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Thanksgiving with Smith-Madrone, And a Few More Delights

December 9, 2018 4 comments

Holidays are all about pleasure. The pleasure of the company. The pleasure of food. The pleasure of wine. As the very least, they should be.

Let me tell you about the pleasures of my recent Thanksgiving – in one picture:

Turkey with Smith-Madrone wines

If this would be an Instagram, I could end my post here, but in this blog, I can add a few words, right?

Let’s talk about the wine first. Everyone has their ideas as what is the best Thanksgiving wine. Some talk about how difficult it is to pair any wine with the Thanksgiving table, due to the large variety of dishes and often prevalent sweet flavors (this is not universal, of course). I have a very simplistic view of the wine and food pairing – give me tasty food and good wine, and if they don’t work together – no problems, I’m happy to consume them one by one. Difficult or not, pairing is not the focal point of my Thanksgiving wine selection. I really have only one strong preference for the Thanksgiving wines – they should be all American. Thanksgiving we celebrate here in the USA is all about this country, and so the wine should match that. And thinking about American wines, you understand how easy it is nowadays to have all-American wine experience.

How many of you heard of Napa Valley? Okay, I see that look, this was a stupid question, I know. But let me go on. How many of you heard of Spring Mountain District? Okay, I see your facial expression changing to say “hmmm, I’m not so sure”. And the last question – how many of you heard of Smith-Madrone? Okay, don’t feel too bad, at the end of the day it is one of the about 400 wineries located in the Napa Valley, so of course, one can’t know all of them. But – this is why I’m talking about it – this is the winery you might want to get better acquainted with.

Smith-Madrone is one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley, started by brothers Stuart and Charles Smith in 1971. Smith-Madrone property is about 200 acres, with some parts of the vineyards planted more than 100 years ago, all located near the top of the Spring Mountain in Napa Valley. The name Smith-Madrone combines the family name with the name of the evergreen Madrone trees, prominently growing at the property. Well, instead of me trying to regurgitate the past and present of the Smith-Madrone winery, let me direct you to this article – it is a good story, well worth a few minutes of your time.

Smith-Madrone wines

When was the last time you had Napa Valley Riesling? If you answered “never”, it could’ve been my answer too – until I discovered this Smith-Madrone Riesling. Riesling is simply not a common grape for the Napa Valley, but Smith-Madrone produces the absolutely beautiful rendition of the famous grape. It might be due to the mountain fruit – all the Smith-Madrone vineyards located at the altitude of 1300 to 2000 feet, with slopes reaching 34%. Sustainable dry farming and winemaking practices also play a role, but one way or the other, the 2015 Smith-Madrone Riesling Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (12.9% ABV, $32) was just delicious. varietally correct both on the nose (honeysuckle, a touch of tropical fruit, lemon, apples) and the palate, which was beautifully balanced with golden delicious apples, a touch of honey and acidity. To make me ultra-happy, the Riesling is sported a distant hint of petrol, which is my pet peeve.

2015 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (14.4% ABV, $40, 10 months in French oak) was equally beautiful. Again, the wines of that styling I call in my book “classic”. A touch of vanilla and apples on the nose, a distant hint of butter, continuing with the same vanilla and white apples on the palate. Clean acidity, noticeable minerally undertones, restrained, balanced – a very classic example of “how to do chardonnay right”.

With the risk of sounding very boring and repetitive, I have one more classic wine for you – 2014 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (13.9% ABV, $52, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, 70% new French oak, 30% one-year-old French oak for 18 months). How classic was this wine? Bordeaux-classic. The mountain fruit was shining, showing great restraint. This was not an exuberant typical Napa Cab – lean, tight, well-structured, with cassis both on the nose and the palate, the wine was very enjoyable now, and it will be equally or more enjoyable in 30 years.

So that was my main wine story on the Thanksgiving day. The rest was about the food – starting the smoker as 9 am in the 21°F weather (about -6°C), and then watching the turkey slowly getting to the right temperature. The silver lining of that cold weather was the fact that instead of 4-4.5 hours in the smoker, it took about 6 hours to get that big bird to the right doneness – and slower cooking results in more tender and more flavorful meat. A glass of Smith-Madrone Riesling was adding to the cooking enjoyment.

After celebrating Thanksgiving at our house, we went to see our close friends in Boston. What I love about that house is that there are always a few of the older wine bottles laying somewhere on the shelf. You never know what you will find in the older bottle, but that is what makes it fun, isn’t it?

The first bottle I opened was 2007 Tishbi Cabernet-Petite Sirah Shomron Israel (12% ABV, 70%  Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petite Sirah). Judging by the pronounced brickish, almost orange, color, my first thought was “this probably fully turned”. And it was not! Complex nose of dried fruit and herbs was supported by plums and prunes forward, but balanced palate. Good amount of acidity, tertiary aromas – this was a very enjoyable glass of wine. Only one glass, I have to say – by the time I wanted the second, the wine was gone.

Without much thinking, I pulled another wine, realizing later that I opened another wine from the same vintage – 2007 Marani Kondoli Vineyards Saperavi-Merlot Kakheti Georgia (13.5% ABV). This wine couldn’t be more different from the previous 2007 – dark garnet color, not a sign of any aging, tight, fresh, blackberries and blueberries on the nose and the palate, firm, fresh and young. I’m really curious about how much longer this wine could’ve last.

One last wine to mention – 2010 Massandra White Muscat Crimea Ukraine (16% ABV). Massandra winery roots go back to the old Tsar’s Russia in late 1800, but their cellars hold wines from the 18th century (if you are not familiar with Massandra wines, here is an article by Jancis Robinson). Massandra is best known for sweet fortified Muscat wines, like the one we tasted. To me, this 2010 was most reminiscent of a Sherry, and not necessarily an ultra-balanced one. But then the same Jancis Robinson’s article says that Massandra wines require 45-60 for the full maturity, so I guess the wine tasted within the expectations…

Spring Mountain District in Napa Valley, Israel, Georgia, and Ukraine – not a bad wine play for the holiday, what do you say?

Here you go, my friends. I will leave you with some beautiful wines to look for. And how was your Thanksgiving, if you still remember it? Cheers!

Few World Class Wines, Kosher Too

April 22, 2016 Leave a comment

Yarden Blanc de Blancs in the glassWhat is world class wine, you ask? Well, this question has multiple answers – there is a good chance that every responder will give you a different answer. Heck, I will give you different answer every time you will ask this question. So for today, how about this one: in a blind tasting, world-class wine can be easily mistaken for a wine coming from the well established and world famous wine region. For instance, a sparkling wine which tastes like Champagne. Or Chardonnay which resembles classic white Burgundy. Or a Rosé which tastes like… you know, how about just “delicious”?

How often do you drink Israeli wines? Hmmm, that would actually make it for an interesting “unknown wine regions” survey – note to self. Okay, back to the question, what do you say? I would bet that 9 out of 10 people never had an Israeli wine, and 9.5 out of 10 didn’t even know that Israel produces wine. Which is a shame, as even modern winemaking history (never mind the biblical times) in Israel goes back to 1880s. But of course with ups and downs, Israeli “wines of notice” started to appear in the late 1980s.

Today Israel has more than 250 wineries (depends on who counts, I guess), which includes both large commercial wineries and garage-level productions; israel even sports some “cult wines” – the wines which lots of people want, but can’t get (do the search for the wines produced by Lewinsohn, for instance). About 25% of the Israeli wines are exported, out of which amount about 60% go to the United States, and the rest to Europe and Asia. Most (but not all) wines produced in Israel are kosher – which, by the way, doesn’t take away from the quality of the wines even the tiniest bit – scratch that Manischewitz image and taste from your head, once and for all. While in general Israel might have a very long wine history, the vineyards were never continuously preserved – as the result, absolute majority of the grapes grown in Israel are of international varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, etc.), with Emerald Riesling being one of the rare exceptions. Otherwise, Israel produces full range of wines, from Sparkling, Rosé and whites to the Bordeaux and GSM blends and single varietal masterpieces.

Golan Heights Winery was founded in 1983, and the first wine was released in 1984 (well, they vineyards were planted in 1976, so it all makes sense); it might be considered a foundation of renaissance of Israeli wine industry. Today the Golan Heights Winery farms 600 hectares (1500 acres) of vines, which subsequently consist of 28 vineyards and 400 unique parcels within those vineyards. Vineyards are spanning for about 65 km (40 miles), and elevations are ranging from 400 meters (about 1300 feet) to 1200 meters (about 3900 feet). The fruit from each parcel is tended to individually, as you can imagine that growing conditions would be different in such a stretch of the land and with such a difference in altitude. Of course you can imagine that winery makes quite a range of wines.

I had an opportunity to taste a three wines from the Golan Heights Winery and its sister winery called Galil Mountain, which impressed me enough to come up with this “world-class” title for the post. Don’t get me wrong – I had absolutely mind-blowing Israeli wines before, but somehow this Blanc de Blancs put the experience for me to the next level. Here are the notes:

2008 Yarden Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling White Wine Golan Heights Israel (12% ABV, SRP $32, 100% Chardonnay, 5 years on the lees, kosher, non-mevushal)
C: pale straw
N: Classic sparkling wine – touch of yeast, hint of Apple, touch of fresh baked bread
P: creamy mouthfeel, fresh acidity, hint of yeast, fresh lemon, fine mousse, perfect balance
V: 8/8+, outstanding, world class sparkler

2014 Yarden Galilee Chardonnay Odem Vineyard Golan Heights Israel (13.9% ABV, SRP $22, 100% Chardonnay, 7 month barrel aging, kosher, non-mevushal)
C: light golden
N: white stone fruit, hay, touch of lemon, candied fruit as wine was warming up
P: plump, full body, vanilla, creamy round mouthfeel, touch of butter, good acidity, fresh.
V: 8-/8, full bodied without heavy butter or oak, more reminiscent of Marsanne/Roussane. What I loved about the wine that it stayed perfectly delicious at the room temperature, which is not an easy fit for many white wines.

2014 Galil Mountain Rosé Upper Galilee, Israel (12.5% ABV, SRP $12, 74% Sangiovese, 23% Pinot Noir, 3% Grnache, kosher, non-mevushal)
C: beautiful, concentrated pink
N: strawberries, minerality, very promising, touch of lemon
P: fresh strawberries, herbs, clean balancing acidity, soft, medium body, very round.
V: 8-, an excellent summer day (or all year around) treat, very easy to drink

Have you had Israeli wines? What do you think of them? Cheers!

Kosher Wines: Trader Joe’s Overdelivers, And More

September 22, 2014 22 comments

Terrenal winesI don’t know if there is a single “group” of wines out there, which can brag about such an incredible improvement over the past 10-15 years, as kosher wines. This, of course, is a US-centered opinion, but from my personal experience, 15 years ago, I had to cringe at the thought of Manishewitz cloying concoction as a mandatory element of celebration. About 5-7 years ago, the availability of the dry table kosher wines greatly increased, but for the real wine experience, you had to either pay a lot for the Israeli wines (or have good friends who would take care of you), or resort to the insipid, cooked, unbalanced international wines, proudly advertizing that they are appropriately kosher.

To be kosher, the wine should be made only by the fully observant Jewish people – similarly to any other kosher foods, there are many rules to be followed to make sure the wines will qualify as kosher wines. This is not necessarily a difficult part. The challenging part is related to the special word which appears on some of the wine labels next to the word “kosher” – this special word is “mevushal”. I will not give you the whole history behind the need for the wine to be mevushal (here is the link where you can learn in detail if curious), but here is a quick explanation. Even if the wine is made kosher, it will become “non-kosher” is handled by non-observing people at any moment – pouring etc. However, if the wine is heated to 180F for some time, it becomes “mevushal” – and no matter who will handle mevushal wine, it will still qualify as “kosher”.

Yes – making the wine “mevushal”, which means “cooked” in Hebrew, is an issue, and that explains the problem with the taste – “cooked” wine is one of the well known wine faults (with the exception of Madeira), and no oenophile would be happy faced with the cooked wine. But – the flash pasteurization (rapid heat up for 2-3 seconds), which is known to least alter the real taste of the product, became the tool of choice in making the wine “mevushal” as of late, and the resulting wines improved dramatically.

Now you know everything you need to know about kosher and mevushal wines – let’s move from the theory to practice. Once again, today’s wines are (primarily – I have also a bonus for you) the Trader Joe’s wines, and yes, they are value priced. To be entirely honest, this was not my idea to look for the kosher wines at Trader Joe’s. This post could’ve been easily titled “from your letters” – over the past few month, I got a few of the e-mails from different people, asking for my opinion about few of the Trader Joe’s kosher wines (yes, I was flattered, no questions). My general problem with Trader Joe’s wines is simple – in Connecticut, where I live, Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell the wine. So I had to wait for the opportunity to visit my friends in Boston, where Trader Joe’s sells the wines, and voila – got four different kosher wines (for the whooping $22 for all four). That’s all – now you have the full story, and we can (finally!) talk about the wines.

I had 3 wines made by the same producer, Terrenal – Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Malbec. The first two are from Spain (not a typical location for the Cabernet and Chardonnay wines, huh?), and the last one is from Argentina (of course). All three wines are designated as kosher, but only the last one (Malbec) is also a mevushal wine. And the last wine I tried from Trader Joe’s was SaraBee Moscato.

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2012 Terrenal Cabernet Sauvignon Yecla, Spain (13.5% ABV, $4.99, kosher, not mevushal) – this was the most unusual experience. On the nose, the wine showed tobacco, coffee, cherries and herbs. On the palate, the wine kept changing, showing green tannins, touch of cherries and cherry pit. After two days (you know me 🙂 ), the green tannins were replaced by the powdery tannins, and wine became more open and balanced. I still have an issue with this wine, as it didn’t show a tiniest trait of Cabernet Sauvignon – but it would be perfectly fitting as Grenache. So either this wine has a good portion of Grenache as part of the blend, or the soil/terroir trumpets the grape tremendously. Drinkability: 7-

2012 Terrenal Chardonnay, Spain (12.5% ABV, $4.99, kosher, not mevushal) – totally different experience compared to the previous wine. As a side note, I don’t remember ever having a Chardonnay from Spain – now I have. On the nose – nice, clean fruit, white apple, hint of tropical fruit, vanilla. Similarly clean package on the palate – nice acidity, apple, vanilla, white stone fruit. Good balance. This was not mind-blowing, but perfectly drinkable and pleasant wine. If you are looking for the white kosher wine, this is definitely recommended. Drinkability: 7/7+

2013 Terrenal Malbec I.P. Mendoza, Argentina (13% ABV, $4.99, kosher, mevushal) – in a word, excellent. On the nose, ripe blackberries, tobacco, baking spice. On the palate, delicious fresh berries without much of sweetness, round, balanced, good acidity, touch of ripe plum, gentle tannins. Again, I would highly recommend it if you are looking for the red kosher mevushal (!) wine. Drinkability: 7+

NV SaraBee Moscato Puglia IGT, Italy (5.5%ABV, $6.99, kosher, mevushal) – sweet, very sweet. Sweetness on the nose, and the same on the palate. Well, this wine is designated on the label as “sweet white wine”, and that is exactly what it is. Very light effervescence, almost unnoticeable. I wouldn’t drink this wine by itself, but – it would be a perfect accompaniment for any dessert dish – an apple strudel, sponge cake, cookies – it will universally fit any non-chocolate dessert. The interesting fact is that while this wine was lacking acidity, it was not perceived a cloying, still had a lightness in it. It also represents a great value as a kosher mevushal wine at $6.99. Drinkability: by itself – 6, with dessert – 7/7+.

There is one more wine I want to mention – 2010 Shiloh Secret Reserve Shiraz Judean Hills, Israel (14.8% ABV, $38, kosher, mevushal). This might not be even fair to mention this wine matter-of-factly at the end of the post, but just in case you are looking for an upscale wine which still should be kosher, this might be your perfect choice (it is available in US). On the nose, dark concentrated fruit and a touch of savory herbs, sage and lavender. On the palate, great concentration of dark berries, blackberries, pepper undertones, brooding, powerful, firm structure and perfectly dense mouthfeel, supple tannins, and balancing acidity. A pleasure in every sip. Drinkability: 8

So here are some of the kosher wines you might enjoy in time of the Jewish high holidays, or just at any time. I do think that Terrenal wines from Trader Joe’s simply over-deliver at the price point of $4.99, so Trader Joe’s has done it again – whomever is responsible for Trader Joe’s wine portfolio can definitely give themselves a pat on the back.

And we are done here. If you ever had any of the wines I mentioned, I would love to know what you think about them. If you have any comments about kosher wines in general, please don’t be shy. Cheers!

Month in Wines – April 2014

May 4, 2014 4 comments

April was a good month for the good wines, with some of the gems worthy of Top Dozen consideration. Syrah and Pinot Noir were probably the biggest stars, but not the only stars. I already wrote about some of the wines before, so I will not inundate you with the repetitive details, and instead will simply give you the reference to the prior post. All the wines are rated on the 10 points scale, with + and – adjustments. These summary posts only include the wines with the ratings of 8- and higher – in the very very rare cases, I might include 7+ wines if I feel that the wine was simply unique.

Let’s go!

2010 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Oregon (14% ABV, $45) – dark and delicious, and will age well for the next 10-12 years. 8+

2010 Renieri Invetro Rosso Toscano IGT (14% ABV) – delicious Super-Tuscan, powerful, round, a pure joy. 8+

2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia (13% ABV, $14.99) – simply spectacular. A clear pepper profile on the nose and the palate. A stunning beauty. 9

2003 J.L. Chave Offerus Saint-Joseph, France (13.5% ABV) – Barnyard, touch of spice (pepper), dark and delicious. 8

2005 Domaine Philippe  Bornard Arbois Pupillin La Chamade Ploussard (12.8% ABV) – beautiful, powerful, multi-layred. Pleasure in every sip. 8+

2012 J Wrigley Estate Pinot Noir Proposal Block McMinnville AVA (14% ABV, aged 10 Month in French oak, 250 cases produced. $45 SRP) – chocolate, mocha, a bit of mushrooms. Nice and balanced, and will age well. 8-

2010 Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (SRP: $47.99) – perfect Claret, if you will. This wine would rival many top California Cabernet Sauvignon wines, which would also cost at least 2-3 times as much. 8

2007 La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi Rioja Riserva, Spain (SRP: $19.99) – Perfect balance of fruit, structure, power and earthiness which only Rioja possess. Beautifully round and delicious. 8+

2001 La Rioja Alta 904 Rioja Gran Riserva, Spain (SRP: $47.99) – Mature and delicious, with lots of subtle nuances. A thought provoking wine. 8+

2009 Shiloh Legend Judean Hills, Israel (14.2% ABV, 45% Shiraz, 40% Petite Sirah, 9% Petite Verdot, 6% Merlot, each grape vinified and oak-cask aged separately for 8 month, then blended and aged for another 8 month) – round, velvety, delicious, with dark fruit core and firm structure. Perfect balance of power and concentration. 8

2012 Tousey Chardonnay Estate, Hudson River, New York (12% ABV) – a Chablis on Hudson would be a good way to define this wine. Chablis style minerality and hint of gunflint on the nose, creamy and round on the palate, with subtle apple and vanilla notes. Delicious Chardonnay. 8-

2012 M. Chapoutier Les Vignes des Bila-Haut White Côtes-du-Roussillon (13% ABV, $13.99, blend of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeu) – in a word, delicious. Bright white fruit on the nose, fresh lemon, some earthiness. Perfect balance on the palate, each sip makes you crave for another. 8+

2004 Bodegas Ondarre Rioja Reserva Rioja DOC (13% ABV) – dark fruit on the nose, with the hint of eucalyptus and cigar box. Palate full of dark fruit with earthy profile, supple tannins and bright acidity, very balanced. 8-

2010 Chapelle-St-Arnoux Côtes du Rhône  AOC (13.5 % ABV, $10.99) – nose of inviting dark fruit, the same on the palate with addition of dark chocolate notes and rounding acidity. Very dense and well structured for Côtes du Rhône. A steal for the price (sorry, it was some sort of closeout). 8

2010 Les Trois Chemins Côtes du Rhône AOP (13% ABV, $8.99) – fresh red fruit on the nose, blackberries and cherries, more of the same on the palate, coupled with bright acidity. Simple and elegant, and beyond steal at the price (again, a closeout of sorts). 8-

That concludes my report on the April wine highlights. Did you taste any of these wines? What were your best wine experiences of the month? Cheers!

Simplicity, Brisket and Wine

September 8, 2013 27 comments

I recently came across the post by The Food and Wine Hedonist, where he was talking about the fundraiser party he cooked for. One of the dishes he made was beef brisket sandwiches (I think the name “pulled beef brisket” should be the most suitable). In the comment to that post, I mentioned that beef brisket is one of my favorite dishes to make, and promised to share the recipe in the near future.

Beef brisket is one of the traditional dishes on the menu for Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year which we celebrated a few days ago, hence I took the opportunity to take a few pictures and share the recipe.

One of my favorite things about cooking beef brisket is simplicity (this is why “simplicity” is a part of the title). The simplicity is associated with the cooking of beef brisket in many ways – it is both simple to prepare and simple to cook, with virtually no possibility of ruining it.

The recipe I’m talking about here is a dry rub based (there are many ways of cooking the beef brisket, of course). Basically, the cooking consist of a few simple steps – rub the brisket with spices ( anything goes!), wrap in foil, refrigerate overnight, take it out, put it in the oven for 6-7 hours at a low temperature, get it out and enjoy. That’s it. If you want a bit more details, here it is

  • Prep time – 10 minutes, cooking time – 3 – 6 hours
  • Beef brisket, trimmed of excess fat, any size – size will only be essential for the cooking time
  • Dry rub spices – anything your heart desires – garlic powder, chipotle, chili powder, paprika, salt, pepper, etc – again, the amount should be proportional to the size of brisket
  • Dry fruit – dried apricots, figs, prunes
  • optional – baby carrots,
  • 1/2 to the whole bottle of red wine (can be replaced with broth or just water) – amount depends on how much brisket you are cooking.
  • cooking time – 45 min per pound, 300F

Cooking instructions: Take brisket, trim excessive fat. Rub with any spices or spice mixes you desire (see picture below – yes, I know, I went a little too far), wrap in the foil, refrigerate overnight. Take the brisket out of the fridge about 2 hours before cooking, just to let it warm up. Preheat oven to 300F. Take a cooking pan, put dried fruits and carrots (if using) on the bottom. Unwrap the brisket and put into the pan, fat side up. Add wine ( or any liquid you are using) – you need it to prevent brisket from drying up during the long cooking time. Cover baking dish with foil and put into the oven. Cook for about 45 minutes per pound. Take out of the oven periodically and braise the brisket with cooking liquid. When done, let it rest for 10 minutes. Cut brisket across the grain with the sharp knife. Serve with boiled potatoes or any other starch of your choice. Additionally, if you made too much brisket, you can use leftovers to make pulled brisket sliders – break it apart using fork or fingers, add BBQ sauce and put it on the buns.

Now, below are the same cooking instructions in the form of pictures:

Beef brisket, excessive fat trimmed

Beef brisket, excessive fat trimmed

Spices for dry rub - anything you have in your pantry

Spices for dry rub – anything you have in your pantry

Briket in the foil, covered with rub

Brisket in the foil, covered with rub

wrap completely in foil and refrigerate overnight

wrap completely in foil and refrigerate overnight

prepare the pan with dried fruit on the bottom

prepare the pan with dried fruit on the bottom

Put in brisket, and put more dried fruit on top. Add wine

Put in brisket, add dried fruit on top. Add wine

6 hours later ...done! Brisket is ready for your enjoyment

6 hours later …done! Brisket is ready for your enjoyment

I don’t know what you think, but this is a really simple recipe as far as I see it.

And of course there was wine:

wines

Recanati and Vitkin

Twice a year, my wine selection conundrum ( what to open, what to open) is resolved with ease – for Passover and Rosh Hashanah, the choice is simple – it should be an Israeli wine. This year I opened two bottles, from two well-known producers – Recanati and Vitkin.

2008 Recanati Red Wine – I don’t read Hebrew, and this wine came directly from Israel, so there is not a thing I can tell you about the grape composition of this wine. Red fruit on the nose, a touch of warm spices on the palate, some blackberries and plums, tannins are barely noticeable, medium finish. Okay wine, but really nothing special. Drinkability: 7

2006 Vitkin Cabernet Franc (14% ABV, 86% Cabernet Franc, 14% Petite Verdot, aged 14 months in small oak barrels) – outstanding. You know, some wines you define as “a lot going on”. And some wines demonstrate singular perfection. This Cabernet Franc wine had this singular perfection – Cassis all the way. A perfect bouquet of Cassis on the nose. Same on the palate – luscious, soft and rolling mouthfeel (this wine is unfiltered), pronounced Cassis notes with an addition of dark chocolate, supple tannins, firm structure and cutting acidity in the back, perfectly balanced, with the long finish. Definitely belongs to the “dangerous wines” category. Drinkability: 8+

And we are done here! While the wines might be difficult to find in the US (but Vitkin is definitely worth asking for by name), I hope that at least you can put a brisket recipe to good use. If you will decide to make it, drop me a note – I will be really curious to know what do you think. And until the next time – cheers!

Tishbi Winery Experience – Wine, And Lots More

February 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Continuing the “Israeli Experiences” series, I want to talk about a great experience at Tishbi Winery.

While the Tishbi family had been in the “grapes business” since 1882, the actual Tishbi Winery was founded in 1984 in the foothills of Carmel mountain in the area called Zichron Yaacov. in addition to the vineyards in the Zichron Yaacov area, Tishbi also owns vineyards in the North and South areas of Israel.

First, we had to walk around the Visitors Center (which is brand new and modern looking), as there was a huge group (about 100 people we were told) participating in the tasting. Very nice modern facility, spacious and airy. Of course, the first thing we saw was wine:

Riesling (as you can see, it is called “French Riesling” to distinguish from Emerald Riesling which is another Riesling variety growing only in Israel):

Sauvignon Blanc:

Jonathan Tishbi Special Reserve ( this wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc and it comes from Sde Boker vineyard located in Negev Desert):

Barbera/ Zinfandel (!) Port (very interesting to see Zinfandel grape somewhere outside of the US):

The next thing we noticed after all the wines was … chocolate! Not just random chocolate bar as a condiment – the shelves full of Valrhona Chocolate. It appears that Tishbi recently became one of the biggest distributors of the Valrhona chocolate in Israel. As part of the tasting, you can experience a special pairing of various “single cru” Valrhona chocolates with Tishbi’s wines.

Finally, we managed to escape the Visitors Center and found out that we can have a tasting in the cafe next door, which we did. Here are some of the note for the wines we tasted:

We started with 2011 Tishbi Gewurztraminer, which was very nice, clean and simple, without strong bite which Gewurztraminer often has. 2008 Tishbi Special Reserve Chardonnay had a good body, good white fruit expression with a hint of vanilla, but it was a bit too sweet to my taste.

Those were the only white wines we tried, and then we switched to red. The first red was very surprising to me – 2011 Tishbi Cabernet Syrah. What is so surprising in the Cabernet? Well, note the year – it is last year’s harvest, and this Cabernet Sauvignon didn’t spend any time in the oak barrel! Moreover, it was poured from the stainless steel tank, which was located right there in the cafe. You can bring your own bottle and get it filled with this Cabernet Syrah blend for about $5 – this is the real deal, move over two buck chuck. I also would like to note that this was a very good wine – clean, with good fruit expression and perfect acidity. After that we tried a number of Tishbi Estate wines from 2007 vintage. 2007 Tishbi Estate Cabernet Sauvignon had a beautiful classic nose, but was a bit too sweet on the palate. As an added bonus I need to mention that it had Ruby Cabernet grape as part of the blend – which is a new grape for my grapes count, so I’m advancing to 361 now. 2007 Tishbi Estate Merlot was simply perfect – a great balance of all the components. 2007 Tishbi Estate Syrah was also very good, with pepper notes on the palate, full body, good concentration of tannins. 2007 Tishbi Estate Petite Sirah had good dense fruit and full body, coupled with the perfect acidity.

Last but not least we tried 2006 Tishbi Barbera Zinfandel Port wine. This wine spends a year and a half in the oak barrels before it is released. The wine was excellent, with good fruit and perfect balance, not overly sweet – and it also paired very nicely with the Valrhona chocolate (which is somewhat expected from the port). By the way, below you can see the process of pouring of that 2011 Cabernet Syrah:

At this point we took a little break, and had the nearly perfect cup of cappuccino:

When we went back to the Visitors Center, we noticed something we overlooked before – a full distillery! Located right there in the Visitors Center, there is a still pot which is used to produce Tishbi Brandy:

And here is an illustration which explains the distillation process:

Here is the end result of the distillation – Tishbi 16 years old Brandy:

We were lucky, as we were also able to try that 16 years old brandy (typically you can try it only if you buy a bottle – considering that it costs about $450 for the bottle, you can imagine that I wouldn’t be trying that Brandy otherwise). I can’t help but to comment that I think the price is a bit high (okay, way too high).

tishbi_brandy_glass.jpg

All in all, we had a great time at Tishbi – if you are visiting Israel, it is well worth a trip. Otherwise, you can find Tishbi wines in the stores in the US, and I would definitely recommend them. That concludes my report, folks – cheers!

Yakimono – World Class Japanese Food in Israel

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment

I already told you about great experience at the Kimmel restaurant – luckily, it was only the beginning. The next place we visited was Japanese restaurant called Yakimono.

To tell you the truth, in my previous visits to Israel I was a bit skeptical when it would come to sushi – this can be understood considering that I live in close proximity to New York city. After visiting Yakimono I’m a believer – yes, you can find world-class Japanese food in Israel.

We all decided to go for the tasting menu, which seemed to be much more logical choice versus trying to pick a dish from a very long list. Before I will present you with the photo report of that tasting menu, let me mention the wines. For the white, we had 2010 Yarden Gewurztraminer, fresh, with the floral nose and very delicate palate (not overpowering or sweet, as gewurztraminers get sometimes). This wine had notes of white apples and grapefruit on the palate, but was quite balanced at the same time, and worked as great compliment to spicy dishes. For the red, we had 2008 Chateau Golan Royal Reserve Syrah, which was probably the best wine I had during entire trip, and definitely the most interesting. This wine had a nose of Gorgonzola cheese, and very nice and soft palate, with good peppery notes, hint of smoke and ripe and round black fruit, good acidity and nice overall balance.

Now, let me present you with the tasting menu in pictures. First, here is the tasting menu itself:

Here is Sashimi Salad, as tasty as it was colorful:

Next was Jumbo shrimp (it was really Jumbo!):

Salmon balls – also take a look at the tiny morsels you see there – those are mushrooms, and I have to admit, they were some of the most flavorful bits of food imaginable:

then sushi plate, which included 4 different kinds (yellowtail, eel, shrimp and salmon and avocado):

Unfortunately, I missed the moment to take a picture of tempura (but most of you know how tempura looks like), so the next picture is showing seared tuna and lemon (tasted great, and take look at the presentation!):

Next dish was yellowtail tuna cooked in the authentic sauce:

The tasting menu concluded with beef fillet wrap:

And then – dessert. First, an ice cream:

and a cheesecake:

This concludes my photo report. If I convinced you to give this restaurant a try, my mission is accomplished. If I didn’t – you should still try it. Cheers!

Israel Food and Wine Experiences: Kimmel Restaurant–Wow!

January 23, 2012 5 comments

I don’t know how does it work, but every time I come to Israel (which happens about once a year), the food here is getting better and better – every time. This year my friend took me to the Kimmel restaurant, located very close to the Neve Tzedek district in Tel-Aviv.

I can describe my experience at this restaurant with a single word (is that officially a word?) – WOW! Starting from décor, going to service, and then wines and food, everything was just impeccable (am I exaggerating? I don’t think so – it was seriously a “wow” experience).

Starting with the décor (which I don’t have the pictures of, unfortunately), the place has an ambiance of the French countryside tavern – very rustic, dark aged wood paneling, old bottles ( and some new) are everywhere, dimmed lighting.

For an appetizer we had a beets salad with fried goat cheese, pistachio  and baby greens (very good):

And then mushrooms with Foie Gras ( outstanding!) – perfect sauce and the overall combination of mushrooms and foie gras ( not your everyday appetizer):

Of course we had wine. I had been a big fan of Israeli wines for a while – the quality of the wine I tried was improving every year – and there are more and more Israeli wines which are simply world-class. We selected 2009 Tzora Vineyards Judean Hills wine, which was a blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah – soft, balanced, with good amount of dark fruit, but not overpowering the food. This wine paired very well with our choice of appetizers, and of course it was gone before the main course arrived.

For the main course I choose boulibaise, and it was impeccable. Balance of acidity and spiciness, perfectly cooked, succulent mussels, shrimp and crab claws. And for the great touch – an addition of a shot of anise liquor, which put the whole dish on the next level – perfect!


And then desert… Absolutely on par with all the excellent dishes. First, cappuccino:

Then creme brulee four different styles – probably one of the absolute best I ever had, as in a lot of cases creme brulee is simply reminiscent of the sweet omelet – this one was light, creamy and delicious, without any egg taste showing up:


And for the last highlight of the meal – chocolate lady fingers ( that was the name of the dish). I don’t want to sound as judges at Iron Chef or Chopped, but this was one of the rare experiences where the texture was really a key in the dish – perfect balance of creaminess of the chocolate with the crunch of the cookie – totally different from anything I had before – nothing cloying, nothing sticking – just perfect.


All in all, if you are planning your visit Tel-Aviv, put Kimmel restaurant on your “must” list – and you can thank me later. Cheers!

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