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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!

Terrenal: Delicious Kosher Wines, and Great Values Too

March 30, 2016 3 comments

What I like about wine world is that many things are changing, and most of them changing for the better. Winemakers around the world are more in tune with the nature, their means and ways are greatly improved, and it shows in the wines. The best testament to that is when you are poured a random glass of wine, you take a sip, you say “ahh, this is good”, and only then you care to look at the label to find out what you are drinking.

Over the past 5-8 years, Kosher wines improved so dramatically that there is no need anymore to defend them and advocate that “they can be good too” – if you are still wondering what Kosher wines are, I can offer you a short crash course in this post. Kosher wines today are definitely in that category I described above – you take a sip, then look at the back label and say “wow, this is actually a kosher wine!” – been there, done that.

When it comes to Terrenal, I knew that these are the kosher wines, but only from the experience – here is the link to the blog post about selection of Terrenal wines which I found at Trader Joe last year, and they were excellent as the wines and simply outstanding as a value.

Few weeks ago I got a sample of two of the new wines from Terrenal. First wine is made out of one of my most favorite red grapes – Tempranillo. The second wine closely mimics composition of one of the Spanish flagship wines – El Nido from Gil family estates, with the same blend of Monastrell and Cabernet Sauvignon in similar proportions. For what it worth, below are the tasting notes:

2014 Terrenal Tempranillo Yecla DO Spain (13.5% ABV, $4.99, 100% Tempranillo, kosher non-mevushal, certified Vegan )
C: dark garnet
N: blackberries, eucalyptus, sage, plums
P: nicely restrained, mouthwatering acidity, fresh fruit, tart blackberries, short finish, easy to drink
V: 7+, nice and simple, will work well with wide range of dishes

2014 Terrenal Seleccionado Yecla DO Spain (15% ABV, $7.99, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Monastrell, kosher non-mevushal, certified Vegan)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: sweet plums, hint of cinnamon, nutmeg, mocha
P: polished, round, restrained fruit, silky mouthfeel, hint of chocolate, good structure.
V: 8-, excellent wine, easy to drink and “dangerous”. Will evolve in 4-5 years.

Here you go, my friends. Two very tasty wines with an unbeatable QPR and a number of bonus points – Kosher and Vegan. Terrenal Seleccionado will not match El Nido in the extraction level and concentration, but $7.99 versus $150+ puts it in a very interesting perspective. Yes, of course, conduct your own experiment –  get a bottle of each and taste them blind side by side – I wounder what you would think.

The only challenge might be that the Terrenal wines are only available at Trader Joe’s stores, at least in the United States, so if you have one close by, you are in luck. If you will see them anywhere else, please comment so the others would know where to look for them. Happy [Kosher, Vegan] value wine hunting. 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!

Daily Glass: Kosher [and not only] Wines

March 27, 2013 8 comments

DSC_0327 PsagotOriginally, this post was supposed to be titled Happy Passover! – but Passover started on Monday, and today is Wednesday… Well, considering that celebration technically continues for a week, I guess it is still appropriate to wish Happy Passover even on the third day… By the way, Happy Easter too – just in case I will not be posting anything on Sunday.

In our family Passover is rather cultural holiday than religious, which means that our Passover dinner (seder) takes just a little longer than the regular dinner (when it is done properly, you might have the first real bite of food closer to midnight). What is important for me here, as with any other holiday where dinner is a part of the festivities, I can pay special attention to the wine (not that I don’t do it every day, but holiday is a holiday).

Of course Passover dinner calls for the Kosher wine. About 10 years ago, selecting a kosher wine for Passover or any other holiday used to be a very dreadful experience – sweet grape-juice-more-than-wine Manischewitz was undrinkable, but still better than most of the actual “dry” kosher wines which were outright terrible. Over the last 5-7 years the situation changed dramatically, and now at the most of the stores you can find a great variety of outstanding kosher wines. You don’t need to take my word for it – here are kosher wine recommendations from Eric Asimov of New York Times, here is the list from Lettie Teague from the Wall Street Journal (subscription required, unfortunately), and here is a very interesting post from Alice Feiring describing her recent kosher wine tasting experience.

I had a great experience with a two different kosher wines. The first one was 2009 Psagot Merlot Judean Hills (about $25, 14.4% ABV). Psagot means “peak” in Hebrew, and the small community of Psagot is actually located on the peaks of the Benjamin region mountains, 900 meters above sea level – and this is where this wine came from, made at a boutique winery under the same name. It is 100% Merlot, aged for 13 month in small French oak barrels. On the nose and the palate this wine has perfect dark power (umph – I gave you one strong description, but you know that I often describe the wine emotionally rather than technically). Coffee, chocolate, dark fruit on the nose, same on the palate. Roasted notes on the palate. Excellent balance of fruit, acidity and tannins, very harmonious. Drinkability: 8-

DSC_0329 Flam ClassicoThe second wine was 2007 Flam Classico Judean Hills (about $30, 13.5% ABV). Flam winery is also situated in the Judean Hills area. It was founded in 1998 by the brothers Golan and Gilad Flam after they visited Chianti Classico region and fell in love with the wines. While “Classico” is the name of the wine I’m about to present to you, the wine itself is more of a super-Tuscan than an actual Chianti Classico. This 2007 vintage is a blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, and if anything, it resembles classic Bordeaux (it is interesting to note that 2010 vintage is even more “classic Bordeaux” than the 2007, with the addition of small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot to the blend).

2007 Flam Classico has nice dark fruit on the nose and the palate, with a tiny whiff of Bordeaux greenness. Classic Bordeaux profile with touch of eucalyptus and mint. Very round and polished, smooth but with pronounced acidity, and literally unstoppable – in terms of not being able to stop drinking it until bottle is empty. Great wine which will evolve further (but it was my one and only bottle, sigh). Drinkability: 8

DSC_0330 picpoul de pinet cave pomerolsI have one more wine to tell you about. It is not kosher wine – but we still drunk it, and I liked it quite a bit so kosher or not but I would like to mention it.

2011 Cave Pomerols Picpoul de Pinet “Hugues de Beauvignac” Coteaux du Languedoc (about $10, 12.5% ABV) – this wine is produced by La Caves Pomerols and it is made out of 100% White Picpoul  grape. The wine was clean and refreshing on the nose, with touch of minerality. The same on the palate – white flowers, white fruit, round and easy to drink. Very balanced. Considering the price, this can be your every day white wine – and it will pair nicely with lots of different foods. Drinkability: 8-

This is all I have for you for now, folks. The usual “Wednesday Meritage” post still should be coming out today, as it is in the works already, so until then – cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #5 – Do You Know Kosher Wines?

April 7, 2012 2 comments

It is time for our weekly wine quiz. But – before we begin with the new quiz, I just realized something – I didn’t give you the answers for the 4 previous quizzes. I thought that I would do it in the comments, but then the answer will always stay with the quiz itself, which is probably not that good. Therefore, going forward, the answer for the quiz will always be provided in the next week’s quiz.

Now, here are the answers for the past quizzes.

#1,The official drink of the United States – correct answer is Bourbon. While it is not written in the Constitution, there were a number of Congress resolutions which support the claim of Bourbon to be an official drink of the United States. You can find more information on Wikipedia – here is a link.

#2, Bordeaux 1855 Classification – correct answer is Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Only 4 Chateaus were classified as “First Growth” in 1855, and Chateau Mouton Rothschild was not one of them. Baron Rothschild spent humongous amount of efforts on getting Chateau Mouton Rothschild classified as first growth in 1973 – here is a Wiki link for more information.

#3, Judgement of Paris – correct answer is Caymus Vineyards. Caymus makes great wines, but they didn’t participate in the famous 1976 competition in Paris. Here is a Wiki link for more information.

#4, Which One Doesn’t Belong – These are the red grapes used in Bordeaux – correct answer is Syrah. Here is yet another Wiki link if you need more information.

Now, let’s talk about the theme of today’s wine quiz – Kosher wines. We are in a middle of both Passover and Easter celebrations this year, and while it is impossible to create a wine quiz around Eastern wines ( because there are no wines designated as “only for Easter” in this world), we can talk about Kosher wines.

Kosher wines are a complex subject if you want to know the details of what and why – here is … yep, you got it – Wiki link for that. I just want to look at the subject of Kosher wines form the consumer’s point of view. Ten years ago, if you would want to drink a Kosher wine in US, you had literally one choice – Manischewitz – a sweet concoction which majority of the wine drinkers should avoid, unless you need some syrup on your ice cream. Little by little, situation changed, as quality of Israeli wines increased dramatically, and more and more Kosher wines started to be produced all around the world, from Australia to France to US. Today, if you want to drink a Kosher wine, you don’t need to dread it anymore – most of respectful wine stores carry great selection of Kosher wines, and finding an excellent bottle is not a problem anymore.

Now, to the quiz itself – below are the names of the Kosher wines from all over the world – all except one. Just by looking at those names, can you guess which one is not a Kosher wine? The answer is coming next week.

 

Happy Passover and Happy Easter! Cheers and enjoy!

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