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More simple white, red, and rose Kosher wines, with some mid-range reds – with more WINNERS

As I close out the QPR posts for each of the wine categories, I forgot a few of the simple white wines – so here is a post of them. Please look at the past simple white wines post for more on QPR and the simple white wine category. Again, QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) is where kosher wine needs to go. QPR means well-priced wines. Still, people do not get QPR. To me, QPR WINNER is what I describe and explain here. The overall revised QPR methodology is described here (and linked from the WINNER post as well).

One more reminder, “Simple” white wines is a wine that will not age more than seven or so years. So, please no hate mail! There are many WINNERS here, enjoy! I also threw in a few roses with one WINNER, but it is a 2019 Rose, and 2020 roses are about to be released, so drink up those 2019 roses already. I also tasted a few reds, with the 2017 Les Lauriers de Rothschild getting a slightly higher score.

The clear WINNER of this tasting is the 2019 Chateau Lacaussade, Vieilles Vignes, Saint-Martin. That along with the 2018 Koenig Riesling, which I like more now than I did a year ago. Also, the 2017 Les Lauriers de Rothschild. The 2017 Les Lauriers de Rothschild, Montagne Saint-Emilion was a winner in my previous post, I just slightly raised the score on it.

The wine note follows below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:

ROSE Wines (DRINK them now – if you must)

2019 Rubis Roc Rose – Score: 91 (QPR: WINNER)
This wine is a blend of 50% Cinsault and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a weighty and food-required style rose than a refreshing rose. The nose of this wine is fresh and alive, with meaty notes, showing red and blue fruit notes, with nice citrus, with good attack and herbs. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is solid, a drop less acid than I would like, but still very good with hot peppers, green notes, blue fruit, raspberry, dried lime/lemon, with mineral, and nice spice. The finish is long, green, and enjoyable, with good structure and nice minerality, nice! Drink now. (tasted Oct 2020)

2019 Yaacov Oryah Pretty as the Moon Rose– Score: 89+ (QPR: POOR)
This rose is a blend of 45% Syrah, 40% Grenache, and 15% Petite Sirah. The nose on this wine is divine – a lovely nose of floral violet, loads of rosehip, followed by a bit of nice funk, dried and tart cranberry, along with loads of mineral, this smells like what I want from a Provence wine, with dried/tart red fruit, a bit of reductive oxidation, and green notes as well. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is nice but the acidity is where the wine fails, it has acidity, but the wine’s profile, which has nice fruity and refreshing characteristics lacks the punch of bright acidity to bring it all together, still, showing mineral, and lovely red fruit, with tart strawberry, lovely green/tart apple, quince, watermelon, hints of passion fruit, and loads of mineral. The finish is long, complex enough, with slate, graphite, more flowers, and lovely freshness, WOW! Bravo! Drink now! (tasted Oct 2020)

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Kosher Orange wines from California and Israel, QPR WINNERS

I made this a QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wine category and in many ways I regret it. What I did here was to create a situation where the only competition that exists is the next vintage! Essentially, if you want Orange wine or extended-maceration white wine, you want Yaacov Oryah wines. Not complicated at all. There are a few more out there and they are WINNERS, like the Shirah Orange Wine, and Binyamina Wines made one. Sadly, the Binyamina is sold out here in the USA, but the Shirah is for sale on their site and it is a WINNER! Get some! Kos Yeshuos made one, but in such tiny quantity that it was not for sale. Yaacov Oryah Orange wines are here in the USA and are sold by Andrew Breskin (AKA Liquid Kosher) – check them out!

I have spoken about Orange wine before, mostly when writing about Yaacov Oryah wines. 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 grape 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.

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 orange (AKA extended-maceration white) wines are trying to expose more of the white wine than we get from the press and age/bottle style of white wines. Many of the orange 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.

When I tasted through the 2019 Yaacov Oryah wines I saw two things that were not as evident in previous vintages. First, the 2019 vintage, for Israel, was HORRIBLE! Yes, I have stated this over and over, but it affected everyone. Second, this was the best showing of a varietal, in regards to Orange wine, then I have ever had. The Viognier, was Viognier, even after the extended -maceration. Same with the Chardonnay and onwards.

Overall, I found the Orange wines to be quite enjoyable. I am posting the 2018 and 2019 vintages of Yaacov Oryah wines, along with the other two Orange wines I had this year. The issue I have revolves around the QPR part of this. There are essentially many Oryah wines and a few others, this is EXACTLY what I was trying to avoid, and now I ran head into it with Orange wines. I stated the logic around the QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) wine categories as trying to find the grouping logic that gave me the largest sample set. Well, I FAILED horribly with this one. Also, the QPR scoring only works for the USA, Oryah wines are imported by Andrew Breskin’s Liquid Kosher. They are of course sold in Israel, but I do not have solid pricing there and that is too complicated. So, yeah, #FAIL, learned from this mistake. Going forward, this category will fall into the Ageable white wines (a post I need to get done as well) and the simple white wines.

PSA: This subject is very debated, but I find that Orange wines show best when cold. The heat on the wines shows as they warm to room temperature, so BEWARE!

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

2018 Yaacov Oryah The Anthology of Spice, Alpha Omega – Score: 93 (QPR: WINNER)
This wine is a blend of 50% Gewurztraminer, 40% Chardonnay, and 10% Roussanne. The 50% Gewurztraminer found here is the fruit that I spoke about above, fruit that was going to be wasted for just being itself, heady and spicy. As an Homage of an Homage, yeah more play on play on words, the wine talks to the original AO of old, while also staking this epic spicy fruit to two sturdy partners that add so much, while letting the Gewurtztraminer by itself, without being offensive.
This is not a pineapple juice wine, this wine is more about the Gewurztraminer’s spice, with control, floral notes, blossoms galore, with rosehip, and jasmine-like notes, with apple, and earth. The mouth on this wine is beautifully tannic, great structure, showing a crazy fruit/spiced/mineral structure, with smoke, funk, with crazy layers upon layers of the spices, tannin, with rich extraction, with even more tannin structure than the previous wines, showing spice, nutmeg, cloves, crazy allspice, and floral notes, that give way to roasted herb notes, dry hay, straw, and green/yellow apple lingering long with melon, more grass, lemon, and spice galore lingering long. WOW!! Drink by 2025. (tasted May 2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – but they are worth the effort. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

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

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

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

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

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Latest releases from Andrew Breskin and Liquid Kosher

I have had to travel to San Diego for business this year and thankfully on one of those trips I was able to connect with Andrew and hangout. Mr. Breskin is the founder of Liquid Kosher a wine curator and importer for a wide array of kosher wines, from French wines (like the famous Domaine Rose Camille to Israeli favorites). Andrew invited over a group of wine lovers and made a feast for the eyes and stomach with a wonderful array of food and wines, beautifully presented. It was great to hang with Andrew, which I normally get to do only once a year at KFWE Los Angeles.

Andrew has been the goto guy for access to French wines that are not imported into the United States by Royal or the other larger kosher wine importers. Andrew has brought us Burdungdies like Domaine Chantal Lescure, Domaine d’Ardhuy, along with the famous Domaine Roses Camille, which have been top scorers for many years now.

I had a few of these wines in France last year and they did not show as well as the last two times I have had them here in the USA. Maybe it was a bad wine in France, who knows. I recently tasted the current crop of wines from Liquid kosher and I found them to be lovely wines, which are almost ready now and which will also last for many more years.

One of the most exciting new arrivals into Breskin’s portfolio are the wines from Yaacov Oryah. I am so happy to see them here in the USA, I did not know that Andrew had imported them until he poured a couple of them at the dinner that night. I, of course, placed an order for them that week. Yaacov Oryah’s wines are beyond unique and they are wines that are lovely now but also have time to evolve.

To me, the shocker of the group is the 2015 Clos Lavaud – Lalande de Pomerol. To call a 45 dollar wine a QPR is a bit of a stretch, but to me, it is a no-brainer QPR wine. It is wonderful and a wine that you should stock up on for the price and the quality.

Many thanks to Andrew Breskin and his wife for hosting us and for sharing his time, home, and wines with us. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2014 Chateau Marquisat De Binet, Cuvee Abel – Score: 91
This wine is 100% Merlot. The nose on this wine is black, with loads of vanilla, with black and red fruit notes followed by lovely garrigue, green foliage, with nice mineral, sage, bright cranberry, and a mound of roasted herbs. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is gripping, with mouth-coating/drying tannin, that gives way to screaming acid and lovely blackcurrant, plum, rich blackberry, with loads of tart and juicy raspberry, cranberry, and lovely loam, graphite, all wrapped in an elegant and gripping mouthfeel. The finish is crazy, with more gripping tannin, rich tart and juicy red and black fruit, more lovely green notes, foliage, with mushroom, and herb, with licorice and coffee lingering long. Nice! Drink until 2021.

2014 Echo de Roses Camille, Pomerol – Score: 92
The nose on this wine is not as fruit-forward as what I had last year in France, showing a nose of lovely red and black fruit, mint, and Oregano galore, tar, with forest floor, and earth. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is lovely, showing a mouth that is lovely with core acidity, rich and layered, elegant and expressive fruit, blackberry, cranberry, tart pomegranate, and lovely tart and juicy red fruit of tart cherry, well balanced with freshly tilled loam that is wrapped in a mouth-coating tannin structure and layers of riper fruit that show with time and air, with salinity, more tactile tannin, and loads of mineral. The finish is long, red, green, and filled with mushroom, loam, tilled earth, and forest floor, with tobacco, and milk chocolate. Nice! Drink from 2020 until 2026.

2012 Domaine Roses Camille, Pomerol – Score: 93 to 94
Sheer elegance in a glass, this wine is almost there but still not ready. The nose is rich and earthy, with now loads of mushrooms, followed by red and green fruit, with hints of black in the background, with loads of sweet and ripe fruit, sweet dill, cedar, and rich dirt and deep fruit. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is riper than I would have wished for, but it is beautifully layered with incredibly concentrated dark fruit, with lovely extraction, showing candied strawberry, along with nice dirt, spice, more cedar, and rich layers of green foliage and ripe and juicy cassis, black cherry – that gives way to mineral, pencil, and great focus all underpinned by some nice acid, but I would have loved more acid, the other two wines that I tasted beside the big brother showed more acidity, and more mineral, all wrapped in elegant and mouth-draping tannin that is plush and elegant. The finish is long and green, with sweet notes of juicy and tart fruit, with more great acid, cocoa, tar, charcoal, and tobacco, wrapped in leather and spice. Bravo! Drink from 2020 till 2029. Read the rest of this entry

The 2019 Kosher rose season is open but I am underwhelmed at best

It is not yet summer and here in NorCal, it feels more like winter with these strange May storms with thunder and hail. Sorry, but in NorCal, we do not get thunder, it is very strange indeed! Anyway, enough with my meteorologist fanboy moment, the weather was not conducive for my last tasting here in San Jose with a group of folks, but Rose was on the docket so rose it was.

Rose wine in the non-kosher market is exploding – especially Rose wine from Provence; a wine region of France. Sadly, in the kosher wine market – that is not quite the case. I did not stress my previous statement with a suffix of AT ALL, even though I am not allowed to open a bottle of rose on my Shabbos table with guests – why? Well, that is simple – no one will drink it!!

Even worse, is that wine manufacturers may well have jumped the shark! There will be some 60+ kosher roses available in the USA this year! That may not sound like a lot, but when all you had was Herzog White Zinfandel 10 years ago – it is insane. The first high-end rose was Castel’s 2009 rose and that was only 10 years ago. Back then, there were few to no real Rose wine options, other than a handful of Israeli wines and almost no French Rose made it here. Now we will have tons of Rose, and I really think the real question here is will people drink it all?

Also, I want to bring up a topic I rarely talk about – price! Yeah, I hear you, Avi Davidowitz, of KosherWineUnfiltered, please quiet down, gloating does not suit you – (smiley face inserted here). The prices of Rose wines have gotten out of control. QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) has become nonexistent, essentially here in the USA, for the kosher rose market. Finally, I am sorry, but I really feel that wineries were either horribly hampered in some way with the 2018 rose vintage, or honestly, they just threw in the towel, The 2018 vintage is the worst one in the last 10 years. We have hit Peak Rose, we really have. Peak X is when X becomes so default within the construct of our lives, and the quality and quantity of X peaks. Clearly, calling peak kosher rose is a subjective call, but look around. The roses of 2018 feel commodity at best, they feel rushed, no real care, rhyme, or reason. They feel like we have peaked. They are nowhere near 2017, and 2017 was nowhere near 2016, and so on. I am sure next year may be another peak rose, and to be honest, many have called for Peak Oil and Peak TV, so maybe I am just projecting what I see around me, but this year’s crop of roses feel half-hearted pure cash cows, and really without love behind them.

As always, I will be chastised for my opinions, my pronouncements, and I am fine with that. This is wakeup post, there may be ONE or two roses I would buy, but respectfully, given the prices, I would rather buy, the 2018 Covenant Sauvignon Blanc, 2017 O’dwyers Sauvignon Blanc, the 2018 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc, and so on. Throw in the 2018 Tabor Sauvignon Blanc and the 2018 Or Haganuz Amuka Blanc Blend, and really who cares about a rose?

I was thinking about going with the title: 2018 kosher roses, thanks, but who cares? Because that is how I feel. This vintage is a massive letdown, prices are too high, quality has hit rock bottom, and overall professionalism, IMHO, has gone along with the quality. Wineries have been getting away with less and less quality for years, raising prices, and this is the worst I have seen in the rose market overall. So, yeah, who cares?

Wine Color

What is rose wine? Well, simply said, a rose is a wine that can best be defined as the wine world’s chameleon. Where white wine is a pretty simple concept – take white grapes, squeeze them, and you get clear to green colored juice. Yes, the white grape juice is clear – well so is red grape juice, but more on that in a bit. Read the rest of this entry

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

Blue Smoke dinner and the London KFWE 2019, posh events in a growing kosher wine and food market

As I said to me old and new found friends in London, I will miss the people, I will miss their kindness and their civility, but they can keep the weather and their inability to drive on the correct side of the road!

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Well anyway, back to wine and food! As stated in my previous post, this was the first year I tried going to more than two KFWE events around the world. I arrived in Paris on Monday, Went to the Bokobsa Sieva tasting, and then on Tuesday, I took the train to London. I arrived in the afternoon and I then got a short rest before heading to a crazy dinner at Andrew Krausz’s house, the master chef of BlueSmoke.

I first met Andrew, and his sidekick, Mordechai, on the hilltop of Four Gates Winery, some 20 months ago! The wines we enjoyed there are listed here. But beyond the wines, one quickly got a sense for the Jewish community of Hendon, London. I must say, I still have nightmares from the dump of a hotel that we stayed at in Golders Green, a large Jewish community kitty-corner to Hendon. Hendon reminds me of everything that is great about London. The people are really nice, the community is tightknit, and they are a bit more aware of the outside world than say Golders Green. That said, I have heard wonderful things about the Golders Green community, I just need to exercise the nightmares of my past. Anyway, enough of my nightmare! The next time you need a nice hotel in Hendon area, Pillar Hotel! Solid, kept up nicely, kosher, and the folks are really nice.

Blue Smoke and Andrew Krausz

Take a quick read of this article to get a sense of Andrew and the work he puts into Blue Smoke and the joy people are getting from it. The dinner at Andrew’s was insane, to say the least, and there were many winemakers there that we would be seeing again the following evening at London’s KFWE! The courses were highlighted by cured more than smoked but streaked with bits of smoke throughout. The dinner started with gravlax and pickled beetroot. The pickled beetroot was straight crack! It was infused for 6 months! I hope this starts to give an understanding to the participants of the level of effort that was made to put this event together. The care and love for the task at hand by Andrew and his family! Yes, the family, were incredible! They have to live with the madness that fed people like me. From what I could tell, they are happy travelers on the road of food madness that is paved by Blue Smoke, but I am sure the 25 or so people invading their home on a weeknight, and the days and weeks of preparations leading up to that day, may not have been a path so easily traveled. Also, please understand that we would see Andrew for a few seconds as he explained the dish and then he disappeared into the same black hole from which he miraculously reappeared from over and over again. That black hole, the cavernous sized kitchen, was packed with humanity and hands coordinated by Andrew to push out 25 dishes over and over again throughout the evening. Read the rest of this entry

My top 25 kosher wines of 2018 including wine of the year and best wine of the year awards

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

We are returning with the “wine of the year”, and “best wine of the year”. Wine of the year will go to a wine that distinguished itself in ways that are beyond the normal. It needs to be a wine that is easily available, incredible in style and flavor, and it needs to be reasonable in price. It may be the QPR wine of the year or sometimes it will be a wine that so distinguished itself for other reasons. This year, it is one of the QPR Kings of 2018. Yes, last year, we had a single QPR King, this year, there are a few. Why? Because as I will discuss in my year in review, 2018 was about having more solid wines than having GREAT wines. Sure there is a clear Best wine of the year, which is revealed below, but 2018 will be remembered for having MANY very enjoyable wines, rather than a few GREAt wines.

Also, yes, the Wine of the year and the Best wine of the year, both made by Royal wines, such is life, and I could care less for the most part.

Again, the list is missing wines I have yet to taste, like the 2015/2016 Chateau Pape Clement, which I am sure would have been on this list if I had tasted them. There are also interesting wines below the wines of the year, think of them as runner-up wines of the year. There will be no rose wines on the list this year – blame that on the poor crop or rose wines overall, they did not even crack the interesting list. Also, this year, we were given a bounty of top wines and finding the list this year was really a task of removing then adding.

The supreme bounty comes from the fact that Royal released the 2015 and 2016 French Grand Vin wines a bit early! Throw in the incredible number of kosher European wines that are coming to the USA and being sold in Europe and this was truly a year of bounty for European kosher wines.

Now, separately, I love red wines, but white wines – done correctly, are a whole other story! Sadly, in regards to whites, we had no new wines from Germany. Thankfully, we had Domaine Netofa and Yaccov Oryah Wines to come to the rescue. On top of that, we had another EPIC year for 2016 Herzog Chardonnay, Reserve, Russian River. This year, quite deservedly, it cracked the top 25 wines of the year! The new Chablis is also nice, but the winner in the “very close” section has to be the 2016 Koenig Riesling – Bravo guys!

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

Finally, some of these wines are hard to find and they may have different siblings – but they are worth the effort. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

The 2018 kosher wine of the year – we have a TIE!

This one was a NOT a no-brainer to me this year. It was really hard. I wanted to give it to the 2016 Chateau Larcis Jaumat, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, straight up, but it is already sold out, between me and Gabriel Geller, we sold that wine out in no time. So, instead, we will share the winner with the almost impossible to find, aforementioned Larcis Jaumat, along with another from Europe, the 2015 Cantina Terra di Seta Chianti Classico, which is also QPR superstar as well! Congratulations to Cantina Terra di Seta and Royal Wines, and to Chateau Larcis Jaumat, along with an elevated nod of the chapeau to Menahem Israelievitch for finding and curating this wonderful QPR winery tucked into a corner of Saint-Emilion! Bravo!

2016 Chateau Larcis Jaumat, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – Score: 92 (Crazy QPR)
This wine starts off open and then closes so tight like an oil drum, this thing is nuts. The wine is made of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, a classic right bank wine from Saint-Emilion. The nose on this wine is really bright, ripe, and intense, with rich intensity, mushroom, earth, but so much redolence, the nose is far more open than the mouth, showing rich blackberry, dark plum, and rich vanilla, followed by herb, mint, rosemary, and green notes galore. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is crazy rich, it does at times remind me of Benyo’s Merlots with a fair amount of blackcurrant thrown in, which is never found on Benyo wines, but the mad acid, rich mouthfeel, closed tight fruit structure has me reminded often of a Four Gates wine, with intense notes, they scream because of the acid, that gives way to rich tannin structure that is searing and yet inviting, with rich cranberry, cherry, and crazy earth, that will give way to mushroom and forest floor with time. The finish is long, really long, lingering, and intense, with gripping tannin, acid, tobacco galore, mounds of blackcurrant, vanilla, herb, foliage, and green notes, that give way to a gripping mouthfeel that will crush anything, with tar, menthol, and more earth. OMG, this Benyo in France! Wow!! Drink from 2021 to 2030.

2015 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico – Score: 92
The nose on this wine is ripe, at first, the wine starts off with heat, but that blows off, but it is also well balanced, with lovely earth, mineral, dirt, with dark cherry, coffee, and lovely dark fruit. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is beautiful, complex, well layered, with rich concentration, nice extraction, all balanced and plush, with rich blackberry, currant, lovely mouth draping tannin, with lovely foliage, and some nice earthy and fruit bite. With time, it shows its ripeness, but also intense minerality, saline, graphite galore, and lovely tannin structure. The finish is long, green, and ripe but balanced, with lovely acid, great texture, that gives way to more coffee, graphite, scarping mineral, and light almond bitterness on the long finish. Bravo!! Drink 2019 to 2023.

The 2018 best kosher wine of the year!

This one was really tough. First of all, the one I chose is not available yet for purchase in the USA. Also, in terms of score, it did not beat out the 2016 Chateau Giscours, 2016 Chateau Lascombes, 2016 Chateau Du Tertre, Margaux, 2016 Chateau Montviel, or 2014 Chateau Tour Seran, Medoc (NOT Mevushal), or the 2014 Chateau Cantenac Brown, which I somehow missed from last year’s top wines. In the end – for its sheer awesomeness it beat out a very crowded field. In the end, the winner of the BEST kosher wine of 2018 goes to the 2016 Chateau Malartic, and it deserves the crown – bravo!!

2016 Chateau Malartic Lagraviere, Pessac-Leognan, Grand Cru Classe – Score: 94
The 2016 Malartic-Lagraviere is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot (at least in the non-kosher version). Wow, the nose is really ripe, not what I expect from a Malartic, but still lovely, with chocolate, black fruit, earth, and lovely hints of umami, with sweet oak, earth, and sweet blue fruit. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich, layered, and concentrated with nice control, expressive, with blackberry, blueberry, and what a change, Malartic with blueberry! Showing more raspberry, earth, and rich fruit, with a truly incredible plushness, that gives way to a rich mouth coating tannin that drapes and lifts the mouth, showing a precision, and an incredible professional touch, with plush fruit, loam, and lovely saline. The finish is long, and plush, with more blue, green, and red fruit, with leather, and power that belies its youth, a wine that will push long into its life, with tannin, licorice, and graphite/mineral that lingers long, Bravo!! Drink from 2025 until 2035. Read the rest of this entry

Yaacov Oryah Winery – latest wines

Having just posted my take on where Israel’s wines are at this point, especially in regards to red wines, there is still a silver lining, the white wines from top Israeli wine producers. Those include Vitkin, Domaine du NetofaCapsouto, Covenant Winery Israel, Tzora Winery, and of course Yaacov Oryah’s not so well known masterpieces of white wines.

You can read my last post on Yaacov Oryah and his wines here. I visited Israel for a short trip, but I was sure to contact Yaacov and he was very kind to make time to meet once again at the lovely Red and White Wine Bar of Jerusalem. The bartender is the owner, sommelier, coffee bean roaster, and the cheesemonger – Mark Arnold Jam.

The wine bar is one of those few bars that is very particular about what wines are served on their menu. They have top flight wines from Castel, Flam, Gvaot, Adir, Psagot, Matar, and Yaacov Oryah. Of course, not everyone is on the same page as I am, so they have wines from other Israeli wineries, but the majority are wines I would drink! They also have great food, his menu consists of omelets, cheese, and butter (from Naomi Farm in the Golan), great bread, fresh pasta, and fish dishes. However, do not forget the great dessert options as well!

The overall feel of the bar is old school, but equally current, with a bartender that understands food, service, and wine are all intertwined into a single vision that is focused on people first, wine and food second. The bartender is the owner, sommelier, coffee bean roaster, the cheesemonger – Mark Arnold Jam. If you ever get the chance to sit down for an hour in this lovely place you will quickly find that his last name equates well to his musical tastes. Mark gets the vision and he is a one-man show that weaves poetry, music, an old school vibe, and great food and wine knowledge into the ideal renaissance man at your service!

When we arrived for the tasting, I was joined by OU, AD, JK, and NA, along with Arnold and of course Yaacov Oryah. We were there to taste the wines he released recently for 2018.  Yaacov’s white wines are pure joy, he gets what works, for people like me, and for others as well. The wines are always enjoyable, well made, balanced, and really rich and layered. The only con to the wines may be the price, but hey greatness comes at a cost.

Yaacov is currently the head winemaker at Psagot Winery and he also makes wines under his own label and some special wines just for restaurants around Israel. His winery is proof that Israel can make great wines. It is further proof, that for now, Israel may well be better served to concentrate on white wines than red ones. The 2017 Yaacov Oryah Silent Hunter, to me, is the best white wine I have tasted this entire year. Better than the 2017 Jean-Pierre Bailly Pouilly-Fume, Sauvignon Blanc, or the other top white wines from 2017. There is no denying it, Semillion in the hands of Yaacov, is like lead in the hands of an Alchemist. The other white and orange wines he made this past year are also quite impressive. Truly a tour de force – Bravo!!!

My many thanks to Yaacov Oryah for allowing me to taste all the current wines and to Mark for letting us spend some time in his lovely wine bar! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:

2017 Yaacov Oryah Light from Darkness (אור מאופל in Hebrew) – Score: 91 to 92
This wine is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Tempranillo. This is a classic Blanc du Noir using beautiful Rhone Valley grapes.
The nose on this wine shows beautiful and crazy aromatics, with great notes of tart lemon, yellow Apple, with straw, mineral, and lemongrass. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is joy, showing great acid and a tactile mouthful with screaming tart peach, fun and tart lime, with screaming grapefruit, tart, and juicy nectarines, and mineral galore. The finish is long, green, and joyous with more citrus, rich salinity, slate, and rock. Bravo! Drink until 2020.

2017 Yaacov Oryah Silent Hunter (הצייד השקט in Hebrew) – Score: 92 to 93
From what I have tasted so far, this may well be the best white wine of 2017 from Israel, and maybe around the world, though I have others still to taste from Cali and France. This wine is a blend of 60% Semillon and 40% Chenin Blanc. This wine’s name is a nod to Hunter Valley in Australia, and its ability to create Semillion based wines that last forever.
The nose on this wine is a crazy flint bomb, with dry quince, sweet and spicy ginger, rich saline, and paraffin, with rich yellow plum, apple, lemongrass, honeydew, honeysuckle, followed by rich floral notes, and rich mineral. The mouth on this medium-bodied wine is an oily texture with rich fruit, showing lovely mineral, with a mouthfeel of rich earth, straw, and crazy grapefruit with lemongrass and rich pear, all balanced by an acidity that is off the charts. The finish is long, mineral-driven, with more floral and green notes, with incredible acid, dry quince, and floral notes lingering long. Bravo!! Drink by 2030.

2017 Yaacov Oryah Chenin Blanc, Alpha Omega – Score: 91
Another vintage and another Orange wine from Yaacov. In 2017 he made one orange wine. In 2018, he will be making 10 of them!!!
The nose on this wine is almost pure funk! Really funky, nutty and really floral with straw, mad honeysuckle, and rich sweet nectarines, with crazy yellow plum. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is lovely and intense with an oily and crazy mouthfeel, that comes at you in layers and hits you with balanced tannins that give this wine an incredible structure, the tannins, and the acid combine to pucker the mouth with funk madness. The middle of the wine shows that lovely nutty characteristic of orange wines,  showing with almond and halva, followed by with honeyed fruit and hints of oxidation. The finish is long acidic, and earthy, with green notes, spice, ginger, and lovely almond pith and orange peel that lasts forever. Bravo!!! Drink until 2024.

2016 Yaacov Oryah Alpha Omega – Score: 90
This wine is a blend of Roussanne, Semillon, and Viognier, that sat and fermented for three weeks on the white grape skins.
The nose on this wine is really fun and crazy, with intense richness and lovely fruit, white chocolate, raspberry, with floral notes galore, and rich orange blossom with orange and rich mineral and spice. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is crazy rich, mouth coating, with lovely nectarines, more yellow plum, with intense acidity, showing rich oak and butterscotch, balanced well with mouth-drying tannin, quince, and more floral notes. The finish is long, sweet, and tart with crazy graphite, saline, and tannin that give way to orange fruit, and cloves and sweet spices. Fun! Drink until 2024.

2016 Yaacov Oryah Eye of the Storm (עין הסערה in Hebrew) – Score: 89
This wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. The nose on this wine shows lovely blue and black fruit, with a smoke bomb redolence, followed by tar and rich roasted animal fat, with a huge pile of blackcurrants. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is tar driven, with chocolate and tobacco, with a long and balanced wine finish showing a bit of green, with loads of ripe and juicy blueberry, slightly pushed blackberry, and lovely tobacco that lingers long. Nice! A bit too ripe for me, but very well made. Drink until 2023.

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