Pessach 2011 Selections

Last week was only the second time in almost a year that I missed my usual Thursday night / Friday mailing date for the newsletter. Hopefully this will not be a recurring theme, and the next edition should arrive this Thursday. For this [past] week’s edition I have included the wine selections and related materials for the Pesach Leket Wine Club shipment that was sent out within the last few days and which you should receive in the next several days (if you haven’t already) – I hope you enjoy the wines!

As is my annual wont, I spent last night carefully combing through my cellar, selecting some well-aged Moshiach wines to enjoy over the multitude of meals this Pesach, which will be sent to Miami Beach were I will be for Pesach. If any of you will be there as well, please let me know as I’d love to share a glass of good vino in honor of the Chag. I will report back after Chag on the status of the wines and how well received they were.

Have a great week!

One of the Wine Club’s primary goals is to assist Leket Israel in promoting and fulfilling its message of food rescue for the benefit of Israel’s poor and hungry. As we lovingly prepare our Seder tables and select our Pesach wines to participate in this festival of freedom, we can feel good knowing that participation in the Wine Club assists in freeing some of the 1.7 million Israelis (including 850,000 children) who still suffer from a form of bondage this Pesach – hunger.

On a lighter note, the other primary goal of the Wine Club is to introduce new Israeli wineries, wines and varietals. In furtherance of this goal, I have included in these shipments the fabulous Cabernet Sauvignon from Yatir, a blend from a new Israeli winery – Domaine Netofa and four less common varietals: a Shiraz and Petite Sirah from Dalton, a Barbera from Shilo and a Zinfandel from Binyamina each of which are reviewed below. Other than the Domaine Netofa which will pair with your lighter dishes, these wines are all big, powerful ones that are ready to drink now and will stand up to those special meaty dishes at your Seder, like rib roast or lamb shoulder. I hope you enjoy these wines as much as I did.

While delightful, the Jewish custom of consuming four full cups of wine at the Seder brings with it a host of dilemmas requiring some serious thought and planning. Chief among these is that four cups is a lot of wine to be consuming at one sitting, especially given that the first two cups are typically imbibed on an empty stomach. Another issue is that at the Seder most of us will use the same silver goblets we use for Kiddush and, while during the year the negative effect of the silver has your wine is easily countered by pouring the wine into a proper wine glass after Kiddush, during the Seder the wine stays in your silver goblet for a far longer period with potentially negative effects on its flavor. Other considerations include the tradition of only drinking red wine and avoiding any Mevushal wine at the Seder.

Given one’s desire to honor the Seder, people try to have the nicest and most expensive wines possible – typically full-bodied Bordeaux-blends or robust Cabernet Sauvignon wines. However, the empty stomach with which most people approach the first two cups and the requirement to consume nearly an entire cup of wine rather rapidly combine to detract from one’s ability to fully enjoy and appreciate the complexities of these typically magnificent wines. As a result I suggest, and have in recent years done so myself, saving the bigger, more expensive wines for leisurely drinking during the actual Seder meal (and the multiple other meals over the holiday) and finding other good wines to utilize for the four cups. Being the traditionalist that I am, I have decided to stick with red wines for all four cups and will be looking for top quality, medium-bodied, relatively simple and inexpensive wines. Some perennial favorites of mine include Recanati’s Reserve Petit Sirah-Zinfandel, the Capcanes Peraj Petita or a new arrival – the Domaine Netofa 2009 (which is included in this shipment). To the extent you are looking for well priced whites, Yarden’s Odem Chardonnay, Recanati’s Chardonnay, Dalton’s Sauvignon Blanc or Yarden’s Viognier are all good, affordable bets.


One of my favorite wineries, which consistently produces excellent wines, Yatir is located in the south of Israel at the tip of the Judean Hills, in an area with a history of wine-making dating back over 2500 years. Founded in 2000 as a joint venture between the Carmel Winery and a number of regional wine-growers, this was one of the first kosher boutique wineries to produce spectacular wine, which could compete with the then king of Israeli boutique wineries – the non-kosher Margalit Winery. Head winemaker Eran Goldwasser is assisted by the winery’s manager, Yonatan Ben Dor, and all the wines they have produced to date have been magnificent – truly a tough feat for any winery.

For many years, the only wines produced by Yatir were the Forest (Ya’ar Yatir) and a delicious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz. In 2004, Yatir introduced an incredible Sauvignon Blanc that became an instant hit and the following year introduced a single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon (included in this shipment) and a Shiraz that were just as successful. 2006 brought another major hit with a varietal Viognier. After this long string of amazing wines, I can only hope that Eran will take some of his Cabernet Franc currently used for blending to make a new single varietal out of my favorite varietal – Cabernet Franc.

Yatir, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006: This is a big wine composed of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Petite Verdot. Aged for 12 months in French oak, the wine has a rich nose of blackberries, cassis, currants, cranberries and raspberries. Your first sip of this wine will make you jump for joy, given its super-rich and extracted flavors from the nose. Plenty of well-integrated wood and tannins, along with dark chocolate that plays very well with the ripe but not overwhelming fruit with a pleasant hint of greenness. A long, velvety finish rounds this one out, lingering on and on. While delicious right now, I believe this wine can be cellared for at least another six to seven years [included in the Kerem membership].


Over the last few years Binyamina has made tremendous strides in the quality of its wines, and is currently producing many great ones across a multitude of labels. Binyamina’s two winemakers, Sasson Ben-Aharon and the funny and gregarious Assaf Paz, produce both top quality wines in their flagship labels and really nice wines at their lower labels.

The winery currently produces wines under four major labels – Avnei Hachoshen, Reserve, Yogev and Teva. They also produce a potpourri of other entry-level wines under the Tiltan, Kramim, and Caesaria labels. Binyamina also owns the popular “Cave” label, but prefers to promote it as a stand-alone wine for marketing purposes.

Avnei Hachoshen is Binyamina’s flagship label, with seven wines in the series all named for a gemstone on the breastplate of the Cohen Gadol. The Reserve series has some really great wines, including the Zinfandel provided in this shipment and late harvest Gewürztraminer. Tiltan (Hebrew for clover) blends varietal wines across three vintages; it is made in very limited quantities, but well worth trying. The Yogev series (which is “farmer” or “man of the soil” in Hebrew) includes six blends and was created to honor the folks growing the grapes and lists the names of the actual growers on each label.

Binyamina, Reserve, Zinfandel, 2007: This is a big Zinfandel that spent 15 months in both French and American oak, while managing to retain a relatively low (for Zinfandel, which tends to be higher in alcohol) 14% alcohol level and staying true to the varietal. Typical notes of black pepper and leather match up with ripe raspberries and strawberries. Hints of bittersweet chocolate and mint on a medium finish round out this powerful wine. I enjoyed the wine more on its own than as a match to food [included in the both memberships].


When Shilo’s first wines were released for the 2005 vintage, they were somewhat uninspiring and left me with little desire to pay much attention to this winery, located in Shiloh, in the Binyamin region. Only recently, with the 2007 vintage (and continuing with the 2008 vintage), newly available in the US, has the winery taken some significant steps forward and become one to watch. In addition to their great flagship wine – Mosaic, the winery releases wines in three series: Sod Reserve, Shor and Mor. As with many other promising Israeli wineries, in addition to the more traditional Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, Shilo has made a delicious Petite Sirah and the Barbera that we have included in this shipment.

Shiloh, Shor, Barbera, 2007: A deep, luxurious wine, with well-integrated tannins that bode well for many cellaring years ahead. The tannins have already receded sufficiently, providing for a round and mouth filling sensation. Give the wine about 10 minutes to open up in your glass and you will be rewarded with rich aromas of lavender, blackberries, cassis and cedar. The same flavors follow through on the palate, with plenty of slightly toasty oak blending nicely with the fruits and floral notes ending with a long finish that lingers nicely [included in the Kerem membership].


Founded by the Haruni family in 1993, the winery currently produces upwards of 800,000 bottles annually. In recent years, the winery has also produced more Bordeaux style wines – causally elegant and sophisticated with more muted fruits. Currently under the auspices of their talented Australian and Californian-trained winemaker, Na’ama Mualem, the winery produces excellent wines across multiple series at very reasonable prices. Dalton is currently producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Barbera, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat varietal wines in a large number of series, including Single Vineyard, Reserve, Safsufa, Estate, Alma, Dalton and Canaan. Dalton also recently launched a Super Israeli wine called Matatia that is excellent. Some of my current favorites from this winery are the Shiraz included in this shipment and a Viognier which is one of my favorite white wines (and was included in our inaugural Rosh Hashanah shipment).

Dalton, Shiraz, Reserve, 2007: Dalton produces both a Syrah and Shiraz wine, even though they are both made from the same grape. The labeling is intended to differentiate between the Syrah wine that is more Old World, French Rhone-like and the Shiraz, included in this shipment, which is bolder and more Australian, New World in style. The Shiraz is a bold wine that could use a bit of time in your glass to open up and fully express itself. Once it does, you encounter a medium bodied wine with great structure and nicely integrated tannins, melded with spicy wood and a bit of smoke. As with many Syrah-based wines, 5% of Viognier was blended into the wine for color and a rounder mouth-feel. Plenty of blackberries, currants and black cherries on both the nose and palate, with additional notes of cedar wood, dark espresso and bittersweet chocolate coming through on the palate, all leading into a medium finish that lingers nicely [included in the Kerem membership].

Dalton, Petite Sirah, Estate, 2009: Dalton is rapidly on its way to challenging the Galil Mountain Winery for the best QPR wines. It’s producing some great wines in the Estate series and its first varietal release of a Petite Sirah is no exception. A very aromatic wine redolent of lavender with plenty of jammy fruits and black pepper on both the nose and palate with hints of Mediterranean herbs and anise. As opposed to some of the other Petite Sirah wines reviewed, this one was less characteristically true by being approachable out of the bottle with less robust tannins that were better integrated as well. A round and mouth-filling wine that is an YH Best Buy [included in the Eshkol membership].

Domaine Netofa

Domaine Netofa is a new winery on the Israeli boutique scene and what a welcome addition it is. And while the winery itself is new, the name behind it – Pierre Miodownick, is an old hand at crafting top-notch wines. For many years, Pierre was the winemaker in charge of making the French wines for and distributed by Royal Wines.

The winery is located on (and derives its name from) Mitzpe Netofa in the Lower Galilee and grows its grapes in its own vineyards. From its Syrah, Mourvedre, Tempranillo, and Chardonnay grapes, the winery produces a white and red blend (which is included in this shipment) and an upper-tier label, also a blend, called Netofa Latour. His first wines were released for the 2009 vintage and were a resounding success. Production for 2009 was about 25,000 bottles and the 2010 vintage about 80,000.

Domaine Netofa, Red Blend, 2009: An easy-drinking, medium bodied blend of Syrah and Mourvedre (a grape which seems to be doing really well in Israel). The wine has plenty of notes of blackberries, cherries, cassis and plums with hints of spiciness from the Syrah grapes. Not for long-term cellaring but a delightful wine that will pair nicely with all but the heaviest dishes. While on the light side, the wine shows plenty of character and is truly a delight to drink culminating in a medium finish with hints of chocolate lingering on [included in the Eshkol membership].