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The 2019 Kosher rose season is open but I am underwhelmed at best

It is not yet summer and here in NorCal, it feels more like winter with these strange May storms with thunder and hail. Sorry, but in NorCal, we do not get thunder, it is very strange indeed! Anyway, enough with my meteorologist fanboy moment, the weather was not conducive for my last tasting here in San Jose with a group of folks, but Rose was on the docket so rose it was.

Rose wine in the non-kosher market is exploding – especially Rose wine from Provence; a wine region of France. Sadly, in the kosher wine market – that is not quite the case. I did not stress my previous statement with a suffix of AT ALL, even though I am not allowed to open a bottle of rose on my Shabbos table with guests – why? Well, that is simple – no one will drink it!!

Even worse, is that wine manufacturers may well have jumped the shark! There will be some 60+ kosher roses available in the USA this year! That may not sound like a lot, but when all you had was Herzog White Zinfandel 10 years ago – it is insane. The first high-end rose was Castel’s 2009 rose and that was only 10 years ago. Back then, there were few to no real Rose wine options, other than a handful of Israeli wines and almost no French Rose made it here. Now we will have tons of Rose, and I really think the real question here is will people drink it all?

Also, I want to bring up a topic I rarely talk about – price! Yeah, I hear you, Avi Davidowitz, of KosherWineUnfiltered, please quiet down, gloating does not suit you – (smiley face inserted here). The prices of Rose wines have gotten out of control. QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) has become nonexistent, essentially here in the USA, for the kosher rose market. Finally, I am sorry, but I really feel that wineries were either horribly hampered in some way with the 2018 rose vintage, or honestly, they just threw in the towel, The 2018 vintage is the worst one in the last 10 years. We have hit Peak Rose, we really have. Peak X is when X becomes so default within the construct of our lives, and the quality and quantity of X peaks. Clearly, calling peak kosher rose is a subjective call, but look around. The roses of 2018 feel commodity at best, they feel rushed, no real care, rhyme, or reason. They feel like we have peaked. They are nowhere near 2017, and 2017 was nowhere near 2016, and so on. I am sure next year may be another peak rose, and to be honest, many have called for Peak Oil and Peak TV, so maybe I am just projecting what I see around me, but this year’s crop of roses feel half-hearted pure cash cows, and really without love behind them.

As always, I will be chastised for my opinions, my pronouncements, and I am fine with that. This is wakeup post, there may be ONE or two roses I would buy, but respectfully, given the prices, I would rather buy, the 2018 Covenant Sauvignon Blanc, 2017 O’dwyers Sauvignon Blanc, the 2018 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc, and so on. Throw in the 2018 Tabor Sauvignon Blanc and the 2018 Or Haganuz Amuka Blanc Blend, and really who cares about a rose?

I was thinking about going with the title: 2018 kosher roses, thanks, but who cares? Because that is how I feel. This vintage is a massive letdown, prices are too high, quality has hit rock bottom, and overall professionalism, IMHO, has gone along with the quality. Wineries have been getting away with less and less quality for years, raising prices, and this is the worst I have seen in the rose market overall. So, yeah, who cares?

Wine Color

What is rose wine? Well, simply said, a rose is a wine that can best be defined as the wine world’s chameleon. Where white wine is a pretty simple concept – take white grapes, squeeze them, and you get clear to green colored juice. Yes, the white grape juice is clear – well so is red grape juice, but more on that in a bit. Read the rest of this entry

A wonderful horizontal tasting of older kosher Cabernet Franc wines

This past weekend saw us enjoying a lovely round of Cabernet Franc wines and our patented Herb encrusted gefilte fish loaf, which was followed by sausage stew. What can I say, I have a true soft spot for GREAT Cabernet Franc, and thankfully there are a few VERY good options. When I think of Cabernet Franc, top on my list is Four Gates Winery followed by Ella Valley Winery. After that, there is Hagafen Winery, Carmel Winery, Psagot Winery, and the new comer is Teperberg Winery’s 2011 Cabernet Franc – that is off the charts!

Many have spoken about the demise of Merlot and the rise of Pinot Noir from what is now called the “Sideways Effect.” Miles (the movie’s protagonist) proclaims his hatred for Merlot and his love affair for Pinot Noir, in the movie Sideways.  While this has been confirmed by many trusted sources, what has been glossed over is the hammer blow that Miles delivered to Cabernet Franc.  In the very same movie, Miles is poured a glass of Cabernet Franc, he smells it, sips it, and ceremoniously pours out the glass into the spit bucket, while dropping an anvil on all Cab Franc fans, as he states “”I’ve learned never to expect greatness from a cab franc, and this is no exception”.  “Ouch!” This is the exact kind of snobbery and lack of appreciation for the varietal’s unique qualities, mentioned earlier, that has kept the masses away from Cabernet Franc. In the end of the movie, we find Miles drinking his vaulted and prized bottle of 1962 Cheval Blanc, which is composed of 66% Cab Franc, 33% Merlot, and 1% Malbec!  We do hope that the irony is not lost on you, as it was certainly not lost on the producers!

Ask a winery why they do not sell Cabernet Franc, and they will start by disparaging it as a blending grape, and then add that it is not a noble variety.  What’s so funny is that the vaulted Cabernet Sauvignon – the archetype noble grape, is actually a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc – go figure! You see, perception (and a lack of marketing) is reality, and while many have complained that Cabernet Franc is a thin and green flavored wine, that has more to do with the vintner’s and vineyard manager’s incompetence than it has to do with the grape.  Cab Franc needs a fair amount of heat to bring it to its true potential, but too much heat, and it gets toasted.  Poor viticulture is the grape’s Achilles Heel.  Still, the wine’s olfactory charm and bright fruity composition makes it a clear contrast from today’s fat and fruit forward wines.  Sure, you find wineries styling the poor Cabernet Franc grape into a Cabernet Sauvignon by suffocating it in oak and tannins.  However, the wine’s true beauty lies in its clean lines, bright red fruit, and it’s crazy floral/fruity nose, that may be accompanied by some bell pepper, which causes many a wine critic to turn up their noses to this wonderful wine.

Even further is that many a winery, including one from the tasting will say that they would rather have a Cabernet Franc that lacks green notes than one that shows it. Why? Because truly Cabernet Franc started as a grape grown in France, and in a region that does not get very warm, namely Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Napa and Israel, on the other hand, do get warm, and some in Napa would like their wines to taste along the lines of their preferences, namely less green notes. Green notes normally arise from the lack of ripeness, think of vegetal notes you sometimes taste in fruit when the fruit is less than ripe. As the fruit ripeness, the Pyrazines within the grapes are killed off by the sunlight and ripe flavors appear. I love green notes in Cabernet Franc and am not turned off by them, in my opinion of course.

That said, Hagafen works hard to get the green out of the Cabernet Franc, saying the green is seen as a flaw and they work hard to make sure it does not appear in the wine. Sure, many wineries feel the same way, but Franc is green – it is the definition of the grape – but this is the new century and I guess it is time to evolve the Franc ideal, but in my books it is wrong.

The interesting fact is that Ella Valley is really the hot bed for all things kosher and Franc and I was happy to showcase two very different styles of the wine from the same winery. The 2006 Vintage is all fruit and green, while the 2009 vintage is all about the tannin and spice and fruit, with the fruit taking a back stage presence. That will change as the wine evolves and the tannin and mineral recede to show the fruit, but for now the two wines could not be more different – which is why it is so IMPORTANT to age Franc!

If you are interested in getting into the Franc scene, the best options now are:

  1. The 2010 Carmel Cabernet Franc (or the 2009 as well)
  2. The 2010 or 2009 Ella Valley Cabernet Franc
  3. The 2009 Gush Etzion Cabernet Franc
  4. The Teperberg 2011 Cabernet Franc (2010 with its new age label is good enough as well)

Well, here are the wines we had, the crowd was meant to be larger, and I was supposed to get to a Psagot and a Gush, but such is life. The Four gates Francs were not meant to be on the menu – we had them last year, at our previous Franc horizontal. The wine notes follow below:

Read the rest of this entry

2013 Jewish Week kosher wine tasting at the City Winery in New York City

City Winery PictureAs 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

Israel wineries I visited in the Judean Hills and the Shomron during my second week and the The Wine Mill wine shop

Wine Mill wine shop in the center of Jerusalem

The Wine Mill wine shop

Last week I posted that I was in Israel for three weeks over the month of December, and in that first post I wrote about the wineries I saw in the Galilee wine region (the north of Israel). What I failed to talk about was Gabriel Geller and his wine shop in the middle of Jerusalem. I spoke about the Wine Mill wine shop in a previous post, it is located smack dab in the middle of Jerusalem, close to the city center, and to many hotels and restaurants. The address for the Wine Mill wine shop is 8, Ramban Street, 92422 Jerusalem, Israel, it is a shop that I can say is stocked with wines that I would be happy to enjoy and is the main wine shop that I use when in Israel. Why? Because Geller knows his wines, sells only wines he or his customers like, and knows the wines he sells. His shop is filled with wines that are often only sold at the winery itself, like Midbar Winery wines (see below) or Herzberg Winery wines (see below). His shop is also filled with small winery wines, like Weitzman Petite Verdot, or Gat Shomron Winery, and many others. Please do not think that this is a paid advertisement or something – LOL! I do not take money from people. I bring up Gabriel Geller and the Wine Mill, because during my three week stay in Israel, I was either in Geller’s store, with Geller himself, or calling Geller everyday, including Friday day and Saturdays (Saturday night of course)!

As I ended the previous posting – I wrote about my take on the Israeli wine scene, and I would like to add some more thoughts to the thread:

  1. If I had to give a color or fruit that best describes the 2010 vintage in Israel – it would blueberry! YES blueberry! No, I am not talking about malbec or Syrah or Petite Verdot. What I am talking about is all of those and more shockingly, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot! Try it out and see for yourself. When I asked the wine makers about it, they said that the growing conditions of 2010, hot and then cool led to the blue flavors.
  2. 2010 and on can well be the year of the small wine maker. Wineries are coming and going – that is for sure, but it is also a fact that small production wineries, like Herzberg Winery and Gat Shomron winery are popping up and staying afloat – because they do not have that much wine to move. Time will tell.
  3. Finally, more and more high level and high quality mevushal is occurring in Israel. Shiloh winery has been doing it for a few years now, as is Binyamina on its reserve series and cave, and others. It is not widespread or low quality. The process is being done at great cost and at great effort – bringing forth quality wine that happens to be mevushal, much like Herzog and Hagafen. While this is true of the few that I have listed above, Recanati has started doing it to some of their diamond label wines and the outcome is not that great. The 2010 Shiraz tasted cooked while the non-mevushal bottle in Israel did not have that taint – time will tell how these experiments will turn out.
  4. If you must pick a single varietal that shines in the Shomron – it would be Merlot. All the Merlot wines we tasted from the Shomron (whether made from a winery in the Shomron or wineries that source their grapes from the Shomron – like Teperberg) – the winners were always the Merlot! If it is the cooler weather the higher acidity – who cares – it is great wine!
  5. Wineries are getting the message – making more old-world wines with Israeli fruit. What that means to me is to make ripe and sweet wines that are controlled without the overripe date and raisin bombs that were so very prevalent some 5 years ago. In its place I find that Israeli wineries are producing wine with sweet and ripe fruit, while all the while showing clear control of both the sweetness of the fruit and the amount of oak used.
  6. Israel residents are finally starting to understand that they live in a Mediterranean country (with one of their borders on the Med) with blazing hot summers and therefore need to start appreciating white wines! I know, Jews like to drink red wines, something to do with the whole kiddush and shabbos thing. Still, white wine is lovely and is a wine that can be done well in Israel. Take the Midbar winery as an example. A winery that was built on the premise of making GREAT white wines in Israel! It took a long time for the perfect storm to occur, the nexus point of Israeli residents wanting white wines and for wineries to excel at the production of good white wines. Maybe it was a chicken-egg thing between the wineries and the residents, or maybe it was the whole culture thing – but Israeli wineries are figuring it now. More and more every winery is making a Rose, a Chardonnay, and many are doing Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling wines, and many others. So keep a look out for very solid Israeli white wines – they may actually remove them from Israel’s endangered species list!
  7. The main high end red wines being poured at wineries in Israel are shmitta wines, wines from the 2008 vintage. I say this simply as a warning and no more than that. If you care, than skip the wines. If you do not worry about it – than do what you wish. I simply state it here as an informational notice. Read the rest of this entry

Tanya Winery – an idyllic winery in the rolling hills of Binyamina’s Judean Hills

This is not the first time I had the opportunity to taste wines from the wonderful Tanya Winery. Actually, the first time we had the chance to taste Yoram Cohen’s wines (the winemaker) was in 2008, some five years ago. Since then, we did not have the chance to taste ant other wines from Tanya, as they were not available here in the US, until recently! Now, they are being imported by Red Garden Imports, an importer’s name that I heard many times from a few small boutique wineries as I walked around Sommelier! Actually we were supposed to go to the winery early in 2011, but Yoram’s kid got sick so we had to postpone the visit. Instead, we had to wait almost a year to get the chance to taste some Tanya wines, and it was a worthwhile wait, given the current crop of wines.

Many in Israel know Yoram not because of his unique personality or artistic passion, but rather because he was on Israel’s Big Brother 3! Yes, you heard me correct Yoram Cohen was on the Big Brother of Israel, but I guess he should stick to what he does exceptionally well, as he was the second housemate to be tossed out. I hope it helped to put focus on his personality and winery, because they are both quite unique and wonderful treasures that we get to enjoy!

In the middle of the first day for me at the 2011 edition of Sommelier, I got to the Tanya Winery booth! Just a few reminders about Tanya Winery, in case you are too lazy to click the link to my other posts :-). In 2002 Yoram started to make wine out of his house. In 2007 one of Chaim Feder’s friends tasted Yoram’s wines and was sure that Yoram was the next big thing in wine. Chaim and his partners met Yoram and the rest is history. They upgraded the winery’s future productivity by purchasing new equipment, plantings new vineyards, and leasing more space for the winery. The winery’s current production is about 30,000 bottles annually. Most wineries were displaying their wines from 2008 at the event, which by now you all know is a problem for many, being that it was a Shmitta year. In case this is your first roll through my blog, check out my Kosher 101 posting about Shmitta and more. Tanya however did not produce any wines in 2008, which all I can say is WOW! Takes a certain spirit and belief system to not make wine for a year! The winery has three labels; Enosh, Halel, and Eliya Reserve, all named after his kids, which are shown on the booth and on the website (though at a younger age). Enosh is the winery’s top Bordeaux blend, Halel is the main wine line, while Eliya is the lower label that has recently been upgraded, as is visible in the Shiraz below.

As I tasted these wines, I did not know that one of them was also part of my original wine tasting in 2008! The 2007 Pinot Noir, which we tasted from the barrel, has clearly changed with more red fruit showing and lovely oak extraction as well. However, the body and structure look the same from those many years earlier!

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Lovely Sausage Stew, Quinoa, vegetable kugel, and current kosher Cabernet Franc wines

This past weekend I finally got around to something I have been planning for sometime, which was my Cabernet Franc Horizontal. To be fair, it was more like two horizontals, one for 2006 and one for 2007, along with a 2005 wine thrown in. So I guess I am using the term liberally, but hey, this is my blog! Anyway, the wines were quite lovely, with the only real loser being an a fore mentioned wine that was previously in a dumb period, and now I think it is just going down hill, that being the 2007 Hagafen Cabernet Franc. My deep love for all things Franc is clear and documented here.

That said, though the wines were great to exceptional, none of them exhibited anything Franc’ish. I say this because, there was almost no vegetal notes (even from Four gates), and little to no floral notes or even floral perfumes. Instead, what we had was deep and expressive wines that were nice, but more Cab’ish than Franc’ish. The common notes were, Oak/Cedar, Chocolate, Tobacco, and red fruit. There were a couple of wines with black fruit and rich flavors as well.

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Tanya Winery

Tanya Winery

Tanya Winery

On a clear and cool winter day we meet up with Chaim Feder – one of the investors in the Tanya Winery.  The winery is tucked away in Ofra where the wonderful and eccentric wine maker Yoram Cohen lives.  When we first met Yoram he was hard at work building a barrel.  Yes, he was hand building a barrel that he had just finished shaving down and toasting, and was now applying the finishing touches to a recycled barrel with equal care that he gives his wines.  It was fitting that this is how we met Yoram.  In an almost poetic manner, Yoram was doing what he does best – recycling, rebuilding.  He is one of those ever restless artists on the hunt for his next challenge.  The good news for us oenophiles – is that he chose to ply his new trade in the world of wine.  Yoram had a very successful photography business and left it all for the ever finicky world of wine making.  In 2002 Yoram started to make wine out of his house.  In 2007 one of Chaim’s friends tasted Yoram’s wines and was sure that Yoram was the next big thing in wine.  Chaim and his partners met Yoram and the rest is history.  They upgraded the winery’s future productivity by purchasing new equipment, plantings new vineyards, and leasing more space for the winery.  They hope to be producing 40,000 bottles as soon as the newest vineyards come on line sometime next year.

Upon meeting Yoram and the almost completed barrel, Yoram showed us the newly built wine cellar and tasting room – that is behind his house, and that he built by hand.  Anchoring the middle of this beautiful hand crafted structure is a 40+ year old vine!  The vine was there before Yoram bought the house.

Yoram showed the way to the slightly smaller cellar and gave us a taste of a 2005 Cabernet from a 5 liter wine cask.  Chaim said Yoram was hoping to sell them for the seder table.  Yet another example of his eccentric but wonderful artistic talents that Yoram brings to the staid and stogy  world of wine making – a truly refreshing attitude and perspective that we are sure will do him and the winery well.  Upon tasting the wine and some other white vintages we drove to the newly minted headquarters in Ofra’s industrial area.  There we were given to taste a myriad of bottles and barrel tasting that gave us an appreciation of the upcoming wines and the up and coming winery’s main talent – Yoram and his artistic spin on wine and life as a whole.

We want to thank Yoram, Chaim Feder and their respective families for their very kind hospitality and time.  Following are the tasting notes which we sampled at the winery.

Tanya Cabernet 2005 (Small Cask) – Score: B+
This garnet colored wine (grapes from Har Bracha) has a nose of date, vanilla, and oak.  The mouth of this balanced medium bodied wine is filled with cherry and raspberry.  The finish is long with a wooden cloak and cherry clinging on.

Tanya Jerba 2003 (fortified desert wine) – Score: A-
The nose of this honey colored wine is packed with honey, pineapples, and dates.  The mouth on this full bodied and fortified wine is still a bit too hot.  This will calm down as time progresses.  Citrus fruit, honey and apple come in early and stay along for the long finish.  This is a wine that one can enjoy with almost any desert – once it calms down a bit. Read the rest of this entry

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