Archive for October, 2008

Country specific wine tastings & Israeli wine recognition

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Not much time to write today, but I have gone to many wine tastings throughout NYC the past few years.  Very often these tasting are Spanish wine tastings, or Italian wine tastings, or Chilean wine tastings – tastings that are specific to one country.  I think this is a great way to promote the wines from that country, or even region as the case may be.

HOWEVER, most of these tastings tend to include wineries who are seeking representation in this country.  And sadly most of the wines are pretty nondescript.  Rarely have I had a truly BAD wine, but it is even less rare that I find a wine that really excites me.  SO, are these tastings worthwhile?  Is it worth my time?  Does it help the wineries who pay a lot of money to attend, stay in hotels, pour their wine?  I wonder…

Also of note lately is the recognition Israeli wines truly seem to be getting.  At the aforementioned wine tasting I met a guy while tasting.  He asked what I did and I told him that I work with and specialize in Israeli wines.  He told me that he has been hearing good things about Israeli wines and proceeded to tell me about an Israeli Sauvignon Blanc he and others tried at a blind tasting that was the hit of a tasting.

Then, just yesterday I was in a coffee shop on the phone with someone discussing Israeli wines.  When I hung up a woman who had obviously overheard parts of my conversation asked if I work with Israeli wines.  When I told her that I did she told me that she had recently read an article about Israeli wines and that she has been hearing good things about them.

Pretty cool stuff kids.  The gospel is spreading.  Israeli wines are on their way into the mainstream.  It may take a while longer, but it is starting…

Happy weekend wine tasting!!!

WTG

Size Matters

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Back from the holyland, hence the UN-holy title.  Fear not, Wine Tasting Guy’s mind is not in the gutter.  I’m speaking of wine glasses.

wine glass sizs

While tasting wine at several wineries (and in some people’s homes) in Israel I noticed people serving wines in small glasses.  Size is relative, but I’m a believer (though not all would agree) that bigger is better.  More room to swirl, more room for the aromas to linger and easier to tilt the wine so that you can observe and appreciate the color.

In addition to size, good wine should be drunk out of out quality glasses.  There are tons of quality glasses out there nowadays.  No, they don’t have to be hand blown glass.  No, they don’t have to cost $50/glass.  But they should be thin glass bowls (I prefer tulip shaped) and they should not have a rounded lip.  The lip of the glass should be straight so that the wine runs directly down into your mouth.

Although the power of suggestion is one I fervently try to avoid I have heard MANY people say that wine simply tastes BETTER out of better glasses.  And you know what… I agree.

SO, you can imagine my disappointment when I tasted wines at some of the Israel wineries out of cheapo glasses.  If an artist was to display their art don’t you think they would use the best frames, light & background possible?  Then why wouldn’t the wineries want their wines shown in the best glasses.

I know, good glasses can be expensive.   And the good glasses break VERY EASILY.  And there were many wineries that DID serve their wines in good glasses.  But given how strongly I feel about Israeli wines I would like to see ALL wineries pouring their wines out of the best (and most cost effective) glasses.

Happy quality wine glass wine tasting!

WTG

Wine starts in the Vineyard – Golan Heights Winery

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Made a trip back up to the Golan Heights today.  Once again, feeling like a VIP (I think I can get used to this) I was taken on a private tour of some vineyards and given a tasting of selected wines.  I even got to take a trip up a row of vines on a mechanical harvester.  WOW!

looks a little freaky huh…mech harvester

The work being done in the vineyard is mind boggling and that work is truly reflected in the quality of the offerings.  Making wines exclusively grown in the Golan Heights region on its volcanic soils (a result of two volvano eruptions – the most recent a short million years ago), GHW (Golan Heights Winery) grows 22 varietals and produces close to 30 wines.  And that does not include the wines made in the Galilee region by its sister winery Galil Mountain.

yarden logo

Starting with the whites I was quite impressed by the quality of the entry level 2007 Golan Sion Creek White.  A blended wine that is advertised as semi dry (I guess there must be some residual sugar in there) this wine showed bright & fresh crispness with some citrus notes and a mouth watering acidity.  While at the other end of the wine sophistication spectrum, the 2005 Yarden Katzrin Chardonnay is a BIG golden chardonnay with toffee, caramel, nutty aromas and a creamy palate that finishes long with all sorts of complexities.

While on the red side I was introduced to some wines that really got me excited.  Of particular interest was the 2003 Yarden Syrah – a big California style Syrah with dark fruit, this concentrated wine with big soft tannins will coat your palate and leave you with a nice long finish.  The 2004 Yarden El Rom Cabernet, a single vineyard Cab made from 3 blocks at the El Rom vineyard is a wine that appears to be quite ageworthy, yet it remained somewhat closed and required significant aeration to show its big black fruit, interesting cedar & clove aromas and concentrated flavors.  A wine I had been looking forward to trying and was rewarded with was the 2006 Galil Mountain Barbera.  Aged for 9 months in French Oak this dark purple wine (surprisingly dark I thought for a Barbera) had enticing aromas of red fruit, and everything forest from pine and bark to bushes and earth.  This light bodied, big acid and fresh fruit wine is a FABULOUS food wine.  Much more versatile in terms of foods it will pair well with than the more popular Cabs & Merlots.

But getting back to the title of this post, what I found most interesting about my time today (with the warm, patient and very knowledgeable Eran) was the work being done in the vineyard.  Not so much the typical leaf trimming, fruit dropping, etc – but the technology.  There may be a few people left who still think making wine is as simple as picking some grapes, stomping them in a tub and waiting for the natural yeasts to turn the sugars into alcohol.  But boy is there a LOT more going on in the high tech haven holy land winery.  The good folks at the GHW measure the weather on a second by second basis with a sophisticated weather monitoring station in each vineyard (often times more than one per vineyard).

GHW weather thingie

Included in this high tech gizmo is wind monitoring, both speed & direction, precipitation measuring, dampness & humidity checking and I’m sure all kinds of other cool stuff I can not remember right now at 2:50AM.  All wrapped up in a completely self sufficient solar station that sends the data back to the winery for analysis.

Now how’s that for cool high tech vineyard monitoring stuff!?!?!  Does it make a difference in the quality of the wine?  You are just gonna have to go pick up a bottle of Yarden, Golan, Gamla or Galil wine and find out for yourself…

Happy Golan Heights (and Galilee) wine region(s) wine tasting!

WTG

Golan day, tanks, and NYC kosher crush

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Spent the day in and around the Golan Heights today.  It is really spectacular there.  Just across the border from Syria.  It is wild how you can see Syria as you drive many of the high altitude roads of the Golan Heights.  That same high altitude by the way is one of the factors that contributes to its being a prime grape growing region.  Militarily, it is also a strategic location.  And there are military bases everywhere.  Just a tad different from my stomping grounds in NYC…

following tank

Visiting wineries up in The Golan Heights getting caught behind TANKS that are being transported.   Pretty wild…

On a COMPLETELY UNRELATED topic, my good friends at the city winery will be having a KOSHER CRUSH on Sunday.  Any kosher (or even non-kosher-keeping) consumer is encouraged to go down to the hot Tribeca spot to check the crush out.  Watching grapes go through the first step in the process to becoming wine is an essential for all wine lovers.

kosher crush

Have a great weekend & Happy wine tasting!

WTG

Online Wine Sales

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Still here in Israel and having a blast…while working my ass off.  Still sleep deprived as well, but I’ll have plenty of time to sleep…in another life.

In the meantime I have been speaking with lots of people here about online wine sales.   There are many different opinions and thoughts as to how viable online sales of wine really is.  I suppose you can visit online retailers such as wine.com  and wineaccess.com or a brick & mortar with a massive online presence in winelibrary and you will find some apparently thriving businesses.  Amazon has recently thrown their hat into the online wine sales ring, while it is reported that the Wall Street Journal is even getting involved.

wine online

I must admit that I am a bit skeptical.  Which seems weird when I think about how many time I myself have purchased wine online – but I am an admitted wine buying addict.  The skepticism I have comes from the realization relating to when wine purchased is consumed.  And the answer to that question is (about 90+% of the time) IMMEDIATELY.  OK, not the instant one leaves the wine shop, but certainly within 24-48 hours – and apparently generally even within 1-2 hours.  So where do online wine purchases fit into this equation??

Thanks to Megan of “Wine & Spirits Daily”  I discovered this recently written Reuters article.  An interesting little read that does point out that online sales only represents about 1-2% of US wine sales.  Ahhhh…who knows…???  I guess only time will tell…

Happy online wine (purchasing then) tasting!

WTG

Blending Wines…

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Has it only been a week?  Time does fly when you are having fun, but I have been doing SO MUCH running around that I can’t believe I have only been in Israel for 1 week so far (OK, 9 days).  I have 6 days left, but I know that will fly.  I’m headed up North tomorrow to the Galil region which includes the highly regarded Galil & Golan Heights viticultural sections. Can’t wait!

But what I wanted to write about tonight was some quick “blending” tidbits.

 wine blending

While at a winery last week talking to a winemaker he had some visitors.  While telling the people about his wine, a woman noted that they were all blends – no 100% varietal wines.  When the winemaker briefly walked away to take a call she mentioned to me and the two others in her party that she thought blends were inferior to wines made from only 1 grape varietal.  I told her that I thought otherwise – what about Bordeaux, which can consist of up to 5 grape varietals?  She was surprised to hear this, and a gentleman who was with her then said that yes they are blends, but they consisted mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Once again trusty Wine Tasting Guy told them that many Bordeaux (generally Right Bank) have a majority Merlot.  This too surprised them.  In the end they realized that this winemaker is making quality wines and they purchased a few bottles.

The second blending story took place tonight, following the completion of the Succot holiday.  I was in Jerusalem for the last day and made my way upon the holiday’s completion from Jerusalem to a winery near Sederot.  There I worked with some winemaker friends on a blend.  I am by no means qualified to concoct a wine blend.  Like everyone else I know if I like a wine or not.  And yes I may be able to comment on and attempt to assess a wine, but create a blend???  We were playing with 3 varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah & Sangiovese.  It was a lot of fun and I learned a thing or two but in the end I think I made things harder on my winemaker friends as opposed to being able to help them out. 

A quick recommendation.  Make your own blends!  No, I’m not saying you should go become a winemaker (although that isn’t a bad idea either), what I’m saying is it is OK to mix wines.  If you happen to have some leftover wine from 2 or more bottles you MAY want to consider mixing them.  I wouldn’t mix different colors, vintages, or very different wines.  And truthfully, more often than not the new wine will probably not be as good as the original wines.  But I DO like to mix bottles for 1 reason.  TO PREVENT OXIDATION.  If I find myself with more than one open bottle and want to best preserve the wines, the best thing to do is to fill ONE bottle and re-cork, removing all oxygen.  Although the wine might be a little weird, at least it won’t be ruined – something that happens with extended exposure to oxygen…

Happy wine blending!!

WTG

Carmel’s quality wine revolution

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

I fancy myself an aspiring Israeli wine expert, but I must admit that I have lots to do before I earn any such title.  Among the many things I must do is to better acquaint myself with one of Israel’s oldest wineries – Carmel.  YES, that Carmel, of the sweet, thick sacramental wine.  Well guess what folks, quietly the Carmel people have made HUGE advances in the vineyards, winery & their resulting products.  From their single vineyard and appellation series wines to their “supermarket” – “Private Collection” wines – the improvements have been dramatic.  And now that the product is better, they have slowly started to market the “new Carmel”, and people are noticing (see a blog post at the Hakerem Israeli wine blog here).

Carmel

I recently checked out some of their unique single varietal appellation wines (Carignan & Petite Sirah) and was so (surprisingly) impressed by their quality that I included them in a blog post with some recommendations.  Clearly they are doing things right at Carmel (marketing wise as well as winemaking) as I was subsequently thanked via email and invited to the winery for a more formal introduction to Carmel and the changes that have been implemented in recent years.

I graciously accepted the invitation and had my appointment there today.  Upon arriving at the winery I was greeted by Ruti, a Sommelier and manager of their wine culture center (how is that for marketing?!).  A warm and likable person, Ruti was an encyclopedia of information.  She started with some very interesting facts about the 120 year history of Carmel.  Of interest was how the ambitious founder Baron Rothschild (of the famous Lafite Rothschild) wanted to be completely self sufficient and created both a cooperage (for making barrels) and glass blowing center (for making bottles) at the original winery.  Neither stuck, but how cool is that?!

Following our history lesson I was introduced to one of the (many) winemakers.  Understanding that wine starts in the vineyard, I was told that changes have been made to improve fruit quality by incentivizing the growers/co-owners to put in extra effort in their vineyards.  From shoot thinning & fruit dropping (to lower yields) to leaf trimming (increase fruit exposure to sun) & water management (cutting down on water leads to more concentrated grapes), the growers are doing everything to get their fruit included in the premium wines.  And the results in the vineyard are evident.  Prior to visiting the winery today I tried their LOW LEVEL supermarket 2007 “Private Collection” Cab/Merlot blend.  WOW!  Fabulous new packaging to go along with a wine that is a great deal at its price.  I was really excited to taste their “better” wines.

And taste I did.  Together with a Carmel executive, 2 winemakers & Ruti (yes, I was a bit embarrassed by all the attention) we went through 12 wines -  five white & seven red.  All REALLY IMPRESSIVE.

The 2007 Carmel Ridge White, a blend of sauvignon blanc (50%), Chardonnay (20%), semillion (15%) & french Colombard (15%) had a hint of effervescence to go along with its crisp acidity & pink grapefruit characteristics.   And the 2007 appellation whites: a Viognier, a Gewurtztraminer & a Reisling each seemed varietally correct and had their own unique appeal.

As for the reds, the single vineyard 2005 Kayoumi Cab showed black fruit, was round, approachable and very elegant, while the 2004 Kayoumi Shiraz was very upscale shiraz in style with a touch of black pepper, very fruit forward and a long finish.  My favorites of the day were still the appellation Carignan and Petite Sirah.  Not because they were the best, but because they were the most unique and really got me thinking.  Although the color of the Petite Sirah was incredibly dark (leaning towards being almost black) I was surprised by how light (relatively speaking) the body was.  Its gripping tannins and subtle dark chocolate were a pleasure.  The wine of the day was the Carignan though.  I may have been influenced a bit by Ruti’s enthusiasm for this wine, but it is a wine that truly speaks for itself.  The 2005 Appellation Carignan, made from 30-40 year old vines and blended with 10% Petite Verdot had an interesting toffee, mocha, chocolate, cedar thing going on.  A BIG juicy, mouth coating wine with creeping tannins and a modest finish – this is a wine you MUST try!

Of note were the alcohol levels of the wines.  I have heard some criticism regarding the high alcohol levels of some of Israels wines.  Yet i noticed that only the appellation Petite Sirah & Carignan were as high as 14.5% ABV (which clearly did not affect my affinity for them), while others such as the single vineyard wines came in at a more modest 13.5% (as was the appellation viognier which I had thought was a typically high alcohol varietal).

As is being done at the Israel wine revolution leader Golan Heights Winery (AKA Yarden), Carmel is trying to get away from being labeled as kosher, and doing everything possible to instead be considered a World Class winery whose wines JUST SO HAPPEN to also be kosher.  If today was any indication, they are well on their way!

Happy World Class CARMEL WINE tasting!

WTG

What a Day! 2 Wine Tastings!!

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

I went away (within Israel) for the sabbath to a friend of the family.  A wonderful woman and great cook it is always a nice shabbat when spent with her and her family.  But it doesn’t hurt that she lives next door to a fabulous winemaker, who is also a brilliant & warm man and whom I am fortunate to call a good friend.  After attending early services (started at 6:20AM – YIKES) we had a “kiddush” in the sukkah of the winemaker friend.  For those of you familiar with the word kiddush when referring to the blessing over wine, I’m using the word here to refer to “a ceremonial meal served … following the recitation of kiddush at the conclusion of services, in which refreshments are served. Traditionally, this often includes cake, crackers, and fish.”  BUT, this was no ordinary kiddush…and not just because we started drinking at 9AM…

wine_tastingThis was a wine tasting kiddush, and the winemaker friend and his amazingly hospitable wife prepared all kinds of salads (made from home grown tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant and herbs), quiches, cheeses, cakes, etc to go along with the truly FABULOUS wines we were about to taste.  There were 7 of us around the table and we were in for quite a treat.  Since it was Sabbath I did not take tasting notes, but it is a day and wines I will not soon forget.

The first wine we opened was a 2006 Chateau Lafont Menaut Pessac-Leognan Bordeaux Blanc.  Crisp, minerally, refreshing…great start!

Normally we might save special wines for the end, but we were about to open some elegant aged Bordeaux.  And while they were the “stars” of the night, they are also wines that are not nearly as robust as they were in their youth, leaving them susceptible to being overpowered by younger, more tannic (and robust) wines – which is why we tasted them first.

So following the Bordeaux Blanc we opened a 1998 Chateau Monbousquet St. Emillion Grand Cru.  WOW.  At 10 years old, this Bordeaux tasted young!  Excellent fruit and plenty of tannins.  Some plums, great earthiness and a hint of mocha. 

Up next was a legend.  Maybe not from a legendary vintage, but…a Chateau Latour.  The 1981…yes, I said 1981 Pauillac Grand Vin de Chateau Latour – what a treat!  We were concerned that the wine might not be alive and drinkable, but fortunately we underestimated the staying power of good Bordeaux.  Very much alive, this wine started off tight, showing nice prune & leather characteristics, eventually opening up to show fruit – all packaged nicely, silky soft and round.  Its tannins and acid had dropped out over time, and this wine was quite soft.  Maybe not everyone’s preferred style, but undoubtedly a special wine.

Our third red of the morning was a negociant wine. The 1996 Tardieu – Laurent Hermitage made mostly (or entirely?) of Syrah was very interesting.  A 12 year old wine, I found it to be high in acidity.  The acid will usually drop in a wine as it ages, so this surprised me.  But I was told that 12 years is not old for Hermitage, and that it would soften with further aging.  It did have a nice minerality and some subtle mocha aromas.  A wine (Hermitage) I will definitely be re-visiting…

At this point it was getting a bit late (11AM and apparently people had lives to get to – you believe that?!) and with 3 wines left we opened up the 2 baby reds of the bunch.  A 2003 Artadi Pagos Viejos Rioja and the 2001 Grant Burge “Meshach” Shiraz.  These were fruit forward style wines.  I don’t remember much about the Rioja aside from its up front fuit and nice earthiness.  While the Meshach Shiraz was HUGE.  It actually reminded me a bit of a California Zinfandel.  It had BIG fruit and an almost sweet taste.  But this was not a one-dimensional wine.  It showed pencil shaving & cigar box aromas.  Was well structured (especially for such a big wine) and went quite well with the cakes which by this time had been served.

A final treat was a dessert wine from Alsace.  The Domaine Bott-Geyl Sonnenglanz Grand Cru Alsace dessert wine, made of Pinot Gris (and apparently given a 98 by Robert Parker) was a deliciously sweet treat.  Its acid was present, which prevented any cloying sweetness, but it was so well integrated it was almost as if it wasn’t there.  Very tasty and a special wine to finish things off with.

Assuming I haven’t lost you yet, there was another tasting.  This one at a more normal hour (7PM).  After the Sabbath I drove into Tel Aviv to meet up with a friend who I may work with on my Israel Wine Project.  He has a beautiful apartment in a hopping part of the city and he had about 8 people over for some Israeli wines.  I brought some bottles of local Israeli boutique wine and we had a lovely time.  I talked a bit about each of the wineries, told them about the wine makers, and we then tasted the wines together.  A lite Carignan based wine was casually enjoyed.  A Sangiovese/Syrah/Cab Franc blend was intriguing and determined to be a great food wine.  While the king, a Cab based wine (with 10% Merlot) was thoroughly enjoyed and drunk to the last drop. 

Happy TWICE A DAY Wine Tasting!

WTG

Israeli wine terroir

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

I mentioned “terroir” in my last post.  I’m sorry for repeating something just mentioned, but since it is not a common expression outside of wine circles let me reiterate.  “Terroir” is described by Wikipedia as “a way of describing the unique aspects of a place that influences and shapes the wine made from it”.  These “aspects” could include soil, weather, altitude, etc…

terroir 

I bring up terroir again as it is a buzz word within the wine world.  It is also a word that I am CERTAIN has great relevance when it comes to Israeli wines. 

I believe that when not manipulated too much Israeli wines are an incredible combination of new world and old world.  They possess earthy old world qualities in addition to fruity new world qualities.  And I think this is one of the amazing things about many Israeli wines and an important factor in making them so special.

Back to “terroir” though, I believe the concept of terroir is important to Israeli wines given that they possess sumptuously unique herbal qualities.  I have heard spices such as Thyme, Sage, Rosemary and sometimes even Mint used to describe Israeli wines.  I have also heard some describe (what I believe to be) this same herbally component as green olive.  I mention these unique and interesting descriptors before mentioning why I think recognizing these flavors and aromas is so important. 

I have been pounding the pavement of Manhattan selling Israeli wines the past few months and there have been a few people whose palates I respect who have described some of the Israeli wines I tasted with them as having a “green” quality.  This descriptor is not a positive one.  Sure some people like it (and they are certainly NOT wrong) but it indicates a wine that is either bitter, under-ripe (something that used to be very common with French and other cool climate wines) or simply overly herbaceous rather than fruity.  This “green” profile often occurs as a result of wines made from young, immature vines.  Or it may be a wine that has been pressed too much and bitterness is extracted from seeds and skins and have overpowered the fruit of the wine. 

Some well regarded wine critics have recently called many Israeli wines “green” (while at the same time praising the wines??).  And while I appreciate (and at times am envious of) their work, in general we all know how I feel about critics.  They certainly serve a purpose, but their influence has become too powerful (shame on us lay-wine-people).

Bottom line, call it what you will.  Israeli terroir.  Herbal.  Herbaceous.  Green.  WHO CARES.  Try it, and if you like it BUY SOME, BUY MORE, and TELL YOUR FRIENDS!!

Happy herbal Israeli wine tasting!

WTG

Wine scores

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Let me first apologize for my online absence.  No excuses, but…  There was Yom Kippur, the sabbath and the subsequent not-so-short FLIGHT TO ISRAEL!  Yes, I am here in the Holy Land.  I arrived yesterday, just a few hours prior to the beginning of the holiday of “Sukkot” – described by holidays.com as “the ‘Feast of Booths’ (or Tabernacles), named for the huts (sukkah) that Moses and the Israelites lived in as they wandered the desert for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land”.

 Succah

I am here in Israel for the holiday of course but also to spend time with family (my adorable niece…and her parents) and to work on my Israel wine project. 

While drinking wine with a wine industry friend this afternoon in his Succah I admitted that my palate was still not where I would like it to be.  He surprisingly asked why I felt that way.  I explained that I felt I could decipher between an 80 and 85 point wine and an 85 and 90 point wine.  BUT, I still feel like I struggle to truly decipher the supposed subtle differences between 90 point wines and 93 point wines.  To which he made a face and basically said HOGWASH!

Which of course got me thinking.  There is so much talk of scores as they relate to wines.  And I have written about scores here before.  SO, is there a difference between a wine given a score of 90 and a wine given a score of 93???

The aforementioned friend theorized that much of it has to do with marketing.  Many of the wines I have seen that have been given those 2-3 extra points are single vineyard wines.  With the idea that the specific site possesses some unique characteristics and should not be blended and subsequently LOSE those distinct characteristics.  I have heard this to be true and I do believe it – to a certain extent.  This line of thought invoked the expression “terroir”, described by Wikipedia as “a way of describing the unique aspects of a place that influences and shapes the wine made from it”.

This post can go on and on about scores, their purpose, terroir, if it is real, etc.  But I don’t want to bore you with this debate.  I will sum up for now by saying that I have been thinking a lot about a new way to evaluate wines that will turn the traditional scoring method on its head.  It certainly will not replace the existing scoring method for those who use it to collect wines, drink high scoring wines, etc.  But I do expect that as I continue to flesh out the concept it will prove useful to casual wine drinkers.

Happy SCORELESS wine tasting (from Israel)!!

WTG