Archive for the ‘wine – kosher’ Category

“Kosher brand tops the chart”

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Not JUST kosher, but kosher FROM ISRAEL!  OK, so it was not a kosher wine, rather kosher marshmallows.  I found the article “Kosher brand tops the chart” in the San Fransisco Chronicle while I was out West the other week.

Just like a wine tasting, the panel tasted 5 marshmallows BLIND (cool huh?) and scored each, with a perfect score being 100.  And the winner…by A LANDSLIDE….(drum beat)…. the ELYON marshmallow.

While the ELYON scored 80 (out of 100) points, the other 4 tasted scored between 42-49 points.   Price per weight, these marshmallows, imported from Israel, were not even the most expensive ($3.99 for 7 ounces).  That honor went to the Whole Foods brand (43 points & $6.49/10.5 ounces).

SO what does this tell us about kosher?  Probably nothing, but maybe…just maybe, it tells us that kosher (from Israel or elsewhere) can be just as good (or dare I say better) than non-kosher products.

My only hope, and the reason I write this post today, is that I am tired of hearing people say “I am not kosher, I don’t need/want/like that kosher product”.  ESPECIALLY when it comes to kosher wine, which is made THE SAME WAY as all other wine (sans the unnecessary animal byproducts).  Instead I wish people would perceive kosher similarly to how they perceive organic, sustainable, animal friendly, etc – a product that had special consideration given to a specific set of criteria.

Speaking of kosher wine, I attended a truly amazing kosher wine tasting last night.  Oshra Tishbi of Tishbi wines together with a representative from Tishbi’s US importer (Admiral imports), showed off some lovely wines as well as hand crafted olive oils and fruit preserves (the “sangria” flavor was spectacular).  I’ll hopefully be writing more about this tasting in the coming days.

Happy KOSHER wine tasting!


Bottle variation??

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

I’m drinking a lot of Israeli wine here in Israel during the Passover holiday.  Then again that should not come as much of a surprise to anyone who frequently reads this blog as I ALWAYS drink a lot of Israeli wine.

That said I had the opportunity to get a terrific wine at a very affordable price here in Israel that unfortunately is NOT an Israeli wine.  Capcanes, a Spanish winery whose wines I have previously written about makes two kosher (and kosher for Passover) wines.  The big boy is the “Peraj Ha’abib”, which is just like perach Ha’Aviv or “Spring Flower” in hebrew.  So through a friend I was able to get my hands on a few bottles of the 2005 Capcanes Peraj Ha’abib here in Israel for the rough equivalent of about $40.  This wine sells for about $60+ back at home in NY, so I figured I’d grab a few bottles and indulge.

I opened up the first of the 3 bottles with my family at our Friday night meal.  It was showing BIG/STRONG oak characteristics, with almost over-powering cloves.  Not everyone at the table picked up on it, but it was unmistakable to me.  The mouth feel of the wine and the underlying fruit were both very nice, but this wine was dominated by its toasty clove aromas.

I then opened up the 2nd bottle on Monday night while dining with the special lady at a fancy Jerusalem restaurant.  This bottle was the same vintage, same winery, same wine…and I believe SAME CASE.  Yet it was COMPLETELY different from the first bottle.  This time the wine had a similar mouth feel yet the dominant clove aromas were GONE.  Beautifully integrated oak and fruit, with the fruit shining through. 

SO, getting back to the title, there is something in wine known as “vintage variation”.  This happens as hand crafted wines will vary from vintage to vintage.  Different weather patterns, longer/shorter growing seasons, more/less rain/sun, etc… – all these factors lead to differences in vintages and wines from different vintages that are remarkably different from one another.

But to happen to the SAME wine from the SAME vintage and the SAME case?

I suppose this could happen in a tiny winery where the wines were aged in different barrels and then bottled without being re-blended???  But I would imagine that most wineries, even small one, will mix all the barrels together in a tank of sorts before bottling.  So how/why could something like this happen?  Have you ever experienced anything like this before???

Happy same wine different flavor wine tasting!


Passover wine recommendations

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Welcome to my 2nd annual Passover wine recommendations post. I hope you will forgive me as I begin with some shameless self promotion. My 2008 Passover wine recommendations can be found here.  While I recently wrote an article for the Jewish Press about “blends” for Passover here.

Before I make my recommendations I want to reiterate something I constantly preach.  DRINK WHAT YOU LIKE.  Too many people focus on what critics, salespeople, friends or contemporaries tell them they SHOULD like.  Nobody knows your palate but you.  So try as much wine as you can and pick out wine that YOU will like for the Passover seder and your 4 cups.

OK, onto the wines that either I WILL be drinking or that I’d like to be drinking.

When in the US, I generally get deals on wine and rarely pay full price.  A perk of working in the biz.  But when I am in Israel, besides the occasional free bottle from winery friends, I generally pay full price.  Considering that a 10 person seder X 4 cups per person equates to anywhere from 8-12 bottles, many of us will be watching our wallets and buying modestly priced wines.

Some of my favorite Israeli budget wines include the Golan Cabernet , Carmel Private Collection Cabernet, Dalton Canaan Red or just about any wine from Galil Mountain.  The 2007 Galil Mountain Merlot is great, but I might look to spend a bit more and get the Galil Pinot Noir or newly released Galil Barbera.  The first 4 wines can be found for the equivalent of about $10-12 in Israel and $12-15 here.  While the mid priced Galil wines (Pinot & Barbera) should be under $20 in both countries.  Others to consider in this price range are The Yogev wines and the Segal “Fusion” (blends I need to better familiarize myself with).

The focus of my recommendations will be non-mevushal Israeli wines.  But if I were to pick a mevushal wine in the under $15 category I’d probably go with the Herzog old vine Zinfandel. I’ve been known to go for this wine in a restaurant that only serves mevushal wines as it’s both reasonably priced and of good quality.

Something I have not heard people consider when discussing the options for their 4 cups is sparkling wine.  I know people like to drink red and sparkling is made for sipping (not chugging a full “cos”), but there are some nice sparkling options that should be considered.  A favorite of mine, if you can find it, is the Yarden Blanc du Blanc.  I have also tried the Adar de Elvi Cava Brut and enjoyed it.  I have heard nice things about the Bellenda Prosecco as well as the Teal lake Sparkling Muscat.  All of these sparkling options are under $20 and worth a shot.   Did you know that sparkling wine is said to be “food neutral” and pairs well with ALL cuisine?

Before I dive into the Israeli selections there are a couple of non-Israeli wineries out there I’d like to briefly mention.

In New York I have been hearing really great things about Red Fern Cellars.  I have not tried these wines yet, but I have been told that they are excellent.  Just make sure you are getting wines from the 2005 vintage as earlier vintages were not as successful for this Long Island based winery.

From California, if you can find it, Four Gates is making great wines.  Also worth considering are the wines of Hagafen or of course some of the Herzog reserve wines.  While Four Gates is not mevushal, all the Hagefen wines are and most of the Herzog reserve wines are (now) mevushal as well.

From New Zealand I really like what Goose Bay has done with their Sauvignon Blanc as well as their Pinot Gris.  While I enjoy all the Goose Bay wines these two in particular have a mouth watering acidity and freshness that are quite delicious.

I find most Kosher French wines to be either too expensive or simply not that good.  But I admit that I am not as familiar with these as I’d like to be.  Similar story with Kosher Italian wines though I have heard positive things about some of the Borgo Reale wines.

From Spain there are some high end wines that I really like.  the Capcanes “Montsant” (AKA “Peraj Ha’Abib”) is a great wine as is the Elvi “El 26″.  Problem is these wines are quite pricey ($50-60).  The lower level wines from these wineries are nice, but I still think better options abound at these price levels from Israel.

Which is a good segue back into Israeli wines.

The Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon (2004) was actually the first ever Israeli (or kosher) wine named to Wine Spectator’s prestigious Top 100 wines (of 2008) list.  I also like the 2003 Yarden Syrah.  The 2002 is past its peak so if you are buying this wine make sure it is the ’03 or ’04.  It has a classic peppery-ness with some old world gamey/smoked meat qualities.

Speaking of Syrah, and getting back to Galil Mountain, is the Galil Yiron Syrah.  The brother to the classic “Yiron” (a bordeaux blend that is a long time favorite of mine) is  different in style from the Yarden Syrah.  This one screams California or even Washington State Syrah.  BIG blueberries and plums, with a hint of pepper.  A lovely new world style Syrah.

Staying in Israel, some wines I have raved about before are two “Appellation” wines from Carmel.  The Carmel Appellation Carignan & Carmel Appellation Petit Syrah are unique varietals done very nicely by Carmel.  They each come from old vines (which leads to deeper & richer wines) and are worth checking out if you want to try something different.

Speaking of unusual, when many of us think of red wine we quickly think of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.  But these wines are almost always very BIG and can over-power delicate foods.  Some nice options for red wines that are not quite as big bodied are the aforementioned Galil Mountain Pinot & Barbera as well as my next recommendation; the Recanati Reserve Cabernet Franc.  Cab Franc is one of the 5 Bordeaux varietals and this wine from Recanati is both light bodied and complex, showing interesting herbaceousness as well as chocolate notes.

Another winery that makes a Cab Franc is Ella Valley.   I’d like to better familiarize myself with their wines which are a little bit higher in price ($20+ for the low end “Ever Red” and $30-$50 for their higher end and “vineyard choice” series), but I hear very good things.  With vineyards throughout the Judean Hills this winery seems to be doing a great job with the fruit from this premium grape growing region.

Heading back up north to the Galilee I’d like to mention Dalton again.  I grew up on the Dalton Canaan Red, moved onto the Dalton Estate Shiraz (a very rich & extracted wine) and have progressed to appreciating the Dalton reserve series.  This progression is very common for wine drinkers.  We begin enjoying easy to drink reds.  Move up to big, fruit forward reds.  And graduate to subtle, complex and elegant wines.  While the subtle wines of Dalton don’t always garner the highest scores from critics (for reasons I don’t understand) these wines are sure to please the wine aficionado at your seder.

Two of the largest wineries in Israel, are Barkan and Binyamina.  For many years these wineries were producing mediocre wines that were sold throughout supermarkets in Israel.  But in recent years these wineries have really stepped up to the competition and have improved the quality of their offerings.  I hear the Cabernet reserve from both Binyamina and Barkan, each priced around $20, are well worth the money.

Before I get to dessert, I’d be remiss not to mention the darling of Israeli kosher wines, Castel.  This family run winery produces wines that are very old world in style – less fruit forward, more balanced, with subtle fruit, herbs & earth characteristics.  The wines are not cheap, but if you want to splurge on something special you can’t go wrong with the Castel Grand Vin.

If you are still reading, CONGRATULATIONS, you are a real wine-O!  Or at least an aspiring aficionado.

I’d like to finish off by mentioning some terrific dessert wine options.  And they come from Israel’s most well known wineries, Yarden & Carmel.  Beginning with the Yarden Muscat, this wine, which comes in a 500ml. (and very aesthetically pleasing) bottle is a fun treat.  It costs about $15 and is fortified with Brandy.  It is a nice digestif and goes great with anything sweet.  Carmel makes their “Shaal” Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer, which is also a very nice option.  Or you can splurge a bit ($30 for 375 ml.) and go with the highly rated Yarden “Heightswine” (a play on “ice wine”).  Made from Gewurtz grapes frozen in a commercial freezer, this rich & syrapy wine IS dessert.

Happy Passover kosher wine tasting!


“Mevushal” or Flash pasteurized wine

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Working with Israeli wines, most of them kosher certified, I often hear the question; “what makes a wine kosher?”.

Without getting into too many of the details, I explain that it can not contain an ingredient (gelatin or isinglass) sometimes used in the fining (removing particles) of wine.  And it must be made (actually handled) by a sabbath observant Jew.

Another question that inevitably arises relates to a process known as “mevushal” or flash pasteurized.  This is a process whereby the wine (or often the juice pre- fermentation) is quickly brought up in temperature to around 180 degrees F and then (usually) quickly cooled.

Wines that have gone through this process can be handled by Jew & Gentile alike and still maintain their kosher status, whereas non-mevushal wines can not be handled by non-Jews lest they risk losing their status as kosher.  I find this practice to be highly offensive and will refrain from further comment.  Amongst the reasons for said practice dates back to pagan rituals/libations done over wine, but only wine that had NOT been boiled.  As such the rabbi’s decreed that all kosher wine be boiled so that Jews would not use pagan wine for their own sacramental purposes.

Many of the better kosher wines today do NOT undergo this flash pasteurization for fear of damaging the wine.  And many wine critics believe that the heating of the wine leads to cooked fruit flavors (rather than fresh fruit flavors) and also prevents the wine from aging gracefully as many “mevushal” wines tend to deteriorate within a few years of their vintage date.

I bring this up as I learned something new about flash pasteurized wine today.  I found an article written by Bill Zacharkiw in The Montreal Gazette whereby Zacharkiw states “The first time I came across the technique of “flash pasteurization” was when I talked with Tomas Perrin of Château Beaucastel, whose Châteauneuf-du-Pape … (is) considered by many … as … the world’s best.

Beaucastel wines undergo a heating process similar to mevushal wines.

Perrin…believes that by quickly heating and then cooling the grapes, the delicate flavors and aromas are more easily extracted from the grape skins, without all the astringent tannins. Also, this type of pasteurization helps protect the wine from premature oxidation, which means fewer sulphites need to be used.”

Interesting huh?

Happy (dare I say) mevushal wine tasting!


Passover wines article

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

My first article about Passover wine recommendations has been posted.  I wrote this article for the Jewish Press and it focuses on blends, or wines made from more than 1 varietal.  You can go to the article here.

I will write my annual Pessach/Passover wine recommendations piece this week.  Stay tuned…

Happy pre-Passover wine tasting (while you clean)…


hodgepodge of wine stuff

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Following yesterdays rant about overly extracted/  high alcohol wines, I see that the NY Times is listening (no, I am nowhere near that egocentric).  In Wednesdays edition of Eric Asimov’s “The Pour”, Asimov talks about a California Pinot Noir producer who  “renounced the fruit-bomb style in favor of wines that emphasize freshness and delicacy”.  The winemaker stated “It got to the point where I didn’t want the wine to be fatter than the food”.

Asimov goes on to talk about a predominant style of wines that are “ripe & extravagant” and approaching 15% alcohol (MUCH higher than the one time traditional 11-12%) and goes on to talk about how he “was thrilled to find a small but growing number of producers pulling in the opposite direction…Instead of power, they strive for finesse. Instead of a rich, mouth-coating impression of sweetness, they seek a dry vitality meant to whet the appetite rather than squelch it.”

Well put Mr. Asimov.

Continuing with the hodgepodge, I read a quickie peice in the USA Today about young adults holding their liquor (or wine) better than their older counterparts.   Entitled, “Can older adults hold their alcohol?”, apparently “The older adults performed more poorly than the younger group”.  Well kids, looks like you need to start giving your parents a curfew and THE LECTURE on responsible drinking.

Finally, I attended a rather large kosher wine (and food) event a few weeks ago and wrote about it for The Jewish Press – “America’s Largest Independent Jewish Weekly”. The article has now been posted online and can be found here.

I attended another of my wine tasting group’s Burgundy tastings tonight and will write about it as soon as I have the chance.  Stay tuned, and…

Happy delicate, youthful, kosher wine tasting!


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!


weekend out west – Four Gates winery

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

WTG is out West in the Bay area for a long weekend.  My sister and her husband live out here in Menlo Park and my immediate family decided the Bay area in the Sunshine State is a good place for a family weekend gathering.

Super gracious cousins of ours put a bunch of us up in their spectacular Palo Alto home and the East Coast (parents & I), West Coast (sister & brother in law) & Israel based (brother, sister-in-law & niece) family members are all getting in some good family time.

Today, sunday, Wine Tasting Guy needed a break from the family madness and wanted to put in some professional time.  I have heard very good things about the Santa Cruz Mountains based “Four Gates winery”.  Given its reasonable proximity to where I’m staying and the winemaker’s warm and gracious personality, I made the 50 minute drive down south to visit Benyomin at his winery.

I first (and I’m embarrassed to say, last) spoke to Benyomin when i had a wine making question related to my garage wine about 1 1/2 years ago.  Having never spoken to me before I called him (he lists his phone number on his website) the warm Benyomin spent 45 minutes on the phone with me helping me out with my problem.

On this occasion he remembered me from our one conversation and gladly agreed to host me at his home/winery this afternoon.

I did not bring a camera or notebook (though a camera would have been a good idea) – instead, we simply sat, chatted & sipped his 2005 “MSC” Merlot.

The bottle had been opened up almost 48 hours before my visit yet it showed no signs of oxidation.  It had a pretty, floral and what seemed to be plummy nose.  The first thing that came to my mind upon tasting the wine was “mouth coating”.  Tipping the scales at over 15% alcohol this wine was not bashful.  But amazingly, there was no heat – the sensation one gets from an overly alcoholic wine.  While this sensation CAN be felt with wines that are even lower in alcohol, it seemed to me that the fruit, acid and body held up to this high alcohol level and the wine was quite nice.


In my little time spent with him Benyomin this afternoon there is truly so much I can write about .  Alas, it is time to get back to the family.  But I want to say that Benyomin is an amazing man for whom i wish fabulous things.  Making only about 400 cases in a remote area in the beautiful Santa Cruz mountains, he is living out a fantasy of mine.  He works with no distributors and his wines can just about ONLY be bought by calling him.  So should you desire an upscale (yet not absurdly priced), well made, organic, kosher California wine – Four Gates is a great bet (if he has any left for you)!

Happy kosher, organic, California, hand made wine tasting!


kosher restaurant & kosherfest

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

I went out with some colleagues tonight to an upscale kosher restaurant.  This restaurant is very well regarded.  Sadly, kosher restaurants (whose certifying organization holds to the highest standards) in the US only allow kosher “mevushal” wines.  Without getting into the whats, whys, and hows of “mevushal”, simply put – mevushal wines are those that are put through a flash pasteurization process which then allows them to be handled by everyone (rather than just observant jews).

(A quick aside, most Israeli wines, considered by some [myself included] to be the best kosher wines in the world, are NOT put through this process.)

In any event, this fancy restaurant and its kosher certification meant that if we were to order wine it would have to be a mevushal wine.  Although I would never choose a mevushal wine over wine that had not gone through the flash pasteurization, when not given a choice I’d rather have wine with my dinner.  Especially since this restaurant is known for their steaks and I wanted to order a steak.  Can you imagine, a steak without some nice red wine.  Seemed sacrilege to me, but that is exactly what happened.  My colleagues felt strongly about not ordering a wine that was mevushal.  And not wanting to be the only one at the table with wine, I too had my steak with…a glass of water.


“A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine”.  It was a dark dreary day today.

I’m off to kosherfest for the next two days.  I’ll be working in the wine area, but i will do my best to walk around a bit and see if there are some standout items worth reporting back about.

Happy steak and WINE tasting!


Wines for the New (Jewish) Year UNDER $30

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

I’m sorry for the delay in writing this post.  I have gotten MANY requests for my Rosh Hashana suggestions.  I’m pressed for time (aren’t we all) so here goes…

shana tova

I decided not to write about wines that typically retail for more than $30.  If you are spending in the $30+ price range please feel free to contact me through the site and I’d be more than happy to discuss your best options with you. (more…)