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On the Passing of Daniel Rogov

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

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 kosherwinemaven@gmail.com 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.

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.

My thoughts on a rose wine.

August 14, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

 

En Fuego Tempranillo, Yecla, Spain 2010

July 15, 2011 7 comments

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)

Rioja Wine region

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.

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

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.

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.