Archive for February, 2009

Israeli Wine STUFF

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

I had the pleasure of attending an intimate evening with friends and winemakers from a well known Israeli winery.  Yotam Sharon and Irit Boxer-Shank, two of the winemakers from Israel’s Barkan winery were in town and joined a group of about 10-15 people for a really cool wine tasting.

In addition to the wines of barkan that they make, they brought some “Segal” wines, made at their sister winery by fellow Israeli winemaker Avi Feldstein.

They brought 9 wines with them, and walked the crowd through each one.  Beginning with 2 chardonnays, and then working through reds such as Pinotage, Shiraz, Cab’s & a Merlot.  The best wines of the evening were an altitude series (624 – named after the meters above sea level of the vineyard) Cab, a single vineyard Cab by Segals, and the high end Barkan Superior Merlot.  The wines were great and the evening was both educational and fun!

The other Israeli wine related story I want to share this evening has to do with an interesting masters thesis researched at the University of Haifa’s Center for Tourism, Pilgrimage and Recreation Research. The student, Noa Hanun, surveyed 254 visitors to wineries across the Northern winemaking regions of Israel.

Sure I find such a thesis in and of itself to be pretty cool.  But there were some interesting findings as well. Of most interest to me was that “Fifty-two percent of respondents expressed a strong interest in (wine), while only 22% showed a very high level of knowledge of wines and wine production“.

While I am amazed at the (in my mind) high percentage of those who believe (or showed) a high level of wine knowledge, this further confirms for me the ever expanding interest in wine among those who still admit to having a strong interest while knowing little about wine.

I think this expressed interest is fantastic and my only real comment to these people is to be more confident in their own wine knowledge.  Sure they may not have a firm grasp on the technical side of winemaking but as they grow more and more comfortable with wine the most important thing for them to understand is that THEIR PALATE doesn’t lie.  And while they can learn more of the technical aspects (should they be so inclined) as long as they know what type/style of wine THEY like than they DO in fact KNOW about wine.

Happy Israeli (winemaker) Wine Tasting & educating!


Wine Tasting Afternoon

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

I’m exhausted!  After stopping in at the “Return to Terroir” tasting this afternoon (and quickly tasting about 18 whites & a sparkling wine) I made my way over (conveniently around the corner) to the 2009 Kosher Food & Wine Experience.

This tasting is put together primarily by the large kosher wine importer/distributor; Royal Wine Corp.  This year was their 3rd such event and there were over 200 wines from all over the globe in addition to some lovely food catered by Michael Schick caterers.

I will be writing more specifically about the event for a nationally distributed Jewish Weekly paper, but I just want to post quickly and respond to the inquiries I’ve already gotten about the event in very general terms.

Yes, it was once again a “balagan” (hebrew slang roughly translated for our purposes here to jam-packed event).

Kosher Food & Wine Experience 2009

Utilizing their third different venue in three years, these guys really know how to sell out an event.  This venue was the largest and it was still quite crowded.  Although I do believe the waits for pours were shorter and the space not as crowded as years past (I was only elbowed about 3 times 😉 ).

Of the 200 or so wines being poured at the event, Royal spared no expense and poured some of their best.  They unveiled their own new Herzog wine, called generation VIII, made from fruit harvested from the famous To Kalon vineyard.  There were top notch Spanish wines, French wines, and of course some terrific Israeli wines as well.

In addition to the wines there were spirits, but sadly I was unable to try any as I really tried to taste (or in many cases re-taste) as many of the wines as possible.  Amazingly enough I only made it through 50 wines.  I suppose that is what happens when you are interviewing winemakers and really trying to be as analytical as possible about the wines.

As if the food, wine & spirits wasn’t enough, they had speakers and a special guest, Daniel Rogov, the famous Israeli wine critic (and good friend) at the event.  I really would have liked to have heard the speakers but was very focused on my wine tasting.  I did have a brief chance to chat with “Rogov” who was as sweet as ever.  And that was after he spent the evening passing out and signing several hundred copies of his “Rogov’s Guide To Israeli Wines 2009″ book.  The book provides a terrific overview of the industry and the specific wineries, and I recommend it to ANYONE (and everyone) with any interest in Israeli wines.

Happy (as always) Rogov

As soon as the paper permits, I will post a link to my more detailed story featuring some of the winemakers and their wines.

If you have any specific questions, as always, feel free to comment, reach out directly, or just yell real loud….

Happy Terroir driven & kosher wine tasting!


Look who’s blogging

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

Friend and Israeli wine industry contact Alex Haruni is blogging!

Welcome to the wonderful world of blogging Alex.

This is a noteworthy event (in my very humble opinion) as the topic of Israeli websites and Israeli winery marketing has come up amongst insiders.  And the consensus is that these wineries are missing the boat.  The internet has provided these wineries a tool to reach and communicate with potential customers that for the most part is not being utilized (or is being underutilized).

The new site and blog posts by Dalton & Haruni are certainly a step in the right direction.

Looking forward to some insightful reading.  Best of luck with it Alex!

Happy Israeli wine tasting (and reading)!


“resveratrol-enhanced” wine

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

I was speaking with an industry contact today about wine’s health benefits and resveratrol in particular.  And amongst the things that came up were the scientists working on a pill form and how many glasses it is said humans need to drink to reap the health benefits of resveratrol from wine (more than is humanly possible).

So I should not have been shocked to receive the article today (via the good folks at Wine Spectator online) about wineries developing wines with high doses (artificially added) of resveratrol.

For more details and all the technical mumbo jumbo read the article.

IN short, there is already a doctor/winemaker in Australia who says he “takes the leftover grapes after pressing and extracts residual resveratrol and concentrates it into a powder. The powder is then added to the wine before bottling.  (He) says the process, for which he holds a patent, does not change the wine’s color, clarity, nose or taste.”  Pretty wild stuff…

Apparently his concoction has 12 to 25 times more milligrams per liter of resveratrol than a regular bottle of wine.

The article goes on to theorize about whether this really does provide extra health benefits or if it is just a marketing ploy.  Who knows, but I’ll bet ya some wealthy company/individual buys this guy out for MEGA BUCKS.

Happy HEALTHY & LONG LIVING Wine Tasting!


Who is buying what wine?

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Apparently about 58% of us say that we are wine buyers, while only 39% say they never buy a bottle of wine.

This and other REALLY INTERESTING (to me that is) data can be found in a press release here, based on a nationwide Harris Interactive, Inc. poll.

Amongst the most interesting of factoids:

  • More Americans are consuming wines from Australia, Chile, Argentina and South Africa and less people are drinking French and Italian wines.
  • Nine out of ten American wine buyers and drinkers (90%) drink or buy wine from the United States.
  • Many people who aren’t buying wines from other countries right now are willing to consider wines from these countries.

SUCH AS……. (drumroll please)….

  • Israel – 4% buying/drinking; 24% would consider

Can you imagine if just 4% of the 24% (or about 16%) of those who say they would CONSIDER buying Israeli wine actually knew where to find israeli wines (in the darned kosher section) and DID BUY IT.   According to this poll that would DOUBLE the number of domestic wine drinkers of Israeli wines (if my math is correct).  That is staggering!!!  Any of my regular readers know that I can go on and on about Israeli wines so I’ll cut it short here and get back to the article.

Other interesting data,  from the poll, such as spending habits are as follows;

  • Just over one-quarter of American wine buyers (27%) spent less than $10 on their last bottle
  • Three in ten (30%) spent between $10 and $14
  • Just under one-quarter spent between $15 and $19 on their last bottle
  • one in five (20%) spent over $20
  • over one-third of wine buyers (37%) say they have spent $30 or more on a bottle of wine

Amongst the conclusions of the poll is one, as follows…

“Many wine drinkers, just like they were four years ago, are interested in wines from other countries, but haven’t made the leap into purchasing them yet. These wine producing countries, with a little more marketing, need to let American wine purchasers know they are out there and showcase the types of wines they offer. In these tough times, if they can make a case for being more affordable than wines from other countries, that might also help spur their sales.”



Burgundy Tasting #3

Monday, February 16th, 2009

This was the third Burgundy tasting (right?) for my wine tasting group and it was great.  OK, so I am far from a Burgundy aficionado.  And yes, there are sure to be people out there who will cringe to learn that I did not feel as if I had died and gone to heaven while drinking these wines.  Furthermore, at times  I will admit that I MUCH prefer a big, bold Cab.  But Burgundy is said to be the holy grail of wine, the most terroir expressing of wines, the most exciting of wines and there are those that swear Burgundy are the most orgasmic inducing wines in the world.  In my never ending (I hope) quest to learn about, enjoy and appreciate wine, I could not pass up the opportunity to partake in an extensive tour around Burgundy’s regions and top wines.

Our third Burgundy tasting focused on “Chambolle-Musigny”.  Located in Eastern France in the Cote-d’Or, these wines, derived from vines planted in chalky soils, is said to produce wines that are light in color, low in tannins, and provide good concentration of fruit.

During this tasting we once again tried 7 wines.  3 were village, 3 were premier Cru, and 1 was a Grand Cru…

I really enjoyed 6 of the 7 wines.  I found the first, the 2006 David Duband Chambolle-Musigny, despite its very pretty nose, to be too new world in style for my tastes.  It was clean & pure – not what I think of when I think Burgundy.  And it possessed that ripe almost artificial cherry flavor I get out of California Pinot.  This is a style many people love, and there is nothing wrong with it, just not my bag baby!

The 2006 Philippe Jouan Chambolle-Musigny had a very appealing menthol, pine & eucalyptus thing going on that I enjoyed.  It also had a very long finish.

The 2001 Leroy “les Fremieres” Chambolle-Musigny, was beginning to brown (this could be due to poor storage) and was throwing lots of sediment, both large and small pieces.  It had an incredible (and very unique) orange peel aroma, with lots of great acidity and a long finish.

The 1999 Ghislaine BARTHOD “les Cras” Chambolle-Musigny (1er Cru) had a black licorice (or so others said REALLY LOUD) and cherry cola thing going on, complimented by soft tannins, cherry flavors and a medium to long finish.

My favorite of the night was a least favorite for others (amongst the things I love about wine).  The 2000 Robert Groffier “Les Hauts-Diox” Chambolle-Musigny (1er Cru) had thrown small bits of sediment and a nose that I LOVED.  Others felt it had aromas indicating a flaw (Brett) but I found it to be gamey, limey & minerally.  I thought the wine was bright, with a firm acidity, a velvety mouth feel and a fabulously long finish.

The 1995 Robert Groffier “Les Sentiers” Chambolle-Musigny (1er Cru) had lots of sediment and a now familiar “pukey” smell.  While this smell used to disturb me it has since grown on me.  I’m really not sure how else to explain this aroma, but I would compare my new found affinity to it to those who reluctantly admit to enjoying the smell of gas station gasoline.  Sort of a guilty pleasure.  The wine itself, at about 13-14 years old still displayed nice red fruit, distinct minerality and a bright acidity.  It was very light bodied and had a long finish.

The final wine, a wine we were all eagerly anticipating was the 1985 (it was older than some of the people in the group tasting it) Les Bonne Mares Chambolle-Musigny.  Bonne Mares is a legendary Burgundy producer (sounded familiar enough to me) and 1985 is said to have been the best vintage in Burgundy in the 80’s.  The wine was quite good, though my notes are a bit sparse.  Indicating on the label an alcohol level of “12% to 13%”, the wine was light clear red, almost nearing pink with tiny specs of sediment.  It showed nice red fruit and minerality and possessed a velvety mouth feel with a firm acidity.  It had a medium to long finish.

In all, another fun and productive palate training evening with friends new and old.    I am still not sold on the idea that Burgundy offers the worlds best or most complex wines.  But I am getting there…

Happy BURGUNDY wine Tasting!


Happy Prez Day!

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Happy President’s Day Wine Tasting!


Grocery store wine in NY State

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

I spoke with an industry contact recently who told me how busy he has been lately.  I told him I was happy to hear about his being busy as I believed that was an indication that business must be good.  He proceeded to tell me that he is working with a coalition to oppose a proposal to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores.

He made me aware of some lobbying efforts taking place in Albany on February 25th against the proposal and encouraged me to speak out against the proposal.

More information can be found on their website “The Last Store on Main Street”.

I must admit that I am not sure how I feel about all of this.  I have heard arguements advocating both positions and they each make sense.

That said I am a big advocate of the little guy and believe that a part of the economic crisis we are presently facing has to do with large corporations/banks spending frivolously to expand and put the little guy out of business.  I have seen what this effect has had on commercial real estate prices in NYC and this legislation seems to perpetuate this trend.

While massive selection at the big liquor stores is nice, and low prices one can expect in supermarkets (should the proposal pass) are welcome, I do think that this will make business even more challenging for the mom and pop shops and if this forces their closure I will miss them and their personal charm a great deal.

Please get informed about this important pending proposal either via the “Last Store…” webpage or any other means.  And then contact your elected officials and make your voice heard.

Happy initiative taking and wine tasting (purchasing) the way YOU want it!


Decanting & “Wine imports on fire”??

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Wow, what a weekend.  Some incredible highs and sadly a low or two.  I don’t want to get into the not-too-interesting details of my personal life in this medium but lets just say I need to update my blog bio. 😉

OK, now that that is out of the way, I want to touch on the idea of decanting.  I received an email from Wine Enthusiast online a few weeks ago.  Like so many others they are apparently Vlogging.  There is a nice piece written about decanting as well as a quick video.  While they do sell the products they are writing/reporting about, the information is useful.

That said I believe the important points about decanting are summed up perfectly in the first line written bu Erika; that decanting is done “for enhancing the flavors of a young wine or for removing sediment from an old wine”.  I’m not certain that I would use the same language, but it does present the case for decanting.

Some experts disagree about the first part (enhancing flavors) but all do agree that IF you choose to remove an old wine from the sediment that may be at the bottom of the bottle, a decanter is useful.  CAVEAT – older wines break down when exposed to oxygen much quicker than younger wines.  And decanting an older wine to remove it from its sediment puts the wine at risk of premature oxidization.

A wine mentor of mine suggests simply pouring a wine with sediment very gently (at a 90 degree angle) from the bottle into the glasses and not removing it from the bottle to avoid this extra risk.  Using this method you will likely need to leave the last 10% (or so) of the wine in the bottle at the end.

On a completely separate note, I came across a business wire article about Argentinian wines.  Apparently Argentinian wine imports are “on fire” (nice PR work!).

Argentina’s department of customs reports that Argentine wines were up 43.2% in value and 34.1% in volume.  Those are some pretty impressive figures – especially when you consider the state of our economy and the lack of growth most wine regions have experienced of late.  Given Argentina’s image as producing quality VALUE wines this does make sense, but it is no less impressive.

As an Israeli wine person I must admit that it makes me wonder what Israel wine needs to do to gain wider acceptance.  The experts agree that the quality is there.  Is it simply a matter of price?

I truly believe that when WE finally get retail locations to rid themselves of their “kosher” wine sections and simply stock their kosher wines like they do their other wines (by region, varietal, etc) that Israeli wines will take a huge step forward.  This is by no means a revolutionary idea, as it has been proposed countless times by my contemporaries.  Now I wonder, how can we get the retail decision makers to listen?

Happy Argentinan/Israeli wine tasting…decanted or not!


Wines of Israel event – review

Friday, February 6th, 2009

This past Tuesday, February 3rd, I attended “Wines of Israel: Mediterranean Inspiration”, an event intended to showcase the emerging Israeli wine industry to members of the media as well as members of the wine industry.

The idea behind these types of events is to both promote the wines (media) and to encourage “off premise” (retail stores) and “on premise” (bars & restaurants) wine buyers to add Israeli wines to their offerings.

The day was brutally cold and snowy in NYC and while I have spoken with some people in the industry who admitted that the weather kept them at bay, the turnout was quite good and most in attendance felt it a worthwhile event.

Twenty of Israel’s 200 or so wineries were in attendance.  This may seem like a small representation but it is worth noting that 5 large wineries produce about 90% of the countries wine output.  And yes, those 5 were all in attendance.

Of special note were some of the smaller “boutique” wineries.  Many of whom are playing a large role in helping to break the stigma about Israeli wine – that it is all certified kosher & syrupy thick & sweet.   While none of the wines showcased at the event were “Manishewitz” like, several of these boutiques further broke the mold as they are not certified as kosher.  I don’t want to get into too many details about kosher here, but since the topic did come up at the event I will simply state that with the exclusion of certain ingredients that are prohibited (fining agents such as gelatin or isinglass – which the uncertified wineries do not use anyway) all of these wines are produced the same way.  The only difference between the certified and uncertified wines is the person handing the wines (and wine-making equipment).  In order for the wine to be eligible for kosher certification the individual(s) handling the wine must be sabbath observant.

Getting back to the event, in addition to the tasting there were two speakers.  The first to speak was Mark Squires of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.  I’m sure Squires is a nice guy but the decision to have Squires speak was in my opinion a poor one.  In December of 2007 the Wine Advocate published a piece complete with scores following an extensive tasting of Israeli wines.  While there was some cautious optimism, the scores were very complimentary and the overall tone of the piece was glowing.

I am not sure what happened following the publishing of that piece but Squires optimism seemingly shifted as he has subsequently lowered virtually all the scores he initially handed out.  Following in this theme was the tone of Squires talk at the event.  Rather than focusing on the positive and the tremendous progress the industry has made in the last 25 years, he instead chose to be critical.  While this criticism could in theory serve the industry well, he was not speaking to the industry.  He was speaking to individuals seeking to learn more about Israeli wine.  And for them to hear him state things such as the low per capita consumption of wine within Israel, that the best varietal at present is Cabernet Sauvignon (which must compete with Cabernets from around the world), or that in his opinion this Mediterranean climate country needs to plant more Mediterranean varietals (he suggested Grenache) served nobody.

I apologize for that rant but it would have been nice to hear Squires focus on the positive, albeit with guarded optimism, rather than point to what he believes are the pitfalls.

Stream of conscience writing (blogs) can often result in a writer’s going off on tangents and incorporate personal feelings rather than reporting the facts.  Clearly I have fallen victim to this pitfall.

Getting back to the event, the second speaker was Victor Schoenfeld of Golan Heights Winery (known more commonly in the U.S. as “Yarden Wines”).  With over 15 years at the helm of Israel’s #1 winery,  Schoenfeld is very well regarded within the industry.  Schoenfeld’s presentation was insightful and educational.  He spoke of the use of technology in the vineyards to ensure that the vines are planted in the correct location (based on climate and soil), and the technology used to ensure that the grapes ripen as they should (uniformly).  He spoke of the use of organic farming within the vineyards and how this has proven to lead to a lessor occurrence of disease in the vines.  And when asked about varietals he mentioned that GHW has 22 varietals planted and some he is “excited by” include Syrah and Viognier.

I was asked by a colleague what I thought of the event.  I must admit that I have no idea whether or not it was “worthwhile” (whatever that means).  Its worth is (in my opinion) going to be very difficult to quantify.   From a personal standpoint I met many people at the event all of whom were very enthusiastic about the wines they tried.  With so many critics in attendance (both professional and otherwise) there was of course plenty of wine critiquing taking place.  But I do believe that the event raised the awareness of Israel’s improved (and still improving) wine industry to key players in the food & beverage business.  So I suppose from that perspective it was definitely a worthwhile event.

I’m not sure how to end this post other than to thank everyone in my life who has encouraged me to pursue a career that involves two of my greatest life passions, Israel & wine.

L’Chaim & Happy Israeli wine tasting!