Last week, California was overrun by a nasty heatwave, besides breaking records and driving me and everyone else crazy, it meant my entire week was open as mountain climbing was off the table. That left lots of time to go see Jeff Morgan (founding winemaker and co-owner of Covenant Wines) and family (Jodie and Zoe), literally, and Jon Hajdu at Covenant Wines. They were already taking in fruit for the 2022 harvest and it was extremely kind of them to carve up some time for me during this busy time of year.
I remember well the time I was in Canada with Jeff for a vertical tasting of all the Covenant Cabernet, at that time, it was a wonderful experience and tasting! I have said many times, that Covenant Winery is one of the original California wineries that makes solid wines, especially in the Cabernet Sauvignon space. I found some of the wines taken a step back in recent years. The white wines were always enjoyable, like the Sauvignon Blanc and the Lavan white, but that changed recently from what I see in this tasting.
I was at the winery in March for a local RCC (Rosh Chodesh Club) and I got to taste one of the wines but it was not a setting to write notes and appreciate wines. I do remember the wines we had and one wine, in particular, did not show nearly as nicely as it did at our tasting last week. So, I am happy for many reasons to have driven up to Berkeley, CA to taste the 7 wines. All of them were quite enjoyable.
First, we tasted the Covenant Solomon Blanc a new white wine on the Covenant label and the only white wine on the Covenant Solomon level. The 2020 Covenant Solomon Blanc was the wine I tasted back in March and it showed far superior last week. It finally came out of its shell and had fully integrated with the sweet oak, it was a lovely wine indeed! The 2021 vintage, which was newly bottled was a drop better, showing a bit more acidity and an overall complex mouthfeel that did remind me of the 2019 Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt, Blanc. Both showed lovely gooseberry and ripe fruit but also bracing acidity and controlled yet lovely oak, very well made.
After the lovely Sauvignon Blanc wines, we moved to another white wine the 2021 Covenant Lavan, Chardonnay. I am being honest here, I have been falling into the new version of ABC (Anything But Chardonnay). It is new but old, the same old same old, fat, blubbery, overoaked, under-acidified, flat wines. ABC was a thing in 1995 when the MY Times wrote a piece on it and it is coming back with a vengeance again. Much akin to the date juice fiasco in the kosher wine market, Chardonnay is also moving to its old roots and they are being made into oak-driven apple juice that is honestly boring and uninteresting. Thankfully, we have been saved by the two incredible Burgundy Chardonnays for the Meursault region, by Taieb Wines, and by IDS. Those wines are clean and correct, they speak to the place and the time they were made. So, when I had the lovely Sauvignon Blanc wines it further solidified my belief in what I desire, clean and well-made ABC wines. With that as a disclaimer, the 2021 Covenant Lavan Chardonnay, was properly made. It was well balanced and showed a fruit focus that would make an ABC drinker, like myself, enjoy and drink the wine.
Five Red Wines
After the three white wines, we moved the line along to 5 red wines. In some ways, white wine is harder to make than red wine. White wine has fewer places to hide as a winemaker though I am far harsher, as a wine taster, in the land of red wine, simply because I am sick and tired of lazy winemaking or worse, purposeful and mindful winemaking that removes the grapes from their natural state of being and place to make fruit juice that is sweetened by whatever actions the winemaker has in his/her arsenal that week. Wineries will tell you it sells better but to me, that is just selling out and I have no time or interest in tasting wines like that. So, when I see 5 red wines, I am thinking, like I always do, even in Europe, I hope there is a desire here to let the fruit talk. Sure enough, the team has pulled the winery along into an impressive place where you can find some lovely wines and even some that garner the QPR WINNER score along with quality scores that make me want to buy and drink the wines. Bravo!
The first wine was a lovely Pinot Noir from under the Landsman label. The 2021 Landsman Pinot Noir had just been bottled and it showed no bottle shock. The lines on this wine were clean, with red juicy fruit, floral, earthy, and smoky. No baby fat, just clean lines, and good fruit. Nice! Another WINNER from the Carneros wine region in Sonoma County. Carneros has the moderating influence of the San Pablo Bay, the northern portion of the greater San Francisco Bay, which keeps Carneros cool and windy, but not too cold. We then moved to two Syrah followed by two Cabernet Sauvignon, the flagship wines of the winery.
The first Syrah was the 2020 Landsman Syrah, Santa Rita Hills, Robert Rae Vineyards. This was a new one for me, I was unaware that Syrah grew well in the Santa Rita wine region. Of course, I love the Santa Rita Pinot Noir from the Herzog Reserve line and their more exclusive Eagle’s landing wine lines. So, when I tasted the Landsman Syrah from 2020, I was not surprised to find it more of an old-world style wine than the next wine we would be tasting. The Landsman Syrah reminded me of the Shirah Syrah from 2013, a dirty, earthy, smoky, meaty animal that was more old-world than new from Santa Barbara County. This wine is comparable if not a bit better, here the fruit is more controlled, yet very present, focused, and precise, I bought what was left – one bottle, maybe Jeff or Sagie can scrounge another one or two up. Either way, lovely wine!
Finally, we tasted a new wine on the Covenant label, the 2020 Covenant Syrah, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. This is one of the most famous vineyards in Santa Barbara County, very difficult to get into and even tougher to keep. In 2020 some folks were too worried about smoke damage and bailed on their allocations. Covenant found out about the availability and jumped on it, there is no smoke taint on this wine, it is smoky, but from the lovely french oak used to age the wine. A lovely wine, one that is balanced, but a bit too new-world for my taste. This is a perfect example of how new-world wine can be made to its place and its fruit without turning it into an abomination. Here the team took beautiful fruit and let the fruit speak to its true nature, lovely! Hopefully, there will be more of this wine being made, it shows great potential.
Two big yet elegant Cabernet Sauvignon wines
The tasting ended with two lovely Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Napa Valley, the Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Covenant Solomon, Lot 70. I claimed, in a previous post, that the crown for the best red 2019 kosher wine had been given to Chateau Smith Haut Lafite, with the disclaimer that I had yet to taste the Four Gates or Domain Roses Camille wines yet. I should have added that I had also not yet tasted the 2019 Covenant Solomon, Lot 70. The Solomon, as nice as it was, did not eclipse the Chateau Smith Haut Lafite or the Chateau Pontet Canet, but it is indeed up there on the list of top wines of 2019.
The two Cabernet wines were quite lovely though the Solomon was a step above the Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon. The Solomon was so elegant, powerful, and yet precise, with great fruit focus and control, quite a lovely wine that deserves your attention and a place in your wine cellar for many years from now! I say that, but Mr. Morgan will tell you it is just lovely now as well, and while I wholeheartedly agree with him, get a few and enjoy one now, if you must, and then enjoy the rest later!
My many thanks to Jeff Morgan, Sagie Kleinlerer, Jonathan Hajdu, and the rest of the Covenant team and family for setting up the meeting, sharing their wines with me, and taking time out of their busy harvest schedule to meet with me. The wine notes follow below in the order they were tasted – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:
2020 Covenant Solomon Blanc, Bennett Valley, Sonoma County, CA – Score: 92.5 (QPR: WINNER)
This wine is from the Moaveni Vineyard, in Bennett Valley, Sonoma County.
The nose of this wine is a perfect blend of sweet oak and sweet fruit, showing lovely peach, apricot, bright fruit, green apple, sweet orange marmalade, orange blossom, sweet melon, and sweet Asian pear. The mouth of this medium-plus-bodied wine is incredibly fun, with screaming acidity, lovely minerality, and so refreshing, with lovely sweet oak, lovely green apple, orange marmalade, yellow Asian pear, peach, apricot, and cloves. The finish is long, tart, and balanced, with sweet fruit, incredible balance, loam, flint, and lovely sweet smoke and orange peel. Drink by 2027. (tasted September 2022) (in Berkeley, CA) (ABV = 13.90%)
Smoked Salmon, Bison Vegetable Stew, Spinach Kugel, Roasted Vegetables, Quinoa, and some great wines
On June 18, 2010 it was finally party time again, but in a more calm and controlled manner. My nephew and his friend were back from their trips, so it was time to get party! I invited Benyo, and he brought along his friend who I have heard of many times, from Benyo and his sister. So it was the six of us, and we had a ball. We made a classic vegetable stew with bison meat, my wife made a lovely spinach kugel (parve soufflé), and we once again bought some awesome roasted vegetables. The farmer’s market was almost closing so we had to motor through it, and only found some fennel, yellow & red beets, and squash. We cubed the vegetables and roasted them in the oven after covering them with garlic and olive oil.
Benyo brought some bottles over and I opened a couple of mine. We started with Benyo’s yet to be released wine, so sorry no notes. We followed that with another bottle of the 1996 Sulfite Free Chardonnay. This bottle was not as good, but it was still nice. It was a bit musty to start, but over time the musty smell dissipated, and it came close to the home run we had at Benyo’s house.
We then opened a bottle 2003 Carmel Kayumi Cabernet Sauvignon. I must say, it may still not be at its peak. That said, the bottle we had was wonderful and will last at least another year. However, given that I have had too many of my wines that were past their time, I am more than happy to consume the wine a bit early.
We finished the meal with a bottle of Brobdignagian Wines Grenache, from Santa Barbara California. This is a wine made by Jonathan Hajdu, who is the associate winemaker at Covenant Wines. This is not a Covenant wine, but rather a wine made by Jonathan on the side; he is still the associate wine maker at Covenant, and doing a great job of it.
The wine notes speak for themselves. We also “opened” a bottle of wine for Saturday day. The real story was that I put the bottle in the freezer to cool down, and I forgot about it! AHHH!! Well, the cork popped, so I was “forced” to try it out, and it was pretty nice.
The wine notes follow below:
2007 Brobdignagian Wines Grenache Santa Barbara County – Score: A- to A
The name comes from the colossal, gigantic, extremely tall, and giant creatures discovered by Gulliver in his travels on the Northwest coast of California and is used today (although not by anyone I know) to describe anything of colossal size. That said, the wine does in many ways follow the moniker. The wine has a 16.3% alcohol, is massive in the mouth, and in the bottle! The bottle (empty) is one of the heaviest I have ever seen, quite extreme. The name of the winery, though unpronounceable by me, is one you already know by association. The wine is made by Jonathan Hajdu, the associate wine maker for Covenant Wines, owned and operated by Jeff Morgan. Jonathan also makes a Syrah, which I hope to get to taste soon.
The nose on this massive wine is almost unapproachable out of the bottle. It is closed, with just hints of what is to come. After 30 minutes of sitting in the glass, the wine’s nose pulls the wool out from under its eyes and exposes a world of joy, starting with expressive oak, cedar, tobacco, concentrated dried red fruit, raspberry, and spice. The mouth on this currant colored wine is super concentrated, almost laser focused, and layered with dried cranberry, raspberry, and plum. The attack is what makes this wine; it is clean lined with heft and power, yet focused on delivering not a single but many blows of dried fruit and oak. The mid palate flows from the mouth with acidity to balance the beast, along with nice tannins, cedar oak, and tobacco. The finish is super long and concentrated with more oak, red dried fruit, tobacco, and spice. This is quite a wine and one that should be enjoyed first from the glass, and then with food.
2003 Carmel Cabernet Sauvignon Kayoumi (Israel) – Score: A- to A
The nose on this expressive yet refined royal blue to purple colored wine is exploding with heaps of tobacco leaf, rich ripe black plum, blackberry, crushed herbs, smoked meat, and spicy oak. The mouth on this big and refined wine is layered, complex, and somewhat concentrated all at the same time. The mouth is coating and full with mostly integrated tannins that give the mouth a soft and refined feel while still having heft. Black plum and blackberry are all buoyed by core acidity and spicy oak that borders on cedar, black plum, spice, tobacco, smoked meats, and soft caressing tannins. The mid palate flows balanced and full from the mouth with more core acidity, cedar oak, and tobacco. The finish is super long, luscious, and fantastic, with black plum and blackberry fruit, along with oak, spice, tobacco, and smoked meats that linger long after the wine is gone.
2009 Backsberg Estate Chardonnay (Paarl) – Score: B++
I threw this bottle into the freezer by accident, so I was stuck drinking this one during the week. The nose on this light straw colored wine explodes with ripe melon, kiwi, tart green apple, crème, and orange peel. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is tart up front with green apple and ripe melon, kiwi, and pear coming along for the ride. The mid palate is packed with bracing acidity and spicy notes. The finish is long with spice, orange peel, and ripe summer fruit that linger. A nice quaffing wine for sure, but also one that will stand up to light dishes, white meat, and soft cheese.