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%)
A side note before we get to the QPR list. I just returned, B”H, from Paris and I know many are interested in my notes from the trip, along with all the roses that are NOT on this list. So, for full disclosure, I will be posting the rose list next and then I will be getting to the wines I enjoyed and suffered in Paris. The good news, there are lots of wonderful wines from the Paris tastings and many will be making their way here. Sadly, the rose list is not that interesting at all. Now on to the QPR list, which will catch me up to almost all the wines before my Paris trip, other than the roses.
QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) Wines
It has been a few months since my last QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) post and many people have been emailing me about some unique wines I have tasted and some lovely wines that are worth writing about.
Thankfully, no matter how garbage and pain I subject myself to, we are still blessed with quite a few wonderful QPR wines out there. This post includes some nice wines and some OK wines with the usual majority of uninteresting to bad wines.
I had the fortune of going to Hagafen Wine Cellars with Neal and Elk and the 2018 and 2019 vintages continue to impress. The prices are a bit high but with the price of land and fruit in Napa Valley, the fires, the lack of water, and so much more, the price is what it is. Still, the two QPR winner wines were lovely as were the vast majority of all the wines we enjoyed.
I also had the chance to go to Marciano Estates Winery and the wines showed beautifully there as well. The same can be said about Marciano, in regards to the pricing, both at the price and the reasons for them, so read the notes and make up your minds.
The story of 2021 Israel whites and roses is very unfortunate, it started with a bang. Matar and a couple of others showed very well. Sadly, after that, every other white and rose wine from Israel was not as impressive. They all show middling work and product, very disappointing indeed.
We have a nice list of QPR WINNERS:
- 2019 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, CA
- 2018 Hagafen Pinot Noir, Prix, Napa Valley, CA
- 2020 Domaine du Castel Blanc du Castel, Judean Hills
- 2020 Ramon Cardova Albarino, Rias Baixas
- 2021 Baron Edmund de Rothschild Rimapere, Marlborough
- 2021 Matar Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, Galilee
- 2021 Gush Etzion Sauvignon Blanc, Judean Hills
- 2021 Herzog Sauvignon Blanc, Lineage, Lake County, CA
- 2019 Hagafen Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, CA
There were also a few wines that are a slight step behind with a GREAT or GOOD QPR score:
- 2018 Hagafen Syrah, Napa Valley, CA
- 2019 Hagafen Malbec, Napa Valley, CA
- 2019 Carmel Gewürztraminer, Late Harvest, Single Vineyards, Galilee
- 2021 Dalton Chardonnay, Unoaked, Galilee
- 2020 Pascal Bouchard Chablis, Chablis
- 2021 Tabor Sauvignon Blanc, Galilee
- 2020 Matar Chardonnay, Galilee
- 2015 Louis Blanc Crozes Hermitage, Vintage, Crozes Hermitage
- 2019 Koenig Riesling, Alsace
- 2019 Matar Stratus, Galilee
- 2021 Or Haganuz Blanc, Galille
WOW, I cannot believe I just wrote that number, but yes, we made it through 2020, and I hope all of you are safe and well. The prize for reaching 2021 is more wine, and Josh Rynderman, the Dual-Hemisphere winemaker of Kos Yeshuos Winery and ESSA Wine Co., swung by last week and we tasted his new release for 2021, the 2020 Kos Yeshuos Viognier. Sadly, this year, there are no cool marketing/moniker-driven wine names. Other than the Wylder Side Orange Viognier, but that is a super-small production promotional item.
Sadly, 2020 was a horrible year for many, in the wine world and outside of it. Sadly, because of fires, smoke, crazy heat waves, and God knows what else, Kos Yeshuos only made the Viognier, but it is a really good wine!
To see more about the story and life of Kos Yeshuos and the Ryndermans, you can read my post here about last year’s wines, and this post about the wines made under ESSA Wine Co. Sadly, the ESSA Wine Co. wines are still not available here in the USA, but they are nice!! We tasted the ESAA Wine Co. wines in September 2020, and the wine notes are also below.
Well, as you know Josh is a friend, and as always I make sure to disclaim things like that before posting my notes, like with Benyamin Cantz of Four Gates Winery. So, with that, my many thanks to Josh for coming by with the new wines to taste, safe travels, and best of luck on the 2021 Harvest in South Africa! Remember to bring me more of those wonderful South African reds when you are back in July/August 2021!
The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2020 Kos Yeshuos Viognier – Score: 92 (QPR: EVEN)
The notes are on a bottle that was bottled less than 2 weeks ago. To start the nose opens to smell very much like the 2018 California Kid, which was Viognier/Sauvignon Blanc, this vintage is 100% Viognier. The nose starts with bright peach, pear, citrus, gooseberry, fresh hay, cardamom, jasmine, and flint galore. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is lovely, layered, and rich, with waves of acidity that are almost overcoming, but they are tempered by the smoke, flint, peach, citrus galore, ripe pomelo, with an almost oily texture, followed by waxy notes, with lovely weight, ripe apricot, yellow pear, and more hay. The finish is long, green, with hints of foliage, more tart and juicy yellow fruit, gooseberry, honeydew, and loads of flint, smoke, and green notes. Bravo! Drink until 2023. (tasted Dec 2020)
2020 Kos Yeshuos Wylder Side Orange – Score: 92
This wine is a blend of Viognier and Chardonnay made in an Orange style. This wine starts closed with apple notes and not much else. With a few hours of decanting the nose opens to what I expect from an Orange Viognier, with notes of almonds, candied peach, apricot, cardamom, sweet rosehip, sweet jasmine, with creme brulee, and fresh apple compote. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is fun, the acid hits you first, but that is quickly overcome by waves of sweet tannin, followed by an oily texture that coats the mouth with sweet apricot, peach, oak, and notes of smoke and toast. The finish is long, toasty, smoke, flint, mineral, roasted walnuts, and more tannin that lingers forever. Bravo!! Drink until 2024. (tasted Dec 2020)
Kosher Mid-Range aging red wines may well be the sweet spot for the kosher wine market – lots of WINNERS.
We are working our way through the QPR 2.1 and 2.0 wine categories and so far, outside of simple white wines, there has not been a lot of love or WINNERS to talk about. However, things start to change with the 2nd red wine category.
These wines are drinkable now but will improve a bit with time. They are not the undrinkable wine category, which will be next, but rather these wines are good now and may garner some of those tertiary notes we all love so much, with a bit of time in the bottle. These kinds of wines are normally more expensive, but this is where the QPR (Quality to Price ratio) sweet spot exists, IMHO.
As explained in my last post, the wine categorization is impacted by what I think the wine will last. Meaning that a poor wine will not be more enjoyable in 5 years if it is a painful date juice now. Nor will the wine be more ageable depending on the price of the wine. The length of time wine can live in the bottle is not scientific in any manner, it is subjective, much like the wine’s score, still, it is based upon this that the wines are judged for their QPR.
Mid-range aging Reds (4 to 11 years) – cellar saviors
As I have stated enough times now, the fact that a wine can “live” for 10 or so years, tells you that the wine is good to start with, or at least professionally made. Still, the next level up, High-end Red wines (11 and more years), come at a much higher price range. Yes, there are sweet spot wines there as well, but there are more here in the mid-range options. Also, these are the wines that will save your cellar. Look, I like wines like the 2019 Chateau Les Riganes, or the 2017 Chateau Mayne Guyon just fine! But when you want something with a bit more polish or elegance and you do not want to raid your high-end wines early, THIS IS the category to go to!
If you want that next level is quality but not the next level in price, per se, this is the category to hit. Here you will find wines like the 2017 Chateau Greysac, Medoc, the 2015 Louis Blanc Crozes-Hermitage, and the 2018 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico, which all scored 92 or higher and are all priced at 30 dollars or lower. While I would say these wines will improve with more time, they can at least be enjoyed now, without robbing the cradle of wine like 2015, 2017, or 2018 Chateau Fourcas Dupre.
On a Facebook post, I and many others were asked over and over about this wine or that wine, wines that were still far too young to be appreciated now. My response was the same over and over, stop opening bottles so early! I opened a bottle of 2007 Four Gates Cabernet Franc, 2 weeks ago, it was an absolute joy but also, a wine that was so young it was truly a crime! STOP opening wines early folks. Let the wines come to you! This wine category is where you will find the richer, more complex options, for a higher price than the Simple reds, but still at a lower price point overall than the higher-end reds. There are 20+ WINNERS here, between USA and France, BUY them and SAVE YOUR CELLAR!!!
Shirah Wines Post
If one takes even a cursory look at this post and the wine notes below, the predominant winery/producer you will find is Shirah Wines. I got all the current wines in May of this year. It took me a bit of time to finally post them. As I stated last year, in my year in review, California had indeed turned its direction towards riper fruit and wines. Shirah contacted me and I bought the current wines to make 100% sure that my notes were in line with my comments, you can make your mind up from the notes.
I will stress THREE points here AGAIN, as I have done over a long time already:
- I crave the 2010 (AKA NV) /2012/2013/2014 Bro.Deux and the 2013 Syrah, and I FONDLY remember the old days of the One-Two Punch. Those were and still are VERY different wines than what is being sold now. I have had all of them recently and still have some bottles. They are wonderful, but they are not what the 2016 or 2017 Bro.Deux is like today.
- I strongly believe in Shirah Wines, I think the wines they produce are professionally made and are perfect for the bigger/flashier/riper palate that is the cornerstone of today’s kosher wine-buying public. They are just not the wines I want.
- Finally, there has been a clear and very big shift in the palate of the wines being made in California, today. Even Four Gates wines are getting riper. The issue here is all about balance. If I feel fruit is overripe and sticking out, to a point where I do not enjoy the wine, but rather think about the ripe fruit, I will move on. I understand this is a subjective way of seeing wine. I get that, and that is what makes wine so fascinating. Like all of art, it is not what is true or false as much as it is what one likes or dislikes.
WINNERS and other demarcations
As stated above, some wines will be winners in France/Europe and others will be WINNERS in the USA. I do not know the pricing in Israel or the wines or really anything about Israel for the last year+. Maybe Avi Davidowitz of Kosher Wine Unfiltered can make a post or two on this subject! HINT HINT!
Also, there are strange prices, distributions, and edge cases throughout Europe, and as such what is a good price in Paris may not be in London. Worse is wine in Belgium may be a better price than in Paris or London. The idea of “Europe” being a single country for commerce is a MASSIVE sham in the kosher wine market, in Europe anyway. In the USA it is equally messy, in regards to pricing throughout the states, L.A.’s wine prices are either non-existent (because there is no wine) or it is sky-high. I have seen better prices for California wines in NYC than in California! Like what now??? So, yeah, pricing is not as crisp, all the time, as I make it out to be here with my QPR posts, but I do the very best I can.
So, WINNER means USA (sorry this is a USA dominant blog), WINNER (F) means a WINNER in France. I will denote as well, in the wine post if the wine is only available in France or Europe, which is the same for me here, as London is the main outlier and it is not part of Europe anymore – sorry London! Enjoy the train!!! On a total aside, I did love taking the train from London to Paris, a few days AFTER they left the union! Moving on now.
So, without too much more delay – let’s get to it! Here is the list of cellar saviors and mid-level red wines. There are many WINNERS for buyers here in the USA and those in France! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2018 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico – Score: 92 to 93 (QPR: WINNER)
This is a fantastic wine, and with my new QPR scoring it is still is not as expensive as the median and its score is also above the median, so it is a GREAT QPR. This is a no brainer GREAT QPR wine and will sell out quickly BUY NOW!
This wine is incredible, it is better than the 2016 vintage and much better than 2017. It is even a bit better than the massively epic 2015 vintage. Bravo Daniella and Maria!!!
The nose on this wine is ripe, but the balance on it is incredible, the fruitiness exists but it hides behind a redolent garden of fresh mushroom, grass, dirt, loam, and lovely earth, with hints of barnyard, forest floor, and dark fruit, with balsamic vinegar, and roasted herbs galore. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is incredible, layered, rich, extracted, and so balanced, with incredible acidity, intense saline, dark sour cherry, coffee, all balanced and plush, with rich blackberry, cherry, strawberry, salami, with lovely mouth draping tannin, with minerality, graphite galore, and a lovely tannin structure. The finish is long, green, and ripe but perfectly balanced, with lovely acidity, roasted coffee, graphite, scarping mineral, loads of smoke, and sweet tobacco on the long finish. Bravo!! Drink until 2027 maybe longer.
2017 Tassi Aqua Bona Toscana Rosso, Bettina Cuvee – Score: 92 (QPR: BAD)
This wine is meant to be bottled under the D.O.C.G. Rosso di Montepulciano, but because of some strange requirements that were not met to meet the body’s requirements it only has the I.G.T. Toscano Rosso moniker.
This wine producer/winery is quite famous in the non-kosher world. The wine is made from 100% Sangiovese.
The nose on this wine starts with a crazy cedar box, followed by a mound of fresh Cuban Cigar tobacco, followed by loads of anise, licorice, smoked meat, followed by black and red fruit, foliage, forest floor, and more sweet cedar/oak. The mouth on this medium-bodied to full-bodied wine is not as extracted as I expected though this wine is richly expressive with loads of smoke, earth, rich tannin, nice green notes from what I can imagine is what I would get from whole-cluster and stems fermentation, with loads of rich spice, heady roasted herbs, and lovely blackberry, dark cherry, rich umami notes of balsamic and mushroom, with loads of mineral, graphite, and rich fruit-structure and focus with lovely elegance and control. The finish is long, rich, layered, and smoky, with nice control, lovely acidity, and smoke, roasted herbs, smoked meats, and soy sauce followed by more cigar smoke, and freshly tilled earth. Nice!!! Drink from 2021 until 2026.
On another recent business trip, I spent a day with Gabriel and Yael Geller. My many thanks to my friends for hosting me for the day. The food was awesome, smoked ribs, and roasted chuck, and a game of blind tastings that was really wonderful. The wines we tasted blind were mostly 100% HORRIBLE but the last one we enjoyed was why I just stated that it was wonderful, because GG was so kind to pour a bottle of the 2002 Smith Haute Lafitte a wine I had not tasted till that moment. It was beyond wonderful – thanks so much, buddy!!!
We also took a tour around Teaneck, NJ’s Kosher takeout establishments and they were all horrible. Sorry. There was nothing good to report here. However, the wine shop where we bought a vast number of horrible wines was very nice. The wine shop is called Filler’up. The owner is called Mendy Mark and he was very kind and helpful in finding all the new wines that I have not yet tasted. Sadly, 95% of those wines were horrible but that is not Mendy’s fault there is far too much horrible plonk in the Kosher wine world.
So, if you are in the Teaneck area definitely swing by Filler’up they have a great selection and the staff is very nice. However, do not buy takeout food from around there that stuff is really bad.
Ok, thankfully, the takeout food was just a test of the quick food in the area, not really food we had that evening. If I had an image of the smoked ribs it would have been the post’s featured image, the animal was black bark heaven, with loads of spice and smoke. Do not forget breakfast and lunch before that which was also beautifully served and with such panache, my many thanks again!
I bought a bunch of wines and they were all duds other than one very nice French Mevushal wine that came in a 375ml format, but it also comes in 750ml format, but it is not available at any of the common shops that I can buy from. If someone finds it at a place that ships and does not charge an arm and leg, please tell me, more on the best of the tasting below, other than, of course, the EPIC 2002 Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte.
GG did a blind tasting and they were all bad to horrible, again, other than the 2002 SHL. To be fair, I did not take long notes for wines that were undrinkable. I have listed the blind and non-blind tasted wines below in different sections. Many thanks to Gabriel and Yael Geller for hosting me and for sharing his time, wonderful culinary feats, home, and wines with me. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2018 Route Victor Cabernet Sauvignon, California – Score: NA
The nose on this wine is bulk in nature, candied fruit, cherry, and cheap. The mouth on this wine is cheap, far too acidic, and a lack of body, cherry, acid, and vegetables. Move on
2016 Padre Bendicho, Yecla – Score: NA
This wine is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Mourvedre. This wine is 100% PURE date juice, in all the glorious ways it can be! Read the rest of this entry
Anyone who has enjoyed an old white wine from Yaacov Oryah’s mind and hands can understand my choice of title. As long as you were not born in this century, of course (OMG, do not bring up the abomination that was the remake).
Yaacov Oryah has had many wineries that he has worked for, made wines for others, and/or consulted with. The official list that I know of is Asif Winery, Midbar Winery, Yaakov Oryah, Ella Valley, and now Psagot, where he is the head winemaker.
For the longest time, as long as I have known the man when we first met at Midar Winery in 2013, I have been struck by his passion, drive, and single-mindedness in creating great white wines in Israel.
Yes, Mr. Oryah can make fine red wines, like the 2011 Yaacov Oryah Iberian Dream, Gran Reserva, and Reserva, the Claro wines he makes for a restaurant called Claro, and others. Still, what I really crave and admire are the white and orange wines.
I have already spoken at length about Mr. Oryah here so I will concentrate on the 2019 releases. Also, if you think that the names of Yaacov Oryah wines are a bit whimsical, then good for you! You are starting to get a glimpse into the operation that is Yaacov Oryah Winery, a blend of whimsical genius, alchemy, great winemaking, and downright unique color all wrapped into a unique lineup of wines that define Mr. Oryah himself.
Orange wine factory
Mr. Oryah keeps saying that the white wines on the market today are a stripped down version of what a white wine should be. Sure, Europe has superstar white wines that can last decades, but that requires unique soil, fruit, terroir, and of course, history. In Israel, where the only thing that really sells well is date juice, that kind of wine is a dream. Still, Mr. Oryah thinks that he can create wines that are still quite unique indeed.
I have had the 2009 Midbar Semillon, and though the tasting in 2016 did not show well, that wine continues to blow me away in tasting after tasting. A Semillon that is 10 years old, and may now finally be reaching its limits. It is not a white wine covered in oak makeup, it is a wine that is pure and truly professional. It is what Mr. Oryah thinks can be done in Israel with white varietals. Yet, each and every year he makes more and more crazy wines. Each one is a data point for a growing list of wines that he sees as potential suitors for the wines he dreams of building.
Until he creates the perfect wine, the wines and data points he is building along the way, are getting better and better. The map and path he is building are not pointing towards another mass produced winery. The data points point towards a more precise and surgically built winery. Where plots or even rows of vines may well define the data point for his dream wine.
Factory of the future
When I heard that Mr. Oryah was creating 10 Orange wines (only 9 are publically available, the other is for a restaurant), four white wines (the varietal Semillon is for a later date), and one rose wine, I thought – I need to taste these!
So, Avi Davidowitz of Kosher Wine Unfiltered, and I made our way to the only real place to taste wine in Jerusalem, the Red and White Wine Bar. Yes, I have spoken about Mark and the bar before. It is still kitty-corner from the beautiful Mamilla hotel (8 Shlomo HaMelech Street at the corner of Yanai Street). Mark is still the ever present and mindful host, and while we tasted through 20+ wines, Mark was there with us through every wine, with food, heady music, with an uncanny ability to feel the room and timing throughout it all. I really feel horrible that I never had the time to go back to the bar and hang with Mark for an evening and watch him ply his trade, teaching the world about the world of Kosher Wine while serving great food and playing really fun music. Hopefully, next time!
I have spoken about orange wines in the past. Orange wine is simply the process of leaving white grapes to ferment on their skins, like red wine. To Mr. Oryah it is the truest expression of a white varietal and one that Israel can use now to create great white wines, while it searches for more data points on the path for Israel’s white varietals of the future. He calls the wine line Alpha Omega (AO) because it is greek for A to Z, to represent that this wine has it all, skin, pulp, and seed, not juice white juice, like most white wines are made.
The skins add more than just a bit of color, they add a huge amount of natural phenolics, along with tannin (yes tannin in white wine), and then it adds a few extracurricular notes, that some could find challenging. Notes that are defined as nuts and other aspects of reduction or oxidation. The point though is that the Alpha Omega line is a showcase of control and experimentation. Many of the wines show the proper and incredible next step beyond white wines we all know. The rich and layered complexity that skins add without some of the extracurricular notes. Some of the wines show those notes and many will find them wonderful, like myself, but in all, it is a show of control, experimentation, and more dots on the plot to a richer future. Read the rest of this entry
When Nathan Grandjean from Yavine.fr told me that he was making wines from a winery called Les Vins de Vienne I went blank. Come on we all have dreams of Lafite Rothschild or Cheval Blanc being made kosher, but who is Les Vins de Vienne was all I could think of. I wanted to ask him if he meant he was making Austrian wine, but that would have been Vienna, not Vienne, one vowel makes a big difference. In this case, Les Vins de Vienne is a winery in the Rhone region, and they are quite famous for what they have achieved indeed!
Les Vins de Vienne
Pliny the Elder, no not the beer, the Roman author, saw the future and present 2000 years ago in the Rhone Valley. He said that there was a very successful vineyard, during his time, that was near the town of Seyssuel, on the east side of the river, and north of the city called Vienne. he said that the Romans greatly enjoyed the wines, they tasted of tar, and apparently, there were three types of Seyssuel wines called Sotanum, Taburnum, and Heluicum. Well, that answers the Vienne question, but where do the name and story come from?
Well 2000 years after Pliny wrote his statement, winemaker Pierre Gaillard found this successful vineyard, deserted. Sadly, the vineyard was destroyed by Phylloxera some 100 years before Pierre showed up. But remembering what Pliny had said he took samples and found that the makeup of the vineyard was perfect for wine and would indeed be a great location.
The problem though was the AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée)! You see, the west side of the river, opposite Seyssuel, in the Rhone, had an appellation, Cote Rotie, but sadly that only covers the western side of the river, not the eastern side, where Pierre was looking to revive Pliny the Great’s vision of old.
So, Pierre called two men he knew and asked if they would join in on making Pliny the Great’s vision a reality? The men he knew of were, Yves Cuilleron and Francois Villard. They were the first to bring the Seyssuel winegrowing area back to life.
They started in 1996 with 10 acres where they planted Syrah along with some Viognier. In 1998 the first wine from Seyssuel came to life and it was called Sotanum in homage to Pliny and the Romans of the past. Then came Taburnum in 2000, a Viognier. Finally, in 2004 the dream of rebuilding Pliny’s vision came into full reality with the release of Heluicum, a second red wine from Seyssuel.
Since then, some 100 acres have been planted in an area that has no official region recognition, yet it humorously it may have some of the greatest recognition of all the wines in the Rhone Valley, with thousands of years of proof that it deserves more love from the AOC! Since 1996, and the 100 acres, Seyssuel has been proving its worth, but as I stated above the AOC is where the money is. Here is a GREAT research post from the folks at GuildSomm on the work and issues with an AOC being bestowed on Seyssuel. Like which AOC would you choose? How long does it take, and who actually bestows the coveted AOC upon regions? A great read!
Growth and Kosher
Well, 21 years after the first vintage was released, the name of the cooperative – Les Vins de Vienne should really be changed to Les Vins de Rhone, because even though they make wines from near Seyssuel, the vast majority of their wines now come from all over the Rhone. They now make more than 460,000 bottles of wine per year, and source their grapes from as north of the Northern Rhone as you can get, which is Seyssuel, to the bottom of the Southern Rhone, namely Cotes-Du-Rhone.
The 2017 vintage was the first one that was made kosher and while I think these are exceedingly young wines, they are very Cali in nature. They seem very ripe and control is really not a requirement from Les Vins de Vienne. Just looking at the wines, you can see they let the fruit speak for themselves. The Crozes-Hermitage was probably the only red wine where the winemakers took action and made the wine with whole clusters, to allow the stems to add tannin, structure, and most importantly green and balancing notes to the very ripe and Cali-like fruit structure of these wines. Read the rest of this entry
Disclaimer – do not blame me for posting this AFTER Benyo sold his wines. That was not MY choice. I was asked to wait on my post until after the sale of the wines this year. Also, Four gates Winery and Benyamin Cantz (which are one the same), never saw or knew my notes until I posted them today.
As you all know, I am a huge fan of Four Gates Winery, and yes he is a dear friend. So, as is my custom, as many ask me what wines I like of the new releases, here are my notes on the new wines.
I have written many times about Four Gates Winery and its winemaker/Vigneron Benyamin Cantz. Read the post and all the subsequent posts about Four Gates wine releases, especially this post of Four Gates – that truly describes the lore of Four Gates Winery.
Other than maybe Yarden and Yatir (which are off my buying lists – other than their whites and bubblies), very few if any release wines later than Four Gates. The slowest releaser may well be Domaine Roses Camille.
Four Gates grapes versus bought grapes
It has been stated that great wine starts in the vineyard, and when it comes to Four gates wine, it is so true. I have enjoyed the 1996 and 1997 versions of Benyamin’s wines and it is because of his care and control that he has for his vineyard. That said, the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes he receives from the Monte Bello Ridge shows the same care and love in the wines we have enjoyed since 2009.
I have immense faith in Benyo’s wines that are sourced from his vineyard and from the Monte Bello Ridge vineyard. The other wines, that he creates from other sources, are sometimes wonderful, like the 2014 Four Gates Petit Sirah that I enjoyed over the past Shabbat. It has lasting power. Others, while lovely on release may well not be the everlasting kind of Four Gates wines.
The new wines
This year we have the 2016 Syrah and the 2016 Petit Sirah, along with the classics. There is a new off-dry 2017 Rishona, along with an Ayala 2017 Chardonnay, and the always constant, and epic 2017 Four Gates Chardonnay.
The rest of the wines are the normal suspects, but this year’s crop, like last years, is really impressive. You have a 2014 Four Gates Merlot, 2014 Four Gates Merlot, M.S.C., the 2014 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Betchart Vineyard, and the 2014 Four Gates Frere Robaire.
Prices and Quantities
I have heard it over and over again. That I and others caused Benyo to raise his prices. First of all that is a flat-out lie. I never asked for higher prices, but when asked the value of his wines, the real answer I could give was more than 26 dollars.
Let us be clear, all of us that got used to 18/26 dollar prices and stocked up on his wines in those days should be happy. The fact that he raised prices, is a matter of basic price dynamics, and classic supply and demand. Four Gates has been seeing more demand for the wines while the quantity of what is being made is slowing down.
The law of Supply and Demand tell you that the prices will go, even is I beg for lower prices. Read the rest of this entry
I continue to lament the lack of QPR wines. This past year, saw us with a better list of wines overall, but they are not actually QPR. I mean that 2018 saw fewer top wines and more wines at the next level down, but even those wines were not reasonably priced.
Take for example the lovely 2016 Montviel, it is a superstar wine, but it is not a pure QPR, given its 50+ dollar price. While the 100+ dollar wines abound, the 95+ score wines are nowhere to be found this past year.
So, I thought I would list the most recent QPR wines I have enjoyed over the past year. I wanted to catch up with wines I only had recently and with ones that are finally here in the USA.
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 until recently, they were not available on the internet. Thankfully, Kosherwine.com has gotten the Elvi wines back, but Netofa wines are still not available here in the USA.
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 nose or flavor. Many of these wines will scratch the itch while the beasts’ lie and settle.
This year, the list came to a total of 20 names, which is a large number, but then again, the number of options has grown.
Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – but they are worth the effort. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
QPR KINGs of 2018
The wines of the year, from my top 25 wines of 2018, are also the QPR kings of 2018.
2016 Chateau Larcis Jaumat, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – Score: 92 (Crazy QPR)
This wine starts off open and then closes so tight like an oil drum, this thing is nuts. The wine is made of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, a classic right bank wine from Saint-Emilion. The nose on this wine is really bright, ripe, and intense, with rich intensity, mushroom, earth, but so much redolence, the nose is far more open than the mouth, showing rich blackberry, dark plum, and rich vanilla, followed by herb, mint, rosemary, and green notes galore. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is crazy rich, it does at times remind me of Benyo’s Merlots with a fair amount of blackcurrant thrown in, which is never found on Benyo wines, but the mad acid, rich mouthfeel, closed tight fruit structure has me reminded often of a Four Gates wine, with intense notes, they scream because of the acid, that gives way to rich tannin structure that is searing and yet inviting, with rich cranberry, cherry, and crazy earth, that will give way to mushroom and forest floor with time. The finish is long, really long, lingering, and intense, with gripping tannin, acid, tobacco galore, mounds of blackcurrant, vanilla, herb, foliage, and green notes, that give way to a gripping mouthfeel that will crush anything, with tar, menthol, and more earth. OMG, this Benyo in France! Wow!! Drink from 2021 to 2030.
2015 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico – Score: 92 (Crazy QPR)
The nose on this wine is ripe, at first, the wine starts off with heat, but that blows off, but it is also well balanced, with lovely earth, mineral, dirt, with dark cherry, coffee, and lovely dark fruit. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is beautiful, complex, well layered, with rich concentration, nice extraction, all balanced and plush, with rich blackberry, currant, lovely mouth draping tannin, with lovely foliage, and some nice earthy and fruit bite. With time, it shows its ripeness, but also intense minerality, saline, graphite galore, and lovely tannin structure. The finish is long, green, and ripe but balanced, with lovely acid, great texture, that gives way to more coffee, graphite, scarping mineral, and light almond bitterness on the long finish. Bravo!! Drink 2019 to 2023.
QPR top 19 Winners (in no particular order)
2016 Elvi Herenza Semi (blue label) – Score: 90 (mevushal) (QPR)
Lovely nose with great spice and lovely oak and with dark fruit, tart and refreshing while also being elegant. Really nice attack and really tart and tannic but accessible with great tart red fruit, classical in style with spice, green notes, and nice acid that gives way to coffee and nice cherry and tart and zesty currant. The finish is long and tart with great foliage, tart fruit, and earth. Bravo! Drink by 2020. (Available here in the USA, France, Israel, and other locations)
2015 Chateau du Grand Barrail, White – Score: 91 (Crazy QPR)
The nose on this wine shows smoke, flint, with lovely dry fruit, showing rich honeysuckle, white flowers, with honeyed apples, and lovely Asian pears. The mouth on this medium bodied wine shows riper fruit than the nose, showing more sweet fruit, with sweet melon, with a richer mouthfeel than I would expect, with rich acidity that shows a bit further in the mouth, with intense honeydew, melon, and lovely grapefruit, and Meyer lemon. The finish is long, truly searing with acid, and rich with more honeyed fruit, and lovely citrus fruit. Bravo! Drink now till 2023. (This is sadly only available in France)
2016 Koenig Riesling, Alsace – Score: 92 (mevushal) (Crazy QPR)
The nose on this wine is lovely, showing ripe peach, apricot, with great grapefruit, followed by petrol funk, lovely honeysuckle, more floral notes, and nice mineral. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is an acid bomb, and thank god, we really needed a dry, well priced, acid bomb, with petrol notes, and this one is mevushal to boot! The mouth is dripping with acid, followed by rich lanolin, with a nice weight, followed by sweet guava notes and tart Asian pear, impressive. The finish is long, tart, crazy acid, with wax, petrol, honeyed fruit, and more sweet notes lingering long! Bravo!!!! Drink by 2020. (Available in the USA and France)
2017 Ramon Cardova Albarino, Rias Baixas – Score: 91 (QPR)
Lovely nose of rich mineral, with loads of straw, with which salinity, and lovely peach and dry apricot, with honeysuckle, lemongrass, with green notes galore. Lovely! The mouth on this lovely green and acid-driven wine, showing rich salinity, green olives, with lovely dry quince, green apples, but also with lovely lime and grapefruit, with a bit of sweet fruit of guava and rich acid that comes at you in layers. The finish is long and green, with gooseberry, passion fruit, and lovely round and tart with freshness and orange pith, and incredible acidity lingering long. Drink until 2021.
Interesting note on this wine, there is a thermosensitive logo on the label that shows ONLY when the wine is at the correct temperature, on the bottom right-hand corner of the front white label. This is a lovely wine and one that is worth the effort to enjoy at the correct temp. Cool! (Available here in the USA, France, and other locations)