With 2020 coming to a close, I am posting the top sparkling wines, but to be clear, I drink sparkling wine all year round! We have been blessed recently with Yarden selling their Gilgal Sparkling wine for under 20 dollars a bottle! Honestly, there is no better deal out there and that is why they were the wines of the year last year! Yarden continues to impress with their 2014 entries and they are the sparkling wine producers to beat, for anyone entering this market.
How is Sparkling wine made?
There are many options – but the vast majority of sparkling wines fall into three categories:
- Le Méthode Champenoise (Méthode Traditionnelle)
- Methode Ancestrale
- The Charmat Method
Le Méthode Champenoise (Méthode Traditionnelle)
So, what is Champagne and how do we get all those cool bubbles? Well, it all starts with a grape of some sort, in most cases, Chardonnay, but we will get back to the other varietals further down. For now, like all wine on planet earth, Champagne starts with a grape. It is picked (often early to lower alcohol and increase acidity), then crushed, pressed, and allowed/encouraged to go through primary fermentation, exactly like all white wines on planet earth. At this point, most houses ferment the base wine in metal tanks or barrels. Some still use wood, but they are the minority.
Of course, like much of France (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne), especially in Champagne, the wine can be chaptalized after racking, until an 11% ABV. Now before the heat waves that have covered much of this earth (call it what you wish), Bordeaux and Champagne prayed to hit their desired mark of ABV, and therefore they used to add sugar to bring up the ripeness on their fruit. Nowadays, Champagne is picking earlier and earlier, and Chaptalization is not a common thing anymore, as mother nature is taking care of the fruit’s ripeness all on her own!
Once the wine has been fermented the next question arises, should they let the base wine go through a wine’s second natural fermentation called Malolactic Fermentation? Most allow the fermentation to take place and require it, a fact that is easy nowadays with controlled winery environments, though some do not like it at all. Finally, the barrels/tanks are blended or in the rare case, kept aside as a Vintage Champagne, meaning the base wine used in it, is sourced from one vintage and not a blend of a few vintages.
So, at this point what we have is base wine, and while it may be an OK wine, it is far from what the final product will be like. Most base wines are nice enough, but it would be like licking on a lemon, these wines are highly acidic, and not normally well balanced at that point.
The next step is to bottle the wine, with yeast and basic rock sugar, which causes a second fermentation. The actual amount of the two added ingredients is a house secret. The wines are closed with a simple beer bottle cap. You will notice that ALL wines made in this manner have a lip around the top of the bottle, where the cap is attached to. Again, if the year is exceptional then the wine becomes vintage champagne and is aged for at least three years. If the vintage is normal then the bottle’s content is a blend of a few vintages and is aged for at least one and a half years.
All the while during this second fermentation process, the wine is aged and the wine becomes more complex from the yeast. The yeast breaks down as it eats the rock sugar, adding the effervescence, and while the yeast breaks down, it adds a lovely mouthfeel and rich complexity. This process is known as autolysis, releasing molecules that are slowly transformed as they interact with those in the wine.
The process is a dual transformational process. First, the yeasts are broken down, but if that occurred in a 100% hermetically sealed environment, we would have SERIOUS issues, like HS (Hydrogen Sulfide) and mercaptan (think nasty rotten eggs). Oxygen is a two-edged sword, with too much a wine oxidizes, and with too little, you get HS and nasty foul egg smell. So, the cap that covers the Champagne bottles as they rest for 18 months to 3 years in these cool racks, actually allow for a certain amount of oxygen to flow through, the caps are not hermetic seals. The special stoppers, AKA caps, allow the wine to mature on the lees, with a very slow feed of oxygen coming through, thereby allowing the wine to mature at a rate that is best for it. You can mature them quicker, with a different cap, but you would lose the value of a wine sitting long on the lees.
According to Wikipedia, the effects of autolysis on wine contribute to a creamy mouthfeel that may make a wine seem to have a fuller body. The release of enzymes inhibits oxidation which improves some of the aging potentials of the wine. The mannoproteins improve the overall stability of the proteins in the wine by reducing the number of tartrates that are precipitated out. They may also bind with the tannins in the wine to reduce the perception of bitterness or astringency in the wine. The increased production of amino acids leads to the development of several flavors associated with premium Champagne including aromas of biscuits or bread dough, nuttiness, and acacia. As the wine ages further, more complex notes may develop from the effects of autolysis.
Finally, it is at this stage, after the bottles have matured their proper time, based upon their label (blend or Vintage), we get to the final stage of Champagne, remuage (or “riddling” in English) and Dosage. To get rid of the lees (the dead yeast cells and other particulates), the bottles are hand or machine manipulated to convince the lees to move towards the cap. Then the neck of the bottle is frozen, and the cap is removed, the lees come flying out in a frozen format, and then the bottle is recapped with the famous champagne cork, but not before it is dosed with more sugar. This very last step is the reason for this post, but let’s leave that till further down in the post, for now, let’s talk varietals and color/style.
Color/style and Varietals
So, we have covered the how part of Champagne (well almost more on Dosage below), and now we need to talk color and grapes. The base grapes for Champagne are Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. There are very few houses that also use Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot blanc, Pinot Gris. Champagne, like the rest of France’s wine industry, is controlled by the AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée).
So, for Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay, which is white from white, Chardonnay is the only grape allowed. Meaning, that the juice from Chardonnay is 100% of a BdB Champagne, or in rare occasions from Pinot blanc (such as La Bolorée from Cedric Bouchard).
For Blanc de Noirs, the Champagne is made from either Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, or a blend of the two. Finally, for Rose Champagne, it can be a blend of the three grapes.
This has been all the rave recently, LD or Late Disgorgement. All this means is that the house or winery (outside of Champagne) kept the bottles capped for a longer time. So the 2007 Yarden Blanc de Blancs was sold in 2014 or so. It is a lovely wine and recently Yarden released a 2007 LD Yarden Blanc de Blancs. It is the same wine, just held longer in capped format (another 4 years or so), and then recently they disgorged the wine, more on that below, and put in the dosage and the Champagne style cork and released it now. Essentially, for all intent and purpose, Yarden aged the Sparkling wine 4 more years and released it later on. The interesting thing will be to taste the two wines (the LD and normal 2007 Yarden BdB and see how 4 extra years of lying on lees helped/hindered/or did nothing). I will be doing that soon enough.Read the rest of this entry
So, as the image above shows roses are very expensive and the majority of the 28 of the 55 are at or above the median price of 23. This is not new, IMHO, roses overall have not been good or even very interesting this season.
Please read this post for my writeup on rose wines this year. I had a few follow-ups after that, including the one post with the QPR Rose for 2020, but this post will list all the rose wines I have had this year. Also, as I tasted more wines the price of the median went up and that allowed the Roubine La Vie to also become a QPR Winner. Again, the MARKET decides the QPR winners, not me! All I decide is the wine’s subjective quality score, and yes, that is subjective! The rest, the P part of QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) is decided upon by the market. Please read my revised QPR scoring here.
The image does not show the 2 QPR Winners as obvious winners, as the dot that represents the Carmel Rose and the Roubine La Vie Rose is on the top left of the winner box. These wines barely made their way into the Winner’s square, but with such a horrible vintage, rose-wise, 2 is better than NONE.
In regards to rose, look a lot of my friends and I do not agree. Look at the Cantina Giuliano Rosato, it is a VERy nice and classically made Gris style rose, but it has a bit of RS (Residual Sugar) in it, at least to my palate, and I have issues with that. Other wines that have more RS drive me nuts. My friends do not care about RS or ripe notes in rose as long as it is balanced. To me, rose, red, or white, I DO NOT want RS. The funny thing is that Kedel Jackson probably got away with1% RS in his Chardonnays for decades, and made it the classic style for Cali Chard, which brought on the famous ABC movement (Anything But Chardonnay). Which spawned Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and so many other great white wines here in California.
So, yes, there are two winners now, and there are a few 91 scored roses, but please look at the chart!! LOL! It is visually clear that the vast majority of the wines are not something I would look to buy. They are either too expensive or not interesting and that is what has gone wrong with the kosher rose market. Again, I have said it a few times, IMHO, the wineries have thrown in the towel and they make rose thinking it will sell, no matter what they release. This will eventually end badly. Only time will tell. Read the rest of this entry
It is not yet summer but here in NorCal, it feels more like summer than spring, and the weather is making shipments really hard at this time of year. Normally, I would have been in Israel by now, one way or the other, and I would have at least had two tastings with the gang. Sadly, with the times we live in now, neither of those wonderful ideas is possible. Sad and strange days we live in. Also, this is round 1, there will be another 15 roses I will get through over the next week or so.
While rose wine in the non-kosher market is exploding – especially Rose wine from Provence; a wine region of France, the kosher market this year will be more subdued. In the past, distributors brought in as much as 60+ kosher rose wines, this year with the issues I brought up in my previous post – there is less of an appetite for all those wines.
QPR and Price
I have been having more discussions around my QPR score with a few people and their contention, which is fair, in that they see wine at a certain price, and they are not going to go above that. So, instead of having a true methodology behind their ideas, they go with what can only be described as a gut feeling. The approaches are either a wine punches above its weight class so it deserves a good QPR score. Or, this other wine has a good score and is less than 40 dollars so that makes it a good QPR wine.
While I appreciate those ideals, they do not work for everyone and they do NOT work for all wine categories. It does NOT work for roses. Look, rose prices are 100% ABSURD – PERIOD! The median rose price has gone up this year and it is around 22 bucks – that is NUTS! Worse, is that the prices are for online places like kosherwine.com or onlinekosherwine.com, with free or good shipping options and great pricing, definitely not retail pricing.
As you will see in the scores below, QPR is all over the place and there will be good QPR scores for wines I would not buy while there are POOR to BAD QPR scores for wines I would think about buying, based upon the scores, but in reality, I would never buy another bottle because the pricing is ABSURDLY high.
Also, remember that the QPR methodology is based upon the 4 quintiles! Meaning, that there is a Median, but there are also quintiles above and below that median. So a wine that is at the top price point is by definition in the upper quintile. The same goes for scores. Each step above and below the median is a point in the system. So a wine that is in the most expensive quintile but is also the best wine of the group gets an EVEN. Remember folks math wins!
Still, many of the wines have a QPR of great and I would not buy them, why? Well, again, QPR is based NOT on quality primarily, it is based upon price. The quality is secondary to the price. So, wines that are drinkable with an 88 or 89 score, though wines that I would not buy, have a low enough price to get a GOOD or GREAT score. Does that mean that I would buy them because they have a GREAT QPR? No, I would not! However, for those that really want roses, then those are solid options.
Please remember, a wine score and the notes are the primary reason why I would buy a wine – PERIOD. The QPR score is there to mediate, secondarily, which of those wines that I wish to buy, are a better value. ONLY, the qualitative score can live on its own, in regards to what I buy. The QPR score defines, within the wine category, which of its peers are better or worse than the wine in question.
Finally, I can, and I have, cut and paste the rest of this post from last year’s rose post and it plays 100% the same as it did last year. Why? Because rose again is horrible. There is almost no Israeli rose, that I have tasted so far, that I would buy – no way! Now, I have not tasted the wines that many think are good in Israel, the Netofa, Vitkin, and Recanati roses. Yes, there is ONE rose I would “buy” by my qualitative scoring approach, which is why I used the word almost above. That wine would be the 2019 Bat Shlomo Rose, but at some 28 or more dollars a bottle, it is highway robbery for that score. Read the rest of this entry
As always, I start my posts by thanking God and my wife for allowing me to go and taste wines around the world. With the Coronavirus (COVID-19) going strong around the world, I was sure the planes would be emptier, but they were not. Thankfully, I flew and returned home, safely, Shomer Petayim Hashem. Now, on to show.
This year, I flew to London, and was in London for less than 24 hours, before, going on a train to Paris, where I stayed until after Shabbat, then I flew to NYC for KFWE there, then to LA, for KFWE there and then on home. Our plane to London came after the storms that terrorized Europe. First came Ciara on Feb 9th, a week before KFWE, but then came Dennis, the Sunday before KFWE, which was on Monday. What a beast that was, look at these videos, intense flooding! Ciara was so crazy that it blew a British Airways 747 825 MPH! The flight from NYC to LHR took under 5 hours, the fastest on record! I have a few snapshots on my flight going 700 MPH but come on, we were getting the leftovers of Denni’s fury or help, depending on how you see it and understanding the context of where you were at that moment.
Sadly, Dennis was so destructive, it did not stop at London or Paris, it continues throughout Europe. Sadly, that meant that wineries from Italy and Spain were not able to attend the KFWE. So Elvi Wines’s Moises Cohen and David Cohen were not able to make it, and nor was Eli Gauthier from Cantina Giuliano.
Overall thoughts of the new wines
Throughout the travels, I really did not find any new wine that I would kvell about. I STRESS NEW wine. Sure, there are many great wines, but they were wines I had already tasted. I did taste a few very special wines in Paris, that is another three posts from now. Other than that, all the roses I tasted from 2019 carried forth the flaws of 2018, flat, boring, and maybe showing a bit more acid, but who really cares. If there was ONE takeaway, from all the KFWE and other tastings like Bokobsa, and tastings I did in private, it would be that 2019 roses are a HARD pass from Israel and USA so far. The thankful note goes to Royal Europe for bringing back the rose love with the 2019 Chateau Roubine, La Vie! Also, Bravo to the unbottled Costa Rosato from Cantina Giuliano, sadly Eli was not there, because of the storms, but the rose showed very well, more of a Gris than a rose, and lovely. The other takeaway I had from all of the KFWE was that 2017 was a VERY hard year for California. It shows in every 2017 red and white wine, that I have tasted so far, except for the 2017 Herzog Chardonnay, Lineage, which is lovely, and which was on my QPR of the year list. The 2017 vintage, throughout the world, actually sucked. Spain had hail and other issues, Israel was a mess, California had two HUGE heat waves hit it and many lost their fruit, along with the smoke taint from the fires, and France had the freeze that culled many vineyards, while also just being an average vintage for Bordeaux and Burgundy. Yes, there were a few very nice wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy from 2017, but the vintage was no 2015 or 2016. On average 2017 in Bordeaux was no homerun. The 2017 California wines either taste overly ripe and fruity or they taste green and under-ripe. Either way, 2017, IMHO, is a vintage I will pass on from California, sadly.
Getting back on topic, the reason for coming to KFWE London was simply that I like London, it is a great city, and even if I am there for less than 24 hours, it is still fun to see the environment of what is becoming quite a kosher food and wine enclave. The issues I brought up on my post last year, being the distribution of kosher wines is still hanging over London. I spoke with many of the buyers that I know of in London, and they all agree, none of the enophiles buy their wines from a store. This issue is one I highlighted in my year in review, and it is one that needs to be answered long term.
KFWE London 2020
So, in my review last year of KFWE London 2019, I summed it up in one sentence:
So, in a single sentence to wrap up KFWE London 2019, an elegant hall and presentation, solid wines served, ok crowd control, poor implementation of the venue, glasses were OK and could be improved, and the food needs help.
This year things changed, well most of them anyway. Let us start with the good, the hall continues to be a huge highlight of the event, both the general hall and the VIP hall/rooms are quite beautiful. They are elegant and regal, all the ways you expect a London event to be held. The wines were solid again if you wanted to taste the new 2017 Royal wines, this was the ONLY KFWE event that had them all, ONLY! Sure, Menahem Israelievitch was nice to bring the 2017 Leoville Poyferre, by hand, from Paris, but if you wanted to taste the 2017 Chateau Giscours or the 2017 Les Roches de Yon Figeac, you were out of luck. Throw in the fact that ALL of the 2017 Herzog Wine Cellars Winery also had all of their 2017 wines there, along with the yet unlabeled 2016 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga, Single Vineyard. Once again, Herzog Wine Cellars came to play and came with all their wines. Though it was an absolute miracle for Jospeh Herzog to have even made it to London, he too was disrupted by the storms, but he was there, with maybe an hour of sleep, promoting hos wines, Bravo Joseph!!
On another recent business trip, I spent a day with Gabriel and Yael Geller. My many thanks to my friends for hosting me for the day. The food was awesome, smoked ribs, and roasted chuck, and a game of blind tastings that was really wonderful. The wines we tasted blind were mostly 100% HORRIBLE but the last one we enjoyed was why I just stated that it was wonderful, because GG was so kind to pour a bottle of the 2002 Smith Haute Lafitte a wine I had not tasted till that moment. It was beyond wonderful – thanks so much, buddy!!!
We also took a tour around Teaneck, NJ’s Kosher takeout establishments and they were all horrible. Sorry. There was nothing good to report here. However, the wine shop where we bought a vast number of horrible wines was very nice. The wine shop is called Filler’up. The owner is called Mendy Mark and he was very kind and helpful in finding all the new wines that I have not yet tasted. Sadly, 95% of those wines were horrible but that is not Mendy’s fault there is far too much horrible plonk in the Kosher wine world.
So, if you are in the Teaneck area definitely swing by Filler’up they have a great selection and the staff is very nice. However, do not buy takeout food from around there that stuff is really bad.
Ok, thankfully, the takeout food was just a test of the quick food in the area, not really food we had that evening. If I had an image of the smoked ribs it would have been the post’s featured image, the animal was black bark heaven, with loads of spice and smoke. Do not forget breakfast and lunch before that which was also beautifully served and with such panache, my many thanks again!
I bought a bunch of wines and they were all duds other than one very nice French Mevushal wine that came in a 375ml format, but it also comes in 750ml format, but it is not available at any of the common shops that I can buy from. If someone finds it at a place that ships and does not charge an arm and leg, please tell me, more on the best of the tasting below, other than, of course, the EPIC 2002 Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte.
GG did a blind tasting and they were all bad to horrible, again, other than the 2002 SHL. To be fair, I did not take long notes for wines that were undrinkable. I have listed the blind and non-blind tasted wines below in different sections. Many thanks to Gabriel and Yael Geller for hosting me and for sharing his time, wonderful culinary feats, home, and wines with me. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2018 Route Victor Cabernet Sauvignon, California – Score: NA
The nose on this wine is bulk in nature, candied fruit, cherry, and cheap. The mouth on this wine is cheap, far too acidic, and a lack of body, cherry, acid, and vegetables. Move on
2016 Padre Bendicho, Yecla – Score: NA
This wine is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Mourvedre. This wine is 100% PURE date juice, in all the glorious ways it can be! Read the rest of this entry
There are so many new hot trends in winemaking. Whether it is Natural wines, native yeasts, cement tanks or eggs, or now the newest fad – Pet-Nat. They all have roots to the overpowering Millennial generation’s need to have only the freshest and most natural product, farm to table mindset. The less the wine is manipulated – the happier they and the wine world that feeds them seems.
Do not get me wrong, like all huge fads – they all need a focus, and if you say natural wine – the next name must be Alice Feiring, a single-minded and manically focused woman of fierce focus and passion for all things natural wine, and I mean all of that with the utmost respect. I had a tasting of Four gates wines with her and it was an afternoon to remember for sure!
Pet-Nat (short for Pétillant-Naturel – Natural Sparkling) is one of those wines that is not 100% rooted in the newest Natural wine fad, but it is as natural as you will get. The wine is as simple as it gets, but also very hard to get right, and even when you do, it can be a complete flop.
The wine is essentially a naturally sparkling wine because it finishes its initial fermentation in the bottle. Simple as that. There is not extra dosage or any sort, no human manufactured bubbles, nope this is just the wine itself speaking to you from the bottle.
It is all the buzz now in the media, it is the hottest hipster drink, it is not expensive, and is easy drinking and it is meant to be enjoyed quickly and soon after bottling. There are none of the pretentious aspects of wine notes or aromas or flavors here – it is meant to be a simple alcoholic bubbly joy that works with nice appetizers or as an aperitif itself.
Another big push going on in Israel is the desire to have a wine that is native to Israel being made and produced locally. There are projects now around these four locally grown and historical grapes; Dabuki, Marawi, Bittuni, and Jandali. Recanati Winery makes wines from both the Marawi and Bittuni grapes, both sourced from the Judean Hills. Gvaot Winery made a 2016 Jandali grape – sadly I missed it when I was at the winery this past trip.
The Dabuki grape is another of these local grapes and one that was used in the making of the 2016 Jezreel Natural, a Pet-Nat wine. The first thing you think when you see the bottle is, WOW these people know how to market! Remember, that there are thousands of kosher wines now on the market and most people have no idea which wine is good or bad, they rely 100% on the storekeeper or their friends. So, when trying to pick a bottle from a wall of wines – they use their imagination and it, for the most part, takes them to either the most expensive bottle, the one with the coolest label, the one that has a very good kosher supervision (yeah that is an actual criterion), or one they have heard of before!
This wine wins on the price (cheap), marketing label, and supervision (good enough for me anyway). Where it fails is on what matters most – the wine. This wine was a complete disaster, what can I say, the bubbles were nice to start but died after 30 min or so, which to be fair is what you get from a Pet-Nat wine. But the worse part was that the nose and mouth were offensive. The nose was pure cabbage soup and the mouth was cabbage pr cheese, could not figure that out. The bubbles were nice enough while they were there.
This is a wine that will sell for now on pure marketing and cool factor, I wonder if people buy it again though, I would not. My many thanks to AD for getting me a bottle. The wine note follows below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2016 Jezreel Petillant Natural – Score: 75
WOW, that nose is extremely off-putting, it smells like cooked cabbage, and green banana, with slightly toasty notes. The mouth is light in body with good enough bubbles, a nice acid with sweet green apple, more cabbage (or is it cheese), and tart quince. The finish starts off short but fills out with tart apple. If you can get past the cheese and cabbage it could be drinkable. Drink UP and drink fast after opening if you want to try it, the bubbles disappear quickly like most Pet-Nat wines.