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My top kosher 25 wines of 2016

wall of wineWell, I have posted my year in review, and now I wanted to get to my top wines for 2016. Please beware that I know I missed many wines and that this list does not include wines that I have tasted that are not available on the open market.

I wanted to make this post short and sweet – so the criteria are simple I could care less about price, color, or where it was made. All that matters is that it is/was available this year sometime to the public at large and that I tasted it in a reliable environment, not just at a tasting, and that it was scored an A- to A or higher. Also, there are a few lower scoring wines here because of their uniqueness or really good QPR. I also included some of the ebst wines I tasted this year – they are at the bottom.

On an aside, there continues to be a whole mess of madness around wines notes and scores, even the Jewish Week weighed in on the matter. So, let me explain this really simply – go look at some of my recent blog posts – they talk about some nice enough wines, but wines I would not specifically buy. They have all the nice words and such, which were all true and to the point. But without the final value score, I can tell you a Cabernet is full bodied with good fruit and spice – and you may say cool I want that – but then I would say well, yeah but it was not complex or layered. You could try to reason that out of the words I wrote, because the words complex and layered are missing. However, the simple fact that it was scored a B+ or whatever, would have told you that it is not always a wine worth going after (unless it is the Terrenal or such where it gets a QPR moniker).

My point being that wine notes – without a proper context (AKA a real score) – is like looking at a wedding hall through a slit in the window. Sure you can “see” the hall, but are you really sure you want to get married there? I never scored wines to tell people to listen to my score. I score wines to set the context and to always read the notes to see if that sort of wine works for you!

I posted this about my scores – and what they mean, so I hope these are useful to you. OK, enough of the darn score rant for the day, back to the matters at hand, being wines of the year. The list is long – get over it. It is a list of wines that I would buy, have bought, and will buy again – simple enough I hope. I hope you enjoy!

2014 Elvi Wines EL 26 – Score: A- to A
This wine is a blend of 45% Carignan, 35% Grenache, and 20% Syrah. This wine is showing far more accessible than previous vintages. The 2014 vintage in Spain makes fro wines that are easily approachable now and yet has the power to last a long time. The nose on this wine is fruit forward with dark candied raspberry, blackberry, and spiced boysenberry, with root beer and earth, showing spice, anise, and cranberry. The mouth is beautiful and controlled, with great mouth coating tannin, sheer elegance, with great sweet and focused fruit, lovely extraction, showing ripe and tart strawberry, raspberry, and boysenberry all mixed together into a compote, with black fruit and earth. The finish is ridiculous, some of the best of the evening, with sweet fruit and ripe structure, yet balanced and focused, with coffee, leather, and sweet spices, nutmeg, and mineral galore, with scraping graphite, BRAVO!!

2014 Capcanes Peraj Habib – Score A- to A
This wine is a blend of 45% Grenache, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Carignan. This wine is showing far more accessible than previous vintages. The 2014 vintage in Spain makes fro wines that are easily approachable now and yet has the power to last a long time. The nose on this wine shows nicely, with chocolate and oak, along with crazy red fruit, roasted animal, toast, graphite, and lovely smoke, with floral notes galore. What a lovely wine, full bodied with great extraction, ripping acid and great crazy tannin that gives way to blueberry, blackberry, lovely cherry, and insane fruit focus that is backed by intense graphite, and mineral, scraping mineral, with mouth drying tannin all coming together into a far more accessible wine than any year before. The wine is really young but accessible, with insane fruit and mineral all coming together. The finish is long and epic, with leather, and rich extraction lingering with coffee and sweet spices coming together beautifully. Bravo!

2013 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Solomon lot 70 – Score: A- to A
Really lovely but pushed nose, with ripe black fruit, tar galore, with garrigue, earth, and rich blackberry. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich and extracted, showing an impressive attack with rich focus of blueberry, intense gripping tannin, spicy oak, sweet dill galore, with massive almost tactile mouth showing black fruit focus, with impressive inky structure that gives way to black and blue fruit. The finish is long and spicy, with green notes, foliage, good dirt, all wrapped with dark chocolate, leather, tobacco heaven, more green notes, and rich Asian spices.

2014 Elvi Clos Mesorah – Score: A- to A
This wines a blend of 50% Grenache, 35% Carignan from vines that are 105 years old, and 15% Syrah. Wow what a California Syrah nose, with intense root beer, watermelon, crazy how this smells like Shirah Syrah, with blueberry, and boysenberry, and spiced plum punch. The mouth on this full bodied wine wow, the mouth is full bodied, extracted, and crazy rich, with layers of extraction and concentrated fruit, showing searing tannin, ripping acid, that gives way to black and blue fruit, blackberry, plum, with crazy chocolate and coffee coming together to show mouth drying tannin, with earth, spice, cloves, black pepper, and spicy, with heady spice and blue fruit. The finish is long and spicy, with sweet spice and fruit that gives way to chocolate, roasted meat, and graphite. Really impressive wine bravo!

2010 ELvi Wines Rioja Reserva – Score: A- to A
Wow what a glass of umami, pure hedonism, bravo! The nose on this wine is pure joy, with root beer, blueberry, roasted meat, black pepper, mushroom, dirt, smoke, and toast. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is far more accessible than the 09, with sweet fruit, earth, dirt, sweet blue fruit, crazy candied and juicy blue fruit, that gives way to cherry, candied and spiced raspberry, with mouth coating and drying tannin, rich juicy and concentrated fruit, with insane focus and attack. The finish is long and juicy, with sweet fruit, nutmeg, sweet baking spices, milk chocolate, smoke, and crazy spices, anise and licorice. Bravo!

Read the rest of this entry

My top kosher 25 wines of 2015

wall of wineWell, I have posted my year in review, and now I wanted to get to my top wines for 2015. Please beware that I know I missed many wines and that this list does not include wines that I have tasted that are not available on the open market – like older Covenant Wines and the sort.

I wanted to make this post short and sweet – so the criteria are simple I could care less about price, color, or where it was made. All that matters is that it is/was available this year sometime to the public at large and that I tasted it in a reliable environment, not just at a tasting, and that it was scored an A- or higher. Anything less would not be on my list.

On an aside, there continues to be a whole mess of madness around wines notes and scores, even the Jewish Week weighed in on the matter. So, let me explain this really simply – go look at some of my recent blog posts – they talk about some nice enough wines, but wines I would not specifically buy. They have all the nice words and such, which were all true and to the point. But without the final value score, I can tell you a Cabernet is full bodied with good fruit and spice – and you may say cool I want that – but then I would say well, yeah but it was not complex or layered. You could try to reason that out of the words I wrote, because the words complex and layered are missing. However, the simple fact that it was scored a B+ or whatever, would have told you that it is not always a wine worth going after (unless it is the Terrenal or such where it gets a QPR moniker).

My point being that wine notes – without a proper context (AKA a real score) – is like looking at a wedding hall through a slit in the window. Sure you can “see” the hall, but are you really sure you want to get married there? I never scored wines to tell people to listen to my score. I score wines to set the context and to always read the notes to see if that sort of wine works for you!

OK, enough of the darn score rant for the day, back to the matters at hand, being wines of the year. The list is long – get over it. It is a list of wines that I would buy, have bought, and will buy again – simple enough I hope. I did not differentiate by another other criteria or aspect – if it was solid (A- or higher) it made the list. I hope you enjoy!

2013 Elvi Wines Clos Mesorah – Score: A- to A
This is the flagship wine of Elvi Wines (though the Herenza Reserva may have a word to say about that) and it is a blend of 50% Carignan, 30% Grenache, and 20% Syrah. Elvi Wines makes 7K of these bottles. The wine was sourced from vines that are 20 to 100 years of age. The nose on this wine is insane and intoxicating with aromas of watermelon, root beer, ripe boysenberry, blueberry, along with chocolate and black fruit. The mouth on this full bodied wine hits you with layers of concentrated fruit, with an attack of blue and black fruit, balanced perfectly, showing great elegance, along with mad mineral, graphite, slate, rich and freshly tilled earth, along with deeply concentrated black fruit. The wine is the perfect example of elegance and balance with ripe fruit that flows into a plush mouth made from mouth coating tannin and rich fruit structure. This is truly a wine speaks for itself. The finish is long and intense, showing rich roasted animal, lovely mushroom, and floral notes. With time, the wine shows mad barnyard, mushroom, and even more loamy dirt. Bravo!!!

2010 Elvi Wines Herenza Rioja Reserva – Score: A- to A
There are only 4K of these bottles made and each one is a true gift! The wine is closed and slow to open, but with time and a fair amount of decanting, the nose shows of mad soy sauce (like the 2009 Herenza Reserva), chocolate, richly tilled earth, loam, along with crazy mushroom and mad mineral. This wine is the epitome of umami, showing intense layers of umami with white summer fruit, cranberry, craisins, blackberry, pomegranate, and tart cherry in the background with mounds of earth. The finish is intensely long and dirt filled, with  dark chocolate, licorice, blueberry and red fruit. BRAVO!!!!

2012 Chateau Haut Condisas, Medoc – Score: A- (and much more)
The 2011 was very nice, but the 2012 a slight step up. The nose on this wine is rich and redolent with lovely dirt, dark black fruit, barnyard, earth, and mushroom. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, ripe, and in your face with nice chocolate, mad toast, mouth drying tannin, all wrapped in crazy acid, but bigger and riper than the 2011, almost Israeli in nature, but classically French controlled, with blackberry, raspberry, plum, with mineral and graphite. The finish is long and dirty, with hits of herb, along with layers of concentrated fruit, more mad mineral/earth/dirt/mushroom with dried raspberry, and rich garrigue. WOW! BRAVO!

2010 Chateau Fourcas Dupre, Listric – Medoc – Score: A- (and more) (CRAZY QPR)
This wine is on the list for its insane value and its goto ability above all wines from France for the price! The 2010 was a nice wine – but the 2012 is even better! The nose on this wine is lovely with rich dirt, cherry, crazy tart and juicy raspberry, followed by more dirt and mineral galore. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely and still young but give it time, the acid is impressive along with nice spice, mouth coating tannin that is gripping along with lovely blackberry, cassis in the background, along with crazy mushroom, and layers of fruit and earth and forest floor that come at you and do not give up. The finish is long, with insane acid and more mouth drying tannin, more earth, dirt, tart lingering fruit, and lovely mineral/graphite. The fruit and mineral lingers long – BRAVO!!!! Read the rest of this entry

My top 25 kosher wines of 2014

Well, 2014 has come and gone and my top wines of the past year were too many to limit to 10. Now these wines comprise a list of wines I enjoyed over the year. Some were released in 2014 and many were released a long time ago. Either way these are wines that made an impression upon me and that is the only characteristic that I used to define this list.

Some of these wines may not score a solid A, but they deserve to be here because of their trail blazing characteristics Take for instance – the 2012 Recanati Marselan. It is the only kosher Marselan and it is very good. The 2013 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, one of the best whites to come out of Israel along with the 2012 Tzora Shoresh White, a wine that I believe is better than the 2013 Shoresh white, were both on my list last year, so they are not on it this year. The 2013 Tzora Shoresh is on this year’s list and if you have not gotten any – you are making a huge mistake. I had both in 2014, and even though I liked the 2012 a bit more, the 2013 is an epic white wine, in its own right. The best rose, hands down, was the 2013 Hajdu Pinot Gris rose. It is tied for best ever kosher rose with the 2012 Shirah rose, but that was already enjoyed in 2013. The next white wine was the epic 2013 Dalton Viognier, a wine that is worthy, once again, of the Dalton reserve label. It beats the 2012 hands down, and reclaims the title as the best kosher Viognier that is available in the US or Israel. There may be a French Viognier that is available there, but I do not know of them. The final non red wine was the 1996 Four Gates Chardonnay, which while never released officially, it was an awesome wine indeed! I tasted while tasting an entire vertical of all of Benyamin’s Chardonnay wines and this was the best of the bunch. Many others were solid A- and maybe a bit more wines, but the 1996 was a A- to A wine that was truly epic.

The rest of the wines are red, and there are many special wines there including the fantastic 2012 Recanati wild Carignan and Syrah/Viognier wines. BRAVO! There were many more French wines, but they will have to fall till next year, when I get a chance to sit down and enjoy them over a long meal. The 2012 Chateau Giscours, the 2012 Pavillon de Leoville Poyferré, and the 2012 Roches de Yon Figeac are lovely wines and may well get on the list next year. In the end, California, France, and Spain continue to be my sweet spot. There are a few exceptional wines from Israel, like the epic and insane 2000 Yarden Katzrin and others. Along with current releases from Tzora Winery, Recanati Winery, and Yatir Winery. In the end, Israel will improve by having 2009, 2010, and 2011 in their rear view mirror, all the while enjoying the new 2012, 2013, and from what I hear 2014 vintages.

The wine notes follow below:

Wines of Spain

2012 Capcanes Peraj Habib (Crazy QPR) – Score: A- to A
Before I talk about this epic wine, I must sadly say that one of the wines that was on my list last year – the 2012 Capcanes Carignan – never made it into its own bottle. Sadly, it was not deemed worthy of a leading role. Thankfully, it found its place here, in this fantastic 2012 Peraj Habib! The wine blend for 2012 is not far off from 2011, consisting of 40% Grenache, 30% Carignan, and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from very old vines.

The nose on this dark and impenetrable purple colored wine is redolent with roasted animal, intense black fruit, and mounds of dirt and mineral. The mouth on this full bodied wine hits you with an intensely inky structure, filled with layers of of rich concentrated fruit, ripe freshly squeezed black berries, cassis, plum, along with tart fruit, spice, and mouth coating tannins that may well make some people think that this is the best Capcanes Peraj Habib ever made. The finish is long and purely mineral based to start, like sucking on a salt and graphite stick, as it recedes, you sense the incredible balancing acid, which is then immediately replaced with richly roasted coffee, sweet and herbal spices, more black fruit, a sense of animal fats, leather, hints of tobacco, and finally followed by bitter notes on the long finish. BRAVO!!!! Read the rest of this entry

My wonderful blueberry haze Shabbos

This past weekend I was hanging with EL and MT, those same two of Napa wine adventure fame. It was a true insane blast, and the wine intake was so intense that I had to name this post appropriately. The blueberry reference is an ode to the sheer number of wines we had that were seriously showing blue fruit.

When I think of hospitality so many names come to mind including ER, Mrs. L, Shaindy and Chaim, and now I am happy to add EL and MT to the wonderful list of people who think of others above themselves. I came this shabbos to NY to hang with family and go to two wine events. The two wine events sandwiched a Shabbos so I asked EL if he could handle a madman like me for a weekend! He graciously accepted and now the Shabbos is in the history books and may well go down in annals of mankind as one of the craziest Shabbos that I have had the opportunity to enjoy (though my first Benyo Shabbaton is up there too with the Shirah Boys).

The Friday started with me opening the bottle of Tavel, which while deeply aromatic was a slight letdown with a light and almost lifeless mouth. Still, it had the acid to keep up; this was all while we learned some Yoshua before heading to minyan. El lives in a large Jewish community and the number of synagogues within a square mile of his house, rival the number of museums in all of NY City! Still, we were blessedly spared the walks to those hallowed halls. Why? Think August in Las Vegas and add 90% humidity and you get the picture – AKA felt like walking through swap land – without the swamp!

So, where did we go, well that is the funny thing, if there are tons of options for free standing synagogues in this section of New York, there may well be more options of home bound synagogues! Indeed, people have synagogues in their basements, living rooms, and just about any section of their home that their wives can tolerate (more on that in a bit).

Friday night started in the library room of a beautiful home, 5 doors down from EL’s house. Mincha started at 8 PM and we were done with Mincha and Maariv at 8:45 PM. Heck, where I live, we could still be davening Mincha in 45 minutes! We went home, and even walking the length of 5 homes made you feel like you wanted to jump into a shower ASAP! What heat! Anyway, dinner started with a bottle of 2012 Lueria Gewurztraminer. A lovely wine that was cold and bracing, with enough residual sugar in it to make both EL and his wife happy! From there we moved to two Roses that accompanied a plethora of sushi! Awesome idea, really, clean tasting sushi is a great idea on a hot summer day! The sushi was solid as was CL’s SICK challah that was greatly enjoyed with dips and soup. The Tavel was OK, as said above but the Agur rocked it for me and it was mostly drunk by me as well.

After that we moved to the main course, which was roasted chicken and some incredible Rib Roast! EL begged me to taste some before Shabbos and I knew at that point that this chunk of meat was going to slay it on Shabbos! The roast has something for everyone, it was rare inside and medium rare on the edges. It was herbed to perfection and was so juicy that it screamed to be eaten some more – WOW what a real treat!

At this point I must point out that we had already decanted two wines for the dinner, the newly released 2011 Vignobles David Reserve GS wine and the 2012 Hajdu Cabernet Franc (will probably be blended – but a distinct barrel sample for now). It was at this point that the family bailed and left EL and I to slowly enjoy the two bottles/carafes of wine. That was until Mark came over with two more wines in tow. The wines were the famous 2007 Brobdignagian/Brobdingnagian Syrah – a blockbuster wine we have enjoyed twice, and a 1999 Hagafen Syrah! The wine is a richly layered, concentrated beast that has zero desire to calm down or back-off its no holds barred structure that makes one truly stand up and take notice. Some find it too much, but for me it is a wine created by an unbridled mad genius, with eyes wide open – what a wine! When I saw the hagafen Syrah at Mark’s house before Shabbos I thought there was no way that the wine was drinkable. It turns out that the Syrah was Hagafen’s first and a wine that has truly stood the test of time. Read the rest of this entry

2013 Kosher Food and Wine Experience (KFWE) lived up to all its billing

For years I have always sported a purple colored beaming grin when I finish my tasting at the IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival) in LA, which hid my grumbling stomach’s discontent. Like I have documented for years, I never get to eat at the events, even as the entire food court mocks me, attempting to pull me into their warm, delicious, and very present embrace, with their wafting and intoxicating aromas. Still, I stand strong and I taste through the night until my teeth are purple and my stomach is close to rioting on the lack of food. Truth be told, I am not that good at taking notes when eating – the flavors of the food cover up and belie the flavors and aromas of the glass that beckons me closer with its “come hither” look and aromas. So every year, after the event I go to dinner at Jeff’s Sausage (down the street from the new location of the IFWF). Which is sheer madness of course, here I have half the Pavilion at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, filled with food from one of the best kosher restaurants in the world – Tierra Sur Restaurant, and I pass on that for the spicy and homely fare of Jeff’s Sausage. In no way is this a slight to the joy of Jeff Rohatiner’s cookery and food. Rather, it has been my conscious tradeoff, throughout my many year experience at IFWF to drink through as much of the world-class wine I can before my taste-buds shutdown, rather than give them to the food court, no matter how wonderful it is.

This year was a massive shift for me, gone was the purple grin and my mutinous stomach, as I visited and added the New York KFWE to my travel dates. To say the KFWE was different than the IFWF would be an extreme understatement, the IFWF has close to 1000 people at the show, while the KFWE has closer to 2000 people. Further the event hall at Pier 60 is some 2 to 3 times larger than the Pavilion tent at the Hyatt Regency. Also, there were many options for lunch and dinner from the myriad of NY restaurants that all share half the hall, all clamoring to share their wonderful fare with great fanfare. The Pier 60 overlooks the Marina and Harbor and many folks were outside braving the cold to grab a smoke, but at least they had some comfort of looking at the marina and its waterfront.

To really appreciate the event you had to come to it with a game plan, and there were many guests who had a few of their own. The event started at Noon for those in the trade, a new thing that the KFWE started last year and something that the IFWF has been doing from the start (though initially with a smaller trade time). The trade event was crowded but there could not have been more than a thousand folks there, so access to wine was not a problem in any way. The event hall can easily handle 1000 people, it is a bit more complicated when the number swells to two thousand people, but still there was no pushing or shoving going on even at the end of the public tasting, when the number of guests was at its maximum. But I digress; the trade tasting allowed me to focus solely on wine and the winemakers, which was great. Read the rest of this entry

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

Kosher wine tasting at the Cask in LA featuring Celler de Capcanes and Shiloh Winery Wines

This past week my friend and I drove down to Los Angeles, CA to taste kosher wines at the 2012 Herzog International Food and Wine Festival (IFWF). The night before the IFWF we called The Cask, a new wine store on Pico, in Los Angeles, and they said they were having a wine tasting. I guess in my life, you can never taste too much wine! Though to get to the Cask, I had to drive for 1 hour to go 4 miles! My goodness, LA is really a nasty place to drive around during rush hour!

The Cask is not the first wine store in LA, but it is the first kosher-only wine store in Los Angeles, catering to the Jewish crowd that geographically surrounds it from all sides. There have been kosher wine stores before in LA, but a store that sells only kosher wine does take serious courage in this economy.

The Cask, the brain child of Michael Bernstein and Sivan Vardi (Sivan has since moved on), opened quietly, and just in time for Passover 2011. It had its red carpet grand opening in June 2011, with a real red carpet for people to show off their love for wine and haute couture. Interestingly, while neither partner has been part of the retail wine business before, the event I was at was well attended and went off without any hitch, from what I could see.

The front of the store, looks like any other wine store you may find yourself in on an early Friday afternoon looking for some wine to go with you cholent and roast chicken. However, the layout is still quite nice and the prices are competitive, from the quick check that I did Thursday night. However, the website is the weakest link. It is missing the social touch that is sorely needed to be competitive in this market, something that Sivan seemed to be doing before she left in September of last year. The prices are not on the site and the daily deals still show a wine from last September.

Clearly, the Cask is not trying to copy or do battle with some dude in his basement who cobbles up a kosher online wine store. Rather the Cask is all about the local touch of a high-end store where you taste and experience the wine with winemakers or wine professionals. Sure, maybe LA doesn’t need another place to go and buy kosher wine, though the Cask fills that admirably. What LA craves is the ability to walk into an establishment that has 200 or more wines and not be bewildered by the selection. The hope of the store is to educate the kosher drinking public about the hundreds of options available, and let them decide which wines best suit their palate or cuisine. Read the rest of this entry

Winemakers Dinner with Jeff Morgan, Benyamin Cantz, and John Herzog, and some nice wines

This past week we had the extreme honor of having the company of Jeff Morgan, from Covenant Winery, Benyamin Cantz from Four Gates Winery, and John Herzog, the west coast manager for Royal Wines. The evening was filled with lively conversation around and about food and wine. The varied points of conversation moved about like a weather vane in a hurricane, all of it thoroughly enjoyable and informational, to say the least.

We started the meal off with Kiddush on a glass of 2007 Dalton Viognier Reserve, Wild Yeast. It was as good as I remembered it, from the last time I tasted it at the 2010 Gotham Wine Extravaganza. It was rich and smooth with lovely acidity and bright summer fruits that were wrapped in a bee’s nest of honey, caramel, all gathered from flowers that abound in the area (metaphorically of course). That was followed by some Challah that the Rabbis’ wife made, which was nice, but I did miss my wife’s whole wheat Challah, no slight of course intended.

The courses started with some smoked wild salmon and some smoked farmed salmon, along with black olives, and hummus. The Dalton Viognier easily stood up to the hummus and smoked salmon and was quickly laid to waste (again metaphorically).

The next course was my sweet and sour brisket, brown Basmati rice, and a fresh green salad. To pair with the meat, I opened two bottles, and I wish I had opened them both earlier. The first was the 2001 Capcanes Peeraj Ha’bib, which I had opened a few hours before, and was thoroughly enjoyable, but was time to drink up, and I think was helped by opening it, to allow it to hit its potential. The second wine I opened was the 2001 Yarden El Rom, which is lovely, but needs time to air out and open. We quickly made waste of these as well, but I wish I had opened the El Rom earlier, to allow it to show its best characteristics. Finally with desert we enjoyed some Tzuba Port that I brought back from Israel.

Jeff of course was super generous and brought over some of his trademark wines, as did Benyamin, but we never got a chance to enjoy them, I hope we can rectify that problem soon!

Again, I want to thank all our guests for making the evening as memorable as it could be, and I hope we get another chance to do it all over again, in the not too distant future. The wine notes are below:

2001 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon El Rom – Score: A
The notes on this wine have not changed drastically, the tannin is still kicking, the mouth equally as rich, and the heat has dissipated. This is one of the best wines I have tasted from Israel. The wine is still a bit closed, so an hour or two of air time would be of great help! 

The nose on this brilliant and deep garnet to black colored wine is filled with heavy layers of blackberry, cassis, raspberry, tobacco, and oak. The mouth on this wine was also a bit slow out of the bottle, but that changed quickly enough. The mouth was complex and multi layered. This is no simple wine, it hits you in waves. The mouth on this full bodied wine is still tannic though the tannins are breaking down and adding even more opulence to this rich and mouth coating wine filled with blackberry, cassis, rich sweet oak. eucalyptus, and almost jam like – but not in a chewy annoying way – more in a rich and cultured manner. The mid palate follows off the first set of layers and is where the structure comes in. The structure is built on tannin, acidity, and lush layers of vegetal flavors. The finish is crazy long and is filled with blackberry, cassis, chocolate, tobacco, rich dirt, slight vegetal notes, and sweet wood. This is really quite a fine wine and one that is not yet peaked at all, though quite enjoyable now as well.

2001 Celler de Capçanes Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera,Montsant  – Score: A-
Drink up – this wine is lovely but is really at its peak or a drop past it!! The score from previous tasting is a bit lower then the first score we gave this wine, and the same as my second tasting, but not because of tannins. The notes are very much in line with my previous tasting. I recommend opening the bottle 1 hour ahead of time, and NO more than that and enjoying it then. This bottle will not last four hours after opening, so drink now and enjoy.

The nose on this deep black colored wine, with a bit of a brown halo, is popping with blackberry, plum, cassis, sweet cedar, herbs, raspberry, licorice, and tobacco. The mouth on this full bodied and mouth coating wine is now smooth and layered with blackberry, plum, black currant, and cassis. The mid palate is packed with lovely tannins, bright acidity, and concentrated black fruit that comes at you in layers. The finish is super long, spicy, and concentrated with cloves, herbs, blackberry, plum, raspberry, chocolate, tobacco, and sweet cedar. The wine lingers long with cedar, plum, tobacco, rich vanilla, and chocolate.

2007 Dalton Viognier, Reserve – Score: A-
The nose on this light gold orange haloed colored wine is expressive with caramel, honeysuckle, butterscotch, toasty oak, flora, melon, lemon, peach, and apricot, with the honey, toast, lemon, and butterscotch showing itself more expressively over time. The mouth on this rich and full bodied wine is oily, layered, and textured with melon, peach, apricot, citrus, and honeysuckle. The mid palate is still rich and balanced with acid, butterscotch, caramel, oak, and spice. The finish is super long and rich with butterscotch, rich honey, caramel, summer fruit, and melon.

Sausage Stew, Spinach Kugel, and a lovely assortment of kosher wines

Well we finally got back into the saddle and had ourselves a gaggle of friends and family for a lovely Friday night dinner. The menu was fun to create as we needed a recipe that could be eaten by both carnivores and vegans 🙂 After going through our recipes, we fell upon a decent idea, making two of the same dish, one with meat and one with a suitable substitute. The best option for that direction was our Sausage Stew recipe, the carnivore version was made with Neshama’s sausages; Breakfast Delight and Country Apple, and the vegan version with Tofurky’s Italian Sausage. The cool aspect of making the same recipe for both types of diets are that the dish stays the same, as does the recipe and ingredients (other than protein), along with same timing for the vegetables, and same completion time. In other words; cooking made fun and easy.

We started with a course of smoked salmon, green and black olives, hummus, and my wife’s killer whole wheat challah. We followed that with the main course of the two stews, while my wife made some spinach kugel (parve souffle), along with some nice fresh green salad. The wines were paired well, I think. Some were clear winners, while some were not perceived by all as winners during the meal, and then there were the filthy, sick, and wild wines that were winners at the dinner and after. The winners were the 2001 Capcanes Peraj H’Abib, which is in the DRINK up state, enjoy it before you regret it! SUPER kudos go out to the Covenant Winery, who also had an entry in the winner’s circle, their 2003 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, which was from their maiden voyage. I am so happy that I held on to it to be enjoying it now. Finally, to be honest I whiffed on two wines; the 2009 Herzog Petite Sirah Second Edition and the 1996 Four Gates unoaked Chardonnay! Talk about messing up! I did not like either when we opened them, but WOW did that change fast. The two of them were drinking lovely a few hours later, while the Petite Sirah was better the next day.

Finally a friend of ours brought a surprise, a Kosher Akhasheni Georgian wine! The grapes used in this wine are called: Saperavi from the Akhasheni vineyards of the Gurdzhaani district in Kakheti, a province of Georgia.

The wine notes follow listed in the order they were drunk:

2006 Galil Mountain Winery Pinot Noir – Score: B (DRINK UP or Cook!!!)
Truly a shadow of its former self. It is dead and dying quickly, all at the same time. Some liked the wine, but not me. The nose on this dark ruby with serious brown halos colored wine has notes of dark cherry, aging raspberry, barn yard notes, vanilla, and stony rocks. The mouth on this medium bodied wine died off quickly with deep minerality, dark cherry, raspberry, and vanilla. The wine tasted old and dying, its structure was spicy and brambly with minerality with dark red fruit and still nice acid.

1996 Four Gates Unoaked Chardonnay – Score: B++ to A-
Wow this wine was clearly not on my radar, and was a really nice surprise from Benyo; I did not know it existed. We have posted in the past about its bigger oaked siblings (sulfur and non-sulfur), but I had no idea this one was lying around in the Four Gates cellar. The nose on this wine did not start nicely out of the bottle, but heck, how do you think you would smell if you were lying around in a dusty cellar for 15 years! Two or three hours later this light gold colored wine was hitting its stride, with clear and lovely notes of pineapple, grapefruit, lemon, citrus, white peach, and lychee. The mouth on this full bodied wine was channeling it inner nose, with pronounced pineapple, grapefruit, citrus, and peach. The mid palate was packed with core acid and lovely fruit. The finish was long and luscious with more summer fruit, pineapple, and a hint of grass and/or minerality.

2009 Herzog Petite Sirah – Score: B++
The nose on this black colored wine starts off closed and very unapproachable. However with time, the nose explodes with black cherry, blackberry, plum, hints of blueberry, black currant, light mocha, tar, tobacco, mounds of black pepper, roasted meats, oak, and floral notes of rose or violet. The mouth on this full bodied wine becomes rich and mouth coating with lovely tannins that are soft but still integrating. Along with pepper, tar, blackcurrant blackberry, and a hint of blueberry. The mid palate is packed with acid, tar, tobacco, oak, and lovely floral notes. The finish starts off stunted and short – DO NOT fret, it will open! The finish is long and sensuous with mocha, floral notes, blackcurrant, tobacco, and black pepper. Floral notes, blackcurrant, tobacco, blackberry, and oak linger long after the wine is gone.

2004 Chateau Labegorce Lede Margaux – Score: B to B+ (DRINK UP!!)
I know Daniel Rogov believes this wine is still alive and active, but the bottle I had was not over its peak, but clearly not as enjoyable as the one he tasted. It was nice but lacked so much body that it felt dead. The tannins and acid on this wine are clearly still kicking but I do not believe this wine is getting any better – drink up and open one hour in advance.

The nose on this dark garnet to mahogany colored wine is filled with tobacco, chocolate, cedar, raspberry, blackberry, herbs, and lovely dirt. The mouth on this medium bodied wine was nice and round with lovely tannin, blackberry, raspberry, and a touch of currant. The mid palate is bracing with acid, tannin, chocolate, herbs, and smoky characteristics. The finish is long, nice, and smoky with oak, blackberry, raspberry, dirt, chocolate, and herbs. Drink UP!!!

2001 Celler de Capçanes Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera, Montsant – Score: A- to A (DRINK UP!!)
Drink up – this wine is lovely but is really at its peak or a drop past it!! The score from previous tasting is a bit lower then the first score we gave this wine, and the same as my second tasting, but not because of tannins. Rather the score is a bit lower this time because of the color and age on the bottle. The notes are very much in line with my previous tasting except for color and tannin, but the structure is the same. I recommend opening the bottle 1 hour ahead of time, and NO more than that and enjoying it then. This bottle will not last four hours after opening, so drink now and enjoy.

The nose on this deep black colored wine, with a bit of a brown halo, is popping with blackberry, plum, cassis, sweet cedar, herbs, raspberry, licorice, and tobacco. The mouth on this full bodied and mouth coating wine is now smooth and layered with blackberry, plum, black currant, and cassis. The mid palate is packed with lovely tannins, bright acidity, and concentrated black fruit that comes at you in layers. The finish is super long, spicy, and concentrated with cloves, herbs, blackberry, plum, raspberry, chocolate, tobacco, and sweet cedar. The wine lingers long with cedar, plum, tobacco, vanilla, and chocolate.

2003 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: A- closer to A
Are you kidding me! This wine is as close to “filthy” as it gets without being covered in dirt and muck! This puppy is downright crazy, lovely, and insane! This wine was the clear winner of the evening, even against my clear, biased wines that I have a love affair with, the 1996 Four Gates Chardonnay and the 2001 Capcanes. Both were really nice, but in the end, fell a bit short, each for different reasons. This wine was the clear winner, and for bloody good reason! One other crazy thought, when this wine finally calmed down and lost some of its special characteristics, it was VERY close to the Capcanes. To the point where they were almost brothers, excepting for the color, where the Capcanes was clearly going brown and the Covenant being black as day.

The nose on this dark garnet to black colored wine is packed with rich ripe blackberry, tobacco, chocolate/mocha, crushed herbs, black currant, vanilla, raspberry, plum, and sweet oak. The mouth on this blockbuster medium to full bodied wine is concentrated, layered and mouth coating with lovely and almost integrated tannins, blackberry, black currant, raspberry, and ripe plum. The mid palate flows off the mouth with balancing acid, sweet oak, mocha, tobacco, and more nice tannins. The finish is long, spicy, and continuous and, while maybe being the best part of this wine, which is saying a lot, with sweet cedar in the fire box, a long puff from a fat stogie, a warm cup of mocha in your hand, while munching on blackberry, black currant, and vanilla. Tobacco, plum, blackberry, and sweet cedar linger long on the palate.

2004 Yarden Merlot – Score: A-
This is a clear and powerful wine and one that when compared side by side with the other wines we enjoyed in the evening came across as over the top. The nose on this dark garnet colored wine was screaming with extra ripe and sweet plum, blackberry, and cassis, along with spicy oak, crushed herbs, and tobacco. The mouth on this intense and full bodied wine hits you up front with super ripe fruit, spicy and still active tannin, and cassis, blackberry, and plum. The mid palate is balanced with nice acidity, sweet cedar, lovely tannin, and sweet cedar. The finish is super long and extracted with tobacco, oak, black fruit and herbs. A nice wine that is fine for a couple more years but one I always have trouble with given its intensely ripe black fruit and mounds of oak.

2006 Alaverdi Akhasheni – Score: B to B+
The nose on this dark garnet to black colored wine is hopping with dark cherry, candied fruit, perfumed nose, floral notes of violet, lovely chocolate, dates, and spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is velvety, mouth coating, and enriched by the residual sugar of this semi-sweet wine, along with dark cherry, date, nice tannin, a bit too much residual sweetness, and candied fruit. The mid palate is balanced with acid, lovely tannin, oak, chocolate, and spice. The finish is super long and rich with candied fruit, sweetness, cherry, and oak. The wine linger long with chocolate, date, and spice.

Three great wines from Spain, Israel, and the U.S.A. (and a dud) along with some great food

Three weeks ago saw us hosting a meal with a bride and groom to be, family, the bride’s parents, and Benyamin Cantz as usual.  To us they are all family and we were so honored to have them over a week before the wedding day.  In honor of this wonderful occasion, we cracked open some wonderful wines and Benyamin brought a pair of wonderful wines, one that we have had before, and one that is still under wraps.  We did have one dud that shocked me greatly given Daniel’s rating of it, but so it goes.  For this dinner we started with lovely roasted squash bisque.  Yeah, I said bisque – simply because most of the famous roasted squash soups calls for a ton of cream or soup stock and they render the soup into essentially a thin and boring presentation of such a lovely vegetable.  So we decided that this was not going to work.  Instead we went with a hybrid.  We roasted two sliced squash for 1 and a half hour.  While that was going on, we browned quite nicely a pair of diced/sliced onions while the roasting was going on.  Once that was done, we threw the lightly blackened squash into our large soup pot, and threw in a bottle of white wine.  We then puréed the pot until it was a bit mushy, but not creamy or thinner.   Instead it was thick bisque.  On top of that we threw in, what we thought was, a bit too much orange zest (which worked out in the end), thyme, and nutmeg.  Yes, this soup does match well with the season, but that was not the inclination for making the soup.  Rather, there was a cold spell coming through the area, and we wanted to have a thick and warm soup to start off the meal.

Roasted Squash Soup
2 butternut squash, peeled and cubed into large chunks
Olive Oil Spray
Garlic, Nutmeg
3 onions
Bottle of white wine
Vegetable Stock – if more liquid is needed
Grated Ginger
Orange Zest
Nutmeg
Cinnamon
Cooked chickpeas
Cayenne pepper (if you can handle it)

Peel and cube the squash and lay them in an oiled baking sheet.  Spray them with olive oil and sprinkle garlic powder and nutmeg over them.  Bake them at 400 degrees until slightly blackened.  While roasting the squash, we browned the pair of diced/sliced onions quite well.  Once that was done, we threw the lightly blackened squash into our large soup pot, and threw in a bottle of white wine.  We then puréed the pot until it was a bit mushy, but not creamy or thin.  Once the soup consistency starts to change, grate the ginger and orange zest, drop in cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.  Honestly, I rarely follow amounts.  I add till it tastes right.  Once the bisque is in motion and mixing well, we throw in the cooked chickpeas to add a cool twist of texture.  I personally love to add in cayenne pepper, but many do not.

After the soup we served meat lasagna, along with roasted green beans, spinach quiche, and fresh green salad.  The dinner worked well, and the wines paired wonderfully.  We had six bottles in total.  Benyamin brought three and we opened three as well.  Benyamin brought two experimental bottles that will remain undefined for now and one bottle of a 1999 Bustan Merlot.  I opened a 2001 Yarden Ortal Merlot, a 2001 Capcanes Peraj Ha’Abib, and a 2002 Capcanes Peraj Ha’Abib.  The Bustan was a massive dud, while the three that we opened up were fantastic – thank you :-).

I do not have an official tasting note for the 1999 Bustan Merlot, but to say the least it was DOA (Dead On Arrival).  The wine, to be fair, was full in the mouth, but it had almost no fruit and no real complexity at all.  What it did have was a nice mouth and that was about it.  Really a shame.  The other three wine notes can be found below in the order they were drunk:

2002 Cellar de Capçanes Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera, Montsant  – Score: A-
This was either the clear winner or it came in tied with the 2001 Yarden Ortal Merlot. The nose on this crazy black colored wine was screaming with rich tobacco, sweet oak, super ripe plum, blackberry, cassis, and raspberry. The mouth on this full bodied wine has now soft tannins, sweet oak, blackberry, plum, and tobacco. The mid palate is smooth with balanced acidity, and soft mouth coating tannins. The finish is super long and extracted in a polished manner, with more acid, tobacco, black fruit, and licorice. What a wonderful wine, I have no more, but again very happy that I drank it at a nice point in its life curve.

2001 Cellar de Capçanes Montsant Peraj Ha’abib Flor de Primavera – Score: A-
The nose on this deep black colored wine is popping with blackberry, plum, cassis, sweet oak, licorice, and tobacco. The mouth on this full bodied wine is still clearly tannic in nature and far from integrated. The mouth is layered with sweet oak, blackberry and cassis. The mid palate is packed with not yet integrated tannins, bright acidity, and concentrated black fruit that comes at you in layers. Where the 2002 vintage has integrated tannins, this vintage has mouth puckering tannins. The finish is super long and concentrated with dark chocolate, tobacco, more black fruit, and acidity. Quite a nice wine as well, but still not quite there yet. I have scored this bottle a bit lower than our previous tasting, because of the tannins, but the rest is holding well, though I missed the mint this time around.

2001 Yarden Ortal Vineyard Merlot – Score: A-
Thank God this wine is back! The last time we tasted this wine it was as close to a dud as this wine can be :-). Now it is back, it is sleek and beautiful. The nose on this dark purple colored win is alive and talkative, with blackberry, ripe plum, licorice, and rich oak. The mouth on this full bodied wine is mouth coating and plush with layers upon layers of ripe plums, blackberry, and integrating mouth coating tannins. The mid palate is popping with balancing acid, chocolate, and roasted herbs. The finish is luxurious and long with more black fruit, chocolate, tobacco, and sweet oak. Thank goodness this wine is back. It was either a close second place finish to the 2002 Capcanes or it was tied. By score alone it was in second place, but thanks goodness man does not live upon score alone, but by the word, expression, and feelings that a wine leaves you with after it is long gone.


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