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
My friend EH was in the area and it was also his birthday, so a bunch of winemakers were so kind to grace my home for Elk and they all came bearing gifts, that were enjoyed by all. Sadly, as much as I want to extol about the epic wines we enjoyed, I cannot do that as many of the wines are not yet released, and I was sworn to secrecy until their official grand unveiling.
I did not even plan the whole thing, that was all Elk, all I did was supply a place, some wines and food. The rest was handled by Elk, and as a host I did even less, as Josh Rynderman, handled all the food prep on the grill. All I really did was make Risotto, and help opening some of the wines.
After that, it was really all the winemakers who made the party what it was. They gathered to wish Elk a happy birthday and have a good time tasting great Cali wines! I was the only one who added in a few Israeli wines, but they were well accepted – overall. Still, given the set of Cali wines that were poured (both unreleased and released) – they crushed the Israeli wines by far.
Sadly, I did not get any pictures, and I barely got the notes down before they were either finished or taken home by the folks at the party.
So, I will keep this short and sweet – these are the notes for the wines we can talk about. Also, my many thanks to Gabriel Weiss from Shirah Winery, Jonathan Hajdu from Hajdu Winery, and Benyo from Four Gates Winery for sharing wines with the attendees. Finally thanks to Josh Rynderman for manning the grill.
The wine notes follow with what I can talk about:
2013 Shirah Syrah Santa Barbara County – Score: A- (and a bit)
The last two times I had this wine it was showing far more old school than now. The wine is showing more Cali than in the past and while it still has the saline and dirt, the riper Cali notes are starting to show through.
The nose on this wine is lovely, with earth, dirt, loam, mineral, along with rich roasted animal, blackcurrant, root beer, charcoal, and sweet spice. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is all about the dirt and mineral, along with sweet fruit, layered with insane sweet peach, plum, blueberry, boysenberry, with more sweet spices, nutmeg, and allspice. The finish is long with chocolate, leather, cinnamon, and watermelon. LOVELY!
2011 Tabor Merlot Adama, Bazelet – Score: B+ to A-
GG said this wine was turning fast, and while I did not have a bad bottle, I could see that after a day the wine was really too ripe. To me this wine has a year left and then it is over – so drink up!!
The wine is riper than the 2010, which to me was a masterpiece indeed. The 2011 is riper and more fruity, but it is not a date bomb or anything like the stuff I dislike and rail against. 2011 was a very cold year, and wineries had to leave the fruit on the vine longer, making for a wine that could be seen as out of balance. Still, the ripeness does calm with time, and earthy notes do show with dark fruit and spice. This is still a solid QPR wine and for 18 or so dollars it is a no brainer.
The nose on this wine is rich with dark fruit, blackberry, loamy dirt, mineral, and more barnyard than in the past. The mouth on this medium bodied wine shows rich acid, nice tannin and good fruit structure with nice extraction, graphite, black fruit, raspberry, currant, and sweet oak, with tobacco taking front stage now. The finish is long and earthy, with roasted herb, fresh coffee, tobacco, more green notes, green tea, graphite and more barnyard lingering. Showing better!
2015 Shirah Rose – Score: A- (plus)
75% Grenache and 25% Tannat. Lovely floral notes, cotton candy, and rich cherry. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is classic Shirah wine, with candied cherry, candied raspberry, and cherry 7up, with rich intense notes, great acid, rich currant, mineral, and great dried fruit. The finish is long and lasting with lovely dried quince, dried grapefruit, and great acid and herb. Bravo!!!
2015 Shirah Vintage Whites – Score: A- (plus)
Another classic hit from the Weiss brothers, this time the Shirah Whites, is really Shirah Vintage White, as it is 100% Viognier! What an intoxicating nose, ripe and juicy peach, honeysuckle, white flower, dried honeydew melon, and rich spices. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is viscous and rich, layered with awesome white pepper, spice, cloves, but showcasing its ripe summer stone fruit, with apricot and peach giving way to dried Asian Pear and green tea. The finish is long and spicy with bitter almond notes, along with orange, pith, and lovely spices. BRAVO!!
2011 Mia Luce Rosso – Score: B+ to A-
I had this wine at the winery and it was far too pushed. This wine after two hours of air is better, with nice nose of brett, barnyard, and lovely dirt. The mouth on this medium bodied wine shows lovely earth, blackberry, dirt, coating the mouth with rich mineral, earth, rich sweet oak, and too much sweet notes. The finish is long and spicy, with cloves, searing acid and tannin, with green notes, foliage, tobacco, dried meat, and lovely dirt. Nice!
2013 Shirah Tannat – Score: A- (and a bit)
This wine needs time to open, maybe two hours. The nose on this wine is lovely, with rich fruit, yes it has notes of raisin, but get past it, the nose is all it is, with blackberry, cherry, and dark cassis. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is crazy, yes ripe, but rich, with layers of dark fruit, blackcurrant, rich intense graphite, charcoal, with layers of chocolate and herb, and nice spices. The finish is long and earthy, deep mineral, dirt, hints of forest, with chocolate, leather, and lovely spice. BRAVO!!!
2013 Four Gates Syrah – Score: A- (and more)
One word does correctly define this wine – FILTHY!!! The nose on this ink black colored wine is filled with blue fruit, followed by squid ink, licorice, sweet oak, intense black fruit, and wondrous spice. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is layered and extracted to the max with intense black and blue fruit, blueberry, blackberry, black currant, followed by lovely barnyard, crazy earth, mineral, graphite, rich extraction, dense concentration of fruit and mineral, and great acid. The finish is long and spicy, with cinnamon, all spice, root beer, and hints of asian spice, and roasted animal, and miso! BRAVO!!! Read the rest of this entry
This past weekend we had the distinct pleasure and honor of hosting Yaacov Oryah and friends for meals at our house. It was great to finally return the favor to YC and his lovely wife, from the epic dinner he threw for me, my wife, and my brother, two years ago. Anyone who has read this blog knows who Yaacov Oryah is – he was the winemaker of Asif Winery, which turned into Midbar Winery, and is now the new winemaker at Psagot Winery.
It was a true joy spending a shabbat with one of Israel’s answers to date juice. Yaacov Oryah, may well be the new winemaker at Psagot Winery, but he is also the winemaker for his winery – Yaacov Oryah Winery. Remember, Oryah was the winemaker and partner of Asif Winery – but when that did not work out he still had his vineyards and he still needed a place to make wines. Oryah is like Tabor Winery , Netofa Winery, Recanati Winery, Tzora Winery, Flam Winery, Domaine du Castel, Matar, Tura, Adir Winery, and others – Israeli wineries who pick early and understand balance is more important than imperfect wines that have perfect phenolic qualities.
Sadly, the list may not be long, but they are the answer to Israel’s overripe red wine problem. They are proof that it can be done, even at millions bottles! I hope others will follow. From what I saw on my latest trip to Israel, change is afoot, especially at the smaller producers.
Yaacov Oryah Winery
In 2011 Mr Oryah, was faced with a problem, Asif was essentially gone, Midbar had yet to come to life, and so the grapes needed a home – hence was the creation of Yaacov Oryah – private winery and winemaker! It is the age-old story – Necessity is the mother of all invention! The grapes had a need and Oryah was the answer. What was created was a lovely pair of Rioja style wines – with Tempranillo being the major component. Read the rest of this entry
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
As many of you know, I have been a very vocal advocate for the need of Israeli wineries to stop making wines for the sweet-toothed, wine chugging kosher public. The wineries and their fans crave uncontrolled tannin, date, prune, and enough oak on the wine, for splinters to be protruding from it!
Well, I am so excited to say that there is now a winery that combines the best of both worlds! Yes, they make fantastic date juice and old-world wines at the same time! This magical winery is the Matar Winery, which is the kosher arm of the famous Pelter Winery in Israel’s Golan Heights! Pelter Winery is not kosher, but in 2012 they decided to create a new arm of their winery- called Matar Winery. A say arm, because it is an extension to Pelter Winery, it is NOT Pelter Winery itself. Tal Pelter, the winemaker and half owner of the family run winery, decided that he still wanted to interact with his wines, on a very hands on and intimate level, and so he kept Pelter winery non-kosher. However, he also wanted to make his wines available to the charadei (frum/orthodox) Jewish community, and so he created a new winery, that uses his grapes and that he makes, with the aid of religious workers.
This is a very different approach that say Flam, Castel, and others wineries that went kosher. In the latter wineries, the entire production went from non-kosher to kosher inside of a year. For Tal, who is a passionate and hands-on winemaker, who happens to not religious, it would have meant losing access to what he craves – his wines. This is a subject I discussed in my top wine post of all time; kosher wine 101. For brevity, I will simply state that kosher wine is defined by many things, but the toughest one for winemakers like Tal, is the requirement that the wine be made and handled by religious Jews.
To say Midbar Winery is unique – would be an understatement of the world. However, to say it might be the most unique kosher winery in Israel, may well NOT be an understatement at all. Midbar Winery is a newly minted winery from the recently closed Asif winery and a new influx of cash from investors. Yeah – yeah, I am getting to it – hold your horses. Asif Winery is a winery that was established in 2006 to do what no one in Israel could do well – create great kosher white wines. According to Yaacov and the winery’s website: Midbar Winery in Arad, was established to develop, promote and celebrate winemaking in the Negev desert. Midbar is the Hebrew word for desert – and our vineyards, typically over 800 meters above sea level, benefit from the Negev’s unique terroir. Another great quote from Yaacov – White is the New Red.
Now, before I get ahead of myself too far, I must state that this winery is not kosher – as in the customary manner. The wine carries no supervision stamp, or hecsher, for a variety of reasons. However, having heard the story of Ya’acov Oryah, I had to visit the winery to find out more. Yaacov Oryah started the winery in 2006 and though he lacked a kosher wine symbol many people like me happily drink his wine. Why? Simple enough – I trust the man, and being that Yaacov Oryah is a religious man – that is all that I need. However, my nonchalant attitude in this area may well concern others, and it is for this reason that I may keep the wines I schlepped back from Israel for myself – or with the folks that are trusting as I am.
For a deeper understanding of why and how this came to be – I advise a wonderful trip to the south of Israel where a lovely, honest, hard working, humble, and successful winemaker will explain the situation to you and if you like what you hear – like I did, I highly recommend his wines. I can openly say that he is not against having supervision, but as your parents used to say to you when you were young – “it is complicated”! The good news is that falling in love with his wines is the farthest thing from complicated!
In retrospect I think that Yaacov should hang two signs above his winery’s door. The first one stating; He who enters should be brave of heart, open of mind, desiring of all things ripe, honeyed, fruity, and floral in so many ways. The second one should read: He who wishes to enter these hallowed halls should be in love with wine of a white persuasion and not the Moscato kind or other overly sweet enchantments. If you lack the interest in grand and lovely white wines than please do not waste the time of the master who works beyond these gates. He is a man who makes white wine a priority rather than a nice-to-have item. Please leave him alone and bother him not so that he can make us all more great white elixirs! Read the rest of this entry