Chanukah 2010 Selections

By now, all of you who signed up for the Leket Wine Club should have received your shipment in honor of Chanukah, which went out last week. As an interim-week edition and for the enjoyment of those who haven’t yet signed up for the club, I have set forth below the materials that went out with the Kerem Chanukah Shipment of the wine club – a comparative tasting of 2007 Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon wines. I hope you enjoy and those of you whom have not signed up, hopefully these and the past wine selections, will entice you to sign-up now, benefit Leket Israel and receive the upcoming Pessach shipment for which I am putting together another great selection of Israeli wines.

Happy Chanukah,

Wine Club Materials

A common comment I receive from subscribers to my weekly newsletter on kosher wine is that, while they enjoy drinking wine, they don’t really know much about it and can barely tell the difference between a good and a bad wine. The truth of the matter is that most people are already experts in the most important aspect of enjoying wine – being able to identify the wine you like. If you like the wine – it’s a good wine, if you don’t – it’s a bad one. It really is as simple as that, and regardless of what one critic or another might say about any specific wine, from your perspective – it’s your opinion that matters, not anyone else’s.

Given my tendency toward more effusive tasting notes, I am frequently asked “How do you taste and smell all those different things in the wine?” My goal with this shipment from the Leket Wine Club, in addition to providing you with some great Israeli wines that I think you will really enjoy, is to enhance your wine-drinking experience by providing you with some tips and tools necessary to identify some of the components of the wines you enjoy.

One of the most valuable tools in recognizing the characteristics of any wine is the ability to identify the various aromas present (such aromas are commonly referred to as the “nose” or “bouquet” of a wine). A wine drinker should try to accumulate as large a repertoire of associative smells as possible. The more smells and associations you have, the easier it will be to pick out aromas and tastes in the wine (the multitude of tastes of a wine, commonly known as the “palate”, are actually aromas you taste through your interior nasal passage). The best way to acquire such a collection of associative aromas is simply to smell everything you encounter and try to remember these smells, thus building a large library of smells that you will be able to use when trying to identify the aromas in any specific wine. While there are smells that are common to specific wines (blackberries, currants and cherries to Cabernet Sauvignon; honey, and apricots to Botrytis or Sauternes; apples and vanilla to Chardonnay), there is no right or wrong and everyone tastes and smells different things in a wine. This is part of what makes the experience so pleasurable and is why the experience is better shared with others.

Given the intertwining aspects of smell and taste, when tasting wine it is very important to get some air in your mouth to interact with the wine. This can be accomplished by taking a small sip of wine, holding it in your mouth and, through slightly pursed lips, sucking some air into your mouth over the wine (trying hard not to choke or dribble). Initially, this is probably something to be practiced in the privacy of your home. The next step is to swish the wine around your mouth as if you were chewing on it, then swallow (this is actually a quick process lasting no more than of a couple seconds but extremely important).

The best way to determine whether you like a wine and discern its characteristics is by comparison. Unless you have trained yourself to evaluate wines on their own, without a side by side comparison it’s difficult to evaluate wines that are tasted at different times and under differing circumstances. For this shipment we have included three Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon wines, each from the 2007 vintage that will provide a delightful side by side comparative tasting experience. Each of these wines is the product of a different winemaker, winery and wine-making style and the grapes for each wine were grown in different regions in Israel. This can have great effect on the characteristics of a wine (the effect of the land in which the grapes are grown is commonly known as “terroir” and recent years have seen a significant push to allow the wines to be more expressive of the terroir).

To start the tasting, open all three bottles (or just two of them if you feel like three bottles at once will be too much) and pour a glass of each bottle into separate glasses. Give the first glass a vigorous swirl and then get a good whiff of the wine. Repeat the process with the other wine(s). Then taste them in the same order in which they were smelled. Decide if you like one better than the other. Think about why. Without a doubt you will be able to tell the difference between the wines. You might like one better and you might not. Write down on a piece of paper, which wine you liked better and why (use any description you like, wine related or not). Write down any defining characteristics of the wine. You will find it easier to describe different characteristics of the wines as a result of the comparison.

Keep drinking. See if the wine tastes different as time goes by. See if the changing flavors and textures influence which wine you prefer. You might change your mind as time goes on, which is perfectly normal and doesn’t mean you are waffling. Wine changes over time, even in a matter of minutes. Try to enjoy drinking and forget you are doing a “tasting” – the more you try and think about it, the harder it will become to recognize the differences.

The best way to start off is by “cheating”. Take a look at a published tasting note you have for any of these wines, including the notes provided below (or use the back of the wine label which also sometimes lists the smells and tastes of the wine) and try and identify at least one scent they noted. Don’t try to get them all at once. I guarantee that once you use the method above and work at identifying smells and textures in a wine, you will be able to discern more and more in each glass of wine you drink. This will change your drinking experience forever and your enjoyment of wine will increase exponentially!

In addition to the three Cabernet Sauvignon wines we provided for comparative tastings, and in anticipation of the copious amount of latkes and other fried foods we will be ingesting over the coming Chanukah holiday, we have also included a delicious Sauvignon Blanc that is a great match to those treats.

I hope you enjoy these selections and I would love to hear any thoughts, comments or questions you may have. You can contact me at, where you can also sign up for my weekly newsletter on kosher wines and find additional material about the wonderful and growing world of kosher wines. You can also follow me on Twitter @yossieuncorked for daily wine recommendations, tips and other oenophilic goodies.

Chanukah Samaech and Le’Chaim,
Yossie Horwitz

Psagot Winery

After years of cultivating grapes grown in limestone for sale to other wineries, in 2002 Yaakov Berg founded the Psagot Winery in the Northern Jerusalem Mountains. Berg professes a deep commitment to the land and even lives in the midst of his vineyards in an ancient rail-car. Over the last few years, the quality of wines coming from Psagot has exploded, with some of their more recent wines being truly excellent.

While building the winery, a cave was discovered underneath the vineyards which, once excavated, turned out to house an ancient wine press dating back to the Second Temple. Today the cave serves as a majestic barrel room where Psagot’s wines age gracefully in near perfect natural conditions. The same cave also houses the modern stainless steel tanks, making for an interesting juxtaposition of ancient and modern winemaking.

The winery’s flagship wine is a Bordeaux-type blend named Edom. They also produce regular varietal wines in the Psagot series, which include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Viognier wines. Production from the 2008 (Shmittah year) vintage was about 80,000 bottles and the 2009 vintage is anticipated to be around 90,000 bottles. For the 2007 vintage, the winery produced a single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, in which all the grapes used in making the wine were grown in the winery’s Psagot vineyard. Unfortunately this particular wine is only sold in Israel but is definitely worth seeking out.

Psagot, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007: While the wine also includes grapes grown in the Northern Galilee, most of the grapes were sourced from vineyards located in the Judean Hills, which tends to provide wines with a lot of fruit accompanied by stony minerals. The wine was aged for 13 months in French oak which gives it pleasant flavors of wood and vanilla. These flavors blend nicely with the blackberries and plums together with some dark espresso and mint. With soft, silky and slightly sweet tannins, this wine is a pleasure to drink and will cellar nicely for another couple of years.

Recanati Winery

Established in 2000 and located in Emek Hefer in the Sharon region, Recanati was the realized life-long dream of Lenny (Leon) Recanati, a banker and true oenophile, who got his start in wine from his parents who made their own wine from vines in their backyard. Recanati is one of few Israeli wineries that provides quality wines at a decent price and is one of the limited wineries from whom you can purchase any of their wines knowing it will be good. Unfortunately, they seem to fly under the radar and are not as well known as some of the other Israeli wineries.

This winery relies on a combination of their own grapes and additional grapes sourced from certain contract vineyards, primarily in the Upper Galilee, including the highly-touted Manara vineyard. The winery produces wines in four series: their flagship wine, the Special Reserve, two varietal series, Reserve and Recanati and a table series called Yasmin. Production is currently between 900,000-1,000,000 bottles annually.

Recanati’s winemakers are focused on creating Israeli-style wines that showcase terroir without getting bogged down by Israel’s hot climate which can result in high alcohol levels, low acidity and an over-abundance of fruit. In comparison to prior Recanati wines, recent offerings have less green notes, more elegant fruit and higher acidity (higher acidity tends to make the wine more food-friendly). In addition to focusing on elegant wines with Israeli accents, the more subdued nature of recent Recanti wines helps to create less alcohol-heavy, more food-friendly wines, while remaining just as complex and sophisticated as their predecessors.

Recanati, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007: While this wine doesn’t yet fully reflect the winery’s heightened emphasis on terroir, one can still discern the differences resulting from the fact that this wine was grown in the Northern Galil of Israel and sourced from the highly regarded Manara and Kerem Ben-Zimra vineyards. The grapes were grown in two separate types of soil – chalk and terra rosa, each of which imparts some of its defining characteristics into the wine. Reflecting its 16 months in French oak barrels, this is a deep and brooding wine with strong tannins, well integrated with the acidity and fruits. After a few minutes in the glass (with some vigorous swirling), the wine opens with a rich nose and palate of black cherries and plums, raspberries, currants, eucalyptus, rosemary, thyme and thought-provoking spices, overlaid with espresso, anise and mocha, leading into a round and mouth-filling, vanilla-tinged, finish that lingers nicely.

Tzuba Winery

While smaller than Psagot, Tzuba shares one thing in common – recent and significant year-over-year increases in the quality if its wines. Prior to launching its own label with the 2005 vintage, grapes from this winery’s vineyards were being sold to numerous local wineries, including Castel and Odem Mountain, and utilized for the top-tier wines of those wineries. This is always a good sign for an up and coming winery and a great way to foresee its future potential.

The winery is located on Kibbutz Tzuba from which it also derives its name. Currently, their wines are produced in three series: a top tier Hametzuda wine which it intends to produce only in select years; Tel Tzuba series, which will include both varietal and blended wines, and should be viewed as the winery’s reserve level series; and their table wine series (which is quite good) labeled Hama’ayan. Recently available in the United States, these wines are a treat.

Tzuba, Tel Tzuba, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007: Reflecting the 14 months the wine spent in French oak barrels, there are plenty of toasty wood flavors on both the nose and palate. Near sweet tannins take a few minutes to settle down, but when they do you are rewarded with black cherries, blackberries and currants on a spicy background. Nice herbs, together with the flinty mineral notes that are so representative of the Judean Hills terra rosa soil in which the grapes were grown, make this an interesting wine with a medium finish that lingers nicely.

Golan Heights Winery

The Golan Heights Winery is without a doubt the best Israeli winery. Notwithstanding its gargantuan size, they manage to continue producing top-quality wines at every level, including the new and exciting über-premium wines such as the recently released Rom and the incredible Single Vineyard wines. One of the nice things about the winery is that you can buy almost any of their wines and be guaranteed a decent bottle.

Gamla is the second or third series from of the Golan Heights Winery (with the Katzrin, Single Vineyard and Yarden series before it) and always represents great value for your Shekels providing enjoyable wines at very decent prices. Gamla also produces varietals that are not made for any other series such as Sangiovese and Nebbiolo.

Golan Heights Winery, Gamla, Sauvignon Blanc, 2009: Crisply dry with plenty of acidity to slice through the artery-clogging oil generated by the latkes, sufganiyot and other Chanukah treats. Plenty of melon, green apple, Meyer lemons with some orange peel bitterness on both the nose and palate keep this wine interesting and very refreshing.