Over the past three months, I have been trying as many rose, white, and sparkling wines as I could find and it is time to post what I think of them. In the grand scheme of things, 2016 is not much better of a year than 2015 was. The white and rose wines from the 2015 vintage in Israel were a complete disaster. I have stated that many times and that is why I did not post this list last year at all. I was almost not going to post this list this year, but what the heck – it will not be very good information – as many of the wines were boring to painful with a few good exceptions.
To recap, red wines overall from Israel are a total letdown and nothing has changed in that department. However, the 2015 and 2016 vintages for whites and roses have overall been a huge disappointment, in regards to either lack of focus in the wines or lack of acid.
I have covered Rose – many times now, but the latest and last was here and a few French roses that were not worth much as well. The whites and sparkling wines were what I needed to post – so I guess it is time to post them already.
The State of Israeli wines from the 2016 vintage
Israel really got me excited about the rose and white wine potential, but the last two years have totally squashed those aspirations. I really hope 2017 brings it back. Sure, we can always count on Domaine Netofa and Tzora Winery for great wines. Netofa has released some brand new wines and I look forward to being able to taste those wines very soon. The new 2016 Tzora white wines are now in the USA and they are lovely wines that have a good few years in their tanks. The new 2016 Psagot are also quite nice.
Of course, Yarden winery continues to be the best kosher Sparkling winery in the world. Sure, there are great sparkling wines from France and even some nice one from Spain and the USA, but for the price, quality, and enjoyment – you cannot beat the Yarden Sparkling wines. Their white wines are very professional, they may not blow you away, but they are always clean, well balanced, and fun to drink, which is what matters. Their lower level labels (Gilgal here in the USA), have had some issues in the white wines, and Galil Mountain Winery has also been slipping a bit, which is sad.
In regards to Israeli red wines, nothing new here. A great red Israeli wine has gone the way of the dodo bird. Other than Tzora, Netofa, Mia Luce, and some others here and there, I cannot safely recommend reds from Israel to my friends.
Two years ago when I last compiled a cross varietal white wine list, I was praising Israel for its wonderful whites and rose – sadly that was the wonderful 2014 vintage! It was and is still crazy good for some wines like Matar and Tzora. Then we had 2015 and 2016! While the 2016 vintage is better than the 2015 vintage, well anything would have been better than 2015, it is still severely lacking.
My cellar has gone primarily to the USA, then France, then Spain, and then stuff here and there. The USA, mostly because I love all things Four Gates Winery, and a bunch of others as you will see below. That is a sad state of affairs, but it is one that has been created by the Israeli wineries themselves. They always have the chance to change back, till then I will enjoy the wines made in California, Spain, France, and wait for bell curve to shift like it has in France and California. I hope Israel is only slightly behind them, but from what I had over the past couple of years now, things are still going the wrong way in the world of kosher Israeli wines. Read the rest of this entry
Well, I have finished all the KFWE posts, and my past personal wine tastings posts, and now it is time to get back to posting about wineries I visited on my last trip. To remind you, I came to Israel for Sommelier 2017, then flew to Paris and back the next morning for the Bokobsa tasting. Upon my return to Israel, I drove north for a day, before coming back to the Jerusalem area, and then flying home. I have already posted all the wineries I visited in Israel’s North, excepting for my visit with Gidi Sayada at the lovely new visitor tasting room of Lueria Winery. We tasted all the new releases and as always, it is a joy to sit down and taste wines with Gidi.
The wines that Gidi makes use the grapes that were planted by his father, Yosef Sayada some 22 years ago. The vines were planted on the hills surrounding Moshav Safsufa. Interestingly, Safsufa is an Aramaic word meaning – late ripening fruit. The burial place of the revered kabbalist Rav Yitzchak Luria, who was one of the foremost Kabbalist experts in his time, overlooks the vineyards. It is in his honor that the winery is called Lueria Winery.
Lueria Winery has been growing slowly but surely, going from a few thousand bottles in 2006 to more than 100K bottles in 2016. Most people would not think that Lueria Winery is pumping out that much wine, but since Gidi started making wine, after learning winemaking in Israel, and cutting his teeth with Tal Pelter of Pelter Winery (not kosher) and Matar Winery, it is clear to see that he has found his own way now. With the abundance of his father’s grapes to choose from, some 45 acres, comprising many classic varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, along with some more Mediterranean varietals, like Syrah, Sangiovese, Barbera, and Roussanne.
This winery, like many throughout Israel, is not afraid to make half of their wines – white wines. Why? Because contrary to the USA palate, Israelis have finally found the love for all things white and rose! Sadly, this year, Gidi did not make a rose. In its place, he started a new label, the 2016 Roussanne! Also, gone is the pure dry Gewurztraminer that we had a few years here and there. Now, he is making some dry Gewurztraminer and placing it into the lovely, Lueria White wine. The white varietals used in the winery are Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Roussanne. There are very few wineries in Israel making Pinot Grigio, the ones I know of are Dalton (a five-minute drive from Lueria Winery), Lueria Winery, and Yarden Winery. Each wine is stylistically different from each other. The Dalton PG is all about acid and fruit and is light on the mineral. Shockingly, the Yarden PG is less about fruit and more a balance between the fruit and mineral. Finally, the Lueria Winery PG is smoky and mineral rich, with nice fruit as well. Get them all and then taste them in a blind tasting!
The red wine labels have been cleaned up, in both appearance and names. Now it is just two blends Rosso and Terrace at the first level, followed by two single varietal dominated wines, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon. With the Grand Vital being the flagship wine of the winery, which is a blend of the best barrels from each vintage. Its parts change each year but it’s mostly dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, along with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Sometimes Syrah is added as well, but in the past many years that has not been the case. I think the streamlining and simplification of the labels, along with cleaning them up a bit as well, really makes for a lovely lineup of wines.
Well, I am back, landing the day before the Shabbat preceding Shavuot. I was there for my Nephew’s wedding and we stopped off in Paris for two days – that post can be read/seen here. From there we jumped on an EasyJet plane and we were in Israel, but those kind of things do not just happen. In hindsight I would use EasyJet again – simply because there really were few other options. The direct flights were these (listed in cost order); Transavia (I wonder if the count sleeps in luggage), EasyJet, Arkia (Israel’s second largest airline), El Al, and Air France. I tried to use miles on AF – but they were crazy high. So, in the end, EasyJet it was.
EasyJet is one of those airlines that will nickel and dime you all the way to and in the plane. But the best plan (since I had no checked luggage), is to pay for seat assignment and then you get a roll on and backpack. I was stressing about my rollon, it was a bit heavy, and I was worried they would nickle me to death. In the end, the dude at the counter was very nice and they took the rollon – asking to check it, which was fine with me. The trip was fine, as there is a lounge in the CDG terminal, and what we really wanted was just a place to be normal in a land of madness.
Once we got to the gate they were boarding us only to leave us in the gateway for a good 25 minutes – no idea why. Once we boarded, I was asleep, which was a blessing. I had lots to watch – but sleep was what I craved. Once I awoke we pretty much landed, with maybe 20 minutes or so before landing anyway. Once we landed we disembarked quickly, and then well – no one was there at security check. There were loads of people backing into the anteroom. It would be another 20+ minutes before folks actually arrived and started to cut through the backlog.
Once we got through our bags were there already and we were off to get our car – or try! Look I like Budget in Israel, they normally treat me well, but this trip was horrible! They made us wait 1 hour or more and then they treated us in classic Israeli style and gave us a car that was smaller than what we ordered/paid for and then told us to leave them alone! Love people like that!
Anyway, we were off and really that is what I cared about – I wanted to be home! After that, I can say that the trip was really about tasting late 2014 released wines and 2015 wines. Before, I get into that – let’s recap the state of 2015. As stated here, this is what happened in 2015 and after tasting some 40+ wines from 2015 – nothing has changed my opinion.
Well after two world-class vintages in 2001 and 2008, 2015 was a huge letdown. The white and rose are for the most OK, and nice. The white and rose wines are not at the level of 2014 (more on that below), but they are very respectable. The 2015 reds on the other hand is an entirely different subject.
A few things going on here – first of all the weather was perfect through August – looking like yet another blockbuster Shmita vintage. Wet winter, tons of rain and no deep freezing, followed by very moderate spring (making for good bud formations). This was followed by temperate highs and nice cool evenings throughout the summer, except for a few spikes here and there, that was all until August! In August nature took a very dark view on Israel – starting with some of the worst highs in the history of Modern Israel, and power consumption that peaked for an entire week that broke record after record. August continued with crazy heat – but it was early September when all hell broke loose. September saw a return of the epic sandstorm – but this time it reached almost biblical proportions in September. Just look at these satellite images – they are crazy!
Overall, the season was not what it was meant to be. The sand storms brought even higher temps, it all unravelled at the end. The funny thing is that – the wineries that pull early, AKA do not produce date juice, were affected far less – like Recanati and Tabor. The ones who pull later or pull from the Galilee – even if they are great wineries – were affected. In some ways it will mean that lower level wines at wineries will have normally better fruit. It will also mean that many wineries will have less of their flagship wines. Of course this is all from what winemakers and wineries have told me so far. Only time will tell to see what really comes out, but agriculturally, it was not a great year. Read the rest of this entry
On the weekend of August 12th we were laying low with a continued hunkering for meatballs. I cannot truly explain why I am constantly tinkering with my meatball recipe. I guess I can only say that I like to tinker, and I like to play with recipes. This one went very wrong! I normally add in shredded vegetables to make the meatballs softer, instead of using a panade. What is a panade and what do you use it for? According to Cook’s Illustrated: “A panade is a paste of milk and bread that is typically used to help foods like meatballs and meatloaf hold their shape and moisture. Starches from the bread absorb liquid from the milk to form a gel that coats and lubricates the protein molecules in the meat, much in the same way as fat, keeping them moist and preventing them from linking together to form a tough matrix. Mixing the beef and panade in a food processor helps to ensure that the starch is well dispersed so that all the meat reaps its benefits.”
Steaks can handle being eaten medium rare, my favorite temperature, because the bacteria does not penetrate the solid surface of a steak too deeply. However, ground meat can have or attract the bacteria and now it has the potential to get into every nook and cranny of the meatball or burger – which can be painful or far worse. The answer is to fully cook the ground meat dish and still have something edible in the end, which is no small feat. The panade gives you a cushion or life jacket because it allows you to cook the ground meat right to the end and maybe a bit more and not end up with ground up shoe leather.
So while the panade does wonders for ground meat recipes, it does not work in a kosher home – given the whole “meat and milk thing”. That leaves us with a need to get a substance that starts off dry and ends up soft – vegetables! This is not the first time we have made meatballs with vegetables, however, it is the first time we have done it with vegetables that I did not squeeze out! Ouch! I was lazy and tired and did not want to bother – big mistake.
The meatballs came out fine, but they were overly soft. I should have seen it when I made the mixture. A few rules about meatballs:
1) NEVER over mix them – the more you slam them around the harder and more gummy they get
2) A mixture that is correct should feel more like a stiff dough than a soft one – that is where I messed up
3) Cook the meatballs until they float in the pan (if you are braising them). They will sink to start, and the second they bob up to the surface, yank them out.
4) To be sure they are not ready, make sure to not overstuff the pan and the braise, so that the meatballs have freedom to rise to the surface when ready
There you go – I hope you all can learn from my mistakes and, lets be honest – bobbing for meatballs is so much more enjoyable than rotten apples!
To pair with this lovely tasting, albeit overly soft, meatballs, we cooked up a pot of linguini and a tossed a fresh bowl of green salad. The wine we enjoyed over the weekend was the 2007 Binyamina Zinfandel. We also enjoyed a few more wines in the same time, so I am adding them here for posterity.
2007 Binyamina Zinfandel Special Reserve (Israel, Galilee) – Score: B to B++
The nose on this dark garnet to black colored wine starts off way to hot, however over time it calms down to expose chocolate, tobacco, cedar, raspberry, plum, blackcurrant, black cherry, crushed herbs, dirt, and mound of black pepper. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is starting to show its age with excessive date flavors that taste oxidized, plush mouth feel from nice tannin, rich loamy dirt, raspberry, plum, blackcurrant, and black cherry. The mid palate is balanced with nice acid, cedar, and vanilla. Th finish is long and spicy with heaps of black pepper, chocolate, tobacco, vanilla, blackcurrant, date, cedar, and herbs. Cedar, black pepper, date, raspberry, black currant, chocolate, and vanilla linger.
2009 Cantina Gabriele Pinot Grigio (Italy) – Score: B
This past weekend I tasted this bottle at our synagogue’s kiddush and it was lacking to say the least. The nose on this wine was totally killer! The nose on this light gold colored wine was exploding with lemon, aroma, pepper, honeyed melon, and peach. Unfortunately, that was where it ended. The mouth on this light to medium bodied wine was dead with light hints of acidity, peach, honey, and melon. The mid palate was totally flat with little bite, more sweet fruit and melon. The finish was average with a bit of bite but it faded quickly leaving only a hint of melon, honey, and light floral notes. I was so hopeful after the nose but so it goes.
2009 Terrenal Cabernet Sauvignon Yecla (Spain, Murcia, Yecla) – Score: B to B+
Still really like this bottle especially given the cheap price. Much has stayed the same but a few new nuances have shown up. The nose on this dark garnet to black colored wine is rich with dirt, cloves, graphite, raspberry, blackberry, crushed herbs, a hint of chocolate, and black cherry. After some time blueberry also makes an appearance, however at that time the wine is starting to degrade. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is heavy with tannin that lends to a nice but crazy mouth feel, along with blackberry, raspberry, and black cherry. The mid palate is bone dry and acidic along with some chocolate and a fair amount of crushed herbs. The finish is long with chocolate, blackberry, black cherry, crushed herbs, mint, and some mineral. This wine is really nice for the price! (103 views)
2007 Binyamina Cabernet-Merlot Yogev Kosher (Israel, Samson) – Score: B
The nose on this garnet colored wine with brown halo has an almost dead nose with chocolate, rich tobacco, dirt, mineral, blackcurrant, blackberry, black cherry, herbs, date from light oxidity, and oak. The mouth on this medium bodied wine starts to show oxidation with date flavors, blackberry, blackcurrant, herbs, soft tannin, and black cherry. The mid palate is balanced with nice acid, spicy oak, more soft tannin, and tobacco. The finish is long with date, tobacco, blackberry, blackcurrant, crushed herbs, and vanilla. This wine dies quickly, drink up or use for cooking.
2003 Four Gates Merlot Kosher (USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains) – Score: B++ to A-
The nose on this electric blue/purple colored wine is vibrant and expressive with rich sweet oak, smoky, vanilla, black candied cherry, raspberry, blackberry, ripe plum, bramble, chocolate, tobacco, crushed herbs, and date. The mouth on this lovely and full bodied wine is concentrated and expressive like its nose, from its fruit and tannin, with slowly integrating tannin, raspberry, blackberry, ripe plum, cherry, and crushed herbs. The mid palate has balanced acid, chocolate, sweet oak, tobacco, and nice integrating tannin. The finish is super long and spicy with acidity, rich ripe plum, chocolate, tobacco, vanilla, long and luxurious finish with dates and vanilla.
To say that life has been hectic would be an understatement, so while wine was enjoyed the real joy of writing about them had to be put on hold. Well, things are still hectic, but we now have enough time to sit down and write these up. Over the past month I have had the opportunity to taste some very experimental wine (not written about here), some really wonderful and standout wines that will be available soon, and some wines that are still not available, but was given the chance to enjoy it early on. Of course, we enjoyed some bottles that really impressed us, while others were just – ok.
The wine notes follow below:
2009 Borgo Reale Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie – Score: B
The 2009 Borgo Reale Pinot Grigio is a nice simple white wine that is clearly a wine built for enjoyment with our without food. The nose on this straw-colored wine is striking with rich peach, intense lemon, apricot, grapefruit, light floral notes, green apple, lemon rind, and mineral. The mouth on this light to medium-bodied wine is nice and bright, with lemon, green apple, and peach. The mid palate is packed with bright acidity, lemon, something that can only be explained as vanilla, lemon rind, and floral notes. The finish is spicy and medium long with more rich lemon, apple, mineral, peach, and lemon rind. Green apple, lemon, floral notes, and mineral linger long.
The nose on this purple to black colored wine is smoky and screams with tobacco, chocolate, tar, alcohol (to start), graphite, rich cedar, blackberry, ripe plum, raspberry, fig, mint, and herbs. The mouth on the medium to full-bodied wine is rich and layered with mouth coating integrated tannins, blackberry, plum, raspberry, fig, mint, and cedar. The mid palate follows the mouth with balanced acidity, chocolate, tobacco, tar, more cedar, and black pepper. The finish is super long and spicy with rich blackberry, plum, vanilla, herbs, chocolate, tar, tobacco, black pepper, and salty celery. The tar, tobacco, plum, black pepper, and salt rise on the finish and linger long.
N.V. Four Gates Pinot Noir Kosher – Score: B++ to A-
The nose on this dark ruby colored wine explodes with cloves, spice, dirt, celery, chicken cherry cola, raspberry, plum, herbs, coffee, and menthol. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and layered nice chicken cherry cola, plum, and raspberry, along with heavy spice, and mouth coating tannin. The mid palate, like all four gates wine is balanced with bracing acidity, more dirt, nice tannin, crushed herbs, eucalyptus, and oak. The finish is long with chicken cherry cola, crushed herbs, dirt, celery, spice, raspberry, oak, coffee, and vanilla. Chicken Cherry Cola, crushed herbs, and vanilla rise on the finish.