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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

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2008 Yarden Rose Brut, 2011 Teperberg Malbec, and 2010 Yarden Malbec

This past week, I was once again in Israel and it gave me the chance to taste the recently released 2008 Yarden Rose Bubbly, which was one of the highlights of my trip. I also finally had the chance to sit with and enjoy a bottle of the 2011 Teperberg Malbec, that I tasted at the winery, and it lived up to my hype. Finally, I tasted the recently released Yarden Malbec, and though it is a well constructed wine, it was too sweet for my palate.

Please be clear – the Yarden Rose will not be making its way to the United States, for reasons I do not know, but it is a wine that is well worth finding in Israel. The wine notes follow below:

Read the rest of this entry

Great red and white wines enjoyed over Shavuot

This past Shavuot we had family over and enjoyed some great wines, a bunch of lovely sushi, and cheeses, and a brisket dinner to boot. The sushi was enjoyed for both the first night and lunch meal. The sushi rice was messed up by me, but my nephew and I rescued it and we had some great fish to make it all work.

To pair with Sushi for two meals we started with the highly conventional, and then veered way off course as well. To start we enjoyed three white wines; 2010 Carmel White Riesling, the 2010 Midbar white 44, and the 2007 Hagafen Brut. The Carmel Riesling started off really nice but quickly faded – so be careful with what bottles you have left and drink up fast. The Hagafen Brut was rocking and lovely, and the Midbar 44, was the best white and the second best wine of Shavuot.

The next day we went the highly unconventional route and enjoyed two res with the sushi meal – but hey who cares, I wanted to enjoy them. First we opened the last bottle of my 2001 Yarden Ortal Merlot and then we opened a bottle of the 2009 Shiloh Legend.

For dinner we had brisket and then for the following lunch some cheeses. Overall a lovely yom tov and the added family made it something special. The wine notes follow below:

2010 Carmel Riesling, Single Vineyard, Kayoumi Vineyard – Score: B+ to A-
I had this wine again over Shavuot though the wine really impressed when I opened it and enjoyed it – it died a few hours later. Initially – when opened it gives you a sense of sweetness though it is bright and ripe but with little residual sugar. The nose starts off with lovely floral notes, clear peach and apricot, along with an intense citrus brightness, melon and spice. The mouth is rich with citrus, lemon, ripe pink grapefruit, all backed by a great bracing acid. The finish is long with nice mineral, slate, citrus zest, vanilla, and baking spices. This wine is in drink NOW or drink UP mode. Get it cold and enjoy within the next few months.

2007 Hagafen Brut Cuvée – Score: A-
The 2007 Brut Cuvee Sparkling Wine is a blend of 78% Pinot Noir and 22% Chardonnay. The beautiful light salmon color really comes out in the glass, which is expressive with nice white chocolate, bright citrus, fig, cherry, and melon. The mouth hits you with an attack of lovely small mouse bubbles, along with brioche, apple, citrus, quince, and yeast. The finish is long and tantalizing, with good complexity, nice structure, and bracing acidity to keep the whole experience rich and bubbly!

2010 Midbar White 44 – Score: A- to A
Having brought back tow of these beautiful bottles home – it was time to enjoy one with sushi! The wine is a blend of Gewurztraminer 25%, Sauvignon Blanc 20%, Chardonnay 20%, Viognier 20%, Semillon 15%. Yeah, five grapes yet called the 44, who cares – the wine concentrate on the wine!!! This one blew me away, the aromas literally are in a cage match to the death, fighting each other tooth and nail until one becomes victorious. I did not stand around long enough to find out whom the winner would be, but in the end with a wine like this – we who enjoy it are the lucky winners indeed! Yaacov explained that Gewurztraminer is one of his hardest grapes to control, it has soapy or unwanted flavors and he does things with it to minimize the bad and accentuate the good. He does cold whole bunch press, and he blends it with all of these grapes to get the most out of all of them. The nose is redolent with super ripe summer fruit, crazy ripe orange, grapefruit, violet, rose, honeysuckle, and litchi. The mouth is rich, round, honeyed, and insane, with layers of complexity and flavors, starting with ripe nectarine, guava, green and yellow apple, all coming at you in waves. The oily texture and the summer fruit combine for a mouth captivating wine. The finish is long and spicy with nuts, almonds, marzipan, tart fruit, candied grapefruit, and earthy mineral notes! The wine did not disappoint at the winery or at home! Bravo!!

2001 Yarden Merlot, Ortal Vineyard – Score: A- to A
Love it again – wow what age can do to a sweet wine!!! I could not wait the two years I said I would – wanted to share it with family, so it was time to enjoy! What a glorious wine, the wine showed date and raisin in the past, but now this wine is round, ripe, and rich, with layers of concentrated fruit, mouth coating tannin, and rich body. The wine now shows beautifully and is a wine that we did not have time to watch open as the wine disappeared in almost no time, clearly the winner of Shavuot. The nose starts off with bright and ripe blackberry, rich dark cherry, clear herbs and green leanings that flow into good dirt, earth, and smokiness. The mouth is rich, layered, concentrated, and round, showing what the perfect balance of oak, ripe fruit, and time can create. The mouth is full bodied, and the best merlot that I have tasted from Yarden, with cassis, black plum, red currant, lovely mouth coating tannin, awesome bracing acid, and more earthiness that brings the whole mouth together, with hints of sweet cedar. The finish is long and spicy with black pepper, mineral, chocolate, rich leafy tobacco, and more dirt. What a great wine and one that is as good as it is going to get – so drink up now!!!

2009 Shiloh Legend – Score: A-
The nose on this mevushal purple colored wine explodes with ripe blueberry, dark cherry, ripe raspberry, licorice, and lovely spice, with a hint of roasted meat and smokiness which leaves soon enough for more crazy spices and ripe fruit. The mouth on this full bodied, ripe, round wine is expressive with sweet fruit, blackberry, ripe strawberry, plum, more blue fruit, along with sweet cedar, and mouth coating tannin that lingers and makes the mouth feel ripe, sweet, and round. The finish is long and spicy with nice vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate mocha, black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and mint. Over time the wine opens further to show grapefruit, pineapple, watermelon, and more lovely baking spices – BRAVO! With all the overripe and over sweet 2009 wines from Israel – this is a wine that shows you what control in Israel can taste like.

2013 Kosher Food and Wine Experience (KFWE) lived up to all its billing

For years I have always sported a purple colored beaming grin when I finish my tasting at the IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival) in LA, which hid my grumbling stomach’s discontent. Like I have documented for years, I never get to eat at the events, even as the entire food court mocks me, attempting to pull me into their warm, delicious, and very present embrace, with their wafting and intoxicating aromas. Still, I stand strong and I taste through the night until my teeth are purple and my stomach is close to rioting on the lack of food. Truth be told, I am not that good at taking notes when eating – the flavors of the food cover up and belie the flavors and aromas of the glass that beckons me closer with its “come hither” look and aromas. So every year, after the event I go to dinner at Jeff’s Sausage (down the street from the new location of the IFWF). Which is sheer madness of course, here I have half the Pavilion at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, filled with food from one of the best kosher restaurants in the world – Tierra Sur Restaurant, and I pass on that for the spicy and homely fare of Jeff’s Sausage. In no way is this a slight to the joy of Jeff Rohatiner’s cookery and food. Rather, it has been my conscious tradeoff, throughout my many year experience at IFWF to drink through as much of the world-class wine I can before my taste-buds shutdown, rather than give them to the food court, no matter how wonderful it is.

This year was a massive shift for me, gone was the purple grin and my mutinous stomach, as I visited and added the New York KFWE to my travel dates. To say the KFWE was different than the IFWF would be an extreme understatement, the IFWF has close to 1000 people at the show, while the KFWE has closer to 2000 people. Further the event hall at Pier 60 is some 2 to 3 times larger than the Pavilion tent at the Hyatt Regency. Also, there were many options for lunch and dinner from the myriad of NY restaurants that all share half the hall, all clamoring to share their wonderful fare with great fanfare. The Pier 60 overlooks the Marina and Harbor and many folks were outside braving the cold to grab a smoke, but at least they had some comfort of looking at the marina and its waterfront.

To really appreciate the event you had to come to it with a game plan, and there were many guests who had a few of their own. The event started at Noon for those in the trade, a new thing that the KFWE started last year and something that the IFWF has been doing from the start (though initially with a smaller trade time). The trade event was crowded but there could not have been more than a thousand folks there, so access to wine was not a problem in any way. The event hall can easily handle 1000 people, it is a bit more complicated when the number swells to two thousand people, but still there was no pushing or shoving going on even at the end of the public tasting, when the number of guests was at its maximum. But I digress; the trade tasting allowed me to focus solely on wine and the winemakers, which was great. Read the rest of this entry

Another round of kosher Israeli Wines from the past week

This past week I once again stayed over with friends and family and I had a much better assortment of wines to enjoy, including some real blockbusters and a TRUE and REAL shocker, a wine that is said to be fantastic, but one that did not hold up well at all! Once again, thanks to all for allowing me to hang with you and letting me bring my wines over, the wines follow below:

2007 Bustan Syrah – Score: B+ (at best)
This was a true and scary shocker! This is a wine that all my friends and Daniel Rogov have said is the man! Well we tried it and it was far from it. The wine opened nicely, but was bland and then went into the tank! Rumor has it that days later it was a bit better, but still far from what folks have said about this wine, so if you have these, look to start drinking them up SOON and do not look for a real winner here!
The nose is rich with lovely blueberry, along with a dead animal doing a backstroke in my glass, along with huge black and blue notes, nice black pepper, licorice, and a hit of lemongrass and citrus. The medium bodied wine is nice with soft tannin, blackberry, black plum, and cherry, with a hint of raspberry, nice earth and green notes, with cedar and tannin. The finish is cliff-like with little to no finish with leather, tobacco, nice cinnamon, spice, and insane eucalyptus, menthol and smoke. The wine died with 30 minutes and had absolutely ZERO body, basically liquid fruit juice. – drink up!

2007 Yarden Blanc de Blanc – Score: A- to A
The Yarden Blanc de Blancs is made entirely from Chardonnay grapes grown in the northern Golan Heights, Israel’s coolest viticultural area. The wine is made strictly according to the traditional method (méthode champenoise) including hand harvesting, pressing of whole clusters to increase acidity and fruit flavors, and secondary fermentation in the bottle. Disgorging took place after five years of bottle aging on the tirage yeast.
Are u kidding me! A filthy wine with a nose of intense fruit, lemon curd, peach and apple cobbler, brioche, and nice toast that gives way to ripe green and yellow apple, and crazy insane ripe lemon curd. The medium mouth is wow in a single word. Thanks to Gabriel Geller for selling me the bottle, and sharing it all around. The mouth is insanely ripe and intense and ripe with ripe baked anjou pear, freakish assault vehicle of acidity and small mousse bubbles, with lovely yeast and brace for it – mouth coating tannin!! The finish is long and tart with insane grapefruit, bitter and rich grapefruit pith, and lemon zest. Bravo!!! Read the rest of this entry

Notes from kosher wines tasted in and around Israel

Before I left for Israel, I had a bottle of the 2008 Yarden Odem Vineyard Chardonnay. Normally this wine is killer. The 2009 vintage is lovely, the 2007 vintage was closed the last time I enjoyed it, but opened quickly enough and was lovely. Unfortunately, this bottle of the 2008 Yarden Odem Vineyard Chardonnay was clearly in a deep sleep, and one that would not open no matter what I tried. Humorously, when I came back from Israel, some three weeks later, the leftovers of the wine that I stored in the refrigerator, tasted quite nice!

In Israel, we enjoyed many wines for Passover and for other meals. Some of the wines were quite nice while some were just OK. The best two wines we enjoyed were the 2010 Dalton Zinfandel and the 2010 Saslove April. The other wines were fine but none of those were really note worthy. The 2010 Dalton Zinfandel showed far better than when I had it at the Gotham Wine Event. The Tulip White Franc was really nice, though a bit less Cabernet Franc-ish than the 2010 vintage. This is the second time I had the chance to taste April, when I enjoyed it at Sommelier last year, and it continues to impress with its light oak influence (they used staves) and interesting blend.

The only real downer for me was 2011 Galil Rose; it was OK, but nothing to write home about. I was not a huge fan of the Dalton Roses either, but hey I keep trying! I do love the Flam and Catsel Roses. The Tulip Just Cab and Merlot were lovely and continue to improve and show good varietal characteristics. I had the 2010 Galil Wines and they were average at best, which is OK, but again not wines to write home about. My father-in-law and I both enjoyed the bubbly Cabernet. Yes, I said I liked a semi-sweet bubbly Cabernet, because it was actually enjoyable. Sorry, to all the wine snobs out there, but the 2011 Tabor Pnimim (Pearls) sparkler, was enjoyable, unpretentious, and though semi-sweet, not cloyingly so in any way. No, I would not normally, bestow any praise upon a semi sweet Cabernet nor even write about it in a positive manner, as normally Cabernet and sweet do not logically go hand in hand, but Tabor did a good job, so Kudos!

Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to visit any wineries, but I did get a chance to see Gabriel Geller, a man I can happily call an acquaintance, and hopefully one day a friend, that now own a wine store in the heart of Jerusalem, called the Wine Mill. The wine store is located in the Wind Mill right next to the Prima Kings Hotel Jerusalem, and essentially at the corner of King George and Ramban streets. The store is laid out in a quite enjoyable and clutter free manner, with more than enough room for informal gatherings of his clients and customers. When I was there, I picked up some wines that I took home and I also had a chance to talk with both Gabriel and David Rhodes, a wine critic/writer who I have not yet had the chance to write about here in the blog, but a person who has solid wine abilities and who I have had the pleasure to talk with a few times now. The conversation inevitably came around to kosher wine, Israeli Wine, and Daniel Rogov (man I cannot believe it has been 6 months already since his passing), but hey what happens in the Wine Mill stays in the Wine Mill. I did have the chance to taste a lovely bottle of Domaine Ventura Cabernet Franc, but I did not write notes on the wine – sorry. From what I remember, it was very characteristic of Cabernet Franc, with good green notes, lovely ripe red fruit, without the raisin or date flavors, that are so characteristic of Israeli wines. The oak did not overpower though was felt and clearly present, and there was some nice extraction along with tobacco and light leather. An unofficial score would be B+ to A-. Read the rest of this entry

Viognier, Chardonnay, Kosher Korbel, Black Bean Soup, Lemon Rosemary Chicken, and Portabella Risotto

This past week we spent time with friends and family and it was a lovely time for all. Family came in from out of town and we were excited to see them and spend time with them. We started the meal with Brazilian Black Bean Soup. We have made this soup a few times already and the recipe is from the classic Mollie Katzen Moosewood Cookbook. The soup hit the spot given the colder temperature that has hit our area. The Viognier was nice with Kiddush, but it is over my friends – drink up or cook with it. My hope is that the 2008 or 2009 Goose Bay Viognier is coming out soon. The Goose Bay Viognier was lovely for some time with a classic perfumed and flowered nose, but those days are well past and please heed my advice – drink up or dump it. Once the wine was gone, we moved on to another bottle – which may well have been the biggest surprise of the evening!

Benyamin came by again this week and he brought a bottle of wine that I thought was going to be a total waste of time, but was more than happy to try out of sheer curiosity. In the end, it turned out to be my favorite wine of the evening. It was not the highest scoring wine, but it was the most enjoyable wine because it shocked me so and was downright tasty still after all of these years! The wine I am talking about is the N.A. Kosher Korbel Brut Champagne from 1997! This puppy is more than 13 years old! This wine sold for 13 dollars at the time. The wine was all the rage in 1995 and the re-released with a different vintage in 1997. The wine was never released again after that, which was a shame, but for those two years the wine was great. I do not remember it very well from back then, but from what I remember, I was not a huge fan. That all changed last night! The bubbles were lovely and soft, the mousse was almost foamy with a continuous attack of effervescence that did not let up all night. The bottle disappeared quickly, but even the bit that we left to the side was wonderful throughout the meal.

Following the sparkling wine and the soup, we moved on to the main course of Portabella Mushroom and Sweet Potato Risotto, Lemon Rosemary Pepper Flake Roasted Chicken Recipe, Cold Roasted Green Bean Salad, and Fresh Green Salad. To match these dishes, I pulled out an interesting pair of Yarden Chardonnay. Both of the wines hail from the 2007 vintage, a 2007 Yarden Chardonnay, and the 2007 Yarden Odem Vineyard Chardonnay. The wines were way too young and are not ready to drink – either of them. The wines were tight and not open, almost DOA out of the bottle. After a few hours, long after the meal was over, the wines were open and nice, but I do not think that even they are hitting their stride. These wines are way too young, maybe asleep, and need another year before they will show their best stuff. Right now my money would be on a Four Gates Chardonnay, if you are looking for a full bodied, fruity, and luscious California Chardonnay. We have tasted them in the past few months, both the 2004 and 2005, and they are both stunning. That said, in a year or a bit longer the two 2007 Yarden Chardonnay wines will be ready to party and show their white stripes.

For dessert our friend brought us another masterpiece, Kahlua Chocolate Cake! The cake all but about disappeared, and that was because we pulled it from the table before that could occur. Our many thanks to our friends and family who joined us for the meal and who were very kind to share their wonderful cake and wine with us.

The wine notes are listed below in the order they were served:

2007 Goose Bay Viognier (New Zealand, North Island, East Coast) – Score: B
This wine is on its way out 😦 The perfume is now gone. The nose on this light gold colored wine has grapefruit, lemon, slight floral notes, cut grass, smoky and tasty oak, honey, and citrus. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has lost its original oily and perfumed charm, now it has only a citrus body, with peach and pear along for the ride. The mid palate is bracing with acid, toasty oak, and lemon. The finish is long with more acid, caramel, straw, toasty oak, and lemon/grapefruit. It is a shame as this was once one of my favorites. I hope there is a new vintage coming out soon.

N.V. Korbel Brut California Champagne (USA, California) – Score: B++
This wine is from 1997! Are you kidding me! It was the second and final kosher run of the winery. The nose on this straw colored wine was filled with a yeast and mushroom nose, toast, herbs, asparagus, and lemon. The mouse on this medium bodied wine was filled out by the small bubbles of the lovely and still very alive mousse, toast, yeast, mushroom, and lemon. The mid palate was bracing with core acidity, and toast. The finish was nice along with more nice small bubbles, toast, mushroom, and lemon. It was a lovely wine that was drunk quickly and one that paired well with our hearty black bean soup. Really a shock that this 13 dollar wine survived this long and was more than acceptable! Kudos to Benyamin Cantz for keeping it so long and in such good quality, and for sure to Korbel for making a reasonably priced kosher wine that could live this long and taste maybe even better than I remember it tasting originally!

2007 Yarden Chardonnay (Israel, Galilee, Golan Heights) – Score: A–
This wine was closed and tight to start, it took it a good hour or two to come out of its shell. This wine is still not ready to enjoy at its fullest without a fair amount of up front effort. The nose on this lemon colored wine has butterscotch, butter, lemon, toasty oak, mint, pear, peach, and apple. The mouth on this full bodied wine has toasty oak, pear, peach, lemon, apricot, and apple. The mid palate is heavy with acid, toasty oak, butterscotch, and a touch of mint. The finish is long with more oak, butter, butterscotch, bright citrus, lemon, and toasty oak. The toasty oak, butterscotch, and lemon linger on the palate.

2007 Yarden Odem Organic Vineyard Chardonnay – Score: A– to A-
This wine takes a very long time to open up – clearly not it’s time to be drunk yet. Once it opens, the nose on this gold colored wine is filled with toasty oak, honey, ripe fig, caramel, butter, spice, rose notes, apple, grapefruit, and lemon. The mouth of this full bodied wine is mouth filling with ripe fig, apple, grapefruit, lemon, cloves, and toast. The mid palate is balanced with bight acidity, caramel, butter, and spice. The finish is long with more toast, oak, ripe figs, right citrus, and butter. This is a lovely wine, but not yet ready to show its best stuff. Leave this one alone for a year and come back.

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