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My top 30 kosher wines of 2019 including wine of the year, Winery of the year, and best wine of the year awards

Like last year, I wanted to make this post short and sweet – so the criteria are simple I could care less about price, color, or where it was made. All that matters is that it is/was available this year sometime to the public at large and that I tasted it in a reliable environment, not just at a tasting, and that it was scored a 93 or higher. Also, there are a few lower scoring wines here because of their uniqueness or really good QPR.

We are returning with the “wine of the year”, and “best wine of the year” while adding in a new category called “Winery of the Year”, and another new category, the best White wine of the year. Wine of the year will go to a wine that distinguished itself in ways that are beyond the normal. It needs to be a wine that is easily available, incredible in style and flavor, and it needs to be reasonable in price. It may be the QPR wine of the year or sometimes it will be a wine that so distinguished itself for other reasons. The wines of the year are a type of wine that is severely unappreciated, though ones that have had a crazy renaissance, over the past two years. The Best Wine of the year goes to a wine well worthy of the title, especially with its 2016 vintage.

This past year, I think I am pretty sure about my statement. In the past, I had not yet tasted the pape Clement or other such wines. However, over the past year, those have been covered, and they were a serious letdown. As stated in the article, I truly believe the entire kosher production of the Megrez wines, following the EPIC 2014 vintage of the Pape Clement and others, to be below quality and seriously overpriced and without value in every category, which is a true shame. The 2015 reds are all poor quality and the whites are not much better, in 2015 and 2016. The 2016 Pape Clement, while better, is a total ripoff for what it is.

There are also interesting wines below the wines of the year, think of them as runner-up wines of the year. There will be no rose wines on the list this year – blame that on the poor crop or rose wines overall, it was, by far, the worst kosher Rose vintage. Thankfully, the task of culling the bounty of great wines to come to these top wines was really more a task of removing then adding. I may have stated the obvious in my last post, about the state of kosher wine in general, and not all of it was very good. Still, as I stated, we are blessed with more QPR wines and more top wines, while the core pool of wines, which are horribly poor, continue to grow larger and larger.

The supreme bounty comes from the fact that Royal released the 2017 French wines a bit early! Throw in the incredible number of kosher European wines that are coming to the USA and being sold in Europe and this was truly a year of bounty for European kosher wines.

Now, separately, I love red wines, but white wines – done correctly, are a whole other story! Sadly, in regards to whites, we had no new wines from Germany. Thankfully, we had Domaine Netofa and Yaccov Oryah’s Orange and white Wines to come to the rescue. Throw in Vitkin’s good work, and more great work by Royal Europe, including the new Gazin Blanc, and others, and you have quite a crop of fun white wines!

Some of these wines are available in the USA, some only in Europe, and a few only available in Israel.

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:

The 2019 kosher wines of the year – we have a four-way TIE all from Yarden!

Yes! You have read it correctly, the wines of the year come from Golan Heights Winery (AKA Yarden Winery), the 4th largest date juice producer in the entire world! The top date juice honor belongs to Barkan Winery, but I digress.

So, why is Yarden here, because albeit’s deep desire to throw away years of work creating very nice wines, at a reasonable price, with its wines from the early 2000s and before, it still makes the best kosher sparkling wines, and it is time that it receives its due.

As I stated in my year in review, the kosher wine public has finally awoken to the joy of sparkling wine! Last week I told a friend I popped a sparkler for Shabbat lunch and he replied in a sarcastic tone, “Oh only a sparkler”, like that was a crazy thing to do. I replied that the Gamla (AKA Gilgal) Brut costs less than most white wines do! Why not pop one with lunch on Shabbat??? Others tell me, yes there is more a public appreciation for Sparkling wines, but it is a different wine category. I do not agree! Sure, sparkling wine has bubbles, so yeah, it is different. However, that is EXACTLY what is wrong here, Sparkling wine is just white or rose wine with bubbles. Who cares? When it is well made, it is a wine like any other wine.

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My recent visit with Yaacov Oryah and the white and orange wine factory

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

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