I wanted to make this post short and sweet – so the criteria are simple I could care less about price, color, or where it was made. All that matters is that it is/was available this year sometime to the public at large and that I tasted it in a reliable environment, not just at a tasting, and that it was scored an A- to A 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.
This year I am adding 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 not the QPR King of 2017, that went to the 2016 Chateau Des Riganes. No, this year “the wine of the year” is indeed a QPR superstar, but not the king, it is the 2014 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley. The best wine of the year, well that was easy, it is the 2015 Chateau Leoville Poyferre. So, yes, that means that the top wines of the year are 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 Chateau Pape Clement, which I am sure would have been on this list if I had tasted it, or the 2015 Hajdu Proprietary Red. 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 2014 and 2015 French Grand Vin wines within the same year! The 2014 vintage wines were released in 2017 and the 2015 wines were released (in France in 2017 as well)! 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 all we had this year that were exceptional, were epic Rieslings from Germany (Von Hovel) and the fantastic sweet wines from Sauterne and Yaacov Oryah. But dry white wines from elsewhere in the world was sadly lacking. There were a few exceptions, and they were all Chardonnays, but to me, the winner in that story (dry white wine that was not a German Riesling), was the 2015 Herzog Chardonnay, Reserve, Russian River. It does not rate in the wine of the year list, but it is in the interesting wines below. The new Chablis is also nice, as is the Shirah Whites.
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 2017 kosher wine of the year!
This one was a no-brainer to me. The 2014 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley is a crazily affordable wine that got rave reviews from me and from the press. Congratulations to Herzog Winery and Royal Wines.
2014 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley – Score: 92 to 93 (QPR Superstar)
Lovely nose, impressive elegant and old world nose, peaking with a blackcurrant showing blackberry and lovely smoke and tar. The mouth is old world, wow, give me a break, in ways the wine is crazy better than the Warneke (Special Edition), but with years the Warneke will pass it. The mouth on this medium body, is great layered and rich, green, spicy, and rich with concentration, with sweet oak and sweet dill galore, with green notes, loads of foliage, showing dried strawberry, ripe raspberry, black forest berry, all wrapped in mouth coating and drying tannin, with earth and spice. The finish is long, and richly green, with nice spicy notes, leather and scraping mineral, showing bright and ripe fruit that is impressive, elegant, rich, and layered, with licorice, graphite, and forest floor that lingers long. Bravo!! Drink from 2020 till 2030.
The 2017 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 Von Hovel Rieslings of 2014 or the 2014 Tour Blanche Sauternes, or the 2015 Chateau Giscours, or the 2014 Chateau Smith Haute Lafite. 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 2017 goes to the 2015 Chateau Leoville Poyferre, and it deserves the crown – bravo!!
2015 Chateau Leoville Poyferre – Score: 95
This wine was very close to what we tasted from the barrel. The nose on this wine is rich and black, with floral hints, smoke, mineral, and really pushed for now, but incredible and redolent with a perfume of ripe fruit, chocolate, and green notes. The mouth is rich and layered with an incredible finesse of perfection, richly extracted and incredible with rich mineral and saline that is so perfectly hedonistic it is impressive, with chocolate heaven, showing earth, loam, finesse, and elegance beyond explanation, showing soft yet focused with a tight-mouthfeel, with rich raspberry, blackberry, ripe plum, all focused and concentrated with perfection. The finish is long and rich and paired with an acid and mineral that is never-ending, almost ripe and tart at the same time, with draping tannin, graphite, and charcoal with expressive and focus. Drink from 2022 to 2040.
Rest of the top 25 kosher wines of 2017
2015 Chateau Grand Puy Ducasse – Score: 94
This wine was very close to what we tasted from the barrel. What a nose, this wine is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and a drop of merlot. This nose is green and red and really mineral focused with dark but red fruit focused, showing lovely elegance, dirt, and herb. The mouth is medium bodied with rich extraction, rich currant, red fruit, with dirt in the background, wrapped in rich and searcing tannin mouthfeel, with roasted herb, and rich tobacco that is backed by elegance and control, blackberry, plum, that gives way to dark chocolate epic control, foliage, and oregano that lingers long with graphite, pencil shavings, and rich leather. Drink from 2024 to 2034
2015 Chateau Giscours – Score: 95
This wine was very close to what we tasted from the barrel. The nose on this lovely wine is super dry, with more of a classic Bordeaux nose, less ripe than some of the previous wines, with the ever classic blueberry notes of Giscours, with black and red fruit galore backed by roasted herb, rich mineral, and lovely saline. The mouth is rich, incredible, massive, full-bodied and incredibly extracted with rich saline, with layers of unstoppable concentrated fruit, with blackberry, raspberry, with blueberry, rich spice, mushroom, and herb. The finish is never ending with green notes, roasted herb, incredible drying tannin, with a deep fruit base followed by the mineral, black fruit, earth, graphite, and rich spice, cloves, and dark chocolate. BRAVO! Drink from 2023 to 2035
2015 Chateau Lascombes – Score: 94.
WOW, how this wine changed from when we tasted it in the barrel. This wine is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Merlot, and 3 to 4% Petit Verdot. It is the flagship wine of Chateau Lascombes. The nose on this wine is even crazier than the Chevalier, showing more umami and soy sauce if that is possible, with incredible finesse, showing massive power, but great mineral and concentration, with black and red fruit, foliage galore with tar and roasted animal. The mouth is full bodied and incredible with the same style as the Chevalier, but with more finesse, mouth coating soft tannin that is extracted with blue fruit, earth, rich concentration, with more saline and power, yet showing incredible precision that is coating and impressive. The finish is long and lovely, with saline, mineral, tobacco, refined dark chocolate, and rich mushroom. Incredible! Drink from 2022 to 2032. Read the rest of this entry
As I have been posting so far, I enjoyed my last trip to Israel and Europe, and I am almost done with my Israeli winery posts. Last we left off, we had just had our second kosher wine tasting at DD’s house, and the first of the three wineries we visited on Friday – Domaine du Castel Winery. However before we get back to the other two wineries we visited on Friday, I wanted to post about the wines we enjoyed over the Shabbat that followed.
I will leave the story for another day, but I can say that Jerusalem was smoking hot Friday and Shabbat (chamsin-like), but thankfully dry. I spat throughout the tastings on Friday, where we went to Tzora Winery, Flam Winery, and the afore-posted Castel Winery. However, some of the group were less careful about spitting and combine that with the searing heat that did not cool till almost midnight – and that made for a viscous 1-2 punch that slowed some folks at the dinner table on Shabbat. However, come Shabbat day all were active and wine was flowing like bonkers. I brought over two wines, as I was asked to drink and forget Israeli wines, please, which is all I could have access to!
However, I was able to find the lovely 2016 La Vie Roubine rose and a total pass of a wine, the 2016 1848 White blend, flat and unimaginative, and the fantastic NV Yaacov Oryah Old musketeer, so I was 2 for 3, which is a very high batting average, but not a good wine present average. Though the NV Yaacov Oryah Old musketeer hopefully makes up for it.
The walk to dinner was preceded by a quick davening in a Sephardic shul that brought back memories of my youth when I spend Shabbosim in Jerusalem. Old and young mingling and davening with their own expressions and intonations, but all still together in spirit and fervor, a real joy. Of course, the other great part is that there was no schlepping of any sort! Gotta love praying in Jerusalem! There was a class by some Rabbi, but I remember none of it, I think that is clear enough.
As we made our way up to our host, the heat was receding a bit, but that is like saying it is easier to walk through torrential rain than a hail storm. It was tough, and it was straight uphill, a small fact that everyone felt free to not disclose to me ahead of time, very nice! To be fair I was not the one schlepping the 8 bottles of wine up that hill, those were strapped to the back of the “not so with us” participant, who courageously powered up the hill, weaving here and fro but upwards all the same! I had to stop once and when we arrived at our host’s home, I was literally blanched and unable to stand – the heat, the hike uphill, it took a toll on me and I must have drunk a gallon of water until I was human again.
Finally, we were ready for kiddush, at least most of us, and that was done on grape juice! Like what! Grape juice! Then I realized – this may be the home of a Frenchman, but it is also home to a few kids who drink grape juice first and then wine. The smallest of the three drinks wine just fine, but the other two enjoy tasting it. The house itself is quite lovely and the fact that it is still standing, notwithstanding the three young terrorists that live within its walls, is a testimony to the building skills of the masons and builders of Jerusalem!
I will skip the food as I was not really tracking what I was eating, not because it was not great, but more because I was greatly enamored by the wines in front of me and the need to sleep ASAP, it had been a long day at that point. Read the rest of this entry
The next wines that I enjoyed on my last trip to Israel and Europe, came after I had finished tasting wonderful wines from the ever capable Yaacov Oryah (head winemaker at Psagot Winery) at one of the newest hip kosher wine bars in Jerusalem – the Red and White Wine bar – kitty-corner from the beautiful Mamilla hotel (8 Shlomo HaMelech Street at the corner of Yanai Street).
After going to see the Kotel (following the tasting at the Red and White bar), I made my way to where I was staying. It was not far from where we would be having the next two tastings, at our friend’s home DD. While, our host was fantastic, the wines were not so much. Much of that was a shocker to us all, because the wines we brought were not lightweights, they just did not show well at all.
There were some winners, a bottle of the epic Von Hovel kosher Riesling – that we will talk more about in a later post, but for now – the notes were very similar and the wine was insane. It was intoxicating (in its flavors) as much as it was intense, showing mineral, sweet notes, and acidity all at the same time.
The real winner of the night to me (other than the epic Von Hovel) was the 4 Vats red which was really nice and a solid QPR wine.
My many thanks to our friend DD for hosting us in his lovely home! To be honest after all the wine tastings I had up until this point, I was done for, so my notes were not very good this time. The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2016 Yaacov Oryah Light from Darkness (Blanc de Noir) – Score: A-
This is a white wine made from Yaacov Oryah’s Rhone varietal vineyard, using Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvedre. The juice of the grapes was pressed out of the grapes with no skin contact. The juice of red grapes is clear until it is left to macerate with its red skins.
Really a fun and unique wine never had such a wine showing red fruit notes in a white wine, showing grapefruit, sour cherry, rich mineral, yeasty notes with lovely minerality, green olives, and saline. The mouth is well integrated with lovely acid, rich peach, lemon and grapefruit with tart citrus, dried orange and more saline and slate galore, with nice pith on the long finish. Bravo! Drink by 2018.
2015 Matar Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon – Score: B+ to A-
The nose on this wine was lovely, showing ripe grapefruit, flint, spice, kiwi, and green notes. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has just enough acidity, showing nice focus with slate, saline, and nice peach, with pink grapefruit, yellow pear, and lovely acid. Drink UP!
2014 Von Hovel Hutte Oberemmel Riesling, Mosel, Gefen Hashalom – Score: A- to A
This was my initial notes for this wonderful wine, without knowing I would taste this very wine in the Von Hovel winery and bring a few home! Stay tuned for that post soon.
A nice Riesling wine, great funk, with rich petrol, honeysuckle monster, with great spice, with heather, lavender, with yellow apple, and yellow plum. The mouth is rich and layered and rich acidity that is insane, with layers of rich blossom honey, and layers of never ending oily texture that is dripping with acid and white peach, lovely funk that gives way to minerality and intense lovely saline, with the sweet notes showing instead of the ripping acid/slate that the 14 Nik showed. Bravo!
The next wines that I enjoyed on my last trip to Israel and Europe, are made by the ever capable Yaacov Oryah (head winemaker at Psagot Winery) and we tasted his wines at one of the newest hip kosher wine bars in Jerusalem – the Red and White Wine bar – kitty-corner from the beautiful Mamilla hotel (8 Shlomo HaMelech Street at the corner of Yanai Street).
I was traveling to Jerusalem after visiting Gvaot Winery and I was talking with Yaacov Oryah about where we could meet to taste his wines. We were supposed to meet in Psagot Winery, where he is the winemaker, but things came up at the winery and there was no open space that was available for us to sit and hang. I was traveling to Jerusalem anyway, and I recommended that we meet somewhere in Jerusalem, and Yaacov suggested that we should meet at the Red and White wine bar.
Now, I had never heard of this wine bar, and that is shame on me because Sarah Levi had already covered the bar in this lovely piece in early April 2017. 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!
I arrived after parking my car in the Mamilla parking lot and making my way across the street and walked into the bar, and I immediately walked over to the two wine dispensing machines and the wine fridge. The bar has a huge fridge in the back of the bar and it was stacked with lots of great wine. The bar also has two dispensing machines each stacked with eight wines, at reasonable prices and backed by Mark’s great wine knowledge.
Once I finished perusing the wines, Yaacov arrived with boxes of his wines to taste and it was off to the races. We sat down at the bar and I tasted through the wines as I peppered Mark with questions, and though he is the classic Renesaince man, he is very humble and really wanted to let the bar and the atmosphere speak for itself. About halfway through tasting the wines, I started to nibble at the bread and butter and they were both very nice. The cheese looked good, but I stuck with the bread and once we were finished I tasted some of them and they were all very impressive, but I was in a rush after that and needed to get to the Kotel and then to the wine tasting at DD’s house – which will be the focus of the next post.
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:
2014 Psagot blanc de blanc – Score: NA
This wine is still a few years from release, but already it is showing great potential. The wine needs more time on the lees to come together, but it is tart, bright, and starting to get some complexity. The nose on this wine is lovely with rock, limestone, with rich saline and green apple. The mouth shows nice acid, great minerality, lemon fraiche, with gooseberry, kiwi, and lychee, all wrapped in nice small mousse bubbles. Nice.
2009 Yaacov Oryah Emek Hatzayidim (Hunter Valley) Semillon – Score: A-
The nose on this wine is lovely, with rich honeysuckle, dry straw, grapefruit, and lovely minerality. The mouth on this wine shows a rich and acidic core, with white peach, rich lemon Fraiche, crazy rich slate, mineral, dry straw and dry kiwi all wrapped in an incredible fruit focus that is really all about the perfect balance of acid, mineral, saline, and slate. The finish is long and tart with green apple, yellow/pink grapefruit, and green notes, tart notes lingering long. Bravo. Drink by 2019. Read the rest of this entry
This past weekend we had the distinct pleasure and honor of hosting Yaacov Oryah and friends for meals at our house. It was great to finally return the favor to YC and his lovely wife, from the epic dinner he threw for me, my wife, and my brother, two years ago. Anyone who has read this blog knows who Yaacov Oryah is – he was the winemaker of Asif Winery, which turned into Midbar Winery, and is now the new winemaker at Psagot Winery.
It was a true joy spending a shabbat with one of Israel’s answers to date juice. Yaacov Oryah, may well be the new winemaker at Psagot Winery, but he is also the winemaker for his winery – Yaacov Oryah Winery. Remember, Oryah was the winemaker and partner of Asif Winery – but when that did not work out he still had his vineyards and he still needed a place to make wines. Oryah is like Tabor Winery , Netofa Winery, Recanati Winery, Tzora Winery, Flam Winery, Domaine du Castel, Matar, Tura, Adir Winery, and others – Israeli wineries who pick early and understand balance is more important than imperfect wines that have perfect phenolic qualities.
Sadly, the list may not be long, but they are the answer to Israel’s overripe red wine problem. They are proof that it can be done, even at millions bottles! I hope others will follow. From what I saw on my latest trip to Israel, change is afoot, especially at the smaller producers.
Yaacov Oryah Winery
In 2011 Mr Oryah, was faced with a problem, Asif was essentially gone, Midbar had yet to come to life, and so the grapes needed a home – hence was the creation of Yaacov Oryah – private winery and winemaker! It is the age-old story – Necessity is the mother of all invention! The grapes had a need and Oryah was the answer. What was created was a lovely pair of Rioja style wines – with Tempranillo being the major component. Read the rest of this entry