Hi there, sports fans!
I know it’s been a very long time since I last posted here, but there have been several things that happened in my real life that prevented further note-taking and posting.
First: My son was born. Mr. Y graced the world with his presence on Shemini Atzeres.
Second, the Chagim just really threw me for a loop in terms of scheduling time to actually write.
Third, Work got extremely busy! Many nights, I would drag myself home and just crawl into bed.
Well, Im hoping to make up for lost time and give you guys a regular posting at least once a week of wine education and wine review. There are a plethora of new wines from old regions and new wines from new regions of the kosher world to be opened and tasted, and I’ll make sure that you are aware of each one!
As many of you have undoubtedly heard recently, Daniel Rogov, the Robert Parker of Israeli wineries (kosher or otherwise), has passed away. I have read his book s for years, now, and would read his column in Ha’Aretz when I had the opportunity to do so. His passing, while not a shock, is still very sad, as Israel has lost its greatest wine champion.
In his wake a multitude of other wine writers and bloggers (and yes, occasionally the two categories do actually meet!), including yours truly, who carry on his noble work of promoting Israeli wine. While I may have my self-doubt whether anything I write could ever come up to the level, clarity and succinctness of Rogov’s contribution to wine literature, it is my aspiration to reach that level, if not in notoriety, then at least in quality and regularity of contribution.
Mr. Rogov, while I never had the opportunity to meet you, you still had an impact on my life and career as a wine blogger, a wine drinker and Israeli-phile in general. You will be sorely missed. My wine this Shabbos will be in your honor, whatever it ends up being (I have yet to make my selection!)
For those of you who have read this and other posts on my blog, I do welcome comments directly on the blog, or if you would rather send me those comments, questions, etc., you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org My goal is to educate people about not only the way a given wine smells and tastes, but also why it does that. And if you are interested in learning more about the intricacies of the wine production process, I welcome questions, comments, concerns and do use the feedback to make choices about what I put into my future posts. But I digress.
My hope is that all of this can honor in some small way, the memory of a man, without whom Israeli wine would largely be relegated to the kosher-only market or for local consumption. And if by chance one of his family stumbles across my meager postings, my sympathies are with you and yours. Daniel Rogov was a true inspiration to me and my wine life. May HaShem comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Today’s wine is a French dessert wine called Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Yes, that’s right. I’m writing about a muscat wine. But this is quite different than te infamous blue bottle Bartenura Moscato.
Beaumes de Venise is a French AOC (remember those designations?) in the southern Rhône Valley. This region makes both a dry red and the Muscat Beaumes de Venise, which is our topic for today. This region has a history going back at least 2000 years, as Pliny the Elder mentioned the muscat grape being cultivated here.
So, geography aside, what makes this Muscat different from all other Muscats, you ask? For one, the Beaumes is NOT sparkling. For another, to get the AOC designation, the wine must be fortified.
Fortifying a wine means that a spirit alcohol, in this case being a minimum of 95% alcohol, is added to the fermenting juice. what this does is shoot the alcohol percentage to a level that kills off the yeast (ironically, even though yeasts create alcohol, if the concentration of alcohol passes a certain level, yeasts die. They die of their own byproducts!), while still maintaining a sweet wine. Historically Beaumes wines have also been allowed to have the words “vin doux naturel” on the label, meaning naturally sweet wine. By law, Muscat Beaumes de Venise must be at least 15% alcohol, so this is not your grandma’s muscat wine!
The upshot from all this processing? First, the wine has some serious aging potential (today’s subject comes from the 2006 vintage, and probably can hang on for a few more years!), and also, for whatever reason, Beaumes has a tendency to have a bitter finish. I asked others about the bitterness and they said that it wasn’t endemic to this product, but rather the nature of the beast when dealing with Muscat Beaumes de Venise.
So the first thing I noticed when I smelled the wine was the orange blossoms were very apparent. Orange blossom, you say? Yes, orange blossom. It’s more delicate than a full-on orange and also there are some floral undertones, hence orange blossom. I also caught a hint of flinty mineral (from the soil it grows in) and a very viscous quality about the wine as I swirled it around in my glass (to be expected, given the level of sugar and alcohol in the wine!)
The orangey flavors were very strong when I finally sipped the wine, along with the minerally notes I mentioned earlier and that oddly bitter finish. Because of that bitterness, I wouldn’t drink this solo, but rather as part of a dessert pairing, such as a fruit salad with very ripe fruits or a trifle, if you’re from the South. (If you don’t know what a trifle is, think parfait with cake on a massive scale). You want to pick a dessert that is sweeter than the wine to mask the bitterness therein, also if you don’t, then the dessert will not taste sweet at all.
Merlot has a certain….reputation, thanks to films like Sideways, where Paul Giamatti‘s character goes into a rampage after being offered Merlot. Generally, most of the anti-Merlot contingent stake the claim that Merlot is an overly soft, unstructured and uninteresting wine. And they are largely correct.
Merlot is a generally soft and plummy grape which, in the right hands, can actually make a delightful and interesting wine (see wines from Pomerol and St. Emilion as classic examples of Merlot done right). However, California-style winemakers have developed a tendency to allow Merlot to overripen on the vine and thus overbalance the resulting wine on the side of fruit, at the expense of tannin, acid and overall complexity.
Now, the bright side to these wines is that they are very friendly to the neophyte in the wine world. Because these wines are so fruity and low in acid and tannin, they make for fun and easy wines to drink without forcing the drinker to delve into the wine and unlock its complexities (because it has little). The down side of this is that they make for easy wines to drink without forcing the drinker to delve into the wine and unlock its complexities (because it has little).
So, in generaly, I will recommend a Merlot when someone is interested in learning about the basics of wine and is not “ready” for the heavy-duty wines like what you see in Bordeaux or Barolo or other areas of California. Merlot is an inexpensive (usually) and basic (usually) wine that will likely appeal to anyone’s palate, regardless of their wine knowledge or lack thereof.
All that being said, these qualities of Merlot, particularly in its Californian iterations, is a double-edged sword. Because of its reputation as a mild and fruity wine without a lot of complexity, many wine geeks will turn their nose at an offering of Merlot because of the Californian practice of over-ripening the fruit so that the resulting wine is uber-fruity and soft and full-bodied (longer ripening = more sugar = more alcohol = more body). But this lack of complexity and interest-driving wine makes for a bad reputation, thus Paul Giamatti’s subsequent outburst on film.
Now to today’s subject: Tabor Adama Merlot. This is an Israeli Merlot from Tabor winery, which has often been held in high regard for its quality New World style wines. The Adama line is their mid-range line of wines, encompassing several varietals, including today’s Merlot.
This is one wine, sadly, that Paul Giamatti would again rail against. Full-bodied and relatively low in tannin and acid. The plush plummy fruits run wild without the requisite structure to keep the wine interesting and food friendly. I keep trying Merlots with the hopes of finding some truly nice ones that break this long-held trend of flabby California-style wine, but this is not one of them. Particularly disappointing is the price tag: $25-30.
Now, where does this wine have merit? It is a well-known label and because of its soft, plummy qualities, is very popular among those that like very fruity wines. The label is attractive as well, making for a nice gift.
And now we turn our attention this week back to California, after making an extended stay in other parts of the world. We are looking today at the Hagafen Cabernet Franc, from their vineyards in Napa, California.
What is Cab Franc, you ask? It is one of the more underrated grapes out there (and one of my favorites). Franc’s claim to fame is that it is one of the two parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon (whose other parent is Sauvignon Blanc. Get it? Cabernet Sauvignon).
In terms of its general characteristics, Cabernet Franc is not as full-bodied as its Sauvignon offspring. While there is fruitiness to its wines, Cabernet Francs tend to have more cassis and blueberry qualities to it, as opposed to the cherry and strawberry notes that Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits. Also Cabernet Franc has strong herbaceous qualities, and frequently shows aromas of rosemary and even cigar ash (believe it or not, this is a very pleasant quality, and I’m not a particularly big fan of cigars in general, but that’s another story).
2007 was a landmark year in Napa, and many wineries were able to put out excellent-quality wines at each price point, and several wines had age-worthy qualities about them: lots of tannin and acidic structure. The Hagafen Cabernet Franc was no exception.
The tannins were up-front and unabashedly present. While this made for a great pairing with meat (I tried it with my Shabbos chulent this week), I wonder how this would fare in a couple more years (again, this wine probably has some short-term aging potential!). The fruits were richer and more dominant that I tend to like in a Cabernet Franc: the blueberries were bursting with juiciness and a little overly ripe, and yet there was still a nice acidity in the background. The herbal and cigar notes were muted.
All of this leads me to think that this wine was not yet ready for general consumption, and required more age. With age the wine would lose some of its fresh and juicy fruitiness, giving way to more dried fruit qualities and letting the earthier and herbal notes come to the forefront.
While I lack the abilities to age a wine properly (no functioning cellar. Boo, hiss), I am going to keep this on my radar and hopefully be able to nab myself another bottle in six months or so and see how this wine has progressed. Hagafen Cellars is known for its quality California wines, and this is no exception to the rule. At its $45 price tag, it’s not for the faint of heart, budget-wise, but is very much worth the investment for those who can.
It’s time to think pink! The Galil Mountain Winery puts out a rose each year and I find it to be a great value in the world of rose. But what exactly is rose wine? It ain’t White Zinfandel, any more, Toto!
Ok, so maybe I overspoke a minute ago. White Zinfandel is technically a rose wine, but in terms of the popular rose style, it is a very different style from the norm. But I digress…
Rose wines are, like the name suggests, a pink-hued wine that is nether red nor white, but shares aspects of both at the same time. Almost all grapes give off white juice when pressed (there are a handful of exceptions like the Concord grape); what makes red wine red, then, is contact with red grape skins. So, to differentiate a red wine from a rose, all you need to do is limit the time that the fermenting juice has in contact with the red grape skins.
There are multiple ways to make a wine “rose.” The first method is called the “sanginee” method, whereby you “bleed off” some of the fermenting juice so that the remaining juice can have a stronger interaction with the red skins (thus getting “more” red). The rose wine is a happy byproduct of this method.
The second method is to literally remove the grape skins from the vat of juice after a given period of time (sometimes as little as a couple of hours!). In this case, the entire vat is intended for use as rose wine. There is a third method, though rarely used, of blending white and red wine so that your final product is pink; the problem with this method is that it usually gives you an inferior product.
Stylistically, rose wines have fill a variety of niches, from light to full-bodied, from fruity to herbaceous. But they usually have a common theme of being higher in acidity, to varying degrees. In Provence, home to some of the world’s most coveted rose wines, they tend to lean towards light-bodied, very tart wines. This gives you a similar effect that lemonade would give you in the middle of the summer: cooling, refreshing and all-in-all delicious.
For the most part, rose wines are not age-worthy items (a notable, albeit non-kosher, exception is the Rioja house Marques de Heredia, which tends to age their roses for upwards of a decade before releasing them! And they are still delicious). Usually, you will want to find roses that are of the current vintage (the previous year). Occasionally you might be able to find a rose from the Southern hemisphere from the current year because they harvest and vinify their products in February – April.
The particular wine I am discussing today exhibits this last point all too well. The Galil Mountain rose, 2009. Galil Mountain is a cooperative project between Kibbutz Yiron and the Golan Heights Winery (of Yarden fame, see my post on their Odem Chardonnay). By and large, I have been impressed with the Galil Mountain line of products as being good for the price.
However, the 2009 rose, which I tasted in 2011, fell short. I don’t think that this was any fault of the winery or the winemaking process, but rather, that this wine had outlived its better time. See, there’s a common misconception that all wines continue to improve with age. This maxim is only true for a handful of wines nowadays and even then, after a certain point, even these wines will begin to degrade; the tannins and acid disappear from the wine, the flavors tend to be more muted and the wine is just generally uninteresting.
To put it in terms of a human development span, a baby can’t do as much (and thus “not matured”_ as a toddler, who can’t do as much as a child who is not as matured as a teenager to young adult to middle age to “the golden years” to old age and finally death. Somewhere along that path of development (and this point is different for every individual), any given person is considered “over the hill” and is unable to do as much as he/she was able to do previously.
Perhaps this last analogy was a bit coarse, but all the same the effect is there. All of this falls true for the Galil Mountain 2009 Rose. This was probably a spectacular wine last year, but this year there was no acidic structure, the fruits were not vibrant and the wine just generally tasted inspid. Sad, considering the $18 price tag it’s carrying. I imagine that if I had my hands on the 2010 vintage, that it would have been a very fun and interesting wine. It’s a prime case of a wine that is past its prime.
Serious wine has returned to Sefarad!
Spain has a long and rich history of Jewish winemaking that ended in the 15th century when Spanish royalty decided that the Jews needed to either convert of be expelled. Now, after 500 years of exile, Spain is the home to many wonderful kosher wines.
Tempranillo is indigenous to Spain and is the primary grape in one of Spain’s most famous wine regions: Rioja. Since wine is so much about geography, I am starting to add maps with this post and moving backwards as much as possible. Rioja is highlighted in dark purple in the map below. (Source: Wikipedia)
However, today’s wine comes from the unsung region of Yecla in Southern Spain. This region is known more for its Monastrell (a grape we will hopefully experience in a later posting), but in this case is the home to a particularly delicious Tempranillo. (Source: Wikipedia)
Now, many may look at the bottle and ask me why I am writing a glowing review of such a young red wine (let’s face it, it’s been available for less than a year!)? The reality of the situation is that many (and perhaps most) wines are meant to be drunk young. (This is one place where I may go on my soapbox supporing screw cap wines but since our subject today isn’t one with a screw cap, I will forego it for now.) Young wines are very fresh and have high levels of fruit and usually acid (whether naturally from the grape or added during the fermentation and/or aging). While not the most complex wines, young (or joven in Spanish) are not meant to be these massive, serious, pondering wines that could lead one to spend hours unraveling the wine’s complexities.
Instead, young wines are intended to be bright, refreshing and just fun to drink. And En Fuego is no exception! The fruit and spicy notes are the first things I smelled in the wine’s bouquet. Fresh, under-ripe cherries and a little wooden spice (cinnamon? bergamot?) were first and foremost. But while aromatic, not terribly complex.
So what, then, does aging do for a wine (be prepared, this is a long aside)? Aging in a bottle with a cork in it (again, differentiating from a screw cap wine, which will get its own spot in future post) allows for a minute amount of air into the wine bottle, and this allows the wine to resolve its tannins and acid levels, primarily, as well as allow for more complexity from the wine itself, though this is often a secondary effect of the aging process. Aging used to be manditory for most of the premium-quality wines that were made, and only the so-called “jug wine” could be drunk immediately.
The reason for this is that the wines in these cases were so high in acid and tannin (in the case of red wines), that they were not drinkable in their young state. By allowing the wine to age in the cellar these tannins and acids literally fall out of the wine and form crystals on the bottom. Additionally the overly bright and fresh fruity flavors in the wine subside, allowing for older, earthier qualities to come out of the wine. There’s not much in the way of serious age-worthy wine in the kosher world, so I’ll resort to more famous brands in the treife world. The top-growth Bordeaux wines (What’s a “top-growth” you ask? That’s another topic for another post) used to be aged for 10-40 years (or more!) before they were “ready” to be drunk. In fact, you can still find Mouton Rothschild bottles from the early 1960’s that are drinking very well right now.
How did these wines have such high acid and tannin levels and what’s different between then and now? there are two main issues that differentiate wines from today and wines from yesteryear: the time of picking (which man does have some control over) and the overall climate and environment (which we don’t). To tackle the second issue first: I am not suggesting global warming, but the climate has been on a warming trend, particularly over the last 30 or so years. Warmer temperatures increase sugar and decrease acid; lower acid leads partly to less aging potential.
The answer to the first question takes us back a few years to California. California winemakers started to pick their grapes later in the season, creating wines that were fuller in body (longer growing time leads to more sugar production and thus higher alcohol) and lower in acid (from prolonged heat exposure). These wines became very popular in America and throughout the world, so much so that California exports were often overshadowing more traditionalist European exports, so if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Many European producers would pick their grapes later in the season so that there were lower levels of tannin and acid, thus appealing to the same palates that are buying up so much California wine.
But I’ve digressed long enough; it’s time to return to the matter at hand: En Fuego Tempranillo. My first reaction to the palate was “wow, that’s a lot of fruit,” followed shortly by “wow, that’s a lot of acidity!” But the two are relatively well-balanced, and that’s the key. The acid keeps the wine from tasting too “sweet” and “flabby,” while not making it taste sour. Also, there’s some spice in the wine but not as much as I was getting on the nose; it was more of a light accent than a more dominant character in the makeup. The wine had a relatively short finish, which I expected from the wine (it’s $12.00 on the shelf), but I didn’t expect myself to enjoy it as much as I did.
I had it for two meals: a roast chicken and a chulent. Between the two, the chulent was the better dish with the wine, though I do have to admit that I thought this wine showed best when drunk on its own. Not every wine is meant to be aged (this wine did not have the tannic structure to allow for graceful aging. The acid would fall out too quickly and not taste good after a few years, in all likelihood). If you did want to age this wine, it would probably last a year or two in a cellar, but that’s it. Not the 40+ years some other wines have as aging potential. But it wasn’t intended to do such things. The En Fuego was a simple, fun party wine. Maybe it would have gone better with some mild or nutty cheese, but I didn’t try that route (it’s Shabbos…gotta have meat!). All that being said, I’m a big fan of this bottle and woudl definitely buy again. Note: If you are considering this wine for a party, beware that it is NOT mevushal.