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My top 25 kosher wines of 2014

Well, 2014 has come and gone and my top wines of the past year were too many to limit to 10. Now these wines comprise a list of wines I enjoyed over the year. Some were released in 2014 and many were released a long time ago. Either way these are wines that made an impression upon me and that is the only characteristic that I used to define this list.

Some of these wines may not score a solid A, but they deserve to be here because of their trail blazing characteristics Take for instance – the 2012 Recanati Marselan. It is the only kosher Marselan and it is very good. The 2013 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc, one of the best whites to come out of Israel along with the 2012 Tzora Shoresh White, a wine that I believe is better than the 2013 Shoresh white, were both on my list last year, so they are not on it this year. The 2013 Tzora Shoresh is on this year’s list and if you have not gotten any – you are making a huge mistake. I had both in 2014, and even though I liked the 2012 a bit more, the 2013 is an epic white wine, in its own right. The best rose, hands down, was the 2013 Hajdu Pinot Gris rose. It is tied for best ever kosher rose with the 2012 Shirah rose, but that was already enjoyed in 2013. The next white wine was the epic 2013 Dalton Viognier, a wine that is worthy, once again, of the Dalton reserve label. It beats the 2012 hands down, and reclaims the title as the best kosher Viognier that is available in the US or Israel. There may be a French Viognier that is available there, but I do not know of them. The final non red wine was the 1996 Four Gates Chardonnay, which while never released officially, it was an awesome wine indeed! I tasted while tasting an entire vertical of all of Benyamin’s Chardonnay wines and this was the best of the bunch. Many others were solid A- and maybe a bit more wines, but the 1996 was a A- to A wine that was truly epic.

The rest of the wines are red, and there are many special wines there including the fantastic 2012 Recanati wild Carignan and Syrah/Viognier wines. BRAVO! There were many more French wines, but they will have to fall till next year, when I get a chance to sit down and enjoy them over a long meal. The 2012 Chateau Giscours, the 2012 Pavillon de Leoville Poyferré, and the 2012 Roches de Yon Figeac are lovely wines and may well get on the list next year. In the end, California, France, and Spain continue to be my sweet spot. There are a few exceptional wines from Israel, like the epic and insane 2000 Yarden Katzrin and others. Along with current releases from Tzora Winery, Recanati Winery, and Yatir Winery. In the end, Israel will improve by having 2009, 2010, and 2011 in their rear view mirror, all the while enjoying the new 2012, 2013, and from what I hear 2014 vintages.

The wine notes follow below:

Wines of Spain

2012 Capcanes Peraj Habib (Crazy QPR) – Score: A- to A
Before I talk about this epic wine, I must sadly say that one of the wines that was on my list last year – the 2012 Capcanes Carignan – never made it into its own bottle. Sadly, it was not deemed worthy of a leading role. Thankfully, it found its place here, in this fantastic 2012 Peraj Habib! The wine blend for 2012 is not far off from 2011, consisting of 40% Grenache, 30% Carignan, and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from very old vines.

The nose on this dark and impenetrable purple colored wine is redolent with roasted animal, intense black fruit, and mounds of dirt and mineral. The mouth on this full bodied wine hits you with an intensely inky structure, filled with layers of of rich concentrated fruit, ripe freshly squeezed black berries, cassis, plum, along with tart fruit, spice, and mouth coating tannins that may well make some people think that this is the best Capcanes Peraj Habib ever made. The finish is long and purely mineral based to start, like sucking on a salt and graphite stick, as it recedes, you sense the incredible balancing acid, which is then immediately replaced with richly roasted coffee, sweet and herbal spices, more black fruit, a sense of animal fats, leather, hints of tobacco, and finally followed by bitter notes on the long finish. BRAVO!!!! Read the rest of this entry

Lovely kosher Rhone wines from the Chateauneuf du Pape, Israel, and California

FB_IMG_13980337629999427It has been quite sometime since I last posted, it is a mix of many things that has limited my access to time to type up all my notes and thoughts. Over Passover we enjoyed a few wines and many of them were in the theme of Rhone wines, including two that were actually from the highly vaunted Chateauneuf du Pape wine region (a sub region of the Rhone wine region).

I have written extensively about Rhone wines from the best kosher purveyors of these lovely wine varietals; Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Carignan (accepted by the Rhone Ranger community), Petite Sirah (same with this varietal), Grenache Blanc, and Roussanne. These varietals are gaining traction in the kosher wine world, with great help from Netofa Wines, Vignobles David Winery, Reacanati Winery, Hajdu/Brob Wines, and Shirah Winery.

There are many wineries making a wine or two from the Rhone varietals, but few have taken to the varietals like the list above. Recanati may well be making Cabernet and the such, the Mediterranean labels are almost all Rhone in style and varietal and it has been a boon for both buyers and the winery. The Carignan Wild has been a huge winner for the winery, the Petite Sirah is magnificent, and the white RSR is now a unique blend of Roussanne and Marsanne. But the best wine from the Med series may well be the 2012 Marselan – an absolutely insane wine.

Of course, when you think Rhone Ranger and Israel, the real ranger MUST be Pierre who released his first wine under the Netofa Winery label in 2009. It was an entire line of red and white wines based solely on the Rhone and Loire Valley varietals. Since then he has branched out to Portugal grapes, but the red and rose Netofa and Netofa Latour wines are all Rhone varietals. The white varieties are Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley.

Even before that, Jonathan Hajdu and the Weiss Brothers have been releasing wines based on the Rhone Ranger methodology, under the Brobdingnagian and Shirah labels respectively, going as far back as 2005. Read the rest of this entry

Open That Bottle Night 15 and a few missed wine posts

2007 Hevron Height PardessWell, it is that time of year again for OTBN (Open That Bottle Night), a night conceived by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, in February 2000, then with the WSJ. Well, officially it is the last Saturday night in February, which this year is Feb 22. However, us Jews like Friday/Sabbath to be our special wine moment, so we will be enjoying OTBN this Friday Night, hopefully!

According to the WSJ site: On OTBN, which is celebrated on the last Saturday of February every year, thousands of bottles all over the world are released from prison and enjoyed. With them come memories of great vacations, long-lost loved ones and bittersweet moments. The whole point of the weekly “Tastings” column is that wine is more than the liquid in the bottle. It’s about history, geography, relationships and all of the things that are really important in life.

We have had many great OTBN tastings but this year, it is about tasting my oldest and best Yarden Winery wines. Yarden Winery has moved to the sweet side on their new wines, for the most part, but the El Rom wines have never been sweet. Yarden has always been on the sweeter side, in terms of ripe fruit, but these past few years, the weather has really hurt them badly. The 2009, 2010, and 2011 vintages have been nice wines, but too sweet for my tastes. The 2012 and 2013 look like they will be better, from what we have tasted of the white wines. Still, the El Rom and red Katzrin wine have always been controlled and beautiful. They are Yarden’s flagship wines and they keep a very tight lid on the fruit in these wines. The 2006 and 2007 ROM wine is another story, it was always sweet and somewhat controlled, and yes, very expensive. It all started when the late Daniel Rogov gave the 2006 ROM, a very unique Israeli blend wine, a massive 96 score!  That score sent the futures of that wines to the moon, along with the expectations of greatness. In reality, it is a nice wine, but nowhere where Rogov placed it.

Well, I have been sitting on too many of these wines, and so this week, for my version of the OTBN 15 (the 15th year of OTBN), I will be opening the 2001 Yarden El Rom (Shmita year), the 2004 Yarden El Rom, and the 2007 Yarden ROM. I have many backups in the ready! Read the rest of this entry

We enjoyed three lovely kosher wines this weekend

This past weekend we enjoyed a few great wines, including another wine from the Herzog Winery! The set of wines included another tasting of the 2010 Vignobles David Reserve, which is tasting lovely – but starting to show signs that it is coming around. The tannins are still very mouth drying and draping, and really need a fair amount of time to integrate. The next wine was the newly released 2011 Herzog Chardonnay Prince Vineyard, a new single vineyard Chardonnay from their newly acquired Prince Vineyard, the first vineyard that the Herzog winery bought.

Finally, we had a hand carried bottle from Israel that shocked me in a good way. When I recently tasted the newly released 2010 Carmel Cabernet Sauvignon, Single Vineyard, Sumaka Vineyard at the KFWE in Miami this past month, I was far from impressed. However, I had just come back from Israel and I was carrying with me a bottle of the very same wine. When I came home I opened the bottle, that I bought in Jerusalem, and was shocked by how VASTLY different the two wines were. Taste them blind side by side and you too would be really shocked. The US version is really not that great, B to B+ wine at the best. The very same wine, with an Israeli label, was rich and layered, but controlled, and lacked the over the top cooked and ripe fruit.

This is not a one time thing, when I returned to Israel and I tasted the 2009 wines from Carmel, I was once again shocked to find that I loved them. A very vast difference from when I tasted them with an US label. Whatever the issue is, it really needs to be fixed.

The wine notes follow below:

2010 Vignobles David Côtes du Rhône Reserve – Score: A- (and more)
This wine blend is composed of 40% Syrah, and 60% Grenache, also known by the folks in the know, as GS, an acronym stemming from the first letter of the 2 varietals used in this blend.

When I opened this lately, the wine needed a few hours of air to truly open and show its potential. Please open and have patience to allow it to show its true joy.

This bright purple colored wine steps up and slaps you across the head with a crazy rich and heady nose of blackcurrant, bramble, rich oak, roasted meat, freshly brewed espresso, spice, raspberry, blackberry, and tar. This wine shows a super rich, full-bodied, yet bright mouth with an insane mouth draping and coating tannin, rich extraction, along with focused concentration of fruit, all coming together into a truly earthy, fruity, meaty mouth. The finish is richly spiced with layers of more coating tannin, soft leather, tar, black fruit, rich minerality, espresso and oak, with a hint of date on the background. Quite a lovely wine that is not another big and black Syrah, rather this is a lovely balanced GS that shows its richly spiced and terroir driven roots in more ways than one.

2011 Herzog Chardonnay, Prince Vineyard – Score: B+
This is a mevushal Chardonnay from the newly acquired Prince Vineyard in California Clarksburg ACA. The noise on this light gold colored wine is rich and ripe with honeyed notes, toasty oak, spice, and vanilla. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is viscous and lovely with good sweet fruit, apricot, guava, baked apple pie, along with layers of butterscotch, creme brulee, and hints of oak tannin. The finish is medium long and missing a bit of an acid bite, spicy with good bakers spices, white tea, and good mineral background, slate and lemon peel.

2010 Carmel Cabernet Sauvignon, Sumaka Vineyard (Israeli Label ONLY) – Score: A-
I must be very clear here – this is the 2010 Carmel Cabernet, Sumaka Vineyard, from Israel, not what is sold here in the US. I make that clear, as the wine sold here, with the US label, is not very good, overly ripe and clearly changed by the transport process from Israel to the US. I shipped/transported this bottle by hand from Israel to my home and then enjoyed it.

This wine is a single vineyard wine, just like the 2009 Kayoumi Cabernet was a single vineyard wine. This wine replaces that wine while the Kayoumi vineyard single vineyard wine. The nose on this black colored wine starts off with a lovely and deeply mineral rooted nose, with blackberry, cassis, plum, earthy notes, and blackcurrant. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is layered with good fruit concentration, that is a bit uniform, with good extraction, along with good sweet tannin, and lovely spicy oak. The finish is long and spicy with black fruit, chocolate, leafy tobacco, and more great graphite/charcoal lingering long with cloves, spice, and a nice sweet note background.

This goes to prove that there is a serious issue at play here. I tasted some 4 wines in Israel that I have had a few times here in the states. The wines in Israel tasted some 4 years younger and more enjoyable than their US counterparts – keep an eye out, and I will be documenting which label/locale the wine came from going forward.

Lovely kosher red and white wines for Succoth

This past week I spent some time with family and we enjoyed some great white and red wines. Mostly white and rose wines were enjoyed simply because I was in a very hot climate (no not the Bay Area), and so white and rose wines were truly the only option.

I wanted to have some red wines so I included two reds that I have been wanting to taste for a long time and both were great. The only real “let down” was the Tavel Rose which I have still not come to appreciate. To me it lacks the bracing acidity and it is far too bitter, for my tastes.

So, I will keep this short and sweet – the wine notes follow in the order they were enjoyed:

2012 Makom Grenache Blanc – Score: A-
This bottle is back!!! The last bottle we had was right after bottling, and it was not showing beautifully. This week, it was showing alot more like what it did before bottling. The nose explodes with rich slate, followed by lovely floral aromas, ripe lime, lemon, grapefruit, jasmine, lovely cut grass, and herbal notes. The mouth is ripe and medium bodied, with nice lemon friache, good strong and balancing acid, and ripe peach. The finish is long and spicy, with hints of banana, ripe fig, and nice mineral. I am so happy this wine is back -be sure to enjoy!!!! Read the rest of this entry

My wonderful blueberry haze Shabbos

This past weekend I was hanging with EL and MT, those same two of Napa wine adventure fame. It was a true insane blast, and the wine intake was so intense that I had to name this post appropriately. The blueberry reference is an ode to the sheer number of wines we had that were seriously showing blue fruit.

When I think of hospitality so many names come to mind including ER, Mrs. L, Shaindy and Chaim, and now I am happy to add EL and MT to the wonderful list of people who think of others above themselves. I came this shabbos to NY to hang with family and go to two wine events. The two wine events sandwiched a Shabbos so I asked EL if he could handle a madman like me for a weekend! He graciously accepted and now the Shabbos is in the history books and may well go down in annals of mankind as one of the craziest Shabbos that I have had the opportunity to enjoy (though my first Benyo Shabbaton is up there too with the Shirah Boys).

The Friday started with me opening the bottle of Tavel, which while deeply aromatic was a slight letdown with a light and almost lifeless mouth. Still, it had the acid to keep up; this was all while we learned some Yoshua before heading to minyan. El lives in a large Jewish community and the number of synagogues within a square mile of his house, rival the number of museums in all of NY City! Still, we were blessedly spared the walks to those hallowed halls. Why? Think August in Las Vegas and add 90% humidity and you get the picture – AKA felt like walking through swap land – without the swamp!

So, where did we go, well that is the funny thing, if there are tons of options for free standing synagogues in this section of New York, there may well be more options of home bound synagogues! Indeed, people have synagogues in their basements, living rooms, and just about any section of their home that their wives can tolerate (more on that in a bit).

Friday night started in the library room of a beautiful home, 5 doors down from EL’s house. Mincha started at 8 PM and we were done with Mincha and Maariv at 8:45 PM. Heck, where I live, we could still be davening Mincha in 45 minutes! We went home, and even walking the length of 5 homes made you feel like you wanted to jump into a shower ASAP! What heat! Anyway, dinner started with a bottle of 2012 Lueria Gewurztraminer. A lovely wine that was cold and bracing, with enough residual sugar in it to make both EL and his wife happy! From there we moved to two Roses that accompanied a plethora of sushi! Awesome idea, really, clean tasting sushi is a great idea on a hot summer day! The sushi was solid as was CL’s SICK challah that was greatly enjoyed with dips and soup. The Tavel was OK, as said above but the Agur rocked it for me and it was mostly drunk by me as well.

After that we moved to the main course, which was roasted chicken and some incredible Rib Roast! EL begged me to taste some before Shabbos and I knew at that point that this chunk of meat was going to slay it on Shabbos! The roast has something for everyone, it was rare inside and medium rare on the edges. It was herbed to perfection and was so juicy that it screamed to be eaten some more – WOW what a real treat!

At this point I must point out that we had already decanted two wines for the dinner, the newly released 2011 Vignobles David Reserve GS wine and the 2012 Hajdu Cabernet Franc (will probably be blended – but a distinct barrel sample for now). It was at this point that the family bailed and left EL and I to slowly enjoy the two bottles/carafes of wine. That was until Mark came over with two more wines in tow. The wines were the famous 2007 Brobdignagian/Brobdingnagian Syrah – a blockbuster wine we have enjoyed twice, and a 1999 Hagafen Syrah! The wine is a richly layered, concentrated beast that has zero desire to calm down or back-off its no holds barred structure that makes one truly stand up and take notice. Some find it too much, but for me it is a wine created by an unbridled mad genius, with eyes wide open – what a wine! When I saw the hagafen Syrah at Mark’s house before Shabbos I thought there was no way that the wine was drinkable. It turns out that the Syrah was Hagafen’s first and a wine that has truly stood the test of time. Read the rest of this entry

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