Broadening Your Horizons (White Wines)

#271 – June 12, 2014

Hot on the heels of my annual ode to Rosé, this week’s newsletter pays homage to white wines – a type of wine which, to my continuous befuddlement, cannot seem to get much love.  Now, before all of you self-proclaimed white wine haters delete this email and pour yourselves another glass of Malbec, stick around a little longer and try to broaden your oenophilic horizons just a bit – I promise it will be a worthwhile endeavor!  Despite the current respite NYC is enduring, the hot and sticky weather is here and loading up on some crisply refreshing white wines will make the hot and humid summer months significantly more pleasurable – scout’s honor.

While I truly enjoy nearly every type of wine as long as it is well made, together with the culinary switch from heavier dishes to lighter summer fare, during the hot summer months I find myself drinking substantially more rosé and white wines, which assist in alleviating the potential discomfort brought on by the heat and humidity with which NYC and Israel are typically graced with during June through August.  That said and as I have mentioned many times before, good white wines should occupy your palate all year long and broadening your horizons away from only reds will not only increase your oenophilic enjoyment but also fatten your wallet.  White wines are generally much cheaper than their red brethren for a multitude of reasons including increased production costs and their significantly lower popularity.

These days we are enjoying a real embarrassment of riches as the quantity of quality white wines proliferates and countries around kosher wine contribute their share.  While truly magnificent specimens come are available from France, New Zealand and Spain; it is Israel and California that are the real mother lodes.  Additionally, while France has produced some really awesome white wines in the past, I have found recent releases to lack the quality and finesse of some of those great white wines from yesteryear.  As the French kosher wine production scene continues to revitalize itself, I am hoping that sufficient attention will be paid to the white wines as well.  While I would go the distance for a kosher Chateau d’Yqem, I’d “settle” for a new vintage of the incredible Château Guiraud (perhaps from Sauternes’ amazing 2009 or 2011 recent vintages).  Side by side with the continuous experimentation with new red wine varietals, winemakers are exploring white varietals for standalone wines (and also making crazy blends as well including Shirah’s Vintage Whites and Gvaot’s oddly delicious blend of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon).  Historically, the kosher wine world has been mostly limited to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc with some Viognier and Gewürztraminer thrown in for good measure.  Muscat, Moscato, Emerald Riesling and Semillon were also widely present but, other than a few outliers here and there, it was rare that any memorable wines were made with these varietals.  These days the list of varietals from which quality white wines are made incudes not only a tremendous number of wines made the previously mediocre Semillon and Mosacato and under-utilized Gewürztraminer and Viognier but also a long list of newly deployed grapes including Roussanne, Riesling, White Grenache, Pinot Gris, Colombard and Chenin Blanc.

When looking for new white wines to enjoy, a few things to keep in mind.  First, 2013 was a scary good vintage for Israeli white wines but a number of them aren’t yet available in the United States and, for the most part, the 2012 vintages of these wines wasn’t as good.  Second, most white wines are meant to be consumed within a year or so of their release, after which they can lose some of the “freshness” so vital to their enjoyment, so caveat emptor.  I note that there are exceptions to this rule and a very few white wines exist that improve with age.  This exclusive list includes, among others, the Four Gates Chardonnay, the Dalton Reserve Viognier, the Katzrin Chardonnay from the Golan Heights Winery and Covenant’s Lavan Chardonnay.  Last and as I mentioned, 2013 is looking to be a simply incredible year for Israeli white wines so any Israeli wine I have previously recommended for the 2012 vintage (like Tabor’s Roussanne) is likely better for the 2013 vintage and worth seeking out!

Given the vast variety of good choices (my initial list of recommendations has close to 40(!) options); the list below is merely a sampling of the good stuff to get you started.  The list doesn’t include (1) perennial success stories like Covenant’s Lavan Chardonnay and Red C Sauvignon Blanc, Carmel’s Kayoumi Riesling and the (three) Hagafen Rieslings, (2) sparkling, dessert or rosé wines, all of which get their own real estate, or (3) white wines I have recently reviewed under the auspices of their respective producing wineries or listed in my Best / Most Interesting of 2013 Newsletter (like the 2012 Castel “C” Chardonnay).


Brobdingnagian, Makom Grenache Blanc, 2013:  Hot on the heels of one of 2013’s most interesting wines, Brobdingnagian releases the second vintage of this delightful treat with equal success.  Despite last year’s success, this year the grapes come from another vineyard which managed to live up to expectations, and then some.  With plenty of acidity combining with ripe and luscious fruit, this wine provides that rare combination that is immensely pleasing and highly compatible with a tremendous array of foods.  The wine opens with a rich nose of tart apple, cantaloupe, papaya, white peaches, pineapple, and minerals and citrus rounding out the package.  The medium bodied palate is loaded with much of the same fruit and plenty of mouthwatering citrus keeping things lively and fresh.  Stock up and enjoy all summer long and keep enough for the winter months as well [US Only].

Carmel, Vineyards, Gewürztraminer 2013: As Gewürztraminer shifts from its prior primary qualitative role as a dessert wine and starts making more and more dry appearances, the innumerable acres of land devoted to this grape are proving their value.  With Carmel’s recent white wines showing massively improved quality basically across the board, I wasn’t too surprised to find that this wine, housed within Carmel’s newly launch “Carmel Vineyards” series (which ranks between the Appellation and Single Vineyard labels), was quite good.  A characteristically true nose of green apple, lychee and hints of spiciness leads nicely into more of the same on the light to medium bodied palate with lemon and pomelo lingering on the finish.  Plenty of acidity abounds to keep things fresh and to balance out the residual sugar that many will find pleasing and helpful in multiple wine pairings.  A delightful addition to Israel’s [massively] growing portfolio of refreshing white wines.  Note to Carmel – I am still waiting to finally meet and chat with their nowhere to be seen winemaker – Lior Lacser! [Israel Only].

Dalton, D, Pinot Gris, 2013:  With Na’ama continuously showing her winemaking ability and creativity, Dalton recently released one of Israel’s only [quality kosher] Pinot Gris (commonly known as Pinot Grigio, even though, technically speaking, Pinot Grigio refers to the Italian clone only).  Dalton’s inaugural limited run of 6,000 bottles was from their Misgav vineyard in the Upper Galil.  The wine opens with a pleasing tropical nose of mango, pineapple, white peach and limes and continues to delight on its medium bodied palate with more tropical fruit, pears, plenty of citrus, grassy notes accompanied by some steely minerals, spices and rounded out with a pleasing bitterness on the finish.  Abundant (and I mean abundant) acidity keeps the wine crazy lively and a great match to the vast majority of foods you would think to throw at it.  Good QPR and 13% AbV makes this another quality summer wine to stock up on.

Dalton, Reserve, Viognier 2013:  Dalton’s stock continues to rise as it maintains the quality of its existing portfolio and focuses on the things it does well while continuing to innovate and create delightful (and dependable) surprises.  As many of you know, the 2009 version of this wine was a longstanding favorite of mine, a fact I trumpeted early and often.  When the much awaited 2012 was released, it was to some general disappointed as the extra oak and slightly disjointed feeling that came with it was off-putting to many.  While I enjoyed the 2012 and have found that it smoothed out and settled down with time, this version was much much better and my deemed worthy successor to the 2009 version, providing further tangible proof to the awesomeness of the 2013 vintage for white wines (it may even surpass it as the complexity and potential for further evolution is definitely there).  The wine spent four months in oak giving it a slightly buttery feel and (ever so-slightly) tempering the natural voluptuousness of the varietal.  The wine starts with a beautiful nose of stone fruits, with a nice overlay of flowers and a tantalizing hint of honeysuckle that develops in the glass, yielding additional notes as it warms and opens up.  Almost full bodied, the wine has plenty of heft with plenty of peaches, apricots, notes of tropical fruit and citrus, balanced by dollops of acidity and tempered by some pleasing spiciness and flinty minerals.  A quality wine hampered only by the slightly high (at least) 14.5% AbV which didn’t bother me in the slightest, but some will find overbearing.  Buy early and enjoy often!

Domaine Netofa, White, 2013:  I have been a fan of this winery since its founding and the quality continues to grow with almost every new release (while maintain consistency – the Achilles Heel of many new wineries).  Pierre continues to shower Chenin Blanc, Grenache and Mourvèdre with love and it shows.  As always, 100% unoaked Chenin Blanc, the grapes were harvested towards the end of July which allows for higher acidity and more subtle fruit.  A tropical nose with plenty of papaya and pineapple but also nice notes of green apples, quince and freshly grated citrus peel (I know, go figure).  A refreshingly acidic medium bodied palate has more tropical fruit in fine balance with the acidity, subtle warm spices and a pleasing bitterness on the medium finish.  Not listed but also recommended in the recently released 2012 Latour White.

Flam, Blanc, 2013:  While true about many wines (and other things in life), if this wine was a tad cheaper I would be drinking it all the time!  A truly delicious (and unoaked) blend of 55% Sauvignon Blanc (mostly from the Upper Galil) and 45% Chardonnay (from the Judean Hills); the wine is further testament to the incredible oenophilic talent bestowed upon the Flam family.  Continuing to create Old World style wines with Israeli flair, this wine is refreshing, well made, decent complexity and a qualitative seriousness to it that doesn’t detract in any way from its delightful approachability. – open, pour, drink and enjoy!  With tropical fruits, grapefruit, steely minerals, lip-smacking citrus, the impeccable balance we expect from Flam and plenty of acidity, this wine is simply put – a treat (and easily one of Israel’s most delightful white wines).

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Sauvignon Blanc, 2013:  After a number of years in which I found myself ignoring this wine, mainly due to lack of excitement, the 2013 seriously redeems itself, claiming a position as one of Israel’s best expressions of the varietal, at a terrific price point to boot.  A light bodied and refreshing quaffer that has enough complexity and sophistication to please the most discerning wine aficionado but can also be simply enjoyed and doesn’t require any thought to do so.  Plenty of typical fresh-cut grassiness on both the nose and palate with citrus notes, flinty minerals and really bracing acidity rounding out this subtle and uncommonly austere (for Israeli wines) wine.  I’d serve this one well-chilled and then allow it some opening up time in the glass to showcase the array of controlled tropical fruits.

Kishor, Savant, Viognier, 2013:  Kishor is another one of the new wineries I mentioned in myJezreel Valley newsletter that has done very nicely with its first releases.  As allowed under Israeli labeling laws, the wine is actually a blend of 85% Viognier and 15% Sauvignon Blanc, the addition of which adds a crispness to the usually rounder Viognier and makes for quite the pleasing combination.  Aged for four months in 25% new oak, the wine has the requisite acidity to keep things fresh and lively and a nice array of tropical fruit balanced by toasty oak that retreats to a subtle hint after a few minutes of aeration in your glass.  Good citrus and tart apple linger on the medium finish [Israel Only].

Lueria, Gewürztraminer, 2013Lueria is another winery who I have been following for years and which is starting to gain greater recognition and well-deserved acclaim.  Even with the recent and aforementioned proliferation of Gewurztraminer wines, Lueria’s version has managed to maintain its position at the top of the heap.  While I personally prefer the 100% dry version made as a white label wine for a non-kosher Israeli restaurant, the amount residual sugar in this wine is small, enhancing and likely a big contributor to its popularity (in addition to its high QPR and reasonable 12.5% AbV).  A semi-dry medium bodied wine made from 100% free-run Gewürztraminer grapes with a literal smorgasbord of pineapple, honeydew, mango, white peaches characteristically true lychee, lovely floral notes and a touch of spice on both the nose and medium-bodied palate, tempered by great acidity and enhanced by a touch ofresidual sugar.  Buy by the boatload – everyone will love this wine.

Montefiore, Montefiore White, 2013:  While the impact of Montefiore’s recent winemaker change remains to be seen, this wine is fresh, lively and a very enjoyable and welcome addition to the white wine club.  As with the inaugural 2012 vintage, the wine is a blend of Chardonnay and Colombard (showing how the tortured grape can be successfully utilized in something other than the awful stuff of yesteryear).  A refreshing wine without being overly complex, presenting nice tropical fruit (seemingly a 2013 characteristic and appearing in wines you wouldn’t have expected), floral notes, a pleasing spiciness and lingering finish on this light to medium bodied wine.

Tzora, Shoresh, White, 2012:  I simply cannot say enough good things about this winery.  I certainly try, but words are insufficient.  Everything they make reeks of excellence, professionalism and the wines are pretty tasty too.  This 100% Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from the winery’s new Shoresh vineyards which came online for the 2012 vintage and have certainly allowed the winery to up its game.  While previous vintages contained a percentage of Gewürztraminer, going forward all Gewurztraminer is being utilized for their delicious Or dessert wine.  Showing the winery’s creativity and ability to distance itself from the pack, in a marked departure from the “norm”, the wine spent seven months in neutral oak which granted the wine great “oomph” (it’s a professional term – look it up) and loads of character.  A wine with robust fruit, delicious citrus, freshly mowed lawn, chalky minerals from the limestoneterroir, some toasty oak in perfect balance with the bracing acidity and impeccable structure.  A very subtle green and bitter streak runs through the wine lending it additional character.  A wine made with plenty of complexity and sophistication for the oenophile and enough deliciousness for any wine lover.  Run, don’t walk to your local retailer and reserve some today.