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Tabor Adama Merlot, 2008

August 25, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

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Dalton Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Israel, 2009

July 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Welcome back, sports fans! Today we are looking at another Israeli wine. This time, from the Dalton winery, one of the larger wineries in the country. In particular, we are looking at their Reserve Sauvignon Blanc from 2009.

So what is all this “Reserve” business all about? The answer really varies, depending on which country whence your wine originates. For example, in most European countries, to have the word “reserve” (adjusted for whichever language your country speaks) on your label, you must age the wine for a longer period of time than your regular version of the same wine. Usually, this is 1-2 years beyond the base level. However, there is variation, again depending on your wine’s country of origin.

In Spain, for example, a “reserva” wine is aged for a minimum of 1 year in casks and a total of 3 years between cask and bottle aging; and the Spanish “Gran Reserva” is aged for a minimum of 5 years (2 in cask and 3 in bottle). Also, to make this even more confusing, the details of “reserva” and “Grand Reserva” labeling can vary from region to region.

In Italy, things can be just as confusing. For example, in the Taurasi region a regular wine must be aged a minimum of 3 years and “riserva” wines a minimum of 4 years; on the other hand, Chianti regular wines must be aged a minimum of 7 months and “riserva” Chianti a minimum of 27 months.

If that weren’t confusing enough, if you go into so-called “New World” wine regions (including Israel), there are no regulations regarding the use of the word “Reserve” on the label. The implication behind the word “reserve” is that it is indeed a better-quality wine than your regular bottle, but particularly in America, there is nothing prohibiting someone from putting a bunch of dreck in a bottle and labeling it “reserve.”

Now, on to Dalton’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. In this situation, because Dalton makes so many different levels of wine, Reserve actually does correctly imply a higher quality of wine from their lower levels of production. First, the wine comes from a handful of select vineyars (in this case, Safsufa, Merom Galil and Kerem Ben Zimra vineyards). They only use free-run juice (that is, only the juice that comes out of the crushing bin that is the result of grapes pressing down on others, without the assistance of manmade devices), which is regarded the world round as being rarer, and of higher quality. The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks, which (remember our earlier posts?) means you’re going to get more purity of fruit out of the wine and not as much body and smoky/oaky/vanilla/etc. flavors in the wine.

The first time I had this wine was many years ago, when I was just learning about the kosher side of the wine world. I was blown away by the quality and complexity of the wine, when most of the kosher wines I had in the past were more basic and not all that interesting. It was a real treat to pick up this bottle and revisit it a few vintages later (also beware: it’s not always easy to find!).

The nose gave off aromas of citrus peel and fresh taragon; there was also a hint of gooseberry that came out after 24 hours of opening. The palate was very complex, and I know I didn’t get everything, but here goes. Preserved Lemons, steely mineral, lots of earthy herbs and a hint of toastiness (from the yeasts? Remember, there was no oak aging on this wine!). I had this straight out of my fridge (which is admittedly very cold!), and it was a disappointing showing, but after letting it warm up a bit (so word to the wise: don’t let it get ice cold; it gets too tart that way!), the herbal and more nuanced citrus notes come through.

I had this wine with my usual Shabbos roast chicken and chulent for lunch the next day; neither dish really worked but I could see huge potential for a delicate white-fleshed fish dish with this wine.

As a closing remark, another kosher wine blogger, Yossie Horwitz has been a huge inspiration of mine, and was part of the reason I wanted to get into this business myself. (And for the record, he did NOT ask me to do a plug for him.) It has been my hope to maintain his conversational style of wine writing while injecting some more technical information in my posts so that the consumer will ultimately have an understanding not only what a wine tastes like, but why it tastes like that. I highly recommend that readers of this blog also seek him out at http://www.yossiescorkboard.com/ or to follow him on Twitter @yossieuncorked

Barkan “Classic” Sauvignon Blanc, Israel 2009

June 2, 2011 Leave a comment

This week, we are still in Israel and looking at another Sauvignon Blanc. This time, Barkan‘s entry-level (the “Classic”) Sauvignon Blanc. While not the most complex and opulent wine out there, it wasn’t intended to be, and it does its job quite well.

By “entry-level” I mean that the winery intended for this wine be a basic, everyday kind of wine. There is not a lot of complexity in either the nose or the palate but  at the same time, the price reflects the quality. In reality, if you were to go to a bistro in Europe (at least in the non-kosher world), you would find a “house wine” in the form of a bulk wine, often served in a carafe, and meant to be quaffed, not necessarily savored or pondered over.

This wine in particular is definitely a “bistro wine,” as I call it. Bright and fruity, the Sauvignon Blanc is medium-bodied with lots of citrusy aromas of white grapefruit and a little papaya. The palate reflects these flavors with just a hint of minerality on the finish, which is a short one.

At $12.00 a bottle, and mevushal, this is a wine that I’ve used at several events (along with other wines in the Classic line) to a great deal of success because it is easy to drink; it is inexpensive; and it provides a bit of social lubricant which makes these events memorable (hopefully in a positive way!)

Categories: Israel Tags: ,

Dalton Safsufa Vineyards Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc 2009

June 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Welcome back, my rabid readers! Today we are going to take a look at Dalton‘s Safsufa Vineyards blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. There are a multitude of topics that we could address insofar as the making of this wine, whereas we saw an oaked Chardonnay in Yarden’s Odem offering, this item is completely unoaked.

When grape juice (or must as it is called in the wine world) is being fermented, there are various vessels that could be used for this purpose in modern wine making. Some wines are made in oak barrels, and others are done in stainless steel. And yet others, particularly in parts of Italy and France, will use a ceramic vessel that is lined with glass. Each of these vessels have an effect on the final product, both in terms of its fermentation process as well as the aging of the wine before it is put into a bottle.

In particular, stainless steel allows for the natural fruity and acidic qualities in the wine to come to the forefront, and this is precisely what happened in this wine. Additionally, with our subject for today, there was no malo-lactic fermentation (hence, no buttery quality in the wine). So the end result is a wine with a high level of acidity and the natural fruity flavors of the wine are dominant.

Perhaps it was because I was not pairing it well (I had roast chicken on Friday night and then I had the wine again alone on Saturday for lunch), but it just wasn’t appealing to me, particularly for the price. While I like an acidic wine when the weather gets warmer, it needs balance with fruit, mineral and perhaps even some herbal qualities (which one would expect to come through the Sauv. Blanc). However, the acid was just so dominant that it overpowered any fruity qualities in the wine.

This was particularly disappointing, given my expectations from nosing the wine. I found the bright citrusy and apple aromas right off and some lemon rind and something along the terms of mint as well: I was getting excited that this was a very complex-for-the-money wine.

However, the palate did not mirror the qualities I found on the nose. The acid was the first thing I could identify in the wine; there was no hiding the fact that the acid was the dominant player in the wine (perhaps with a white-fleshed fish this would be a better match?). The citrus came through near the finish but even then it was muted by the acid.

ADDITION: I came back to the wine after Shabbos and tried it again. It had changed considerably. While the acid was still upfront and domineering, there was some more fruit coming out and a hint of slatey mineral on the finish. It’s tasting better now. Perhaps I had it too cold upon opening the wine (I blame the fridge and an extended walk home because of a cranky and uncooperative toddler). I would definitely NOT drink this wine ice cold, but rather with a slight chill. Because of the level of acidity this is a great salad wine.

The wine is $16 on the shelf and is mevushal.

Yarden "Odem" Chardonnay, Israel, 2009 *Organic*

May 8, 2011 1 comment

Yarden’s Odem Chardonnay is part of their organic offerings, but what does “organic” mean with wine? There are several categories of organic viticulture: Certified/Practicing Organic, Natural and Biodynamic.

The Certified/Practicing Organic is the most common category, at least in terms of popular knowledge; the only difference between “certified” and “practicing” is that the people who are “practicing” have not gotten a seal from a government agency, wherever they happen to be located. In Europe, you will find many wines are practicing organic and not certified because the individual operations are too small to afford the certification price tag. What this tag means is that there are no chemical fertilizers or pesticides used in the growing of the grapes. However, that doesn’t mean that they won’t use other additives to help produce/protect their wines.

“Natural” viticulture takes this process one step further. Beyond the pesticides and fertilizers, “natural” take a non-interventionist approach to winemaking. They will only use naturally abundant yeasts on the grapes themselves as well as naturally-occurring sulfites, refusing to add any lab-grown yeasts or chemical sulphites (certified organic producers do not restrict themselves as such).

“Biodynamic” producers take this one step even further than the organic and natural vintners. They will take such things as phases of the moon into account in terms of when to do certain things to fertilize/harvest/etc. Furthermore they will only use natural pest control (i.e., in France, there’s a species of wasp that is a natural enemy of several bugs that eat grape vines, so vintners will release swarms of these wasps into the vineyard to rid themselves of these pests as opposed to spraying pesticides.

In any case, each style of organic viticulture lays the claim to making a wine that is “better” for you and “better” for the earth. There is something to be said for having fewer chemicals and whatnot added to your body (my wife has a policy of “if I have trouble pronouncing it, it isn’t going into my body.”) However, data on the long-term effects of consuming/producing these types of wines are still pending.

Yarden’s Odem Chardonnay falls into the “practicing” organic category. That means that, while there are no chemical fertilizers or pesticides used, there may be added sulfites, laboratory yeasts used for fermentation, etc. Also, they were not able to file the papers with the USDA in time for the 2009 vintage to be certified as organic, though they do practice organic viticulture.

On first taste, I was underwhelmed. My palate does not typically go for oaky, buttery chardonnay (though I know many people do enjoy it), and that was all I could taste initially. However, I tried it again a few hours later and it had changed dramatically for the better. While the oak and butter were still there, it was balanced with a nice apple and pear note as well as some minerality that was reminiscent of a good Chablis. The oak and butter had become accent notes to the total product (which is how I love my Chard!).

While the Odem Chardonnay is great on its own as a mid-afternoon/evening sipper, I could also see it paired with a turkey hash or a boulliabaisse. Most fish, even heavier and fattier fishes, are too delicately flavored (the one exception may be cedar plank salmon and related dishes), and on the other extreme, most red meats are too rich and will overpower the wine. The happy medium would be a poultry dish with some good spice. This wine retails for around $22 and is a fantastic addition for a catchall chardonnay.

Categories: Israel, Organic, Yarden

Yatir Viognier, Israel

April 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Following on the heels of yesterday’s Alexander Sandro post, here’s another premier Israeli winery putting out fantastic wines. Today, we are looking at Yatir winery and their Viognier wine.

The Viognier grape is, while ancient, a relative newcomer to the popular wine market; until the last 5 or so years, it was relegated to the domain of wine geeks and those who enjoyed obscure wines. Viognier has its origins in France’s Rhone Valley (as is Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and a host of other grapes). In fact, in Northern Rhone’s districts of Condrieu and Chateau-Grillet, Viognier is the only white grape allowed by law in order to get the AOC designation.

Part of the reason that Viognier is/was so obscure is that it’s a very different wine than the three main whites in the popular wine world: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling). First, the nose tends to be EXTREMELY aromatic with tropical fruits like papaya and lychee are dominant. The Viogniers I’ve come across have been aged in stainless steel so I am not too experienced with the effect oak aging would have on the wine (hint: kosher winemakers that may be reading this blog: make an oak aged Viognier so we can see the effect! Preferrably not new oak.)

However, despite the obscurity, or perhaps because of it, I am a big fan of Viognier. All too often at the store, I will hear “I don’t like white wine because…” and the reason is usually because the client doesn’t like California Chardonnay, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or German Riesling, and thinks that all of white wine is limited to these three varietals. (In fact, in Italy there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of indigenous varietals both red and white, that we never see in America, kosher or otherwise).

Now back to Yatir’s offering. The noce is rife with tropical fruit, with notes of guava, papaya and a touch of pineapple. This would leave one to expect a particularly sweet wine, but that’s not the case. The palate, while fruity, is completely dry. The fruit component is balanced with a very racy acidity and has a voluptuous mouthfeel that definitely places this wine in the full-bodied category.

This could go well with richer Asian dishes, or even something as exotic as goat or venison (both of which are not that fatty. The wine is fat enough on its own!). If you wanted to do seafood I would put this with richer fish to stand up to the wine’s body, so go for tuna or salmon, and not a light flaky fish.

I really cannot say enough good things about this wine or this winery, which has consistently put out some outstanding wines (and priced appropriately!). But, if you can put down the investment, you’ll be richly rewarded. Cheers!

Categories: Israel, Yatir

Alexander "Sandro" Cab-Merlot, Israel, 2007

March 31, 2011 Leave a comment

This was my first experience with the Alexander winery (a new import to the US), and I can easily foresee this winery operating on the same level as Domaine du Castel and Yatir, if it isn’t already. (This is one of two wines I’ve sampled from Alexander). The style of the wine, as is Castel and Yatir, is decidedly French, meaning that the fruity qualities of the wine are secondary and the more earthy and vegetal qualities of the wine are more dominant.

Be forewarned! If you’re used to the style of wine from Baron Herzog, Teal Lake, Golan, Gamla, etc. this is a very different type of wine! Aside from the switch from fruity to earthy-dominant flavors, there’s also the oak issue. While this wine is indeed oak aged, there’s little, if any, new oak used to age the wine. If you use new oak, the oak influence is going to be stronger.

Some would say “if you’re going to do it, you may as well really do it!” But let’s put things in perspective. At the seder, you’re supposed to have a “bitter herb,” which many have interpreted to be a horseradish-based mixture (with some vinegar, etc.), but you can have too much at once and it’ll blow out your palate for the rest of the seder (or at least the Hillel sandwich!). The same with the oak influence on wine. I appreciate the extra layers of complexity and tannin that oak can lend to a wine, but if you use too much oak (especially new oak) or let the wine age too long in the barrels, you end up masking the true flavors of the wine. So oak is good–in moderation.

Strong oak influences are popular among novice wine drinkers because the heavily-oaked wines tend to be easier to drink and more palate-friendly and straight-forward. By using older oak barrels and using just a small amount of aging, the grapes’ natural characteristics come out and often these qualities are not as popular among those who are new to the wine world, or are used to the California/Australia style of wine. It’s not a judgment of taste but rather the reality of the development of the wine drinker’s palate.

To put it in another perspective, as we develop our tastes for food, from babies to children to young adults to mature adults, certain foods fall in and out of favor with our palates. Good luck trying to tell a 5 year old that artichokes are a delicious food, and you’ll have just as much luck convincing someone in their 30’s that Wacky Mac (TM) is the epitome of gastronomy!

Now that I’ve finished my aside, let’s get back to the wine itself. It’s a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (the two classic dominant grapes of Bordeaux). When I sampled this wine, it had been opened the night before, so approximately 18 hours had transpired between opening the bottle and my tasting of the wine.  So you could open this wine the first night of Passover and serve it for the 2nd seder and be in good shape!

On the nose, truffle mushrooms and green pepper were immediately apparent. On further inspection I also found aromas of old tanned leather and dried tobacco. There were some dried cherry notes but they were very much secondary; I had to work hard to find the fruit on the nose.

The fruity flavors were more easily found on the palate but still not the primary characteristics. The truffle followed through on the taste as the dominant flavor with some vanilla and butterscotch (classic signs of oak aging!). The tannin was certainly there but it was well-integrated, showing a wine that has aged well and is in its prime for consumption. The acid was there but very subtly weaved throughout.

This wine BEGS for food. From a classic grilled steak to a beef with mushroom sauce, pair this wine with red meat, please. You don’t do this wine justice just drinking on its own. If there ever were a wine that would go well with a cigar, this is the one. If you had to drink this wine on its own, I would approach it the same way I would a good single malt: have small sips over an extended period of time. This is the wine to ruminate over. But so worth it.

So how much does this wine cost, you ask? $31 at your local wine shop. In case you hadn’t noticed it already, I kinda like this wine a little. And by a little, I mean a lot. Get this wine. There isn’t much of it out there.

The other wine I tried from Alexander is one that is not even available on the American market, and definitely worthy of its own post, if for no other reason than to understand the way this wine is produced (it’s a truly mind boggling process!).

L’Chayim!

Categories: Israel