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A lineup of the available 2018 kosher Pinot Noirs from around the world

In the past few months, there have been many releases of Pinot Noir from the 2018 vintage. For the most part, there are no real winners here, QPR and otherwise, except for two – the Herzog Pinot Noir, Reserve, and the Herzog Eagle’s Landing Pinot Noir (though the Eagle’s Landing is the only QPR WINNER).

The tasting included all the wines I could find though I left out two, the 2018 Barkan Pinot Noir and the 2018 Tura Pinot Noir. Both of them are Mevushal, and they do a HORRIBLE job on Mevushal, so I did not want to waste my money. My love for all things Pinot is well known, and I had such high hopes. I also seemed to have missed tasting the 2018 Vitkin Pinot Noir, as well.

It is funny how the media can change people’s perspectives, and in some cases twist them in a way that we would not expect.  Say Pinot Noir and most wine drinkers will think of the enigmatic anti-hero Miles Raymond, and his explanation on his love for Pinot Noir; “…It’s, uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, 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. You know?…“.  Pinot is a complicated grape – but not to its detriment.  Listen to Miles throughout Sideways and you may come to think that Pinot is fleeting, flinty, thin, and complicated. In the end, as you watch that horrible movie, you quickly realize that Miles was simply projecting in a fire fueled rambling and using Pinot Noir as his conduit.

To the French, Pinot Noir is called Burgundy – following the tradition of French wineries to name their wines after the region where the grapes are grown. Americans have had success with Pinot – in California, Oregon, and Washington State. New Zealand, has taken the lead in bringing the grape into the 21st century. The French Burgundy has its terroir (earthy dirt flavors, sometimes barnyard flavors as well). The New Zealand and American Pinots show characteristics that are more akin to Syrah than Burgundy – fruit-forward, meaty wines with soft caressing tannins. The rest of the world is choosing sides. Though true terroir flavors are hard to replicate outside of Burgundy, many countries have been successful at bringing out the true fruit characteristics that the land is willing to share and are creating wonderful Pinot Noirs. Israel was starting to come into its own with Pinot Noir, now all I would buy from Israel, in regards to Pinot would be from Gvaot. Yes, Vitkin does a nice enough job, but Gvaot does a better one. Right now, the best bet is France and the USA, with a drop from Israel, and after that, we are on empty. Sadly, 2018 was not a great year for Four Gates and what I had was not great, it was never officially bottled, but we have 2019 coming soon!

Sadly, Pinot Noir to me is one of those wines that is so badly mangled in the kosher wine world, that it is no shock that most kosher oenophiles, turn face when u say Pinot Noir. Not on account of the Pinot Noir grapes themselves, but rather on account of the pathetic state of kosher Pinot Noir wine on the market.

Say, Pinot Noir to me, and sadly I can only think of:

Pinot Noir is one of my favorite wines, NO NOT because of sideways! I loved the wine long before that horrific cult movie hit the theaters. I love PN for what it stands for – complexity through things other than fruit! A well made Pinot Noir, in my humble opinion, needs to be of medium body, medium fruit structure, accompanied by mounds of dirt, mushroom, barnyard, and earthy goodness. The ultimate aspect of a great PN is the secondary flavors, not the fruit, not cherry cola, and for the LOVE OF GOD not OAK! It is all about the secondary and old age notes that come with time and love.

Sadly, look at that list. Four Gates is tough to get in quantity. The Gvaot Pinot is available, but they are more Cab and rich than a pure ethereal wine, though very impressive. The Eagle’s Landing 2013 vintage is still available at the winery, and the 2016/2018 vintages rocked! The real winners are the French options, but they are NOT cheap.

So, where are we? Some like the Galil Pinot and other such structured wines, but to me, they are just bad Cabernet in a Pinot’s clothing. This is a shortlist. Heck, there are HUNDREDS of Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, even many Cabernet Franc options. But say Pinot and numbers dwindle in the blink of an eye. Further, many of the options here are vintage based. For the true Pinot lover, Four Gates and France are your sure bets. Sadly, only the last one is pumping out wines consistently.

PSA: What is wrong with you all?? The Eagle’s Landing Pinot Noir has consistently been a high-rated wine and one that lasts for a very long time, improving along the way with great panache. Yet, you can still buy the 2013 and 2016 vintages of this wonderful wine!! I bought a bunch of 2013 from Herzog. I get NOTHING to tell you this other than pleasure. BUY the wine and enjoy one bottle now and save the others for a rainy day in 2026. Buy this now!!

Sadly, there were no surprises here, the 2018 Gvaot was nice, the Eagle’s Landing was great, and the Herzog Reserve Pinot (a return after many years of non-production) was also very nice. That is about it. The 2018 Jean Luc & Paul Aegerter Burgundies were tasted previously (the notes added here for completeness).

The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2018 Herzog Eagle’s Landing Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills – Score: 93 (QPR: WINNER)
Let me start by saying buy this wine, buy lots of this wine, I mean a LOT! OK, now this wine is a bigger and richer version of the 2013 Eagle’s Landing Pinot Noir, in other words, this wine is a beast, a winner, and yes – get this wine! My only comment is that this wine is not a classically styled Pinot Noir. This wine is full-bodied and not so much about cherry and raspberry and more about blackberry and spice, I would not have initially guessed this was a Pinot Noir, still this a wonderful wine. My only real complaint is the strangely small cork used as its closure, when the Cabernet Franc has a much longer cork, just not sure why. Anyway, I do not care about corks, as long as they last long enough to meet the drinking window.
The nose on this wine is pure heaven, coffee and chocolate, and fruit madness, with dirt, mushroom, loam, and spice, all wrapped in dark and brooding fruit, showing control, spice, earth, and sheer umami notes, wow!! The mouth on this full-bodied wine is wow! the mouth starts very softly, almost like a leopard crouching before it pounces upon its prey, this wine is beautifully structured to last, and so well made it is almost difficult to get all the thoughts out of my head, layers of fruit, acid, tannin, salinity (that is incredible), black olives, with epic fruit structure and concentration, with clear and bold and jammy blackberry, raspberry, dark cherry, with intense saline, forest floor, searing acidity, and layers of dark jammy brooding but well-controlled fruit. With time the cherry and raspberry fall behind the intense black and intense brooding fruit. The finish is equally impressive with layers of chocolate, coffee, leather, spices, nutmeg, cloves, rich earth, lovely smoking tobacco leaves, sweet and jammy fruit, all wrapped in mineral, spice, and earth. Bravo!!! Drink from 2024 until 2033 or longer.

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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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