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Flam Winery latest releases

As I have been posting so far, I enjoyed my last trip to Israel and Europe, and this will be the last post about Israeli wineries for this trip anyway! Last we left off, I was talking about – Tzora Vineyards Winery. However, that was the third winery that we visited that day – the third of the four wineries that make up the Judean Hills quartet, three of which are kosher. We visited all three of the kosher wines from the Judean Hills Quartet on that Friday, and in this post, I will cover the first of those three that we visited that day – that one being Flam Winery. This will be my last post from my trip to Israel, the next ones will be about my epic tasting in France and Riesling wines from Mosel. Also, a side note, the winery that brings us the wonderful Rieslings and Sylvaner – Nik Weiss, is a sister winery to Flam Winery. Actually, Gilad brought out a bottle of the 2015 Nik Weiss Riesling and we told him that we had issues initially with the wine, but now understand that these wines take years to come around (flavor and fruit characteristic wise) and that he should save his next bottle for a few years from now.

Judean Hills Quartet

I have already posted here about my appreciation for the Judean Hills quartet, I think what they are doing is great and is the correct way to go after the gaping sinkhole in what some would call Israeli wine education. They happen to also be some of the best wineries in Israel, which is a blessing. Who would want Yarden pushing their date juice and declaring this is the future of Israel’s wine revolution?? Instead, you have wineries like Domaine du Castel WineryFlam Winery, and Tzora Vineyards, along with a winery I wish I could enjoy, though sadly it is not kosher – Sphera Winery – run by Doron Rav Hon, who made some of the best Chardonnays and Pinot Noir in Israel when he was in Ella Valley – those were great days!!

If you look at the four wineries in the quartet, three of them have used Judean Hills grapes since the very beginning, Domaine du Castel WineryTzora Vineyards, and Sephora Winery. Both Castel and Tzora built their name and reputation and essence upon the terroir of the Judean Hills. Flam has always been using Judean Hills fruit in its wines, but the reserve wines have been sourced from the Upper Galilee (Ben Zimra and Dishon). That is changing now, the winery has planted 100 dunams on the beautiful slopes near Ein Kerem and the first wine from the Judean Hills is the 2015 Merlot Reserve.

Once they complete the move from the Galilee to the Judean Hills for their reserve wines as well, the majority of its red wines will be sourced from the Judean Hills. At this time, the Rose, Blanc, and Classico are all sourced from the Judean Hills, with the most of the reserve wines being sourced from the Upper Galilee.

Tasting

We were a large group that descended upon the winery, AO, JK, and his wife, OM, MB, and myself. We had the chance to taste through the current wines plus the not yet released but already bottled 2013 Flam Noble – the winery’s flagship wine. We were met by both Gilad and Golan Flam, and later for a bit by Israel as well. Golan, the winemaker, and Gilad who runs the winery were very kind to meet with us as was visible from the previous posts of this trip, it was harvest time, and Golan had to run to tend to the grapes. We did get a chance to watch some of the winemaking activities and then it was off to taste the currently released wines.

The wines once again show the professionalism and passion that is Flam Winery. As the first post I ever wrote about the winery shows, this is a family run winery and that focuses as much of its efforts in the vineyards as they do in the winery itself.

My thanks to Gilad, Golan, and Israel Flam, and the winery for a wonderful tasting. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2016 Flam Blanc – Score: B+
This wine tasted better than the last time we had it, with tart and crisp fruit, showing nice pith, lovely grapefruit, and green apple galore. The mouth is crisp and alive and tart with good balance and nice fruit and good spice, but lacks anything to grab you. The finish is long and rich and crisp, very refreshing.

2015 Flam Classico – Score: B+
The wine shows a bit too much oak now,  nice enough, but a bit too much oak with crazy chocolate and elegance with more of the reserve fruit going into the Classico in 2015. The nose shows herb sweet dill, and good earth, and red fruit. The mouth is medium bodied and dark cherry, rich roasted herb, nice round and spicy with great sweet but controlled fruit and menthol and green notes abound. The extra syrah is showing with hints of blue notes but really nice with foliage and tobacco galore, but lacking complexity of previous vintages and a bit too much oak.

2015 Flam Merlot, Reserve – Score: A-
This is the first vintage being sourced from the Judean hills. The nose on this wine shows a very rich oaky nose with red fruit and green notes. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and layered but lacking the acid, but really impressed by what the be vineyards will bring. The mouth shows mouth coating tannin with elegance, dark raspberry, with hints of dark currant, mineral, foliage, dirt, and loam galore, with great potential. The finish is long and elegant with chocolate, tobacco, and ripe fruit lingers long.

2015 Flam Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve – Score: B+
Nice nose of bright mineral, rich earth and really ripe fruit. The mouth is ripe and plush with green notes and really accessible showing nice tannin and plush blackberry and foliage. The finish is long and green and soft with mineral and tobacco and loam.

2015 Flam Syrah, Reserve – Score: A-
The nose on this wine shows lovely blue and black fruit, with perfumed boysenberry, with less herb and more floral and blue fruit instead. The mouth is rich and full bodied and really accessible with a plush and a bit less pushed than the other two reserve wines, with nice extraction, good sweet fruit, controlled with green notes again and foliage that is wrapped in plush but firm tannin and great spice. The finish is long and sweet and really impressive with leather galore and tobacco that is backed by tar and roasted animal.

2013 Flam Noble – Score: A-
Really lovely old world nose with nice mineral, rich black and elegant fruit with great roasted herb. The mouth is full bodied, plush, not overly tannic with nice elegance and good complexity that is ripe and round and yet balanced with chocolate and nice graphite and mineral. The finish is long and green with tobacco, sweet dill, rich extraction that shows searing tannin that lingers and ripe black fruit with juicy tart raspberry, and fun blue notes in the background, with ripe fruit lingering long.

 

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Recanati Winery’s latest releases

2016 Recanati Shiraz, Upper Galilee Series, 2015 Recanati Purple Blend, 2015 Recanati Merlot, Reserve, 2015 Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, 2015 Recanati Syrah, Reserve, 2015 RecanAs I stated in my last post, I landed in Israel and I had very few days to see a lot of wineries. Recanati Winery was the second winery I visited. Kobi Arviv, who is now the head winemaker at Recanati Winery. He is also the head winemaker at his own winery, Mia Luce Winery, and had been the associate winemaker at Recanati Winery, until June this year.

I have posted in the past about Recanati Winery, and the only real change since that post is that Kobi is now the new head winemaker and that their wines had moved riper in the past few years, my hope is that they return to the control they showed in 2010 and 2011. Since then, it seems they have moved to riper wines, like the rest of Israel.

The wines have stayed the same for the most part, with slight changes to the makeup of some of them. The biggest change overall is to the labels and some new fun and easy drinking reds and whites have been added in.

  • Yasmin/Jonathan – these are the entry-level labels, that are also mevushal
  • Upper Galilee Series – these used to be the diamond series or the baseline series. Not much has changed here other than the labels, though they have been a bit riper these past few years.
  • Then the roses along with this new French Blend wine. The roses have become dryer and are lovely, but the French blend is too sweet for me.
  • Specials – these are fun and well-made wines that are made for either restaurants or the Derech Hayayin stores in Israel.
  • Single Vineyard Wines (Also called Reserve Wines) – this is the largest change of them all – labels wise. Here they have moved the Med series under the single vineyard label concept, though the labels themselves have not really changed. Actually, the reserve wines of old have folded under the Med series and now all the wines show the vines from which the wine was made. This is where the new Marawi wine lives.
  • Flagship wines – what used to be called Special Reserve wines are now flagship wines. It consists of the red and white Special reserve wines.

While the number of labels may have expanded and their look changed, the essence of the winery which was the thrust of my previous post has not changed at all. The winery’s main focus is quality, and for most people, that continues to be the winery’s rallying cry. The prices of the single vineyard wines have gone up, which to me is a real problem because another of Recanati’s rallying cries was price control, and to me, they have lost control of that one, at least here in the USA. I think that issue is a combination of Palm Bay making hay while the sun shines (Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, and others), and Recanati moving its prices up a bit as well. Read the rest of this entry

Assorted wines I enjoyed over the past few weeks

Well, I hope I get into the flow of weekly posts, or even more often. For now, I am behind on wine posts from Yom Tov and other get-togethers. So, here is a list of wines I have recently tasted. Some I enjoyed and well, some not. There are a few shmita wines here, so be careful, as always I highlight them as shmita of course.

2007 Elvi Utiel-Requena Makor – Score: A- (Crazy QPR)
This wine is a blend of 85% Bobal and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose on this wine is rich with lovely umami, soy sauce, ripe plum, rich earth, loam, mushroom, raspberry, and black cherry. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and impressively structured for such an old wine, showing really nice acidity, still integrated tannin, with an inky mouthfeel of velvet and texture with crazy mushroom, earth, barnyard, dark concentrated fruit, blackberry, ripe fruit, perfectly balanced with ripe currant, dark red forest berry, and green notes. The finish is long and tart with more dirt, and barnyard, showing still gripping tannin, and nice ripe and rich fruit. The oak does not show strongly in the mouth but it’s influence is felt nicely. BRAVO!!

2014 Louis Blanc Crozes Hermitage – Score: A- (Good QPR)
This is a lovely black fruit Syrah, with hints of blue fruit in the background. The nose on this wine is lovely, with roasted meat, rich licorice, with blueberry notes in the background, along with earth, loam, mineral, and spice galore! The mouth on this medium bodied wine is balanced and well-focused, with a mineral core, followed by sweet boysenberry that comes alive with time, followed by blackberry, spiced plum, and rich loam, that is wrapped in spicy oak, rich mouth coating tannin, and fig. The finish is long and spicy, with leather, chocolate, lovely charcoal, and bitter almond notes that give the wine its edge. The sweet fruit shows quickly and really is a nice wine, I hope it turns more French with time. It is ready now and will be at peak in two years. Drink till 2021.

2015 Psagot 7 Shmita Red – Score: B to B+ (shmita wine)
This is a blend of all the varietals that Psagot bought/used for the Shmita year of 2015. The white shmita blend was really nice, while this was good enough. It is very green.
The nose on this wine is cranberry, cherry, and asparagus salad. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is nice, but nothing spectacular, other than the very impressive mouth coating tannin. Other than that, it feels like a second label French wine, with lots of press juice, very harsh and not balanced, with black and red fruit. The finish is long and green, with good acid, and mounds of herb and foliage.

2015 Psagot 7 Shmita White – B+ to A-
This is one of the nicer Shmita white wines, it is a blend of all the white varietals that Psagot has under control. The nose is redolent with Mango, lychee, floral notes, honeysuckle, and lovely bright citrus notes. The mouth is medium bodied with good acid, nice balance, all wrapped in straw, cut grass, mint, green notes, with lovely grapefruit, peach, and pineapple. The finish is long with nice acid, mineral, and spice. Nice!! Read the rest of this entry

Vitkin, Tzora, and Flam Winery tastings along with 2015 rosé and whites from Israel

KotelWell, 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.

Shmita 2015

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

A lineup of Kosher Cabernet Sauvignon from around the world

2001 Yarden El Rom, 2008 Yarden El Rom, 2005 Chateau MalarticThis past weekend my friends came over and we enjoyed some lovely Cabernet Sauvignon together, five were mine and two were brought by the guests. When you talk about Cabernet Sauvignon inevitably there are folks who love it and some who hate it. It is the grand-daddy of the noble grapes, it is the wine that has the history and stuffing to last and cellar for many years.

Cabernet will always be the classic and default red grape that most wine drinker will reach for. Why? Because it is well-known and consistent. I state this because if you buy a Cabernet Sauvignon from Hagafen Winery, Herzog Cellars, or many Israeli wineries, you may find ones you love and some you hate, but they are similar in nature. They are either green with classic graphite and green notes, or maybe they are black and red with other classic flavors. Since the start of kosher wines, all the wineries have started with the noble grapes; Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. Some have done better with them and some have done a so-so job. Hagafen excels with their Cabernet Sauvignon that are sourced from the Napa Valley. Herzog, has been doing a really lovely job with their Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Israel, was dominated by Yarden in the past, but since 2008, they have lost their way and as I have stated before, this is not by accident – this is on purpose. Personally, I was irate when tasting two of Yarden’s masterpieces – the 2001 and 2008 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon, El Rom. They were so impressive and of course they were two of the best vintages and Shmita wines as well, but since the 2008 vintage they have purposely turned their great fruit into pure date juice! I am so saddened by their actions, but my only option now is to look elsewhere and so I have with Flam Winery, Adir Winery, Recanati Winery, Castel Winery, Tabor Winery Limited EditionFrench wines, and California wines. The French and Castel are not producing pure Cabernet Sauvignon wines, but that is OK! They are wines which have a majority of Cabernet and are of the ilk of the left bank wines of France – which are classically Cabernet based wines. Just looking at California Wineries, I would be hard pressed to not find everything I am looking for in a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Covenant Winery has been crushing it for the past 11 years when it comes to their epic Cabernet Sauvignon, and do not forget their Lot 70 Cabernet Sauvignon – which started in 2008 and has been getting better and better each year!

Herzog Winery has also been killing it in terms of Cabernet Sauvignon – involving a huge range of options. Starting at their incredibly well priced and QPR Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, which has really been showing great potential from 2012 and on. The next price range is the Weinstock Cellar Select Cabernet that is really nice, and one that we had this shabbos. It started off slow, but with time, it filled out and was quite nice. After that there are the new range of Variations that are both very nice and well – thought provoking, which is exactly what Herzog is looking for. After them there is the ever consistent and reliable Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve from Alexander Valley. This wine is rarely off kilter and the 2013 is so on that it is very impressive. From there the prices start to rise and there is a large selection of options. There is the very consistent and impressive Chalk Hill Special Edition Cabernet Sauvignon. Then there is the never miss and beyond consistent Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon starring from the INSANE 2006 Tokalon masterpiece. Since then they have been hitting home run after home run, a truly impressive run given that each and every year – the vineyard is different! The Clone 6 have been hit or miss, but always enjoyable none the less. Finally, there have been the very special and unique Herzog XII line, which started with 2007 barrels aged for 6 years and then with a follow on 2010 vintage.

To be fair, I forgot about the B.R. Cohn wines from 2008, 2011, and 2013 in my last California wine post, but they do make OK wines. Sadly, the price is just too high for the wine quality. Read the rest of this entry

QPR Kosher wine options that I have been enjoying recently

In my state of kosher wine industry post – I lamented at the lack of QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) options in the kosher wine world. Now that is not to say that the options do not exist, as you can see by the number of QPR options on my top wines for Passover last year. Still, given the sheer number of wines in a kosher wine store (many hundreds) and the number of kosher wines on the open market (many thousands), we are left with a very small minority – sadly.

So, I thought I would list the most recent QPR wines I have enjoyed over the past 6 months. I wanted to catch up with wines I had not had till later last year and place them in a single easy to find place.

My hope is that people will enjoy the wines and demand more of them. For instance, the lack of many of the QPR wines from Elvi Wines on the open market. I can find them on Royal’s website and on Elvi’s website, but sadly I cannot find them at many wine stores. Thankfully, Kosherwine has gotten the Elvi Cava back along with the Gilgal Brut, but they have older vintages or no vintages of the Elvi options. Onlinekosherwine.com, also has many of the older Elvi wines. I have spoken with Moises and he says they exist here somewhere in the USA – only God knows where though!!! Sadly, the exact same can be said for Netofa wines – another QPR superstar! Where are the wines? I taste them at KFWE – but they are not at stores, online or at shops!

I hope to one day write a post about wine cellaring, but till I do, understand that certain wines are made to enjoy early, like Cava, most 2014 white wines, and lighter reds. The richer and tannic reds can use time in the cellar and that is normal. This list is not a list of wines that are meant for cellaring, though many can withstand a few years. The idea here is to enjoy these wines now while you let the long-term wines cellar and age. We all have that interest to drink interesting wines and while I agree with that, that is NO excuse to raid the cellar when u have a hunkering for a complex note or flavor. Many of these wines will scratch the itch while the beasts’ lie and settle.

Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – I will point out when an older one will be an issue or a newer vintage would not be on the list (like the 2011 Ella Valley Cabernet Franc versus the 2012). The 2012 Ella Valley Cabernet Franc would never be on this list. The 2011 is a fine wine for another year, after that I fear it will turn to date juice.

Also, many of the white/rose/bubbly wines will be repeats from the various posts I made, as most of the 2015 whites and rose are not coming to the USA as they are shmita in Israel. I tried to keep these wines under 30 dollars or so, some are more most are less and that is the point of this list. Of course, that means that for some wineries there will be one or no options, like Matar or Four Gates Winery. Though I could have thrown in the Four Gates Chard – which is a lovely wine, it is still far from my goal to add into this bucket. The same can be said for many more wineries. Also, 2015 Israeli wines are not on this list, actually no 2015 wines are on this list, though Hagafen Winery, has released their 2015, but I have yet to taste them and the 2014 Hagafen wines are the ones on the market anyway. Finally, wines that can only be found in Israel like the epic Tabor Rose of 2014 and the 2014 Reca Gris du Marselan and the yatir rose and the new 2014 Yatir Viognier – and so on. All of these wines are not on this list because they are hard to find, but they are on previous lists I have posted.

So, without further ado – here is my list of kosher QPR winners so far and if you have any more please tell me!! They are listed below without any real order.

2014 Domaine Netofa White – Score: A- (Crazy QPR)
I must say this is clearly the best Netofa white so far, and I hope they continue to impress! The wine is 100% Chenin Blanc sourced from the slopes of Mount Tabor. The nose is redolent with rich and bright quince, straw, mineral, lemongrass, and wet grass. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely and rich mineral bomb, with more hay, spiced quince, now dry fresh cut grass, green apple, Asian pear, along with a crazy dry and insanely tart crab apple. The finish is long – spicy, dirty, and mineral based, with dry fruit, rich ripping acid, cloves, and nutmeg – BRAVO!!!

2013 Domaine Netofa Red – Score: A- (and more) (QPR!)
This wine is a clear step up from the 2012 Netofa Red, that is not putting the 2012 down in any way, it is just that this wine is even better! This wine is a blend of 65% Syrah and 35% Mourvedre. The nose on this wine is redolent and packed with mineral, lovely smoke, flint, ripe plum, lovely blueberry, with currants in the background. The mouth on this full bodied wine is attacks you first with lovely currants, followed by layers of blueberry, floral notes, richer and more extracted than the 2012, with great mineral, dried strawberry, all wrapped in ripping acid, and lovely tannin. The finish is long, extracted, and richly mineral in style, with blackcurrant, draping tannin, while being spiced with cloves, black pepper, sweet her, and hints of pith and lovely acid. BRAVO!!!

2012 Weinstock Cabernet Franc, Cellar Select – Score: A- (Mevushal) (QPR!)
This is not the same wine as the 2011 vintage, which was crazy and great this vintage started off closed and disjointed, but is now showing far better. The nose on this wine is mad green with red fruit notes, and herb. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is nice and round, with green notes, well balanced with good acid, raspberry, plum, earth, more bell pepper, crazy sweet dill, mouth coating tannin, and green foliage. The finish is long with nice enough acid, forest floor, nice butterscotch, good sweet tobacco, cedar, with tannin adding weight. 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

The Chosen Barrel – an interesting approach for KosherWine.com

Well, as I have said many times, I used to work with Dan Kirshe at kosherwine.com, I was one of the writers for his wine club newsletter and I bought most of my wine from them. Since then – the inventory and the website were sold to JWines. The name brand alone for such a coveted domain must have been worth the effort that Dan and his team put into that company for many years, I hope, though I have no idea about that aspect at all.

After a while Dan went a different direction and while I always liked kosherwine.com, my orders went elsewhere, towards the east coast merchants. Over time, the costs for shipping has gone up, as fewer and fewer of the east coast kosher wine merchants – gave free shipping as an option.

In the game of driving down prices as your lone differentiator – it clearly become a zero sum game that no one could win and therefore they have almost all pulled the free shipping sales during the holidays. Where that leaves folks like me, who live on the west coast, is hoping to find the best deal and then eating the shipping, which does not work unless you are buying very high end wines.

Kosherwine.com is one of the very few wine shops online that offer free shipping, but to balance that their prices are higher than other shops. So, if you are looking for wines in the 20 to 30 dollar range – the free shipping on a case becomes of real value, even with their slightly higher prices. As I look through their inventory more, especially in the French and Spanish regions, I find they have a nice selection, though some of them are out of stock and I wish they would stock wines from the smaller importers like Red Garden or Israel Wine Direct.

In the end, KW has a lot going for it, they have a very good selection, albeit without some distributors, they also have free case shipping, and they have sale prices that are often inline with some of the larger merchants. Toss in no sales tax for most of the country as well, and it is a great option for wines that exist in the price range that most of us buy wines at.

With that said, JCommerce (the parent company for JWines and Kosherwine.com) is attempting to move itself past the inevitable drive to the bottom – that many wine stores will face when their only differentiator is price alone. One of their approaches is their set of Library wines, which we tasted at last year’s Jewish Week wine tasting, personally it was the best part of that tasting outside of a few other wines there. The wine tasting itself was a disaster, as it was far too crowded and most of the good wines were not brought by the distributors. The best part, IMHO, of the Jewish Week tasting last year were KosherWine.com’s incredible old wines that they were pouring – it was a real treat!

Another manner in which KW is trying to innovate is with the production of their own wines. Now let me say, that while making your own wine for fun may be hard but rewarding – creating labels and getting import rights are an insane pain in the neck. Now, you can get away with much of the pain if you are not reselling the wines, that is 100% legal by law. However, once you start selling wine – no matter where that wine was produced – it needs to have a label that has been approved by the TTB. Throw in the wine importing and this new project by JCommerce is one that is unique and may well end up as a very good long term play for them.

I was sent four wines to taste, two of them are not involved with this post – so I will skip over them. The other two wines were The Chosen Barrel wines. Of the two of them, I liked one of them and the other was not for my taste buds. With that said, both of them will be liked by the kosher wine consumers that drink riper and new-world Israeli wines. They both showed very good structure, with nice tannin, and good acidity. The Acacia was a bit too new world for me, with clear date leanings, while the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, while being clearly new-world in style, was controlled with nice classic Cab fruit and spice.

I wanted to touch on a quick but not overly discussed fact on the two wines I received. The Cabernet Sauvignon is NOT mevushal while the Acacia blend is mevushal and is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. The blend is also called Australian Blend – as they were one of the first countries to create this ripe wine blend. With that said, Israel was next to make use of this blend, with Yatir being one of the first to create this blend in the kosher wine world (aside from the kosher Australian wines that were out at that time).

The wines marketing does not revolve around who made the wines or from winery they come from! These wines are kosher of course, as is visibly clear from the bottles. The wine’s web pages describes the process for how these white label wines came to be. In their words: The Chosen Barrel is an innovation in the US Wine Industry. We sampled countless barrels from more than 20 Israeli wineries and when we found The Chosen Barrel, we knew we had to have it all. So we could bring it to you.

When we first approached this project we knew our customers want unparalleled access to the very best of kosher wine. As we toured Israel’s wineries and tasted more than 50 barrels of wine, we found this small batch production of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and barbera grapes. Instantly, we knew. We had found what we had come for. No one else has access to The Chosen Barrel. We purchased it all so we could bring it to you. This exclusive production is yours, and we’re confident you’ll be as excited about it as we are.

The labels talk more about the wines themselves. In the case of the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, the back label informs that the wine was aged for 20 months in barrels. The wine was harvested by hand and at night, and when bottles the wine was unfiltered. The same goes for the Acacia blend, excepting for the aging time – which was 15 months in oak barrels.

My many thanks to JCommerce for sending me the wines and the wine notes follow below:

2012 The Chosen Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – Score: B++ (NOT Mevushal)
What can I say, this is a very new world wine, very fruit forward and in your face, this is not a wine for tasting – this is a wine to be enjoyed with food and meat. The nose on this wine is classically Israeli, with mounds of tobacco, sweet cedar, mounds of mocha, rich milk chocolate, coconut, and black fruit in the background with herbs. The mouth on this full bodied wine is still young, with searing tannins, along with enough acid to balance out the wine, but very new world and leaning towards dates with lots of oak, blackberry, dark plum, raspberry, nice mineral, dirt, and green notes, bell pepper, and sweet herb. The finish is long and spicy, with cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, all coming together with leather, and sweet fruit.

2012 The Chosen Barrel Acacia – Score: B to B+ (mevushal)
This is another new world wine that is another classic Israeli bent wine. This wine is less balanced than the Cabernet reserve, but with 25% of Syrah it has something to add. The nose on this wine is closed, but with time it shows earth, mushroom, date, cooked fruit, with chocolate, and herb. The mouth on this full bodied wine is sweet with dark plum, sweet blueberry, anise, pepper, with a plush mouth and searing tannin, all wrapped in a fruit forward body structure. The finish is spicy with hints of saline, creme de cocoa, earth, mineral, and nice sweet spices, cinnamon, and sweet herb. The mevushal process feels like it hurt this wine, but many will find this a nice wine with the bold body and bold fruit.

Wines enjoyed over purim

Well, the OTBN of last week flowed right into Purim this year and that meant there as a lot of wine consumed over a short period of time. That is all fine with me, but it took some time to get this down is all. Though I will be very short this time, I did want to highlight a few wines that surprised me on the good and the bad. The 2011 Hagafen Cabernet Sauvignon opened nicely, but then turned on me very hard – not quite dates, but far too sweet and unbalanced for my liking. The 2010 Carmel Cabernet Franc, while showing nicely in Israel, and lush here was fine for the first few hours, but then went straight to date juice. This was the Israeli label I hand carried back home, so I do not think this wine is long for cellaring – but nice out of the bottle.

Finally, the 2013 Dalton Viognier is ready to go. Last year the wine was tight and closed, and needed a real decanting to bring it to life. That is not needed any longer! It is delightful from the bottle and I think has three or so years left in the tank, but it is clearly ready and very close to peak, if not there already.

The wine notes follow below:

2013 Dalton Viognier Reserve – Score: A- (and more)
All I can say – IT IS BACK!!! Thank goodness for that! It has been too long without a GREAT kosher Viognier option. The 2012 was a nice wine, but it paled in comparison to the 2007-9 vintages. The 2013 is CRUSHING in comparison and is the best kosher Viognier I have ever tasted, so BRAVO!
The last time we had this wine it needed air galore, that is not the case anymore. Beyond that, there is not much that has changed about this wine!
The wine continues it heritage of wild yeast fermentation and was aged in French oak for four months. The nose on this wine shows beautiful notes of ripe melon, pear, peach, along with crazy floral notes of violet and rose. The mouth on this full bodied wine is oily and textured with layers of honeyed notes of peach and apricot, spiced melon, mango, crazy acid and intense concentration of ripe summer fruits, all balanced with bracing acidity, bitter notes, and sweet oak. The finish is long and intensely spicy with saline, mineral, slate, white pepper and hints of vanilla and lovely bakers spices. BRAVO on many levels!!!!!

2009 Shiloh Legend – Score: A-
The nose on this mevushal purple colored wine explodes with ripe blueberry, dark cherry, ripe raspberry, licorice, and lovely spice, with a hint of roasted meat and smokiness which leaves soon enough for more crazy spices and ripe fruit. The mouth on this full bodied, ripe, round wine is expressive with sweet fruit, blackberry, ripe strawberry, plum, more blue fruit, along with sweet cedar, and mouth coating tannin that lingers and makes the mouth feel ripe, sweet, and round. The finish is long and spicy with nice vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate mocha, black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and mint.

This wine is slowing down – so DRINK UP!!!

2013 Don Ernesto Vin Gris – Score: A-
WHAT a nose fresh squeezed strawberry, rose hips, raspberry, and peach. The mouth on this Syrah rose, is viscous, medium weight, and lovely, with great acid, lovely mineral, and awesome fruit. The strawberry explodes with kiwi, guava, currant, quince, cranberry, and orange marmalade. The finish is long and spicy and bitter with hints of herb, orange pith, saline, mineral, and slate – BRAVO!!!!

2005 Hagafen Zinfandel, Reserve, Estate Bottled, Moskowite Ranch Block 61 – Score: B+
Sadly I kept this too long. This bottle felt thin and dying, still had great acid and spice, with OK fruit. Drink up!!!

2011 Hagafen Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Score: B+
The nose on this purple colored wine is rich with prefume of blackberry, lovely black fruit, hints of blueberry, nice anise, and dirt. The medium body is tinged with mad acid and mineral, along with a lovely mouth coating tannin that gives the wine body, along with great acid and mad graphite, cassis, CRAZY kirsch black cherry, and green foliage. The finish is long and green with bright fruit, leather, chocolate, vanilla, and lovely sweet dill and tobacco leaves. Very nice.

With time, an hour or two, this wine breaks down very quickly. I would be careful.

2010 Carmel Cabernet Franc, Vineyards – Score: B+
Vineyards is essentially the Appellations label and a lovely CF it is. This is the Israeli label, the US label continues with the appellations label and animals.
This wine is blend of 85% Cab Franc, 10% Cabernet, and 5% Petit Verdot. The nose on this wine is rich and lovely with raspberry, dark cherry, plum, sweet cedar green herb, and foliage. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich and unctuous with mad green bell pepper, tart juicy raspberry, mad tobacco, and lovely mouth coating tannin. The finish is long and green, with sweet herb, firm tannin and more tobacco.
I did like this wine from the start, but after an hour or two it went straight to dates, this is not a wine for long cellaring – and this was the Israeli label.

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

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