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Sulfites, Cilantro, and Or Haganuz Elima, a no sulfite added wine – revised

This is not the first time I have posted about Or Haganuz and its sulfite-free Cabernet wine. They have been making this wine for many years now, I remember as early back as 2009, maybe earlier.

We have spoken before about sulfites when I posted an article, about the then ONLY Kosher Sulfite Free wine that I knew of. The Bashan Winery is a lovely small winery in the Galilee that only produces sulfite-free wine.

So what are Sulfites? They are nothing more than a preservative for wine. They were added into wine staring in the last century or so. Before then people got along fine without using them – why? Because sulfites occur naturally in wine. The extra sulfites one may add allow for the wine to stay on the shelf or in the cellar longer. So most winemakers that bottle organic wine will say that white wines should be drunk within the year and within the day of opening it. Red wines have a bit more life to them – 5 years or so, as sulfites are far more prevalent in red wines.

Many wineries have wines made from organically grown grapes – this is a trend that many wineries are trying to push, in ways as part of the whole natural wine story. Also, because organic grapes are more than just a selling point, it because organic grapes are good for the vines, the vine workers, and ultimately, the customer.

When we talk about sulfite-free wine, it does not always mean organic wine! In the USA, the rules are VERY simple, you CANNOT add any preservatives in ANY manner – as described here, (sorry the data is in a PDF) on the USDA website if you wish to put the word Organic on the wine label. An organic wine means ZERO SO2 was added to the wine at any time in the processing of the wine. The wine will still have sulfites unless they were fined out because sulfites occur naturally in the grape skins. Also, the wine must be made from organic grapes and many other requirements. The U.S. differs in what it defines as “organic” wine from the EU or other countries. In the E.U. they can call a wine organic, as long as:

  • These include: maximum sulfite content set at 100 mg per liter for red wine (150 mg/l for conventional)
  • 150mg/l for white/rosé (200 mg/l for conventional),
  • with a 30mg/l differential where the residual sugar content is more than 2g per liter.

Please note – that this is not additive sulfite count/numbers, but rather that TOTAL amount of sulfites allowed in the wines. Again, sulfites occur naturally in grape skins, so if you macerate your wine for 2 months (or something long like that anyway), you will get a fair amount of sulfite in your wine without ever adding any actual SO2 into your wine, manually. Also, sulfite is a naturally occurring byproduct of the fermentation process.

So why all the buzz around sulfites in wine? Because some people are supposedly allergic to the sulfites. What is the percentage of people with this ailment? The USDA describes it as 1/100 as stated here, far fewer people than the percentage of folks who think Cilantro is the Devil’s spawn (I am one of them by the way, Cilantro hater, not Sulfite hater).

So, when my local Rabbi, who says he is allergic to Sulfites asked me to look at options, I told him the only kosher mass-produced “no sulfite added” option out there is the Or Haganuz Elima.

So, when I had the opportunity to taste the recent vintage, I was happy to do so, so that I could decide for myself if this wine was drinkable or not. When I tasted it I was shocked, for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was Or Haganuz, come on, their wines are undrinkable by default. They are classically built Israeli wines, oak monsters, with unbearable tannin structure, and date juice drove. So, when I tasted the Elima, I was shocked that it was a well-balanced wine, with good fruit focus, and to boot, it had no added sulfites. Now, from the structure of the wine, I can tell they macerated this wine for a good amount of time. How long, I have no idea, but they “added” sulfites by extracting all the sulfites they could from the grape skins as they could. Now, I am no doctor or professor, but well before reading the back label of the bottle, I could tell you this wine was macerated for a long period of time. Sure, enough the back label says exactly what I had surmised from my palate, that they had used a method of winemaking developed by Dr. Arkady Papikian (a consulting winemaker in Israel), which used a long maceration process and then a long and cold fermentation. Both of which, as stated above create natural sulfites. I have no idea if naturally occurring sulfites cause people with allergies, fewer issues, but my Rabbi, who says he is allergic to sulfites has no issues with this particular wine.

Please NOTE – this is NOT an organic wine, it does not use the word organic, nor does it advertise as such. It simply states that they did not add in sulfites to this wine, at least in an unnatural manner anyway.

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

2016 Or Haganuz Elima – Score: 90 (no added sulfites)
This wine is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc.
The wine is a classical new world wine, very ripe, and concentrated, still the lack of sulfites do not affect it to me. This wine has no added sulfites – but a sulfite-free red wine does not exist, as all red wines have naturally occurring sulfites.
The nose on this wine is ripe, with nice green notes, garrigue, and good notes of earth and spice, with anise galore, menthol, some black fruit, and hints of red berries. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich and layered, a wine that will sell well for those that like wine like this, it is well balanced with good acidity, tobacco galore, with rich smokey meats, blackberry, cassis, and ripe juicy dark plums, all wrapped in good tannin and a nice fruit structure. The finish is long and green, with foliage, sweet dill, and nice green and red fruit on the long linger. Nice! As the wine opens the chocolate emerges.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random kosher wines from last week

I hope you all are enjoying your Hanukkah holidays. This past weekend I enjoyed meals with my family and friends that were lovely and quite Sefardic in nature. The flavors were deep and filling and the tones were rounded with good herb and spice. These are flavors I try to hit in my dishes from time to time, but have been missing for sometime, partially because I do not have all the spices and partially because I do not still know all the recipes – I am working on that.

Sorry about the short notes again, but since I did not cook, I really have nothing more to say about the dishes other than they were lovely and rich and ones I hope to enjoy with my family again soon. If the list of wines sound like wines you should avoid, please remember that I had to taste some of these – SAD!!! In the end, there are some nice ones in the list, but no clear and run away winners. They all have flaws, like we all do, and as such, no real winner.

Many thanks to my family and friends for hosting me and here are the wines enjoyed through the weekend and at sporadic other moments through the week:

2011 Ella Valley Sauvignon Blanc – Score: B+ to A-
This wine is one made totally by the new winemaker at Ella Valley Winery, Lin Gold. She studied her craft at the University of Adelaide, and cut her teeth in her (professionally speaking) at both Tabor Winery and Chateau Golan. This is her first real vintage and it was exciting to see where the winery will be going. The Sauvignon Blanc was oak free as was in the past, and it was also green or herbal free, though that may have been more of a seasonal factor than a winemaker’s factor – time will tell.

The nose on this wine is ripe and bright with nice litchi, cut grass, kiwi, melon, lemon, and nice peach. The medium bodied wine has a nice clean mouth, very New Zealand-ish, cut dry with good clean lines, nice balancing acid, and lime juice infused. The finish is long and bright, almost bracing, with good acidity, lemon curd, and a hint of zest at the finish. A nice wine with bright and ripe fruit and no bitterness, a lovely Sauvignon Blanc. Read the rest of this entry

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