Blog Archives

Israeli White and Rose wines along with a few others thrown in

As the weather starts to warm up, it is time to start enjoying the white and rose wines that come from Israel. With that said, there is a lot of buzz recently that 2018 is the new year for white and rose Israeli wines, well I can personally attest that the noise is a red herring and a gross over exaggeration.

Are there a few more wines that work in 2018 than in 2017, 2016, or 2015? Yes, but the 2018 vintage is NOTHING like the epic 2014 vintage for Israeli white and rose wines. Still, I am happy to say that there are a few wines that I have enjoyed and I am posting them here.

I had a large tasting with the Israeli/French/American wine tasting group in Jerusalem, and there were a few winners. I am posting here wines that I tasted with them, along with a few that I have tasted before and after the event. Also, since we had many wines, we did not write long notes for wines I disliked and some wines I liked elsewhere are either missing notes or I cannot find them, but I do my best to describe those as well.

Thanks to Avi Davidowitz of Kosher Wine Unfiltered, and the rest of the French wine group on Facebook for helping with the tasting, and a big shout out to Joel and his company for letting us have the tasting at his office.

Finally, as always! PLEASE only drink 2018 roses and finish them by October 2018 or so. Also, if you wish to read how rose wine is made, please read this post from last year. Same can be said for many of these simple white wines, other than where I give an actual drinking window.

The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2018 Tabor Sauvignon Blanc – Score: 90
The nose on this wine is pure gooseberry, slate, mineral, lemon, and cat pee. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is nice, dry, and very good, with floral notes, of orange blossom, and lovely control with good acidity, fruit focus, and lovely passion fruit. The finish is long, green, and slate, with good salinity, and blossom. Nice!

2018 Segal Chardonnay, Wild Fermentation – Score: 80
The nose on this wine is boring and closed, with bits of peach, orange blossom, and not much else. The front and middle of this wine are flat as a crepe, with hints of hay and slate, with a bit of acidity on the end.

2018 Shiran Semillon – Score: NA
The nose is 100% apple juice, and not much else. The mouth is offensive. Candied quince with lemon juice, all over the place and nasty.

2018 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc – Score: 90
This is a nice wine, yay, it is a nice SB, nice gooseberry, passion fruit, and citrus. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is nice, really acidic, well balanced, with good fruit structure, with nice weight and structure, showing peach, hints apricot, and nice hay, and orange blossom, and orange pith, with good structure and balance. Nice! Pith, acidity, salinity, and nice ripe but balanced fruit linger long.

2018 Flam Blanc – Score: 86
The nose on this wine is boring, flat, no life, with hints of orange, blossom, and not much else. The mouth on this wine is pure lemon/lime/orange juice, and not much else, very little complexity, but nice acidity. Nice enough.

2018 Ramat Negev Sauvignon Blanc – Score: 70
This is another bummer wine, big pass. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is acidic quince juice. Boring, move on.

2018 Vitkin Gewurztraminer – Score: 91 to 92
This wine is dry and lovely pineapple, with ripe melon, and green notes and lychee galore, with funk and hints of soap, incredible aromas, white pepper, smoke, flint, and redolence. The mouth on this wine is lovely, with grapefruit, citrus, lovely pith, with apple, pith galore, followed by complexity and bitter notes of melon, yellow Apple, lovely weight, slight tannin, with sweet notes honeysuckle, sweet pineapple, and balance. The finish is long and green and sweet and mineral balanced. Bravo! Drink by 2021. Read the rest of this entry

Top kosher 2017 white wines from around the world

Ok, let’s start with the obvious, I have been so busy this year that I have had zero time to work on these posts. So, ahead of the High Holiday Crescendo, I wanted to post a quick note about the 2017 vintage and my hopes for a great new year, filled with joy, success, health, and lots of great wine to all.

2017 Vintage

So far the 2017 vintage has been much akin to the 2016 vintage – last year. The 2017 roses have been a letdown overall, much akin to the 2016 vintage of roses that were a letdown after the epic 2015 vintage. Sure, we have a few rose winners, like the lovely 2017 Les Lauriers de Rothschild Rose, and the nice 2017 Covenant Blue C Rose, and 2017 Netofa Latour Rosado.

Still, the whites have been a real letdown, much akin to what happened in the 2016 vintages. We have not had a GREAT vintage out of Israel since the INSANELY good 2014 vintage.

So, Israel has been a letdown white wine-wise and rose overall these past few years. But there are some winners as usual. I have yet to taste the 2017 Tzora wines. The Netofa whites are lovely, along with the fun and very enjoyable 2017 Covenant Israel Viognier. There is also some nice Dalton Sauvignon Blanc wines.

The true savior is once again, the old-world region. France has a few great whites! Yes, I said whites! Throw in California, and we have enough whites, just not a bounty.

I hope you enjoy these great white wines in your Succah and with your family. Wishing you all a healthy year signed and delivered!

The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2017 Chateau Lacaussade Saint-Martin, Vieilles Vignes – Score: 90
The wine is a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is very slow to open, it may need a quick decanting, for an hour or so. The nose is slightly tropical in nature with lovely with melon, guava, and hints of passion fruit to start, over time it recedes to show lemongrass, straw, mineral, grapefruit, citrus, and honeysuckle notes. Just like the nose the mouth also starts off with crazy tropical notes that also recede with time, to show a very different wine. After some time, the mouth on this wine is not complex, but very nice, with rich acidity, showing a good balance of fruit, green apple, heather, tart pear, and mineral. The finish is long, super long, with southern tea, and rich acidity, and lovely pith. Drink by 2021.

2017 Chateau Guiraud ‘G’, Sec – Score: 92
Finally, a French white I can really appreciate! This is really fun, the wine is a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, showing notes of pure funk, wax, green notes, with cucumber, mineral, old-world notes, showing honeysuckle, and floral notes, with green apple, quince, lovely straw, and rich minerality. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is fun, with more funk, nice complexity, with rich salinity, followed by rich dry and tart Asian pear, with nice gooseberry, and graphite. The finish is long and green, with lemongrass, stone, rock, with more wax and flint. Bravo! Drink by 2021.

2017 Jean-Pierre Bailly Pouilly-Fume, Sauvignon Blanc – Score: 92
WOW! This wine has quite the nose, screaming with fresh orange blossom, ripe yellow grapefruit, with hints of nectarines, cat pee, and lovely citrus. The mouth on this unoaked Sauvignon Blanc is dry, bone dry, not quite a Sancerre, but impressive, with lovely weight, and great fruit focus with a crazy core of acid that keeps going long after the wine is gone, followed by rich mineral, slate, saline galore, and a lovely core of lie and lemon that mingle well and play with each other. The finish is long, crazy long, with more mineral, floral notes, lovely bitter notes of citrus pith, and just fun, tart citrus that lingers forever. BRAVO!!! Drink till 2021 Read the rest of this entry

Top kosher White and Sparkling wines that I have tasted in 2017

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

Lueria Winery and the latest releases

Lueria Winery Tasting Room.jpg

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.

Read the rest of this entry

Tabor Winery – one of Israel’s top QPR wineries

Tabor Winery 2When I think of the wineries that have great quality wines for a reasonable price, I think of Tabor Winery today more and more. Of course Recanati continues to impress with their reserve Cab and Merlot and Petite Sirah, and their unheralded but dark horse Chardonnay. Then there is of course Netofa, which is crushing it more and more, if I could ever find a recent vintage in the USA – that is!

Tabor Winery is located in Kfar Tavor, and when you search for the older notes on the wines – the winery itself was not clear how to spell its name in English! Is it Tavor Winery or Tabor Winery. This is not a new issue in Israel, transliterating Hebrew words to English is a royal pain in the bottom, and sometime you get the Arabic twist – where Katzrin is spelled Qatzrin on Google Maps and on the road signs!

Either way, the winery did not just start in 1999, it really started 100 years before that in 1901 when Baron Rothschild – a massive supporter of Israel and a huge philanthropist, in his own right, wished to see Israel settled by Jews again. He came to Israel and spent millions of dollars – in those days – to build Carmel winery in Zichron Yakov. However, what is not so known, is that he also helped settle a small town then called Mes’ha (more on that in a bit) in 1901. The name Mes’ha came from a small neighboring Arab village that was down the road. In 1903, the Zionist leader – Menachem Ussishkin urged them to rename it to something Hebrew and so Kfar Tavor was what it was called, as the village lies beneath the shadow of Mount Tavor (Kfar means village in Hebrew – as at that time the town only harbored some 28 or so families). Read the rest of this entry

Lovely kosher Rhone wines from the Chateauneuf du Pape, Israel, and California

FB_IMG_13980337629999427It has been quite sometime since I last posted, it is a mix of many things that has limited my access to time to type up all my notes and thoughts. Over Passover we enjoyed a few wines and many of them were in the theme of Rhone wines, including two that were actually from the highly vaunted Chateauneuf du Pape wine region (a sub region of the Rhone wine region).

I have written extensively about Rhone wines from the best kosher purveyors of these lovely wine varietals; Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Carignan (accepted by the Rhone Ranger community), Petite Sirah (same with this varietal), Grenache Blanc, and Roussanne. These varietals are gaining traction in the kosher wine world, with great help from Netofa Wines, Vignobles David Winery, Reacanati Winery, Hajdu/Brob Wines, and Shirah Winery.

There are many wineries making a wine or two from the Rhone varietals, but few have taken to the varietals like the list above. Recanati may well be making Cabernet and the such, the Mediterranean labels are almost all Rhone in style and varietal and it has been a boon for both buyers and the winery. The Carignan Wild has been a huge winner for the winery, the Petite Sirah is magnificent, and the white RSR is now a unique blend of Roussanne and Marsanne. But the best wine from the Med series may well be the 2012 Marselan – an absolutely insane wine.

Of course, when you think Rhone Ranger and Israel, the real ranger MUST be Pierre who released his first wine under the Netofa Winery label in 2009. It was an entire line of red and white wines based solely on the Rhone and Loire Valley varietals. Since then he has branched out to Portugal grapes, but the red and rose Netofa and Netofa Latour wines are all Rhone varietals. The white varieties are Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley.

Even before that, Jonathan Hajdu and the Weiss Brothers have been releasing wines based on the Rhone Ranger methodology, under the Brobdingnagian and Shirah labels respectively, going as far back as 2005. Read the rest of this entry

2012 Shirah Vintage Whites, 2008 Elvi Wines Herenza, and 2007 Yarden Yonatan Syrah

This past week we enjoyed a few wines and the wine I was most curious about was the wine I liked the least. The 2007 Yarden Yonatan Syrah was a wine that the late Daniel Rogov, wrote was one of the best Syrah to ever be made in Israel. We made kiddush on it and it was structurally a fantastic wine, but so swet and over the top ripe that I could not come to love it as much. Again, Yarden created a wonderful wine that was stylistically true to their core, a ripe and new world wine that has the structure and makeup to make many a wine and winemaker jealous,  but not a wine that would make me happy fruit wise. With a bit more restraint, IMHO, this wine may have well been a killer wine.

I worried that the wine may be a bit over the top, so we had a backup of the 2008 Elvi Wines Herenza, a wine I loved before and still do! The wine has a medium body but with an hour of air, the wine fills out nicely with mouth coating tannin and richly tart and bright red and black fruit.

Finally, I got the chance to taste the new 2012 Shirah Winery Vintage Whites and it rocked. The nose was the true seductress, while the mouth was rich and layered, the flaw, to some extent for me, was the biting citrus pith that lingered long. Not sure if that was from the Viognier or more a straw/earthy bitterness from the Roussanne. Still, it is a unique blend that is rocking and a great QPR for 25 dollars.

The wine notes follow below:

2012 Shirah Vintage Whites – Score: A- (and a bit)
OK, to start this wine is unique, not so much that it is a Viognier/Roussane blend, there are a few folks doing that in the kosher world now (Reccanati and others). The real unique aspect is that the Weiss brothers decided to let the bitter and earthy notes of the Roussane take a center stage for this wine, at least for part of the time. That is not a flaw to me as much as it is a shocking aspect that needs time for some to get used to. Once you are past this issue – this wine rocks my world, and at 25 bucks a pop, many could really appreciate this wine for almost any meal, other than a steak!
The nose on this straw to light gold colored wine is the clear and utter winner of the wine perfume competition! Are you kidding me, this nose is 100% certifiable, with rich and honeyed notes of dripping honeysuckle, lovely jasmine, impressive floral notes, all backed by very impressive earthy mineral components, and ripe melon. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is where some will be shocked and some will love, quite a polarizing context that is well worth enjoying, with lovely layers of honey, spice, guava, ripe Asian pear, along with an intense salty quality, that backs the mineral structure of this wine that exhibits a lovely oily texture, and good sweet apple sauce. The finish is where the shocker starts, crazy bitter citrus pith takes center stage with good almond notes, all finished above a bed of lovely slate/rock and richly mineral focus.
This is a wine that will vex you, sometimes the wine is sweet, sometimes bitter, sometimes minerally focused, but always enjoyable, IMHO.

2008 Elvi Wines Rioja Herenza, Crianza – Score: A-
The nose on this dark garnet to black colored wine is rich and oaky with chocolate, dark cherry, bright mineral, and rich loamy dirt. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich, expressive, mouth coating, and lightly extracted with good concentration of dark plum, raspberry, and cranberry, with good mouth coating tannin to bring the whole thing together. The finish is long and balanced with good acidity, rich espresso coffee, and earthy goodness. The wine is rich with a mouth of espresso coffee, dark cherry, and red fruit linger long after this wine is gone, which is quite quick!

2007 Yarden Syrah, Yonatan Vineyard – Score: B+ (Sweet / New World wine)
This wine was rated as the best Syrah from Israel by the late Daniel Rogov, and I must sadly disagree. Structurally, this wine starts off so hot and sweet that I really could not enjoy it. Even after many hours the wine starts to calm down on the sweetness and becomes somewhat accessible, but it is an overall disappointment for me.
The nose on this black colored wines is super ripe and rich with kirsch cherry liquor, crazy date expressionism, lovely oriental spices, and rich layers of dark black fruit. The mouth on this full bodied wine is nicely extracted and layered, but the fruit concentration is solely focused on ripe and overripe berry, dark ripe plum compote, lovely integrating tannin, along with great smokey and roasted meat, and spicy oak. The finish is long, spicy and ripe with rich layers of chocolate, leather, good earth and dirt tones, and more spice. This is a wine that some will like, but for me a wine that is far too ripe to appreciate, even though it is well made.

Thanksgiving menu and Hagafen Rousanne

This past weekend we enjoyed a classic Thanksgiving menu lineup of: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, Orange Rosemary Turkey, Orange Cranberry Relish, Mushroom and Onion Dressing, Roasted Yam Chips, and a bottle of 2007 Hagafen Rousanne.  The dishes worked out great! The soup was lovely, the turkey was mouth-watering perfect, along with the great sides. To wrap up the lineup my wife made a killer pumpkin pie that was baked just enough to form a lovely crust that was crunchy and had a bit of caramelized pumpkin on its edge.

To start the soup recipe is not new – we have done it before and we did it again this year to start out shabbos dinner in style. The Roasted Butternut Squash Soup came out nice, but as usual needed some tweaking from my wife. She threw in some extra savory herb, garlic, and I threw in some rice milk to thin it down when I reheated it because it was too thick.

The turkey is an almost pure pull from the folks at Real Simple magazine, who for the most part must either be folks with way too much time on their hands or be laughing at us, as most of the recipes are NOT real simple at all! Anyway, the turkey recipe was not complicated and the extra herb infused margarine that we tuck under the skin helps to keep the turkey breasts moist throughout the cooking process. What we changed was that we used two turkey breasts instead of a full bird, as we had no guests and that was all we needed for a few meals. Also, we used a thermometer that was plugged into the turkey breast the entire time. Once the temperature in the breast came to 165 degrees, we immediately removed the breasts and tented them to keep them warm.

For the sides we went with a few dishes:

  1. The first is our favorite cranberry relish recipe. We keep the zest out of the boiling process until the very end so not to scorch the orange zest.
  2. Simple cubed yams that were covered with oil and herbs and roasted at 350 degrees until they get soft inside and crunchy outside.
  3. A simple dressing with sautéed mushrooms and onions, bread, herbs, garlic, salt, and broth. The stuff gets mixed and thrown into the oven at 350 degrees for an hour.

To pair all of these wonderful dishes we went with a lovely bottle of 2007 Hagafen Rousanne which turned out to be quite nice indeed. The wine’s bright acidity and toasty oak both work very well with the slight game flavors that the turkey shows and the earthy notes that the mushroom laden dressing has coming out of its pours. The Rousanne is ready now and can probably live another year. However, given its yummy state why not enjoy it and buy the 2008 vintage when you can?

The wine note follows below:

2007 Hagafen Roussanne Ripken Vineyard Napa Valley – Score: B++
The nose on this light gold colored wine starts off with a hit of fresh and almost plump peach, guava, apple, lemon, caramel, rich smoky/toasty oak, hay, vanilla, Crème brûlée, and butterscotch. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine starts off super spicy with bright fruit and toasty oak. The mouth is concentrated showing peach, pear, guava, pineapple, caramel, rich fruit and a ripe mouth with a lovely fullness to it. The mid palate is nicely balanced with core acidity, toasty oak, caramel, butterscotch, hay or green tea, and lemon. The finish is super long, spicy, and bright with toasty oak, summer fruit, lemon drop, butterscotch, and a hint of green tea on the finish. It lingers nicely with lemon drop, butterscotch, and toasty oak. Drink up!

Lemon & Red Pepper Flakes Roasted Chicken, Red Quinoa, Fresh Salad, and Hagafen Ripken Vineyard Lodi Roussanne

This past week we just wanted to take it easy, so we made the wonderful lemon roasted chicken, whipped together a lovely fresh green salad, and my wife also made Red Quinoa. Red Quinoa, yep that is what I said. A few things:

1) The red version is a bit nuttier than its white sister
2) It cooks up as easily as its white sister
3) It has all the proteins and nutrients of its white sister as well
4) Finally, a mix of white and red in a single dish looks gorgeous, far lovelier than plain red or plain white. Also, since they cook at the same rate they taste as good together as they do apart.

I really love quinoa, plain old quinoa. No need to turn it into haute cuisine, simply cook it as the box states and enjoy as a replacement for mashed potatoes, brown rice, etc. It is a healthy, yummy, and lovely to look at, side dish.

The Jus De Poulet (Chicken juice) is fantastic with the quinoa. The nutty flavor of the quinoa melds perfectly with the bright and acidic lemon flavor in the jus, and the slight hint of heat (from the pepper flakes) wrap up the whole flavor profile. The fresh green salad played nicely with the overall flavor and is a great way to get your daily fill of vegetables while also filling you up with healthy stuff.

When wondering what white wine I wanted to pair with this meal, I really just went the classic arbitrator of most complicated decisions – Eeny meeny miny moe. I fell upon a bottle of 2007 Hagafen Ripken Vineyard Lodi Roussanne, a bottle I have not had in sometime, so I was quite happy. The funny thing about this bottle is that it tasted VERY different from the last time we tasted it, roughly a year ago.  Last year it tasted a bit green with tea yet also fresh and lively with tropical fruit. This time, I think I liked it better with far more expressive oak, bright fruit, and no green notes to be found! The wine does seem to change a fair bit in the glass. After opening the bottle the nose has toasty oak, but as the wine opens more that oak turns into notes of fig, vanilla, Crème brûlée, and butterscotch. It may be on its way out, but it sure beats the green tea, which I am not a fan of in a heavy white wine.

The wine note follows below:

2007 Hagafen Ripken Vineyard Lodi Roussanne – Score: B+ to B++
The nose on this light gold colored wine starts off with a hit of fresh and almost plump peach, apricot, melon, zesty lemon, smoky/toasty oak, and crushed herbs. However, after time the nose becomes redolent with much of the same along with fig, vanilla, Crème brûlée, and butterscotch. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine starts off super spicy with bright fruit and toasty oak. The mouth is concentrated showing melon, apricot, and peach.  The mid palate is nicely balanced with core acidity, toasty oak, and herbs.  The finish is super long, spicy, and bright with toasty oak, summer fruit, and zesty lemon.  As the wine opens the mouth’s toasty oak turns into butterscotch and Crème brûlée.  The mid palate stays the same, while the finish adds on Crème brûlée, butterscotch, fig, vanilla, and a bit of saltiness at the very end.  Funny, last time we tasted this wine, a year ago, the wine had green tea astringency at the end, this time it had a bit of saltiness at the end, but only after it had more air under its wings.

Couscous Au Poulet, Boulette, Makoud, 2007 Hagafen Lodi Roussanne, 2004 Four Gates Chardonnay, N.V. Four Gates Pinot Noir, 2006 Four Gates Cabernet Franc, 2005 Herzog Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Zinfandel/Syrah

Two weeks ago saw us huddled around our shabbos table enjoying some wonderful company, friends, family, food, and wine.  This past Friday Night we had my family and friends over for a classical Tunisian Friday Night dinner – Couscous Au Poulet and Boulette.  Many have had couscous, which is fine, but proper boulette(s) and fluffy couscous is what makes a couscous dish work.  Boulette is French for balls, which in this context mean meat balls.  But if you think Italian meatballs, again, you are missing the point.  My family makes boulette by frying the meatballs, and then topping them with slices of potato, obviously they are thank god all very healthy!  However, being that I care for my heart and arteries, and they work far better when not stuffed with cholesterol, I go with lean meat and braise them in a pan of tomato sauce and wine.  The meat sauce is a hit on the table often, though not true to the Couscous heritage.  But the main ingredient to meatball heaven (other than the meat), is the Quatre Epices!  WAIT!  If you are wondering what the heck is going on – yeah that is the last bit of French, I hope – 🙂 . Truly, there are few things that totally metamorphosize a dish like FRESH Four Spices!  What an explosion of flavor that is tempered by the sweet flavor of cinnamon.  There are those who use Four Spices that is based on Ginger – but that is not what we use!  The Four Spices we use is based on: Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, and Black Pepper, though the black pepper is not in equal proportions as the other three spices, but that is fine with me.

Meatballs Recipe:
2 pound of sliced onions
2 tbsp of olive oil
2 tbsp of sea salt
1 pound of finely diced onions
1 pound of finely diced zucchini
4 tbsp of Four Spices
3 pounds of meat
3 slices of thick bread soaked in rice milk
5 cans of 10oz tomato sauce (or 2 large cans of tomatoes)

Heat the wide and deep pan with olive oil, once the oil starts to shimmer, add the sliced onions and sprinkle them with salt (to help them release their water), and then sauté them until they brown nicely.  In the mean time mix the rest of the ingredients (except for the tomato sauce) until the meat moves well in your hands but can keep its form.  I find that the meat we order is rarely the same in terms of consistency.  So at times it is really thick, while other times it moves far better.  I can only guess it depends on how much fat, versus God knows what else, makes the meat more solid or more fluid.  This time, we added rice milk to the mixture to make it more fluid, as after the mixture was made, it was far too thick.  Roll the meat into balls that have a rough diameter of one and half inches to two inches.  Once the onions are browned, add the tomato sauce to the pan, along with some basil, and pepper.  Cook the sauce until it starts to reduce slightly.  Then drop in the rolled meatballs and simmer them for 1 hour.

Bouillon Au Poulet (Chicken soup) Recipe:
1 chicken cut up
Cubed Carrots
Cubed Onions
Cubed Parsnip
Cubed Turnip
Cubed Sweet Potato
Cubed Potato
Cubed Zucchini
Tons of Garlic
Bay leafs

This all depends on the size of your pot, and I always overdo the amount that I cook, which is fine with me, but too much leftovers, becomes a hassle!  So, keep the amount to a single large pot with a double boiler to cook the Couscous.  This part is important, the only way you will get the correct texture and flavor in your couscous, is to boil it over the Bouillon.  First drop the chicken into the pot and start browning the meat.  Next throw in the hard vegetables and let them get some of the chicken fat.  Once some of the chicken fat is rendered, mix the vegetables around and then remove the chicken for a bit.  Place the rest of the softer vegetables in, and then place the chicken and spices on top.  We do this to allow you access to the chicken for later on, when it is removed for making the Makoud.  Finally fill the pot till the top with water and you are good to go.  Boil the soup for an hour or two.  Be careful to not overcook the sweet potato or zucchini.  I normally pull them after an hour (or a bit less), and let them cool.  At that same time (about an hour in), I pull the chicken meat off and then return the carcass back to the soup to help it thicken the soup more. After the soup is fully cooked, we let the soup cool and throw it into the fridge for the next day.  I find the soup tastes much better after a few hours of chill on it.  Normally, I cook this Thursday night for Friday night dinner – the classic Tunisian meal for Friday Night.  The next day I will reheat the soup, and at that time I drop on the double boiler, wet the holes so that the couscous sticks to the pot, and then I pour in two boxes of dry couscous.  Now, on an aside, the folks who make couscous from scratch need to be praised, but I have no time to do that.  There is a GREAT video on how to make couscous from scratch.  I guess it is a touchy issue to the real Tunisian cooks, much like dry vs. fresh pasta is to a true Italian cook.  Now, once the double boiler it hot and MAKE SURE that there is a GOOD INCH at least between the boiling liquid and the bottom of the double boiler.  Remember, we want steamed couscous and NOT boiled couscous.  Another very important tip is that once you have poured in either the fresh or dry couscous in the double boiler make sure to create three holes in the couscous layer.  By doing this you will have three circles in the couscous layer and should be able to see the double boilers holes.  By making these holes into the couscous layer, you allow the soup steam to rise from out of the bottom pot and circulate inside the upper boiler.  Also, start the process by ladling a few ladles of broth from the bottom into the double boiler.  This will allow the top layer of couscous to not get dry off the bat.

Makoud Recipe:

This dish has been described by Ashkenazim as Potato Kugel!  AHAHHH!  What a shanda!  No way my friends, Makoud is NOT potato kugel.  It is more of a chicken potato Soufflé.  Like any good potato casserole, you MUST preheat the pan with the oil, so that the potatoes and mixture get crispy underneath and on top (from the oven heat).  Further, do NOT overcook the makoud!  In the beginning, I was like – what we do not need all of those eggs!  Wow was I wrong.  The eggs of course make it a soufflé instead of a kugel!

Canola Oil
Potatoes (from the chicken soup) – just add more to the soup for the second hour
Chicken from the soup, pulled and cubed
2 eggs per pound of chicken
White or Black Pepper

Place the oil in the casserole dish and preheat for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  In the mean time mash the rest of the ingredients together, and place into preheated dish and then cook for 40 minutes or until crispy on top.  This is simple as can be, the most difficult part is stripping down the chicken when it is still boiling hot!

That makes up the Couscous menu.  There are two side dishes of sliced carrots (classic middle-eastern carrot salad) BUT without Cilantro (Cilantro is the work of the devil!), along with Marmouma (a pepper and tomato salad).

To pair with all of this lovely food, we chose a set of wines, as I wanted to taste a few of them and well, it was time to drink some of them already.  So enjoy the recipes and the wine notes follow below (in the order they were drunk):

2007 Hagafen Lodi Roussanne (15% of Marsanne) – Score: B+
This was not a winner on the table, but I kind of liked it.  It is deceptive in its nose and mouth.  Initially, you think it is bone dry from the nose.  Then you taste it and you think it is actually sweet, to only concentrate a bit more and realize that this wine is as dry as a Sancerre, but ripe with fresh fruit flavors, quite a ride.  The nose on this golden straw colored wine is popping with kiwi, melon, lemon, and dry green grass.  The mouth on this medium bodied wine is ripe with melon, kiwi, grapefruit, and lemon.  The mid palate quickly flows from the mouth in an almost shocking manner.  The fruit just ends and then there is an onslaught of bone dry green tea, flowers, and bright acidity.  The finish is long with summer fruit, slight bitterness, and toasty flavors.  The fruit attacks to start and is then annihilated by the bitterness and green flavors that come bright into the finish.  I think the finish is what turned off the crowd.  I can see this work with sweeter flavored foods, with something like maple glazed salmon, or veal.  Interesting wine indeed that exhibits characteristics that are not commonly seen in the other kosher white wines.  The closest that I have tasted recently, that compares to the Roussanne is this Chilean Chardonnay.  It may not as good as the Roussanne; but has many commonalities, the most striking one is its green dryness.

2004 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A
Well, after tasting that bone dry wine, any Kosher California Chardonnay will taste sweet!  Still, the 2004 vintage has a bit more residual vintage than do the 2005 or 2007 vintages.  This wine has not really changed much since our last tasting.  The oak is ever present, and the sweet tooth is receding, which gives rise to the acidity and the fresh fruit flavors that still abound.  Thank goodness I have a few more leftover.  I want to taste these soon side by side my 2005 and 2007 vintages that will be a real kick!

N.V. Four Gates Pinot Noir – Score: A-
This wine is still holding to our previous tastings, with the tannins receding further, which is allowing the dark cherry fruit to come through, while showing a bit more wood as well.

2006 Four Gates Cabernet Franc – Score: A-
What a treat, we have recently had this wine a few times, and the latest tasting is still true (which after a few weeks is almost obvious with this winery).  Of course we are not complaining.  Many thanks to Benyamin for bringing this wine to the dinner.

2005 Herzog Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Zinfandel/Syrah – Score: B – B+
What can I say; this is normally a wine that we love!  This vintage or bottle was not a winner.  Almost no one took more than a drop.  The wine was overly Zinny — tasting of rose and blackberry intertwined.  It may sound cool, but not great.  The wine was left open in the fridge for a couple of days and the Zin flavors (31%) finally gave way to the dominantly measured Cabernet (66%) and Syrah (3%).  At that point the American Oak and full body of the Cabernet were tempered by time and vanilla.  Still, the wine was way off balance and overall off putting.  I would recommend decanting this for a few hours in advance to give a chance for all the flavors to come out and play.

%d bloggers like this: