From time to time, many a kosher wine drinker encounters a scenario whereby he or she has the need or desire to serve a bottle of wine simply to impress. Whether it is dinner with the boss, a client, an investor, a wine-loving friend, a glorious occasion or even just to upstage a wine snob who insists that kosher wine cannot compete with non-kosher wines, a stock of impressive wines can come in handy.
A great place to start this collection is with tried-and-tested producers. Hagafen Cellars in Napa, Calif., for example, is always one of my favorite go-to producers. Ditto the wines of Covenant, whether from California or now Israel. Speaking of Israel, Domaine du Castel, the Flam Winery, Recanati Winery, Shiloh Winery, Netofa Winery, Golan Heights Winery and the Yatir Winery, among many others, are all producers of often great and generally impressive wines. The kosher wines of Christophe Bardeau of Domaine Roses Camille in France, featured in previous Jewish Week Kosher Wine Guides, are also not to be missed. I could, and probably should, list many more such producers. But ultimately, the best approach is just to taste as many wines as possible, and determine for yourself what you find impressive.
Still, at the risk of upsetting every wine producer, importer and wine brand rep I know, here are some other wonderfully impressive wines I’ve tasted recently; folks might consider them as a starting point for their own hands-on research.
Nik Weis, “Gefen Hashalom,” Wiltinger, Saar Riesling (Mosel, Germany), 2015 ($25): See story in the Kosher Wine Guide 2017 here.
Shirah, Alder Springs Furmint, (Mendocino County, Calif.), 2015 ($35): This lovely, golden, rich, full-bodied, complex and nicely unusual white wine is a great California take on the noble Hungarian white varietal — with honeysuckle, spice, pear, apple, a little honey, a dollop of tropical fruits and subtle stone fruits, all buttressed by brilliant, bracing acidity and a little toasty oak. Fabulous.
Flam Merlot Reserve (Upper Galilee, Israel), 2012 ($60): This luscious, lovely and flavorful blend of 85 percent Merlot, 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5 percent Petit Verdot is soft, elegant and balanced. This is a thoroughgoing and straightforward pleasure that should make any meal that much nicer.
Gros Family Vineyards, Shoham, Black Onyx (Upper Galilee, Israel), 2013 ($75): new to the U.S., this boutique Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon (with 4 percent Cabernet Franc) is light-to-medium-bodied with aromas and flavors of sweet black fruits, violets, ripe black cherries, a little cocoa and some nice Mediterranean herbs. The finish is mild, appealing and refreshing, with soft tannins, enough acidity and a little oak to help keep it altogether in a pleasing package. As it breaths it takes on more of a bold, slightly sweeter Israeli profile, coupled to greater complexity. Nice.
Elvi Wines, Herenza, Rioja, Reserva (Spain), 2009 ($70): a serious but elegant wine with expressive earthy aromas and flavors intermingled with soft dark plum, red cherry, licorice and herb notes with firm yet smooth tannins and a lengthy vanilla accented finish. Soft, supple, complex and delicious, this is drinking beautifully now.
Lewis Pasco, Liquidity Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Shomron, Israel), 2014 ($60): big and bold, offering appealing sweet, ripe red and black fruits along with notes of toasted spice, hints of herbal and chocolate notes, vanilla and leather, the interplay of the fruit, still mouth-coating tannins, lively acidity and layered oak; it may take a little bit of time to come together, but promises to reward just a little patience. A nice subtle, but lingering mint creeps into the herbal and fruity, yet drying finish. Yum.
Celler de Capçanes, Peraj Ha’Abib (Montsant, Spain), 2014 ($55): Another lovely, if slightly though delightfully rustic wine from this consistently good producer; medium-to-full bodied with an enticing spicy nose intermingled with vanilla and fresh black fruits, some nice earthiness, good acidity and fine-grained tannins. Best from 2018-2024.
Pavillon de Léoville Poyferré, St. Julien (Bordeaux, France), 2014 ($55): Supple and lively, offering fresh and elegant dark fruit (blackberry, wild strawberry, blackcurrant), some mild black pepper, subtle truffle and perhaps a little tobacco, with still integrating tannins and acidity. It will reward a few years patience if stored in a suitable cellar, but it can be enjoyed earlier so long as you allow plenty of time for it to breathe in your glass.
Celler de Capçanes, La Flor del Flor del Primavera, Old Vines Samsó (Montsant, Spain), 2014 ($65): This is heavy, dark, concentrated and brooding at present, with an inky mouth of blackberries, blackcurrants, dark plums, black cherries and roasted coffee, but promises to develop beautifully over the next few years into a really superb, Spanish Carignan treat.
Carmel, Limited Edition (Galilee, Israel), 2011 ($80): This enjoyable Bordeaux-style blend of 64 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 27 percent Petit Verdot, 6 percent Malbec and 3 percent Merlot is dark and rich, with notes of blackcurrant, black plum, licorice root, a little violet, thyme, tobacco leaves, some lovely olive notes and a little peppery spice, with a pleasing finish. Drink now through 2025 or so.
Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Edition, Warnecke Vineyard, Chalk Hill (Sonoma County, Calif.), 2014 ($80): This is simply stunning! One of the best vintages to date of this Cab— delicious, huge yet elegant, beautifully balanced, a bit reserved at this stage, but with a serious, muscular assertiveness lurking beneath the surface that, with age, will help this really come into its own. Complex and inky with wonderful dark fruits, fine yet firm tannins, a judicious layering of oak and great acidity, this wonderful wine is enjoyable now, but give it a few years yet to really strut its stuff.
Shirah, Power to the People (Santa Barbara County, Calif.), 2013 ($75): A real powerhouse of a wine, this is big, full and tasty Syrah with earthy notes of dark forest fruits, a slightly smoky, menthol-like aspect and some really intriguing sarsaparilla (or is it root beer?) characteristics. The tannins are felt but friendly, with balancing acidity, and the overall structure has an inviting edge.
Dalton, 20th Anniversary, Limited Edition, Red Wine (Galilee, Israel) 2013 ($60): A rich, velvety and rewarding Cab and Shiraz blend from Dalton’s Elkosh vineyard, with small amounts of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Merlot from other sites to round it out. This is delicious, full and muscular yet supple, with bold black and red fruits, toasty oak, subtle vanilla and a little tobacco leaf. The finish is satisfyingly long, inviting another sip.
Shirah, Tannat (Paso Robles, Calif.), 2014 ($45): Tannat, a varietal from Southwest France and effectively the favorite grape of Uruguay, has until recently been largely used in California Central Valley jug wines merely to contribute color and tannin. When allowed to shine, however, it has plenty to offer. This wonderful example offers a clear indication both of the aggressiveness it can bring and the heights it can reach. Dark, full and intense, with supple yet rich tannins, sweet black fruit, some absorbing savory notes, lively acidity, nice minerality, slightly too assertive oak (likely to blend in better with additional bottle age) and a long, carnivorous finish.
Shirah, Luna Matta Aglianico (Paso Robles, Calif.), 2014 ($65): Aglianico is a southern Italian grape varietal presented here in a Paso Robles Calif., guise; offers terrific complexity with lovely dried red fruit, licorice, black plum, strawberry, leather and exotic spice flavors, in a big, full frame and a poised lengthy finish. Even better than the stellar previous vintage. Delightful, multifaceted and thoroughly engaging.
Borgo Reale, Brunello di Montalcino, DOCG (Tuscany, Italy), 2007 ($45; mevushal): Full and inviting, this Sangiovese-based Times uncaps “Sangiovese” wine is a somewhat unusual and relatively straightforward example of Brunello, despite being from an outstanding vintage, but is no less enjoyable for it — with a floral and fruity nose of cherry, dried cranberry, dried rose, blackberry, violet, leather and beef jerky, followed by supple fruit, herbs and a little spice, supported by decent acidity and still firm, but integrating bitter-sweet tannins. With a nice, medium-length finish.
Tenuta Monchiero, Barolo, DOCG (Piedmont, Italy), 2010 ($50): This fabulous, elegant, complex, old-world Nebbiolo-based wine grown around the Serralunga d’Alba commune exhibits herbal and dark fruit aromatics, mushroom, cedar wood and an inviting savory, meaty quality, followed on the velvety, medium-bodied palate by notes of dark and red berry fruits, charcuterie and thyme, all balanced by decent acidity, and still tight, mouth-coating tannins. This is gorgeous now, but should continue to impress for another seven or eight years if stored properly.
Seek these out and enjoy. L’chaim!
Joshua London writes about wine for the Jewish Week Food and Wine website.