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Herzog Wine Cellars’ latest releases – August 2022

Like much of my posts I am a bit behind, I received these wines in June 2022 and sadly, it took until this week to post them. The truth is that the notes are written quickly, but the delay is caused by the amount of time spent writing the post, with all the metadata in and around the post and the images.

In case you missed the last Herzog Wine Cellars post – please check that out here, the story and background around Herzog Wine Cellars is truly imperative to better appreciate what they have accomplished these many years! One large change since the last post would be the hiring of David Galzignato as Director of Winemaking and Operations. Joe Hurliman is now Winemaker Emeritus. As always I have incredible respect and appreciation for what both Joseph Herzog and Joe Hurliman have done for Herzog Wine Cellars. Their vision, drive, and continued passion for improving the wines and the winery are truly incredible and one that we should all aspire to learn from.

In shortened story form Herzog Wine Cellars is a fascinating story. It started with Eugene Herzog immigrating to the US from Czechoslovakia in 1948 after the war and after communism took over his winery. He worked for a small winery in NY, and by 1958 he became the majority owner of it. In deference to his grandfather, they called it Royal Wines, as he was given the title Baron in Czechoslovakia. By 1985, the family decided that they needed a California presence, and so they hired the famous Wine Maker Peter Stern, to build their initial footprint in the world of high-end wines. After that, they moved to Santa Maria, hired Joe Hurliman, and leased space from Coast Wine Services (CWS), all the while knowing that they needed a place that they could call home. In the end, Joe went looking for a plot of land, that was as close to a Jewish Community as possible (for the Kosher Wine managers) and landed on Oxnard. Not a classic place to house a winery, but one that is close to the highways to truck in the grapes and one close enough to a Jewish Community to allow for full-time Jewish supervision. The winery opened in 2005, and three years later it started hosting the International Food and Wine Festival. In my last post about this year’s KFWE I threw down a gauntlet, I wonder if anyone read/saw it, I think it is time for Herzog Wine Cellars to bring back IFWF, in the summer for a throwback! Time is ticking – the ball is in your court guys!

Now to the wines. The 2017 vintage was tough, it was tough for all of Cali, it was a bad vintage. The 2018 vintage was far better, but still not as good as the 2016 or 2014 vintages. We were all interested in the full 2019 vintage to see if Herzog could break the odd-year curse that has hung over them since the nice 2013 vintage. I guess I will have to say, the answer is maybe. There are clear QPR WINNER wines, but they do not shine as bright as in the even years of 2014, 2016, or 2018. They are riper and less focused, and while they show minerality, it feels/seems secondary to the larger picture.

Generally, when we look at Herzog, and their success for a year, we use the big three, the Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley, the Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Edition, Warnecke Vineyard, and the Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Edition, Clone Six. However, there is also the burgeoning Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon, and of course the lovely Edna Valley and Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noirs, from both Eagle’s Landing and the Reserve line. There are the second-level wines from the Variations collection, which also weigh in a bit on a successful year for Herzog, IMHO, but the main wines drive the success ratio the most.

Still, Herzog is never resting on their laurels, in the past they were driving hard with a yearly Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, to add to the Cabernet Sauvignon rotation. However, in 2016, they paused the Single Vineyard Program. The good news is that starting in 2021 the Single Vineyard program is back online! After that, they started sourcing Stag’s Leap fruit in 2018 and then expanded the Special Edition line with Oakville and Rutherford.

One final statement around two wines in the lineup. One is Choreograph, it is a wine that has been around for a long time, started in 2016, the earlier name Camouflage started in 2014. It is a serious sleeper in the Mevushal Lineage line. In the first few years, the wine tasted like the makeup of the wine a hodgepodge of grapes, one of the classic issues with large field blends. The larger the number of fruit the harder it is for them to all get together and make the wine work. However, in 2020 and 2021, whatever Herzog is doing, they have been hitting a home run for the price. This is the absolute PERFECT BBQ wine, IMHO. Mevushal, served cool, with meat, chicken, or even fish, all will work if grilled or smoked, just a perfect wine with great acidity and balance.

The other sleeper is the Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa is either at max or close to the max price, at least for now, though everything was high, price-wise in 2021 and the Napa fruit prices may max out in 2022. They are not pretty! Many a winery has dropped serious money into Lake County, look at Andy Beckstoffer, AKA, Mr. Tokalon. He bought into Lake County in 1997 and continues to invest. This line has been showing great promise from the start and every year the wine improves or keeps the previous vintage’s quality. Bravo! It is not at the quality yet of Alexander Valley Cabernet, but it quickly making its way into that quality level.

Finally, this is more of a PSA, please cool your red wines in the fridge, for say thirty minutes before enjoying them, if they are at, what we call room temperature. If the room is at 75 degrees Farenheight, 20 to 30 minutes in the refrigerator will help to bring the red wine temperature down to what it should be enjoyed at, which is 60 degrees, or so.

There will be no 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap, but interestingly, there will be a 2020 vintage, as it was picked just before the fires. There will also be a bit of 2020 Alexander Valley and Rutherford. Overall, 2019 turned out to be the best odd-numbered year in a long time, and while it does not rise to the quality of 2014/2016/2018 it is a solid showing for a not-so-good vintage.

The wine notes listed below shows seven wines that garnered the QPR (Quality to Price) WINNER score. That is a lovely list of wines the majority of them are 2020 or 2021 wines. There are two 2019 QPR WINNER wines, and they are the ususal suspects, the Alexander Valley and the Warnecke Vineyard.

I will keep this short, so my many thanks to Joseph Herzog, David Whittemore, Joe Hurliman, and Alicia Wilbur for answering my many emails and calls. Be well all of you! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:

2021 Herzog Sauvignon Blanc, Lineage, Lake County, CA (M) – Score: 91 (QPR: WINNER)
The nose of this wine is more restrained than other Sauvignon Blanc out there, it is less ripe, it is dirtier, with mineral, floral notes, violet, rose, lemon, lime, yellow plum, and dryer sheet notes. The mouth of this medium-bodied wine is fun, refreshing, tart, acidic, and enjoyable, with green notes, lemon, lime, wet grass, mint, lemongrass, saline, hints of passion fruit, and otherwise, green notes, herbs, spices, flint, and rich mineral. The finish is long, green, spicy, and flinty, with saline, smoke, roasted herb, grass, and hay. BRAVO! Drink now. (tasted May 2022) (in San Jose, CA) (ABV = 14.5%)

Read the rest of this entry

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

My Dear John letter to overripe wines and a few winners

cc licensed flickr photo from irishdragongreen

With the Jewish Holidays at their end, I must say that I really did enjoy them, but spiritually and wine wise! I have been slowly but surely changing over my collection from wines that I thought I liked to wines I actually do like. Sure, I have a few duds here and there, but for the most part, I think I have thinned the ranks of the unwanted.

Years ago – I blindly bought whatever red reserve Yarden wines the late Daniel Rogov scored a 92 or higher, and to his credit it was a grand time for a bit. But sadly before he passed, his  golden touch, in terms of picking the perfect Yarden Reserve red was losing its aura. To be fair it is not a detriment to the man I truly respected. It is simply that my palate and interest have moved so starkly from the overripe notes of old, that I have finally broken down and written my Dear John letter to many Israeli wines.

As I stated 9 months ago in my year in review and ahead, I stated that I would start to track wines that I find overly ripe in style, whether it comes from Israel or anywhere else. I have been doing that in my wine notes, but I and finding less and less of them, simply because I am turning over my library in the direction of wines like Tzora, Yatir, and so on.

To be fair, wineries are making wines like this because that is what the public wishes, or so they say. I understand that a palate is a hard thing to come by, and that it may well be an evolutionary road for many. Still, there is a thing called nuance and then there is a thing called a 2×4. To create wines that are so obtusely in your face – one has to stop and wonder if the winemaker is actually unwilling to trust his wines to you. Maybe it his/her way of saying – here I dare you not to taste something in this wine! Mocking you as the winery takes your money and you are left with that aching feeling that is more akin to a used car lot than a culinary experience.

So, I thought it was time to publicly publish my Dear John letter to wines from Israel or elsewhere that continue to cater to the LCD (least common denominator) – and make wines that only a dead person could miss notes in.

Dear overly ripe wines,

I have to be honest, for the longest time you were a wonderful accompaniment to my weekend dinners. However, in these past 5 years, I cannot help but think that we have drifted apart. Oh come on, do not flutter those sweet and cloying tannins at me, you know how I hate that so. I wish I could say it is me and not you, but I would be lying. This is all on you!

This is not about you or about me “winning or losing”, you know I have lost so much over the years when I happily gave away bottles of the 2004 Ortal Merlot and so much more. There is no denying that we have changed so much, you continue to be so sweet, of course, but what I finally realized is that you are also so empty. Sure you have those wonderful structural qualities, that we all look for in a companion, but the rest is hollow, no stuffing, no meaning, just a flat and empty being.

I tried so hard to make it work, to ignore my wine friends, telling them that it was just a bad night or a really bad weekend, like that bender in December. Sadly, it always turns out the same way when I wake from another night of debauchery, I am thankfully a bit lighter of you and you are always the same – big, bold, loud, and empty!

So, I am happy to say I think I am rid of you from my cellar. I have worked hard to empty it of your kind and thankfully, I can now say that you are in my past. I waited too long to write this letter, for that I am sorry to you and my guests. However, going forward I know that I have made the correct decision and wish you and those wineries all the best. I even have a lovely new moniker for you DJL – if you see that on a note I write, you will know that you have found a wine you will truly come to love. For me, it will be a badge of shame.

Thanks for all the great times, and I am also happy to say good riddance and bon voyage! Read the rest of this entry

Lovely kosher Califonia wines from Herzog, Hagafen, Covenant, Shirah, and Four Gates

2003 Four Gates Cabernet FrancWhenever I write about California wines, I get the same old question – what about Israeli wines? Hey do you think to read other posts – or just this one? Do not get me wrong, I love Israeli and French wines, but what can I do, I am a Cali boy and I like California wines just as much.

I just posted about Rhone varietal wines, and I missed one that is a really lovely wine – the 2010 Herzog Petite Sirah, Prince Vineyard. I wrote about this wine and the Herzog winery before in this post. However, when we tried it for a Petite Sirah vertical a few year ago – it was not close to what I had at the winery only a few months earlier. Well, I should have posted the Herzog PS in my previous post – but I missed it, so here it is in the Cali wines that I have enjoyed recently.

I must start off by saying that Herzog has been killing it recently with its Weinstock and Baron Herzog labels as of recently. These are fantastic wines that are all QPR and mevushal to boot! The 2010 and 2011 Weinstock Petite Sirah, Cellar Select are BOTH lovely and mevushal. The 2010 Weinstock Cabernet Franc, Cellar Select is also lovely (the 2012 is nice but not at the same level), clear QPR winner, and mevushal again. Same goes for the 2012 Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon – a lovely QPR wine, and mevushal of course.

That said, the wines I tasted recently were nice, but none of them were at the level I was expecting, especially the 2009 Clone Six Cabernet, which was nice but not close to the awesome 2008 mind-blowing older brother. The Z2 Zinfandel was nice and better than in previous tastings, but not an A level wine still. The 2010 Meritage was truly quite lovely and a mouth coating wine that stays with you.

When I think Shirah Winery, I think Rhone varietals, but not this bottle! The 2012 Shirah Coalition is another crazy blend from the Weiss Brothers, and their mad scientist wine lab, called Shirah Winery. This one is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 20% Dolcetto, 20% Zinfandel from Agua Dolce Vineyards, and 10% Merlot from Agua Dolce Vineyard! Like seriously??? To me I am willing to go out on the limb and say – this is the best kosher Italian wine out there (other than maybe the Falesco wines) – with tongue firmly embedded into cheek. Sure, it is not Italian, but the grapes all grow in Italy, and two of them are indigenous to Italy! Why is the growing region more important than the quality and enjoyability – BRAVO again guys! Read the rest of this entry

Teperberg Winery Tasting – just outside of snowed in Jerusalem

Teperberg Tasting with all the wines and Fricassee a person can dream for!As I have stated before, these postings are from my previous trip to Israel, where Jerusalem and mush of the north was snowed in with many feet of snow. Picking up from where we left off, the Sabbath was snowed in and cold, but at least we had power. The next day, my brother drove the car to the hotel and from there – the careful but madman driver – known as Mendel made his way to both GG and me and using Waze we were off to highway 1. The road itself was open, as was clear by the crowd sourcing cars driving up and down the road on the Waze map. However, there were parts of the road that were packed to the gills, because these were car drivers – driving to har menuchot (Jerusalem’s cemetery which has a massive parking lot) to pick up their abandoned cars! Yup, on Friday, these folks could not make it into Jerusalem, as their car was stuck, and they could not get back to where they came from, so they left their cars and were bussed out by the Army using mechanized solider transport vehicles, that can drive through snow or up a hill, for that matter.

Well, as we drove by that horde of cars, our minds were all single focused on getting to Teperberg Winery, one of the best unheralded wineries in Israel. As I wrote about in previous posts, here and here, ever since the U.C. Davis trained senior winemaker Shiki Rauchberger joined the winery, they have been producing wines destined to appeal to a more sophisticated audience. With the addition of Olivier Fratty and tons of new high-end equipment, the winery is poised to make the next leap into the upper echelon of Israeli kosher wine producers.

When we arrived after driving through the snow covered mountains, the roads cleared as we dropped in elevations, and the mountains became hills, and their color turned from white to green. Not too far down the highway, we turned off for the road leading to Bet Shemesh, and from there another turn and we quickly found out way to Kibbutz Tzora (where the Tzora Winery can be found), which is across the street from the Teperberg Winery, and down the street from Mony Winery.

We arrived almost on time, and Shiki and Olivier were there to greet us and lead us to a room where we would be having the tasting. Shiki told us that they are drawing up plans for a visitor’s center where they can have official tastings, and exhibits where the winemakers and the guests can interact in a more intimate environment. The exact date for this building to be completed is still unknown, as it has yet to even start, but it is on the books to be started soon. Read the rest of this entry

Teperberg Wines at the 2012 Gotham Tasting and Sommelier

This is the tenth article I am writing on wineries from the Judean Hills wine region of Israel. No matter where you look around the landscape of Israeli wines and wineries you will find story after story of rebirth, renewal, and a fair amount of plain old new! Carmel, Binyamina, Barkan, were all producing mass consumption/bulk wine up until 1o to 15 years ago. Since then, they have seen serious rebirth, still selling almost undrinkable swill for the masses, and also selling high-end, and very respectable wines for us wine aficionados.

Personally, I think it is the correct business structure to have for a growing winery. You need simple bulk wines that have high margins and can be sold anywhere and everywhere. Wines that people buy in the millions, literally. Then you need wines that bolster the lineup, entry-level wine-drinker wines, that can be the bridge to take you from swill to paradise. Think white zinfandel from Herzog Wine Cellars, they sell those bottles by the millions and they are the perfect gateway drug to get you to Chenin Blanc and then maybe to Chardonnay or Black Muscat, and finally to some real dry red wines.

Today the winery we are looking at is the Teperberg winery which was founded in 1870 by the Teperberg family (from where the name of the winery is derived) in the Old City of Jerusalem. Actually, to be accurate it was located in an alleyway of the old city of Jerusalem, and may well have been the first winery in the modern era of Israel. Later in 1964, the winery moved outside of Jerusalem, to the then quiet suburb of Motza (now a thriving community), and took on the name Efrat. The winery, ignoring its many name changes, continues to mostly produce sacramental sweet wines, as that is what its main clientele are looking for. However, in the 1990s Efrat started to create dry red wines, and to be honest they were a disaster. I remember always passing up on them, even when in school, and buying Carmel dry or semi-sweet wines instead. Read the rest of this entry

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