This past weekend my friends came over and we enjoyed some lovely Cabernet Sauvignon together, five were mine and two were brought by the guests. When you talk about Cabernet Sauvignon inevitably there are folks who love it and some who hate it. It is the grand-daddy of the noble grapes, it is the wine that has the history and stuffing to last and cellar for many years.
Cabernet will always be the classic and default red grape that most wine drinker will reach for. Why? Because it is well-known and consistent. I state this because if you buy a Cabernet Sauvignon from Hagafen Winery, Herzog Cellars, or many Israeli wineries, you may find ones you love and some you hate, but they are similar in nature. They are either green with classic graphite and green notes, or maybe they are black and red with other classic flavors. Since the start of kosher wines, all the wineries have started with the noble grapes; Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. Some have done better with them and some have done a so-so job. Hagafen excels with their Cabernet Sauvignon that are sourced from the Napa Valley. Herzog, has been doing a really lovely job with their Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Israel, was dominated by Yarden in the past, but since 2008, they have lost their way and as I have stated before, this is not by accident – this is on purpose. Personally, I was irate when tasting two of Yarden’s masterpieces – the 2001 and 2008 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon, El Rom. They were so impressive and of course they were two of the best vintages and Shmita wines as well, but since the 2008 vintage they have purposely turned their great fruit into pure date juice! I am so saddened by their actions, but my only option now is to look elsewhere and so I have with Flam Winery, Adir Winery, Recanati Winery, Castel Winery, Tabor Winery Limited Edition, French wines, and California wines. The French and Castel are not producing pure Cabernet Sauvignon wines, but that is OK! They are wines which have a majority of Cabernet and are of the ilk of the left bank wines of France – which are classically Cabernet based wines. Just looking at California Wineries, I would be hard pressed to not find everything I am looking for in a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Covenant Winery has been crushing it for the past 11 years when it comes to their epic Cabernet Sauvignon, and do not forget their Lot 70 Cabernet Sauvignon – which started in 2008 and has been getting better and better each year!
Herzog Winery has also been killing it in terms of Cabernet Sauvignon – involving a huge range of options. Starting at their incredibly well priced and QPR Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, which has really been showing great potential from 2012 and on. The next price range is the Weinstock Cellar Select Cabernet that is really nice, and one that we had this shabbos. It started off slow, but with time, it filled out and was quite nice. After that there are the new range of Variations that are both very nice and well – thought provoking, which is exactly what Herzog is looking for. After them there is the ever consistent and reliable Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve from Alexander Valley. This wine is rarely off kilter and the 2013 is so on that it is very impressive. From there the prices start to rise and there is a large selection of options. There is the very consistent and impressive Chalk Hill Special Edition Cabernet Sauvignon. Then there is the never miss and beyond consistent Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon starring from the INSANE 2006 Tokalon masterpiece. Since then they have been hitting home run after home run, a truly impressive run given that each and every year – the vineyard is different! The Clone 6 have been hit or miss, but always enjoyable none the less. Finally, there have been the very special and unique Herzog XII line, which started with 2007 barrels aged for 6 years and then with a follow on 2010 vintage.
To be fair, I forgot about the B.R. Cohn wines from 2008, 2011, and 2013 in my last California wine post, but they do make OK wines. Sadly, the price is just too high for the wine quality. 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
This past weekend was the 16th anniversary of OTBN (Open That Bottle Night), and what a party we had. I originally posted that we would get to the nine bottles of wine, well we did but not those nine! Benyo brought over a bottle of the famous 2003 Syrah and a friend brought over a bottle of his own concoction, and so the Ella Valley and Katrzin will have to wait for another week.
Kiddish was made over my friend’s Quail Hill Cabernet Franc, which was super smooth and fruity. After that we had some awesome whole wheat Challah, that my wife makes, and then on to some very nice olive and bean soup. The soup never ceases to amaze me, I love how the kalamata olives dominate the flavor profile, while the beans add the heft and body to the dish, really fun.
Wine wise, things started off with a bang! The 2006 RSR was my last bottle – but this wine has another two to three years left in the tank easily! WOW! What a great wine that is. The layers are rich, dense, almost fleshy with rich mineral and earth – truly extraordinary! The 07 Yatir Shiraz was nice, but it really showed its colors the next day. The Netofa Latour red, was insane, a lovely black and blue wine – so old world in style that it was shocking that it was made in Israel.
At this point we brought out the Beef Bourguignon, which if you follow the official recipe is not very kosher at all 🙂 Now, to be fair, the original video of the recipe did not call for bacon at all, instead she browned the meat in olive oil, in the video above. Still, the book has the bacon and so it has become the “law”. Since, our Jewish law does not allow for either bacon or the butter (no milk and meat), I was stuck with modifying the recipe to my liking. Instead of bacon I used Meal-mart Beef Fry and instead of butter and flour to thicken, I used chicken fat and flour. In the end, it was definitely not the fat free or healthy diet food of the 20th century, but we did serve a lot of wine with it – so if the 60 minutes episode about the French Paradox has any truth, we will all be alive to write about it! Read the rest of this entry
This past week I spent some time with family and we enjoyed some great white and red wines. Mostly white and rose wines were enjoyed simply because I was in a very hot climate (no not the Bay Area), and so white and rose wines were truly the only option.
I wanted to have some red wines so I included two reds that I have been wanting to taste for a long time and both were great. The only real “let down” was the Tavel Rose which I have still not come to appreciate. To me it lacks the bracing acidity and it is far too bitter, for my tastes.
So, I will keep this short and sweet – the wine notes follow in the order they were enjoyed:
2012 Makom Grenache Blanc – Score: A-
This bottle is back!!! The last bottle we had was right after bottling, and it was not showing beautifully. This week, it was showing alot more like what it did before bottling. The nose explodes with rich slate, followed by lovely floral aromas, ripe lime, lemon, grapefruit, jasmine, lovely cut grass, and herbal notes. The mouth is ripe and medium bodied, with nice lemon friache, good strong and balancing acid, and ripe peach. The finish is long and spicy, with hints of banana, ripe fig, and nice mineral. I am so happy this wine is back -be sure to enjoy!!!! Read the rest of this entry
I am way behind on notes – so I will keep this short and sweet. Two weeks ago, I had a lovely shabbos with sushi and some great white wines, and some leftover “port” for dessert. The Hagafen winery whites continue to impress (other than the chardonnay), and Herzog Cellars Chardonnay reserve is oaky as always, but controlled and lovely. Finally, the Tura Portura, from Tura Winery was nice and showed almost exactly like it did when we visited, so that was nice as well.
The wine notes follow below:
2012 Hagafen Riesling, Devoto Vineyards – Score: A-
This wine continues to impress me and one that I never get tired of. It is a step beyond simple quaffer, with great balance of 2% residual sugar and great acidity, controlled with lovely tropical fruits. The nose starts off with sweet notes or tropical fruit, clear honeysuckle commands the nose, with pineapple, and candied grapefruit taking the side stage. The mouth is rich and layered and truly captivating with an almost oily texture from the sugar, along with banana, peach, more tropical fruits, along with tart white cherry. The finish is long and sweet with a great balance of tart to sweet fruit, sour red apple, and guava. Bravo!
2009 Herzog Chardonnay, Special Reserve, Russian River – Score: A-
The nose starts off with a lovely floral perfume, followed by quince, rich funk, oak, all over layered with guava and green apple. The mouth is lovely for the first 4 or so hours, with a crazy viscous almost oily texture, coating the mouth with rich oak that is controlled along with baked apple, peach cobbler, and sweet herb. The finish is long and oaky with white chocolate, sweet cedar, more baked goods, fresh fruit, and lovely orange pith. This is a wine with great structure and body – but the body gives way with time, so drink this now and do not leave the wine open too long.
2009 Tura Portura – Score: A-
This wine was made from late harvest Cabernet Sauvignon that was pulled from the vine at 34 brix and then aged in oak for 34 months. The wine starts off with a crazy sense of alcohol and sugar coating fruit, over time the alcohol blows off and what is revealed is a lovely bushel of ripe sugared fruit, candied raspberry, candied cherry, sweet date, fig, packed with dried nuts and sweet herb. The mouth is huge, layered, and insanely concentrated, with deeply expressive and extracted fruit, mounds of chocolate, crazy notes of concentrated sweet and candied fruit, mounds of fresh spices, rich mouth drying tannin, along with a lovely attack of cinnamon bark, cloves, and heat that gives way to sour/tart cherry, sweet tobacco, and a great balance of acid and body that grabs and keeps your attention – BRAVO!
I am really behind on my blog, as I have been busy with a new hobby which is taking up all of my time. Anyway, I wanted to highlight the meal we had two weeks ago which was in honor of my nephew and his beux leaving the area to go east. So in honor of them, I wanted to try a bunch of Israeli Merlot wines. Now, when people think of Israel, Merlot is not first on their mind, mostly because many do not appreciate Merlot, which is done incorrectly tastes bland and benign. That blandness and lack of character, was initially its draw, but over time, it was nuked both by the Sideways effect and by its sheer lack of anything fun. The folks in the know, would blank at Merlot from Israel, given the areas hot climate, which is counterproductive to making good Merlot.
The truth is that I have been talking about Merlot from Israel, but Merlot only from the Shomron region, a region that has found a way to harness what Israel has to offer and channel it into lovely and rich Merlot. The Shomron is becoming quite the up and coming wine region, much like the Judean Hills was some ten years ago. Now, Castel, Flam, Tzora, and many other wineries have made the Judean Hills a household name. I think the Shomron will soon follow in its next door neighbors footsteps, and come out from under the shadow of the Jerusalem hills to capture its own claim to fame; namely Merlot!
Merlot, as stated above has many needs, one is climate, two is proper drainage, and three is it needs careful vineyard management to control its vigor, nitrogen levels, and many other intricate issues that make Merlot a finicky grape, though not as maddening as its Sideways replacement Pinot Noir. As a total aside, the Sideways movie to me was far too vulgar and not to my taste, but there is a hidden joke in the movie that many miss. In the movie, the shlubby protagonist, Miles, screams afoul of Merlot and even disses Cabernet Franc, but especially extolls his love for all things Pinot Noir. Why did Miles love Pinot Noir so much, why go to great lengths to get his beloved nectar, well he defined right at the start:
“Um, it’s a hard grape to grow … it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early … it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention … it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked- away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”
The Tishbi winery has a history that spans more than 120 years in Israel; one that intersects with many of the famous names of modern Israel’s short history. The story begins in 1882, when Malka and Michael Chemelitsky immigrated to the city of Shefeya at the foothills of Zichron Yaakov. There they worked for the Carmel Wine Co-op that was founded by Baron Edmund de Rothschild in the late 1800s. They worked the land, planting vineyards, clearing rubble and stones, with nothing more than the barest of tools and technology. The work was backbreaking and endless, and unfortunately more work, was the only reward for many of the early immigrants, that came to settle the barren land. However, for the few farmers that were lucky to work with Edmund, they saw salvation from his deep pockets, huge heart, and massive resources that he brought to bear, to teach, bolster, and, ultimately, build the, then fledgling, wine industry into the forebear of where it is today.
Soon after the Chemelitskys came to Israel and started working the land, they were advised to change their name to Tishbi, which is actually an acronym in Hebrew that stands for “resident of Shefeya in Israel”. The world-renowned poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, Israel’s national poet extraordinaire, gave the name to them. In the early days of Israel’s wine industry, the cooperative farmers would work the vines, planting them, pruning them, caring for them, and then sell their grapes to the Carmel Winery. However, after many decades of work and toil, it became clear to many of the cooperative farmers that life was changing, and that they would either need to break out of the cooperative or be left behind.
So, in 1984, the great-grandson of our story’s Protagonist, Jonathan Tishbi, stepped out of the shadows of the Carmel Winery and into the shadows of the Carmel Mountain range. Initially, he called his new winery Baron Winery, in honor of Baron Edmond, but later changed it to his namesake – Tishbi Winery. At that time there were few wineries in Israel, and even fewer successful ones that were not just making sacramental (sweet) wine. Jonathan went to Italy to see how generations of family-owned wineries had succeeded, and from where we stand, he seems to have emulated them quite impressively. The family tradition continues to the 5th generation, with Jonathan’s son – Golan Tishbi, acting head winemaker. The winery’s tradition is impressive, but it feels like it will always be overshadowed by the massive mountains under which it lays, and the equally massive foundation upon which it is built. Read the rest of this entry
As I stated in my previous post, my heart was in the Shabbos but my mind was on my trip that I was taking to New York. All the thinking did not help make the trip any less miserable. Once again I have proven to myself that flying to New York is hard enough, doing a stop in between is miserable and downright idiotic. Lets take a step back here and explain the situation. The Jewish Week holds a wine tasting every year, showing of the top kosher wines they thought made an impression to the wine judges. This past year, they tasted through some 400+ wines and came up with a long list of wines, many of which I like and some I did not like. Anyway, the tasting was this past Sunday, the 3rd of March, 2013, at 1 PM. To get there from the west coast, it would mean either sleeping in NY for Shabbos (not an option), or flying out Saturday Night.
I LOVE Jet Blue, but they canceled flying out Saturday night from San Jose airport, and now only fly out Saturday night from SFO – AHHH!!! So, the only other option was Delta, which I should never have done, because it meant a stopover in Atlanta. The idea was to fly out by 10:45 PM, have an hour in Atlanta and hop on the 9 AM flight to NY. That all sounded OK, no storms in the forecasts, no crazy storm trackers or watcher on the news – so it looked like I was in the clear! Not so fat, turns out that there may not be Godly reasons to not fly – but Delta is more than capable of creating man-made disasters – all by itself!
I arrived to the airport with an hour to go, and by the time we took off, I was in the airport for some 3 and a half hours! AHH!! Yep, you guessed it Delta screwed up and lost a tire on landing so the plane could not take us to Atlanta. By the time they fixed the plane, the man fixing it broke another part and we had to deplane and get on another plane – a gate over. By the time that plane was fueled and had everyone’s bags repacked – we were two+ hours behind. I slept like a baby on the plane, but by the time we arrived in Atlanta – I knew I was cooked. The connecting flight was 5 terminals over and the “plane train” could not get me there in time to save my bacon. So here comes the best part – I arrive at the gate and the plane was not departed, but the man would not let me on – no matter how much I screamed and begged. However, he gave me a printed ticket (I have not sen one of those in years) and told me to run to the next terminal where the Laguardia flight was boarding. I ran like a mad man, and in the interim broke my hand luggage! One thing after another – I know! Anyway, as I get to the gate the lady tells me that there is no such flight, I say what – the man told me there was a plane boarding now! She says – oh sure – that is one gate over, the dude gave me the incorrect gate number! Anyway, she walks me over and I start talking to the gate agent who tells me – once again – sorry the gate is closed and the plane is leaving. This is when the other gate woman turns into SuperWoman! She says – OH NO – this poor man has been through enough. She swipes her card, opens the gate door, walks me down the jetway – and bangs on the plane door! Seriously! She screams – open this door!
Now – let me please recap, I have a ticket – printed ticket, for JFK. I am trying to board a plane for which I have NO TICKET – none whatsoever! Actually I have a ticket for a totally different airport! Think of me as one of those lost souls dropped on a plane. That was me! Of course, I have no checked luggage – for two days, but still, this is COOL! The unflappable stewardess, behind a massive closed door replies; the door is closed. The gate attendant is equally unflappable, and she fires back (sorry bad use of verbage) open the door, you forgot this guy! Will you believe – the stewardess blinked and opened the door! Heck these folks were half way through the security demonstration! I was told grab any seat – we need to move. I grabbed the first window seat I could find, and promptly went back to sleep! WOW!! By the time I land in Laguardia, I had two hours to go and once I finished davening, I hopped in a taxi and found my way to the City Winery. Read the rest of this entry
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 (email@example.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
This past Jewish Holiday press left me away from home for much of the time – whether at friends or family and that enabled me to enjoy many a wine, some that I bought, some that I enjoyed at other people’s homes, and some that I enjoyed or did not enjoy at synagogue.
The Jewish holidays following the high holidays – are meant to be ones filled with joy, food, and wine, yet I happen to always be separated from the very people who really understand my madness. Do not get me wrong I love my family – but they really are not oenophiles – and that leaves me at a major disadvantage – when my main objective is to drink and enjoy as much wine as possible in a very short period of time! Sure, they sip at the glass and are happy to drink it – but the joyous side of the High Holidays to Sukkot religious gauntlet is meant to be a relief valve, a way to thank the lord for all the good and for another year to do his bidding. So, how do Jews celebrate? Why with prayer, food, and wine of course. I know I am a bit over the top when it comes to wine and food – but I crave the interactions with others around the table, a table filled with joy and food, and also some wine chatter.
So I was faced with the classic dilemma of a lone wine fanatic attempting to enjoy wine amongst those who find wine to be a tool rather than a purpose. Do I buy and enjoy by myself an expensive bottle of wine and drink half at night and the other half the next day – and continue this through the meals – or should I dial it back a touch because, it is just myself and the expensive wine does not always taste as good the next day?
Like all things – I decided the best rule of thumb in these situations is to do both! I bought some good wine and some nicer wine, but no crazy wines, which in hindsight was a great idea, as I really got sick and could not enjoy them anyway. The first night we drank a bottle of 2010 Galil Mountain Winery Barbera, which I wrote up about on a previous post about QPR, and it was OK, but not a QPR winner. We also tried a bottle of 2010 Joseph Mellot Sancerre. Sancerre white is the archetype Sauvignon Blanc for many. Many believe that Sancerre best defines the truest form of Sauvignon Blanc. However, some are now pointing to New Zealand and California for what they have done with the grape. Unfortunately, while the classic Sancerre is meant to be bone dry, with intense fruit expressions and mineral to boot, this bottle was so-so at best. It lacked the bone gnawing dry palate that I crave in a Sancerre, balanced perfectly with nice bright fruit and good acidity. Instead, this Sancerre was green, tart, and without fresh fruit, making it for a very passable wine to quaff, but not much more.
On an aside, there is a growing demand out there for truly bone gnawing dry wine with fresh fruit and bright acidity. The closest I have found to that is another kosher Sancerre from Bokobsa, but the 2007 vintage is slowly dying. The need exists, but the answer unfortunately is lacking for now. Please do not get me wrong there are MANY lovely kosher Sauvignon Blanc wines on the market – but they all have varying degrees of residual sugar, making them feel flabby, which to many is as annoying as nails against a chalkboard. Read the rest of this entry