the wine.

Five Red Wines

After the three white wines, we moved the line along to 5 red wines. In some ways, white wine is harder to make than red wine. White wine has fewer places to hide as a winemaker though I am far harsher, as a wine taster, in the land of red wine, simply because I am sick and tired of lazy winemaking or worse, purposeful and mindful winemaking that removes the grapes from their natural state of being and place to make fruit juice that is sweetened by whatever actions the winemaker has in his/her arsenal that week. Wineries will tell you it sells better but to me, that is just selling out and I have no time or interest in tasting wines like that. So, when I see 5 red wines, I am thinking, like I always do, even in Europe, I hope there is a desire here to let the fruit talk. Sure enough, the team has pulled the winery along into an impressive place where you can find some lovely wines and even some that garner the QPR WINNER score along with quality scores that make me want to buy and drink the wines. Bravo!

The first wine was a lovely Pinot Noir from under the Landsman label. The 2021 Landsman Pinot Noir had just been bottled and it showed no bottle shock. The lines on this wine were clean, with red juicy fruit, floral, earthy, and smoky. No baby fat, just clean lines, and good fruit. Nice! Another WINNER from the Carneros wine region in Sonoma County. Carneros has the moderating influence of the San Pablo Bay, the northern portion of the greater San Francisco Bay, which keeps Carneros cool and windy, but not too cold. We then moved to two Syrah followed by two Cabernet Sauvignon, the flagship wines of the winery.

The first Syrah was the 2020 Landsman Syrah, Santa Rita Hills, Robert Rae Vineyards. This was a new one for me, I was unaware that Syrah grew well in the Santa Rita wine region. Of course, I love the Santa Rita Pinot Noir from the Herzog Reserve line and their more exclusive Eagle’s landing wine lines. So, when I tasted the Landsman Syrah from 2020, I was not surprised to find it more of an old-world style wine than the next wine we would be tasting. The Landsman Syrah reminded me of the Shirah Syrah from 2013, a dirty, earthy, smoky, meaty animal that was more old-world than new from Santa Barbara County. This wine is comparable if not a bit better, here the fruit is more controlled, yet very present, focused, and precise, I bought what was left – one bottle, maybe Jeff or Sagie can scrounge another one or two up. Either way, lovely wine!

Finally, we tasted a new wine on the Covenant label, the 2020 Covenant Syrah, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. This is one of the most famous vineyards in Santa Barbara County, very difficult to get into and even tougher to keep. In 2020 some folks were too worried about smoke damage and bailed on their allocations. Covenant found out about the availability and jumped on it, there is no smoke taint on this wine, it is smoky, but from the lovely french oak used to age the wine. A lovely wine, one that is balanced, but a bit too new-world for my taste. This is a perfect example of how new-world wine can be made to its place and its fruit without turning it into an abomination. Here the team took beautiful fruit and let the fruit speak to its true nature, lovely! Hopefully, there will be more of this wine being made, it shows great potential.

Two big yet elegant Cabernet Sauvignon wines

The tasting ended with two lovely Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Napa Valley, the Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Covenant Solomon, Lot 70. I claimed, in a previous post, that the crown for the best red 2019 kosher wine had been given to Chateau Smith Haut Lafite, with the disclaimer that I had yet to taste the Four Gates or Domain Roses Camille wines yet. I should have added that I had also not yet tasted the 2019 Covenant Solomon, Lot 70. The Solomon, as nice as it was, did not eclipse the Chateau Smith Haut Lafite or the Chateau Pontet Canet, but it is indeed up there on the list of top wines of 2019.

The two Cabernet wines were quite lovely though the Solomon was a step above the Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon. The Solomon was so elegant, powerful, and yet precise, with great fruit focus and control, quite a lovely wine that deserves your attention and a place in your wine cellar for many years from now! I say that, but Mr. Morgan will tell you it is just lovely now as well, and while I wholeheartedly agree with him, get a few and enjoy one now, if you must, and then enjoy the rest later!

My many thanks to Jeff Morgan, Sagie Kleinlerer, Jonathan Hajdu, and the rest of the Covenant team and family for setting up the meeting, sharing their wines with me, and taking time out of their busy harvest schedule to meet with me. The wine notes follow below in the order they were tasted – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:

2020 Covenant Solomon Blanc, Bennett Valley, Sonoma County, CA – Score: 92.5 (QPR: WINNER)
This wine is from the Moaveni Vineyard, in Bennett Valley, Sonoma County.
The nose of this wine is a perfect blend of sweet oak and sweet fruit, showing lovely peach, apricot, bright fruit, green apple, sweet orange marmalade, orange blossom, sweet melon, and sweet Asian pear. The mouth of this medium-plus-bodied wine is incredibly fun, with screaming acidity, lovely minerality, and so refreshing, with lovely sweet oak, lovely green apple, orange marmalade, yellow Asian pear, peach, apricot, and cloves. The finish is long, tart, and balanced, with sweet fruit, incredible balance, loam, flint, and lovely sweet smoke and orange peel. Drink by 2027. (tasted September 2022) (in Berkeley, CA) (ABV = 13.90%)

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Another round of QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) Hits and Misses, Six WINNERS – October 2021

To start – I really must state something in advance. I am sorry that I missed the chance to properly remember the 10th Yahrzeit of Daniel Rogov’s passing, which occurred on September 7th, 2011 (it may have been the 6th but Israel time and all).

I wrote two of my posts about the man, you can read them here and as such, I will simply say that I miss him as do most of the kosher wine drinking public. So much has changed in the past 10 years, since his passing, and I wonder what kosher wine would be like today if he was still with us. So much of the world is open to the kosher wine world, which was not the case 10 years ago. I wonder if Rogov would have embraced the opening. I wonder if he would have liked or disliked the fact that Israel is producing and importing loads of kosher wine from France and Italy, specially made for the Israeli kosher wine buying community.

I think, in the end, he would have loved all that is changing and we are all worse off by his lack of presence in our lives today. So I raised a glass of 2011 Yarden Blanc de Blanc in his memory and may we all be blessed for having known such a man!

QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) Wines

It has been a few months since my last QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) post and many people have been emailing me about some unique wine I have tasted and some lovely wines that are worth writing about.

Thankfully, no matter how garbage and pain I subject myself to, we are still blessed with quite a few wonderful QPR wines out there. This post includes superstars like Herzog Wines’s new 2019 Herzog Eagle’ Landing Pinot Noir, and a few others. It goes to show that when wineries reasonably price superior wines, even 46 dollar wines can be a QPR winner! Sadly, the Eagle’s Landing Pinot Noir is the most superior wine on this list. There are other nice wines to come but for now – this QPR wine list, overall, was not as good as previous lists.

We have an OK list of QPR WINNERS:

  1. 2019 Herzog Eagle’ Landing Pinot Noir
  2. 2017 Netofa Dor
  3. 2019 Chateau Genlaire Grand Vin de Bordeaux
  4. 2019 Elvi Vina Encina Blanco
  5. 2019 Pacifica Riesling, Evan’s Collection
  6. 2020 Domaine Guillerault Fargette Sancerre

There were also a few wines that are a slight step behind with a GREAT or GOOD QPR score:

  1. 2020 Domaine Joost de Villebois Pouilly Fume
  2. 2019 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin
  3. 2019 Nana Chenin Blanc
  4. 2019 Nana Cassiopeia
  5. 2015 Mad Aleph Blaufrankisch
  6. 2019 Aura di Valerie Zaffiro Super Tuscan
  7. 2020 Vitkin Israeli Journey, Red
  8. 2020 Domaine du Castel La Vie Blanc de Castel
  9. 2019 Herzog Malbec, Lineage, Clarksburg – GREAT Value for a varietal I am not a huge fan of
  10. 2020 Herzog Variations Be-leaf
  11. 2018 Binyamina Sapphire, The Chosen
  12. 2020 Tabor Sauvignon Blanc
  13. 2020 Bodegas Faustino VI Rioja
  14. 2020 Yatir Darom Rose
  15. 2020 Recanati Marselan Rose
  16. 2020 Arroyo del Imperio Chardonnay

There are a few wines that got a QPR Score of EVEN – meaning expensive or average:

  1. 2020 Herzog Sauvignon Blanc, Acacia Barrel Series – very unique but expensive
  2. N.V. Herzog Methode Champenoise, Special Reserve – Nice but expensive
  3. 2020 Herzog Chardonnay, Chalk Hill, Special Edition – Nice but expensive
  4. 2019 Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico – very unique but expensive
  5. 2020 Matar Chardonnay
  6. 2019 Capcanes Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera – Still too ripe for me
  7. 2019 Weinstock Cabernet Sauvignon, Cellar Select
  8. 2020 Psagot Sinai, White
  9. N.V. Drappier Rose de Saignee, Champagne
  10. 2018 Les Lauriers de Rothschild
  11. 2020 Pacifica Rattlesnake Hills Viognier
  12. N.V. Vera Wang Party Prosecco, Brut
  13. 2019 Or Haganuz Elima
  14. 2019 Binyamina Chardonnay, Moshava

The others are essentially either OK wines that are too expensive, duds, or total failures:

  1. 2018 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Lot 70 – Lovely wine but expensive for the quality
  2. 2019 Hagafen Family Vineyard Red Blend – Lovely wine but expensive for the quality
  3. 2020 Binyamina Moshava Rose
  4. 2019 Yatir Creek White
  5. 2019 Domaine du Castel La Vie, Rouge du Castel
  6. 2017 Barons Edmond & Benjamin de Rothschild
  7. 2018 Domaine du Castel M du Castel
  8. 2020 Padre Bendicho Rose
  9. 2020 Carmel Private Collection Rose
  10. 2020 Yatir Darom White
  11. 2019 Nana Chardonnay
  12. 2019 Segal Marawi Native
  13. 2019 Mia Luce Blanc
  14. 2019 Nana Tethys
  15. 2018 Odem Mountain 1060 Cabernet Franc
  16. 2018 Odem Mountain 1060 Red Wine
  17. 2017 Odem Mountain Alfasi, Special Reserve
  18. 2019 Mia Luce Syrah and Stems
  19. 2019 Mia Luce C.S.M.
  20. 2017 Tabor Merlot, Adama
  21. 2017 Tabor Cabernet Sauvignon 1/11,000, Limited Edition
  22. 2019 Chateau de Parsac
  23. 2019 Gurra di Mare Tirsat
  24. 2017 Tulip Espero
  25. 2019 Psagot Merlot
  26. 2019 Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon
  27. 2018 Jezreel Icon
  28. 2019 Psagot Edom
  29. 2017 The Cave
  30. 2018 Carmel Mediterranean
  31. 2020 Yatir Mount Amasa Rose
  32. 2020 Flam Camellia
  33. 2020 Netofa Latour, White

Some things that made me stand up and take notice (AKA QPR WINNERS):

The real WINNER here, from the entire list, is the lovely 2019 Herzog Eagle’s Landing Pinot Noir, another STUNNING Pinot Noir from Herzog – BRAVO!

There were other high-scoring wines in this overall list, nice wines from Covenant and others, but the prices of those wines put them at a disadvantage in comparison to others in their wine categories, and as such, they have poor to bad QPR wine scores.

In the end, IMHO, the overall list has less quality than the previous QPR list but there are a few nice wines here indeed.

The other WINNERS were the incredible 2019 Elvi Vina Encina Blanco, a lovely Macabeo for 13 dollars! Just lovely! The 2019 Pacifica Riesling, Evan’s Collection, is not as good as previous vintages – but another solid wine that many will enjoy. Finally, we have a Sancerre that I can get up and cheer about and that is the 2020 Domaine Guillerault Fargette Sancerre. It is here in the USA and it is nice!

Other wines worth of note (AKA QPR GREAT or GOOD):

Of these GOOD to GREAT wines – the most interesting of the list, for me, is the 2020 Domaine Joost de Villebois Pouilly Fume. No, it is not as good as the lovely 2019 Jean Pierre Bailly Pouilly Fume, still, it is a Mevushal wine that is reasonably priced, so it gets a solid QPR score. The 2019 Nana Chenin Blanc is nice, but for the price, it is not worth it, and it is DRINK NOW!

The 2019 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin, is nice, yes, but it is too ripe for me and the price is too much for the quality it is, so yeah, nice wine for those that like this style. The 2019 Nana Cassiopeia, is a wine that I found I could taste and at a decent enough price, so yeah, good going.

The 2015 Mad Aleph Blaufrankisch has so many stories revolving around it, that all I can say is, drink it if you like the style. I found it OK, but I do not need to buy any more.

The 2019 Aura di Valerie Zaffiro Super Tuscan is nice enough, but really, why did you need to put those words on the bottle? A Super Tuscon is a term used to describe red wines from Tuscany that may include non-indigenous grapes, particularly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. The creation of super Tuscan wines resulted from the frustration winemakers had towards a slow bureaucracy in changing Italy’s wine law during the 1970s (from WineFolly). Why would you place those words on a wine bottle??

The 2019 Herzog Malbec, Lineage is a solid example of what reasonably priced wine from California can taste like! Finally, the newly released 2020 Herzog Variations Be-leaf – handily beats all other no-added sulfite options!

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And the winner of KFWE NYC and L.A. 2019 goes to the City of Angels

If you have been keeping up with my travels around the world to visit the KFWE venues, you will know that I really was impressed with what Bokobsa did in Paris and I was split over the London KFWE, given its posh settings and solid wine selection, though it has where to grow.

Before I go further, I wanted to define to you my criteria for grading a wine tasting:

  1. The Venue, of course, its ambiance, and setup
  2. The wine selection
  3. The wine glasses
  4. The number of humans at the tasting
  5. the food served
  6. Finally, the reactions of the participants, though for me that is less important to me, as I judge the tasting based more upon the body language of the participants than what they say.

Now, some of these variables are subjective, rather than just objective. Take for example #1, the venue, it is a highly subjective though also objective variable. Pier 60 is a nice place, but in comparison, the Peterson museum of the past few years in Los Angeles was far better. Now, again, this is subjective, some people hate cars. They hated how big the Peterson was, and how spread-out the food and wine was. I loved the Petersen, loved the cars, and while the food and wine were spread out and difficult to find, the roominess and vast space to sit and enjoy art and wine at the same time, was truly impressive.

App and its data needs serious work

One more thing, as I stated in my KFWE recommendation list – the KFWE App is a disaster. It rarely worked. When it did, it was so annoying it was hopeless. Take for instance the go back button went back to the main wine list. So if you wanted to go through the list of Elvi or Capcanes wines, you had to go back and forth OVER and OVER. Worse, and I mean far worse, was the data behind the app, the data was all wrong. The wines at the event did not match the wines in front of you at the tables.

I really hope that next year, Royal Wines puts in more effort into building a proper app, with proper data. Even if the wines that are delivered are different than the wines on the app, change the data! Make sure the data matches reality instead of dreams and rainbows.

Mother Nature took kindly to KFWE in NYC and LA (well mostly)

A quick footnote here, before we dive into the highly contested and dispassionate discussion around which KFWE is the best KFWE, we need to thank the good mother! Mother nature really threw us a pair of bones this year! Yes, I know that flying from NYC to LA was a bit torturous for some, and yes, I sat/slept in my middle seat all the way to LA, but come on, it was that or we get 6 inches of snow a day EARLIER and KFWE NYC would have looked more like a Flatbush Shtiebel during the summer, AKA empty!

Sure, traveling to LA was a pain, but it all worked out, even those who flew to LA on the day. Further, while mother nature opened the skies on the day following KFWE L.A., with what the meteorologists loved to call an atmospheric river, it was the DAY AFTER KFWE L.A. On the day of KFWE L.A. there was a light smattering of rain here and there. The next day, God opened the heavens, when we were driving in our Uber to the airport the streets were almost flooded, and this is L.A. which has a massive concrete drain snaking its way through Los Angeles, with which to dump and maneuver billions of gallons of rainwater.

Further, if we had been at the Petersen this year, the VIP and Trade would have been a mess. There was not so much rain, as it was just not nice outside, this is an El-Nino year in Califonia, and that means more rain than normal here in Cali! So, all in all, God was kind to Royal and the KFWE circuit. The weather was just right, along with some intelligent decisions, turned out to be true blessings for all, especially us Californians who really need the rain! Read the rest of this entry

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