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Ella Valley Winery – final day of my snowbound Jerusalem Trip

Well if you have been following the saga of my snowbound trip to Israel, you would know that this was closing out quickly at this point as the snow has stopped by Sunday, and the roads were open. So, on the Monday after the fateful snowstorm, Mendel and I made our way to Ella Valley Winery.

Other than the obvious lack of snow down in the Ella Valley, or the roads leading to it, the most obvious telltale sign of the tectonic shift that the Ella Valley Winery is going through was the lack of noise, as we entered the winery grounds. Now, I do not mean visitors, as David Perlmutter and a slightly rambunctious crowd that he was ferrying around were in the house. No, I mean the birds; in many ways recently Ella Valley has gone to the birds, metaphorically and in some ways – physically (but with lots of hope for its quick and successful return).

As I have stated the many times that I have visited the winery, I loved this winery for its makeup, its people, and its wine styling, all of which seemed to flow in a common theme, clean lined with respect to the product and people. As I stated here, Danny Valero, the winery’s original general manager, had a deep love for wine, technology, and birds, yes real multi-colored feathered friends that quacked and made a racket, but inevitably added to the ambiance and uniqueness that was Ella Valley Winery.

IMG_0109Sadly, one by one, they all fell off. No, not the birds (though they are also gone), rather the people that originally made the winery so special. The winery was started in the 1990s, and released its first vintage in 2002. Within the time following its founding, the winery grew to great prominence, because of the principles upon which it was built, build great wines that happen to be kosher, showcasing the qualities of Israeli fruit. Of all the wineries in Israel, in recent memory, Ella Valley came out of the shoot with all guns blazing. They never had a ramp up time, they came out as a four star winery, in the late Daniel Rogov’s books from the start almost, and never relinquished that status.

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Psagot Winery – A Stunning Winery on the Peaks of the Binyamina Mountains

The community settlement of Psagot is located on the peaks of the Benjamin Region Mountains, 900 meters above sea level, east of the city of Ramallah, overlooking the Wadi Kelt basin, the Jericho Valley, the Dead Sea and the Edomite Mountains. The literal translation for the word Psagot, is Peaks, hence the play on words in the title of this posting.

In 1998, Naama and Yaakov Berg planted the winery’s first vineyard, 18 dunam of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. In the first year, the Bergs sold their grapes to Binyamina. In the following year, 2002, they decided to make a go of it, thereby establishing the Psagot Winery, named for the settlement upon which the vineyards, and winery are located. Soon thereafter, in 2005, the winery added on another 22 dunam of vineyards, with a varied group of varietals, along with the normal mainstays. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay are the usual suspect, with Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, and Shiraz adding to the mix.

While the settlement was laying a road near the vineyard, Berg says, “we found a little hole in the ground. If was full of mud and rocks and stones. … So we dug for more than a month by hand and we found a lot of things, including a lot of coins, and at end we found a wine-press from the time of the Second Temple.” Today, this cave serves as a large wine barrel cellar next to impressive stainless steel tanks and other winemaking equipment. The cave’s cooling system rarely needs to be activated, as the naturally cool conditions preserve the constant temperature, which during the winter does not go below 54 degrees, and during the summer does not rise above 64 degrees. The natural humidity stands at 90%.

The winery’s vineyards are all planted on rocky limestone, Terra Rosa soil. The vine’s yields are kept low, to about 600 kilos per dunam. The vines are terraced upon the mountainside, but the close proximity to the winery makes up for the difficulty of harvesting. The vineyard’s 900 meter altitude allows the vines to cool down significantly in the evening, thereby concentrating the sugar flavors that are created in a far slower manner than if they were in the valley. The entire harvest is very reminiscent of how Ella Valley Winery does its harvesting, by picking during the early morning, and being close to its winery, thereby assuring the highest quality product from the grapes they source. Read the rest of this entry

Tzora Winery – the founding terroir estate of the Judean Hills

Say the word terroir and most folk’s thoughts would consciously, or maybe sub-consciously jump to France, heck the word is French after all. Still, ask what does it mean, and now we are off the races. Why? Because other than its literal translation; land or sense of place, there is no real translation for terroir. I think that is fitting in a way, as the word has really just started its long and obviously complicated journey. According to the incomparable Harold McGee and Daniel Patterson, it all started in the 17th century, when used to describe a wine, in a non-complementary way. My! Fast forward to 1831, when it was first used as a compliment! From there, it has evolved over and over, like clay, or silt, or maybe rocks, in the hand of a potter, changing and evolving to meet the needs of place and/or time.

While researching this article I spent a good few hours, heck days, searching the real meaning of the word terroir. I almost felt like Indiana Jones on the search for the Ark of the Covenant. No matter how hard I searched, no matter the words I typed into the oracle of the web, all I got were old and stale answers. Finally, I fell upon the father of wine tasting, Eric Asimov’s, blog posting on the fore mentioned article, and I screamed Eureka (yeah my wife was not impressed)! On an aside, Harold McGee is my generation’s original scientific foodie, his books are the bible to many of our nowadays chef demi-gods gastronomical feats. It comes as no shock to me that he would be my knight in shining armor, remember wine may well be romantic in verse and scripture, but it is a chemical at its most base, in other words, dead center in Mr. McGee’s wheelhouse!

So, after reading more and more on this subject, it became even clearer to me, that the word may well be derived from the Latin meaning “earth”, but that is just the beginning of its true essence. Flash forward to a lovely early spring day in the Judean Hills, where my friend and I walk into the newly appointed Tzora Winery, sited on Kibbutz Tzora, and surrounded by sumptuous foliage and landscaping. Tzora Winery is the handiwork of one of Israel’s original and unique winemakers, who truly understood terroir, and saw Israel’s and the Judean Hill’s potential to become a world class wine region. In 1978, there was no Yarden winery, there was just a single Carmel Cabernet success, and Israel was just in its infancy, in terms of wine making, but to the visionary viticulturist Ronnie James, it was a path as clear as day. Mr. James was the Messiah to your average vintner. In his 30 years of service to the vine, Mr. James, will always remain the pioneer, not only at Tzora but also on the Israeli wine scene. Among Mr. James contributions were his enormous respect and passion for terroir and his insistence that his wines reflect that passion. James, known as “Dr. Terroir,” was the first to make wine from his own grapes and the first to introduce the vineyard name on a label. He recognized that the character of a wine comes from the site rather than the grape. Read the rest of this entry

Domaine du Castel Winery – the Godfather of the Judean Hills

Whenever I think about wine in Israel, I think more and more about wines from the Judean Hills of Israel, one of the five wine regions of Israel that wraps Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. The most famous winery in this region is also the original winery in the region, the Domaine du Castel. The winery is situated in Ramat Raziel, at the top of hill overlooking the moshav, which lies some 17 or so kilometers from Jerusalem. The story of the winery is one of love, determination, and above all else; family. It takes a fair amount of courage to drop one’s status quo and go after one’s dreams. That is exactly what Eli Ben Zaken did some 19 years ago, when he started the winery, and gave over the day-to-day management of, his then day job, the family restaurant, to his son, Eytan Ben Zaken. The very same son, who now runs the day-to-day operations of the winery, as its COO, along with his brother Eli Ben Zaken, who is the winery’s CEO.

However, we need to go back in time to get a real appreciation for the story of Mr. Ben Zaken and the Domaine Du Castel. The story starts early in the life of Mr. Zaken, he was born in Alexandria Egypt to a Moroccan Father and Italian mother, and then moved about Europe between England, Switzerland, and Italy. It was in his movements around Europe that he gained a love for agriculture, culinary culture, and wine. Like many Jews Ben Zaken felt the pull to move to Israel, and he made it a reality after the Six Day War of 1967. Soon upon arrival he got to work in what he knew well – agriculture. After some time he built a house in Ramat Raziel and followed his initial love and roots in 1980, when he opened the first real Italian Restaurant in Jerusalem; Mama Mia. Upon opening the winery he went out looking for some locally made wine to serve to his customers and he did not really love what he found.

At the time that Ben Zaken planted his first vineyard in 1988 next to his home, he would have no idea that this small vineyard would become the first in so many ways. Initially the vineyard was made up of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but over time they would add some more Bordeaux varietals and Chardonnay. Ben Zaken had no formal wine training and yet he had no problem pressing his grapes in his barn! Four years later he harvested his first crop, and three years after that in 1995, he produced 600 bottles in his first vintage.  The wine was initially produced for himself, friends, and family. However, as the wine got around to friends of his friends, they all loved the product and he starting to think that he may have some good stuff on his hands. However, it was not until luck and serendipity found their way into his life at the same time, when one of the bottles fell into the hands of British expert Serena Sutcliffe, Master of Wine at Sotheby’s in London, who described it as “absolutely terrific … a real tour de force, brilliantly made.” Ben Zaken recalls with pride; “I had tears in my eyes, over the next few days, I went everywhere with that fax in my pocket.”

Since then Domaine du Castel has been pulling in some of the highest scores and praises from the world’s experts, France’s prestigious Bettane & Desseauve guide counts the winery as one of the 365 worlds best vintages. Daniel Rogov recently commented “Since its inception, Castel has been one of the very best wineries in the country..”, and Mark Squires of The Wine Advocate consistently gives their wines a 90 or higher. Not only is the winery doing extremely well but so is the wine region. The very same wine region that Baron de Rothschild reportedly thought was not conducive to making great wine, was the same region that originally grew the grapes for the Temple, some 2000 or more years ago. It is also the very same region that now makes some of the very best wines in Israel, with some of the biggest names in Israeli wine business sourcing their grapes from the Judean Hills. On top of all that Mr. Ben Zaken original vineyard was the first of its kind in the region for some 2000 years! Read the rest of this entry

Four Gates Winery

Four Gates WineryIt was a beautiful Sunday morning that had us driving up to the Four Gates Winery which is on top of a hill in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  The drive up the hill to the winery used to be a dirt road long ago, and with all the switch backs and the almost vertical climbs, it dumbfounds me how Binyamin (and many others who lived on the hilltop) ever drove up and down that mountain side many times a day.  Since then, the road has been paved and now by comparison, it feels like a highway.

As we drove to Santa Cruz we were greeted with the usual California traffic on a holiday weekend.  However, as we got further into and by Los Gatos, the road cleared up.  The drive in was truly beautiful for a couple of reasons.  First, I was not driving, a buddy of mine kindly agreed to drive us there.  Secondly, the day was just beautiful, and finally, as a passenger, it gave me a chance to look at the Santa Cruz Mountains long and hard with all the traffic!  Once we got the winery road, we drove up the hill and past the vineyard and to the winery itself.

The Four Gates Winery is owned, operated, run, and managed by a single man – Binyamin Cantz.  He is the chief and only winemaker, along with being the CEO, and sole vineyard manager.  Parenthetically, he is a man I am proud to call a friend and I state it here for full disclosure.  He has people help him every so often, which is great, but he is really the sole proprietor of Four Gates Winery.  Binyamin has been making wine for some 25 years now, more as a home winemaker to start, but that turned into a real passion for wine some 17 years ago, when he planted the vineyard.  The vineyard is planted on a lovely hillside with views (far away views) of the Pacific Ocean and parts of Santa Cruz.  In 1997 he released his inaugural vintage, which was a success, and to this day, some 11 years later, his 1997 Merlot is still quite lovely.

We met Binyamin in his house where he was cleaning out glasses for the wine tasting.  The house is a rustic home rebuilt recently with exposed roof beams and original wood floors.  Binyamin built his winery with his own hands and it is quite an ingenious layout.  The winery is built on a hillside with no sun direct exposure, as it is surrounded by large mature trees.  The winery building has two floors.  The top floor is where the crush and press occur for the wines and where the fermentation occurs for the red wines, the Chardonnay is fermented in barrels below (sur lie).  It is also used for bottle labeling after they are filled downstairs, and is a general storage for previous year vintages.  The ground floor is dug into the hillside and is cool in the hot summer days.  This is the perfect place to let sleeping wine lie, and as such, it is the winery’s barrel room.  After crush or press, Binyamin funnels the wine to the barrel room via gravity into the stainless steel settling tank.  From there it can be pumped into any of the barrels or smaller tanks, for whatever the situation calls for.  Once the particular varietal is finished living in its woodsy confines, the wine is blended in the tank before bottling. Read the rest of this entry

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

Tzora Winery

We made an unplanned stop at the Tzora Winery on a cold winters day and we are so happy we did.  We arrived in the late afternoon and there was quite a party going on.  A bunch of kids from America had arrived and they were making the most of the winery’s insanely kind hospitality.  When we arrived the party was in full swing and we did not want to bother them or the winery staff.  As we were getting ready to leave (please folks – always make reservations in advance – do not expect to be as lucky as we were), the staff was super kind and was able to squeeze us into the wine tasting that was in progress.  The sad aspect is that though Tzora has increased the volume of wine – the best wines will continue to stay in Israel and not be imported abroad.

The thing that makes Tzora such a special winery are their vineyards.  Ronnie James tends to the vines, and it is a labor of love.  Unfortunately, as we write this article we are told that Ronnie has passed away.  Ronnie and Tzora wines were built on the ideal that terroir makes the wine.  The land that the vineyards sit on are the names given to the wines (Shoresh, Neve Ilan, Givat Hachalukim).

Ronnie was growing grapes since the 50s for himself and many other wineries.  We will all miss him and his wine and vines will continue to pay tribute to him and his legacy.

We would like to thank the staff at the winery for allowing us to join in and enjoy the tastings.  Following are the tasting notes which we sampled at the winery.

Tzora Judean Hills 2004 – Score: B+
The nose on this ruby red colored wine (60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot) is laden with raspberry, cherry, and oak notes.  The mouth on this medium bodied wine fat with tannins and cherries.  The finish is medium long and quite enjoyable.

Tzora Givat Hachalukim 2006 –
Score: B+
The nose on this garnet colored wine (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) is laden with red berries and cherry.  The mouth on this medium bodied wine is smooth and balanced with oak and soft tannins giving way to cherry and spice.  The finish is not so long, but the wine lingers long on your palate after the wine is gone.

Tzora Shoresh 2004 – Score: A
The nose on this garnet colored wine (100% Merlot) is laden with red berries, mineral aromas, and cherry.  The mouth on this medium bodied wine is balanced with integrated tannins giving way to red berries and oak.  The finish is medium long with cherry and spice.

Tzora Or 2006 – Score: A+
This wine has quite a story around it as Robert Parker gave it one of the highest scores in a recent Israeli wine expose that he conducting along with Mark Squires.  We were able to taste the end of the bottle and it was still quite impressive – none the less.  Gewurztraminer grapes are harvested and then deep frozen for two months.  Then they are extracted for 24 hours and only the first drips of the grape juice become Or.  The nose of this golden wine is filled with honey and tropical fruit.  The mouth of this full bodied and almost syrupy wine is fruity with citrus, pineapple and a touch of mint.

Zemora Winery

On a dry but cold winter morning we set out for Zemora Winery.  Tucked in Moshav Beit Zayit – just below Jerusalem and in particular, Har Nof can be found a small but budding kosher winery.  The winery has been in business for some time now, but only started producing kosher wines as of the 2004 release.   We had heard of Zemora from Rogov’s site and we contacted Baruch Yosef and he agreed to meet us at the winery in the morning.  Unfortunately he was not available to meet us in the end, but Moshe the masgiach was more than happy to assist.  The road into Beit Zayit is quite windy as we came down from Har Nof into the moshav.  The road down passes through the Jerusalem Forest – which is a one way road and quite harrowing given the wet roads from the previous days rain.  Once down we winded to the entrance only to find out that the road into the moshav was actually the easy part!  The road to the winery was a dirt road made for 4 wheel drives – not the low framed Toyota that our friend was driving.  In the end, we made it to the winery and it was well worth the trip.  The winery overlooks the Moshav’s lake/creek that fills in as the winter rains increase.  The lake is home to many a social scene during the late winter and early spring days when the banks are overflowing from the winter’s abundance.

The winery’s output is now around 50,000 bottles and produces wines from the following varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot (for blending), Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Viognier and Chardonnay.

We would like to thank Baruch and Moshe for their hospitality and time when visiting the winery.  Following are the tasting notes which we sampled at the winery.

Zemora Viognier 2006 – Score: B-
The nose on this straw colored wine is filled with honey and apricots.  The mouth of this medium bodied wine has honey, apricots, citrus, and ripe fruit.  The finish is medium long with a nice crisp sensation.

Zemora Chardonnay 2006 – Score: B+
The nose on this straw colored wine is filled a strong aroma of burnt wood and citrus.  The mouth of this medium bodied wine is filled with spicy wood, apples, strong acidity and medium structure.  The finish is medium long and filled with spice and lychees.

Zemora Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 – Score: A (aged in oak for 15+ months)
The nose on this purple to black colored wine is strong with black cherries, currants, and cassis.  The mouth on this medium – full bodied wine is filled with black fruit, spicy wood, and cassis.  The finish is long and laden with black cherries and wood.

Zemora Cabernet Franc 2006 (Barrel Tasting) – Score: A
The nose on this light garnet colored wine is green with red fruit.  The mouth is floral with strong cherry notes, and more vegetation.  The finish is medium long with a bit of acidity and toasted oak.

International Food & Wine Festival – 2008

On a cool Winter’s night, my friend and I drove up to Herzog Winery in Oxnard, CA for a kosher wine tasting and food event.  The first thing that struck me was the number of Rabbi’s that were at the event.  I had heard that because of the large amount of non-mevushal wine that Royal Wine Corp would be pouring that night (Herzog Winery is a subsidiary of the Royal Wine Company) – that there was a call made out for all the Rabbis that they could get.

This is the first year for the west coast version of this event.  Last year the event was a huge success on the east coast – in New York and the Herzog Winery really stepped up and put on quite a show.  The event was called for 7 PM for the public and 6 PM for the press.  The advantage on arriving early was not for early an tasting, rather it was to be able to mingle with the winemakers that were brought in from around the world for this event.  We first met Assaf Paz from Binyamina wines.  Assaf is a very insightful person.  We had a long talk on Carignan wines.  I was in the middle of writing a piece on the 2004 Carmel Carignan Old Vines wine for kosherwine.com’s wine club and he told me that he was one of the people that saved the very vines that helped produce the very nice wine.  We talked about kosher wine and Israel – a very touchy subject – but one he was very gracious with us about.  We then met Pierre Miodownick – the wine maker for Royal’s Herzog Selection wines that come out of France.  Pierre oversees all wine that is chosen for Kosher production and was very knowledgeable about his wines and very gracious with his time and brutally honest about his own wines – which is quite a nice change of pace from other wine makers.  Joe Hurliman was around and stopped by once during our Carignan discussion as did Jeff Morgan.  Both men were around during pourings and were more than happy to talk about their wines and answered almost all questions we posed – again whether complimentary or not.

The event was laid out with wineries displaying their wines on a set of tables and the food was served in Herzog’s award winning Tierra Sur Restaurant.  The food was served tapas style.  The presentation of the food was quite lovely.  Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to sample of all of it, as it closed a bit early.  We got to taste some of the fish and a couple of meat dishes – but totally missed desert.

The event had its highlights and its misses.  Some of the things we took notice to:

  1. The public came in LA style.  They came late and left early.  Quite humorous really.  We started tasting some wine and there was no one to be found.  Later we picked our heads out of our wine glasses to look around, and all of a sudden the rooms were filled with people.  We were happy to see so many folks so was Monica (Herzog’s one man show in producing this wonderful event).  Monica felt there were 100-150 people that arrived for the festivities, and that it was a good start for an event that we hope will be held annually at the winery.
  2. Most of the people arrived for the food and a few came for the wine.  I was really happy to see that the public did not come to get sloshed.  I have no issue with the crowd that the event brought in.  In the end, the event was held to showcase the wine and in a smaller scale – the restaurant.  The crowd was respectful of people’s space and people’s attitudes towards each other.
  3. The buzz was almost tangible and very electric.  There was noise everywhere – in a good way.  People were happy to be there and all the conversations that I heard in passing were positive about the event.
  4. There was a ton of food, and it never ran out.  The food was presented quite nicely and tasted quite good – of the little that I had a chance to get.
  5. Some of the people pouring the wine knew about the wine, but most had no clue.  To the point of a fault.  I was given a glass of Meursault Premeir Cru that was obviously spoiled, and the pourer said nothing.  Same with a few glasses of Yatir wine.  Quite a shame – as Herzog was presenting some of it top of the line wines in a very bad light – to its own detriment we believe.
  6. The event was a marked departure from its east coast version.  There were many more wines poured there.  But at the same time – it was so overcrowded in NY – that many who went there are thinking about not returning next year.  Of course that is more bluster than reality, as there is nowhere else in the world that one can go, and see the variety of wines that were poured at either event.  In the end it is about promoting the wines – and Royal will improve, we are sure, the presentation of its wines and manage the events to better meet the needs of the event goers.

The event by almost all perspectives was a smashing success, and we hope they will continue to improve both events for many years to come.  Now to the wines notes:

A few overarching themes that kept appearing throughout the evening.

  1. The wines were more red and green than dark and brooding – weird because we tasted many big Bordeaux, California, and Israeli wines.
  2. Many of the wines we saw and tasted will not be in stores until Passover and maybe beyond, as some have been just bottled and some are just not in the area yet in quantity.
  3. I have added links to the wines through http://www.wine-searcher.com or Google when wine-searcher get finicky.  I have no affiliation with this company.  I just find them accurate and useful.  I am tangentially affiliated with kosherwine.com and so I have not linked the bottles to them directly.  They commonly show up in wine-searcher results.  Of course please – ALWAYS support your local shop before you run off to a web page near you.

Segal Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 – Score: B+
This ruby colored wine was aged in oak for 18 months.  The nose on the wine is filled with raspberry, plum, smoke and spice.  This full bodied and round wine is smooth and has carry over notes from the nose of plum, berry and spice.  The finish is long and filled with spice and smoky wood.

Domaine du Castel ‘C’ 2006 – Score: B+
This straw colored wine was aged in french oak for 12 months.  The nose on the wine is filled with oak, pineapples, citrus, and lychees.  This full bodied wine is edgy with strong notes of apples, summer fruits, and spicy wood.  The finish is long and filled with more spice and toasted wood.

Chateau Valandraud St. Emilion Grand Cru 2002 – Score: A-
This wine has a crimson red mature color to it.  The nose is heavy with earth, raspberries, and plum.  The mouth of this medium bodied wine has earth and dark berries that linger long on your mouth after the wine is gone.  Th
e finish is medium long with tannins and spice.

Chateau Leoville Poyferre St.-Julien 2002 – Score: A-
This wine has a deep garnet color.  The nose is filled with earth, smoke, black berries, licorice, and oak.  The mouth is of this medium – full bodied wine is very tannic still and is complex, deep and brooding.  Spice, dark fruit, and mint all come together in a medium long and satisfying finish.

Chateau Leoville Poyferre St.-Julien 2003 – Score: A-
This wine has a deep ruby red – garnet color.  The nose is filled with red fruit, raspberries, oak, and plum.  The mouth is of this full bodied wine is very tannic still and wound as tight as a coiled snake around its prey.  Spice, dark fruit, and licorice are overpowered by the chunky nature of the wine’s tannins.  The finish is super long and linger on your mouth long after the show is over.

Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte Pessac-Leognan 2002Score: A-
This wine has a ruby red-garnet color.  The nose is filled with raspberry, cherry, earth, spice, and smoke.  The mouth of this full bodied wine is overpowered still with chunky tannins earth, fruit, and sweet wood.  The finish is long, satisfying, and wrapped in a cloak of smoky tobacco.

Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2006Score A- to A
This wine has a lively garnet color.  The nose assaults you with raspberry, cherry, earth, and spice aromas.  The mouth of this full bodied wine is overflowing with flavors of chocolate, coffee, and oak.  The long finish is wrapped in oak and smoke and the flavors linger a long time in your mouth.  This is a very young wine and will develop nicely over time.

Herzog Generation VIII Cabernet Sauvignon 2004Score: A-
The color on this was is a lively ruby red.  The nose is filled with chocolate, smoke, black cherry, and oak.  The mouth on this full bodied wine is laden with cherries and plums.  The chunky tannins have yet to integrate, but the finish is long and smoky and the wine lingers long after it is gone.

Herzog Chalk Hill Warnecke Special Edition Cabernet Sauvignon 2004Score: A-
The color on this wine is a clean Ruby-Red.  The nose has aromas of black cherry, mocha, and toasted wood.  The mouth of this medium-full bodied wine has notes of cassis, spice, and cocoa.  The finish is long and spicy.

Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Special Reserve 2004 – Score: A-
The color of this wine is garnet with dark edges.  The nose on this wine is earthy with aromas of cherry, raspberry and oak.  The mouth on this full bodied wine is almost chunky as the tannins have yet to settle in.  The spicy wood and red fruit all flow together quite nicely into a medium finish that ends with a flourish.

Herzog Pinot Noir Special Reserve 2005 – Score: B+
The color of this wine is light ruby.  The nose on this wine is earthy with aromas of cherry, dust, spice and oak.  The mouth on this light to medium bodied wine has carry over from the nose.  The cherry comes through grabbing some anise along the way and ending in a medium long spicy finish.

Herzog Syrah Special Reserve 2003 – Score: A-
The color of this wine is deep garnet to purple.  The nose on this wine is laden with spice, tar, black berries and toasted wood.  The mouth on this full bodied beast has carry over from the nose.  The tannins have yet to fully integrate – making the wine a bit chunky, but the tar, black cherries, and pepper flow easily together into a medium long finish.

Francois Labet Puligny-Montrachet 2002 – Score: A
This was one of my favorites of the evening.  The color is an almost electric light straw.  The nose is stuffed full of citrus, apple, lychee, and light creme.  The mouth on this medium bodied wine is both acidic and citric but nicely balanced with oak and fresh fruit flavors.  Lychees and peaches jump into the mid palate and stay along for the long ride to the finish and than lingers on your palate long afterwards.

Chateau De La Tour Clos – Vougeot 2002 – Score: A-
The color on this wine is a mature light burgundy.  The nose on this wine is earthy, vegetal, and loaded with oak.  The mouth on this medium bodied Burgundy is packed with wood, tannins that are far from integrating, and almost mud-like flavors, with a finish that was long and satisfying.  This wine is far from ready, over tannic, wound tight like a boa constrictor around its prey, and fruit that is almost not visible.  I am sure this one will come out of its coma and be a really fun wine with a lot more time under its belt.

Chateau De La Tour Clos – Vougeot 2003 – Score: A
The color on this wine is a mature and dark burgundy.  The nose on this wine is earthy, filled with red fruit, and loaded with oak.  The mouth on this medium to full bodied Burgundy is fruit forward with cherry – almost overpowering, the woody and chunky tannins.  The finish is long and tannic.  This wine is far from ready, the fruit has yet to integrate with the tannins and the oak is watching from the side wondering when it can join in as well.

Chateau Le Crock Saint Estephe 2003 – Score: A-
The color on this Bordeaux is deep and maturing garnet.  The nose on this wine is packed with dirt and earth, a bit of vegetal aromas and a fair amount of black cherries.  The mouth on this full bodied wine is still very tannic.  The cherries run with the vegetal qualities into a very long and spicy finish.  This one has some time yet to settle.  One of the best of the night by far (and far more reasonably priced to boot)

Chateau Lafon Rochet St Estephe 2003 – Score: A-
The color on this Bordeaux is a deep ruby color.  The nose on this massive wine is packed with dirt, earth, blackberries, dark cherries, and a ton of oak.  The mouth on this massively bodied wine is tannic but still closer to balanced than any other 2003 Bordeaux tasted.  This is more to do with it huge fruit that balances out the tannins.  Earth, mint, and blackberries run along side the dark fruit that takes hold of this wine, until the extra long finish that is filled with oak and spice.  A great bottle for the price and a real favorite at the show.

Chateau Guiraud Sauternes 1999 – Score: A+
First off – this wine is a killer wine.  One of the top rated wines in the world – both kosher and not.  That said this wine is a winner and can be cellared for quite a long time.  The color on this magnificent Sauterne is golden and deep.  The nose on this super concentrated wine is filled with honey, cooked fruit, lychees, and apricots along with spice and oak.  The mouth on this full bodied wine is quite insane; it is almost creamy in nature.   The wine hits you first with the carryover honeysuckle, cooked fruit, and spice.  But the structure and acidity is what makes this a wine and not a syrupy mess.  What a wine.  The wine has a super concentrated finish of acid and fruit and a lingering affect on your mouth that is sure to please everyone at the table.

Chateau Pontet – Canet Pauillac 2003 – Score: A
The color on this Bordeaux is deep garnet to purple.  The nose on this massive Bordeaux is chock full of chocolate, earth, oak, licorice, and dark berries.  The mouth on this super concentrated and full bodied wine is still very tannic.  The blackberries and cassis take second fiddle to the chocolate and coffee that dominate the palate.  This massively structured wine is a beast and will take quite a long time to settle down.  The finish is long and has an extra dollop of mineral and oak to close out the show.  Quite a wonderful wine and quite a close to the evening as it was the last bottle that we tasted that evening.

Barkan Altitude Series 412 Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 – Score: B+
The color on this Cabernet is deep garnet.  The nose is filled with spice, cherry and raspberry.  The mouth on this medium – full bodied cabernet is nicely balanced with oak, berries and mint.  The finish is long with spice and oak.

Barkan Altitude Series 624 Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – Score: B+
The color on this Cabernet is light garnet.  The nose is filled with raspberry and cherries.  The mouth on this medium bodied cabernet is nicely balanced with oak, cherries and raspberry.  The finish is medium long with sweet oak on the side.

Barkan Altitude Series 720 Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – Score: B+
The color on this Cabernet is light garnet.  The nose is filled with smoke, cherry and raspberry.  The mouth on this medium bodied cabernet is nicely balanced with oak, cherry red fruit, and licorice.  The finish is medium long with smoke and tobacco.

Rashi Barolo 2000 – Score: B
The color on this Barolo is a classic Piedmont red.  The nose on this wine is a earthy, filled with cherry and floral aromas.  The mouth on this medium bodied wine is nicely balanced with a bit of tannin, sour cherry, oak, and raspberry.  The finish is short and the structure is fading.  Drink now.

Carmel Limited Edition 2004 – Score: A
The color of this Cabernet/Petit Verdot/Merlot mix is deep garnet to purple.  The nose on this wine is filled with deep and brooding fruit that almost smell purple in nature.  Aromas of blackberry, oak, and cassis hit you.  The mouth of this full bodied wine is fat with tannins that have yet to integrate.  Blackberry, cassis, licorice, and a hint of chocolate fill your mouth like a velvet glove.  The finish is long and the chocolate and spice linger on your palate long after the wine is gone.

Carmel Kayoumi Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 – Score: A-
The color of this brooding Cabernet is deep garnet.  The nose is filled with earth, raspberry and blackberry.  The mouth on this full bodied wine is still brooding with chunky and fat tannins.  Once they integrate with the blackberry, cassis and oak they will make this winner a truly delightful wine.  The finish is long and spicy.

Yatir Forest 2004Score: A
The color on this Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Syrah mix is deep garnet to purple.  The nose on this wine is almost assaulting.  Blackberry, oak, smoke, and spice come at you from all directions.  The mouth on this full bodied wine is loaded with berries, plum, oak, and chunky tannins.  The finish is super long and earthy with a bit of spice that comes along for the ride.

Tzuba Winery in Judean Hills

Barrels in Tzuba Winery

Barrels in Tzuba Winery

As we drive the 395 to get to Kibbutz Tzuba the winery’s vines grace our approach – they stretch from the bottom of the hill side along the valley below and all the way to the entrance of the Kibbutz.  The Kibbutz is a tech Kibbutz, building bullet-proof glass and other protective shielding, a thriving business in these trying times.

As we drive up to the winery which is right on the left after you enter the Kibbutz gate – Paul Dubb is there to great us.  Paul is the wine maker for the Tzuba Winery and has been growing grapes for the Castel Winery, since 1996.  In 2000 Moti Zamir and Paul founded the winery and started planted vines for their label – while still tending to the vines for Castel.  The 2005 vintage was the winery’s first vintage where they produced some 30,000 bottles.  IN the following years they have ramped up to some 47,000 bottles.  They hope to be ramping production up to 150,000 bottles in the next few years.  They currently are releasing wines from the following varietal: Chardonnay, Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Shiraz, and Petit Verdot.

Paul has been around grapes since a youngster – where he grew grapes with his parents and grew a love for grapes and wine.  Paul’s work is evident in the Castel wines – but is also visible in his own wines.  The wines are fruit forward but in a balanced manner.  This he says comes from the way he tends to his vines.  He makes sure that the vines have sun, while keeping them shaded, to minimize over exposure of sun, which tends to show overripe flavors and too much acid in the wine.  The wines are all aged in Hungarian oak and according to Paul – do not tend towards Bordeaux flavors.  The winery is built to bring value wines in the Boutique winery market – something that Paul stressed is one of the selling points about Tzuba.  Finally, the winery is owned in partnership with Kibbutz Tzuba – a partnership that should help the winery to compete in the ever competitive Kosher Israeli wine market.

My thanks to Paul, Moti and the Tzuba Winery for hosting us and showing us around their winery.  Following are the tasting notes which we sampled at the winery.

Tel Tzuba 2006 Chardonnay – Score: A (50% 12 months in oak, 50% Stainless Steel)
Fermented at 55 degrees Fahrenheit – Sur Lie, this wine has a lovely and shimmering straw color.  The nose is filled with Lychees, grass, and citrus.  This medium bodied wine has a long and exciting finish and is not over oaked.  The nose follows in the mouth – with Lychees and citrus flavors covering the mouth and enough acidity to balance the wine out.

Hama’ayan 2005 Sangiovese – Score: B
This ruby red wine has a nose of red fruit.  The medium bodied wine has all the signature flavors of a Sangiovese – cherry, plum and added flavors of oak with soft and integrated tannins.

Tel Tzuba 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: A-
The deep Bordeaux colored wine has a nose of red fruit and oak.  The medium bodied wine is smooth with light tannins, red fruit, and a long finish that tends to linger in your mouth.

Tel Tzuba 2005 Merlot – Score: B+
This dark ruby colored wine has a nose of plum and cherry.  The medium bodied wine has firm tannins, almost jammy red fruit, a balanced palate and a finish that is medium in length that is accentuated with oak flavors.

Tel Tzuba 2005 Shiraz – Score: A-
This purple colored wine has a nose of fig, pepper, and earth.  This medium bodied wine has jammy flavors, soft tannins, and a long finish that is supported by pepper and oak notes.

Tzuba 2005 Merlot Reserve Metzuda  – Score: A-
This deep Bordeaux colored wine opens slowly.  Over time the wine shows hints of red fruit and oak.  The full bodied wine has strong tannins that show off its acidic core and cherry flavors.  The finish is long and satisfying.  This wine is still quite young and needs time to show its true self off.

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