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Herzog Wine Cellars continues to impress with red wines from 2018, 2019, and now the 2020 vintages

In case you missed the last Herzog Wine Cellars post – please check that out here, I see no need to repeat all of the same content! That said – wow! The 2017 vintage was tough, it was tough for all of Cali, it was a bad vintage. Thankfully, 2017 is past us, and we have 2018 and 2019 looking mighty fine, given the scores/notes from the last post and the ones from this new tasting. Throw in ONE 2020 red wine, the 2020 Herzog Choreograph, which is fun, extremely well balanced, and literally what I wrote – fun!

The other wines in the tasting are from 2018 and 2019 and they garnered QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) WINNER, GREAT, GOOD, or EVEN scores. Still, the most impressive wines, from this tasting, came from the 2019 vintage, the 2019 Herzog Pinot Noir, Reserve, and the 2019 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Lake County. There were also two 2018 wines, the WINNING 2018 Herzog Merlot, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley, a return after almost 20 years of hiatus. Along with the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Napa Valley. The 2019 French and American Oak wines were not as good as in previous vintages. Also, the 2019 Lineage Pinot Noir was not as good as previous vintages, though I liked the Lineage Chardonnay.

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 to you all, California is getting even crazier – stay safe guys! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2018 Herzog Merlot, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley (M) – Score: 91 (QPR: WINNER)
This is the return of the Alexander Valley Merlot – Miles is dead (not in real life but you get the gist)! The nose on this wine calls to mind a Zinfandel more than a Merlot, which is helped by what I think is sweet American Oak, followed by hickory, sweet sugar/toffee notes, followed by blue and red fruit, licorice, with violet notes, and smoke. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine, to start shows more like Zinfandel than Merlot, with enough complexity to grab you, followed by fine tannins to start, but they grip and drape with time, strawberry, boysenberry, cranberry, and hints of pomegranate, with intense garrigue, sweet zin berry notes, and everything that makes me want to say this is a Zinfandel. The finish is long, green, red, smoky, and gripping with tannin, boysenberry, leather, and more violets. You see why I think this is a Zinfandel! With more time the wine does not change, in the end, it is a nice wine that does not taste like a Merlot to me. (tasted March 2021)

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Herzog Wine cellar’s 2018 lineup is sensational – beyond just the Cabernet Sauvignons

Herzog Wine Cellars (which now go by herzogwine.com not herzogwinecellars.com, no idea why they dropped that and emails bounce all over the place, a better idea would have been simple web/MX record routing/forwarding – but enough tech talk) has been in the wine business, in California, since 1984. The days of San Martin, when I met Josh Goodman and his wife (PSA – be careful with how you pronounce her name) when they were in the San Jose Jewish community. In those days, San Jose was the closest thing to a community for them, that was close enough to San Martin, for them to live a Jewish life and work as cellar rat/master at Herzog Wine cellars. With time, the Herzog moved to Santa Maria, which was closer to the L.A. area and then they finally moved to the location they are today, in Oxnard, in 2005.

In the start, the head winemaker was Peter Stern, mostly as a part-time winemaker. In 1998, Joe Hurliman joined as the full-time winemaker at Herzog Wine and they have not looked back, thankfully! In that time, Joseph Herzog took over running the winery and Tierra Sur, the wonderful restaurant attached to the winery. Soon after moving into the Oxnard winery/facility, Herzog undertook multiple manners to interact with their customers. The first approach was the winery’s tasting room, which is still highly pivotal in attracting all members and customers into tasting Herzog wines. They also started with many wine clubs, with the most influential one being Eagle’s Landing. It has become the area where Mr. Hurliman can truly experiment, at smaller scales, than even the Special Edition series and craft wines that he would love to see become mainstream. Things like Santa Rita Pinot Noir, Templeton Pass Zinfandel (we need more of that kind of Zin being made!!), and Paso Robles Syrah. These are not new to the kosher world as much as they are good to see at the scale and care that Herzog can bring to these varietals and wines.

One cannot talk about Herzog without talking about a few very poignant points:

  1. Mevushal
  2. Cabernet Sauvignon
  3. Vineyards
  4. Ageability
  5. L.A. KFWE/IFWF/Tierra Sur – Todd Aarons

Mevushal Program

Herzog did not invent the Mevushal methodology in the new era of kosher wine, which was done by Hagafen Winery, but Herzog has been equal or slightly better than Hagafen as time has progressed. When you ask who does the best with Mevushal in wines – the answer is Hagafen and Herzog, there is no one else in their league. Royal Wines Europe does a nice job as well, but they are two peas in the same pod. Rollan de By does a very good job as well.

The next question you will consistently get is – does the Mevushal process hurt wine? The answer is complex and like everything in this world, it depends. It depends on the process you use, the varietals you “boil”, and for how long you do the process, and at what temperature. Long ago, people have stopped boiling wine – they moved to Flash pasteurization or Flash Detente, both in the kosher wine world and outside of it. The length of time and the temperature of the flash is one that is hotly debated in the Rabbinic kosher world, which is why you will see many put the temperature the wine was flashed at, on the wine bottle itself. Few wineries will flash Pinot Noir or Grenache as these wines are delicate and will not gain from the flash process. Herzog does flash their Lineage Pinot and it is not a wine for long holding so that works with what they are shooting for. Hagafen, flashes everything and as such, they do flash the Pinot and Pinot Prix, but IMHO it has been hurting the wines in recent vintages. Doing the Mevushal process to Cabernet Sauvignon is one that works and may well be the most prevalent of the varietals out there that go through the Mevushal process.

Cabernet Sauvignon

This leads us to the standing joke, in regards to Herzog Wine Cellars, that Herzog makes more Cabernet Sauvignon, in a single vintage, than almost any winery makes wine, across all labels. They are the Cab Kings like Oryah is the Orange wine Factory. My last count was 27 Cabernet sauvignons across all labels, which is a crazy number, but to be fair, they know what their customers want. No matter the price, style, makeup, or focus of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Herzog has a Cab for you and that has been their motto for as long as they have been at Oxnard, and maybe even a bit before in Santa Maria.

Vineyards

Herzog has done a very good job in both managing leases/relationships with vineyards – dating back to the early days of the 1990s. Chalk Hill and Alex Reserve are both examples of vineyards they have managed to lease and continue to do so for decades. This is not anything new in any way, but it was for kosher California wines in the 1990s. Hagafen Winery has had vineyards that they have leased or owned for long stretches’ of time as well. It is just a very impressive thing to have done back then.

They have quietly been buying vineyards all around California. It started in 2010 when they were forced to buy the land or lose their longtime relationship with Clarksburg grapes. Then in 2017, they bought 2 plots of land in lake County. Then in 2018, they bought the Herzog Ridge Vineyard in Napa Valley. The new 2018/2019 Forebearer wines (listed below) are from that vineyard.

Ageability

There are not many wineries today, in the kosher market, that have wines dating backing to 1996 that still blow my mind. yes, I continue to have my mind blown by 1997 Four Gates Merlot or Pinot Noir, and Yarden made some wines back then that were pretty good as well. However, to have made wine continuously, minus a few years here and there, I would have to say, the only ones that come to mind are Capcanes (until 2015), Herzog, and Four Gates. That is quite an impressive feat and one that helps me to buy their wines on an almost yearly basis.

L.A. KFWE/IFWF/Tierra Sur – Todd Aarons

Tierra Sur was a smash hit years before IFWF came to Los Angeles in 2008. Todd Aarons was running the ship and he could well have been the first kosher Chef-Driven restaurant, at least in the USA. There were a few in Paris in the late 1990s that were quite the thing. Still, Chef Aarons brought that flair, focus on ingredients, and presentation to a far-flung location, outside of L.A., but within driving distance, that made Tierra Sur world-famous for kosher and non-kosher consumers alike.

The IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival), the west coast’s KFWE was Herzog’s way of showing off the food over the wine. The 2007 KFWE, and many after it, was more focused on the wine and good for them! What Herzog has done for so long with the IFWF or the KFWE is to showcase what Los Angeles has over the east coast, at least at that time for sure, which was the weather and great food!

2018 Wines

Now on to the wines! The 2017 vintage was not kind to much of California and sadly it affected Herzog wines as well. I did like the 2017 Lineage Chardonnay and the 2017 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County, with the Clone Six showing some elegance from under the issues of the vintage. All of that is in the past and the 2018 vintage is another winner. These wines are rich and layered and truly a joy – I would not sit long on the sidelines, I would buy these ASAP before they all go away. So to those that ask me – why did you not warn me – you have been warned!

In the end, this vintage is a WINNER across the board. The Forebearers are nice wines but they are relatively expensive, in comparison to other Herzog options, from 2018. The Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lineage, Reserve, even the Baron Herzog line have great deals and lovely wines. Overall, if I was standing in front of Joe Hurliman at KFWE, I would have said what I am oft to say – Bravo my good sir – BRAVO!

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 to you all, California is getting even crazier – stay safe guys! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2018 and 2019 Forebearers Wines

2018 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Forebearers, Napa Valley (M) – Score: 92+ (QPR: POOR)
The wine is very slow to open, this wine needs time, so give it the respect it deserves. The nose on this wine is lovely, not one of those “Brilliance” fruit bombs, this is a lovely earthy, anise filled joy, with smoke, tar, fruit galore, but well-controlled, with loam, candied ginger, and more fruit. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is oaky, it starts off with a clear focus of oak, and has a bit of a hole, but with time, as I said, this needs it, the hold fills in well, with a rich coat of mouth-draping tannin, earth, sweet dill, oak, blackberry, dark cherry, hints of plum, and currants, all wrapped in tannin and oak, very nice. The finish is plush, and tart, with good acidity, earth, more dill, sweet smoking tobacco, dark chocolate, and anise. Really nice, a wine to get and store away. Bravo!
With loads of time, this wine really starts to shine and I highly underestimated it, this wine is super young and needs time. I would wait 3 years to play with this again. Let this beast lie. Drink from 2024 until 2028 maybe longer. (tasted Nov 2020)

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A lineup of the available 2018 kosher Pinot Noirs from around the world

In the past few months, there have been many releases of Pinot Noir from the 2018 vintage. For the most part, there are no real winners here, QPR and otherwise, except for two – the Herzog Pinot Noir, Reserve, and the Herzog Eagle’s Landing Pinot Noir (though the Eagle’s Landing is the only QPR WINNER).

The tasting included all the wines I could find though I left out two, the 2018 Barkan Pinot Noir and the 2018 Tura Pinot Noir. Both of them are Mevushal, and they do a HORRIBLE job on Mevushal, so I did not want to waste my money. My love for all things Pinot is well known, and I had such high hopes. I also seemed to have missed tasting the 2018 Vitkin Pinot Noir, as well.

It is funny how the media can change people’s perspectives, and in some cases twist them in a way that we would not expect.  Say Pinot Noir and most wine drinkers will think of the enigmatic anti-hero Miles Raymond, and his explanation on his love for Pinot Noir; “…It’s, uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know?…“.  Pinot is a complicated grape – but not to its detriment.  Listen to Miles throughout Sideways and you may come to think that Pinot is fleeting, flinty, thin, and complicated. In the end, as you watch that horrible movie, you quickly realize that Miles was simply projecting in a fire fueled rambling and using Pinot Noir as his conduit.

To the French, Pinot Noir is called Burgundy – following the tradition of French wineries to name their wines after the region where the grapes are grown. Americans have had success with Pinot – in California, Oregon, and Washington State. New Zealand, has taken the lead in bringing the grape into the 21st century. The French Burgundy has its terroir (earthy dirt flavors, sometimes barnyard flavors as well). The New Zealand and American Pinots show characteristics that are more akin to Syrah than Burgundy – fruit-forward, meaty wines with soft caressing tannins. The rest of the world is choosing sides. Though true terroir flavors are hard to replicate outside of Burgundy, many countries have been successful at bringing out the true fruit characteristics that the land is willing to share and are creating wonderful Pinot Noirs. Israel was starting to come into its own with Pinot Noir, now all I would buy from Israel, in regards to Pinot would be from Gvaot. Yes, Vitkin does a nice enough job, but Gvaot does a better one. Right now, the best bet is France and the USA, with a drop from Israel, and after that, we are on empty. Sadly, 2018 was not a great year for Four Gates and what I had was not great, it was never officially bottled, but we have 2019 coming soon!

Sadly, Pinot Noir to me is one of those wines that is so badly mangled in the kosher wine world, that it is no shock that most kosher oenophiles, turn face when u say Pinot Noir. Not on account of the Pinot Noir grapes themselves, but rather on account of the pathetic state of kosher Pinot Noir wine on the market.

Say, Pinot Noir to me, and sadly I can only think of:

Pinot Noir is one of my favorite wines, NO NOT because of sideways! I loved the wine long before that horrific cult movie hit the theaters. I love PN for what it stands for – complexity through things other than fruit! A well made Pinot Noir, in my humble opinion, needs to be of medium body, medium fruit structure, accompanied by mounds of dirt, mushroom, barnyard, and earthy goodness. The ultimate aspect of a great PN is the secondary flavors, not the fruit, not cherry cola, and for the LOVE OF GOD not OAK! It is all about the secondary and old age notes that come with time and love.

Sadly, look at that list. Four Gates is tough to get in quantity. The Gvaot Pinot is available, but they are more Cab and rich than a pure ethereal wine, though very impressive. The Eagle’s Landing 2013 vintage is still available at the winery, and the 2016/2018 vintages rocked! The real winners are the French options, but they are NOT cheap.

So, where are we? Some like the Galil Pinot and other such structured wines, but to me, they are just bad Cabernet in a Pinot’s clothing. This is a shortlist. Heck, there are HUNDREDS of Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, even many Cabernet Franc options. But say Pinot and numbers dwindle in the blink of an eye. Further, many of the options here are vintage based. For the true Pinot lover, Four Gates and France are your sure bets. Sadly, only the last one is pumping out wines consistently.

PSA: What is wrong with you all?? The Eagle’s Landing Pinot Noir has consistently been a high-rated wine and one that lasts for a very long time, improving along the way with great panache. Yet, you can still buy the 2013 and 2016 vintages of this wonderful wine!! I bought a bunch of 2013 from Herzog. I get NOTHING to tell you this other than pleasure. BUY the wine and enjoy one bottle now and save the others for a rainy day in 2026. Buy this now!!

Sadly, there were no surprises here, the 2018 Gvaot was nice, the Eagle’s Landing was great, and the Herzog Reserve Pinot (a return after many years of non-production) was also very nice. That is about it. The 2018 Jean Luc & Paul Aegerter Burgundies were tasted previously (the notes added here for completeness).

The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2018 Herzog Eagle’s Landing Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills – Score: 93 (QPR: WINNER)
Let me start by saying buy this wine, buy lots of this wine, I mean a LOT! OK, now this wine is a bigger and richer version of the 2013 Eagle’s Landing Pinot Noir, in other words, this wine is a beast, a winner, and yes – get this wine! My only comment is that this wine is not a classically styled Pinot Noir. This wine is full-bodied and not so much about cherry and raspberry and more about blackberry and spice, I would not have initially guessed this was a Pinot Noir, still this a wonderful wine. My only real complaint is the strangely small cork used as its closure, when the Cabernet Franc has a much longer cork, just not sure why. Anyway, I do not care about corks, as long as they last long enough to meet the drinking window.
The nose on this wine is pure heaven, coffee and chocolate, and fruit madness, with dirt, mushroom, loam, and spice, all wrapped in dark and brooding fruit, showing control, spice, earth, and sheer umami notes, wow!! The mouth on this full-bodied wine is wow! the mouth starts very softly, almost like a leopard crouching before it pounces upon its prey, this wine is beautifully structured to last, and so well made it is almost difficult to get all the thoughts out of my head, layers of fruit, acid, tannin, salinity (that is incredible), black olives, with epic fruit structure and concentration, with clear and bold and jammy blackberry, raspberry, dark cherry, with intense saline, forest floor, searing acidity, and layers of dark jammy brooding but well-controlled fruit. With time the cherry and raspberry fall behind the intense black and intense brooding fruit. The finish is equally impressive with layers of chocolate, coffee, leather, spices, nutmeg, cloves, rich earth, lovely smoking tobacco leaves, sweet and jammy fruit, all wrapped in mineral, spice, and earth. Bravo!!! Drink from 2024 until 2033 or longer.

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Some Four Gates & Brobdingnagian wines that continue to shine in their age

This past Purim, Benyamin Cantz from Four Gates wine swung by the home with other guys from the shul, and we tasted a few older wines. This is not the first time we have been spoiled by Benyo and his wonderful wines. The last time we enjoyed his wines was last year Purim, but this one included even older wines. We had a couple of his older wines a few years ago with Andrew from Blue Smoke at Benyo’s place.

I have posted about two large tastings with friends at Four Gates where we enjoyed some well-aged wines, here in 2014 and then again in 2015. In those cases, just like recently, the wines all showed beautifully, though one showed more new-world in style than other vintages. The first and oldest that I enjoyed was the 1996 vintage Merlot, long before Benyamin used monikers like La Rochelle, M.S.C., or Cuvee D 🙂

Yes, you are now thinking, wait the first vintage of Four Gates was 1997, no? Yes, you are correct, however, Benyamin also made an entire vintage in 1996, however, because of liquor licensing reasons, he was not allowed to sell, but we sure enjoyed MANY of them for years!

Of the recently tasted Four Gates Merlot wines, the 1997 vintage shows a very old world style. While the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon shows a very new world style. The ageless 2005 Syrah is now at its end, and it showed mid-world in style and was a true joy! Finally, we opened a 2010 Four Gates Petit Verdot. To pair with his 2010 Four Gates Petit Verdot, I opened a 2010 Brognagian Petit Verdot, a wine made by Jonathan Hajdu, the first Petit Verdot he made, just like the Four Gates was also Benyo’s first Petit Verdot in 2010. The Brobdingnagian was slightly riper and fruit-forward than the Four Gates, but both were quite enjoyable, with the Four Gates taking home the medal.

I must say that as annoyed as I am from how few people age their wines, and how early they drink young wines, I have been seeing a new desire for well-aged wines. In my article on Bordeaux, I wrote about how to build a successful cellar, and recently, I have been enjoying some wonderfully aged Four Gates wines.

As I stated in that article, Four Gates has been blessed with land and climate that gives Benyamin Cantz grapes that are dripping with acid and terroir. The grapes he sources from his vineyard, that he personally tends to, are; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.

My many thanks to Benyo for sharing his wines and allowing me to truly enjoy what age can do for a wine that has the potential to improve from long cellaring.

The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

1997 Four Gates Merlot – Score: 95+
First of all OMG are you kidding me!!!!! This wine is purple in color and now fully integrated and perfectly balanced and mouth coating with black and red fresh fruit! Wow, this wine is killing!!! This bottle was brought by Benyo, and it shows how awesome his wines age!

This wine’s color is not bricking – after 22 years!! The nose is redolent with black and red fruit, graphite, blackberry, raspberry, with absurd barnyard, lovely mushroom, rich loamy earth, along with lovely oak influence. The mouth on this medium+ bodied wine is layered and rich with lovely mouth coating tannin, followed by concentration of black fruit, dark cherry, cranberry, lovely green notes, sweet herb, and garrigue, with barnyard notes, all rising with sweet oak and tannin. The finish is long with tons of good mineral, ripe fruit, chocolate, vanilla, depth of flavor, and calming acid to bring this entire wine together. The fact that the wine continues to coat my mouth and linger long after it is gone blows me away. Throw in its age and I am further blown away. This wine is still drinking beautifully! Drink until 2024.

2005 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Score: 90
This wine is a fruity, really new world in style, this is the Cab to which Benyo added acid. The nose on this wine is over the top but really well controlled, with rich fruit, ripe blackberry, raspberry, with loads of anise, tar, and earth. The mouth on this full bodied wine is too ripe for me, over the top, it is showing sweeter than in the past, with loads of blackberry, rich sweet tannin, sweet cedar, and oak, with loads of sweet fruit notes, and spice. The finish is long, sweet, with notes of sweet cherry saver candy, tobacco galore, with nice spice, crazy fruit structure, loads of leather, and earth. Drink up!!!

2005 Four Gates Syrah, Special Reserve – Score: 91
The nose on this wine is lovely, ripe, with lovely roasted animal, blueberry, with loads of black fruit, and slight oxidation. The mouth on this wine is starting to show its age, with nice dirt, blue and black fruit, with loads of tar, lovely acid, and mouth coating tannin, that is still feeling well, but the wine is losing its speed. The finish is long, black and blue, with dirt, and tobacco galore, with anise, and root beer. drink NOW!!!!

2010 Brobdignagian Petit Verdot – Score: 91
This wine is 9 years old and it looks young. There is no bricking, beautiful dark red, showing nicely. The nose is lovely, showing nice ripe red fruit, juicy blue fruit, with licorice, lemongrass, animal fat, with hints of black fruit. The mouth on this medium+ bodied wine is ripe, but beautifully controlled, with great draping mouthfeel, with lovely searing tannin, good acidity, with blackberry, raspberry, dark cherry, with hints of juicy and yet tart blueberry, with a great fruit focus, and layers of lovely fruit and concentration. The finish is long, juicy, controlled, and tart fruit, with green notes, lovely mint, oregano, sweet baking spices, dark chocolate, and roasted herbs. Bravo!!! Drink by 2020.

2010 Four Gates Petit Verdot – Score: 93+
This wine is 9 years old and it looks young. There is no bricking, beautiful dark red, showing nicely. The nose is lovely, showing nice ripe blue and red fruit but more elegant than the brob, which is more of a sweet hammer, showing green notes, earth, and hints of mushroom, with red fruit, licorice, lovely floral notes, with smokey notes of roasted game, and lovely sweet garrigue. The mouth on this full bodied wine has evolved beautifully, showing still sweet herb, black pepper, but super balanced with great acidity, along with layers of concentrated blackberry, strawberry, and boysenberry all wrapped in rich earth, and toasted oak, with a plush and mouth draping velvet – so good! The finish is long with mouth coating tannin, bittersweet chocolate, tobacco, and sweet herb. LOVELY!!! Drink until 2022.

Wines enjoyed over purim

Well, the OTBN of last week flowed right into Purim this year and that meant there as a lot of wine consumed over a short period of time. That is all fine with me, but it took some time to get this down is all. Though I will be very short this time, I did want to highlight a few wines that surprised me on the good and the bad. The 2011 Hagafen Cabernet Sauvignon opened nicely, but then turned on me very hard – not quite dates, but far too sweet and unbalanced for my liking. The 2010 Carmel Cabernet Franc, while showing nicely in Israel, and lush here was fine for the first few hours, but then went straight to date juice. This was the Israeli label I hand carried back home, so I do not think this wine is long for cellaring – but nice out of the bottle.

Finally, the 2013 Dalton Viognier is ready to go. Last year the wine was tight and closed, and needed a real decanting to bring it to life. That is not needed any longer! It is delightful from the bottle and I think has three or so years left in the tank, but it is clearly ready and very close to peak, if not there already.

The wine notes follow below:

2013 Dalton Viognier Reserve – Score: A- (and more)
All I can say – IT IS BACK!!! Thank goodness for that! It has been too long without a GREAT kosher Viognier option. The 2012 was a nice wine, but it paled in comparison to the 2007-9 vintages. The 2013 is CRUSHING in comparison and is the best kosher Viognier I have ever tasted, so BRAVO!
The last time we had this wine it needed air galore, that is not the case anymore. Beyond that, there is not much that has changed about this wine!
The wine continues it heritage of wild yeast fermentation and was aged in French oak for four months. The nose on this wine shows beautiful notes of ripe melon, pear, peach, along with crazy floral notes of violet and rose. The mouth on this full bodied wine is oily and textured with layers of honeyed notes of peach and apricot, spiced melon, mango, crazy acid and intense concentration of ripe summer fruits, all balanced with bracing acidity, bitter notes, and sweet oak. The finish is long and intensely spicy with saline, mineral, slate, white pepper and hints of vanilla and lovely bakers spices. BRAVO on many levels!!!!!

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.

This wine is slowing down – so DRINK UP!!!

2013 Don Ernesto Vin Gris – Score: A-
WHAT a nose fresh squeezed strawberry, rose hips, raspberry, and peach. The mouth on this Syrah rose, is viscous, medium weight, and lovely, with great acid, lovely mineral, and awesome fruit. The strawberry explodes with kiwi, guava, currant, quince, cranberry, and orange marmalade. The finish is long and spicy and bitter with hints of herb, orange pith, saline, mineral, and slate – BRAVO!!!!

2005 Hagafen Zinfandel, Reserve, Estate Bottled, Moskowite Ranch Block 61 – Score: B+
Sadly I kept this too long. This bottle felt thin and dying, still had great acid and spice, with OK fruit. Drink up!!!

2011 Hagafen Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Score: B+
The nose on this purple colored wine is rich with prefume of blackberry, lovely black fruit, hints of blueberry, nice anise, and dirt. The medium body is tinged with mad acid and mineral, along with a lovely mouth coating tannin that gives the wine body, along with great acid and mad graphite, cassis, CRAZY kirsch black cherry, and green foliage. The finish is long and green with bright fruit, leather, chocolate, vanilla, and lovely sweet dill and tobacco leaves. Very nice.

With time, an hour or two, this wine breaks down very quickly. I would be careful.

2010 Carmel Cabernet Franc, Vineyards – Score: B+
Vineyards is essentially the Appellations label and a lovely CF it is. This is the Israeli label, the US label continues with the appellations label and animals.
This wine is blend of 85% Cab Franc, 10% Cabernet, and 5% Petit Verdot. The nose on this wine is rich and lovely with raspberry, dark cherry, plum, sweet cedar green herb, and foliage. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich and unctuous with mad green bell pepper, tart juicy raspberry, mad tobacco, and lovely mouth coating tannin. The finish is long and green, with sweet herb, firm tannin and more tobacco.
I did like this wine from the start, but after an hour or two it went straight to dates, this is not a wine for long cellaring – and this was the Israeli label.

Another Epic Bites/Bernstein dinner – under control and close to home

Mad scientist in thought and hostA few weeks ago, we had dinner with friends and it centered around an epic bites, AKA Isaac Bernstein test rollout of some new and great oldies. Any excuse to try new Bernstein fare is going to be an epic experience, so I was in. With dusk slowly on its way, the cool evening air slowly coming across the valley, and the sun slowly falling into its nightly bliss, we agreed the best bet was to eat outside, Fresco style.

If anyone has yet to read my previous two postings on all things Epic from Bernstein and group – please read my first dinner with him, and my own dinner that was held in my house.

The funny thing about Bernstein and his crew is that they are becoming super professional and precise and I am still living in the world of 27 courses! So, when I hear 12 courses, I kind of always have a letdown. Sure, the courses are crazy complex and layered and wonderful and I have no idea how long it takes to create or source any of these dishes, but hey I am still a caveman at heart! Still, Bernstein and Epic Bites is slowly moving me away from the awe of the multiple dish madness to the awe of the depth of fewer dishes. The more time I spend with and eat Bernstein’s creations, the more I come to appreciate the effort and the time it takes to get a dish to the point where it blows me away. The sad fact is, that I am getting so spoiled that I may never be able to enjoy another dish! Maybe, Epic Bites should start the “aggressive drug dealer” (totally dinner! Where they gives away free samples of all of their dishes. Then the customers will come to see what I am now suffering from, after they have them hook line and sinker, they will never go back to another dinner anywhere else! There is an idea for the next big event!!!

Course #1 and #2

Course #1 and course #2 Big Eye Tuna, with Heirloom Tomatoes, compacted watermelon, balsamic reduction, shiso dehydrated pine nut - black olive and onion dust, EVO and Tomato:Avacado SorbetThe first two courses were really two at once – a nice and controlled manner to get through the dinner without making it last 4 hours! The first duality were Cubes of Big Eye Tuna and compacted watermelon, with Heirloom Tomatoes, balsamic reduction, and shiso dehydrated pine nut/black olive/onion dust. But the Marilyn Monroe of this couple was served in a shot glass! In it was a Tomato base/Avocado Sorbet covered in EVO and sprinkled with black salt. The seductress stole the spotlight for sure, but it was more than just body and soul, this vixen was creamy, sweet, salty, and acidic, all at the same time. The acid from the tomatoes, balanced to sheer perfection with the green and dreamy dressed avocado sorbet, all covered in a chiffon dress of EVO and accented with black jewels of salt. BRAVO!!

The Big Eye tuna and compacted watermelon was nice, it did not hit it for me, but the black dirt made up of; dehydrated pine nut, black olive, and onion was a classic tour de force for Bernstein and his gastronomical diabolic ways!

I paired the course with a bottle of the 2013 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, which continues to impress even the most cynical of kosher wine drinkers – BRAVO!!!!

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Solid QPR kosher Syrah wines and 2007 Herzog One Over XII Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Without any attempt on my side we enjoyed a Syrah weekend, along with a unique Cabernet Sauvignon from Herzog. This past weekend we were invited to the home of some very good friends of ours, ER and HK, ER of the baking culinary fame! Well this meal was culinary all the way, roast beef, perfectly cooked chicken and great side dishes to boot! OH! I cannot forget that split pea soup, which was quite lovely as well.

We brought two Syrah like wines and another guest brought a Syrah wine, while yet another guest brought the new and limited 2007 Herzog Napa Cab 7. Sorry, I have no pictures, though most of the wines are well-known wines, other than the special Herzog Cabernet. The wine is called: 2007 Herzog One Over XII Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Vivino has an image of it, which is displayed to the left. The wine has a great story, a bunch of barrels from the 2007 Herzog Napa Cab, which we tasted, was left in a barrel for 55 or so months. So, one would think it would be an oak bomb, but it is not overpowering, though friends of mine disagree. The thing that is really lovely about the wine is its caressing and insane tannins and the mineral that jumps up and slaps you across the face! Like I say in the notes – this wine is polarizing and to me that is what good wine is all about! This bottle is limited and available only at the Herzog Winery’s wine bar.

Thanks so MUCH to ER and HK for hosting us and putting up with me! We love hanging with you guys! The wine notes follow below:

2010 Tabor Shiraz, Adama, Terra Rosa – Score: B+
The nose explodes with awesome blueberry, plum, currant, cherry, with loads of dirt and licorice. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine is nice and spicy with good concentration of date, sweet blue and red fruit, nice candied raspberry, sweet cedar, with good integrated tannin, and good extraction. The finish is long and spicy with garrigue, bramble, fig, date, chocolate, light leather, and animal notes. This is a wine that is a hair under the QPR line, though if pressed it could well join the ranks. A great Israeli “supermarket” option for sure. Read the rest of this entry

Three Merlot wines from Israel, two from France, Pacifica Cabernet, and one killer Herzog Napa Cab

2009 Shiloh Merlot, Secret Reserve, Judean HillsI am really behind on my blog, as I have been busy with a new hobby which is taking up all of my time. Anyway, I wanted to highlight the meal we had two weeks ago which was in honor of my nephew and his beux leaving the area to go east. So in honor of them, I wanted to try a bunch of Israeli Merlot wines. Now, when people think of Israel, Merlot is not first on their mind, mostly because many do not appreciate Merlot, which is done incorrectly tastes bland and benign. That blandness and lack of character, was initially its draw, but over time, it was nuked both by the Sideways effect and by its sheer lack of anything fun. The folks in the know, would blank at Merlot from Israel, given the areas hot climate, which is counterproductive to making good Merlot.

The truth is that I have been talking about Merlot from Israel, but Merlot only from the Shomron region, a region that has found a way to harness what Israel has to offer and channel it into lovely and rich Merlot. The Shomron is becoming quite the up and coming wine region, much like the Judean Hills was some ten years ago. Now, Castel, Flam, Tzora, and many other wineries have made the Judean Hills a household name. I think the Shomron will soon follow in its next door neighbors footsteps, and come out from under the shadow of the Jerusalem hills to capture its own claim to fame; namely Merlot!

Merlot, as stated above has many needs, one is climate, two is proper drainage, and three is it needs careful vineyard management to control its vigor, nitrogen levels, and many other intricate issues that make Merlot a finicky grape, though not as maddening as its Sideways replacement Pinot Noir. As a total aside, the Sideways movie to me was far too vulgar and not to my taste, but there is a hidden joke in the movie that many miss. In the movie, the shlubby protagonist, Miles, screams afoul of Merlot and even disses Cabernet Franc, but especially extolls his love for all things Pinot Noir. Why did Miles love Pinot Noir so much, why go to great lengths to get his beloved nectar, well he defined right at the start:

“Um, it’s a hard grape to grow … it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early … it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention … it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked- away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”

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Yitzchok Bernstein and Jonathan Hajdu excellent 27 course tour de force

On Sunday night we were blessed to be part of an extremely exclusive 27-course meal, well more like 30 or so – if you count the decadent small dishes after dessert, but who is really counting. The event was put on by the dynamic duo of Chef Yitzchok Bernstein and Brobdingnagian Wine maker Jonathan Hajdu. The event was a fundraiser for Beth Jacob, Oakland’s Orthodox Synagogue – and what an event it was!

When I have tried to explain the event, attempt to verbalize the magnitude of the effort, and the uniqueness of it all, I have so far failed, till now I hope, to transport the listener, or reader, to the mind-blowing state of conscious that we were all leaving within for 6 or so hours – this past Sunday night. The meal was a, 27 or so course, of mind-blowing culinary talent – coming to life in front of us lucky few. Each dish was hand plated with such exacting detail, that not only did each plate fill us gastronomically, but also the visual sumptuousness of each and every plate truly was equally a feast for one’s senses. The funny thing was that the meal started at 24 courses, as I had an early preview of the menu. However, by the time we lived it, it had grown to 27 and could have been 30, if the participants could have kept up with Bernstein. I was more than happy to taste the other two or so courses, but I did not call it a 30 course meal, as they were not formally served to the participants.

The second we entered the home of the host and hostess we knew we were in for a real treat. The house is a lovely sprawling ranch style home, remodeled to as close as possible to the mid-century modernism style of some 60 years ago, while all the while bringing the current century’s modern touches to life in a truly non-obtrusive manner – a real success in my humble opinion. If the home is an extension of the owners, than the simplest way to summarize the hosts is, sleek, modern, highly functional, with an ode to the past and arms open as wide as the glass sliding doors that truly define minimalist architecture and the MCM movement. The openness and warmth that are exuded by the home’s colors and textures truly reflect the host and hostess, and all of us were constantly in awe of their ability to deftly steer the epic culinary adventure to the success that it was. While the event may have stretched a bit longer than some were ready for, as most needed to go to work the next day, the intimate setting and cosmopolitan mix of people truly added to the entire evening.

With the well-deserved forward now handled, it is only fair to throw the light unto the culinary genius of the evening – Chef Yitzchok Bernstein. Mr. Bernstein is mostly self-taught, but has also received formal training in Bread Baking at French Culinary Institute. He also studied pastry and advanced bread baking at SFBI. (san francisco bakers institute), and has been working in and around restaurants, since the age of 14. Food is a truly passionate thing to Mr. Bernstein; you can see his persona expressed clearly in his food and in his open and warm demeanor. Throughout the evening the dishes were harmonious, balanced, tempered, but never losing focus and always packing more than enough bite, texture, and complexity to grab and keep your attention, until magically there was yet another unending course to partake from. Each course built on the past one, adding layers and nuances that were not lost to the foodies that ensconced the close-knit twin table setting.

The other resident genius at the event was Jonathan Hajdu (jonathan@hajduwines.com), the associate wine maker at Covenant Winery, and is also the wine maker for wines from the Brobdingnagian and Besomim wine labels. The Brobdingnagian/Besomim winery is located in Napa CA. Hajdu wines was started in 2007, by owner and winemaker Jonathan Hajdu. Hajdu produces small lot artisan wines, with a focus on Rhone varietals under the Brobdignagian, and Besomim labels, though the newer wines are veering all over to where Hajdu can find the highest quality grapes. The Brobdignagian name is derived from Jonathan Swift’s giants, in Gulliver’s Travels, and attests to the winemakers’ proclivity towards intense and powerfully flavored wines. Wine produced under the Besomim label, is a blend of varietals with a focus on complex aromatics. These limited production wines are available directly from the winery. Read the rest of this entry

International Food & Wine Festival (IFWF) in Oxnard brings back great memories!

These past two weeks have been what the Jews call the 9 days that are rather famous for the infamous events that have occurred in this specific span of time. Thankfully, once they were passed Herzog Cellars and Royal Wines put on an encore event of the IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival), this time in the Herzog Winery itself, to celebrate the winery’s 25th year in the industry! What an event and celebration it was! It brought back memories of the old IFWF events that were held in Oxnard, since the inaugural IFWF event in 2008.

Sure there were some 200 or so in attendance, but with the fully expanded setup, including an enclosure in the back that housed the French wine table, dessert table, and room to hunker down, it felt spacious and very comfortable.

In many ways, this event felt like an almost exact replay of the first International Food and Wine Festival. The crowd size was perfect, there was room for you to hunker down and taste wines and there was room for you to huddle up and talk with friends or people of like or dislike opinions.

Besides the layout and crowds, the food was absolutely fantastic, just like in previous events here. Once again, Todd Aarons and Gabe Garcia created wondrous delights that were so wrong in all the right ways! Of course, I came to the food area too late to partake of all of the goodies, but I still got to taste many fantastic culinary treats, including the absolutely stunning puffed chicken nuggets topped with incredibly tasty barbecue sauce.

Unfortunately, I came a bit late to this event because of what I came to call parking lot A and B (405 and 101 respectively). Whenever, I watch the Dodgers or the Angels, I can now understand why the crowds are so empty for the first three innings, because everyone is parked on one or more highways! My guess to why they all leave by the 7th inning is that after the folks get so aggravated waiting in the traffic, they get tired and want to go home. Quite clearly getting to and from any event in LA adds a few hours to the overall time and that is aggravating and tiring. However, like I, once the guests arrived they had to almost physically throw us out. The place did start to peter out in the last hour, but the place was still humming and drinking until the last second. Read the rest of this entry

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