Kosher Wine Extravaganza – Unusual (but gooood) wines


(Picture of Aron Ritter – founder of KOSHER WINE SOCIETY)

I attended the “Kosher Wine Extravaganza” today in Manhattan sponsored by Gotham Wines, one of the largest retailers of kosher wine.  This was the 5th year that this event was held and there seem to be more wines each year.  Out of well over 100 wines I managed to taste 81 of them followed by some Cognac (which I was told I was not allowed to spit) to finish things off.

I could write about the fabulous Israeli Cab or the not so fabulous French Bordeaux, the overrated California red, or awful Israel Merlot (it was BAD) but who cares?!?!! Merlot, Cab, Syrah – been there done that. Come on Wine Tasting Guy, give us something unusual.

Well you want unusual, you got it!

I started the tasting off visiting the Dalton table. Dalton has been a favorite Israeli producer for many years and following my “Passover wine recommendations” post you are well aware that I “grew up” on the Dalton Canaan. But, getting back to the theme of UNUSUAL, I found a Dalton wine that I have not tried for at least a year. And this vintage in particular I have never tried. It was the 2006 Dalton Estate Barbera. A lighter wine than a Cab, merlot or Syrah, Barbera is said to be the most (or second most) planter varietal in Italy. This wine had a nice floral & red berry bouquet with very moderate tannins. It was smooth with a lip smacking acidity that will certainly hold up to pasta with a red sauce or even a grilled burger.

Another wine that fits the bill here was one from Recanati. No, not the Petit Sirah/Zin blend – another people know is a favorite of mine. Rather it was a 2004 (I think) Recanati Reserve Cabernet Franc. Cab Franc is one of the 5 Bordeaux varietals (grapes which can be used to make French Bordeaux wine – others being Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec & Petit Verdot), and it is usually used as a complementary grape as opposed to a primary grape in Bordeaux. I am not typically a fan of Cab Franc as one of its typical aroma characteristics is a herbaceous green bell pepper aroma that doesn’t do it for me. Many people like this a lot, but I have yet to acquire the taste for it. That said, I have recently come upon some French Chinon (made from Cab Franc) and even a California Cab Franc that I have enjoyed as their “green notes” were either absent or very subtle. I suspected that this wine would have STRONG green notes, but it didn’t – and i really enjoyed the wine. Nice subtle fruit & earth, gripping tannins and (I think) a little bit of white pepper with a medium to long finish combined to make this wine a winner!

The Kadesh Barnea Winery is located in Southern Israel in the Negev desert. I’m amazed that wine grapes are successfully being grown that far down south – especially when you think of the torridly hot summer days. I tasted a wine of theirs a few months ago at a tasting in Israel and was very impressed. They had 3 wines at the tasting yesterday and one that stood out as unusual was their 2005 Gilad Reserve. I was told that the blend was an UNUSUAL one – containing Petit Verdot, Shiraz & Petit Sirah. A very exciting and UNUSUAL blend. Further research has revealed that the wine may in fact be a blend of Petit Verdot (10%), Shiraz (10%) and Merlot (80%). A less exciting blend, but the reality is that the wine was good. It was a lite ruby red color with berries, cherries and rose pedals on the nose. I was surprised by the lite color as Petit Sirah & Petit Verdot are known for being rich & deep in color, but alas, the 80% Merlot makes more sense of the color. On the palate a full bodied yet silky mouth feel led to a med finish. A very fine wine, regardless of the blend.

The 2005 Carmel Appellation Carignan is another wine made from a not-so-traditional grape varietal. Known in Spain where it is thought to have originated as “Cariñena “, Carignan is most often thought of as a blending grape. It is used in blends (often with Rhone varietals such as grenache & Syrah) to add color to red wines. However, when made as a single variety wine from old vines (as the Carmel Appellation is) it produces some fine wines showing ripe fruit, a balanced acidity and even a bit of espresso or mocha. Worth a shot!

The 2005 Rashi Barolo made from the Nebbiolo grape is a wine I carried when i was in the restaurant business. It is not a cheap wine selling for about $35/bottle at retail and the one time I remember trying it many years ago I HATED IT. That one bad experience kept me away until the KWS tasting. I have since tried other Borolo’s, but this was the first time I re-tried the Rashi Borolo. And you know what, it is a very nice wine. Made in an old-world and somewhat typical Borolo style it is NOT exploding with fruit. Nobody is going to confuse this wine with a new world “fruit-bomb”. But if you like subtle fruit and minerality balanced by nice acidity and a soft round mouth feel this could be the wine for you.

The 2003 Chateau Fourcas Doupre Bordeaux had a very interesting and unusual nose. I tried some wines at the tasting that had an unusually BAD nose, but this wasn’t off putting. It smelled a lot like charcoal, or campfire wood. I suspect it came from the barrels, but this was not a typical OAK smell. I wonder if the wine was made with heavily charred oak barrels. Either way, this wine was quite nice also showing fruit and a medium+ finish. But what stood out for me with this wine was its unusual smoky nose. If you are a smoky scotch lover worried about Scotch withdrawal over Passover you may want to check this out.

And finally, how can I write a review that doesn’t mention the KING, good old Cabernet Sauvignon. Well, a wine I was surprised by was the Hebron Heights winery 2003 Isaacs Ram Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve tried the Hebron Heights wines in the past and I have never been enamored by them. Although there has been some good international press response to their wines, my take has always been that these wines were marketed well but made poorly. Not enough fruit, too much acidity, overall very poor balance – just really mediocre (at best) wines. Trying this Cabernet with very low expectations might have been just the trick – cause I was shocked. VERY NICE fruit, almost so much one might call this a fruit bomb (can be a good or bad thing – depending upon your palate). And the balance was much better. A full bodied wine with good use of oak and very nice fruit. Overall maybe not great – I felt it was missing something – but pretty darn good, especially relatively speaking.

There were many other excellent wines at the tasting. If you have any questions about a specific wine I’d be more than happy to let you know my impression of the wine (assuming I tried it).

Hope this helps you pick something unusual out if you are looking for that kind of thing this Passover. Who knows, not only may you find something new, you may introduce a friend to a new wine as well!

Happy UNUSUAL wine tasting!


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