It Doesn’t Get Better than This (Best Wines of 2018)

As always, in addition to the list of the best wines I tasted during the 2018 calendar year, i have also included a list of the most exciting and/or interesting wines I tasted throughout the year, many of which give more pleasure than some of their “near-perfect” brethren who are included in the former, more prestigious, list.  With the number of wines I tasted this year (3,011) once again surpassing the number tasted the previous year (2,531), it is safe to say the world of kosher wine continues to evolve, grow and improve and there are great things ahead for the industry. One important development is the continued increase in French wines dominating this list. While a lot has to do with Bordeaux’s recent spate of terrific subsequent vintages (2014-2016) and the resurgence of interest in kosher French wines (as recently discussed), it also has to do with changes to the Israeli wine industry.  These and other developments will be discussed in depth over the next two editions of my Annual Trifecta; a summary of 2018 and my crystal-ball analysis of what 2019 will bring (there will also be a special “State of Israel’s Wine Industry” edition coming soon).

Given that many of the wines I taste are “Advance Tastings (i.e. wines tasted post-bottling but prior to their market release) it’s worth checking out last year’s “Best of” list for some of the best wines that are currently on the market. A number of factors contribute to a significant delay between the bottling of a wine and its official release (including allowing the wine sufficient time to integrate in the bottle and recover from any bottle shock and importers and retailers holding back new vintages until the prior vintage is depleted) and, as a result, certain of the wines listed below may not officially appear on the market for a while (but the wines from last year’s list should tide you over if needed).

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 12 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 given my primary occupation as a deal lawyer), the following detailed caveats are required prior to publishing the actual list of wines:

  1. In keeping with past practice, the list includes only wines I tasted for the first time during the 2018 calendar year (although barrel tastings from prior years that I tasted as final wines this year are included), with only final and bottled wines are eligible for this list.
  2. 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 (30 global “franchises”) over the last 6.5 years (the 70th gathering is coming up), the list would be overrun with many of the magnificently cellared wines enjoyed at various RCCs over the last 12 months.
  3. As mentioned earlier, the recent influx of high-end French wines has resulted in Bordeaux having the largest representation on this list ever. As great as the 2015 Bordeaux vintage is, 2016 is better; think refined elegance over opulence and power. Has I visited Bordeaux in January instead of December, the list would have better reflected the wonderful diversity of today’s quality kosher wines. However, with 2016 being such a phenomenal vintage for Bordeaux and Royal doubling down on high-end French wines, this year’s list is heavily weighted in that direction. While there were plenty of great Israeli, Spanish and Californian wines made this year (many of which I have already recommended, the rest of which will hit these pages over the next few months), this year the French put up the toughest fight to date.
  4. Once again, I decided to avoid wines of such exceptional rarity as to render them impractical for the bulk of readers. As such, wines I personally tasted and loved throughout the year that were non-commercial (g. 2014 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon), too far prior to their official release (e.g. Domaine Roses Camille 2014), exceptionally rare (e.g. 2015 Château Pape Clément) or only available in limited markets (e.g. 2016 Mia Luce Syrah and Stems or the truly magnificent Von Hövel Rieslings) were excluded from the list even though they would have otherwise been serious contenders for a spot. Because I also tried to avoid having one producer dominate either list, there are only a couple of Ya’acov Oryah wines on this list (when the vast majority of his current portfolio would qualify for the Most Interesting / Exciting Wines of 2018).
  5. Reflecting the geographically widely disparate location of my over 10,000 readers (approximately 75% US, 15% Israel and 10% spread throughout the rest of the world), some of the wines may not be readily available in one market or another (a winery’s flagship wine(s) are typically produced in relatively small quantities and thus sell out fast or are not exported).
  6. Despite my best intentions and efforts, five children and a rather demanding day-job continue to limit my wine-tasting travel and I wasn’t able to taste every one of the more than 3,500 kosher wines released this year (the massive proliferation of white label wines in the kosher market further impeded my efforts). There were many more extremely worthy wines tasted this year than made sense for a “Best of” list. As such, and combined with a slowly failing memory, these lists aren’t 100% set in stone and there are dozens of other worthy-wines worthy of your time, attention and wallet (all of which receive mention in the newsletter and/or our Facebook page, one way or another, so be sure you are tracking there as well).

Best Wines of 2018 (in alphabetical order)

Champagne Drappier, Brut Nature, Pinot Noir, Zero Dosage, n.v.: 100% Pinot Noir picked as late as possible to ensure the highest levels of natural sugar, the wine underwent full malolactic fermentation in stainless steel vats and then spent two years sur lie resulting in a vibrant and fresh-tasting wine. The Zero Dosage moniker reflects the fact that, unlike most Champagne wines, no dosage (sugar, often mixed with wine) was added to the bottle prior to the Champagne’s second fermentation in the bottle. The result is a vibrant and fresh wine that is beautifully seductive and elegant with a tight mousse and rich notes of tart green apple, yellow citrus, fresh-baked brioche and a delightful overlay of warm spices. More subtle yeasty notes than Drappier’s Carte D’Or, the medium bodied wine is complex and rich with flinty minerals, great acidity and a lingering finish that make it a welcome addition t any meal or occasion [mevushal].

Château Clarke, Listrac-Médoc, 2016: After 30 years of making the private labeled Barons Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Haut Medoc, Chateau Clarke finally released a kosher version of their flagship wine and it is good (as with the other French wines listed here, details about the winery will be in the coming newsletter covering my two days visiting the many chateaux making kosher runs). Reflecting the Merlot-dominated vineyards, the blend is primarily Merlot with some Cabernet Sauvignon blended in. The rich and expressive nose is redolent with black fruit, tart raspberries, red currants, fresh cured tobacco leaf, earthy minerals, some smoky oak and a hefty done of barnyard funk that melds beautifully with the rich fruit. The medium to full-bodied palate is elegant and seductive, with powerful yet opulent tannins with great acidity backing up the rich, mostly dark fruit, saddle leather and rich dark chocolate that continues into the long and lingering finish. A classy and refined wine, drink 2021-2032, maybe longer.

Château Du Tertre, Margaux, 2016: I first tasted the wine last January when I visited the Château and the winemakers were debating whether it required additional oak aging. I tasted the finished product on my most recent trip and was happy to see that they had made the right decision. An expressive blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, the inaugural kosher run spent 14 months aging in new French oak. An elegant and focused nose with tart raspberries, cranberries, cassis, a hint of funk and cigar-box with smoky oak providing added complexity and earthy minerals giving some contra to the rich fruit. The full-bodied palate is replete with more lovely red fruit, Oriental spices, earthy minerals, some herbal notes and toasty oak with supple tannins providing a solid backbone and in fine balance with the great acidity. A refined wine that avoids being too rich or expressive on the palate, I’d expect it to develop over the next few years and should be enjoyed from 2022 through 2034.

Château Giscours, Margaux, 2016: Unlike the prior two wines hitting the kosher market for the first time, Château Giscours has a long history of making some of the finest French wines for the discerning kosher consumer. Continuing the 2014-2015 winning streak, the wine certainly lives up to the vintage’s reputation while doing the château proud (the 2017, which we barrel-tasted, is no slouch either). The wine opens with a dark, broodingly elegant and rich nose with loads of minerals, fresh-turned earth and near-sweet mostly black fruit and cassis. A full-bodied palate has loads more rich fruit that is well balanced with gripping tannins and backed up by elegant acidity. Subtle notes of toasty oak, black pepper, earthy minerals, fresh-cured tobacco and garrigue with hints of anise, dark chocolate round out this elegant, focused and beautiful wine. Drink 2024 – 2034, likely longer.

Château Haut Condissas, Médoc, 2015: While the 2014 is the current vintage, the 2015 should be out soon and is a terrific wine worth waiting for (although we also tasted the 2016 which is just as good, if not better) and one of the best Haut-Condissas wines yet. A refined nose of blackberries, cassis and black currents has hints of black plums alongside smoky oak, flinty minerals, garrigue, pungent mushroom, barnyard funk and dark chocolate. The full bodied opulent palate is extracted and layered with rich black fruit, more mushroom and earthy minerals, black pepper and warm spices backed by powdery tannins and well balanced by good acidity and an elegant structure that bodes well for the wines future development. 14% AbV; drink 2022 through 2035.

Château Lascombes, Margaux, 2016: Following its “Best of 2017” inaugural kosher run for the opulent 2015 vintage, this second-growth château made the most of a near-perfect Bordeaux vintage and turned out a more elegant and sophisticated wine than the opulent joy of 2015. A blend of 50% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot that spends approximately 18 months in French oak, the wine maintains the rich, expressive, dense and extracted style it is known for, the nose is tight, dark, precise and dense with rich crushed black fruit, cassis, loamy earth, smoky oak, baker’s chocolate, savory notes, with a bit of herbal nuance adding another layer of depth. The full-bodied palate has plenty of oak but well balanced with the rich fruit, savory gripping tannins and warm spices, all backed by good acidity. While the 2015 wine was more approachable and likely easier to appreciate by a wider audience of drinkers, the 2016 is a much more complete and balanced wine that will age more gracefully and be appreciated by the wine cognoscenti. The 2017 frost killed over half the chateau’s production but there will be a 2018 version of this wine (and a 2017 of their second wine – the Chevalier (which we barrel tasted)). Drink 2022 – 2034.

Château Le Crock, Saint-Estèphe, 2016: Another wine I barrel-tasted last year that turned out even better than I expected. The winery really kicked things up a notch and took advantage of the near-perfect 2016 vintage by turning out what is easily the best kosher Le Crock to date (while nice, I don’t expect the 2017 which we barrel-tasted to surpass it). I note that I tasted the non-mevushal version, which is only available in Europe. The US will receive the mevushal version, which I have not yet tasted. The winery also suffered a fire in July which destroyed some of the kosher stock, resulting in less available bottles than expected – so get yours sooner than later. A blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc (the non-kosher is 46% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc and 6% Petit Verdot), which aged approximately 16 months in 40% new French oak and clocks in at 14% AbV. A rich, deep, extracted and opulent wine, the nose is dark and concentrated with plenty of rich blackberry, black currant and cassis along with red cherries, plums, lavender and floral notes, which are complemented by fresh-turned earth, earthy minerals, subtle toasty oak, tobacco leaf and a whiff of blueberry fruit. The medium to full-bodied palate is lush and deep with powerfully gripping tannins and great acidity baking up the rich fruit, earthy minerals, saddle leather and pipe tobacco, all leading in to an extravagantly plush and lingering finish. While enjoyable now with two hours of decanting, the wine needs some time to settle down and will be best enjoyed from 2020-2030.

Château Malartic Lagraviere, Pessac-Leognan, 2016: Another wine I barrel-tasted earlier this year and was able to taste the final bottled version a few weeks ago. Easily the best Malartic ever made, it is also one of the prettiest wines I tasted during my trip (for 2017 there is only a Gazin-Rocquencourt, while 2018 will have a Malartic and a white Gazin-Rocquencourt (hopefully a gateway to a 2019 white Malartic!)). With a rich and deep smoke-accented nose of rich black fruit, cassis, freshly-tuned forest floor, saline mineral notes, dark chocolate, roasted espresso, warm spices, some tart red fruit and a hint of blue fruit as well, the main focus is on how precise and pretty the wine is off the bat. The obvious technically precise winemaking continues to be felt on the full bodied beautiful palate where the rich black and tart red fruits are perfectly ripe and complemented by a whiff of barnyard funk, bitter herbal notes, fresh-picked violets, earthy minerals, well-worn saddle leather and more smoke, all balanced with great acidity and an elegant tannic backbone that bodes supremely well for the wine’s future. Really a lovely wine and one of the best on this list. Drink 2024 through 2035, maybe longer.

Château Montviel, Pomerol, 2016: Get your fill of this beautifully elegant wine for the 2016 vintage, as the frost of 2017 killed 70% of the crop and no kosher run was made (only 1,200 bottles total). I tasted a barrel sample of this wine at last year’s London KFWE and at the Chateau a few weeks ago. One of the more currently approachable wines from the 2016 Bordeaux vintage, the wine is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc which spent 18 months aging in new French oak. 25% of the total production is dedicated to the kosher run (5,000 bottles out of 25,000 total). A lovely and expressive nose is loaded with near-sweet controlled red fruit, roasted herbs, garrigue, toasty oak and earthy minerals. The medium to full bodied lush palate has plenty more rich fruit, loamy earth, minerals, freshly-rolled cigars and sweet herbs along with lead pencil, savory notes and dark rich chocolate backed by good acidity on a backbone of supple tannins that provide great structure and result in a very well balanced and precisely made wine that brings loads of pleasure now, with great promise for years of enjoyable development to come. 14% AbV, the wine can be enjoyed now with an hour or so of decanting but won’t really show its full potential for a few years and is best enjoyed from 2024 through 2032.

Château Tour Saint Christophe, Saint-Émilion, 2016: I first tasted a kosher version of this wine when I found the 2014 vintage in a Paris kosher shop. The 2016 vintage is now imported into the United States and is a huge improvement over the good but unmemorable 2014. The blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc is identical to the non-kosher version, was aged in 40% new French oak and comes in at 14% AbV. Don’t be mislead by the producer’s seemingly kosher name of Vignobles K – it’s the umbrella name for the seven Right Bank Bordeaux estates owned by Vietnamese-born, Hong-Kong based businessman – Peter Kwok (whose 2016 kosher run at his first acquired property – Château Haut-Brisson in Saint-Émilion is featured in the most Exciting list below as well). The wine opens with a refined and expressive nose of raspberries, red cherries and plums, violets, smoky oak, black pepper and some herbal nuances. The full bodied wine is powerful and elegant (“iron fist in a velvet glove”), with supple tannins providing a powerful backbone for the rich red fruit, earthy minerals, slate, freshly cured tobacco, rich baker’s chocolate and warm spices which lead into a rich and comforting finish that lingers long with notes of tart red fruit, smoke and more chocolate. At this point the wine is a baby and needs hours of decanting before it can be enjoyed, so best to wait until 2021 before enjoying through 2035, likely longer [Only in the US].

Covenant, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2016: The wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from four different vineyards, including Leslie Rudd’s (z”l) Oakville and Mount Veeder locations and which spent 18 months aging in 55% new French oak. Consistent with Covenant’s philosophy, the well-made wine can be enjoyed now (with a bit of decanting) and will also age gracefully for at least a decade. With rich near-sweet black and red fruit, dark chocolate, cigar-box and a nuanced touch of green herbs, the nose yields to a full bodied, dense, deep and brooding delicious palate with much of the same. Some toasty oak and roasted meat add complexity and play nicely with the hint of smoke, earthy minerals and rich expressive fruits. With good acidity and gripping tannins providing great structure, the wine is well balanced, rich and delicious and will reward a few years of cellaring. 14.5% AbV, the wine is enjoyable now with an hour or so of decanting but will be at its best at 2020 and will be enjoyable through 2029, likely longer.

Domaine du Castel, Grand Vin, 2016: I found it interesting that one of Castel was among their most New World-styled as well. A classic Bordeaux blend of blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 11% Petit Verdot, the wine clocks in at 15% AbV. The nose is deep, dense and extracted with crushed forest berries, red cherries, rich cassis, earthy minerals, black pepper, cigar-box cedar wood and a typical herbaceousness. The full bodied extracted palate is loaded to bear with rich near-sweet controlled fruit with spicy oak, more cigar notes, roasted espresso and some bitter anise adding nuance before folding into the long finish. At this point, the wine needs hours of decanting before it opens up sufficiently to enjoy so better to wait till 2021 and then enjoy through 2028, maybe longer.

ElviWines, Clos Mesorah, Montsant, 2015: This vintage of Elvi’s flagship (and near-perennial contender for this list) is beautiful, elegant, deep and complex. 2015 was the first year Moises assumed full control of the additional adjacent vineyard, which yielded him much older vines (over 90 years old). A blend of Old Vine Carignan (55%), Grenache (25%), Syrah (17%) and 3% Macabeo that was aged for 17 months in 80% new French (70%) and American (30%) oak barrels. 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 tannins and enhanced with Oriental spices 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. 15% AbV; Drink 2022 through 2030.

Hajdu, Brobdingnagian, Petite Sirah, 2016: Jonathan’s Napa Valley “Proprietary Red” may be considered his flagship wine but for me it has always been the Petite Sirah from Eaglepoint ranch that had a special place in my heart. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and next year’s 2017 vintage will be the last Petite Sirah from Eaglepoint (there will actually be two Hajdu Petite Sirah wines next year, the second one coming from Dry Creek, one of which is likely destined for Hajdu’s Adventurer’s Guild club), so get some while you can. Comfortably representing the Brobdingnagian moniker, the wine is rich, deep and extracted with ripe black fruit including plums and cherries combined with juicy blueberry, bramble, smoky notes, black pepper, warm spices and cigar-box cedar notes. Tight and robust tannins need plenty of time (and/or air) before they release the layers of delicious fruit and minerals. The full-bodied palate is extracted and loaded to bear with more rich fruit, toasty oak, saddle leather, savory notes and saddle leather, all balanced by good acidity and backed by those robust tannins. The supple and lingering finish has more black and blue fruits and is complemented by some sweet herbs that linger. 14.5% AbV, the wine needs time and should be cellared until 2020 and then enjoyed through 2026, maybe longer [Only in the US].

Herzog, Special Reserve, Clone #6, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015: 2014 was a great year for Herzog’s high-end wines, earning the Clone Six a spot on last year’s list. While not quite as elegantly powerful as the 2014, the 2015 is good enough to claw its way onto this year’s list as well. 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, graphite, warm spices, with some smoky oak 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. I’d give the wine at least 12 months before opening and then enjoy from 2020 through 2028, maybe longer.

Ya’acov Oryah, Silent Hunter, 2017: The wine is an unoaked blend of 60% Semillon and 40% Chenin Blanc (the two varietals that Ya’acov does best with. The wine was allowed to go through full malolactic fermentation that yielded a rich and unctuous wine, with plenty of delicious fruit kept in check by great tempering acidity. Loads of flinty minerals are accompanied by subtle tropical fruit, dried summer stone fruit, heather and honeysuckle, along with some spice, pear and ginger. Lemon zest and more citrus are enhance by pleasing notes of white flowers, lemongrass, all well-balanced by bracing acidity that ensures this rich and lovely wine stays crisp, vibrant and refreshing all the way through the medium bodied palate to the long lingering and citrus-laden finish. Really a complex wine that is worth your time and patience to open up in the glass. Part of the wine was also made into a sparkling wine, so stay tuned for some exciting sparklers coming from Ya’acov in a few years. At 11% AbV, the wine is great all day, every day and while it can be enjoyed mindlessly, denying the wine some thoughtful contemplation would be missing out on a huge part of the experience. While enjoyable now, the wine has tons of evolution ahead of it, so I’d suggest cellaring a few of your bottles to enjoy over the years through 2028, likely longer [Only in Israel].

Most Interesting / Exciting Wines of 2018 (in alphabetical order)

Camuna Cellars, Carignan, Ancient Vines, Contra Costa County, 2017: Made by Covenant’s cellar master Eli Silins (full article about them coming soon), the Carignan is sourced from the same place as Hajdu’s offering. However, Camuna’s more natural-leaning winemaking philosophy resulted in a much lighter and more approachable wine (while Hajdu’s is darker, brooding, complex and more reminiscent of the other quality Carignan wines we have on the market). Rich notes of plums, red cherries and freshly plowed earth are back by lovely acidity and supple tannins and enhanced with subtle notes of flinty minerals and white flowers. Scrumptious with sufficient complexity, the wine is enjoyable out of the bottle (and isn’t meant for long term aging), but will take on some heft and complexity with a year or two of cellaring (Drink now through 2021) [Only in the US].

Carmel, Single Vineyard, Riesling, Kayoumi, 2016: A terrific wine that pales only in comparison to its 2014 sibling, with Riesling’s popularity on the rise it is gratifying to see quality options coming from Israel’s relatively hot terroir. Give the wines a few minutes in the glass to open up and you will be rewarded with a lovely nose of stone summer fruit, floral notes, heathered honey, orange zest and a nice whiff of the varietals’ characteristic petrol. The medium bodied and elegantly structured slightly viscous palate is bright, round and mouth-filling and maintains most of the notes, adding some dried tropical fruits to the mix while bright and crisply refreshing acidity keeps everything fresh on the palate. Complex and layered, with some lovely heft, the wine culminates in a lingering finish that pleases. Drink now through 2022.

Château Haut-Brisson, Saint-Émilion, 2016: Another newly imported wine from Vignobles K, this one a huge improvement on the 2014 mevushal version that was only available in France. Utilizing the same 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon blend used for the regular (non-kosher) version, the wine was aged in 35% new French oak and is refined, pretty, deep and rich – with time will be truly delicious and sophisticated. A rich nose of near-sweet red fruit including cherries, plums and tart raspberries along with garrigue, sun-kissed Mediterranean herbs, some barnyard funk, a hint of bell pepper, earthy minerals, black truffles, black pepper and freshly rolled cigars. The medium to full bodied palate is rich, supple and refined with loads of more rich, mostly red fruit along with hints of sweet pomegranate, fresh-laid asphalt, lead pencil, baker’s chocolate and roasted nuts all backed by robust and gripping tannins; leading into a red fruit and chocolate laden finish that lingers with bitter herbs and earthy minerals keeping the wine’s memory alive. 14.5% AbV, at this point the wine needs hours of decanting before it can be enjoyed so I’d cellar it at least until 2022 and then enjoy through 2034, maybe longer [Only in the US].

Château Larcis Jaumat, Saint-Émilion, 2016: Seemingly out of nowhere, the 2015 version of this wine shot directly to the top of the QPR (quality to price ratio) rankings (along with the 2015 Fourcas Dupre). With the same ringing true for so many other of wines on this list, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the 2016 is an ever better wine (and deal). Unfortunately no further kosher runs are being made at this time (at least for 2017 and 2018), so grab as much of these wines as you can find. A blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, the win spent 15 months in 20% new French oak and clocks in at 14.5% AbV. With a little aerating the wine opens to reveal a lovely nose of ripe blackberries, tart raspberries, cranberries, cassis, black currants and plums along with loamy earth, tobacco, saddle leather, warm spices, sage and a hint of chocolate. The medium to full bodied palate is extracted with great balance between gripping tannins, rich fruit, pungent earthy minerals, spices and mushroom notes along with the slightly toasty oak, good acidity and warm herbs. Deep, rich and inviting, the wine is lightly less approachable at this point than the 2015 was, so give it some aging before opening. Drink 2022-2030.

Domaine Jean-Pierre Bailly, Pouilly-Fumé, 2017: 100% Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire’s Pouilly-Fumé region, the wine opens with a refined nose of orange citrus, lemongrass, fresh-cut grass, flinty minerals and a saline overlay that enhances the aromatic bouquet. The light to medium bodied palate is expressive and round with more orange citrus, lemongrass, Meyer lemon and minerals, all perfectly balanced by tons of lip-smacking acidity. Crisp and refreshing, the vibrant fruit shines while providing an all around delicious experience through the lingering citrus finish. Drink now through 2022.

ElviWines, Herenza, Rioja Reserva, 2014: The first Reserva since the 2010 but it was well worth the wait. Aged for 30 months in new French oak, the wine is Tempranillo blended with 10% Graciano. The wine is rich and extracted but showcases an elegant structure and fine winemaking. The rich nose and full bodied palate are both replete with mostly optimally red ripe forest fruit with hints of black cherries and plums added to the mix in addition to notes of sweet wood, anise, roasted meat, graphite, rich dark chocolate, black truffles and earthy minerals.  The bold tannins provide great structure while the acidity is well balanced with the extracted ripe fruit, toasty oak, minerals and warm spices. Nowhere near ready for prime time, the wine needed 6 hours before anything really emerged and should be cellared until 2021 before opening and can then be enjoyed through 2030, likely longer.

Domaine du Castel, C, Blanc Du Castel (Chardonnay), 2016: Typically one of the better oaked chardonnay wines produced in Israel, this year is no exception. 100% Chardonnay aged for 12 months in 33% new oak (with the remaining 66% split between one and two year old barrels). A rich and vibrant nose with plenty of toasty oak along with smoke, flint and robust tart apple, pear and some butterscotch along with a hint of tropical fruits and minerals. The rich and buttery palate is medium bodied and well balanced with lively acidity keeping everything honest and warm spices adding some nuance along with creamy lemon curd and a pleasing bitter note on the lingering finish. Still coming together and enjoyable after 30 minutes of decanting, I’d give the wine six months and then enjoy through 2024, maybe longer.

Gito, Shenhav, 2017: In a change from the delicious 2016 version which was 100% Chardonnay, for 2017 Malkiel0 blended in 25% Semillon from the Golan Heights which focused the nose, while slightly lowering the acidity (without any real negative impact). An expressive nose is bright and focused with lovely tart green apple, pear, warm spices, a hint of tropical fruit and some flinty minerals bring enhancing complexity and nuance to a vibrant and deliciously refreshing wine with plenty of acidity keeping things crisp and lively and a subtle bitter herbal streak adding to the mix. Well balanced and delicious. Drink now and over the next 12 months.

Gvaot, Gofna Reserve, Chardonnay-Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017: As nobody has followed their lead, I don’t think the wine could be called a trendsetter but this interesting combination is certainly a creative and delicious representation of Shivi’s abundant talents and his ability to see greatness where others don’t. At this point holding a defined spot in Gvaot’s growing portfolio, this intriguing blend benefits from 25% of Cabernet Sauvignon processed as a Blanc de Noir (i.e. no skin contact) which brings lovely heft and notes of black fruit, slate minerals and a hint of salinity; along with slightly toasty oak from the eight months it spent barrel aging sur lie in Hungarian oak. A fresh and vibrant medium bodied palate had crisp acidity, while being rich with tart green apple, pear and red fruit, warm spices and spicy notes while retaining an elegant demeanor and not giving it all away too quickly. Hints of roasted nuts, brown spice and some orange citrus nose are backed by sublet tannins and enhanced by a streak of roasted Mediterranean herbs. Really an exciting and delicious wine.

Kishor Vineyards, Misgav Riesling, 2017: The first wine sourced from Kishor’s new Riesling vineyard, Kishor has been making “Mosel-styled” Riesling wines for a while. I recently profiled Kishor’s white blend and an in-depth article on the winery is coming shortly. Well-made, with a lovely nose of grapefruit, peach, apricot and pineapple backup up by flinty-minerals, and honeyed notes of white flowers alongside some petrol bitterness. The slightly viscous and oily medium-bodied palate has plenty of bracing acidity to back up the heftier palate with a lovely mineral-laden salinity providing complexity to the abundant and controlled fruit and floral notes. At 10% AbV, this is a thinking man’s wine that is well worth seeking out. Drink now through 2020 [Only in Israel].

Marciano Estate, Terra Gratia, 2016 [Advance Tasting]: Expected to be released in February, the wine is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon that was co-fermented with a small percentage of Cabernet Franc (the 2018 won’t be co-fermented as the Cabernet Franc was picked separately and 2014 wasn’t either because the varietals didn’t ripen at the same time). The wine aged in 60% new French oak for 20 months and is dense, rich and extracted with loads of black fruit along with chocolate, pepper, subtle toasty oak and a nice herbaceousness. The full-bodied palate has elegant and robust tannins, great acidity and plenty more rich fruit that is well controlled and impeccably balanced with the just-right oak influence. Complex and layered, the wine will age nicely and can be enjoyed now with 1-2 hours of decanting [Only in the US].

Ramon Cardova, Albariño, Rías Baixas, 2017: This year saw two new wines added to the Ramon Cardova portfolio, a 2016 Old Vine Tempranillo (“Limited Edition”) and this wine, one of the only two kosher Albariño wines currently available (and easily the better one). Sourced from one of Spain’s smallest appellations located in Galicia, the Rías Baixas DO is adjacent to the Atlantic. The vineyards are completely canopied and the grapes come in with such high levels of natural acidity that it often has to be lowered. The unoaked wine has a lovely nose with loads of citrus zest, green notes and saline-dipped minerals. The medium bodied palate is rich, round and mouth-filling with more citrus zest, some tropical fruit and tart green apple, all backed by great acidity that keeps the robust palate vibrant and fresh all the way through the lingering palate. A really interesting, different and delicious wine. Drink now and over the next 12 months or so (there will be a 2018 as well).

Tzora, Judean Hills, Blanc, 2017: A barrel-fermented blend of Chardonnay (75%) and Sauvignon Blanc (25%) (coincidently, the exact reverse blend of the 2017 White Shoresh) that spent eight months on the lees. Fermentation was halted to ensure the wine didn’t go through malolactic fermentation, which helped preserve a high level of acidity and allowed the fruit’s minerality to shine. Loaded with white peaches, guava and other tropical summer fruits, the wine is backed by crisp acidity and enhanced by luscious citrus notes, flinty minerals, dusty stone and a crispness that stands out from among many of today’s Chardonnay offerings on a medium. Drink now through 2019.

Ya’acov Oryah, Light from Darkness (Blanc de Noir), 2016: Maintaining a reputation for quality experimentation, the wine’s name reflects the creating of a white wine from three Rhône Valley red varietals (Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre), accomplished by not allowing the juice any skin contact whatsoever (all grape juices are clear – the color comes from skin, stems and other parts). As a wine geek I am always excited to taste wines made in a new or interesting manner, many of which aren’t the most delicious of options and I was happy to find this wine didn’t fit into that category – it’s really a yummy wine (in addition to the coolness of having typical red wine notes in a white wine). The nose is redolent with mulberry, raspberry, red cherry along with white flowers, red grapefruit and lime with a hint of bitter green and flinty minerals. The medium to full bodied palate is more robust than you’d expect with great acidity balancing out the rich and deep fruits with plentiful lip-smacking citrus and savory minerals on the mid palate leading into the lingering finish where some bitter grapefruit pith leaves a tantalizing reminder of the delicious treat. Enjoyable now through the middle of 2019 [Only in Israel (however the 2017 (recommendable) should be available in the US shortly)].