The Annual 2018 Wine Review
|It’s that time of year again – the Pre-Pesach annual wine review. This is my eighth and, truth be told, I was starting to wonder that maybe people really don’t care that much for these. Let’s face it, not everyone loves wine. I had visions of readers opening their emails and thinking, “Oh that again?” Delete. But then my 11 year old, Batsheva told me that her friend told her “that my dad loves the weekly essays and when is the one about wine coming out?” So thanks to B7 and her little friend, my faith has been restored.
This year’s wine highlight for me was from a recent trip I took to Israel with Karen, Avital our number 6, 15 years old and the aforementioned B7. We ended up visiting a few different wineries, some of them off-the-beaten-track such as Sharon Sharaby’s uncle Shimon in Moshav Neve Yamin near Kfar Saba. There we tasted his yummy homemade wine and port, along with his homemade Arak, olives, olive oil and more; this man does it all – he is super-Jew.
When visiting Israel some wineries have wonderful visitor centers with restaurants where you can get a great meal with your wine. We went to Tishbi in the picturesque Zichron Yaakov. I bought a bottle there that I brought to our Shabbat host but he never opened it so I cannot tell you about it!! We also visited the Golan winery, makers of the consistently good Yarden wines and was a bit disappointed actually. I really love Yarden wines but thought they could do a bit more with their center. It is a nice, minimalist Ikea-like large room filled with their wines but was surprised that the prices are better on websites here (Hunh?). But you can find a wine there that is hard or impossible to buy outside of Israel. I picked up an El Rom vineyard cab and plan to let it age about seven years. That’s what I did when I bought an ‘07 way back in the day and had it about a year ago. Heaven.
But the best wine experience was with my new buddy, AY Katsof aka Cowboy, Karen’s nickname for him. (Thanks, Michael Chesal for the intro.) AY (short for Aaron Yosef) is one of those American-Israeli pioneer type living in boondocks of the Shomron (Samaria) hills just north of Jerusalem in the Aish Kodesh settlement (no relation to Aish HaTorah, although AY’s dad was in Aish with me back in the 80’s). He wears cowboy boots, has a Magnum 357 slung on his waist and drives like an utter maniac as I discovered when trying to follow him through the winding, dipping hills of Shomron late one night on a single lane road without street lamps while the kids were becoming nauseous in the back seat. AY is the Director of the Binyamin Fund which is doing a lot of great things in building up Eretz Yisrael. One project is their wine club of which I am now a proud member.
He first took us to the G’vaot winery and I picked up a bottle of their flagship wine,Masada 2014 which is described as “a luscious blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot and 22% Petit Verdot.” It is aged for 22 months in oak barrels so I am not touching this for a while but heard great things about it.
Then he took us to the private boutique winery he is supervising and gave us a taste of the wine from the barrel. It is hard to judge a wine when it is still developing, and as AY said, you have to taste the wine’s potential versus what it tastes like now. I got a sense of the final product and I am very excited since we had a bottle from the shared vineyard that belongs to Tzviki Struck who is overseeing these wines. Yikvei Tzvi (Tzvi’s Vineyard – love the name!) was one of the best wines I have ever had. It was full, delicious and tasted amazing. I am not going to get into “it tasted like leather with hints of vanilla” because I never know what those wine people are talking about. But I know what I like and know a great wine when I taste one and this one is was way up there and one of the best I have ever had.
AY explained what makes this wine so great is the quality of the grapes. The Shiloh region, where they are grown, happens to be the most underrated Jewish historical site in Israel. The Mishkan/Tabernacle, which we read about the past few weeks in our parshas, was located there for 369 years. Hannah, the mother of the great prophet Samuel, prayed for a son there after being barren for many years and it was the central spot for Judaism for almost four centuries before Jerusalem took center stage.
There used to be many vineyards there until the Muslims showed up and took control of the region. They cut them down and replaced them with olive groves since alcohol is forbidden in Islam. After 1967 when Israel retook control of the land, Jewish settlers started to plant vineyards again. But they were told it would not be successful since the ground, soul and bedrock had become too hard from centuries of olive groves. But knowing the Biblical prophecies mentioned in Jeremiah and Amos who foresaw vineyards growing once again in Israel, they set out to do it anyway. The result was a hearty, vigorous grape – kind of “a survival of the fittest” grape – bursting with taste, lightly irrigated so they are not “watered down” and now sought after by the best wineries all over Israel.
So how can you get some of this exquisite wine? AY told me that the better wines from the Shiloh Winery use grapes from this region. I just bought a bottle of 2011 Har Bracha Highlander Merlot at Kosher Kingdom for $30 which has been in oak barrels for a full 24 months and comes from the same area. Or you can join his wine club and not only get this top of the line wine but also lease a piece of the Holy Land and fulfill all the mitzvot associated with Eretz Yisrael. It ain’t cheap – $5000 – but you can form groups of four people and get a case each. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. There are a lot of wine clubs out there, but none as holy and special as this one since it is about much more than just the wine. For more information click here.
Ok, onto some other wines.
Castel La Vie Rouge Du Castel 2016. Israel. $20 – Someone sent us this wine as part of their Purim gift basket for us. I was very excited to see this bottle, never having tasted it. Also I don’t drink a lot of Castel although I hear many good things about the winery. The label tells you that the wine is aged in “concrete barrels” for 12 months. Concrete? That was new to me. I associate concrete with sidewalks (“pavements” for you Brits) not wine. But apparently, according to Seattle Magazine, this is a relatively new trend beyond the traditional oak barrels or stainless steel ones: “…winemakers see it occupying a sweet spot between oak and steel. One winemaker noted, ‘Concrete allows for the gradual oxygenation of the wine similar to oak barrels, but without the purchased flavors of oak barrels. This gives a truer taste of the vineyard without oak aromas or sweetness to cover up deficiencies in the fruit.’” Ok. Bottom line, I was not crazy for this wine but Karen and a guest did like it.
Tanya Cab Merlot Shiraz 2015. Israel. $25. Had this wine on the recent trip to Israel and brought a bottle back with me even though you are not supposed to because it is a shmittah wine and should not leave the holy confines of Israel. 2015 is a shmittah year in Israel, the year where one is not supposed to do business as usual with agriculture including grapes. Things have changed between the last shmittah of 2008 and now. One used to be able to buy 2008 Israeli wine vintages online no problem. Not anymore. Apparently we have become more religious/strict over the last seven years. So yeah, I am confessing my sins here – I smuggled out some 2015 shmittah wine. (Funny thing, even the sales guy at the Ben Gurion duty free store will warn you it is a shmittah wine. Hmmm.) At any rate – Tanya is a wonderful winery and the few times I have had their wines I have enjoyed them. Other than Israel, the only place I can see where you can get Tanya wines are in Lakewood at bourbonscotchbeer.com.
Titora Petitora 2012 Israel $23 – This is a very small winery and it is nice to have a different wine that nobody else has heard of. It has just two wines and actually I liked this one, the less expensive one, better. It has more of a peppery taste than berry and is composed of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 30% Shiraz. Not top of the line wine but pretty good and the bottle is extra weighty and it has a nice label, so you can impress your host if you bring it as a gift.
Hajdu Syrah 2016 $50 California. By now you know that I am partial to Israeli wines and not a huge fan of California wines. But this is an exception. Fantastic wine – thank you Benny Rudansky for introducing it to me.
Rosé wine seems to be everywhere. Different wine varietals tend to go in and out of fashion and all of sudden you see lots of Rosé wine everywhere. The main difference between red wines and the others is the presence of tannins which come from the skins. Rosé wine is made with dark grapes but the skins are removed right away so you don’t get the dark colour, tannins and deeper taste. Rosés are lighter than reds but not as floral as whites; kind of an in-between white and red. It is light, refreshing and a nice change. Some good ones I have had are Galil Mountain Rose 2016 $12, Psagot Rose 2016 $18, Ramon Cardova 2016 $14. Baron Herzog Rose of Cabernet was pretty horrible. I spat it out the first time I tasted it but it was not as bad the second go around. Give it a miss.
For inexpensive wines, once again go with Yarden Mount Hermon or Binyamina Bin Shiraz both between $10-$13. The ubiquitous Barkan wines will suffice when there is nothing else around. And you can never go wrong with my all time favourite, Galil Mountain Yiron for about $26 and the best buy in wine out there.
Drink up and we will see you in the hills of Shiloh.
A bottle of white, a bottle of red
Perhaps a bottle of rosé instead
We’ll get a table near the street
In our old familiar place
You and I, face to face