Blog Archives

OTBN (Open That Bottle Night) 2015 – wine galore and kosher Beef Bourguignon, what a party it was!

Recanati-Special-Reserve-2006This past weekend was the 16th anniversary of OTBN (Open That Bottle Night), and what a party we had. I originally posted that we would get to the nine bottles of wine, well we did but not those nine! Benyo brought over a bottle of the famous 2003 Syrah and a friend brought over a bottle of his own concoction, and so the Ella Valley and Katrzin will have to wait for another week.

Kiddish was made over my friend’s Quail Hill Cabernet Franc, which was super smooth and fruity. After that we had some awesome whole wheat Challah, that my wife makes, and then on to some very nice olive and bean soup. The soup never ceases to amaze me, I love how the kalamata olives dominate the flavor profile, while the beans add the heft and body to the dish, really fun.

Wine wise, things started off with a bang! The 2006 RSR was my last bottle – but this wine has another two to three years left in the tank easily! WOW! What a great wine that is. The layers are rich, dense, almost fleshy with rich mineral and earth – truly extraordinary! The 07 Yatir Shiraz was nice, but it really showed its colors the next day. The Netofa Latour red, was insane, a lovely black and blue wine – so old world in style that it was shocking that it was made in Israel.

At this point we brought out the Beef Bourguignon, which if you follow the official recipe is not very kosher at all 🙂 Now, to be fair, the original video of the recipe did not call for bacon at all, instead she browned the meat in olive oil, in the video above. Still, the book has the bacon and so it has become the “law”. Since, our Jewish law does not allow for either bacon or the butter (no milk and meat), I was stuck with modifying the recipe to my liking. Instead of bacon I used Meal-mart Beef Fry and instead of butter and flour to thicken, I used chicken fat and flour. In the end, it was definitely not the fat free or healthy diet food of the 20th century, but we did serve a lot of wine with it – so if the 60 minutes episode about the French Paradox has any truth, we will all be alive to write about it! Read the rest of this entry

Advertisements

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

Yitzchok Bernstein does it again – a 19 course culinary kosher tour de force

Yitzchok BernsteinA few months ago Heshy Fried, Yitzchok Bernstein’s sous chef and frum-satire blogger, was at the house for a shabbos dinner and he said that Yitzchok Bernstein, was back on the scene. Bernstein is the culinary mastermind behind the epic haute cuisine event that lasted some 27 courses, and which was one of the most often read posts on my blog, in the past year. Bernstein was lurking in NY for a few months – but he returned to Oakland after a short, yet successful, stint at Pomegranate.

The gang unpacking early before the dinner prep 3So, when I heard that Mr. Bernstein was back – we agreed that a dinner was in order. Fried was not sure what the actual cost of a multi-course dinner was, but after a few back and forth discussions with Bernstein we were set. Well, while the dinner was set, the next two hurdles were a bit complicated; finding and arranging with 10 other participants and then locking down a date. Throughout the process, Bernstein was as professional as they come, and responded almost immediately to our correspondences. Getting the final gang together had a few missteps along the way, but while the overall process was a bit long to arrange on my end, the final outcome was an absolute delight, but more on that in a bit.

Surf and Turf Salad- Fried Chicken Skins, Sea Beans, Nasturtium, Pansies, petit onions, root greens, Romaine Puree, Spring Green Pea Gazpacho, Morels, Fiddlehead Ferns, Poached Baby Potatoes, Shaved Chorizo - close upOnce the gang was roughly worked out, we agreed that the date was not going to work until after Passover. So once that was decided the next step was agreeing on a final date – which took a few emails. After that we were set and then came the fun part, deciding the food and wine menu. The dinner does not include wines, which is fine with me as I am picky about my wines, but wow were the dishes impressive! Initially, there was some interest in lamb, but in the end that did not work out, as I am not that in love with lamb. In the end the set of dishes were truly innovative and fascinating and unique – so I am happy we passed on the lamb for the dishes we got instead.

Shortrib Pastrami, Sauerkraut Foam, Deli Rye Gnocchi, Roasted Ramp, Rye CrumbsI laughed so hard throughout the process because initially, the number of courses was set at 12 or so, which was 100% fine. However, throughout the process of setting the menu Mr. Bernstein kept adding courses – it was HILARIOUS, I could not help from laughing whenever I would read the revised menu. It turns out that we were very lucky, Bernstein was trying out some new recipes and we were the beneficiaries of some wicked cool imaginative dishes. To be fair, some worked really well, some were awesome, and some were just 100% off the charts. Read the rest of this entry

Wines from Passover and before

Well, to say I was busy in the past two weeks would be a minor understatement! I had people calling me, emailing me, and god knows what other forms of communication, including the time-sink of them all – Facebook!!

So, while getting ready for Passover I also posted some four articles on my trip to Israel, this past December 2012. I have tons more to write up, but for now I need a break – LOL!!! Still, as I have said many times, this blog is more about my journal than a real peek into my insane life of wine.

So, this Passover was the usual madness of hurray up and then wait and then hurray up and wait! Clean one part, boil water and wait. Clean something else, than wait for it to try, and then pour water – man these laws!! Anyway, in between all the madness I was posting about my Israel trip and never got to post about the wines I wanted to enjoy this Passover or even the past Shabbos wine! By the way, the Barbera was awesome from Ramat Naftaly, but man that bottle was crazy! The bottle had cracks going down both sides of the bottle. The cracks were actually done at the time the glass was blown, they need to do a better job of checking their bottles!

Read the rest of this entry

A wine lover in a land of sobriety – what is a oenophile to do?

This past Jewish Holiday press left me away from home for much of the time – whether at friends or family and that enabled me to enjoy many a wine, some that I bought, some that I enjoyed at other people’s homes, and some that I enjoyed or did not enjoy at synagogue.

The Jewish holidays following the high holidays – are meant to be ones filled with joy, food, and wine, yet I happen to always be separated from the very people who really understand my madness. Do not get me wrong I love my family – but they really are not oenophiles – and that leaves me at a major disadvantage – when my main objective is to drink and enjoy as much wine as possible in a very short period of time! Sure, they sip at the glass and are happy to drink it – but the joyous side of the High Holidays to Sukkot religious gauntlet is meant to be a relief valve, a way to thank the lord for all the good and for another year to do his bidding. So, how do Jews celebrate? Why with prayer, food, and wine of course. I know I am a bit over the top when it comes to wine and food – but I crave the interactions with others around the table, a table filled with joy and food, and also some wine chatter.

So I was faced with the classic dilemma of a lone wine fanatic attempting to enjoy wine amongst those who find wine to be a tool rather than a purpose. Do I buy and enjoy by myself an expensive bottle of wine and drink half at night and the other half the next day – and continue this through the meals – or should I dial it back a touch because, it is just myself and the expensive wine does not always taste as good the next day?

Like all things – I decided the best rule of thumb in these situations is to do both! I bought some good wine and some nicer wine, but no crazy wines, which in hindsight was a great idea, as I really got sick and could not enjoy them anyway. The first night we drank a bottle of 2010 Galil Mountain Winery Barbera, which I wrote up about on a previous post about QPR, and it was OK, but not a QPR winner. We also tried a bottle of 2010 Joseph Mellot Sancerre. Sancerre white is the archetype Sauvignon Blanc for many. Many believe that Sancerre best defines the truest form of Sauvignon Blanc. However, some are now pointing to New Zealand and California for what they have done with the grape. Unfortunately, while the classic Sancerre is meant to be bone dry, with intense fruit expressions and mineral to boot, this bottle was so-so at best. It lacked the bone gnawing dry palate that I crave in a Sancerre, balanced perfectly with nice bright fruit and good acidity. Instead, this Sancerre was green, tart, and without fresh fruit, making it for a very passable wine to quaff, but not much more.

On an aside, there is a growing demand out there for truly bone gnawing dry wine with fresh fruit and bright acidity. The closest I have found to that is another kosher Sancerre from Bokobsa, but the 2007 vintage is slowly dying. The need exists, but the answer unfortunately is lacking for now. Please do not get me wrong there are MANY lovely kosher Sauvignon Blanc wines on the market – but they all have varying degrees of residual sugar, making them feel flabby, which to many is as annoying as nails against a chalkboard. Read the rest of this entry

Mamilla Hotel Winery and kosher Wine Bar in Jerusalem

Though this wonderful establishment is not a winery, since it has winery in its name, I will count it as my 12th article on wineries in the Judean Hills.

Truly the simplest way to describe the Mamilla Hotel Winery is to call it for what it is; the only kosher wine bar in Israel! As sad as that sounds, at least there is one. There are many wonderful wine bars in Israel, with many wonderful kosher wines, but they are not exclusively kosher, unlike the Mamilla Hotel Winery.

I arrived early on my first trip to the wine bar. I like to do that so that I have the chance to take in the ambiance and since there were few patrons initially, it gave me the chance to talk with Hadas, the wine bartender. It turns out after talking with Hadas for sometime that she and her father are good friends or acquaintances of Alice Feiring, the Joan of Arc of all things natural and wine.

The wine bar has been open for some three years now, and the last two times I tried to go and enjoy some wine there the bar was closed. To be honest they do keep strange hours at this wine bar. The hours are:

Sunday Through Thursday 15:00 – 20:00
Friday 12:00 – 18:00
Saturday Closed

The wine bar is more a feeder for the larger bar and restaurant than a self-contained and sustainable system. It is a real shame as I found the selection and service at the wine bar to be top-notch.

The wine bar has some twenty or so seats and is just outside the famous mirror bar and a few steps from the elevator to the rooftop restaurant in the Mamilla hotel, on the mezzanine floor of the hotel. As you look around and take in the ultra modern, minimalist, and sleek style of the wine bar, you can feel yourself starting to relax and as you start to settle into the atmosphere, you find yourself instinctively yearning for a fine glass of wine. Well, mission accomplished Mamilla Winery! Read the rest of this entry

Wines from the weekend along with lovely meatballs and spinach kugel

This past weekend we had friends and family around the table to enjoy some great food and some pretty good wines. This week there was no wine theme, actually to be more precise, the theme was that there was no theme. The theme was Drink up or let die. I say this as I have far too much history and track record in this area, and it has been my sworn duty going forward that I would embrace and channel the work of Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher and attempt to always open that bottle in its time. To meet this need I attempt to create wine themes when there is no pressing wine to get to, otherwise, I drink the wines that are up next.

I use drink by dates of the late Daniel Rogov, Cellar Tracker, and of course, my own personal notes. This week it was time to get to some bottles that I have been worried about. I got to a couple of them, but missed out on the 2005 Ella Valley Pinot Noir, which we last tasted on some 3 years ago. We did get to enjoy some wine that we have not tasted in a couple of years, the 2001 Yarden Merlot, Ortal Vineyard, one of the finest Merlot that Yarden has ever produced, along with the 2006 Recanati Cabernet Franc, both of which have a year or maybe more left on them. Both are drinking lovely now, but if you too wish to live the motto “no good wine will be left to die“, drink it now and you will not be sorry.

I often laugh when people ask me when they should drink a particular bottle. In the kosher wine world more and more wines are being created that are built for cellaring. All that means is that the bottle you buy is not quite ready to drink, and the wine maker and winery have decided to diversify their risk and have you cellar the wine rather than them. For the most part, most wine (kosher or not) is made to be drunk within the year or two. There are reserve wines that are built to age a few years maybe 4 years at most. Then there are the a fore mentioned high-end wines that are truly not enjoyable at all from release, and need time to come into their own/peak.

The Recanati Cabernet Franc is at its true peak and can be left for another year or so, but why? Unless you have more pressing wine to enjoy – drink it now! There is only one sure thing, other than taxes, and that is – that the wine will eventually die. Why not enjoy it now. There is rarely a perfect time to drink a wine. There is just the acceptable and peak time to enjoy the wine and the rest is what you make of it! Read the rest of this entry

Notes from kosher wines tasted in and around Israel

Before I left for Israel, I had a bottle of the 2008 Yarden Odem Vineyard Chardonnay. Normally this wine is killer. The 2009 vintage is lovely, the 2007 vintage was closed the last time I enjoyed it, but opened quickly enough and was lovely. Unfortunately, this bottle of the 2008 Yarden Odem Vineyard Chardonnay was clearly in a deep sleep, and one that would not open no matter what I tried. Humorously, when I came back from Israel, some three weeks later, the leftovers of the wine that I stored in the refrigerator, tasted quite nice!

In Israel, we enjoyed many wines for Passover and for other meals. Some of the wines were quite nice while some were just OK. The best two wines we enjoyed were the 2010 Dalton Zinfandel and the 2010 Saslove April. The other wines were fine but none of those were really note worthy. The 2010 Dalton Zinfandel showed far better than when I had it at the Gotham Wine Event. The Tulip White Franc was really nice, though a bit less Cabernet Franc-ish than the 2010 vintage. This is the second time I had the chance to taste April, when I enjoyed it at Sommelier last year, and it continues to impress with its light oak influence (they used staves) and interesting blend.

The only real downer for me was 2011 Galil Rose; it was OK, but nothing to write home about. I was not a huge fan of the Dalton Roses either, but hey I keep trying! I do love the Flam and Catsel Roses. The Tulip Just Cab and Merlot were lovely and continue to improve and show good varietal characteristics. I had the 2010 Galil Wines and they were average at best, which is OK, but again not wines to write home about. My father-in-law and I both enjoyed the bubbly Cabernet. Yes, I said I liked a semi-sweet bubbly Cabernet, because it was actually enjoyable. Sorry, to all the wine snobs out there, but the 2011 Tabor Pnimim (Pearls) sparkler, was enjoyable, unpretentious, and though semi-sweet, not cloyingly so in any way. No, I would not normally, bestow any praise upon a semi sweet Cabernet nor even write about it in a positive manner, as normally Cabernet and sweet do not logically go hand in hand, but Tabor did a good job, so Kudos!

Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to visit any wineries, but I did get a chance to see Gabriel Geller, a man I can happily call an acquaintance, and hopefully one day a friend, that now own a wine store in the heart of Jerusalem, called the Wine Mill. The wine store is located in the Wind Mill right next to the Prima Kings Hotel Jerusalem, and essentially at the corner of King George and Ramban streets. The store is laid out in a quite enjoyable and clutter free manner, with more than enough room for informal gatherings of his clients and customers. When I was there, I picked up some wines that I took home and I also had a chance to talk with both Gabriel and David Rhodes, a wine critic/writer who I have not yet had the chance to write about here in the blog, but a person who has solid wine abilities and who I have had the pleasure to talk with a few times now. The conversation inevitably came around to kosher wine, Israeli Wine, and Daniel Rogov (man I cannot believe it has been 6 months already since his passing), but hey what happens in the Wine Mill stays in the Wine Mill. I did have the chance to taste a lovely bottle of Domaine Ventura Cabernet Franc, but I did not write notes on the wine – sorry. From what I remember, it was very characteristic of Cabernet Franc, with good green notes, lovely ripe red fruit, without the raisin or date flavors, that are so characteristic of Israeli wines. The oak did not overpower though was felt and clearly present, and there was some nice extraction along with tobacco and light leather. An unofficial score would be B+ to A-. Read the rest of this entry

2006 Yarden Merlot, Odem Organic Single Vineyard

Recently, there was a tasting of kosher wines at our synagogue and one of the prize wines poured at the tasting was the 2006 Yarden Odem Merlot. The funny thing about this Merlot was that it was available in the general market last year for some 20 or so dollars from stores on the east coast. However, within a week or less, the wine sold out, only to reappear as few months later for 50 dollars a bottle. OUCH! Well, good news – procrastinators rejoice, good things really do come to those who wait! The price has returned to 28 or so dollars a bottle and it is one that is well worth hunting down.

The bottle is one of the more recent single vineyard Merlot to come to the states. This bottle is already old news in Israel. However, here in the states the wine is still not selling out and hence, the obvious conundrum that Yarden faces. If the wine cannot sell because there is not enough demand at 50 dollars maybe they can repeat their earlier success and hope that lightning strikes twice. The funny thing is that the retailers that bought the bottles at the old higher price are now stuck with them and are being undercut savagely by the retailers that just recently picked them up.

This was the first Merlot release from Yarden’s Organically tended Odem Vineyard. However, there are already 6 or more single vineyard wines ready and available for sale in Israel – and they have yet to sell through the 2006 vintage! OUCH! Talk about inventory! Clearly there is a need for Yarden to sell their wines and they are fine wines as well, but the kosher market is growing and may well be leaving Yarden behind, when it comes to these high-priced wines.

I would suppose that online retailers that had old stock will need to cut their prices to match the new lower prices, and eat the difference. Further, this wine is just one of many more single vineyard wines, that are of course sold at a premium from the normal Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah, that are quite lovely by themselves and do not cost 50 or more dollars a bottle. Read the rest of this entry

Sukkot 2011 – first days…

This past Sukkot we hung out with family and enjoyed a bunch of great wine and food. It was a potluck of sorts, each one of us bringing some food, and it was a grand ball. Sukkot is one of those truly happy times of the year, all the heavy and deep inner inspection is over and now you get a chance to let loose of all of your pent up concern and angst. In its place you find joy and contentment from your efforts over the past 6 weeks, a time truly made to be shared with friends and family.

For our part, we brought the second chunk of meat that we cooked for Rosh Hashanah (and froze immediately after the holiday) and some lovely brisket. We also brought a BUNCH of wine! Hey it is a let loose holiday – right? I was in such a rush to get the wines that I went to my local wine shop and all they had were Galil and Yarden wines – so we brought Galil and Yarden wines. Many turned out really nice, and others were OK, but they were all enjoyable. In case it is not obvious, Yarden and Galil Wines source their grapes from the Galilee. This tasting was a true Israel Galilee tasting. We also went through some 6 bottles of Sara Bee Muscat. Galil is one of the top QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wineries in the kosher market. Yarden is an OK QPR winery, especially in their basic line, but some of their upper echelon wines are so out of reach that they lose a bit of the QPR luster.

So, here are all my wine notes – enjoy and remember, wine is not just about the flavors, it is also about the happiness and memories you get to keep when you enjoy them with friends and family.

The wine notes follow below:

2005 Galil Mountain Winery Yiron – (Israel, Galilee) – Score: A-
This is a seriously lovely and opulent and redolent wine that is initially hot out of the bottle, but quickly shakes off the alcohol coat and shows super rich and ripe black plum, toasty cedar, black cherry, blackberry, vanilla, tobacco, chocolate, and herbs. The mouth on this rich and concentrated black colored wine is screaming with what initially feels like searing tannins, but then quickly your mind gives way to the true source – toasty cedar, blackberry, black cherry, and super ripe plum, all wrapped up is a velvety package that cuts through almost anything you throw at it. The mid palate is packed with black cherry, cedar, chocolate, tobacco, and nice integrated tannin. The finish is super long and very spicy with rich plum, toasty cedar, blackberry, chocolate, tobacco, black cherry, and a nice dollop of vanilla. The black cherry, vanilla, tobacco, chocolate, blackberry, and herbs linger.

2006 Yarden Syrah – (Israel, Galilee, Golan Heights) – Score: A-
The nose on this purple to black colored wine is not a classic syrah, excepting for the roasted meat, along with blackberry, ripe cassis, chocolate, plum, raspberry, cherry, and oak. This wine starts off super hot and need a good hour to open up and blow off its coat of alcohol. I must admit that I enjoyed this with friends in a house that was being used as a barbeque pit, as the outside was too wet, still, the nose showed well with the black and red fruit, along with the oak and chocolate. The mouth on this rich and muscular black wine was opulent and powerful with more blackberry, inky black, ripe and rich cassis, and plum, and tannins that are still finding their way around the house, but are slowly learning the premises. The sinews rippling on this bad boy easily handled the char broiled meats that were superb! The mid palate was balanced with acid, chocolate, nice oak, still tight tannins, and more inky black. The finish is super long and crazy spicy with a hint of leather, chocolate, blackberry, ripe plum, and more inky black density. Read the rest of this entry

%d bloggers like this: