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.

Teal Lake Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004, Australia

February 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Teal Lake was the first and is perhaps the most famous of the Australian kosher wineries. Their standard offerings (at around $14/bottle) typify the Australian style of big, fruit-forward and very easily enjoyable.

Australian wines fall into the category of “New World” winemaking styles because of the emphasis on fruit in the wine and de-emphasizing the earthier and more rustic aspects of wines normally found in their European counterparts. Also, and more importantly, there is a lack of restrictions on winemaking in New World regions as compared to their “Old World” counterparts. In Europe, there is a system of appellation of origin (AOC in France, DO in Spain and Portugal, DOC/DOCG in Italy) that guarantees the consumer that the contents of a given bottle will have certain grapes, aging etc. In other words, in France to have the title “Appellation Bordeaux Controllee”) you must have a wine that is made up of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with some other grapes such as Petit Verdot, Malbec and Tannat allowed in the blend in small amounts. If you wanted to make a wine based on Pinot Noir in Bordeaux, you would not be allowed to have an AOC Bordeaux label on your wine. So not only does the appellation of origin guarantee the location of the wine’s production but also what is in the wine, etc.

If I wanted to make a Cabernet-based wine in Burgundy, for example, I would have to “declassify” my wine into a “lower” level of production, usually “Vin de Pays” (a translation of that phrase is “country wine”). Under Vin de Pays and lower classifications of wine, there is more freedom in the grapes used to make a given wine, but the wine maker is not allowed to use a more specific designation to describe the wine’s geographic origins. Furthermore, many Vin de Pays are restricted in the prices they can charge for said wine.

By contrast, New World wines don’t have these kinds of restrictions on their winemaking. While there is still some appellation control involved in the New World, its focus is primarily on the geography of the wine; it guarantees that your wine is from Napa Valley, and not, say from Sonoma or Oregon. But beyond those restrictions, there is not much the law says about the wines New World wine makers produce. They have the freedom to make wines from whatever grapes they want, in whatever proportions desired. As a wine maker I can use my vineyard to grow Cabernet Sauvignon (classically grown in warmer Bordeaux) but then if I want, I can rip out the vines and grow Pinot Noir (classically from cooler-climate Burgundy) in the same plot of land. I can age the wine as long as I want in whatever kind of container (from small oak barrels to massive stainless steel tanks) I should choose.

The most famous grape in the Australian vineyard is Shiraz, which most people don’t realize is the exact same grape as Syrah from the Rhone region of France. However, despite being the same grape, there are distinct differences between them that could justify the name change. Whereas French Syrah is typically earthy and spicy as its predominant characteristics, Australian wine makers typically emphasize the fruit flavors of the wine by allowing the grapes to mature until the last possible moment before picking. Furthermore, many Australian wine makers use new oak barrels and/or oak chips in older barrels to give their wines a more oaky flavor (you’d notice strong vanilla, buterscotch and smoky aromas/flavors in the wine).

Now, let’s turn our attention to the main character in today’s post: Teal Lake Cab Sauv Reserve 2004. I had this wine in January 2011 so the wine itself is 7 years old! That is an unusual marker for any modern-styled wine to be able to age that long, and it’s important to note that it has only been available on the market for a few months now, so it’s not a wine that just sat on shelves and no one bought. It was aged and then released at the winery’s discretion.

My tasting of this wine was a very confusing one because I was getting notes that I would have expected from an older wine while still getting some qualities that are typical for Australian wines. On the nose I smelled fresh jammy fruits right off. The fact that this quality was present at all, let alone the predominant aroma was quite confusing to me. When a wine ages, the fresh fruity qualities that are present in a younger wine disappear. For example, instead of fresh jammy plums in a young wine, one would get the essence of dried or preserved fruit (ie, prunes). However, in the Teal Lake 2004 I was able to distinctly smell the fresh cherries and blueberries in the wine. In the background there were some tell-tale earthy and musty qualities that are typical in older wines, which were pleasant in their own right.

On the palate these seemingly conflicting experiences continued. I tasted ripe strawberries initially but they gave way to green pepper and leathery notes with a relatively short finish. There was enough tannin to the wine that it has the potential to go with something like a burger (or something else on the barbie) but not enough acidity for me to call it  hearty food wine.  I think it is enjoyable on its own as a sipper in the middle of the day as a starter for a longer dinner.

Overall, despite the confusion this wine brought to my nose and palate, I thought it was a very intriguing wine that both confirmed and denied its age (can you do botox on a bottle of wine?). I would hope that some of my readers would buy a bottle themselves and tell me their thoughts on the bottle. It goes for around $20 on store shelves.

L’chayim!

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Domaine Netofa, Galil, 2008

February 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Domaine Netofa is a smaller production winery (compared to such behemoths as Carmel, Golan Heights Winery, etc.), but size matters not. The difference is in your bottle. The wine we are reviewing today is a lighter-bodied red that is made in the style of Cotes du Rhone of France. Now, before we get into the wine itself, it is very important to understand the Rhone style of winemaking.

The Rhone Valley is in southern France, which explains why the grapes used to make its wines are generally suited to warmer climates: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussane, and 7 other grapes are allowed to be used throughout the region. However, the predominant red grapes (and, incidentally, the grapes used to make the Netofa wine, which is our subject today). Syrah is known to be a medium-to-full bodied grape with characteristic spicy and/or herbaceous notes; yes, that means that a Syrah (or Shiraz, as it’s known in Australia) will have some flavors remniscient of pepper and other herbs and spices that give it a little zip. Grenache can sometimes have a spicy component, too, but not nearly as much as Syrah. Grenache is going to have a very bright juiciness about it as well as some jammy qualities. Mourvedre is the least-used grape in our trio today and is used primarily for its color and to add body to the wine.

 Now, on to the main event! I tasted this bottle several times over the course of a Shabbos not too long ago. On first evaluation I was not able to get a lot out of the wine either on the nose or upon tasting; granted, I popped the cork and poured almost immediately for Kiddush. This tells me that this is a wine that would benefit from some breathing time. What this means is that you open the bottle and leave it exposed to the air for a while, say an hour or so. (Next time I have this wine, I’ll open it before going to shul and then pour for Kiddush!)

The next morning I tasted the wine again and found its fruity and floral qualities apparent on the nose.  There was some blackberry present but it wasn’t either jammy (which would suggest long growing on the vine) or underripe (which would suggest a cooler climate vineyard). Instead, it was perfectly ripe and juicy and partnered with some earthy, mushroomy qualities which were quite delighful. I caught a hint of the peppery spice that is Syrah’s trademark. Upon my second tasting of the wine, it was clearly a lighter-bodied wine and I tasted some plum for the fruit. Instead of the pepper I caught on the nose, I found more cinnamon or cloves. It was a relatively simple wine but had a long and pleasant finish.

Because it was a lighter-bodied wine, I wouldn’t really pair it with roasts and other rich meaty fare. Instead, look to lighter meats, such as chicken, or as a companion to stew or even Indian cuisine. I’ve had a few curries that I think would pair well with this wine.

This wine will retail for around $30 in your local shop and is well worth the time and money to experience. However, be forewarned. If you’re used to the super fruity wines, such as those from Australia (see my next post!) that don’t have so much structure, then this is a significant change. The Domaine Netofa really goes after its Rhone roots by going for a more austere style. To make a more base analogy, where many Australian wines are very much a “what you see is what you get” kind of product, the Netofa (and its Rhone counterparts) are much more shy and, like onions and ogres, have layers.

This is definitely a wine to have again and I would be intrigued as to how the wine would stand up to some aging. Grab yourself a bottle and let me know what you think.

L’Chayim!

Categories: Israel

How is wine made?

November 7, 2010 Leave a comment

And what makes Kosher wine special compared to its non-kosher brethren?

The wine making process begins in the vineyard. The vine grower determines which varietal(s) he/she is going to grow (Cabernet? Merlot? Chardonnay? Riesling?) and how much of each grape. Then the vines are trained onto trellises (this is done over a period of years).

In America, and in many places in the New World, these decisions are based upon two prevailing factors: the climate of the region (certain grapes do better in a hotter climate while others do better in a cooler climate), and the vineyard owner’s own instincts regarding the land’s productivity.

However, in Europe, much of these decisions are based upon centuries of tradition. To protect the integrity of these traditions, many European nations (most notably Spain, France and Italy) have set up Origin of Appellation controls. In France, they’re called the AC, in Spain the DO and in Italy the DOC or DOCG depending on the area. More on Italy’s system later.These rules govern which grape varietals may be grown in a given region and in some cases even the maximum/minimum proportions for any given permitted grape.

For example, in Bordeaux the primary grapes in any AC red wine must include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. There are other grapes permitted in a Bordeaux wine, such as Petit Verdot, but these are minor in terms of overall blending proportions. However, you would never see Pinot Noir or Syrah in a Bordeaux AC red because the French wine making laws forbid it. In Burgundy the only red grape permitted is Pinot Noir (the one notable exception is in the Beajolais district, where the primary grape is Gamay), and the only white grape is Chardonnay.

After the vines have been planted and growing for several years, they will begin producing grapes. These grapes are harvested usually at the end of Summer or beginning of Fall (there are a few exceptions, such as the German Trockenberenauslese and Eisweins that are harvested much later in the year, but we will address those in a different article).

The harvested grapes are brought to the winery where the berries are separated from any stems or leaves that are still attached. And then they are pressed. With only a handful of exceptions, most notably the Concord grape, all grape juice is white; that is, without any pigmentation in it. The coloration occurs when the grape juice, called “must,” is left in contact with the grape skins. Incidentally, the only difference between a blush/rose wine and its red counterparts, in terms of coloration, is the amount of time the juice was left in contact with the skins after pressing. Some roses are only left in contact for a few hours, while some reds are in contact for months.

After pressing comes fermentation. Yeasts are added to the barrels or tanks of must and over the course of approximately two weeks the must is turned into wine. Yeast will consume the sugars that are in the must and convert that sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Because in most cases the wine is not fermented in a sealed, pressurized tank, the carbon dioxide escapes and we are left with the juice and alcohol.

The difference between a “sweet” wine and a “dry” wine is merely the amount of sugar that the wine maker left in the final product.In certain parts of the world, there is an allowed practice called chaptalization, whereby the winemaker adds sugar to the fermenting must with the goal of either increasing the alcohol content or increasing the sweetness of the final product. Many European countries have banned this practice, however.

Once the fermentation is complete the new wine is aged in barrels. The barrel has a surprisingly important (or unimportant, if that’s the wine maker’s goal) role in the wine’s flavors and aromas. As part of the process of making the barrel itself, the cooper will place the partly-finished barrel over a fire, allowing the insides of the barrel to char, called “toasting” the barrel; generally speaking, the darker the toast, the more flavors the barrel will impart to the wine. There are generally three types of oak used in wine barrels: French oak, American oak and Hungarian oak. Hungarian oak, even with toasting, is generally neutral and will not impart much flavor to the wine. However, for American oak, a heavily toasted barrel will usually impart sweeter, vanilla and butterscotch flavors to the wine whereas French oak tends to give more savory qualities such as a buttery flavor or aroma.

While in the aging barrel, there is an optional second type of fermentation called malo-lactic fermentation that the wine maker can choose to have the wine undergo. This requires the introduction of a bacteria into the wine that will convert the malic acid into lactic acid in the wine. If you’ve tasted a Calfiornia Chardonnay and noticed a very strong butter flavor or aroma that’s because California wine makers are notorious for relying heavily on malo-lactic fermentation.

Now, for those of you who are lactose intolerant, don’t worry! This will not cause you to have any problems! There is no lactose in wine. Lactic acid merely gives a richer mouthfeel to the wine and provides for buttery flavors therein. There’s no actual butter in the wine!

After aging (sometimes as little as a few weeks, other times they are aged for years), the wine is fined and filtered, removing any sediment that may have been in the barrels with the wine (note: not all wine makers do this nowadays. Particularly with some of the organic or biodynamic producers, many choose not to do this process to preserve the integrity of their organic product).

Lastly, the wine is pumped into bottles and corked, labeled and shipped.

Now, where does kosher fall into this spectrum? There are two major differences between kosher wine and non-kosher wine. The first is that Shomer Shabbos Jews are the only people allowed to handle the wine, from the moment the grapes arrive at the winery to the moment the cork is placed in the bottle. That means that they are the only ones allowed to introduce yeasts, malo-lactic fermentation bacteria, any fining/filtering agents, etc. Additionally, all ingredients added to the wine, such as the yeast, bacteria and filtering agents, must all be certified kosher themselves.

The second major difference between kosher and non-kosher wine is the issue of mevushal or boiling the wine. This practice goes back to the days of the Temple. A major concern for the Jews had always been ensuring that the wine used for the sacrifices at the Temple was never otherwise used for a libation offering for one of the neighboring pagan gods. To ensure their wine’s sanctity, Jews would boil the wine first, as the pagans considered boiled wine to be an inferior product and not worthy of a libation to their gods. That practice has continued today with the following intentions: if a wine is mevushal then a non-Jew can handle the wine after it has been opened. If a wine is NOT mevushal, then after opening if a non-Jew handles the bottle, the wine is no longer kosher.

For most of America’s history, nearly all kosher wine was mevushal. It was a simple necessity to ensure kashrut at all points along a wine’s path from winery to table. However, today, mevushal wines are becoming less common, as more Jews are patronizing higher-quality wines. They realize that indeed boiling the wine does negatively affect the flavors of the wine (with some training, you can immediately tell from smelling and tasting a wine if it’s mevushal or not. It has a telltale “cooked” characteristic).

So, to get the maximum enjoyment out of their investment, wine makers and consumers alike have been gravitating more towards non mevushal wine production, particularly in Israel. Even in America, most of the mevushal wines are priced in the $10 and under category. There are a handful of higher priced wines that are mevushal; I recall a few years back that Baron Herzog had made one of their higher-end Cabernets mevushal, and it was priced in the mid 30’s at that time.

But that is wine making in a nutshell. There are nuances that I glossed over here because the goal today is to outline the overall process of making wine. As these nuances become important in a discussion of other wines, I will address them at that time. For example, take a look at my post discussing Cava and the Champagne method of bubbly production.

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Wine 101 part I

November 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Today, instead of reviewing a wine and giving some background info about that particular wine or style, I thought I would start an ongoing series of posts to introduce concepts of wine to those who don’t already know what it’s all about.

To start, let’s discuss the 5 S’s of wine tasting: See, Swirl, Smell, Sip and Spit.

Wine (and all food for that matter) is something that uses nearly all your senses to enjoy at the deepest levels.

First, let’s look at how wine and sight meet up. After you pour your wine into a glass (note: despite what you see in restaurants and at kiddush, you should never fill up your wine glass all the way to the top. Just fill it up to the widest point of your glass), simply look at the wine. The visual effects of the wine can tell you a lot about it without tasting or smelling.

What can you tell about the color? Red wines lose color as they age, while white wines gain color as they age. So, without even looking at the bottle to find the vintage (and to calculate the age of the wine therein), you can look at a red and if it is intensely colored, you can generally assume that it is a younger wine (say, 4 years from vintage or less). The more brick-red color it gets, the older the wine is.

The opposite is true in whites. Younger whites tend to be paler and almost clear in color, while older whites take on a more golden hue.

Again, the purpose of wine (and dining for that matter) is to please the senses. So take a minute and reflect on the artistry (selecting the percentages of different grapes to blend together, the amount of time it took to age the wine properly at the winery, etc.) and see how the finished product is pleasing to the eye.
Checking out the legs
Swirl the wine around in your glass for a second and then look at the droplets of wine that cling to the side. These are called legs. Generally speaking, the wider the legs, the higher the alcohol content. Additionally, if the droplets are moving down the glass more slowly than you would expect, that suggests that there is a significant amount of sugar in the wine as well (sweet! Literally.)

Swirl
Now, swirl your glass again, for maybe 10-20 seconds. The goal is to aerosolize some of the compounds in the wine itself. This will help with the next few steps.On a more aesthetic note, you just look cool swirling wine in a glass. 

Smell
Part one of the moment you’ve been waiting for. Shortly after givng your wine a good long swirl (please don’t do this with bubbly…you’ll make your wine flat), stick your nose in the glass (yet ANOTHER reason not to fill the glass to the top). Inhale deeply. What do you notice? Each grape has distinctive characteristics that will let you know of its presence in the glass.

For example, Cabernet Sauvignon (perhaps one of the world’s greatest hybrid grapes) characteristically has a green pepper note to it, as does Sauvignon Blanc (one of its two parent grapes.) On the other hand, Pinot Grigio tends to have more tropical fruit notes to it. Incidentally, in the Chianti region of Italy, it is law that any wine that wants to be labeled as Chianti must, among other things, have a violet smell to it.

Repeat the swirl and smell as much as you like. As you practice, you will begin to pick up on various other smells that are familiar to you. Particularly with California reds, often you will smell extremely ripe fruits, from strawberries to cherries, blackberries and beyond. Often you will also get spice notes (such as cinnamon, pepper, tobacco) and earthy tones as well (think mushrooms, etc.)

Swirl again to aerosolize more of the compounds to prepare for sipping.

The Sip!
Take a small sip of the wine; enough to be able to coat your tongue, but not so much that you can’t move it around your mouth. Do your taste buds confirm or contradict what you smelled? Often your nose will  tell you one thing and your mouth another. That’s ok! It’s part of the experience.

Some things to ask yourself when sipping: What fruits am I tasting? Tropical? Tree fruits? Berries? Are they under ripe?  Over ripe? Are there any spices I can distinguish? What about earthen tones? How strong are they?

When dealing with red wines, there’s the added component of tannins, the antioxidant that made headlines with “The French Paradox.” It’s the astringent, mouth-puckering sensation you get when drinking reds. Wines like a California Cabernet or Zinfandel will usually have a lot more tannin to them as opposed to many Pinot Noirs, etc.

Finally, and this applies to both reds and whites, what is the mouthfeel of the wine? Heavy bodied? Medium? Light? The best way to think of mouthfeel in this sense is to compare heavy cream (full-bodied) to whole milk (medium-body) to skim milk (light body).

Spit
This is perhaps the least glamorous part of wine tasting, but the plus side is that you only really NEED to do this if you are tasting a whole bunch of wines at once. When I’ve gone to wine tasting events, there have been upwards of 200 wines; now, if each sample is 1 oz, then without spitting I would have consumed 200 oz of wine. Suffice it to say, I doubt I would have been able to walk out of the event on my own two feet. Instead, most of these stations will have a bucket into which you spit your wine.

If you are only having a few wines and/or you’re at a meal, it goes without saying that spitting is discouraged (and unsightly with your guests). But it is a recognized and necessary part of wine tasting when dealing with larger amounts of the fruit of the vine.

So there you have it. Armed with these tools you can go out and taste and appreciate virtually any wine without knowing much about what is on the label. As you taste and experience more wines (and keep reading this blog!) You will be able to identify some telltale characteristics of certain wines and grapes that will help you in understanding more about the geography of the wine’s origin. For, especially in parts of Europe, the geography of the wine is as important as the grape itself.

L’chayim!

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Elvi Adar Cava (non-vintage)

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Cava is Spain’s answer to Champagne. While the grapes are very different from Cava to Champagne (Champagne can only be made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and/or Chardonnay, while Cava can be made from a wide variety of indigenous grapes such as Xarel-Lo and Maccabeo), the production method is very similar.

Both start out the way any other wine would be made: take grape juice and ferment with yeast until all the sugars are converted into alcohol. From there the wine is bottled and then what’s called secondary fermentation happens. Wine makers will put in some fresh yeast into the bottle along with some more sugar and then cap the bottles. This secondary fermentation does produce some more alcohol, but more importantly, it also produces carbon dioxide gas, which makes our bubbly, well, bubbly. (There’s carbon dioxide in the original fermentation as well but since that happens in tanks or barrels, the CO2 escapes into the air. In secondary fermentation the bottle cap prevents the gas from escaping).

After the secondary fermentation, the bottles go through a process called riddling, whereby all the now-dead yeast has settled on the bottom of the bottle and is slowly moved to the top. The top of the bottle, with a huge plug of yeast, is frozen and the cap is removed. The pressure from the CO2 forces the frozen yeast plug out of the bottle and the wine is quickly filled with some syrup (called dosage) and then capped with the famed Champagne cork and cage.

Incidentally, most of the bottles that are sold today have the word “brut” on them (there are others that have “sec” or “demi-sec”  or “extra dry” on them). This refers to the amount of dosage that was added to the bottle. Brut has the least amount of dosage and demi-doux (can be hard to find outside of Russia) has the most.

So that’s Champagne, Cava and any other sparkling wine that has the phrase “methode champenoise” on the label. Now, a little bit of legalese. THE ONLY SPARKLING WINE THAT CAN LEGALLY BE CALLED CHAMPAGNE ARE WINES FROM THE CHAMPAGNE REGION OF FRANCE! There are a couple of labels that were grandfathered in as exceptions to this law but it has been internationally recognized that any bottle that says “Champagne” on the label MUST come from that region in France. It is otherwise illegal.These wines are called “sparkling wine” as a general category. Spain has Cava, Italy has Prosecco, etc.

The Cava we’re talking about today comes from the Elvi company. I was reluctant to review this wine initially. I had tasted it the first time right after it was released in the US about a year and a half ago, and it was not good. Looking back, I don’t know whether it was just a bad few bottles I tasted or maybe a bad shipment, but in any case, it was not so good at the very beginning.

I tasted this wine again about two weeks ago and I was pleasantly surprised. The first things I noticed were the zippy acidity (it makes your mouth water after having some) and the refreshing mineral notes on the palate. The citrusy notes came after and had a long lingering finish.

This wine would pair well with light fish (salmon steer clear of this wine!) or with a light pasta sauce such as primavera.

Or you know what? Drink it on its own. If you are having a party and want something to get everyone started, this is a great option. Or to sit back and relax in the tub with your favorite book.

L’chayim!

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Baron Herzog Zinfandel, Lodi (California), 2007

August 29, 2010 Leave a comment

I had promised a review of a California Kosher wine in my previous post so here it is: the Herzog Zinfandel 2007. Lodi, California (pronounced low-dye) is known for its production of Zinfandel, a grape that has a varied and dubious history.

No one is absolutely positive where Zinfandel came from, and as such, there are many stories regarding where the grape came from. For a long time, Zinfandel was thought to come to America via Hungary, when immigrants brought the vine over from Europe. However, recent genetic experiments in Italy suggest that Zinfandel is related to, if not the exact same grape as Primitivo, which is found most prominently in the Puglia region.

Zinfandels are characteristically very high in alcohol and have lots of fruit notes. Also they tend to be pretty tannic (read: eat with fatty meats, particularly beef)

Now, the last two wines I reviewed were very subtly flavored with many layers coming out each time I tasted the wines. The Herzog Zin, on the other hand, is not subtle at all. To give an image, for those of you who have seen Caddy Shack II, the Yarden Syrah and Rothschild Bordeaux were closer to the long-time members of the country club: with an air of refinement. However, the Herzog Zin I would liken more to Jackie Mason’s character: gaudy and flamboyant, but still fun.

Please don’t read anything negative into that description. I’m not trying to put down any of the wines I’ve tasted thus far. At the same time, though, the Herzog Zin comes from a different  place and with a different goal in mind than the other two, as I’ll describe below.

On the nose, I got a lot of blackberry fruit, extremely ripe. Also, the alcohol was very present (again, typical of Zinfandel); I got almost a burning sensation when I was smelling the wine–that’s the alcohol sayin’ “howdy!” And there was a little woody spice at the end..something along the terms of licorice or star anise.

The palate was very similar. The very first thing I tasted was the over ripe blackberries; there was no subtlety at all. Instead of a licorice flavor I got more of a black pepper note.

This wine is very simple and straightforward. What it lacks in complexity it makes up for in approachability. For those who are looking for a “big,” full-bodied red, this is a great one to try.

Let’s talk food for a second. This is definitely a burger or chulent wine. Both dishes are fun and enjoyable but not necessarily elegant (if you have an elegant chulent recipe, please let me know!!). The tanins in the wine play well with the fats that would be in the meat or stew while the fruit plays a nice complement to the earthy tones that the dishes have.

This wine goes for about $10-12 in most wine stores

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Baron Edmund de Rothschild, Bordeaux, Haut-Medoc, 2005

August 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Ok, so I started in Israel in my last post and I’m working my way west. Today’s stop is in the Bordeaux region of France. Before I talk about the wine, let’s discuss wine labeling for a minute (yes, it has some bearing on this conversation!).

In many places around the world, especially in the Americas and Australia, wines are labeled by their grape varietal (e.g., Cabernet Sauvigion, Chardonnay, etc.). They tell you exactly what’s in the bottle (with some leeway, but that’s another post.) In most of France, they will not tell you the grape that is in the bottle, but rather the region, and you are supposed to know based on that, what grapes should be in the bottle. As we encounter different regions (or subregions) I’ll explain the varietals that you can expect there.

In Bordeaux, there are two major subregions, divided by the Gironde River, namely the Left Bank and the Right Bank. The entire region uses the same main red varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Right Bank wines use primarily Cab Sauv., while Left Bank wines use primarily Merlot. In either case, Cab Franc is used in a supporting role. In any case, most wines in the Bordeaux region are blends; it’s rare to find a single-varietal wine here.

Is a single varietal better than a blend? Some say yes, some say no. I personally think that there are advantages to both sides of the argument, and that by having both, it’s a better and fuller wine world. But I digress….

The Haut-Medoc is a district within the Medoc region, which is an area of the Right Bank (pop quiz: so what grape is dominant in this wine? That’s right, Cabernet Sauvignon!)

The vintage in Europe is much more important than it is in the New World, primarily because weather can (and does!) vary so much more there than it does in the major wine producing regions in the Americas (think about it: there’s a reason we all want to hang out in California.). 2005 was a landmark year for Bordeaux and many of its wines were built to age for long periods of time.

Personally, I live in an apartment in New York. I don’t have the space–or the patience–to store or cellar wine for years and years. Fortunately, the Edmund de Rosthchild 2005 doesn’t need to be cellared for all that long (though you probably could hold on to it for a couple of years).

This wine had more of a dark ruby hue to it. On the first taste, it was difficult to get much out of the wine; it’s definitely a wine that you want to open an hour or two before serving!

Bordeaux wines, like their counterparts in the Rhone Valley, are not as fruit-forward as their New World counterparts, which can be a little off-putting to some people. Instead, you generally get notes like green pepper, tobacco, leather and tar (yes, this is actually a good thing, and rather pleasant. In a similar vein, if you get yourself an old German Riesling–I think there are a few kosher ones out there–you will typically get notes of petrol which is actually not an unpleasant smell/taste despite the implications of the name).

What fruit you do notice in these wines tend to taste and smell more like under ripe fruits (more astringent and sour). In California, the fruit qualities in the wine are dominant and they tend to lean towards the over ripe range of a fruit’s life. This has a lot to do with the wine-growing theories spouted by UC-Davis’ oenology department (namely, let the grape get as ripe as humanly possible without letting it go bad). On the other hand, in Bordeaux, winemakers tend to pick before peak ripeness.

When I was sampling this wine last Shabbos, again, I didn’t get much on the nose initially, mostly green pepper. The palate was very tannic (that astringent mouth-puckering quality in red wines). There wasn’t as much acid in the wine as I was expecting from a Bordeaux, but it made up for that with notes of tobacco and mushrooms.

When I tasted the wine again Saturday afternoon, the wine had opened up tremendously, allowing for more of the fruit qualities to come out. The earthier notes were still present but softened considerably compared to the initial tasting.

This kind of wine is right up my alley, but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not for everyone, especially if what you’re looking for is the uber fruity kind of wine (for those who like this type of wine, stay tuned next week!). And it begs for red meat. It would pair very well with a steak with some sort of mushroom sauce. The fats in the meat would go well with the tannins and the earthiness in the wine would be reflected in the mushroom sauce.

All this being said, it was overall a very pleasant wine to drink. L’chayim!

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Yarden Syrah 2005

August 12, 2010 Leave a comment

For my first wine post, I thought I’d pick one of the stars of the Israeli kosher wine world, and perhaps one of the companies that put Israeli wine (kosher or otherwise) on the map: the Golan Heights Winery. In particular, I tasted the Yarden Syrah, 2005 vintage.

Before opening, I was very concerned that I was opening a California syrah wannabe: über fruity and lots of smoky oak aging. However, I was very pleasantly surprised.

Wine uses 4 of your 5 senses: taste, touch, smell and sight. Upon visual inspection, I saw that the wine was intensely colored with a grapey shade of purple (typical of syrah) and heavily concentrated, which led me to expect a huge punch of flavor and aromas.

Like I said before, I was expecting very stereotypically California-ish qualities out of the wine (lots of fruit, peppery spice in the case of the syrah grape, and smokey oak qualities, and generally over-the-top), as many Israeli wineries are opting for this style (it sells more bottles); however, this was not the case for the Yarden Syrah.

Instead, it reminded me more of what you would get out of the Rhone Valley in France (the home of the syrah grape). In France, the best wines are more restrained. The fruity qualities are still present, but usually not overripe and in-your-face; this allows for other characteristics to come through, things that are more earthy.

In this case, the earthiness was very present, but not offensive. There was a distinctly mushroomy quality, as well as something gamey–almost reminiscent of venison.  There was oak aging on this wine with hints of butterscotch and vanilla, but it was an accent, not the primary note.

As far as the fruity qualities, there was some grapeyness going on as well as plum, but if anything, they seemed a little under ripe. And finally there was some characteristic spice going on at the end, black pepper and clove.

And now, the main event: tasting! The wine is very tannic, meaning it would go well with a dish with some fat or other richness going on. The acidic qualities complement the tannins in the wine. The black pepper and clove are more assertive on my palate than when I smelled the wine. The fruit is there, but again, it’s very restrained and the fruits are under ripe.

I enjoyed this wine thoroughly, and would heartily recommend it to others. One word of warning, though: IT NEEDS FOOD! I ate a roast chicken breast with this wine and it didn’t go well together. If I were to do this again, I’d pair it with a steak or lamb chop. Maybe a beef bourguignon. You’ll want to have something that is rich and has a good amount of fat to counter the acid and tannins in the wine.

This wine goes for around $25 – $30 in most wine stores, but I have seen it on sale for as little as $20. In any case, if you need a wine for a gift that will impress, or if you’re doing a nicer dinner party, this is an excellent bottle to buy!

Welcome!

July 20, 2010 Leave a comment

This is your kosher wine maven! My goals in this blog are to ultimately spread the joy of wine and spirits to the kosher community. While I am based in the NYC area, hopefully people around the world will be able to read and enjoy the information that I post.

Generally speaking, my posts will surround one of the following categories

  • My tasting notes on a given wine
  • Wine education and/or tasting suggestions
  • Events that I am hosting and/or sponsoring in the area.
Categories: Uncategorized