Blog Archives

Kosher Wine Tasting in – take 2

As I have been posting so far, I enjoyed my last trip to Israel and Europe. Last we left off, we had just had a kosher wine tasting at DD house. Instead of posting about the next three wineries we visited, which I will post soon, I wanted to post the other wine tasting, which was also at DD’s house. That man is a gluten for punishment!

There were some winners, a lovely bottle of Carignan from Carmel (another QPR winner), the 2013 Dalton Semillon, Single Vineyard Elkosh – still going nice, but getting close to drink-up. For this tasting, I brought a bottle of the fantastic 2014 Hagafen Riesling, IMHO, every tasting needs a Riesling! Sadly, that was about it. The 2014 Yaacov Oryah Alpha Omega was nice as well. The shockers were once again the pushed nature of the Mia Luce reds. We had all the Mia Luce reds, from 2012, 2014, and 2015 and they did not show well. The last 2012 Mia Luce from the other tasting was corked, so they brought another one, and this was not corked but man was it pushed and overripe at this point. I am not sure – Carignan is not a wine that I am finding can last long in Israel. At least so far from the wines I have tried, either the Recanati Carignan or the Mia Luce Carignan (sourced from the same vineyards).

I did have a horizontal of many Carignan last year, and Mia Luce was the clear winner. They were older bottles and they were lovely, maybe these were bad bottles as well, I do not know. I will be tasting my older ones to double-check soon.

My many thanks to our friend DD for hosting us in his lovely home! To be honest, after all the wine tastings I had up until this point, I was done for, so my notes were not very good this time. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2016 Midbar Unoaked Chardonnay: Score: 84
Nice sweet nose of candied melon, peach, dried apple, and straw. The mouth is medium bodied with too much sweetness and not enough balance, with not enough acid, good enough fruit, but no focus, showing more stone fruit, sweet quince, nice grapefruit, with good sweet spices, and herb. The finish is long and spicy with peach, with tart and sweet quince lingering long.

2016 Har Bracha Gewurtztraminer: Score: 75
Wow, this is a sweet and dried fruit disaster, with tons of notes of oxidation and no joy – sorry. Very sweet pass, tropical, and insane melon/guava, dry flower madness, no balance.

Read the rest of this entry

Advertisements

State of the Israeli Wine Industry and shmita 2015 was not a vintage to remember

somm2Sorry for the pause in posts – but I was traveling to Israel and now that I am back I hope to keep the posting back to a regular weekly rate. I travelled to Israel for this year’s sommelier – a wine event held in Israel that is normally attended by many of the upcoming and established wineries in Israel and abroad. I also went all around the country to more than 10 wineries and it helped me to get a very good feel for where the kosher Israel wine industry is now and where it is moving to in the next few years – wine wise anyway.

Sommelier

The event was originally marketed towards smaller and mid-sized wineries and distributors for restaurants, wine shops, and hotels to come and see the wineries that are scattered all over Israel in one place! Over time the event has ebbed and flowed and is now more of an event for smaller wineries to really spend their marketing dollars to garner the biggest bang for their buck. My personal fear is that in the coming years, this will fade, and start to get segregated much like it is in the USA. There are already many city oriented wine events, like the Judean Hills wine event and the Binyamina and Tel Aviv events. Add to that the famous Jerusalem wine event for kosher wines before Passover and I fear that things the Sommelier event will start to move away from a fairly well set of distributed and independent wineries to either a set of wineries run under a few select distributors (like HaKerem, Shaked, The Scottish Company, HaGafen) or worse – to a place where only a couple reign supreme. This will all play out – I fear – to the tune of follow the money. Still, the hope is that the need for small players and some medium ones as well to keep a good and well-lit profile – may mean that the event will stay safely away from the vertical plays going on in the USA.

With all that said, I was very impressed by the event overall this year. It was not over the top and almost drunken like last year, when Tabor was doing Mixology with their beautiful wines! Sadly, the wines were not as impressive as the event was overall. This year the event managers were smart enough to NOT lay down a temporary flooring – THANK GOD! For the past few years that temporary flooring reeked of glue and plastic and made smelling wine an almost impossibility around the winery stalls. It forced me to go to open areas smell the wine and come back and forth and so on until I was done tasting that winery’s wines. This year the lack os such “extra” flooring was a true god send!

Further – the wine event this year saw more kosher wineries than ever and the addition of kosher international wineries to boot! Elvi Wines was showing wines imported by Shaal Rubin, under a large heading of The House of International Kosher Wines. Another great example was Eli Gauthier’s Chianti – which was brought in by Mersch Premium Wines. Also, Bokobsa had a stall showing off some solid QPR wines, with only the Champagne, a Merlot based rose, and the Gigondas scoring high. Overall, ignoring the imports for a second, which is a lot of wine, the majority of the wineries at the event were kosher. Actually, the majority of the wineries, again ignoring imports for a second, were micro small to boutique sized wineries, most of them staffed by the winemaker or owner, kosher, and very passionate and personable folks. Of course there were a few mammoth kosher wineries at the show, including Binyamina. Read the rest of this entry

Some nice older and amazing newer kosher Israeli wines

2013 Yarden Sauvignon BlancWhen one speaks about Israeli wine – the name Yarden is sure to be one of the first wineries that are spoken of. Why? Because simply stated they are the defacto standard for quality in Israel. That was at least until the past few years, when the red wines took a very clear and strategic direction towards more ripe and classic new world styled wines. Why? Well, as I wrote here in my year in review, the kosher wine public is still a few years behind the wine learning curve, and they crave wine that is as subtle as a two-by-four between the eyes. Why? Well, to be blunt, starters do not have the capacity to appreciate the more subtle aspects of old world wines. That takes training and in the words of the late Daniel Rogov – the best way to appreciate and learn more about wine – is to drink more wine. Until that point, we will all have to wait for the majority of the kosher wine buying public to learn the joy of subtlety and stop craving sweets, and live with the result of that fact – meaning sweet and overripe wines. Thankfully, there are wineries that are still interested in creating well-rounded and all around enjoyable wines – like Tzora, Recanati, Netofa, Yatir, Castel, Dalton, Flam, Four Gates, and many others.

That said, Yarden is still the clear king of white and bubbly wines in Israel. First of all, there are few wineries with more than three quality labels of white wine. Many are still just producing one white wine. Tabor is one of those wineries that is showing it QPR value and clearly coming out from under the haze of Coca Cola and its perceived wine quality, in their situation “perception is NOT reality”.

Proof of this can be found in the bottle. Tabor Adama Roussanne, Gewurztraminer, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc are examples of GREAT QPR wines, though only the Sauvignon Blanc is available here in the US.

The Yarden 2013 Sauvignon Blanc may very well be the best kosher Sauvignon on the market and maybe ever made. yes, that is high praise for a white wine, but ignoring the sweeter side of Sauvignon Blanc (AKA late harvest or Sauterne) this is one of the best or the best kosher version of a dry blanc that I have tasted yet. Along with that the Yarden Gewurtz and Yarden Chardonnay – both Odem and non are great this year. Finally, the Viognier and the entire line of bubbly wines are absolutely crushing it! Even the Gamla Blanc is very nice. Essentially, while Yarden may have had some missteps or may want more ripe red new world fruit, the whites still are showing why Yarden is king of the kosher bubbly and white wines. The only real competitor in the kosher market to the vast array of Yarden’s whites would be Hagafen’s vast array of white wines and rose wines. Read the rest of this entry

2010 Midbar Viognier a perfect match to Mushroom Risotto and Roasted Chicken

This past weekend we enjoyed one of my favorite dishes – risotto, but to be fair it is a complex problem when it comes to Shabbos. In the past I used to cook the risotto Thursday night and then I would throw in liquid on Friday and throw them into the oven with the chicken or meat or whatever protein I want to enjoy it with.

This time I wanted to try a more delicate approach – where I cooked the risotto right up until Shabbos started – which is far easier in the summer, and then threw the risotto and EXTRA broth into the oven, which was set to warm.
When I took the risotto out Friday night, it was a bit dried, but once I threw the extra broth into the pot and mixed it around a bit – the dish was looking much better, and it came out really nicely!

To pair with the mushroom risotto, I opened a bottled of the much-heralded 2010 Midbar Viognier! I wrote about the Midbar Winery (AKA Asif Winery), and my love for their product has not waned in the least! A few weeks ago I opened a SICK bottle of the White 44 and this week I opened my only bottle of the Midbar Viognier.

To say that Viognier works well with Risotto is like saying; the sun comes up each morning and that true port wine works well with blue or Stinson cheese – Duh! The viscous white, spicy, and honeyed liquid matches perfectly with the earthy and rich risotto flavors – a match made in heaven!

Thanks so much to Ya’acov Oryah and Midbar Winery for selling me the wines – money well spent!

2010 Midbar Viognier, Midbar Collection – Score: A- to A
We tasted this wine at the winery and having it again at the house brought back many of the great memories and remined me of the flavors we had there. The nose explodes with varietal true aromas of jasmine, rose, violet, pear, guava, honeysuckle, and green notes. The mouth is viscous like oil and textured with it as well, with ripe nectarine, peach, green and yellow apple, a body that goes forever and honey on top. The finish is long and spicy with great mineral, lemon/lime curd and tart notes on the long and green finish – BRAVO and WOW!

Great red and white wines enjoyed over Shavuot

This past Shavuot we had family over and enjoyed some great wines, a bunch of lovely sushi, and cheeses, and a brisket dinner to boot. The sushi was enjoyed for both the first night and lunch meal. The sushi rice was messed up by me, but my nephew and I rescued it and we had some great fish to make it all work.

To pair with Sushi for two meals we started with the highly conventional, and then veered way off course as well. To start we enjoyed three white wines; 2010 Carmel White Riesling, the 2010 Midbar white 44, and the 2007 Hagafen Brut. The Carmel Riesling started off really nice but quickly faded – so be careful with what bottles you have left and drink up fast. The Hagafen Brut was rocking and lovely, and the Midbar 44, was the best white and the second best wine of Shavuot.

The next day we went the highly unconventional route and enjoyed two res with the sushi meal – but hey who cares, I wanted to enjoy them. First we opened the last bottle of my 2001 Yarden Ortal Merlot and then we opened a bottle of the 2009 Shiloh Legend.

For dinner we had brisket and then for the following lunch some cheeses. Overall a lovely yom tov and the added family made it something special. The wine notes follow below:

2010 Carmel Riesling, Single Vineyard, Kayoumi Vineyard – Score: B+ to A-
I had this wine again over Shavuot though the wine really impressed when I opened it and enjoyed it – it died a few hours later. Initially – when opened it gives you a sense of sweetness though it is bright and ripe but with little residual sugar. The nose starts off with lovely floral notes, clear peach and apricot, along with an intense citrus brightness, melon and spice. The mouth is rich with citrus, lemon, ripe pink grapefruit, all backed by a great bracing acid. The finish is long with nice mineral, slate, citrus zest, vanilla, and baking spices. This wine is in drink NOW or drink UP mode. Get it cold and enjoy within the next few months.

2007 Hagafen Brut Cuvée – Score: A-
The 2007 Brut Cuvee Sparkling Wine is a blend of 78% Pinot Noir and 22% Chardonnay. The beautiful light salmon color really comes out in the glass, which is expressive with nice white chocolate, bright citrus, fig, cherry, and melon. The mouth hits you with an attack of lovely small mouse bubbles, along with brioche, apple, citrus, quince, and yeast. The finish is long and tantalizing, with good complexity, nice structure, and bracing acidity to keep the whole experience rich and bubbly!

2010 Midbar White 44 – Score: A- to A
Having brought back tow of these beautiful bottles home – it was time to enjoy one with sushi! The wine is a blend of Gewurztraminer 25%, Sauvignon Blanc 20%, Chardonnay 20%, Viognier 20%, Semillon 15%. Yeah, five grapes yet called the 44, who cares – the wine concentrate on the wine!!! This one blew me away, the aromas literally are in a cage match to the death, fighting each other tooth and nail until one becomes victorious. I did not stand around long enough to find out whom the winner would be, but in the end with a wine like this – we who enjoy it are the lucky winners indeed! Yaacov explained that Gewurztraminer is one of his hardest grapes to control, it has soapy or unwanted flavors and he does things with it to minimize the bad and accentuate the good. He does cold whole bunch press, and he blends it with all of these grapes to get the most out of all of them. The nose is redolent with super ripe summer fruit, crazy ripe orange, grapefruit, violet, rose, honeysuckle, and litchi. The mouth is rich, round, honeyed, and insane, with layers of complexity and flavors, starting with ripe nectarine, guava, green and yellow apple, all coming at you in waves. The oily texture and the summer fruit combine for a mouth captivating wine. The finish is long and spicy with nuts, almonds, marzipan, tart fruit, candied grapefruit, and earthy mineral notes! The wine did not disappoint at the winery or at home! Bravo!!

2001 Yarden Merlot, Ortal Vineyard – Score: A- to A
Love it again – wow what age can do to a sweet wine!!! I could not wait the two years I said I would – wanted to share it with family, so it was time to enjoy! What a glorious wine, the wine showed date and raisin in the past, but now this wine is round, ripe, and rich, with layers of concentrated fruit, mouth coating tannin, and rich body. The wine now shows beautifully and is a wine that we did not have time to watch open as the wine disappeared in almost no time, clearly the winner of Shavuot. The nose starts off with bright and ripe blackberry, rich dark cherry, clear herbs and green leanings that flow into good dirt, earth, and smokiness. The mouth is rich, layered, concentrated, and round, showing what the perfect balance of oak, ripe fruit, and time can create. The mouth is full bodied, and the best merlot that I have tasted from Yarden, with cassis, black plum, red currant, lovely mouth coating tannin, awesome bracing acid, and more earthiness that brings the whole mouth together, with hints of sweet cedar. The finish is long and spicy with black pepper, mineral, chocolate, rich leafy tobacco, and more dirt. What a great wine and one that is as good as it is going to get – so drink up now!!!

2009 Shiloh Legend – Score: A-
The nose on this mevushal purple colored wine explodes with ripe blueberry, dark cherry, ripe raspberry, licorice, and lovely spice, with a hint of roasted meat and smokiness which leaves soon enough for more crazy spices and ripe fruit. The mouth on this full bodied, ripe, round wine is expressive with sweet fruit, blackberry, ripe strawberry, plum, more blue fruit, along with sweet cedar, and mouth coating tannin that lingers and makes the mouth feel ripe, sweet, and round. The finish is long and spicy with nice vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate mocha, black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and mint. Over time the wine opens further to show grapefruit, pineapple, watermelon, and more lovely baking spices – BRAVO! With all the overripe and over sweet 2009 wines from Israel – this is a wine that shows you what control in Israel can taste like.

Israel wineries I visited in the Judean Hills and the Shomron during my second week and the The Wine Mill wine shop

Wine Mill wine shop in the center of Jerusalem

The Wine Mill wine shop

Last week I posted that I was in Israel for three weeks over the month of December, and in that first post I wrote about the wineries I saw in the Galilee wine region (the north of Israel). What I failed to talk about was Gabriel Geller and his wine shop in the middle of Jerusalem. I spoke about the Wine Mill wine shop in a previous post, it is located smack dab in the middle of Jerusalem, close to the city center, and to many hotels and restaurants. The address for the Wine Mill wine shop is 8, Ramban Street, 92422 Jerusalem, Israel, it is a shop that I can say is stocked with wines that I would be happy to enjoy and is the main wine shop that I use when in Israel. Why? Because Geller knows his wines, sells only wines he or his customers like, and knows the wines he sells. His shop is filled with wines that are often only sold at the winery itself, like Midbar Winery wines (see below) or Herzberg Winery wines (see below). His shop is also filled with small winery wines, like Weitzman Petite Verdot, or Gat Shomron Winery, and many others. Please do not think that this is a paid advertisement or something – LOL! I do not take money from people. I bring up Gabriel Geller and the Wine Mill, because during my three week stay in Israel, I was either in Geller’s store, with Geller himself, or calling Geller everyday, including Friday day and Saturdays (Saturday night of course)!

As I ended the previous posting – I wrote about my take on the Israeli wine scene, and I would like to add some more thoughts to the thread:

  1. If I had to give a color or fruit that best describes the 2010 vintage in Israel – it would blueberry! YES blueberry! No, I am not talking about malbec or Syrah or Petite Verdot. What I am talking about is all of those and more shockingly, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot! Try it out and see for yourself. When I asked the wine makers about it, they said that the growing conditions of 2010, hot and then cool led to the blue flavors.
  2. 2010 and on can well be the year of the small wine maker. Wineries are coming and going – that is for sure, but it is also a fact that small production wineries, like Herzberg Winery and Gat Shomron winery are popping up and staying afloat – because they do not have that much wine to move. Time will tell.
  3. Finally, more and more high level and high quality mevushal is occurring in Israel. Shiloh winery has been doing it for a few years now, as is Binyamina on its reserve series and cave, and others. It is not widespread or low quality. The process is being done at great cost and at great effort – bringing forth quality wine that happens to be mevushal, much like Herzog and Hagafen. While this is true of the few that I have listed above, Recanati has started doing it to some of their diamond label wines and the outcome is not that great. The 2010 Shiraz tasted cooked while the non-mevushal bottle in Israel did not have that taint – time will tell how these experiments will turn out.
  4. If you must pick a single varietal that shines in the Shomron – it would be Merlot. All the Merlot wines we tasted from the Shomron (whether made from a winery in the Shomron or wineries that source their grapes from the Shomron – like Teperberg) – the winners were always the Merlot! If it is the cooler weather the higher acidity – who cares – it is great wine!
  5. Wineries are getting the message – making more old-world wines with Israeli fruit. What that means to me is to make ripe and sweet wines that are controlled without the overripe date and raisin bombs that were so very prevalent some 5 years ago. In its place I find that Israeli wineries are producing wine with sweet and ripe fruit, while all the while showing clear control of both the sweetness of the fruit and the amount of oak used.
  6. Israel residents are finally starting to understand that they live in a Mediterranean country (with one of their borders on the Med) with blazing hot summers and therefore need to start appreciating white wines! I know, Jews like to drink red wines, something to do with the whole kiddush and shabbos thing. Still, white wine is lovely and is a wine that can be done well in Israel. Take the Midbar winery as an example. A winery that was built on the premise of making GREAT white wines in Israel! It took a long time for the perfect storm to occur, the nexus point of Israeli residents wanting white wines and for wineries to excel at the production of good white wines. Maybe it was a chicken-egg thing between the wineries and the residents, or maybe it was the whole culture thing – but Israeli wineries are figuring it now. More and more every winery is making a Rose, a Chardonnay, and many are doing Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling wines, and many others. So keep a look out for very solid Israeli white wines – they may actually remove them from Israel’s endangered species list!
  7. The main high end red wines being poured at wineries in Israel are shmitta wines, wines from the 2008 vintage. I say this simply as a warning and no more than that. If you care, than skip the wines. If you do not worry about it – than do what you wish. I simply state it here as an informational notice. Read the rest of this entry

Midbar Winery (aka Asif Winery) – the “kosher” white wine leader of Israel

To say Midbar Winery is unique – would be an understatement of the world. However, to say it might be the most unique kosher winery in Israel, may well NOT be an understatement at all. Midbar Winery is a newly minted winery from the recently closed Asif winery and a new influx of cash from investors. Yeah – yeah, I am getting to it – hold your horses. Asif Winery is a winery that was established in 2006 to do what no one in Israel could do well – create great kosher white wines. According to Yaacov and the winery’s website: Midbar Winery in Arad, was established to develop, promote and celebrate winemaking in the Negev desert. Midbar is the Hebrew word for desert – and our vineyards, typically over 800 meters above sea level, benefit from the Negev’s unique terroir. Another great quote from Yaacov – White is the New Red.

Now, before I get ahead of myself too far, I must state that this winery is not kosher – as in the customary manner. The wine carries no supervision stamp, or hecsher, for a variety of reasons. However, having heard the story of Ya’acov Oryah, I had to visit the winery to find out more. Yaacov Oryah started the winery in 2006 and though he lacked a kosher wine symbol many people like me happily drink his wine. Why? Simple enough – I trust the man, and being that Yaacov Oryah is a religious man – that is all that I need. However, my nonchalant attitude in this area may well concern others, and it is for this reason that I may keep the wines I schlepped back from Israel for myself – or with the folks that are trusting as I am.

Midbar Winery and the conatiner farm-smallFor a deeper understanding of why and how this came to be – I advise a wonderful trip to the south of Israel where a lovely, honest, hard working, humble, and successful winemaker will explain the situation to you and if you like what you hear – like I did, I highly recommend his wines. I can openly say that he is not against having supervision, but as your parents used to say to you when you were young – “it is complicated”! The good news is that falling in love with his wines is the farthest thing from complicated!

In retrospect I think that Yaacov should hang two signs above his winery’s door. The first one stating; He who enters should be brave of heart, open of mind, desiring of all things ripe, honeyed, fruity, and floral in so many ways. The second one should read: He who wishes to enter these hallowed halls should be in love with wine of a white persuasion and not the Moscato kind or other overly sweet enchantments. If you lack the interest in grand and lovely white wines than please do not waste the time of the master who works beyond these gates. He is a man who makes white wine a priority rather than a nice-to-have item. Please leave him alone and bother him not so that he can make us all more great white elixirs! Read the rest of this entry

%d bloggers like this: