Whenever I write about California wines, I get the same old question – what about Israeli wines? Hey do you think to read other posts – or just this one? Do not get me wrong, I love Israeli and French wines, but what can I do, I am a Cali boy and I like California wines just as much.
I just posted about Rhone varietal wines, and I missed one that is a really lovely wine – the 2010 Herzog Petite Sirah, Prince Vineyard. I wrote about this wine and the Herzog winery before in this post. However, when we tried it for a Petite Sirah vertical a few year ago – it was not close to what I had at the winery only a few months earlier. Well, I should have posted the Herzog PS in my previous post – but I missed it, so here it is in the Cali wines that I have enjoyed recently.
I must start off by saying that Herzog has been killing it recently with its Weinstock and Baron Herzog labels as of recently. These are fantastic wines that are all QPR and mevushal to boot! The 2010 and 2011 Weinstock Petite Sirah, Cellar Select are BOTH lovely and mevushal. The 2010 Weinstock Cabernet Franc, Cellar Select is also lovely (the 2012 is nice but not at the same level), clear QPR winner, and mevushal again. Same goes for the 2012 Baron Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon – a lovely QPR wine, and mevushal of course.
That said, the wines I tasted recently were nice, but none of them were at the level I was expecting, especially the 2009 Clone Six Cabernet, which was nice but not close to the awesome 2008 mind-blowing older brother. The Z2 Zinfandel was nice and better than in previous tastings, but not an A level wine still. The 2010 Meritage was truly quite lovely and a mouth coating wine that stays with you.
When I think Shirah Winery, I think Rhone varietals, but not this bottle! The 2012 Shirah Coalition is another crazy blend from the Weiss Brothers, and their mad scientist wine lab, called Shirah Winery. This one is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 20% Dolcetto, 20% Zinfandel from Agua Dolce Vineyards, and 10% Merlot from Agua Dolce Vineyard! Like seriously??? To me I am willing to go out on the limb and say – this is the best kosher Italian wine out there (other than maybe the Falesco wines) – with tongue firmly embedded into cheek. Sure, it is not Italian, but the grapes all grow in Italy, and two of them are indigenous to Italy! Why is the growing region more important than the quality and enjoyability – BRAVO again guys! Read the rest of this entry
Well, it is that time of year again for OTBN (Open That Bottle Night), a night conceived by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, in February 2000, then with the WSJ. Well, officially it is the last Saturday night in February, which this year is Feb 22. However, us Jews like Friday/Sabbath to be our special wine moment, so we will be enjoying OTBN this Friday Night, hopefully!
According to the WSJ site: On OTBN, which is celebrated on the last Saturday of February every year, thousands of bottles all over the world are released from prison and enjoyed. With them come memories of great vacations, long-lost loved ones and bittersweet moments. The whole point of the weekly “Tastings” column is that wine is more than the liquid in the bottle. It’s about history, geography, relationships and all of the things that are really important in life.
We have had many great OTBN tastings but this year, it is about tasting my oldest and best Yarden Winery wines. Yarden Winery has moved to the sweet side on their new wines, for the most part, but the El Rom wines have never been sweet. Yarden has always been on the sweeter side, in terms of ripe fruit, but these past few years, the weather has really hurt them badly. The 2009, 2010, and 2011 vintages have been nice wines, but too sweet for my tastes. The 2012 and 2013 look like they will be better, from what we have tasted of the white wines. Still, the El Rom and red Katzrin wine have always been controlled and beautiful. They are Yarden’s flagship wines and they keep a very tight lid on the fruit in these wines. The 2006 and 2007 ROM wine is another story, it was always sweet and somewhat controlled, and yes, very expensive. It all started when the late Daniel Rogov gave the 2006 ROM, a very unique Israeli blend wine, a massive 96 score! That score sent the futures of that wines to the moon, along with the expectations of greatness. In reality, it is a nice wine, but nowhere where Rogov placed it.
Well, I have been sitting on too many of these wines, and so this week, for my version of the OTBN 15 (the 15th year of OTBN), I will be opening the 2001 Yarden El Rom (Shmita year), the 2004 Yarden El Rom, and the 2007 Yarden ROM. I have many backups in the ready! Read the rest of this entry
This past week I had the chance to taste through some more kosher wines – without any theme involved, sorry. The only real theme here would be the fact that I tasted through the three wines from Agua Dolce, and a few other wines as well. Of the wines I tasted almost all of them are available right now, except for a special wine I had from a person who makes wine for himself and his friends – called Mirvis Creek.
I am very sorry that I did not get pictures, but many of the wines I enjoyed were at friend home’s and over the Simchat Torah holiday, where I could not take pictures, of course.
The wine notes follow below:
2007 Mirvis Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, Cuvée Yitz, Rowe – Score: B+ to A-
The wine is a classic mineral bomb wine with the mineral sticking out a bit too much and never integrating well together. Maybe with time this wine will find its groove. The nose starts off a bit closed, but with time it opens to brooding black fruit, mounds of mineral, graphite, slate, and loamy dirt. The mouth on the medium to full bodied wine shows clear rich mouth coating tannin, along with raspberry, blackberry, cassis, and the barest of blueberry ribbons, along with nice oak, herb, and green notes. The finish is long and lasting with more mineral, quinine, coffee, chocolate, black pepper, and eucalyptus. This is a nice wine that is a younger brother to the 2005 Four Gates Napa Cabernet that was created from the same grapes.
2010 Agua Dulce Winery Syrah – Score: B+ to A-
The nose on this purple black colored wine also starts off with overripe fruit, but that calms with time. The nose is rich with roasted meat, ripe blueberry, smoky notes, along with mounds of black pepper, licorice, and nice mineral. The mouth is round and filling with rich mouth coating tannins that cost and linger long, along with lovely concentrated blackberry, ripe strawberry, plum, and blue fruit, all coming together with the nice tannin and sweet oak. The finish is long and spicy with graphite, bell pepper, chocolate, more black pepper, spice, cloves, cinnamon, and dirt.
2006 Four Gates Merlot M.S.C. – Score: A- to A
The nose explodes with ripe raspberry, bright fruit, toasty notes, lavender, and dried fruit. The mouth on this full-bodied wine, rich layers of fruit, along with dark black cherry, plum, blackberry, along with dried fruit, crazy cedar, all rounded out nicely with rich mouth coating tannin. The finish is long and rich with great balance, the 24 months of oak show lovely cedar, but all of it is highly accentuated by the bright acidity that adds spice to the wine by making all the flavors pop, followed by chocolate, leather, dark fruit, and tobacco. What a great wine – bravo! Drink in the next two or so years.
2007 Carmel Vineyards Mediterranean – Score: A- (and a bit more)
This is a blend of 37% Carignan, 26% Shiraz , 20% Petit Verdot and 15% Petite Sirah and 2% Viogner. This is another one of those wines (like the 2005 Yatir Forest) that is more elegant than it is massive or powerful. The wines truly lives up to its name, as the varietals are not Bordeaux or Napa in nature. Rather they are Med grapes with a ripe, smoky, dark, and exotic silhouette.
The nose is lovely and accentuated by smoky fumes, roasted meat, wild blueberry compote, rich oak, raspberry, cranberry, blackberry, plum, cherry, and roasted herbs. The mouth on this full bodied wine is rich with ripe red, black, and blue fruit, though not new world and balanced with great concentration and nice extraction, the tannins are losing grip and integrating nicely with the sweet cedar. The finish is long, with good acidity, and overall roundness, that comes from the soft mouth coating tannins that linger long, chocolate, lovely tobacco, more roasted meat, and black and blue lovely fruit.
2010 Agua Dulce Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: B++
The wine starts off a bit new world for me and sweet, but that calms over time and becomes more balanced with ripe fruit, but not cloyingly so. The nose on this dark purple colored wine is filled with candied fruit, nice oak, toast, chocolate, blackberry, rich black pepper, cassis, black plum, graphite, and tons of bell pepper. The mouth on this full bodied wine starts with large mouth coating tannin, lots of black fruit, lovely oak, along with a fair amount of green notes, that truly add complexity to this wine, along with nice extraction that comes together into a rich and lasting mouth. The finish is long and spicy with more lingering black fruit, chocolate, graphite, and more green notes.
2010 Agua Dulce Winery Zinfandel – Score: B to B+
The nose on this dark purple colored wine explodes with heat, rich root beer, boysenberry, nicely smoked meat, and great spice. In many ways the nose is the clear star of the wine. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine starts off so nicely with layers of dark and rich jammy fruit, blackberry, strawberry, sweet oak, and lovely mouth coating tannin, but the heat, and sweet date flavors fill in the mid palate and make it a wine that demands rich food, and even still the wine just tastes overripe. The finish is long with more spice, but it is overshadowed by the heat and date, along with hints of surprising green notes, olives, rich and freshly ground pepper, chocolate, and more spice.
Over this past Rosh Hashanah, I challenged myself to gather one of my favorite wines and enjoy them all in a controlled and non-drink-off manner. As explained in my last post, I did not want to make the wine the center of my attention on Rosh Hashanah, the day where we and the world are judged. So, I slowly enjoyed bottles through the 6 meal event (Friday night was attached to this year’s Yom Tov schedule making for a three-day festival set).
So, the first night we enjoyed the Alvi Ness Blanco, the next day we opened another bottle, but more on that one in a separate post to follow this one. The rest of the wine we enjoyed from there on were all Zinfandel wines, culminating in the true Zin-off on Friday night, following the Jewish New Year! On the Shabbos, I let my hair down a bit, and we enjoyed tasting 6 Zinfandel wines, all blind, all kosher, in a classic wine-off.
To be honest, I have never had the chance to taste the “real” California Zinfandels, Ridge, Ravenswood, Rosenblum, and Turley. Why? because NONE of them are kosher, which is a real shame. So, I tried to get together whatever kosher Zinfandels I could. The largest producer of kosher wine, Israel, has a very poor track record when it comes to Zinfandel, and neither of the wines we tried from Israel, both from Dalton, made it into the top 5. California continues to be the kosher Zinfandel producer and even in the non-kosher world, California continues it reign over the world that includes Italy and Croatia.
Originally, Zinfandel was thought to be an American grape, but recently that theory has been dispelled by the likes of U.C. Davis, who have done DNA testing and found out that Zinfandel and Primitivo (a grape of Italian origin) to be one the same. With even more efforts from UCD professor Carole Meredith, it was found that Crljenak Kaštelanski (“Kaštela Red”) appears to represent Primitivo/Zinfandel in its original home, although some genetic divergence may have occurred since their separation. Meredith now refers to the variety as “ZPC” – Zinfandel / Primitivo / Crljenak Kaštelanski. While, the true origin of Zinfandel grape may be Croatia, California owns the title of the best Zinfandel wine – the world around.
As we started to enjoy these wines we realized a few things. First that the flavor profiles were not anywhere the same – and they varied by wine and winery. Also, we realized that the Zinfandel grape can have heat (alcohol flavors) but can also have beautiful moments if they are done correctly. Read the rest of this entry
This past weekend my good friend, Benyomin Cantz from the Four Gates Winery brought over a nice gift – a bottle of the 2011 La Fenetre Merlot, Mesa Verde Vineyard from the Santa Ynez, CA AVA. If that wine region sounds familiar, well that is because it is the same region where the now defunct California Classic Cellars used to be based out of. But before, we get ahead of ourselves, we need to jump into the semi-way back machine and set it for circa 2007 in Napa Valley, CA!
There you will find a successful and passionate Chabad Rabbi and his wife, Rabbi Elchonon and Chana Tenenbaum, two people who chose to bring Torah into the vast spiritual desert of Napa Valley. Though Napa is known world wide for its agricultural and vinicultural excellence, true Torah observance was not an ingredient readily found there. For that reason, Tenenbaum decided that Napa was just the place for the two of them and so they hopped on a plane from their east-coast religious dwellings to the west coast easy-going California.
Wine seems to be finding its way into the culture of Rabbis around the area, but much of that can be properly accredited to the insanely hard work and dedication of Rabbi Tenenbaum. You see, it was soon after he arrived that he caught the “good wine vibrations”, of course good kosher wine vibrations! Soon Tenenbaum was enjoying the joys of good dry wines, and he quickly realized that the hobby/interest comes at a price – his pocketbook! Good kosher wine is not cheap and so, in 2007 Tenenbaum set out to make some wine of his own. He had no training, but with the help of friends, and following protocols that he found in winemaking books, Rabbi Tenenbaum made a case of wine from grapes left over from a Rudd Winery vineyard, located in Oakville. He got the grapes (some 30 pounds or so), crushed them by hand/foot, and went on to ferment the wine, age it, and bottle it all by himself! With proper respect, he called the wine “King Salomon” and ode to the Hebrew name of the vineyard’s owner, Leslie Rudd, whose Hebrew name is Solomon.
Just to digress for a moment, I have not delved into the kosher wine idea here, because I have already hit that subject in my post called – kosher wine 101, and my rebuttal to many incorrect concepts in the world of kosher wine – Kosher Wine 101 2.0 and my rebuttal to many poorly written articles on kosher wine. So, with that understood, you realize that the Rabbi had to do all the work himself, even when he had help from knowledgeable non-Jewish winemakers.
Well fast-forward a year, and Rabbi Tenenbaum goes from playing with the idea of wine making to become a true vigneron (a person who does everything regarding the wine making process)! A friend of Jeff Morgan, head wine maker at Covenant Winery asked Mr. Morgan if he knew of anyone who could manage his vineyard. The vineyard was a field blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah. One of the wonderful parts of this story is about a barn that resides on the same property as the vineyard. Engraved on the Barn is the following quote from Leviticus: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not strip your vineyard bare nor gather the overlooked grapes; you must leave them for the poor and the stranger.” When Rabbi Tenenbaum saw that, it was hook line and sinker! So, for 7 months the Rabbi, with initial help and direction from a vineyard manager of David Abreu Vineyard Management, pruned and sulfured the vines, and managed them to the point of leaf thinning and fruit dropping. All of this was done on a vineyard of 400 vines, far less than an acre, but the vines were still fruitful enough to produce a barrel of wine. The wine was made in combination with Jonathan Hajdu. Jonathan took a portion of the bottles and sold it under the Besomim Cuvee Chabad label. We had the chance to taste a bottle of the 2008 Besomim, Cuvee Chabad (which is the same wine as the Pardes), and the wine note can be found here. The Rabbi bottled his wines under the Pardes Cuvée Chabad label. Read the rest of this entry
This past weekend we went with a lovely dish of slow alcohol braised short ribs, along with some nice simple rice pilaf. The recipe came out really well. Since the ribs are slow cooked you must remember that it renders a TON of fat and so you need to separate the fat from the brown sugar and whiskey sauce – which is really nice as well. So, one approach is to get a fat separator or you could do what I do, which is to take the meat from the sauce and then cool the sauce quickly. I put the sauce into the coldest part of the fridge and then it turns the fat into a solid discus that separates quickly and painlessly!
The wine started off lovely with rich blue and black notes. With time the wine turned black and date with blue in the background. Over more time the wine balances out and the blue and date round out and make for a nice wine.
The wine note follows below:
2009 Recanati Petite Sirah Zinfandel (PSZ) – Score: A-
6/14/2013 This wine is a blend of 80% Petite Sirah and 20% Zinfandel and was aged eight months in American oak. The nose starts off with a mineral core, followed by rich bakers chocolate, boysenberry, currant, black plum, licorice, hints of animal, and heavy spice and sweet herb. The mouth starts with layers of concentrated fruit, blackberry, more plum, blue fruit, red berries, searing tannin, and lovely cedar and spice. The finish is long and spicy with crazy lingering tobacco, cedar, chocolate, vanilla, black fruit, bramble, and dried tanned leather. With time the wine turns date and raisin driven, but with more time the wine mellows and rounds out nicely.
A few months ago Heshy Fried, Yitzchok Bernstein’s sous chef and frum-satire blogger, was at the house for a shabbos dinner and he said that Yitzchok Bernstein, was back on the scene. Bernstein is the culinary mastermind behind the epic haute cuisine event that lasted some 27 courses, and which was one of the most often read posts on my blog, in the past year. Bernstein was lurking in NY for a few months – but he returned to Oakland after a short, yet successful, stint at Pomegranate.
So, when I heard that Mr. Bernstein was back – we agreed that a dinner was in order. Fried was not sure what the actual cost of a multi-course dinner was, but after a few back and forth discussions with Bernstein we were set. Well, while the dinner was set, the next two hurdles were a bit complicated; finding and arranging with 10 other participants and then locking down a date. Throughout the process, Bernstein was as professional as they come, and responded almost immediately to our correspondences. Getting the final gang together had a few missteps along the way, but while the overall process was a bit long to arrange on my end, the final outcome was an absolute delight, but more on that in a bit.
Once the gang was roughly worked out, we agreed that the date was not going to work until after Passover. So once that was decided the next step was agreeing on a final date – which took a few emails. After that we were set and then came the fun part, deciding the food and wine menu. The dinner does not include wines, which is fine with me as I am picky about my wines, but wow were the dishes impressive! Initially, there was some interest in lamb, but in the end that did not work out, as I am not that in love with lamb. In the end the set of dishes were truly innovative and fascinating and unique – so I am happy we passed on the lamb for the dishes we got instead.
I laughed so hard throughout the process because initially, the number of courses was set at 12 or so, which was 100% fine. However, throughout the process of setting the menu Mr. Bernstein kept adding courses – it was HILARIOUS, I could not help from laughing whenever I would read the revised menu. It turns out that we were very lucky, Bernstein was trying out some new recipes and we were the beneficiaries of some wicked cool imaginative dishes. To be fair, some worked really well, some were awesome, and some were just 100% off the charts. Read the rest of this entry
This past weekend saw us winding down from a lovely and hectic Passover and running into another busy week. So, with little time to prepare and get ready we enjoyed some beef leftovers from the last days of Passover (do not worry it was in the freezer most of the time).
To pair with this meaty fare, we enjoying a simple wine that was nice but not as captivating as I was hoping for. The wine started off very hot and spicy and overly sweet. Over time, the wine opened a bit and rounded out, but it also lost a bit of its spice and started showing some animal notes along with good ripe and tart fruit – really liked how ripe and tart the strawberry was, but the fact that it was so hot and sweet out of the gate, really limited its enjoyment.
The wine note follows below:
2009 Dalton Zinfandel – Score: B+
The wine starts off very much in classic Israeli fashion, hot, sweet, and not interesting. However, with time and air the wine opens up and becomes a lovely wine. With air the wine opens with a nose of roasted meat, floral hints, deep earthy tones, green notes, blackberry, and ripe raspberry. The mouth becomes sweet, ripe, and tart, with nice concentration of dark cherry, tart zesty strawberry, blackcurrant, plum, hints of bell pepper, all steeped in sweet date notes, crazy upfront spice, and sweet cedar along with nice softening tannin. The finish is long and spicy with zesty red fruit, good acid, lovely leafy tobacco, chocolate, and cloves. A nice, yet not complex Zinfandel, with OK control and good zesty and spicy structure.
I have written often about Four Gates Winery, here in 2008, again for a Shabbaton, and then when I crashed Alice Feiring’s visit to the Four Gates Winery, and then my last writeup – the most complete to date. As always, I state up front that the winemaker, Benyamin Cantz (Benyo) is a good friend of mine and that in the end, the wine talks and scores and notes I give on wines are unbiased, as much as I can be.
I get a bunch of “smack” about being a good friend of Benyo, which is true, still I write what I smell and taste. Clearly, Four Gates Winery is one of those California wineries that is very different. It is different because of a few factors:
- Benyamin is a Vigneron – as explained before, Vigneron is French for wine maker and winery owner, but it also means that it is a person who does it all – wine wise. He manages his vineyard, he manages his cellar, and makes the wine – a nice way to say one-man shop. Is that good? Well, I can say it is awesome because he gets to know his vines and wines, but really it is just a view into the unique man who is himself the physical embodiment of the Four Gates Winery.
- The vines are grown organically and meet the CCOF standards of organic farming. Please do not think that a Vigneron is not a farmer. Remember he grows his grapes and knows his grapes and does so in an ecologically sustainable manner – since he started in 1997. This is NOT a fad for Binyamin – it is part of his way of life.
- His vines are dry farmed (there is that word again) – and for good reason. The Pinot pops because of it, as does the Chardonnay and Merlot. Essentially, dry farming allows for the fruit flavors to concentrate as the vine stresses. Stress, for a vine, is great. Too much stress, like in humans is BAD! Luckily it does not get that hot in the mountains and therefore, the water requirements are lower, keeping the stress constant – but maintainable.
- The climate in the vineyard and winery, as mentioned earlier, is indeed cooler than the city it overlooks and that helps the vines in many ways. The obvious benefit is that the vines need less water than they would elsewhere. It also allows the vines to cool down over night and it allows the vines to stay cool for longer, meaning more ripening time, but in a controlled manner.
- The cooler climate makes for perfect Pinot, Chardonnay, and Merlot and believe it or not Cabernet Sauvignon, which is why the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Monte Bello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains is so FANTASTIC! Yes, I am sure you would think that Cabernet in a cooler region would be a disaster, as it would never fully ripen. Well, a not-so well-known fact is that the 2005 Four Gates Merlot M.S.C. has a bit of Benyamin’s Cabernet Sauvignon in it. WHAT? Yes, Benyamin grows a very small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon (I hope he does not kill me – LOL!) His Cabernet Franc also benefits from the cooler weather.
- Finally, what makes this winery unique is Benyamin Cantz himself! On this bullet point, I must pre-warn that I am very biased. To me Benyamin Cantz is one of those people where the expression stands true – good things happen to good people. Sure, he is my friend, but it does not take long to talk with him and feel the same way. He is like a few wine makers I found in Israel, that are humble, with so much to be arrogant about. The wine talks for themselves, but he is a unique man in that his actions may be wrapped up in the winery and vines, but they revolve around his religion, and that is more than most of us can ever say about ourselves. Read the rest of this entry
For years I have always sported a purple colored beaming grin when I finish my tasting at the IFWF (International Food and Wine Festival) in LA, which hid my grumbling stomach’s discontent. Like I have documented for years, I never get to eat at the events, even as the entire food court mocks me, attempting to pull me into their warm, delicious, and very present embrace, with their wafting and intoxicating aromas. Still, I stand strong and I taste through the night until my teeth are purple and my stomach is close to rioting on the lack of food. Truth be told, I am not that good at taking notes when eating – the flavors of the food cover up and belie the flavors and aromas of the glass that beckons me closer with its “come hither” look and aromas. So every year, after the event I go to dinner at Jeff’s Sausage (down the street from the new location of the IFWF). Which is sheer madness of course, here I have half the Pavilion at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, filled with food from one of the best kosher restaurants in the world – Tierra Sur Restaurant, and I pass on that for the spicy and homely fare of Jeff’s Sausage. In no way is this a slight to the joy of Jeff Rohatiner’s cookery and food. Rather, it has been my conscious tradeoff, throughout my many year experience at IFWF to drink through as much of the world-class wine I can before my taste-buds shutdown, rather than give them to the food court, no matter how wonderful it is.
This year was a massive shift for me, gone was the purple grin and my mutinous stomach, as I visited and added the New York KFWE to my travel dates. To say the KFWE was different than the IFWF would be an extreme understatement, the IFWF has close to 1000 people at the show, while the KFWE has closer to 2000 people. Further the event hall at Pier 60 is some 2 to 3 times larger than the Pavilion tent at the Hyatt Regency. Also, there were many options for lunch and dinner from the myriad of NY restaurants that all share half the hall, all clamoring to share their wonderful fare with great fanfare. The Pier 60 overlooks the Marina and Harbor and many folks were outside braving the cold to grab a smoke, but at least they had some comfort of looking at the marina and its waterfront.
To really appreciate the event you had to come to it with a game plan, and there were many guests who had a few of their own. The event started at Noon for those in the trade, a new thing that the KFWE started last year and something that the IFWF has been doing from the start (though initially with a smaller trade time). The trade event was crowded but there could not have been more than a thousand folks there, so access to wine was not a problem in any way. The event hall can easily handle 1000 people, it is a bit more complicated when the number swells to two thousand people, but still there was no pushing or shoving going on even at the end of the public tasting, when the number of guests was at its maximum. But I digress; the trade tasting allowed me to focus solely on wine and the winemakers, which was great. Read the rest of this entry