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My top kosher 25 wines of 2015

wall of wineWell, I have posted my year in review, and now I wanted to get to my top wines for 2015. Please beware that I know I missed many wines and that this list does not include wines that I have tasted that are not available on the open market – like older Covenant Wines and the sort.

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 an A- or higher. Anything less would not be on my list.

On an aside, there continues to be a whole mess of madness around wines notes and scores, even the Jewish Week weighed in on the matter. So, let me explain this really simply – go look at some of my recent blog posts – they talk about some nice enough wines, but wines I would not specifically buy. They have all the nice words and such, which were all true and to the point. But without the final value score, I can tell you a Cabernet is full bodied with good fruit and spice – and you may say cool I want that – but then I would say well, yeah but it was not complex or layered. You could try to reason that out of the words I wrote, because the words complex and layered are missing. However, the simple fact that it was scored a B+ or whatever, would have told you that it is not always a wine worth going after (unless it is the Terrenal or such where it gets a QPR moniker).

My point being that wine notes – without a proper context (AKA a real score) – is like looking at a wedding hall through a slit in the window. Sure you can “see” the hall, but are you really sure you want to get married there? I never scored wines to tell people to listen to my score. I score wines to set the context and to always read the notes to see if that sort of wine works for you!

OK, enough of the darn score rant for the day, back to the matters at hand, being wines of the year. The list is long – get over it. It is a list of wines that I would buy, have bought, and will buy again – simple enough I hope. I did not differentiate by another other criteria or aspect – if it was solid (A- or higher) it made the list. I hope you enjoy!

2013 Elvi Wines Clos Mesorah – Score: A- to A
This is the flagship wine of Elvi Wines (though the Herenza Reserva may have a word to say about that) and it is a blend of 50% Carignan, 30% Grenache, and 20% Syrah. Elvi Wines makes 7K of these bottles. The wine was sourced from vines that are 20 to 100 years of age. The nose on this wine is insane and intoxicating with aromas of watermelon, root beer, ripe boysenberry, blueberry, along with chocolate and black fruit. The mouth on this full bodied wine hits you with layers of concentrated fruit, with an attack of blue and black fruit, balanced perfectly, showing great elegance, along with mad mineral, graphite, slate, rich and freshly tilled earth, along with deeply concentrated black fruit. The wine is the perfect example of elegance and balance with ripe fruit that flows into a plush mouth made from mouth coating tannin and rich fruit structure. This is truly a wine speaks for itself. The finish is long and intense, showing rich roasted animal, lovely mushroom, and floral notes. With time, the wine shows mad barnyard, mushroom, and even more loamy dirt. Bravo!!!

2010 Elvi Wines Herenza Rioja Reserva – Score: A- to A
There are only 4K of these bottles made and each one is a true gift! The wine is closed and slow to open, but with time and a fair amount of decanting, the nose shows of mad soy sauce (like the 2009 Herenza Reserva), chocolate, richly tilled earth, loam, along with crazy mushroom and mad mineral. This wine is the epitome of umami, showing intense layers of umami with white summer fruit, cranberry, craisins, blackberry, pomegranate, and tart cherry in the background with mounds of earth. The finish is intensely long and dirt filled, with  dark chocolate, licorice, blueberry and red fruit. BRAVO!!!!

2012 Chateau Haut Condisas, Medoc – Score: A- (and much more)
The 2011 was very nice, but the 2012 a slight step up. The nose on this wine is rich and redolent with lovely dirt, dark black fruit, barnyard, earth, and mushroom. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, ripe, and in your face with nice chocolate, mad toast, mouth drying tannin, all wrapped in crazy acid, but bigger and riper than the 2011, almost Israeli in nature, but classically French controlled, with blackberry, raspberry, plum, with mineral and graphite. The finish is long and dirty, with hits of herb, along with layers of concentrated fruit, more mad mineral/earth/dirt/mushroom with dried raspberry, and rich garrigue. WOW! BRAVO!

2010 Chateau Fourcas Dupre, Listric – Medoc – Score: A- (and more) (CRAZY QPR)
This wine is on the list for its insane value and its goto ability above all wines from France for the price! The 2010 was a nice wine – but the 2012 is even better! The nose on this wine is lovely with rich dirt, cherry, crazy tart and juicy raspberry, followed by more dirt and mineral galore. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely and still young but give it time, the acid is impressive along with nice spice, mouth coating tannin that is gripping along with lovely blackberry, cassis in the background, along with crazy mushroom, and layers of fruit and earth and forest floor that come at you and do not give up. The finish is long, with insane acid and more mouth drying tannin, more earth, dirt, tart lingering fruit, and lovely mineral/graphite. The fruit and mineral lingers long – BRAVO!!!! Read the rest of this entry

Netofa Winery – the Rhone Ranger of Israel

I have previously posted about our tasting and dinner last year with Pierre Miodownick and the Netofa Winery. They are two entities that are deeply intertwined with each other essentially Netofa is Pierre. The humorous aspect is that when I think of Pierre, I think of France, Bordeaux, Champagne, maybe Burgundy, but I do not think about Rhone! According to GG, Pierre did make a Rhone wine in the past, a Crozes-Hermitage, but I never tasted it. In a special way, Netofa is Pierre’s entry, on a large scale, into the Rhone and Iberian wine regions of the world, and like most things he makes, they are fantastic!

Once again, it was GG and I making our way to Pierre’s house for a tasting of all the new Netofa wines and to see his beautiful new tasting room that was recently constructed. The wines are still being made at Or Haganuz, all done by Pierre himself. The tasting room however, is located in the same area as he lives, and it was an easy drive from the tasting room to his house for dinner and a chance to drink the wines at our leisure.

We made our way to the new tasting room in Netofa and after parking, we walked up the long set of semi-circles stairs to the tasting room. The door to the room is a massive sliding door of vertical planks, very akin to a barn, but in a lovely and tasteful manner. The room is beautifully appointed and upholstered with wine bottles all over the two walls. The other walls are the sliding door entrance and the glass wall with a door to the storage room.

The middle of the room is dominated by this massive squared- off horseshoe shaped table, with a lovely leather appointed chair in the middle. Pierre was very kind to have setup the tasting of all the new and some older wines with glasses all setup for us for the 4 types of wine we were going to be tasting; rose, white, red, and port. Really he had 6 glasses setup for us, but I use 1 glass for all my tastings unless it was the side-by-side tastings we had of the new and previous vintages.

When you look at Netofa’s wines, you have to wonder – why is a French Bordeaux expert making Rhone wines? So, being myself, I asked him. Mr. Miodownick explained quite simply that what he felt grew best near Mount Tabor, where his vineyards are, was Rhone varietals. Now, to be honest the winery has more than just Rhone varietals, it has Chenin Blanc and Iberian grapes as well. Still, the red wines are all Rhone varietals, ignoring the Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional that go into the Tinto and the ports. So, I guess my naming Pierre a Rhone Ranger is a bit off-kilter, given the diversity of his varietals. Maybe, Mediterranean Terroir would have been better, but that did not sound as good as Rhone Ranger!

Now, I did not come up with Rhone Ranger of course, that was done by the founding members of the association in 1980. The most famous of them may be Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard. Still, the kosher wine world is finding that Rhone varietals work well in warm climates. Look at Elvi Wines and Capcanes – they both grow a fair amount of Rhine varietals, with different names. Grenache becomes Grenacha and so on. In California, you do not need to look further than Hajdu and Shirah wineries, where their wine portfolios are predominately made up of Rhone varietals. Still, Mr. Miodownick does grow grapes that originated from the Loire Valley and from Portugal, so the Rhone Ranger moniker may be a bit stretched, but I do love those SM wines! The white wines are all Chenin Blanc – a very unique wine for Israel, as the wine’s character is less about tart and refreshing fruit; but rather a younger brother of the Chardonnay grape, meaning it has elegance, power, and yet it also has that Rhone style straw and earth and dirt that we all crave.

The red grapes are Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Tempranillo (an Iberian varietal), Touriga Nacional (native to Portugal), and there are hints of Grenache lurking!!! The whites are the afore mentioned Chenin Blanc and Roussanne. I would love to taste Grenache Blanc or Viognier from Pierre – but so far that is not in the books. But you cannot blame a Viognier lover for trying! The Roussanne and Grenache are two newly planted vines, so they will not become available till 2017.

As we looked at the glasses in front of us, on the squared-off table, I could not help but stare at the bottles standing on the mirrored walls, and the glass that surrounded us. Yes, each bottle is standing up and resting on a curved platform that is mounted to the wall. It is quite a sight; behind the mounts and the bottles is a wall of moire mirrors that were custom built for the winery. The mirrors affect is to not really reflect as much as give make the room feel bigger and cozier, which they clearly got correct! The mirrored walls add an immense amount of class to the already classically elegant room. The wall of standing wines are also in a squared off horseshoe shape, and in the center is a wine dispensing machine that filled the bottles with innate gas as the wine is dispensed.  This allows the wines in the machine to essentially never oxidize while they continue to dispense wine, until of course the bottle is empty or the innate gas empties out – the latter is not recommended! Behind the table is a wall of bottles in cubbyholes, very akin to a wine cellar, stretching the entire length of the tasting room. The wine wall makes the room feel like you are in a cellar and again, like the mirrored walls, really looks cool!! Read the rest of this entry

Yitzchok Bernstein and Jonathan Hajdu excellent 27 course tour de force

On Sunday night we were blessed to be part of an extremely exclusive 27-course meal, well more like 30 or so – if you count the decadent small dishes after dessert, but who is really counting. The event was put on by the dynamic duo of Chef Yitzchok Bernstein and Brobdingnagian Wine maker Jonathan Hajdu. The event was a fundraiser for Beth Jacob, Oakland’s Orthodox Synagogue – and what an event it was!

When I have tried to explain the event, attempt to verbalize the magnitude of the effort, and the uniqueness of it all, I have so far failed, till now I hope, to transport the listener, or reader, to the mind-blowing state of conscious that we were all leaving within for 6 or so hours – this past Sunday night. The meal was a, 27 or so course, of mind-blowing culinary talent – coming to life in front of us lucky few. Each dish was hand plated with such exacting detail, that not only did each plate fill us gastronomically, but also the visual sumptuousness of each and every plate truly was equally a feast for one’s senses. The funny thing was that the meal started at 24 courses, as I had an early preview of the menu. However, by the time we lived it, it had grown to 27 and could have been 30, if the participants could have kept up with Bernstein. I was more than happy to taste the other two or so courses, but I did not call it a 30 course meal, as they were not formally served to the participants.

The second we entered the home of the host and hostess we knew we were in for a real treat. The house is a lovely sprawling ranch style home, remodeled to as close as possible to the mid-century modernism style of some 60 years ago, while all the while bringing the current century’s modern touches to life in a truly non-obtrusive manner – a real success in my humble opinion. If the home is an extension of the owners, than the simplest way to summarize the hosts is, sleek, modern, highly functional, with an ode to the past and arms open as wide as the glass sliding doors that truly define minimalist architecture and the MCM movement. The openness and warmth that are exuded by the home’s colors and textures truly reflect the host and hostess, and all of us were constantly in awe of their ability to deftly steer the epic culinary adventure to the success that it was. While the event may have stretched a bit longer than some were ready for, as most needed to go to work the next day, the intimate setting and cosmopolitan mix of people truly added to the entire evening.

With the well-deserved forward now handled, it is only fair to throw the light unto the culinary genius of the evening – Chef Yitzchok Bernstein. Mr. Bernstein is mostly self-taught, but has also received formal training in Bread Baking at French Culinary Institute. He also studied pastry and advanced bread baking at SFBI. (san francisco bakers institute), and has been working in and around restaurants, since the age of 14. Food is a truly passionate thing to Mr. Bernstein; you can see his persona expressed clearly in his food and in his open and warm demeanor. Throughout the evening the dishes were harmonious, balanced, tempered, but never losing focus and always packing more than enough bite, texture, and complexity to grab and keep your attention, until magically there was yet another unending course to partake from. Each course built on the past one, adding layers and nuances that were not lost to the foodies that ensconced the close-knit twin table setting.

The other resident genius at the event was Jonathan Hajdu (jonathan@hajduwines.com), the associate wine maker at Covenant Winery, and is also the wine maker for wines from the Brobdingnagian and Besomim wine labels. The Brobdingnagian/Besomim winery is located in Napa CA. Hajdu wines was started in 2007, by owner and winemaker Jonathan Hajdu. Hajdu produces small lot artisan wines, with a focus on Rhone varietals under the Brobdignagian, and Besomim labels, though the newer wines are veering all over to where Hajdu can find the highest quality grapes. The Brobdignagian name is derived from Jonathan Swift’s giants, in Gulliver’s Travels, and attests to the winemakers’ proclivity towards intense and powerfully flavored wines. Wine produced under the Besomim label, is a blend of varietals with a focus on complex aromatics. These limited production wines are available directly from the winery. Read the rest of this entry

2008 Yarden Mount Hermon White and the 2009 Golan Cabernet Sauvignon

This past week I was relegated to a pair of wines that I was not overly excited about, but needed to taste, for information purposes (though I did not drink much of it). To be honest I have never been a big fan of the Hermon whites or reds, or most of the Golan wines. They have always been B to B++ wines, and for the price, not very exciting or worthwhile. I bought a couple of these wines, a few weeks back, because I thought I was going to bring them to the family get together, but I brought some better ones instead. So, I was left with these wines, and it was definitely time to drink up or cook with them. Personally, I would have cooked with them, if I had known what they tasted like in advance, but hey, this is all about information gathering, so gather I did.

Please note that the Mount Hermon label, is to Yarden what the White Zinfandel label is to Herzog. That being, they are both the main cash cows for the wineries. Why? Most wine drinkers are not interested in drinking an El Rom or a Generation 8 To Kalon Cabernet. Instead, they want easy drinking, quaffing wines. The Mount Hermon and White Zinfandel are exactly that, wines meant to be enjoyed now. Wines that do not need age on them to make them accessible. That said, I have already stated my opinion on the Herzog’s White Zinfandel, and now I can add Mount Hermon to that list of wines. Again, they are fine wines, but not ones I would spend my money on. Yes, I am a happy card-carrying member of the wine snob association, and I hope one day to be its president!

The wine notes follow below:

2008 Yarden Mount Hermon White (Israel, Galilee, Golan Heights) – Score: B
The nose on this straw colored wine is mineral and off to start, after time it opens to rich lichee, grapefruit, guava, sweet lemonade, mineral, slight oil notes, floral hints, honey, and mineral. The mouth on this light to medium bodied wine is floral, with honey, lichee, guava, lemon apple, and wet grass. The mid palate is balanced with nice acid, lichee, lemon rind, mineral, and floral notes. The finish is long and spicy with honey, lichee, mineral, floral, lemon rind, wet grass, bright acid, guava. An OK quaffer.

2009 Golan Cabernet Sauvignon (Israel, Golan) – Score: B
The nose on this purple to black colored wine is rich with oak, chocolate, vanilla, cherry berry, currant, blackberry, crushed herbs, spice, black pepper, and graphite. The mouth on this medium bodied wine starts off with a very and almost unbalanced fruit forward cherry berry slush, along with currant, and spice in the background. The mouth feel is smooth and plush, but the fruit forward mouth bugs me. Over time as the wine softens, with nice tannin and plush style, but the fruit starts to fall off with cherry, currant, and blackberry showing lightly, making it more of a smooth oak and black fruit mouth. The mid palate is balanced with oak, acid, crushed herbs, vanilla. The finish is long but unbalanced with more cherry berry and oak. Again, over time, the finish softens with nice oak, chocolate, crushed herbs and a hint of black fruit. Drink up, but not a wine for quaffing, this is wine to be drunk with food or just cooked with.

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