A little off schedule (like so many other things this past year), this week’s newsletter represents the traditional year-end newsletter for Yossie’s Corkboard, namely the best wines of 2020 (my annual “Pesach Wine Buying Guide” and “State of the Kosher Wine World” newsletters will follow in a week or two as well).
Representing the end of one of humanity’s worst year in decades, I am hopeful that we have turned a corner, with hope on the horizon. It has been an excruciatingly difficult year for so many people; friends, family, the Jewish people, nations and the global human community have suffered incomprehensible losses of life, liberty, health and economic disaster on near-incomprehensible scale. Like many others, it was a hard year personally, with the loss of social interaction taking a toll on me that I didn’t foresee coming. Coupled with real concern over my ability to provide for my family, I was unable to get the creative and literary juices flowing to pen this missive anywhere near a regular schedule. However, I did taste (and drink) wine on a regular basis, albeit on a smaller scale, primarily due to the inability to travel. My apologies for abandoning you all and I want to express my tremendous Hakarat Hatov for all those who reached out to inquire after my well-being and especially those who have been helpful in sending business my way – it was (and continues to be) very much appreciated. It has also reinforced my understanding of others needs in this regard.
However, I have missed writing and interacting with you all too much to let it go and am making a valiant effort to continue what I started 16 long years ago. As is my annual custom, I also list the most exciting and/or interesting wines I tasted throughout the year, some of which give more pleasure than some of their “near-perfect” brethren who are included in the former, more prestigious, list.
As noted, one of the Covid impacts on this newsletter, was a reduction and shift in my wine tasting experiences in a number of ways. The primary impact was my inability to visit wineries around the world along with the lack of wine shows and mass tastings which combined to reduce the number of wines I was able to taste this year by nearly fifty percent. One additional shift was my accepting samples for the first time in my life, as without this it would have been impossible to sample anywhere near a sufficient number of wines to be if use (I continued my habit of purchasing hundreds of wines to taste on my own, but the sheer volume of options would have been unbearable).
One additional adjustment to this year’s list was, given the logistical shift in sampling wine, I have included wines tasted through January 31, 2021 (as opposed to the traditional year-end cutoff). Even with this adjustment, there are a slew of wines that would have been on this list had I tasted them earlier, including Herzog’s top tier 2018 wines (Chalk Hill, Clone #6 and Stag’s Leap), the 2018 Marciano Estate, the newly released Chablis options from Dampt Feres, additional 2018 Bordeaux releases (Chateaux Lascombes, Montviel, Malartic and others), ElviWine’s EL26, Flam’s Noble and others. As noted below, not being on this list isn’t indicative of the dozens of other uber-worthy wines out there, so as always, feel free to reach out abut any other wines you have questions about.
While the total number of wines I tasted this year (2,033) is the lowest annual number of wines I have tasted in nearly a decade, it a reflection of Covid’s impact on my reach as opposed to the number of new wines launched, which continues to grow at an exponential pace. The world of kosher wine continues to evolve, grow and improve and there are great things ahead for the industry, while growing pains have also given rise to certain problems that need to be addressed (and will be discussed in the coming newsletter). After nearly a decade of having the list split relatively evenly between Israel, California, France and the rest of Europe, recent years have seen French wines assert their dominance pretty significantly. While a lot has to do with the resurgence of interest in kosher French wines, it also has to do with changes to the Israeli wine industry and the rising number of offerings from Spain and Italy. These and other developments will be discussed in depth in my coming newsletter covering the State of the Kosher Wine Industry.
The job of compiling these lists would be easier if I scored wines, as I would simply list the wines that received the highest score over the last 13 months. However, given my well-known abhorrence for the practice of scoring wines, the task is significantly more complicated. Rest assured, that you readers aren’t the only ones asking for me to start scoring wines; wineries and retailers request this constantly as it would help them sell even more wine than this newsletter is already responsible for. However, as my goal is to educate and expand my reader’s horizons (as opposed to helping to sell wine), I wouldn’t expect my no-scoring policy to change anytime soon. As such, and as would be expected from any corporate transactional attorney worth his salt, the following caveats are important to understanding before diving into the list itself:
The Fine Print
- In keeping with past practice, the list includes only wines I tasted for the first time during the 2020 calendar year through January 2021 (although barrel tastings from prior years that I tasted as final wines this year are included). Only final and bottled wines eligible for this list.
- The list excludes older / non-current vintages of wines, even if they were tasted for the first time this year. The global success of the Rosh Chodesh Club (33 global “franchises” and counting) over the last eight (!) years is such that the list would be overrun with the magnificently cellared wines enjoyed at various RCCs over the last 13 months.
- Once again, I decided to avoid wines of such exceptional rarity as to render them impractical for the bulk of readers. As such, wines that qualitatively I personally tasted and loved throughout the year that were non-commercial, too far from release (e.g., Domaine Roses Camille 2015), exceptionally rare (e.g., the 10-Year Old Musketeer by Ya’acov Oryah) or only available in limited markets (e.g., the 2018 Mia Luce wines) were excluded from the list even though they would have otherwise been serious contenders for a spot.
- Reflecting the geographically widely disparate location of my over 11,000 readers (approximately 65% US, 15% Israel, 15% Europe and the remaining 5% spread throughout the rest of the world), some of the wines may not be readily available in one market or another (regardless, the flagship wines that tend to make these annual lists are often produced in relatively small quantities and sell out fast or are not widely exported).
- Despite my best intentions and efforts, five children, struggles with my day-job and most obviously the scourge of Covid-19 severely limited my travel and overall wine-tasting this year. As a result, I wasn’t able to taste every one of the more than 4,200 kosher wines released this year and, as with most years, there were wines released this year than made sense for a “Best of” list but lost out due to lack of space (and my desire to stick to a limited number of wines); in addition to those released but which I didn’t get to taste in time (as mentioned above). Combined with a slowly failing memory, this means that these lists aren’t 100% set in stone and there are dozens of other wines worthy of your time, attention and wallet (all of which receive mention in my various newsletters or on the various social media outlets Yossie’s Corkboard publishes (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with Clubhouse “wine-talk” roundtables launching soon).
Best Wines of 2020
Château Cantenac Brown, Margaux, 2018: Despite missing out on the relevant Best of List, the inaugural 2015 release of this third-growth Bordeaux was very good and this second release for the 2018 vintage is even better, while being just as closed and requiring as much time before being ready for prime time (Yair was born in 2018 and this was among the worthy candidates acquired in anticipation of his wedding, b”h). A rich and voluptuous nose showcases crushed red and black forest berries and cherries, red cassis, smoky oak, brown spices, hints of herbal, fresh-rolled cigars and pungent wild mushrooms. The elegant and near-pretty full-bodied palate in dark and brooding, showing extraction with air and boding well for the wine’s future development. Backed by robust yet elegant tannins, there is plenty of mostly red fruit which is joined by gun smoke, earthy minerals, savory notes of tar, roasted meat, saddle leather and loamy earth with oak overtones that need time to settle down but are well balanced by tart acidity and the elegant fruit and structure. With time, the wine shows rich chocolate, roasted espresso and fresh-paved road as well, with a slightly bitter herbacousness in the background. A long, lingering and chocolate, mint and some fruit lingering nearly forever. 13% AbV. Drink starting in 2028 and then enjoy through 2043.
Château Gazin Rocquencourt, Blanc, Pessac-Léognan, 2018: While remaining second to their darker brethren, white wines have been enjoying a resurgence among kosher wine drinkers for some time already (my personal wine consumption leans ~70% white), the few white wines on this list were usually Israeli contenders like the Shoresh Blanc from Tzora or more recently, Yaacov Oryah creations. French wines were dominating the red categories, but since the 2004 vintage, have been hard pressed to mount any real offense on the white side of things. However, last year’s list showcased the delicious Clos de Lunes, and this year builds on the success with the incredible Blanc from Gazin Rocquencourt (sister to Chateau Malartic who are also releasing a white wine shortly). 100% Sauvignon Blanc, the wine is quite a treat (and sold out pretty quickly, especially for a more expensive white wine) – elegant, well-balanced with great acidity, luscious fruit and lip-smacking citrus notes. Tart green apple, creamy lemon, roasted hazelnuts, slate minerals, floral nuance and smoky oak are all there, combining for a lovely and tantalizing nose. The medium bodied palate is also elegant, initially needing some air to allow the oak to recede a bit. Once it does, you are rewarded with layers of complexity and luscious sophistication covering the gamut from tart and creamy apples, gobs of citrus, more saline minerals, warm spices, hints of vanilla and a backbone of slightly toasty oak that supports without dominating. Great acidity throughout and onto the round, mouth-filling and lingering finish, keeps thinks fresh and lively and bodes well for the wines continued maturing and development. Really a delightful wine and a welcome addition to the growing portfolio of high-end, ageable and all-around terrific kosher white wines – ken yirbu! 14.5% AbV. Drink now through 2027, maybe longer.
Château Giscours, Margaux, 2017: After two terrific vintages the Chateau could be forgiven for resting on its laurels, but nothing would be further from the truth. I first tasted the wine when I visited the glorious winery and was delighted to find that my initial impression of excellence was justified when tasting it again recently. The wine opens with a dark, broodingly elegant and rich nose with loads of minerals, fresh-turned earth, garrigue, graphite, black pepper and near-sweet mostly black fruit and cassis with some flinty gun smoke adding nuance. A lithe medium to full bodied palate has loads more rich fruit that is well balanced with robust yet plush tannins and backed up by elegant acidity. Subtle notes of toasty oak, black pepper, earthy minerals, cured meat, fresh-cured tobacco and garrigue with hints of anise, dark chocolate lead into a long and luxurious finish loaded with more dark fruit, rich chocolate, cedar-box tobacco notes and a hint of herbal nuance which round out this elegant, focused and beautiful wine. 13% AbV. Drink 2024 through 2036.
Château Guiraud, Sauternes, 2017: More than 15 years have passed since the last kosher vintage of this first-growth Sauternes (made kosher for three consecutive years 1999-2001), however given the long-term ageability of Sauternes, we are still enjoying the fruits of those labors today (albeit as they are gracefully sloping off their peak). Still a baby at this stage, without any of the wonderful funk that so typifies the Sauternes botrytis, if you look closely you can already see the glorious wine it will become. Loads of candied orange, white flowers, fresh-peeled ginger root, dried summer stone fruit, heather, honeysuckle and a whiff of minerals with some air, the nose intoxicates already with its heady aromas. The medium bodied wine is loaded with rich melon, more dried fruit, clover honey, more floral notes and plenty of honeysuckle all wrapped around a core of judicious acidity that promises to keep things together for decades. 14% AbV. Drink now (if you must with an hour of decanting), but better to giver the wine until at least 2025 before enjoying through 2040, likely longer.
Chateau Haut Condissas, Medoc, Prestige, 2017: One of those wines that seems to fly under the radar with less flash than some of its French brethren. However, less flash doesn’t mean less class, and the Haut Condissas has been a perennial contender for this list and well-deserving of its slot this year, with decent pricing adding to the wine’s allure. A pretty nose opens with dark crushed black forest fruits, with hints of slightly tart cherries and sweet raspberries adding intrigue along with rich forest floor, earthy minerals, savory notes of forest mushrooms, cured meats, fresh-cracked black pepper, hints of desert shrubbery and menthol. The full-bodied palate shows extraction and is backed by lush and gripping tannins that evolve with air and showcase more rich and mostly dark fruits along with dark chocolate, some toasty oak, flinty gun smoke, warm spices along with some tobacco leaf, tar, well-worn leather and some minty notes; all backed with good acidity and great structure that bodes nicely for the wine’s future development which is also noticeable on the long and opulent finish. A blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc, the wine clocks in at 14% AbV. Drink 2022 (or with 90- minutes of decanting now) through 2032.
Château Lafon-Rochet, Saint-Estèphe, 2017: One of the lessor known superstars of the kosher wine world, this is likely due to the fact that it has only been made kosher for a few vintages, spread apart over years, with distribution limited as well. 2010 was the last vintage it was made, one of the only top tier Bordeaux wines made kosher during that spectacular Bordeaux vintage. Comprised of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot, the wine showcases less obvious fruit on opening and presents as less approachable on release than its voluptuous older sibling, but its overwhelming elegance and sophistication easily make up for that. Like most higher-end Bordeaux in this price range, the wine obviously needs years of cellaring or hours of decanting before it will show any of its potential, but the structure and balance are there and with some air, the wine starts to emerge and the elegant nose shrugs off its hibernation and reveals earthy and smoky notes enveloping cigar-box cedar, herbacousness, black pepper, saline minerals, savory notes of grilled meat, graphite along with black fruit that evolves over time. The full bodied palate is backed by gripping tannins that provide a supple backbone to the fruit and smoked meat notes with some near-sweet notes of rich dark chocolate and roasted espresso beans lingering on the extensive finish. Rich, deep and very elegant, the wine needs a lot of time, so make sure it gets what it deserves, and you won’t be disappointed. 13% AbV, drink 2024 through 2037.
Château Léoville Poyferré, Saint Julien, 2017: Long the reigning king of kosher Bordeaux options, recent years have seen numerous contenders for the crown, but not this year as Leoville puts forth another glorious, elegant and sophisticated treat. The wine opens with rich and mostly red fruit with some blackberries, cassis and a hint of blueberries coming through as the wine slowly opens up. Adding to the intoxicating nose are toasty oak, earthy minerals, loamy dirt, graphite and fresh-paved road along with an underlay of herbacousness with notes of tobacco leaf and sweet cedar as well. Full bodied, the wine takes its time in opening up, but you are well-rewarded with rich fruit, more minerals, asphalt and rich roasted meat with rich dark chocolate notes coming on the mid palate and joined by spicy oak and more green tinges, all backed by gripping yet elegant tannins and good acidity leading into the long finish loaded with more fruit and well balanced throughout by the oak backbone and rich chocolate on the lingering finish. Well-made, impeccably balanced and supremely elegant – the wine is a well-worthy treat. 13% AbV. Drink 2026 through 2035.
Domaine du Castel, Grand Vin, 2018: Long a symbol of Israel’s [new] wine revolution and despite the somewhat pretentious moniker, a reigning champ among Israel’s top wines, wine continues to symbolize an Old-World winemaking style wrapped in New Work materials. The nose is deep, dense and extracted with crushed near-sweet forest berries, red cherries, rich cassis, earthy minerals, black pepper, cigar-box cedar wood, sun-kissed Mediterranean herbs and a typical herbacousness backed by toasty oak. The full-bodied extracted palate is loaded to bear with rich near-sweet, controlled fruit with spicy oak, more cigar notes, roasted espresso, rich baker’s chocolate and some bitter anise adding nuance before folding into the long finish. A blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 10% Petit Verdot, the wine clocks in at 14.5% AbV. At this point, the wine needs two hours of decanting before it opens up sufficiently to enjoy so better to wait till 2022 and then enjoy through 2027, maybe longer.
Domaine Rose Camille, Echo de Roses Camille, Pomerol, 2015: A “second wine” only by virtue of the greatness of its older sibling – the Domaine Rose Camille. The wine typically spends a year in 2-year-old oak than another year with 50% on oak staves and the other 50% in stainless steel to allow the wine to harmonize and come into itself. A subtle nose of brooding dark fruit and brighter red fruit including tart raspberries, cassis, and a hint of under ripe strawberries, with smoky oak, pungent earth and mineral are accompanied by lavender and floral notes that grow stronger as the wine opens in your glass. A full-bodied palate is pretty extracted while showcasing great balance between the mostly red fruit, and minerals along with a searing tannic structure that bodes well for the wines potential aging. A nice finish of more smoky oak, great acidity and intense tannin along with espresso and tobacco leaf rounds out this complex and incredible treat. Nearly impenetrably closed right now, if you insist on opening decanting for 5-6 hours prior would significantly enhance your enjoyment of the wine. Otherwise, give this one the respect it deserves and wait two years before opening in 2023 and then enjoy through 2032, maybe longer
Elvi Wines, Clos Mesorah, 2016: This vintage of Elvi’s flagship (and near-perennial contender for this list) is beautiful, elegant, deep and complex, while presenting deeper and riper than prior vintages. The wine opens with a lovely nose of mostly red juicy fruit with hints of black fruit added to the mix with dark chocolate, tar, earthy minerals, hint of chalk, smoky oak, tobacco leaf and some roasted herbs all coming together and revealing themselves as the wine opens up. The medium to full bodied palate has plenty more rich fruit but is nicely tempered by good acidity and savory supple tannins and enhanced with Oriental spices, a hint of blue fruit and more earthy minerals, cigar-box notes, chocolate and leathery notes. Some subtle smoky oak adds nuance and the bitter herbal notes make sure you notice the complexity as you get to the supple finish that lingers long. Sexy and elegant, the wine needs some time to develop but Moises’ steady hand and Anna’s impeccable class are as evident as always. 14.5% AbV. Drink 2023 through 2030.
Herzog, Limited Edition, Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone # Six, 2017: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from one of Herzog’s acclaimed Chalk Hill Vineyard plots, the wine was aged for approximately 21months in new French oak. Showcasing Joe Hurliman’s technical expertise and familiarity with the vineyard, this lovely and elegant wine is well balanced and precise. The deep and dark nose is loaded with blackberries, cassis, black current, dark cherries and hints of tart raspberries and cranberries along with rich espresso, dark chocolate, black pepper, freshly sharpened lead pencil, warm spices and herbal nuance, along with some smoky oak, anise and earthy minerals added welcome nuance and complexity as the wine slowly opens up. The full bodied has much of the same, with more herbal nose and more red fruits creeping in, all backed by gripping yet already integrating savory tannins and well-balanced by good acidity and more oak influence. The finish has more tart red fruit, smoke and minty chocolate, which linger long. 14.5% AbV. As always, among the most supremely elegant wines Herzog make and a true delight. I’d give the wine at least 18 months before opening; while best enjoyed from 2023 through 2033, maybe longer.
Jean-Philippe Marchand, Volnay, Sous Luret, 2017: Like Riesling, Burgundy was a superstar wine genre long-neglected by the kosher wine-producing. Unlike Riesling whose issues were partially driven by marketability issues with the grape’s primary region, Burgundy’s issue was more traditional – cost prohibitive and lack of significant customer interest. Thankfully, these issues have been resolved and over the last few years we have been rewarded with an ever-increasing number of new Burgundy options, including (finally) some white options (after a 15-year hiatus of worthy contenders in that regard). Like most quality Burgundies, the wine really needs some time and cellaring before it will show what it is capable of (patience my young Jedi). Like most of the producer’s other offerings, the wine is a delight – well made, classic Burgundian Pinot Noir and delicious. Give the wine some time, air and/or decanting and you’ll be rewarded with a reflective and sensual nose packed with sweet red cherries and other red fruits, earthy minerals, graphite and subtle notes of wild mushrooms along with crushed rush petals and slightly bitter herbs. The medium bodied palate continues the trend towards elegance, with griping tannins providing impeccable balance to the oak backbone that remains very much sight unseen along with the lovely fruit with a hint of tartness adding complexity and plenty of savory notes including roasted meat, balsamic vinegar and a whiff of cedar combine for a supple and tension-filled experience, leading into a long, lingering and delightful finish. Really a pretty and sexy wine, that is worthy of your attention. Clocking in at 13% AbV, if you must, drink now with 2-3 hours of decanting but better to give the wine the time and respect it deserves until 2023 and then enjoy through 2034.
Marciano, Marciano Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017: Easily one of the most gorgeous wineries in the US, Marciano Estate also happens to be stocked with wonderful people making great wine! The inaugural kosher version of the winery’s top wine (the 2018 is tremendous as well but just missed the tasting deadline for this year’s list) and unlike the standard version which is blended with 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot, the kosher version is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine’s nose is expressively bursting with juicy black fruits including plums, cherries, blackberries and cassis, along with warm spices, slightly toasty oak, mocha, dark chocolate, toasted nuts and hints of sweet red fruits as well. The supple and luxurious full-bodied palate starts off a little closed (reflecting the need for some cellaring) but opens to reveal and elegant and powerful harmonious balance between the rich and controlled mostly dark fruits, oak nuance, sweet red notes, rich chocolate and some earthy mineral notes, backed by supple tannins and an oak underlay that will carry the wine as it develops and matures. Truly opulent, the wine is a real treat. At this point the wine benefits from 90 minutes to two hours of decanting and can be enjoyed through 2035.
Terra di Seta, Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione, Assai, 2015: As would be expected from the flagship wine of any self-respecting Italian winery, the wine is closed and brooding and should be left alone for a few years. 100% Sangiovese which was aged in new French oak barrels for 24 months. At this stage, the only way to really appreciate what lies beneath is hours of decanting. Then you are rewarded with an expressive nose of dark plums, slightly sour cherries, roasted herbs, backed by earthy notes of truffles, brown spices, graphite, sweet cedar wood, smoke and hints of tar. The full bodied and extracted palate is plush, complex and layered, opening up over the course of many hours to reveal layers of extracted dark fruits, sweet herbs, saddle leather, tobacco and roasted espresso beans, all wrapped around impenetrable tannins and backed by lovely acidity. A long lingering finish showcases earthy minerals, smoke-tinged oak and more cigar-box notes. 15% AbV. Give it the time it needs, and you will be rewarded with elegance and excellence – a beautiful wine meant for sharing with friends. Drink 2023 through 2032 (if you decide to open now, give it at least three hours in the decanter).
Most Interesting Wines of 2020
Aura di Valerie, Amarone Della Valpolicella, DOCG, 2017: My first experience with this style of wine, so I was mostly guided by literature in prepping my expectations. One of Italy’s classic wine styles, Amarone is a rich, deep dry wine made from partially dried grapes, with extended skin maceration contributing to the wine’s dark color and rich extracted flavors. A rich nose has loads of rich dark fruit, sweet black cherries, a whiff of prune and other dried fruits, jasmine and lavender along with fresh-cracked black pepper, Cuban cigars, oodles of dark chocolate, sweet spices and backed by rich oak. The full-bodied extracted palate is different with extracted black fruit and relatively low tannin and acid, allowing the fruit to shine through but providing some cognitive dissonance from the initial aromatic and expressive nose (and dark rich color). With time in the glass, the wine evolves and shows earthy minerals, bitter herbal notes and some smoke, all of which serve to temper the rich and ripe fruit, which still hit front and center. A blend of the three primary grape varieties permitted in Amarone, Corvina (30%), Corvinone (35%) and Rondinella (35%), the grapes were dried for 90-100 days, before spending two years in large oak barrels. 15.5 AbV. Drink now through 2026.
Bat Shlomo, Ice Wine, 2018: My last visit to the winery was exciting not only due to the amazing visitor center underway (and now close to completed) that will enable the winery to serve the growing desire for high-end wine tourism, but also the continued innovation from the winery which included this delicious and well-made ice-wine styled wine. Sourced from 100% estate-grown Semillon which were cryo-frozen, the wine has plenty of rich stone summer fruit, citrus notes, honeysuckle, white flowers and honeyed figs, backed by great acidity that keeps everything in balance. Really a lovely and delicious treat and a welcome addition to the portfolio of quality Israeli-dessert wines that seemed to have fallen on the back-burner a bit in recent years. Like sparkling wine, kosher consumers don’t drink enough dessert wines and we need to incentivize producers to create these delicious treats! Drink now through 2027.
Bergevin Lane, Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla, 2018: One of the many welcome new projects benefiting kosher wine lovers (a topic to be discussed in my coming State of the Kosher Wine World), this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a well-known winery in Washington State and was aged in 33% new French oak for 12 months. Rich and delightful, the wine showcases extracted black fruit well balanced with good acidity and supple tannins. Green notes are flecked throughout along with cassis, cracked black pepper, violet, roasted espresso beans, mocha and fresh-rolled cigars. Well-worn saddle leather and earthy minerals are in the background but provide a subtle lift and nuanced complexity, matching the new-sweet and rich fruit and providing harmonious balance. Really a great first effort and a delicious wine in its own right. A reserve version is also being released so stay tunes. 14.8% AbV. Drink now through 2026, maybe longer.
Château de Santenay, Les Bois de Lalier, Mercurey, 2019: After enjoying the exquisite delights of White Burgundy back in the day, the genre mostly went on hiatus from the 2004 (premox cursed) vintage until now. 100% Chardonnay which was aged in French oak for nine months. Loads of tart green apple, yellow pear, white peach, saline minerals, creamy citrus zest and lovely acidity keeping things fresh and providing decent contra to the oak backbone. The medium-bodied palate is quite elegant and has much of the same lovely fruit and balancing minerals and acidity, along with some loamy earth, toasted hazelnuts, a bitter salinity that tantalizes and more creamy notes that provides a round, mouth-filling and unctuous experience that pleases tremendously. 13.5% AbV. Drink now through 2024, perhaps longer.
Dalton, Pet-Nat, 2020: One of my favorite underrated wineries, Dalton doesn’t seem to get the love is deserves as it continues to serve up well-made, well-priced and interesting wines across a broad spectrum of prices and genres. Whether the revised ancient winemaking methodology is a passing fad or here to stay remains to be seen, but Dalton’s version of pét-nat showcases quality winemaking and innovative creativity and continues to build on its prior two releases. The wine is fun, approachable and pleasing while providing a new wine-drinking experience. Give the wine a few minutes to blow off some cabbage notes and you’ll be rewarded with green apple, white peach, subtle herbal notes and some citrus that pleases. Good acidity with a less-focused mousse than the 2019 version, but enjoyable and fun, nonetheless. While the genre doesn’t do it for me and I’d peg it more as a passing fad, I am happy talented winemakers are trying their hand at these and appreciate the quality winemaking evident in guy’s work. Drink over the next 12 months.
Matar, Blanc de Noir, Brut, NV: After many years of producing one of Israel’s only worthy sparkling wines beyond the quality offerings from the Golan Heights Winery, the Pelter’s decided to produce a kosher version of their well-regarded sparkler. Produced from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, (the “de noir” in the name as opposed to the Yarden “de blancs” from Chardonnay) that didn’t spend any time on the skins (yielding the “blanc” color), I first tasted this wine two years ago in the barrel and was excited to finally enjoy the final product. A delightful and expressive treat, it should be enjoyed now, as it doesn’t appear to have the staying power we have come to expect from the Yarden offerings (it is also bottled in a somewhat inconvenient bottle shape that, while unique and attractive, plays havoc with my storage abilities). Elegant and delicate, the nose showcases bright summer fruit including tart cherries and wild strawberries along with citrus notes and a subtle nuance of yeasty bread. The medium bodied palate showcases an elegant and tightly controlled mousse with red, near-sweet fruit, citrus pith adding nuance and complexity, some toasted nuts and stone minerals all backed by nicely balancing acidity. A pretty, elegant and enjoyable wine. 11% AbV. Drink now.
Padis Vineyards, Brilliance, 2018: Named for Steve Padis’ successful jewelry business than enabled him to pursue a passion of making wine, the first kosher run was released in 2012 with help from Ernie Weir and produced at Oxnard’s kosher facility (talk about collaboration). Historically I haven’t been a huge fan of the wine, but the 2018 vintage is easily the best yet and worthy of consideration. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from Padis’ Oak Knoll vineyards in Napa Valley, the wine is classic Napa Valley opulent Cabernet Sauvignon, but reflecting the good vintage year for the region and a steady winemaking hand. Rich blackberries, black cherries and cassis on the caressing nose along with some subtle forest floor, graphite, floral notes and a whiff of tar along with toasty oak. The opulent full-bodied palate is rich and luscious backed by supple tannins that carry the wine which showcases more extracted near-sweet dark fruit, toasty oak, rich chocolate notes, sweet cedar wood and fresh cured tobacco leaf. A bit lacking in depth and complexity, this is a well-made and delicious wine that will please most New World Cabernet Sauvignon lovers. Drink now through 2025, maybe a bit longer.
Pescaja, Terre Alfieri, Arneis, Solei, 2019: Another new Italian delight from the same folks bringing the Tassi below (along with additional coming Italian treats), it represents the first kosher Arneis and a welcome addition to the growing range of trail-blazing wines utilizing grape varieties for the first time in kosher wines. When experiencing new wines for the first time, the expectation comes from wine literature and the tasting comparison is to wines with similar flavor profiles. The wine showcase a rich and deep nose of summer stone fruit with a hint of tropical notes and heathered honeysuckle, backed by white flowers, chamomile tea, almonds and lip-smacking citrus nose. Medium bodied with less acidity than I expected, the palate is nonetheless well-balanced with no negative impact from lower than expected acidity and the rich fruit plays nicely with the flinty minerals and expressive floral notes. Unlike many white wines, I found the wine enjoyable at colder-than usual temperatures (think 45 degrees), but additional nuances are revealed as it slowly warms (and opens) n your glass and lingers long on the elegant finish. 13% AbV. Drink now through 2023.
Ramon Cardova, Old Vines, Reserva, Rioja, 2016: Historically producing entry level but nice-enough wines, the label started to take things to the next level a couple years ago with the introduction of a lovely Albariño and have further upped their game with the introduction of this Rioja Reserva. Sourced from the older vineyards of Ramon Bilbao’s Haro vineyards and fermented in large oak barrels, the wine presents another kosher Rioja Reserva option in addition to the terrific offering from ElviWines. Like the Italian expansion, I am happy to see new wines and producers expanding our already existing portfolio of great Spanish wines and hope the trend continues. The nose opens with deep brooding notes of rich sweet black forest berries with a good dose of blueberries added to the mix. Slightly toasty oak notes, roasted game meat, warm spices and balsamic vinegar add complexity to the nose which evolves as it spends time in the glass. The deep, extracted and rich full-bodied palate is somewhat of a beast, loaded with rich crushed blackberries, plums and other dark fruits along with flinty minerals, savory notes of cured Mediterranean olives, more warm spices, earthy mushrooms, graphite, freshly-paved asphalt, cured meat and dessert shrubbery adding nuanced complexity and depth. The finish lingers long. Really brilliant first efforts and looking forward to subsequent vintages (2018 and likely 2020). 14.5% AbV. At this point the wine greatly benefits from about an hour of decanting, and should cellar nicely through 2027, maybe longer.
Tassi, Aqua Bona, Rosso, Montepulciano, Toscana, 2017: After many years of a very limited selection of high-end Italian kosher wines, the picture is changing dramatically with a new importer focusing on this neglected area of delight and this inaugural kosher release from well-known producer Tassi is a worthy member of the burgeoning portfolio (and his coming kosher Brunello is sure to excite as well). Despite lacking the DOCG demarcation of its non-kosher sibling (missing some of the stringent technical requirements), the wine is lovely, elegant and delicious and comprised of 100% Sangiovese. The nose presents with fresh notes of mostly dark fruit including sweet black cherries, smoky oak, anise and slightly roasted bitter herbs, earthy minerals and cured tobacco leaf. The rich medium to full bodied palate is elegant and expressive and backed by plush tannins. The palate packs in more rich black cherries and other mostly black forest fruits, along with earthy forest notes, more smoky oak, roasted meat and black truffles leading to a tension-driven lingering finish. 14% AbV, the wine is enjoyable now with 30-45 minutes of air and should develop nicely over the next 2-3 years and can be enjoyed through 2026.
Vignobles Mayard, Le Hurlevent, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 2019: Yet another example of how the kosher wine world continues to push forward, as a new Rhône Valley wine comes to market and adding to the still-scarce world of quality Châteauneuf-du-Pape. As with so many wines on this list, it really needs years of cellaring before it should be opened or at the very least if you must, hours of decanting to really reveal its complexity. The wine showcases deep floral notes and black forest fruit along with some nice fresh-picked wild strawberries backed by lavender, garrigue, freshly paved asphalt, smoked meat, cigar-box cedar, roasted espresso and some bitter herbal notes that tantalize throughout. Good acidity and robust tannins are well balanced with the ever-so-slightly toasted oak that provides nice contra to the fruit and herbs. Earthy minerals, hints of anise and more juicy black fruit linger long. Get some of the wine and bury it for a few years to be able to enjoy what a true CdP has to offer. 15% AbV. Drink 2024 through 2030.
Yatir, Creek, White, 2018: After years of serving up delightful white wines that languished due to the consumer’s stubborn unwillingness to pay for quality white wines, Yatir is having its “told you so” moment as consumers realize the awesomeness of quality white wines and are starting to pony up. Part of the winery’s revamped portfolio, the new wine is a blend of Viognier (69%) and Chenin Blanc (31%). With a lovely nose of summer stone fruit, quince, heathered hay, bright white flowers and nuanced flinty minerals added complexity. The medium bodied palate is subtle with good acidity backing up the slightly tropical fruit, herbal nuance and slate minerals. Plenty of bright citrus adds to the deliciousness of the subtle and restrained wine, while the oak provides a good background and lends some toasty notes. Drink now or over the next 12 months.