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Lueria Winery and the latest releases

Lueria Winery Tasting Room.jpg

Well, I have finished all the KFWE posts, and my past personal wine tastings posts, and now it is time to get back to posting about wineries I visited on my last trip. To remind you, I came to Israel for Sommelier 2017, then flew to Paris and back the next morning for the Bokobsa tasting. Upon my return to Israel, I drove north for a day, before coming back to the Jerusalem area, and then flying home. I have already posted all the wineries I visited in Israel’s North, excepting for my visit with Gidi Sayada at the lovely new visitor tasting room of Lueria Winery. We tasted all the new releases and as always, it is a joy to sit down and taste wines with Gidi.

The wines that Gidi makes use the grapes that were planted by his father, Yosef Sayada some 22 years ago. The vines were planted on the hills surrounding Moshav Safsufa. Interestingly, Safsufa is an Aramaic word meaning – late ripening fruit. The burial place of the revered kabbalist Rav Yitzchak Luria, who was one of the foremost Kabbalist experts in his time, overlooks the vineyards. It is in his honor that the winery is called Lueria Winery.

Lueria Winery has been growing slowly but surely, going from a few thousand bottles in 2006 to more than 100K bottles in 2016. Most people would not think that Lueria Winery is pumping out that much wine, but since Gidi started making wine, after learning winemaking in Israel, and cutting his teeth with Tal Pelter of Pelter Winery (not kosher) and Matar Winery, it is clear to see that he has found his own way now. With the abundance of his father’s grapes to choose from, some 45 acres, comprising many classic varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, along with some more Mediterranean varietals, like Syrah, Sangiovese, Barbera, and Roussanne.

This winery, like many throughout Israel, is not afraid to make half of their wines – white wines. Why? Because contrary to the USA palate, Israelis have finally found the love for all things white and rose! Sadly, this year, Gidi did not make a rose. In its place, he started a new label, the 2016 Roussanne! Also, gone is the pure dry Gewurztraminer that we had a few years here and there. Now, he is making some dry Gewurztraminer and placing it into the lovely, Lueria White wine. The white varietals used in the winery are Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Roussanne. There are very few wineries in Israel making Pinot Grigio, the ones I know of are Dalton (a five-minute drive from Lueria Winery), Lueria Winery, and Yarden Winery. Each wine is stylistically different from each other. The Dalton PG is all about acid and fruit and is light on the mineral. Shockingly, the Yarden PG is less about fruit and more a balance between the fruit and mineral. Finally, the Lueria Winery PG is smoky and mineral rich, with nice fruit as well. Get them all and then taste them in a blind tasting!

The red wine labels have been cleaned up, in both appearance and names. Now it is just two blends Rosso and Terrace at the first level, followed by two single varietal dominated wines, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon. With the Grand Vital being the flagship wine of the winery, which is a blend of the best barrels from each vintage. Its parts change each year but it’s mostly dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, along with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Sometimes Syrah is added as well, but in the past many years that has not been the case. I think the streamlining and simplification of the labels, along with cleaning them up a bit as well, really makes for a lovely lineup of wines.

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Vitkin, Tzora, and Flam Winery tastings along with 2015 rosé and whites from Israel

KotelWell, I am back, landing the day before the Shabbat preceding Shavuot. I was there for my Nephew’s wedding and we stopped off in Paris for two days – that post can be read/seen here. From there we jumped on an EasyJet plane and we were in Israel, but those kind of things do not just happen. In hindsight I would use EasyJet again – simply because there really were few other options. The direct flights were these (listed in cost order); Transavia (I wonder if the count sleeps in luggage), EasyJet, Arkia (Israel’s second largest airline), El Al, and Air France. I tried to use miles on AF – but they were crazy high. So, in the end, EasyJet it was.

EasyJet is one of those airlines that will nickel and dime you all the way to and in the plane. But the best plan (since I had no checked luggage), is to pay for seat assignment and then you get a roll on and backpack. I was stressing about my rollon, it was a bit heavy, and I was worried they would nickle me to death. In the end, the dude at the counter was very nice and they took the rollon – asking to check it, which was fine with me. The trip was fine, as there is a lounge in the CDG terminal, and what we really wanted was just a place to be normal in a land of madness.

Once we got to the gate they were boarding us only to leave us in the gateway for a good 25 minutes – no idea why. Once we boarded, I was asleep, which was a blessing. I had lots to watch – but sleep was what I craved. Once I awoke we pretty much landed, with maybe 20 minutes or so before landing anyway. Once we landed we disembarked quickly, and then well – no one was there at security check. There were loads of people backing into the anteroom. It would be another 20+ minutes before folks actually arrived and started to cut through the backlog.

Once we got through our bags were there already and we were off to get our car – or try! Look I like Budget in Israel, they normally treat me well, but this trip was horrible! They made us wait 1 hour or more and then they treated us in classic Israeli style and gave us a car that was smaller than what we ordered/paid for and then told us to leave them alone! Love people like that!

Anyway, we were off and really that is what I cared about – I wanted to be home! After that, I can say that the trip was really about tasting late 2014 released wines and 2015 wines. Before, I get into that – let’s recap the state of 2015. As stated here, this is what happened in 2015 and after tasting some 40+ wines from 2015 – nothing has changed my opinion.

Well after two world-class vintages in 2001 and 2008, 2015 was a huge letdown. The white and rose are for the most OK, and nice. The white and rose wines are not at the level of 2014 (more on that below), but they are very respectable. The 2015 reds on the other hand is an entirely different subject.

Shmita 2015

A few things going on here – first of all the weather was perfect through August – looking like yet another blockbuster Shmita vintage. Wet winter, tons of rain and no deep freezing, followed by very moderate spring (making for good bud formations). This was followed by temperate highs and nice cool evenings throughout the summer, except for a few spikes here and there, that was all until August! In August nature took a very dark view on Israel – starting with some of the worst highs in the history of Modern Israel, and power consumption that peaked for an entire week that broke record after record. August continued with crazy heat – but it was early September when all hell broke loose. September saw a return of the epic sandstorm – but this time it reached almost biblical proportions in September. Just look at these satellite images – they are crazy!

Overall, the season was not what it was meant to be. The sand storms brought even higher temps, it all unravelled at the end. The funny thing is that – the wineries that pull early, AKA do not produce date juice, were affected far less – like Recanati and Tabor. The ones who pull later or pull from the Galilee – even if they are great wineries – were affected. In some ways it will mean that lower level wines at wineries will have normally better fruit. It will also mean that many wineries will have less of their flagship wines. Of course this is all from what winemakers and wineries have told me so far. Only time will tell to see what really comes out, but agriculturally, it was not a great year. Read the rest of this entry

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

A wonderful horizontal tasting of older kosher Cabernet Franc wines

This past weekend saw us enjoying a lovely round of Cabernet Franc wines and our patented Herb encrusted gefilte fish loaf, which was followed by sausage stew. What can I say, I have a true soft spot for GREAT Cabernet Franc, and thankfully there are a few VERY good options. When I think of Cabernet Franc, top on my list is Four Gates Winery followed by Ella Valley Winery. After that, there is Hagafen Winery, Carmel Winery, Psagot Winery, and the new comer is Teperberg Winery’s 2011 Cabernet Franc – that is off the charts!

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, on the other hand, do 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.

That said, Hagafen works hard to get the green out of the Cabernet Franc, saying the green is seen as a flaw and they work hard to make sure it does not appear in the wine. Sure, many wineries feel the same way, but Franc is green – it is the definition of the grape – but this is the new century and I guess it is time to evolve the Franc ideal, but in my books it is wrong.

The interesting fact is that Ella Valley is really the hot bed for all things kosher and Franc and I was happy to showcase two very different styles of the wine from the same winery. The 2006 Vintage is all fruit and green, while the 2009 vintage is all about the tannin and spice and fruit, with the fruit taking a back stage presence. That will change as the wine evolves and the tannin and mineral recede to show the fruit, but for now the two wines could not be more different – which is why it is so IMPORTANT to age Franc!

If you are interested in getting into the Franc scene, the best options now are:

  1. The 2010 Carmel Cabernet Franc (or the 2009 as well)
  2. The 2010 or 2009 Ella Valley Cabernet Franc
  3. The 2009 Gush Etzion Cabernet Franc
  4. The Teperberg 2011 Cabernet Franc (2010 with its new age label is good enough as well)

Well, here are the wines we had, the crowd was meant to be larger, and I was supposed to get to a Psagot and a Gush, but such is life. The Four gates Francs were not meant to be on the menu – we had them last year, at our previous Franc horizontal. The wine notes follow below:

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My wonderful blueberry haze Shabbos

This past weekend I was hanging with EL and MT, those same two of Napa wine adventure fame. It was a true insane blast, and the wine intake was so intense that I had to name this post appropriately. The blueberry reference is an ode to the sheer number of wines we had that were seriously showing blue fruit.

When I think of hospitality so many names come to mind including ER, Mrs. L, Shaindy and Chaim, and now I am happy to add EL and MT to the wonderful list of people who think of others above themselves. I came this shabbos to NY to hang with family and go to two wine events. The two wine events sandwiched a Shabbos so I asked EL if he could handle a madman like me for a weekend! He graciously accepted and now the Shabbos is in the history books and may well go down in annals of mankind as one of the craziest Shabbos that I have had the opportunity to enjoy (though my first Benyo Shabbaton is up there too with the Shirah Boys).

The Friday started with me opening the bottle of Tavel, which while deeply aromatic was a slight letdown with a light and almost lifeless mouth. Still, it had the acid to keep up; this was all while we learned some Yoshua before heading to minyan. El lives in a large Jewish community and the number of synagogues within a square mile of his house, rival the number of museums in all of NY City! Still, we were blessedly spared the walks to those hallowed halls. Why? Think August in Las Vegas and add 90% humidity and you get the picture – AKA felt like walking through swap land – without the swamp!

So, where did we go, well that is the funny thing, if there are tons of options for free standing synagogues in this section of New York, there may well be more options of home bound synagogues! Indeed, people have synagogues in their basements, living rooms, and just about any section of their home that their wives can tolerate (more on that in a bit).

Friday night started in the library room of a beautiful home, 5 doors down from EL’s house. Mincha started at 8 PM and we were done with Mincha and Maariv at 8:45 PM. Heck, where I live, we could still be davening Mincha in 45 minutes! We went home, and even walking the length of 5 homes made you feel like you wanted to jump into a shower ASAP! What heat! Anyway, dinner started with a bottle of 2012 Lueria Gewurztraminer. A lovely wine that was cold and bracing, with enough residual sugar in it to make both EL and his wife happy! From there we moved to two Roses that accompanied a plethora of sushi! Awesome idea, really, clean tasting sushi is a great idea on a hot summer day! The sushi was solid as was CL’s SICK challah that was greatly enjoyed with dips and soup. The Tavel was OK, as said above but the Agur rocked it for me and it was mostly drunk by me as well.

After that we moved to the main course, which was roasted chicken and some incredible Rib Roast! EL begged me to taste some before Shabbos and I knew at that point that this chunk of meat was going to slay it on Shabbos! The roast has something for everyone, it was rare inside and medium rare on the edges. It was herbed to perfection and was so juicy that it screamed to be eaten some more – WOW what a real treat!

At this point I must point out that we had already decanted two wines for the dinner, the newly released 2011 Vignobles David Reserve GS wine and the 2012 Hajdu Cabernet Franc (will probably be blended – but a distinct barrel sample for now). It was at this point that the family bailed and left EL and I to slowly enjoy the two bottles/carafes of wine. That was until Mark came over with two more wines in tow. The wines were the famous 2007 Brobdignagian/Brobdingnagian Syrah – a blockbuster wine we have enjoyed twice, and a 1999 Hagafen Syrah! The wine is a richly layered, concentrated beast that has zero desire to calm down or back-off its no holds barred structure that makes one truly stand up and take notice. Some find it too much, but for me it is a wine created by an unbridled mad genius, with eyes wide open – what a wine! When I saw the hagafen Syrah at Mark’s house before Shabbos I thought there was no way that the wine was drinkable. It turns out that the Syrah was Hagafen’s first and a wine that has truly stood the test of time. Read the rest of this entry

Israel wineries I visited in the north and the state of Israeli kosher Wines

I just returned from a long and wonderful trip to Israel where I visited a total of 36 wineries in less than three weeks. To be fair, I was set to visit more, but let us just say that a family member, who will go nameless, slowed me down just a wee bit – LOL!!! All the same, it was great visiting the wineries, meeting the wine makers and owners, and getting a far deeper feel for all things wine in the land of Israel!

Yes, I brought back many bottles, and I had friends and family who helped me schlep in even more bottles. In all some 30+ bottles or so made it back to the diaspora, and I will be enjoying them in due time. Many of them are NOT available here in America and some were just too good to pass up on.

So, let us start with the facts – there are five wine regions in the land of Israel, and I visited wineries in all of them. According to Yossie’s Israel winery page that is a mash up of Google maps and his winery data, there are some 70+ kosher wineries. The kosher wineries are bunched up in the Judean Hills, Shomron, Samson, and the Galilee. There are wineries in the other wine region; the Negev, but other than Yatir, which is really the southern tip of the Judean Hills, there is no winery that I wanted to visit in the Negev (dessert – southern wine region of Israel).

I started my wine adventure in the north and went to every kosher winery that would let me visit. One of the first things I realized about wineries in Israel is that it is a business. To me, wine and wineries are like candy and big candy store. To top it off – they are kosher and in a land I love. So, when I visit a winery, I want to know everything about it and why it exists. Others see me as a pain or as a lack of dollars and cents and as such, are not so receptive to my interests. That is fair, and as such, if I was received well I will state it and if not, or I got to taste a single wine or less, I will simply state what I tasted and move on.

The first day, I dropped my stuff off at friends in the north and drove up to Tabor Winery. Tabor Winery ha recently been bought up by the Coca-Cola company of Israel, and as such has seen a fair amount of investment in both vineyards and winery facilities. Tabor Winery-smallThey have some of the coolest high-tech gear out there, though a few others do rival them, including Yarden (which I did not visit this time), Yatir Winery (visited and loved it!), Shiloh Winery, and of course Carmel and Binyamina (because their size allows for more toys). I was really shocked there and then by the cold blue fruit that exists if you look for it. By cold blue fruit I mean that wines (Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet – YES CAB, Petite Verdot, and Petite Sirah) exhibit blueberry, boysenberry, and other blue colored fruit when controlled in a cold enough climate. They had some lovely wines there, though no WOW wines (wines that get an A- to A or higher score). Still, a very nice and wonderful winery well worth the visit, if you can handle the drive all the way up there.

Now before you laugh at one winery in a day, driving north from Jerusalem, even with highway 6, is a large haul and in the pouring rain, I rest my case. While driving my way up there – I noticed another aspect that I have not spoken about in the past – Israeli drivers. I think it was my nephew who brought this to my attention; they drive cars like they have no tomorrow, without hesitation, and without fear – almost like war. Drivers in Israel are more than happy to pass you going uphill, on a curve, in the pouring rain! In no way was this a singular or rare occurrence! If you drive in Israel and you blink or hesitate, you may well find yourself forced onto the other side of oncoming traffic by a public transit bus! I am not kidding – and in a not so hospitable location to boot! My point is, if you wish to drive in Israel, and to get to all the wineries in and about Israel, a car is required (or a tour guide), my best advice is pray a lot, and be very careful. Also, get full coverage on your rental car. Read the rest of this entry

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