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Tasting of Royal’s 2017 and some 2018 French wines in France

This is my third year tasting wines with Menahem Israelievitch in Paris and it is the first one that is not related to my visit to Bordeaux three years ago, almost to the date of this tasting (give or take two weeks). Three years ago, I was given the opportunity to taste many of the 2015 and 2016 wines from the barrel at each of the wineries in Bordeaux.

The 2014 vintage to me, was crazy fun because it is less ripe than the 2015 or 2016 vintages. They were also FAR cheaper. Then you had the 2015 wines which were more expensive and far riper than the 2014 vintage. This 2016 vintage is the best of both worlds, but it comes at a crazy high price. I warned you at that time, during the epic post of my visit to Bordeaux with Mr. Israelievitch, that you better start saving your money, sadly nothing has changed about that. The REAL shocker price-wise of the 2016 vintage was Chateau Malartic, which rose to almost 150 or more a bottle! That was close to double the 2014 vintage.

In a previous post about the most recent French wines (at that time in 2017) that were arriving on the market – I already spoke about pricing and supply, so there is no need to talk that over again in this post.

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While the 2015 and 2016 vintages were ripe, the 2017 vintage is not like that at all. The 2017 vintage in Bordeaux, though this is a massive simplification and generalization of the 2017 vintage, was overall less ripe than the 2015/16 vintages and maybe even in some cases a drop less than the 2014 vintage. The 2017 vintage flowered early and then the frost came, which killed off a fair amount of the fruit from the vines (Grapevines are self-pollinating and as such the flowers are an all-or-nothing situation in regards to yield). Quality itself is not affected by the early frost which froze the flowers, while the rest of the season was mostly OK, except for the late rains that diluted some of the acidity, again this is an overall generalization, with varying degrees of difference between the Chateaus.

The Mevushal push, from Royal wines, is continuing for the USA labels. More wines are being made Mevushal and while I wonder if this is good overall for myself, it makes sense for Royal wines, which in the end, I guess is what matters to them. Will this be an issue? In the past, I have found that the mevushal work of Mr. Israelievitch is top-notch, and really just ages the wine rather than ruining it.

The Mevushal wines from France for the 2017 vintage will be, the 2017 Barons Edmond et Benjamin de Rothschild, Haut-Medoc, 2017 Chateau Greysac, 2017 Chateau Chateau de Parsac, 2017 Les Lauriers, Des Domaines Edmond de Rothschild, 2017 Chateau Le Crock, 2017 Cuvee Hautes Terres, Chateau Fourcas Dupre, along with the whites wines, the 2018 Bourgogne Les Truffieres, Chardonnay, the 2018 Les Marronniers, Chablis,  and the 2018 Chateau Les Riganes, Blanc.

Now does mevushal impede the long-term viability of aging in regards to the wine? Well, that too is not something that we have scientific proof on. I have tasted a mevushal 1999 Herzog Special Edition and it was aging beautifully! So, would I buy the mevushal versions of the wines I tasted below – absolutely! Would I age them? Yes, I would hold them for slightly fewer years.

Other than the mevushal aspect, there are no differences between the European version of the wines and the USA version of the wines. While that sounds obvious, I am just stating it here. The wines will be shipped now and the temperature issues that clearly affected Israel’s wines of old, have not been a factor here.

Tasting in Paris

I landed in Paris, got showered and the such, and then made my way to lunch with Menahem Israelievitch. This year I was not alone in my tasting, I was joined by Avi Davidowitz from the Kosher Wine Unfiltered blog. After lunch, we went to a lovely home to do the tasting. The wines were all laid out in the order for the tasting, and one by one we went through the 30 wines. There was one missing wine, the 2018 Chateau Genlaire, Bordeaux Superieur and two of the wines were bad, I did taste them later in the week and they are listed here as if I tasted them at the tasting.

My many thanks to Menahem Israelievitch for going out of his way to help me to taste all the current French wines from Royal Wines before they were publicly released. The labels on the pictures may not all have a kosher symbol, but that was because they rushed some of the bottles to Mr. Israelievitch before they were properly labeled with supervision symbols attached. My many thanks to Mr. Israelievitch, Royal Europe, and Royal Wines for making this tasting possible in the first place, and secondly, for taking the time to taste the wines with me.

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

2018 Les Marronniers Chablis – Score: 93 (QPR madness) (Mevushal)
This wine is made with native yeasts and as little manipulation as possible. The nose on this wine is beautiful with orange blossom, yellow apple, and rosehip, with lemon curd, and yeasty and creamy notes. This is so much better than the 2016 or 2017 vintage, this is so much fun! The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is crazy fun, intense acidity, incredible salinity, piercing, almost painful, with lovely layers of lemon, grapefruit, with quince, and pie crust, with Anjou pear, and quince. The finish is long, crazy long, almost oily, mostly creamy, with baked pear and apple, cinnamon, nutmeg, and loads of mineral, with slate, rock, and saline. Bravo!! Drink until 2023 maybe 2024.

2018 Les Marronniers Chablis, Premier Cru, Cote de Jouan – Score: 92 to 93 (QPR)
The nose on this wine is closed, but it shows lovely notes of mineral, slate, blossom water, and loads of citrus, with apple, and smoke. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is rich, layered, and impressive, with a rich oily mouthfeel, showing a lovely weight, with yellow apple, tart citrus, Asian Pear, and beautiful acidity that is well integrated with a strong mineral core, showing Orange pith, with tart citrus and slate and yellow plum, with saline, and more earth and hints of nectarines and orange. Lovely! Drink from 2020 to 2024 may be longer. Read the rest of this entry

Back to the Future – the kosher French wines available today

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

1987 Chateau Les Forges Meuersault and PierreOn 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.

photo 1When 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.

IMG_0612From 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.

Pierre and his Netofa winesStill, 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.

Read the rest of this entry

Yitzchok Bernstein and Jonathan Hajdu excellent 27 course tour de force

On Sunday night we were blessed to be part of an extremely exclusive 27-course meal, well more like 30 or so – if you count the decadent small dishes after dessert, but who is really counting. The event was put on by the dynamic duo of Chef Yitzchok Bernstein and Brobdingnagian Wine maker Jonathan Hajdu. The event was a fundraiser for Beth Jacob, Oakland’s Orthodox Synagogue – and what an event it was!

When I have tried to explain the event, attempt to verbalize the magnitude of the effort, and the uniqueness of it all, I have so far failed, till now I hope, to transport the listener, or reader, to the mind-blowing state of conscious that we were all leaving within for 6 or so hours – this past Sunday night. The meal was a, 27 or so course, of mind-blowing culinary talent – coming to life in front of us lucky few. Each dish was hand plated with such exacting detail, that not only did each plate fill us gastronomically, but also the visual sumptuousness of each and every plate truly was equally a feast for one’s senses. The funny thing was that the meal started at 24 courses, as I had an early preview of the menu. However, by the time we lived it, it had grown to 27 and could have been 30, if the participants could have kept up with Bernstein. I was more than happy to taste the other two or so courses, but I did not call it a 30 course meal, as they were not formally served to the participants.

The second we entered the home of the host and hostess we knew we were in for a real treat. The house is a lovely sprawling ranch style home, remodeled to as close as possible to the mid-century modernism style of some 60 years ago, while all the while bringing the current century’s modern touches to life in a truly non-obtrusive manner – a real success in my humble opinion. If the home is an extension of the owners, than the simplest way to summarize the hosts is, sleek, modern, highly functional, with an ode to the past and arms open as wide as the glass sliding doors that truly define minimalist architecture and the MCM movement. The openness and warmth that are exuded by the home’s colors and textures truly reflect the host and hostess, and all of us were constantly in awe of their ability to deftly steer the epic culinary adventure to the success that it was. While the event may have stretched a bit longer than some were ready for, as most needed to go to work the next day, the intimate setting and cosmopolitan mix of people truly added to the entire evening.

With the well-deserved forward now handled, it is only fair to throw the light unto the culinary genius of the evening – Chef Yitzchok Bernstein. Mr. Bernstein is mostly self-taught, but has also received formal training in Bread Baking at French Culinary Institute. He also studied pastry and advanced bread baking at SFBI. (san francisco bakers institute), and has been working in and around restaurants, since the age of 14. Food is a truly passionate thing to Mr. Bernstein; you can see his persona expressed clearly in his food and in his open and warm demeanor. Throughout the evening the dishes were harmonious, balanced, tempered, but never losing focus and always packing more than enough bite, texture, and complexity to grab and keep your attention, until magically there was yet another unending course to partake from. Each course built on the past one, adding layers and nuances that were not lost to the foodies that ensconced the close-knit twin table setting.

The other resident genius at the event was Jonathan Hajdu (jonathan@hajduwines.com), the associate wine maker at Covenant Winery, and is also the wine maker for wines from the Brobdingnagian and Besomim wine labels. The Brobdingnagian/Besomim winery is located in Napa CA. Hajdu wines was started in 2007, by owner and winemaker Jonathan Hajdu. Hajdu produces small lot artisan wines, with a focus on Rhone varietals under the Brobdignagian, and Besomim labels, though the newer wines are veering all over to where Hajdu can find the highest quality grapes. The Brobdignagian name is derived from Jonathan Swift’s giants, in Gulliver’s Travels, and attests to the winemakers’ proclivity towards intense and powerfully flavored wines. Wine produced under the Besomim label, is a blend of varietals with a focus on complex aromatics. These limited production wines are available directly from the winery. Read the rest of this entry

International Food & Wine Festival (IFWF) in Oxnard brings back great memories!

These past two weeks have been what the Jews call the 9 days that are rather famous for the infamous events that have occurred in this specific span of time. Thankfully, once they were passed Herzog Cellars and Royal Wines put on an encore event of the IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival), this time in the Herzog Winery itself, to celebrate the winery’s 25th year in the industry! What an event and celebration it was! It brought back memories of the old IFWF events that were held in Oxnard, since the inaugural IFWF event in 2008.

Sure there were some 200 or so in attendance, but with the fully expanded setup, including an enclosure in the back that housed the French wine table, dessert table, and room to hunker down, it felt spacious and very comfortable.

In many ways, this event felt like an almost exact replay of the first International Food and Wine Festival. The crowd size was perfect, there was room for you to hunker down and taste wines and there was room for you to huddle up and talk with friends or people of like or dislike opinions.

Besides the layout and crowds, the food was absolutely fantastic, just like in previous events here. Once again, Todd Aarons and Gabe Garcia created wondrous delights that were so wrong in all the right ways! Of course, I came to the food area too late to partake of all of the goodies, but I still got to taste many fantastic culinary treats, including the absolutely stunning puffed chicken nuggets topped with incredibly tasty barbecue sauce.

Unfortunately, I came a bit late to this event because of what I came to call parking lot A and B (405 and 101 respectively). Whenever, I watch the Dodgers or the Angels, I can now understand why the crowds are so empty for the first three innings, because everyone is parked on one or more highways! My guess to why they all leave by the 7th inning is that after the folks get so aggravated waiting in the traffic, they get tired and want to go home. Quite clearly getting to and from any event in LA adds a few hours to the overall time and that is aggravating and tiring. However, like I, once the guests arrived they had to almost physically throw us out. The place did start to peter out in the last hour, but the place was still humming and drinking until the last second. Read the rest of this entry

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