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Harkham Winery Aziza’s Shiraz and Whiskey braised short ribs

This past weekend we enjoyed lovely Whiskey braised short ribs and my last bottle of my Harkham Aziza’s Shiraz. The whiskey braised short ribs are a true joy because the short ribs become so soft that they fall off the bone, yet they have enough texture and structural integrity to make the experience very enjoyable.

The thing about Whiskey braised short ribs is that it is sweet! Why? Because, the Whiskey may be enjoyable, when drunk from a glass, but once the alcohol is burned off, what is left is a bitter liquid that needs to be made palatable with honey or brown sugar. We use brown sugar and that makes for a somewhat sweet sauce.

The sweetness to me is fine, but when pairing this meat dish with wine you now are faced with a somewhat difficult conundrum. You see, meat – fatty meat like spare ribs, scream for a nice red wine. However, sweet food and red wine do not always pair so well. That is why we decided to go with a Shiraz or heavy Syrah (same thing, excepting for perceived styles). The wine easily handles the sweet notes and it has the power and soft body to make for a very enjoyable pairing.

The Aziza vintage that we had was really lovely. This wine has gone through a fair amount of change since we first tasted it in Australia, almost two years ago. Two years ago, the bottle was packed with floral elements and showed little to no blue fruit. A few months ago, the wine was showing lovely blue and black fruit, with a hint of floral notes. This one showed ZERO floral notes but had a lovely symphony of blackcurrant and blueberry fruit that lasted until it was over. The wine died Friday night and what was left was a shell of its former self, but it still showed a lovely reduction of blueberry and blackcurrant liquor. Nice attempt to me and one that, if you have any, should be consumed ASAP or forever hold your peace. To me the wine showed better than the second showing and nowhere near what I enjoyed in Australia. Who knows, maybe I loved the story more than the wine in Australia, but I cherish the memory of Sydney and the wine we enjoyed there, no matter the real score.

The wine note follows below:

2009 Harkham Windarra Winery Aziza’s Shiraz Preservative Free – Score: B++ to A-
The nose starts off with lovely and luscious blueberry, followed by a whiff of alcohol, that blows off soon enough, along with root beer, black pepper perfume, and cloves, and spice. The mouth has a bit of fizz, along with dark cherry, raspberry, blackcurrant, mouth coating tannin, and a hint of cedar that makes for a lovely and rich mouth. The finish is long and spicy, with chocolate, espresso coffee, smoky notes, and vanilla.

Over time the wine loses most of its fruit and displays a lovely and crazy nose and mouth of what I can only describe as blueberry and blackcurrant reduction liquor. The mouth shows hints of animal and the finish continues its stronghold of espresso coffee, white pepper, and chocolate, with a drop of cloves.

Blessedly, I had the wine at its time and enjoyed its after life, but this is a wine to be enjoyed now, or forever hold your peace! Bravo to Richard Harkham and his family for allowing me to share in this lovely wine experience.

Kosher Syrah Tasting – Cool Weather vs. Warm Weather Syrahs

This past week I finally got the chance to put together the kosher Syrah tasting that I have been craving. I have been stockpiling Syrah for some time and now we finally had the chance to try them all at the same time. I have been at all of the kosher California wineries; Herzog Cellars, Four Gates Winery, Agua Dulce Winery, Shirah Winery, Covenant Winery and the Brobdingnagian Winery, and I have caught the bug of cool weather Syrah. This is not a myth; this is a real change in the manner of which the Syrah expresses itself.

The Syrah tasting consisted of a bunch of kosher California Syrah, along with one from Australia and Israel in the following order. The 2009 Harkham Aziza Shiraz, Preservative Free (not tasting as great as when I had it in Sydney), 2009 Shirah Power to the People, 2003 Four Gates Syrah, 2008 Syraph Syrah/Grenache, 2007 Brobdingnagian Syrah, and the 2004 Yarden Ortal Syrah. The first five are cool weather Syrah, while the Yarden Ortal is an example of hot weather Syrah. The 2007 Brobdingnagian was Jonathan Hajdu’s inaugural release and since than he has gone on to become the associate winemaker at Covenant Winery, while also making more of his Brob wine. The 2008 Syraph was essentially the first release by the Weiss Brothers, though they did make a smaller batch of wine in 2005 as well. The story of Jonathan and the Weiss brothers can be found in a lovely written article by Gamliel Kronemer here.

In cool weather climates, the Syrah grape is very happy to show expressions of smoked meat, black pepper, tobacco, and leather around their core of blue-black fruit. They also have nice acidity, which helps to brighten the mouth and balance out the wine’s palate. The clear note here is that the grape expresses blueberry and watermelon in ways that will astound you. The bright sweet blueberry along with rich black fruit make for a wine that is unique and truly flavorful. The blue fruit may not always appear at first, but a trademark of the cooler climates, in Australian and California, was that they all exhibited rich blueberry fruit intertwined with some lovely black and sometimes watermelon along with spice. In warm climate regions, characteristic Syrah flavors tend toward dark fruits, cherry, white pepper and earthy notes, though leather and tar are sure to also make a guest appearance.

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Harkham Winery and the Sydney Skyline make for a wonderful shabbos in Australia

We left for Australia on Monday night, and we arrived Wednesday morning – 14+ hours in an airplane!  Thank God we slept most of the flight.  I must say that kosher airplane food has become so inedible, that it is an honest to God disgrace.  Really, does the food have to be so bad?  Thank goodness my wife brought food along, so we were covered.  Anyway, this trip was not about wine, it was all about seeing this wonderful country and a bit of relaxation.  Really, you are in a country for two weeks, that is the size of the 48 contiguous states, and you are still wondering why it takes so long to drive to that mountain range or walk to the beach.  The place is huge, it is the fourth largest exporter of wine, yet as much as we drove, we never saw a vineyard.  Sure they exist, and we saw signs for wineries, but nary a vineyard in sight.  It is like saying I drove through all of California on the main highways (5 or 101), and I visited San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and I did not see a single vineyard.  Yeah, because the place is huge and that is NOT where they are!!  Anyway, the country is gorgeous, the people are so nice, the only real issue I had with the place was that everything other than casinos, some restaurants, and a tiny number of supermarkets, everything closes at 5 or 5:30 PM sharp!  Are you kidding me!

Anyway, we arrive in Sydney on Wednesday, and take in the sights of the Sydney harbor, the rocks, the botanical gardens, and much more.  By the time we get back we are dead to the world, but we have to shop for shabbos, as we were staying in the city, and not going to Bondi beach (where most of the Jews in Sydney live).  Our friend was SUPER nice and picked us up from the hotel and took us to the area to shop for food.  There too everything was closing already, but we got the chance to go into the local kosher market and other than a few items, we left empty handed.  The prices are crazy high, and the value was nowhere to be found.  I took a quick peek at the wines there, and none were very interesting or good (base line Barkan and the such), and again the prices were out of control.  So we went to Katzy’s to wait for our friend, who was getting his kids to sleep, and then coming by for dinner with his wife.  We had not seen him for some 11 or so years since he left the bay area, so it was great catching up with him.

Now, I was still minus a bottle of wine for shabbos, and the proprietor of Katzy’s was kind enough to point out that most of the things we would want for shabbos could be bought at the rare (yes it exists) 24 hour Coles supermarket at Bondi Junction.  We went to the store later in the evening, after dinner, and it had tons of kosher items, which is nice, but they had no wine, as in Australia wine, beer, and spirits are NOT sold in most stores.  Rather, they are sold at shops called Bottles Shops, and they too are not allowed to be open too late.  Anyway, while waiting at Katzy’s for our friend, I did what can only be called a David.  Yep, my wife has named my behavior after my name.  I walked up to a person waiting in line at the restaurant, and asked them “Where can I find a decent bottle of wine around this area”?  The person turned around and said, no, but maybe this guy does, pointing to a young man to his right.  Who did this person turn out to be, the son of Menashe Harkham, the owner of Harkham Windarra Winery!!!  Yep, by “sheer luck” I fell upon the winery. The young man sold me a bottle of 2009 Harkham Windarra Winery Aziza’s Shiraz Preservative Free.

The winery was initially called Windarra Winery, which started in 1985 and produced wine and liquors.  The wines slowly went down in quality and the winery was finally sold to the Harkham family in 2005.  Initially, they produced no wines or liqueur, after taking the winery over.  However, Richard Harkham, the winery’s GM, one day entered into the winery to help the old owner, and never looked back.  Soon after that he won his first award for his 2007 Shiraz.  The first kosher wine was the 2008 vintage, which sold out to restaurants and wine stores.  The 2009 vintage (which is on the web page) was splintered in a way.  The entry level wine – the 2009 Shiraz was sold out to Royal Wines, who has just imported the wine into the USA, and is mevushal.  As we finally sat down for dinner with my friend, Menashe swung by the table, and kindly offered us a glass of the 2009 Harkham Shiraz (Mevushal), and we kindly accepted.  I was so tired from the trip that I could not really taste the wine, from a tasting perspective, but it came over a bit lighter than I expected with pepper, floral notes, and a distinct mevushal taste.  It may have been me or the wine, but I will be doing a more official tasting of it, when it arrives in US stores.  I never got to taste the 2009 Shiraz Reserve, as it too was 100% sold to restaurants and shops.  When I contacted Richard a few days before our departure, he was super kind to point me to the lovely wine shop in Vaucluse (a suburb of Sydney) called Vaucluse Cellars.  We picked up a couple of bottles of the Aziza to take home and try again in a few months.  The Aziza’s Shiraz was also sold 100% to shops and restaurants. The Aziza’s Shiraz is named after Richard’s Grand Mother who passes away in early 2009.

The Harkham Winery has been doing extremely well in Australia, with rave reviews and a continuous stream of people knocking on their door for their wines.  The super cool thing is that the wine is NOT known as the ONLY kosher wine produced in Hunter Valley, but rather as a really good winery that produces wine in Hunter Valley.  The kosher symbol is almost impossible to find on the bottle, and that is fine.  It brings back memories of the first time I heard about Capcanes Peraj Ha’Abib (from Montsant Spain) from a friend of mine who received Robert Parker’s newsletter – the Wine Advocate.  The newsletter called the Peraj Ha’Abib the best kosher wine (at that time), and one that no one knew about, as it was not yet imported by Royal at that time.  So I went scurrying around to find a few bottles, and I called the then importer Eric Solomon of European Cellars, and asked which wine stores you sold the wines to.  He gave me a wine store in NY (no not Gotham), and when I called them I asked them if they had the kosher wine from Spain?  That was a mistake.  They had no idea that Capcanes was even kosher – and for good reason – because the wine was killer whether it was kosher or not.  Anyway, same here, the nice man who sold me my bottles of Aziza’s Shiraz, could care less if the wine was kosher or not (though he knew); he just really liked the stuff.  In fact so does many wine stores and bars in Sydney! Check out these non-kosher restaurants and wine bars that pour the wine!  Yulli’s Bar, Number One Wine Bar, The Bentley Bar, Seans Panaroma and Bilsons.

All this and I have yet to mention the other amazing facts of this winery.  They are the only winery in Hunter Valley that has produced sulfite and preservative free wines!  No not quite Alice Approved, as it used oak and yeast, but the oak is not so pronounced in the wine, as the notes below will show, but the yeast is a non-starter 🙂  Richard is the co-wine maker, but he uses the expertise of one of the renowned flying wine makers; Beaune (Burgundy) based Christian Knott.  It is a win-win situation here.  Think about it, February and March are pretty dull in Burgundy, not much going on wine wise, except for maybe some bottling.  However, in Australia it is harvest season and the wine maker is busy full time.  This of course works great for the flying wine makers.  They work half the time in France and half the time in the southern hemisphere, either South America, South Africa, or Australia.  Christian clearly brings a Burgundian approach to the wine with bramble and mineral, but it still has the massive pepper and crazy dark complexity that says Hunter Valley.

When we talk about preservative free, it does not mean organic!  What? You see in the USA, the rules are VERY simple, you CANNOT add any preservatives in ANY manner – as described here, (sorry the data is in a PDF) on the USDA website.  But in Australia, they are allowed to add up to 125 ppm (parts per million) of sulfites to the wine. However, the Aziza’s Shiraz is 100% preservative free, meaning no added sulfites.  As described above, there is almost NO 100% free sulfite wine, unless the sulfites are filtered out.  Why?  Because sulfites happen naturally when wines are fermented.  Further, to be called organic in the US or in Australia, the grapes must have been grown and maintained organically.  The grapes at Harkham Winery are not yet organically grown and maintained, so the bottle cannot be labeled with anything other than 100% preservative free, instead of 100% organic, which would be far easier in Australia to pull off.  That said, there is a push and a market being created by the need of people for 100% preservative added wines – why?  Because there are a small percentage of the world who are allergic or react poorly to sulfites in wine.  How many?  The USDA describes it as 1/100 as stated here.

Well, after enjoying dinner with our friends, we bought a rotisserie chicken from Katzy’s to go, and then our friends kindly drove us back to our hotel.  We also made our way back to Bondi Station on Thursday night to pick up some more stuff for Shabbos and we were set.  The chicken was so-so, not a huge hit with my wife, and the chicken soup that we also picked up at Katzy’s was more salt than flavor, so no winners from Katzy’s for the shabbos.  That said, the hummus and Israeli salad that we made, along with some nice brown rice was a winner and it all worked out in the end.

Many thanks to Richard, Menashe, and his other son, for allowing us to enjoy the wonderful wine from Harkham Winery, and best wishes on more success in the future!  The wine note follows below:

2009 Harkham Windarra Aziza’s Shiraz Preservative Free – Score: A- to A
This wine has two lives it starts with red fruit, but as it airs out, the wine turns black with chocolate.  At first the nose on this dark purple colored wine is redolent with huge floral notes, massive white pepper, rose hips, ripe plum, and fig.  The mouth on this full bodied wine is complex, layered, rich, and crazy concentrated to start with white pepper, a crazy attack of tannins and structure, floral notes, plum, raspberry, and nice oak.  The mid palate flows off the mouth with solid acid, integrating tannins, and oak.  The finish is long with oak, figs, cocoa, plum, and raspberry, and white pepper.  The pepper and intensity flows all the way through.  Once the wine grabs a few gulps of air, maybe an hour at most, the nose of the wine transforms into a black beast, with blackberry, ripe black plum, chocolate, and oak.  The wine turns inky and black in the mouth, with extra ripe blackberry, inky concentration, black plum, more concentrated white pepper (which softens with time), and nice oak.  This wine has a powerful backbone of acid which will hold it in good stead, as there are no added sulfites, which will allow it to lie in the cellar for a few more years at least.  A fun and powerful wine that I look forward to tasting again in a few months.

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