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Hey French – Drink Italian

November 12, 2020 Leave a comment

I mean no disrespect.

The title of this post is only suggesting that you should drink Italian wine. A particular Italian wine. And it doesn’t mean that French people should drink Italian wine – even though they will not regret if they will. Everybody can (should?) drink this Italian wine – Hey French.

The Pasqua brothers started Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine winery almost 100 years ago, in 1925 near the town of Verona in Northern Italy. Now with the family’s third generation at the helm, the winery continues and advances its traditions. I came across Pasqua wines for the first time almost 10 years ago – I found Pasqua Amarone at Trader Joe’s in Boston, and it was as good as Amarone under $20 can be. Then I discovered (also at Trader Joe’s) PassimentoSentimento, a tribute to the most famous Italians from Verona – Romeo & Juliet. At the beginning of this year, 2020, I had the pleasure of tasting Pasqua Famiglia Amarone at the Gambero Rosso event in New York. And then I was offered to try a sample of the latest addition to the Pasqua portfolio – maybe even a winner of the longest wine name contest – Hey French. You Could Have Made This Wine But You Didn’t.

This wine is definitely unique. To begin with, the wine is identified as “multi-vintage”, which is not a typical term in the wine world. The standard term is non-vintage, it is typically applied to Champagne and some other sparkling wines. And of course, a typical Champagne is a blend of multiple still wines from multiple vintages – however, it is rare to find a non-vintage still red or white wine. Hey French is deliberately identified as multi-vintage and it takes its inspiration from Champagne (hence Hey French in the wine’s name). The wine is made out of the grapes coming from the 4 best vintages of the decade – 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, from one of the best vineyards in the area, Monte Calvarina, and 3 grapes – primarily Garganega (the grape used for the production of Soave Classico), with the addition of Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon Blanc. A total of 18 wines were used to produce Hey French Edizione 1.

How was the wine? In a word, delicious.

Multi-vintage Pasqua Hey French You Could Have Made This Wine But You Didn’t Edizione 1 Veneto Bianco IGP (13.5% ABV, $40, blend of best 4 vintages of last decade)
Intense gold
Vanilla, apples, plums, Chardonnay-like
Fresh, lip-smacking, precise, clean acidity, whitestone fruit, granny smith apples, a hint of nutmeg, a hint of butter, round, plump, herbs, perfectly dry, delicious.
8/8+, superb.

Based on my experience with Pasqua wines so far, the company is accustomed to making bold moves (drinkable Amarone under $20 at Trader Joe’s clearly is a good indicator). This multi-vintage wine should also be categorized as such – $40 still wine without vintage designation with a playful label (designed by the celebrity Cuban-French artist CB Hoyo) might not be an easy sell. Once you try this wine, which is an absolutely solid, world-class wine, you would be happy to drink it again and again, but you know how preconceived notions work with wine…

The bottom line is simple – find this wine and try it. Additionally, offer it to your friends to taste blind, and then watch for the surprise on their faces once you reveal the wine – life’s little pleasures. Cheers!

Jerez – A Tasty Treat and Halloween Candy Solution

November 3, 2020 Leave a comment

Yes, I know. Halloween is history now, so why am I even mentioning it?

Because I know that those Halloween candies are still lurking around, and will be for a while. And Halloween candy is not something which would make you crave the wine. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are wines out there which will help you get rid of the candies – with pleasure. What am I suggesting? Let’s talk about Sherry, also known as Jerez.

Jerez wines (officially known as Jerez-Xérès-Sherry) take its name from the town Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain, with the grapes coming from the vineyards surrounding the town. Jerez is one of the oldest winemaking regions in Europe, tracing its roots to more than 3,000 years back. Sherry is a fortified wine, and it came to being around the 8th century when the distillation process was invented. As a fortified wine Sherry can be compared to Port, however, the major difference is that Port is typically fortified in the middle of the fermentation process, to preserve the sugars in the wine, where Sherry wines are typically fully fermented, and then fortified, so with the exception of the particular style of Pedro Ximénez, most of the Sherries are dry wines.

There are many styles of Sherry wines, offering various levels of dryness, complexity, and oxidative qualities. Sherry wines are often also produced using the solera method, where the wines of the different vintages or constantly combined and resulting wines might represent a blend of hundred of vintages. The world of Sherry is quite complex, so if you want to read about all the different styles, this Wikipedia article contains a lot of good information.

González Byass started in 1835 in Jerez de la Frontera, in the heart of the Sherry country. Now in the 5th and 6th generation, González Byass is one of the major sherry producers, combining a number of Sherry brands under one umbrella. I had three sherries from González Byass to play with the candies – let me tell you how did it go.

First, the dry wine – Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Jerez Oloroso Seco. As it is a dry wine, it expectedly didn’t work too well with most of the candies, but I found some options:

Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Jerez Oloroso Seco (18% ABV, $25, Palomino 100%, aged for 8 years in solera)
Light amber color
Hazelnuts, sapidity, herbs
Hazelnuts, clean acidity, Rosemary, beautifully complex
Worked best with Payday because of explicit saltiness – not really with Reese’s or KitKat

The bottle on the right is directly from the wine fridge and it is ready to drink – the Harveys letters are blue

I recently wrote about Harveys – after years of personal neglect, this became a gateway wine for me to warm up again to the world of Jerez. As Harveys is quite sweet but not super-sweet, it provided the best pairing option for the majority of candies.

Harveys The Bristol Cream (17.5% ABV, $20, 80% Palomino, 20% Pedro Ximénez, a blend of 7 yo Fino, Oloroso, PX and Amontillado Soleras)
Dark amber color
Light herbaceous nose, a touch of dried fruit
Dried fruit on the palate, good acidity, refreshing
Nice with Reese’s, works well with KitKat, excellent with Payday

Nectar is seriously sweet wine (residual sugar of 370 grams per liter), but it is nevertheless very balance and delivers tremendous pleasure. The Pedro Ximénez (usually abbreviated as PX) is one of my most favorite dessert wines in general. The Pedro Ximénez grapes are dried on the mats for 2 weeks before pressing, losing 40% of liquid and becoming practically raisins – this explains the depth of color you can see in the picture above.

Gonzalez Byass Nectar Pedro Ximénez Dulce (15% ABV, 25%, 100% Pedro Ximénez, aged for about 8 years in solera)
Very dark amber color, almost black
Dried figs, dates, inviting.
Dried figs all the way, delicious, clean acidity on the finish, perfect balance
Great with KitKat, complements
Excellent with Reese’s, okay with Payday, Butterfinger – not so much

There you are, my friends. Don’t sweat the Halloween candies – pair them with a good Sherry. Or you know what – you can actually dump the candy – Sherry should be enough to keep you happy. Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: Unlimited Pleasures

October 29, 2020 Leave a comment

I opened the bottle.

The wine was delicious. I will be happy to drink it again.

The end.

Simple story, right? Boring too, I guess, but – it doesn’t always work like that. Quite an opposite – I opened the wine. It was okay. I don’t want to drink it again. The end. But this is not the story anyone wants to talk about.

Let’s go back to the delicious wine.

If you read this blog for any extended period of time, I’m sure you already know: I love aged wines. Contrary to what typical wine articles advocate – stating that the absolute majority of the wines should be consumed young and should never be aged – I absolutely believe that a significant number of wines, especially reds, not only can age but also improve with age. The evolution of the wine in the bottle is what we are after. Young wine can be perfect and deliver lots of pleasure to the drinker. Well-aged wine delivers lots and lots more – it is not just pleasure, it is often the whole experience. My latest proof and case in point (wish you were there) – 1999 BV Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you like drinking aged wines, and share my view that many wines can age, the good news is that you don’t always have to personally buy the wine and wait for 20 years before drinking it. I found this wine while browsing the Benchmark Wine website. Benchmark Wine Group buys collections and then sells the wines at the market price without an auction. “Collection” doesn’t necessarily mean only DRC and Petrus – collections also include wines suitable for everyday drinking. Those “everyday wines” represent great value, as aging is included, and often it doesn’t cost you anything – I paid $30 for this exact 1999 BV Rutherford – and I can get the current (2016) vintage of the same wine in New York area for $29.99. Yep, I rest my case.

BV, which is short for Beaulieu Vineyard, is one of the iconic California wineries, founded in 1900. This is where André Tchelistcheff, often referred to as Maestro, honed his winemaking craft, completely changed winemaking at BV, and tremendously influenced winemaking in California ever since his arrival to Napa in 1938. It is impossible to talk about André Tchelistcheff within a short blog post, and I’m sure you can find hundreds of articles and books talking about his legacy. André Tchelistcheff retired from the active winemaking duties in 1973 – and I read somewhere that the last great vintage from BV was 1972. I wish I could compare 1999 which I had with 1972, but for my palate, even 1999 completely over-delivered.

The wine opened up with an intense nose of eucalyptus and mint – you could tell from a distant corner of the room that this was classic California Cabernet Sauvignon in the glass. The palate followed with layers upon layers of black currant, eucalyptus, mint, bell pepper, all interwoven in complete harmony. A perfect balance of fruit, acidity, tannins – every sip was repeating that full performance over and over again.

At the end of the evening, the wine showed a bit of the plum and dried fruit and made me think that I was lucky to catch the wine at its peak. On the second day, the wine showed a bit more restrained, somewhat losing great energy it had the previous evening. On the third day, the wine changed again, bringing back the same black currant and eucalyptus, however this time in much leaner, classic Bordeaux fashion, and really showing up young, full of energy and promise.

Not only this was a delicious, well-aged wine, but it was also [expectedly] a memory catalyst. I had an instant flashback of memories of a wonderful visit we had at BV about 8 years ago, tasting not only multiple vintages of Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, but also unique clonal Cabernet Sauvignon wines. It is amazing in how many ways you can enjoy a simple sip of delicious wine.

That is my story, friends. Well-aged wines are amazing – can you tell yours?

Procrastination and Carménère

October 16, 2020 Leave a comment

Let me quickly put you at ease – procrastination has nothing to do with Carménère. Unfortunately, it has to do with yours truly, and this blog been behind on the content for years.

It happens a lot more often than I would even want to admit to myself – I attend a great tasting or an exciting dinner with the winemakers. I would typically leave the event excited and with lots of ideas for the post. I would start writing and envisioning that post in my head for the next day, two, five, ten… One out of five will probably make it onto these pages, and the rest will continue playing in the head until it will convert into permanent guilt. I would look at my blog to-do list and feel that pain of unaccomplished over and over again. Sometimes, I would break through and write that long overdue post – and sometimes, you just accept that guilt, you know…

How far back it would be appropriate to go for some untimely post? If you know, please tell me. This is the wine we are talking about – who knows what vintages people hold? As long as I have the notes, it is all good, right. Feel free to disagree, but I’m going three years back today, to experience again some tasty Carménère…

As I wrote a post about my recent experience with the world-class TerraNoble Carménère line, I recalled the Carménère tasting which was organized three years ago by Snooth (I wrote about many Snooth tastings in the past, but somehow managed to miss this one). In the tasting, we heard from 7 producers and tried their Carménère wines. For what it worth now, three years later, here are my notes:

2015 Viña Casa Silva Cuvee Colchagua Carmenere Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $15, blend of grapes from Casa Silva’s Los Lingues vineyard in the Andes and the Lolol vineyard in the Costa zone, 8 months in French oak)
Dark garnet color, restrained nose, herbal nose, mineral notes, granite. On the palate, tobacco, nicely restrained, earthy, herbal, good acidity, dark fruit. Overall, nice. Needs time. Pioneer of Carmenere in Colchagua, started in 1892. Carmenere overall started in Colchagua

2015 Siegel Single Vineyard Los Lingues Carmenere Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $28.99, 8 months in French oak)
dark garnet, inky, color. Herbal in your face on the nose, pure currant, rutherford dust. Very concentrated on the palate, lots of oak, restrained. Needs time.

2014 Viña Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $15, 90% Carmenere, 7% Carignan and 3% Petite Verdot, aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 2 months in the bottle)
The oldest winery in Chile, founded in 1850. Practically black in color. Chocolate, coffee on the nose, sage, dark fruit. Open on the palate, sweet cherries, tobacco, perfectly balanced. Round, delicious. Best of tasting so far.

2015 Viña Requingua Toro De Piedra Carmenere Gran Reserva Maule Valley (14% ABV, $15, 12 months in French and American oak barrels)
Dark garnet color, herbal, funky nose, forest underfloor. Round on the palate, fresh herbal notes, sage, sweet cherries, blackberries. Good balance, very approachable.

2012 Valdivieso Single Vineyard Carmenere Valle de Peumo ($23, 12 months in French oak barrels, 35% new)
Almost black in color. Dark concentrated nose, currant leaves, very herbaceous, a touch of pepper. Sweet fruit on the palate. I can’t decide if this wine is corked on not. The nose says corked, palate says not. Need to give it a bit of time.

2014 Viña Ventisquero Grey Single Block Carmenere Trinidad Vineyard Maipo Valley (14% ABV, $22, aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, 34% new and 66% second and third use, 8 months in the bottle)
Practically black in color. Interesting nose, a touch of cabbage stew on the nose (in a good sense), funky nose, meaty. The palate follows on, beautiful pepper, black currant, delicious. Another favorite of the tasting.

2013 Valdivieso Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta Colchagua Valley ($35, 55% Carmenere, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 18 months in 100% French oak casks)
BAB, dark garnet color. Touch of funk on the nose, mocha, dark chocolate, touch of herbal notes. Delicious palate – pepper, tobacco, black currant, herb garden, clean acidity. Best of tasting overall.

I definitely find this interesting how 4 of the TerraNoble Carménère wines were all at the top of the game, and as you can tell from my notes here, many of these Carménère wines still have ways to go. But – unquestionably, Chile takes its star grape seriously, and there is a lot for us, winelovers, to enjoy, now and in the future.

With this post I also get to reduce my feeling of guilt, if at least by a hair – but I’m still happy. I hope I deserve another glass. No matter, I’m going to pour it anyway. Cheers!

Hunting Down The Value

October 5, 2020 2 comments

Wine and value – isn’t that a topic that is near and dear to every wine lover’s heart?

In the world of wine, “value” has lots of meanings – and to make it even more complex it also depends on a personal perspective. In the majority of the cases, value is relative. And while value concept is important and it is something we seek, it is the pleasure we are really after. We want to drink wine which gives us pleasure. Talking about value, we often refer to the concept of QPR  – Quality Price Ratio – instead of just the value, as QPR simply stresses what we are looking for, the pleasure, the best possible experience for the money. In other words, we equate quality and pleasure. Maybe we should introduce a new concept – PPD – as in Pleasure Per Dollar? Hmmm… maybe not.

I was trying to find an example of absolute value in wine, and I don’t believe such a thing exists. Is $4.99 bottle a value? Unless you enjoy that wine, it is really not – if you don’t enjoy that $4.99 bottle, it is wasted $4.99. Is $200 bottle of wine is value? “Are you nuts???” I would expect a typical reaction being to such a price. Well, if this $200 bottle of wine is on the huge sale, and that wine typically sold, let’s say, at $300 – and this is something you will enjoy, and most importantly, can afford? Of course, it is a value. Then if you can easily afford it but don’t enjoy – this is again a waste of money.

There is another spin in our discussion of relativity of the wine value, where the value is not expressed directly in the money amount, but in comparison to the wines of similar styles. For example, I would say that an Israeli wine, Shiloh Mosaic, an [almost] Bordeaux blend in style, which retails around $60, can be easily compared to the $200+ Bordeaux blend wines from California, such as Vérité. At $60, Shiloh Mosaic is not an inexpensive wine, but nevertheless, if my comparison would hold true for you, it will become a great value in your eyes too.

And yet one more important detail about value – value is often defined in the categories – either price or wine type categories. I’m sure you heard quite often the wine is defined as a “great value under $30”, or a “great value for Pinot Noir under $100”. This simply means that someone who tasted a group of wines priced under $30, found that that particular wine tasted the best in that group. Don’t forget our general relativity of the value though – if you don’t drink Chardonnay, the best value Chardonnay under $30 has no bearing in your world.

We can easily continue our theoretical value escapades, but let me give you an account of my recent encounter with great values, courtesy of Wines Til Sold Out. I’m sure most of you in the US are well familiar with WTSO, possibly the best wine flash sale operator. In addition to the standard offerings which change as soon as the current wine is sold out, WTSO offers so-called last chance wines, premium selection, and occasional offers of the wines at $9.99 – all of which can be acquired in single bottle quantities with free shipping. Two of my last value finds were $9.99 wines, and one of them (Cahors) was from the last chance wines selection, at $13.99.

All three of these wines were simply outstanding, especially considering the price. 2012 Casa Ermelinda Freitas Vinha Do Rosário Reserva Peninsula de Setubal (14% ABV, 70% Castelao, 10% Touriga Nacional, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 12 months in French oak) had a core of red fruit, good acidity, dark earthy profile a touch of coffee. Think about it – 8 years old wine, $9.99, delicious – is that a great value or what?

The 2017 Pure Bred Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County (14.2% ABV, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon) was an absolute surprise. At first, I got just one bottle, as Cabernet Sauvignon from California for $10 can’t be good apriori. On contrary to my expectations, the wine was generous and balanced, not jammy at all, with good undertones of the classic Cab – cassis and eucalyptus, and a pleasant herbaceous finish. Was if the best California Cabernet Sauvignon in absolute terms? Of course not. But at this price, it would give a perfect run for the money for many California Cabs priced under $30 – $40. I would say taste it for yourself, but WTSO is sold out of this wine at the moment.

Last but not least – 2016 Château Vincens Prestige Cahors (14.5% ABV, 80% Malbec, 20% Merlot, 10-15 months in French and American oak). This was just supremely delicious – earthy, with the core of dark fruit, densely and firmly structured, with a dollop of sweet tobacco on the finish – dark and powerful wine. I don’t know if Cahors wines returned yet to their old glory, but this is the wine I’m willing to enjoy on any day.

Here you have my excursion into the world of wine value, also known as QPR, and maybe in the future, as PPD? Hope I didn’t bore you to death. And by the way, what are your thoughts on wine values? Any great discoveries to brag about?

Beyond Kosher: Thinking of Israeli Wines

October 1, 2020 4 comments

I love pairing wine and holidays. It is always a fun exercise, as you need to find a way to explain your choices – how given wine enhances or at least relates to a given holiday (good luck with your Thanksgiving wine selections). Jewish holidays, which we are still in the middle of (Jewish New Year just arrived less than 2 weeks ago), are very helpful in that regard, as wine is simply a requirement here – most of the Jewish holidays require a glass of wine to be present and consumed.

When it comes to Jewish holidays, my approach is simple – I prefer to have on the table the wines made in Israel. But when I reach out to get an Israeli wine off the shelf, I can’t help it but think about all of the complexities of the Israeli wine landscape – what we are talking here is above and beyond of intricacies of making any fine wine. Making of the delicious wine is anything but complex – how to protect vines from the disease, when to harvest, what yeast to use, for how long to macerate, what to blend – lots and lots of decisions, each one affecting the end result, often dramatically. Production of Israeli wines deals with all of the same complexities but then adds a cherry on top – concepts of kosher and mevushal.

I remember visiting Israel about 15-17 years ago with a group of co-workers from the USA, at the resort on Mount Carmel. One of my colleagues pointed to a bottle of wine saying “this is amazing”. The wine he was pointing to was an Israeli wine, Yatir Forest, which was at a time a total surprise for me – I knew that this guy was really into wine and he was drinking very serious stuff, more of California cults and Bordeaux first growth, so this was unexpectedly high praise. I was absolutely unfamiliar with Yatir wines at that time (it would make me say “ahh, pretty please” now).

When we asked to open that bottle for us, we were surprised to hear that it will not be possible. Explanation? The food at the resort was kosher, and food includes wines. The resort just got a new person in charge of observing all the kosher laws and requirements in food preparation and service, and Yatir Forest was not kosher enough. That, my friends, is a problem which is unique to the Israeli wine scene – I’m not aware of any other winemaking region in the world where making tasty wine is not enough for that wine to reach the consumer, even the local one – this also complicates the imports quite a bit.

I’m not going to pretend to be an authority on the laws of kosher wines – I’m very far from it. I’m just here for the tasty wine. What I do know is that the kosher laws are quite intense and involved, whether it has to do with the food or the wine. While I understand that there is some rationale when it comes to the food, I don’t believe kosher requirements can materially affect the taste of wine. We also need to keep in mind that there are different levels of kosher types and certifications, and to top it all off, there is the Mevushal. In case you are not familiar, mevushal is somewhat of a process of pasteurization of the wine to allow for it to be served by a non-Jewish people at a restaurant or anywhere else. It appears that according to the kosher wine rules if the kosher wine is served by a non-Jew, it becomes non-kosher. Mevushal treatment solves that problem, allowing for the kosher wine to be served by a non-observing person without losing its kosher qualities.

To be labeled as Mevushal, the wine has to be heated up to 185 degrees Fahrenheit, essentially becoming pasteurized. As you understand, the exposure of the wine to such a high temperature result in the “cooked” wine – and very appropriately, in the old days Meviushal wines were simply undrinkable, at least by anyone who drinks the wine to enjoy it (as a matter of fact, the word “mevushal” means “cooked”). Lately, however, the wineries found new ways of making wine Mevushal without destroying it. One is a flash-pasteurization, where the wine is very quickly heated up to the same 185°F only for a few seconds. According to the Wine Spectator article, another method is even more interesting – it is called flash-détente, where instead of the wine, grapes are heated up to 190°F and then quickly cooled to the 80°F in the special machine. It would be an interesting experiment, but many wineries produce the same wine from the same vintage both as mevushal and non-mevushal – comparing such wines should be a fun project, don’t you think?

Now that we have Mevushal figured out, let’s take another look into the world of Kosher wines. Think about your favorite wine store – note, I’m speaking about the USA, your experience in France will be vastly different. As you walk in, you see the tags which help you find what you are looking for. Most likely, these tags are one of two types – either specifying a grape variety (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir) or the country and maybe a region – France, Italy, Burgundy, Spain, California, etc.. Somewhere in the corner, you will probably find the Kosher section, possibly right next to the Organic display. In that Kosher section, you will find predominantly Israeli wines with some additional bottles from California, France, maybe Australia, and Spain.

I can safely assume that you will be visiting that Kosher section only a few times a year, just around the Jewish holidays – okay, maybe you will make a special trip if you are invited to the Shabbat dinner by the observant family. Should you expect to find Israeli wines anywhere else in the store? Unlike California, France, Australia, and Spain, all of which you will find all around the store in the different varietal sections, Israeli wines will be confined to that specific Kosher section, 99 out of a 100. As Israel truly makes world-class wines, it is definitely a problem, as Israeli wines have a lot to offer. But what if Israeli wine is not Kosher, such as the wines produced by Vortman Winery – what can they do to make themselves found? Who will take a chance on the Israeli wine which can’t be placed in the Kosher section?

About 5 years ago, I had the pleasure of sitting across from Hai Vortman, the owner and winemaker at Vortman Winery. We were sitting in the Vortman winery tasting room, which was adjacent to his home in Haifa, enjoying magnificent views and superb wines. I was listening to Hai talking about the history of winemaking in Israel, particularly around the Carmel Mountain, which is considered one of the very best and oldest winemaking regions in Israel. Depending on the source, winemaking in Israel is from 3,000 to 5,000 years old, but this was not the point of our conversation. I learned that Baron Edmond de Rothschild recognized the viticultural potential of the Carmel Mountain region and founded Carmel Winery there in 1882, investing millions in the development of the vineyards and production of the wine. In 1900, Carmel Winery wine from Richon Le Zion area won the gold medal at the Paris World Fair, competing against classic French Bordeaux.

The first half of the 20th century was a tumultuous period for the Israeli winemaking – it was not until the last quarter of the century that Israeli winemaking started to rebound. Vortman Winery was founded in 2003 in Haifa in the basement of the family house, with the vision of producing organic wines from the grapes growing in the Shfeya Valley region of the Carmel Mountain. The first commercial vintage was in 2007. In 2009, Vortman started planting new vineyards in Shfeya Valley and converting old vineyards to organic viticulture, all based on dry farming, biodiversity, and full respect for the environment. Today, Vortman winery produces around 30,000 bottles a year – of the non-kosher wines.

Vortman wines we tried were delicious. 2014 Vortman Shfeya Valley White, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon from 45 years old vineyard, was delicious, showing minerality, white fruit, crisp, clean, creamy, and refreshing, with a long finish. 2014 Vortman Prime Location Red, a blend of Merlot, Carignan, and Cabernet Franc (mostly stainless steel) was nicely restrained, earthy and fruity on the nose with a firm structure and an excellent balance. 2012 Vortman Shambur, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Merlot (9 months in oak barrels) had a classic Bordeaux nose, great restraint on the palate with a nice core of tannins and great acidity. Nothing extra, nothing unnecessary, just a supremely precise wine.  2013 Vortman Carignan from 50 years old vines (7 months in new French oak) offered a burst of dark cherries on the palate and the nose and a perfect balance. Simply beautiful wines, one after another.

Now, the problem is that unless you plan to travel to Israel, you are out of luck with Vortman wines (hey, if any importers read this – do you want to bring some delicious Israeli non-kosher wines into the US?). Don’t despair, as Israel exports lots of tasty wines.

About 2 years ago, I had a sample of Yarden wines I never wrote about (yeah, I know). Yarden might be one of the best known Israeli wineries in the US, largely thanks to the efforts of the head winemaker Victor Schoenfeld, who is relentlessly promoting Yarden wines. Yarden is one of the brands of Golan Heights Winery, along with Gamla, Hermon, and Golan. Golan Heights winery was founded in 1984, and it is considered as one of the quality wine pioneers in Israel. Here are the notes for the wines I had an opportunity to taste:

2014 Galil Mountain ELA Upper Galilee (14% ABV, 61% Barbera, 30% Syrah, 5% Petit Verdot, 4% Grenache, kosher, non-mevushal)
Dark garnet, almost black
A bit of the stewed fruit on the nose, ripe plums
Clean, fresh on the palate, pepper, plums, baking spices, a touch of savory notes, good acidity, medium-plus body
7+/8-, initially the wine showed a touch of cork taint on the palate, some presence of a wet basement, which disappeared on the second day.

2016 Golan Heights Gilgal Rosé (13.5% ABV, 100% Syrah, kosher, non-mevushal)
Dark intense pink color
Touch of gunflint, oregano on the nose
Ripe spicy raspberries on the palate, more gunflint and granite notes, fresh finish of ripe fruit without been overly sweet, excellent concentration and presence, fuller body than most of Rosé. Delicious.
8, very pleasant

2017 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc Galilee (13.5% ABV, 2 months on French oak barrels, kosher, non-mevushal)
Straw pale color
Whitestone fruit and a touch of candied fruit on the nose, not typical for SB
The palate is restrained, with a hint of freshly cut grass, green apples, and some tropical fruit undertones. Good acidity, a hint of fresh-cut grass on the finish
8-, very good and pleasant rendition of SB

2016 Mount Hermon Indigo Galilee (14% ABV, cabernet sauvignon/Syrah blend, kosher, non-mevushal)
Dark garnet, almost black
Bright, inviting, freshly crushed red fruit, eucalyptus, raspberries, and blueberries on the second day, plus some dry fruit notes – figs
Wow. The first day was a little incoherent, but the second day is simply incredible. Beautiful supple blueberries and raspberries, excellent extraction, tobacco, dark chocolate, clean acidity, soft and round on the palate.
8+, excellent. Just let it breathe.

Before we are done here, I still need to talk about one more Israeli winery – Shiloh. I had been introduced to the Shiloh wines about 3 years ago, at a dinner in New York City. The wine we had, Shiloh Mosaic, was absolutely mind-blowing, it was #14 on my Top Wines list for 2017. Shiloh is the youngest winery out of the 3 we talked about today, founded in 2005. Shiloh vineyards are located in the area of the Shiloh river and Samarian hills. Based on the limited information available on the website, it seems that Shiloh produces wines from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Barbera, Grenache, Syrah, Petitte Sirah, and Petite Verdot grapes – of course, there might be others.

To celebrate Jewish New Year 5781, we opened two bottles of Shiloh wines. 2018 Shiloh PRIVILEGE Winemakes’s Blend (14% ABV, 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 165 Syrah, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Grenache, kosher, mevushal) showed beautifully, offering soft red and black fruit, good minerality, soft tannins, and excellent balance. 2017 Shiloh Secret Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (15% ABV, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18 months in French oak, kosher, mevushal) was even better – a classic old world, rivaling any classic Medoc wine, full of cassis, eucalyptus, a touch of green bell pepper, silky smooth on the palate and extremely satisfying, a pleasure in the glass – this is the wine you need to experience, better yet, compare it against the best of Bordeaux in a blind tasting. It appears that many of the Shiloh wines are produced in both mevushal and non-mevushal styles – something which really calls for a blind tasting side by side.

Israeli wines are world-class, but they still need to be found by the wine consumer. Will you look for them?

A Quick Trip To Germany

September 25, 2020 Leave a comment

Germany is one of the oldest wine-producing countries in Europe, tracing its roots to 100 BC. Believe it or not, but at some point, Germany and France were considered as the two best wine-producing countries in the world, with German Rieslings being traded and collected at the same level as Bordeaux and Burgundy. Germany made some strategic mistakes in the middle of the 20th century, producing large quantities of insipid sweet wines, and it is still trying to recover from those losses.

Thinking of German wines, what is the first wine which comes to mind? If you said Riesling, you are absolutely right. Riesling is a megastar, the grape which embodies German wines and maybe even Germany itself to many of the wine lovers. However, even in Germany, there is life after Riesling – for example, in the Pinot family – and these will be the wines which will be our tour guides today.

Let’s start with the white Pinot wine – Pinot Blanc. Pinot Blanc, also known as Weißer Burgunder, Weißburgunder, or Weissburgunder – all of which are different spellings for “White Burgundy”, where the grape presumably originated, is experiencing growing popularity in Germany. Its plantings nearly doubled in the past 10 years, and now Germany has the highest amount of Pinot Blanc plantings in the world.

I recently saw a reference to German Pinot Blanc to be an understudy of the Chardonnay. Based on my experience with 2017 Wittmann 100 Hills Pinot Blanc dry Rheinhessen (12% ABV, $17), I would have to agree with this statement. The wine showed all the traits of the good Chardonnay except a touch of butter – however, vanilla, fresh apples, minerality, and clean acidity were tastefully weaved around the plump, texturally present core. (Drinkability: 8-). To give you a quick reference, the Wittmann family had been growing grapes in Westhofen for more than 350 years and 15 generations. The estate has been certified organic since 1990, and biodynamic since 2004.

Our travel in Germany is half done – and the second part of the journey might really surprise you. Germany is really not known among wine lovers as the land of red wines – and nevertheless, Germany has third in the world amount of plantings of one of the absolute darlings of the wine world. Care to guess what grape it is? Well, as it should be red, and you already know that we are talking about the Pinot family, this should be an easy guess – of course, it is Pinot Noir, better known as Spätburgunder in Germany.

Most of the Pinot Noir plantings in Germany are in the areas of Baden and Ahr, which is interesting as Baden is southernmost, and Ahr is one of the northernmost regions.

The wine we have chosen for our trip is coming from Baden, from the winery called Shelter, produced by husband and wife team, with harvest by hand and no use of herbicides or pesticides.

2016 Shelter Winery Spätburgunder Baden (13% ABV, $28) is unquestionably an old world wine, built with perfect precision. Gunflint, earth, smoke, cranberries, all in the lip-smacking, densely textured, tight package – this wine packs a lot of pleasure. (Drinkability: 8). I have to honestly say that this was my very first German Pinot Noir I was able to enjoy and I would happily recommend it to anyone who needs proof that Germany actually can create a tasty red wine.

There you have it, my friends – our little journey is over, but worry not – we will be traveling again very soon. Cheers!

A Quick Trip To Spain

July 28, 2020 2 comments

Hey friends!

Who else is feeling travel-deprived? Who else is dreaming of the airline food and 2-hours long passport control line after 12 hours flight?

I know it is not only me. I know we all do. But we still have to wait until any of that is a reality. For now, travel is just virtual.

Virtual travel has many ways. You can go back to the pictures you took while vacationing. You can go on Instagram or Pinterest, type in “Italy”, “Amalfi Coast”, “Maldives”, “Everest”, or “Machu Pichu”, and get lost for hours, exploring every little angle of the paradise through the eyes of others. You can find plenty to read, from blogs to books to everything in between, making it easy to imagine yourself in a French cafe, on the beach in Goa, or looking at the world while standing on the Great Wall.

Then, of course, there is food. There are many cuisines available within anyone’s reach today, no matter where you live. You can have paella at the Spanish restaurant, Mexican street corn at the Mexican place, black truffle risotto at Italian, or cassoulet at the French restaurant. Will that be an authentic experience that will bring back happy memories? That depends. The food might be amazing, but if you will not get the exact match to your expectations, to what you experienced during the travel, that might end up being a great meal, but not memory-inducing at all. For sure my own experience with paella or cassoulet is always hit and miss.

And then there is wine – of, course, you knew that it will all end up at “have wine, will travel”, right? Remember that proverbial “sense of place”? The sense of place is an indelible part of the wine. Even more importantly, wine can trigger an outpour of memories even before it will be opened and poured. One quick glance at the label is often enough to start the emotions going, to recall, to remember, to re-live. Of course, you can find authentic dishes in restaurants and market places. There are tons of original and authentic foods imported and readily available. It still doesn’t mean that on the moment’s notice you can retrieve that aged Swiss Gruyère, French Raclette, or a Spanish Jamón and have a smile from ear to ear. However, take out that bottle of Brunello, Australian Shiraz, Provençal Rosé, or Spanish Rioja – and watch out for that smile.

Ahh, I just said “Rioja” – remember I promised you a quick trip to Spain? Instead of musing on the subject, how about we will actually take this trip – and we don’t even need to pack a suitcase or wait for a taxi – get a bottle of Rioja, and you can instantly imagine yourself strolling the streets of Barcelona, or maybe admiring the old train station in Haro. Have wine, will travel – who is with me?

The Rioja I would like to bring to your attention today is as classic as it gets – coming from CVNE (Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España), one of the oldest producers in Rioja, who celebrated it’s 140th anniversary last year. CVNE produces a number of distinct lines of Rioja wines, under Cune, Imperial, Viña Real, and Contino labels, but the company is also expanding into areas such as Ribera Del Duero, Valdeorras, and others.

I recently had two delicious samples of the latest offerings from CVNE – you really can’t go wrong with either one of them, and the QPR is absolutely unbeatable:

2019 Cune Rosado Rioja DO (14.5% ABV, $13, 100% Tempranillo)
Cranberry juice color
Fresh cranberries, herbal notes, sage and violets
Fresh, crunchy cranberries, with characteristic acidity and tiny bitter undertones. Bone dry and very present. Balanced and elegant. Un-Provence and proud.
8/8+. If you are looking for Rosé with an umpf, this is your wine.

2016 Viña Real Crianza Rioja DOC (14.5% ABV, $17, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo)
Intense garnet
Eucalyptus, sage, crunchy berries, tobacco
Fresh red fruit, elegant, medium body, good acidity, a touch of sapidity, excellent balance
8, fresh and delightful. Daughter said it was good with an ice cream cake (surprise!)

Where would you like to go next? Cheers!

Playing With Celebrity Wines

July 22, 2020 4 comments

Celebrity wine – is there such a thing?

Of course.

If you will look at this Wikipedia page, you will see the list of 100+ famous people who own vineyards, wineries, or both. Like all of us, some of the celebrities happen to love wine, and they are not shy of associating with what they love.

Every year or so, a new celebrity finds their love of wine and joins the ranks. 2020 had two celebrities (so far) joining the wine club of their own making – singer Post Malone and actress Cameron Diaz brought to the market their wine offerings – which I was eager to try, hence this post.

I’m always curious about celebrity wines. Celebrity status greatly simplifies the marketing of the product, no matter what the celebrity associates with. The celebrity status easily overshadows the product itself – this removes the need for the product to be excellent, as we love our celebrities so much that we are willing to blindly take whatever they are endorsing – and so my inner skeptic always wants to know – how good is the particular product? Is it a real deal or simply a cover up for something mediocre?

I had no idea who Post Malone is until I saw a Netflix movie called Spencer Confidential. Afterward, I learned that Post Malone is actually a popular singer. Then I read an article talking about the upcoming release of Post Malone’s wine, so here it is – a celebrity wine which needs to be tasted. After waiting for almost a month, the wine finally appeared in Connecticut, and I was able to buy my bottle.

When I’m faced with celebrity wine, the celebrity factor goes aside. I’m happy to know that somewhere there is a famous name associated with the wine – but the only thing I care about is the wine itself. Where was it made, what grapes it is made out of, terroir, winemaking, smell, taste, and pleasure – this is what is important. Knowing I’m drinking the wine associated with a famous person doesn’t give me pleasure – tasty, delicious wine does. I always say that the proof is in the glass – that is the only thing that matters. So celebrity wine or not, I treat it exactly like any other bottle.

Avaline and Maison No 9

From that point of view, Maison No 9 represents a mixed bag. When it comes to the wine – it is superb. 2019 Maison No 9 Rosé Méditerranée IGT (12.5% ABV, $24, blend of Grenache, Merlot, Cinsault, Syrah) has a beautiful light pink color, has a nose of fresh strawberries with a touch of lemon, and bursts in your mouth with fresh strawberries and lemon, perfect minerality and raw, vibrant energy – all scrumptiously balanced (Drinkability: 8+). I love the bottle, it definitely stands out with an engraved front label depicting the sword and the rose. However, the problems start as soon as you try to dig deeper.

The website of Maison No 9 has no information about the wine, the vineyards, or the winemaker. All pictures on the web site feature Post Malone, and the only purpose of the website is to make sure you will buy something – either merchandise (T-shirt? Would it make wine taste better?), or the wine. This is in stark contrast with Miraval website, for example – Miraval is clearly a celebrity wine project (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt) – where it is all about the land, terroir, and wine. Website or not, but my problem is that the only place with any information about the Maison No 9 wine was this Forbes article. That is where I learned the story behind this wine, or that the wine was made by a well known French winemaker Alexis Cornu, or that the “new wine is named Maison No. 9, a reference to the Nine of Swords tarot card” (by the way, I searched the meaning of Nine of Swords tarot card and seems to be nothing good, but I’m not going to talk about things I have no idea about). So the bottom line here is that the wine is good, but the whole story is lacking. Does it worth $24? If this is your budget for Rosé, yes, but if not – you got options.

The Maison No 9 story, while almost non-existent, is still perfect compared to our next two wines, Avaline, which come with quite a story – and not really a good one. Avaline, which I believe means “bird” in Latin, is a product of the imagination of two long time friends, Cameron Diaz, a famous actress, and Katherine Power, a well-known entrepreneur. The duo decided to come up with a concept of a “clean wine” to advertise their creation, and this was a grave mistake, as it made the professional wine world fuming.

I’m not going to regurgitate any of the articles – just go search “clean wine Avaline”, you will find plenty of “critical acclaim”. The problem with using terms such as “clean wine” is that as soon as you designate your wine to be “clean”, you automatically imply that all other wines are “dirty” because no other wines advertise themselves as “clean”. When someone says on the label “Free from added sugars, artificial colors, concentrates”, I can’t keep my eyebrow from going up as my immediate reaction is “huh”? Really? I can’t speak with confidence about Two Buck Chuck, but I have serious doubts that they use any of these said additives. I don’t know who was advising Avaline on the wine marketing, but to me, this is a complete failure. Forget “clean wine” – another serious problem I have with these wines is that there is no information whatsoever about the wines – who made them, where the wines were made, from what grapes… yes, Wine.com, which sells both wines, has information on the grape composition. But then the white wine is designated as “Product of Spain” – another “huh?” from me as I never saw another wine with such designation, and the Rosé is identified as Vin de France. Another interesting element here (strategy????) is that both wines don’t list the vintage. So when you come to buy the wine in the store, you have no idea for how long the wine was sitting on that shelf… Nice…

So how were the wines? Both wines were actually quite tasty: NV Avaline White Wine Spain (11.5% ABV, $24, blend of Xarel·lo, Macabeo, Malvasia) – white stone fruit on the nose, nicely restrained, fresh flowers, a touch of minerality. Fresh ripe plums, sage, Meyer lemon, clean acidity, medium-long finish (Drinkability: 8, nicely done). NV Avaline Rosé Vin de France (13% ABV, $24, blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Caladoc) – gentle pink color, a hint of sweet ripe strawberries, nicely restrained, candied strawberries and strawberry jam on the palate, good acidity, good balance, not over the top. Short finish, easy to drink (Drinkability: 8-).

While the Avaline are tasty wines, I see a serious problem here, outside of any “clean/dirty” concepts. You are asked to pay $24 for the wines of unknown pedigree, unknown vintage, made by someone somewhere, with a clean (pun intended), but a seriously unattractive label. I can splurge $5 on such a wine if I will get a recommendation – I guarantee you I will pass a wine like that if I will just see it on the shelf.

Here you go, my friends – 3 celebrity wine for your attention. All three are well drinkable, but you seek them at your own peril. Cheers!

Mystique of Mythic Malbec

July 15, 2020 4 comments

A long, long time ago, in a place far, far away, lived a dragon. That dragon was known for the love of all things green. The vast land he called his home was all covered in luscious flowers, bushes, and trees, always perfect and beautiful. He would use his huge wings to keep the plants cool during the hot days, and he would plan his gardens in the most meticulous ways, to make sure all the plants were happy together.

There was one plant that he loved above all, and it was the grapevine. His vineyards always looked amazing, and his hard work was handsomely rewarded by the most perfect grapes you can imagine anywhere. He loved Malbec above all other grapes, as those gapes made him happy. Sometimes, he would make wine out of them, and sometimes, he would just eat them fresh and delicious.

One day, the dragon was just gone. The plants didn’t feel the air moving with the flaps of his giant, powerful wings. But his presence still was felt in a magical way, as all the plants continued to happily grow, and the grapes were always delicious.

The legend has it that this far, far away magical place was in Mendoza, Argentina, and when people discovered it, they could still feel something magical, something mythical while standing between magnificent grapevine rows. So when they decided to create the winery and call it MYTHIC, that felt the most appropriate.

The MYTHIC winery is rather young, formed in 2014, but ambitious. The winery was founded by the same team which is behind the Casarena wines with the idea to showcase the best wines Argentina can produce – but also by going beyond the tradition. You know how you can taste a well made Bordeaux blend from Napa or Washington and be completely sure you are drinking the old world wine? This is what the MYTHIC winemaking team was trying to achieve – make the world-class wines, whether they appear to be Argentinian or not – and judging by my tasting experience, the mission was accomplished with flying colors.

Continuing what the dragon started, MYTHIC farms about 400 acres of the vineyards in Luján De Cuyo area in Mendoza, which is often regarded as the Napa Valley of Argentina. Some of the vineyards are 90 years old, and most of them are located at about 3000 feet elevation. These high altitude vineyards are protected by the Andes, its snow-covered tops being the best source of water for the sustainably growing vines.

Malbec is the star at MYTHIC, used in the majority of wines – there are also multiple levels of wines, from the general to the vineyard, block, and even barrel-specific. The mystique of MYTHIC lies in the ability to show so many different expressions of Malbec, using seemingly negligible variations in the levels of fruit and oak regiment – but the diversity and the range are mind-boggling – or, rather, mythical. Take a look at my notes and see for yourself:

2019 Mythic Mountain Malbec Rosé Mendoza Argentina (12.5% ABV, $11.99)
Light pink
Fresh strawberries, good minerality, a touch of gunflint
Crisp, fresh, underripe strawberries, vibrant acidity, fresh lemon.
8+, perfect heat quencher – and a great value. This wine would successfully compete with any Provencal Rosé in the blind tasting.

2019 Mythic Mountain Malbec Mendoza Argentina (13.9% ABV, $11.99, 70% stainless steel, 30% 3nd/3rd use French oak)
Dark garnet
Freshly crushed berries, pencil shavings, tobacco, sweet sage
A touch of vanilla, tart cherries, soft, round, good acidity.
8-/8, easy to drink, perfectly representative of the “soft” Argentinian Malbec qualities.

2019 Mythic Estate Malbec Mendoza Argentina (13.9% ABV, $15.99, 4 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
Fresh berries, raspberries, blackberries, beets undertone (yeah, I know it sounds strange)
Fresh, open, ripe raspberries, hint of espresso, firm structure, well balanced.
8/8+, delicious on its own, but will be outstanding with the food. The wine clearly presents itself as an old-world wine – I would bet it is Cahors from France in the blind tasting.

2017 Mythic Block Malbec Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $34.99, 10 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
Cherries, herbs, clean, soft. More complex on the second day, a touch of roasted meat, funk, and chocolate
Succulent fruit, clean acidity, crunchy blackberries, earthy notes, perfect balance, silky smooth.
8+, outstanding, delicious wine. This wine is very international – a delicious wine which can be from anywhere.

Four wines made out of Malbec. Four totally different expressions of the grapes, some of them I didn’t know where even possible, such as Provence-style supremely elegant Malbec Rosé, also priced as a borderline steal – an outstanding QPR. Also, having the full old-world impression with the Estate Malbec? Not an easy feat, not for the New World wines.

Was our dragon real? I don’t know. I’m the one who is happy to believe in dragons and sorcerers. But the dragon made it on the labels, and the wines are as real as they can be, also great values in their own categories. The only thing left is for you to find these wines and judge them for yourself. The “thank you” notes can be left in the comments section with no limitations whatsoever.

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