Well, I hope all of you enjoyed the Passover respite (some see it as a stressful time, I see it purely as a joyous time, and yes I do a lot of cleaning as well). This post I wanted to talk about the kosher French wines that I have tasted recently.
Now I must stress that these are the wines that I have tasted, not ALL the wines that are available. There are hundreds of kosher French wines, and the vast majority of them never make it to the USA. With that said, I really LOVE the new crop of 2011 and 2012 wines that have made their way to the US and around the world. But before we jump into the nitty gritty and the tastings we need to take a step back and talk about French wines for a second.
Let us start with some very basic concepts around France and its wines. To start it is one of the oldest wine making locations in the world. Sure, Israel, may well be the oldest, but it stopped making wine for a very long time – till around the 1870s or so. Even then, they did not start making real world class wines till the 1980s (ignoring the 1901 and 1970 successes of Carmel).
France is once again the largest wine producer in the world, as of 2014, and most of it is quality wine. It is hard to find another country that makes so many good wines, so many vastly different wines – each from their own terroir – with such a long and storied history. The wines I will be talking about today are mostly from Bordeaux, the home of the “noble grapes of the world” – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc (not on the official noble list), and Sauvignon Blanc. To be fair there are other noble grapes not in Bordeaux, like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Burgundy. Riesling – mostly from Alsace and Sauvignon Blanc again from Upper Loire. Toss in Syrah and Grenache from the Rhone and that comprises the wines that I am noting today.
I did not write Pinot Noir notes – I did that recently here and you can read my French wine notes there.
I have written often about the wines of the Rhone – because many of my favorite wines from California (Shirah and Hajdu) make most of their wines that comprise the region called Rhone. Those would be Syrah (as noted previously), Grenache, and Petite Sirah (not really Rhone at all, but the Rhone Rangers love it). With some Grenache Blanc and Viognier thrown in.
In case you have not yet realized it, but I have pretty much listed many of my own favorite varietals, and they all come from France. Truly France is the cradle of the wine world. Sadly, there was little to no kosher options in the 1980s, even though France itself was producing 10s of millions of cases of wine at that time.
Of course of all the varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot tend to grab all the headlines. Rightfully so to some, but to many the wines of the Rhone and Burgundy are of more interest. So, how does all of this work? France long ago decided to control what varietals would be planted and within the regions of its country that would produce the best wines possible. It is a foreign thought to many still, even here in the USA. Terroir defines France. Essentially the 300 or so appellations d’origine contrôlee (AOC) within the country are so designed and controlled to allow for creating the best wines possible. Planting Syrah in Bordeaux can be done – but why? Syrah requires far more heat and sun that Bordeaux can dish out – so Syrah was defined as a southern grape location – AKA Rhone, where it can flourish in all of its glory. Read the rest of this entry
A dinner with Pierre Miodownick of Netofa Winery, the most prolific of the kosher winemaker’s Noble Family
On a warm Sunday night in January, GG and I were driving towards the home of Pierre Miodownick, to taste through the new Netofa wines and to enjoy an exciting dinner with Pierre, his lovely wife, and Yair Teboulle Netofa’s CEO. The evening started by setting our stuff in one of Pierre’s bedrooms, as we were staying overnight in their lovely home. After that, we joined Pierre and Yair for a tasting of each and every new wine that is available from Netofa, along with some that are not yet available and a few oldies as well. On top of that, as we got closer to dinner we enjoyed two wines that Pierre made from France, but ones that were created some 24 years apart from each! But we are jumping ahead of the story, so lets start at the tasting.
When you enter the home of Mr. Miodownick, you cannot help but be in awe of the achievements that this man has single handily created in the last 32 years. He started his life’s work, in 1982, he along with a man named Lionel Gallula (hence the M&G on his older vins negociants bottles) by going to wineries and making kosher wines inside of non-kosher wineries, mostly in the Languedoc region to start. Then in 1986, they approached Rothschild, and a few other French wineries mostly in the area of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Fast forward two years, in 1988, Royal realized they needed to expand their wine portfolio to include things other than their syrup based wines, and their then fledgling Herzog Winery. So, they reached out to Pierre and they soon joined forces. In my opinion, this was the single most important action Royal has taken in the past 20 years, a genius move that has allowed Royal to become the powerhouse that it is today. Pierre was the visionary, he was the one that realized that if he wanted to expand his kosher winery reach to more European wine regions than just Bordeaux and Burgundy, he would have been hard pressed to do it all on his own. But with the strength, long arm, and pocketbook of Royal behind him, Pierre would be able to expand the wine regions where kosher wine exists today – like Italy, Portugal, Spain, and other regions in France.
From the outside, being a flying winemaker may look glorious and impressive, but it is a seriously hard job. Pierre is more often on the road than he is at home, but he tries to be home for most weekends. In the end, to me he is part of the noble family of kosher winemakers, those that have been there from the start, the forefathers, if you may. They are; Pierre, Israel Flam, Shimshon Welner, and Peter Stern, who have all left an indelible impression on the kosher wine world for 25 or more years. Israel Flam was the first UC Davis trained wine maker in Israel and the wine maker of Carmel’s famous 1976 and 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, and is now involved in his children’s eponymous winery. Shimshon Welner is a man we have spoken about a few times in the past, here. Peter Stern was the winemaking genius, early on, behind Yarden Winery and Herzog Winery, before Victor Schoenfeld and Joe Hurliman took over respectively, and is again being used by Royal and Carmel.
Still, of the four, Pierre may not have been the first, but he has been the most prolific of the group by a long stretch, over these past 32 years. To me, he is the head of the noble kosher winemaker family, and he is the Godfather of the noble family of all things kosher wine! It is his unique ability to happily build quietly without fanfare or accolades, though he deserves them. Rather he is a quiet, honest, hard working man that has worked to get to where he is today. He has made more wine than almost any other kosher winemaker in the world! That is no small feat. Did he do each and every wine by his old hands, in the old days of 1982 – yes! Now, he has teams that help him, but so do other head winemakers. So, in the end, to me he has the largest reach in the kosher wine world than any other person that I know of, which makes it so very impressive.