The opinions expressed in this blog are my own. I have not been paid by any winery, company or organization for these posts, and all wines have been purchased with my own money. My goal is twofold: to review various kosher wines from around the world, and also to educate wine consumers (kosher or otherwise) about the intricacies and joys of wine.

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

Advertisements

Borgo Reale Brunello di Montalcino, Italy 2005

June 7, 2011 Leave a comment

This time we are looking back at Italy for one of Italy’s most acclaimed wine regions: Montalcino and their star grape: Brunello. But alas! We are all likely familiar with this grape already, though from other regions (Italian or otherwise). Brunello is a type of Sangiovese grape that is found in Montalcino.

Italy is an incredibly complicated country to understand in regards to both grapes and Appellation. First, there area literally hundreds of different varietals in Italy that are indigenous to one particular area and found nowhere else. One case in point, in northern Italy there are seven villages that grow a grape called Ruche (if only it were kosher! It’s a wonderful wine). You don’t see it anywhere else in Italy or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

To make matters worse, the same grape could have multiple names in different regions, or even in the very same region. We have already seen the case of Brunello being essentially the same as Sangiovese (the main grape in Chianti). Another example comes from the Alto Adige region in Northwestern Italy, where a little-known grape called Schiava is known in the same villages as St. Magdalener because this area is strongly influenced by both Italian and Germanic forces. Same grape, same region, multiple names.

In discussing the wine regions of Italy, I’m just going to look at Tuscany to be our case study because it is the region from which our subject wine for today originates. Tuscany is subdivided into multiple regions, the most famous of which to many consumers being Chianti and the most prominent and prestigious region being Montalcino. Within Chianti you have several subclassifications, including “Colli Senesi” or “Chianti Classico” and whatnot, and each of these words does have bearing on the understanding of the wine’s origins and thus what the consumer can (or cannot) expect from the wine.

In the case of Brunello di Montalcino, the expectation is that the wine is going to be very big, lots of tannin, with darker and earthier tones being dominant while the fruitier qualities of the wine pay a distant second fiddle (though always fun to pick out when analyzing a wine).

Now, all this being said, let’s get on with our main focus today: Borgo Reale‘s offering for a Brunello. As far as I know, this is the first (and thus far, only) Brunello on the kosher market (though if this is not true, PLEASE correct me…and also tell me where I can find such another specimen!). And while I thought it was a delightful bottle of wine, I also thought that it was a disappointment for a Brunello.

As I mentioned earlier Brunelli are expected to be big and bold with strong earthen tones and high acid and structure from the tannins, screaming for some food to truly do the wine justice. Typically, because of the nature of the beast, you very rarely see young Brunelli on the market; most are at least 5 or 6 years old before you see them on the shelf, and many can age for a decade or more before the tannins and acid resolve enough to enable you to get past them and taste the rest of the wine’s qualities.

While the wine was delicious, it did not hold true to many of a Brunello’s traditional qualities. First off, the wine was much lighter-bodied than I was expecting; it lacked the structure and acidity that I was expecting and was a bit fruity for my liking for such a wine.

That being said, it is also a good bottle of wine. The fruits were soft and had the tell-tale signs of an aged wine: instead of being fresh and perhaps jammy, they were not as strong and had more of a dried strawberry and cherry quality. There was a bit of earthy, tarry notes (which I associate with a Brunello, but as the more dominant characteristics, not the minor supporting roles which they play here). The finish was a little short for my liking (again, operating under the assumption that this was going to be a more traditional Brunello), but it was pleasantly dry.

This wine is mevushal (perhaps explaining some of the lack of sophistication and complexity?), and goes for around $60 on the shelf. I thought it was a delightful wine to have on its own and of course with food. Try this with lighter meats like poultry.

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

Gamla Reserve Merlot, Galilee

April 5, 2011 Leave a comment

So, despite Paul Giamatti’s tirade on Sideways I decided to give Merlot a chance. While I generally agree with his character’s stance on the grape (keep tuned!), there are always exceptions to the rule.

So why do wine geeks rag on Merlot so much? In general, there’s a very simple reason: a lack of balance. California Merlot has been an insanely popular wine from the 60s and 70s through today. Its popularity stems from the soft and plummy nature of the grape. Its tannins are generally lower than its Cabernet cousins and is a very approachable wine. By being so fruity and low in tannin, acid, etc., and yet full-bodied, Merlot is the kind of wine that many newbies to the wine world can easily pick up and enjoy. But this quality is a double-edged sword.

This lack of variance and lack of acid/tanin, due to a general tendency in Cali (and other areas) to allow the grape to overripen, leads to a wine that, while easily approachable and drinkable, is also very uninteresting and lacking dimension. In other terms, Merlot, the way it’s produced for mass market wines, is like listening to a person singing unaccompanied. While the singer’s music is likely more easily heard and understood, the lack of background musical movement leads to an overall uninteresting performance. As another image, think of how the Olympic sport of ice skating would change if there were no music for the skater(s) to perform to.

Earlier I mentioned over-ripening the grape. The school of thought in California (and many New World-style producers) is to let the grape ripen as long as possible on the vine. The resulting wine is going to be fuller in body and lower in acid. Robert Parker is one of the more famous wine critics whose palate has done nothing but wonders for the full-bodied, over-ripened, uber-fruity, heavily oaked wines.

In an attempt to make up for the lack of tannic structure in the wine, California winemakers will often age their Merlots in oak barrels for extended periods; this oak aging will allow the wine to leach tannin from the oak and give some of that structure that it so desperately needs. However, the downside to oak aging of this type is that the flavors and aromas that the wine gets from the oak also tend to overpower whatever flavors and aromas are extant in the wine itself.

In short, the overripe, fruity, oaky Merlot, while a wine that even the most rudimentary drinker can enjoy, often leaves the sophisticat wanting.

So, getting off my soap box and moving along….today’s specimen is an oak aged Merlot from Israel by Gamla. While not my favorite wine that I’ve ever tasted, it certainly has some redeeming factors that make it a wine that isn’t deserving of a carte blanche criticism of the Sideways persuasion.

Yes, it is oaky. You can tell this from the strong vanilla and smoky aromas that the wine gives off. (and yes, these qualities are echoed in the palate). but beyond that, you will find that there is some tobacco, woody spice and dark plum notes that lend the wine some interest. The last couple of days I’ve been drinking this wine with both roast chicken and chicken soup and it is probably not the best companion for those dishes, but at the same time not the worst, either.  I would like to try this wine with a dish centered around some merguez sausage or something else of that sort…maybe a Majadara or Tajine. Both of these dishes are round and relatively softly-flavored and allow for some interesting interaction on your palate with a wine such as this.

Categories: Uncategorized

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