From the arrival of distinctive Californian Syrahs to the opening of wineries in such unlikely places as Oregon and Virginia, 2011 was a good year for American kosher wine. If the year bore any surprises, as I looked back over my tasting notes, it was the realization that many of the best wines were domestic. Indeed, nine of the wines on my personal top10 list were made in the United States
Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Napa Valley, 2008: This garnet-colored, full-bodied Cabernet, has a complex nose with elements of black cherries, cassis, blackberries, eucalyptus and spicy oak, with an intriguing hard-to-nail-down earthy element. Look for flavors of cherries, currents — both red and black — blackberries, and oak. Ready to drink now, this wine should cellar well until 2015. Score A/A- ($34.95, Available at Sherry-Lehmann, 505 Park Ave., Manhattan,  838-7500)
Brobdingnagian, Besomin, Cuvee Chabad, Napa Valley Field Blend 2008: With a full body and an inky-garnet color, this complex and aromatic wine is perhaps the most intriguing wine that Californian garagiste Jonathan Hajdu has released to date. Look for flavors and aromas of cherries, cassis, and blackberries, with hints of violets, mint, eucalyptus, and chocolate. Drink now until 2016. Score: A/A-. [No longer available]
Hagafen, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2008: Rich and full-bodied, this dark-garnet colored wine has an earthy nose of toasted oak, cedar, cranberries, cherries, and red currents. Look for flavors of cherries, cassis, cranberries and oak, with hints of pencil lead and pipe tobacco. Endowed with an abundance of powdery tannins, this wine is ready to drink now, and should cellar well for at least another six years. Score A/A- ($48.99, Available at Skyview Wines & Spirits, 5681 Riverdale Ave., Riverdale,  759-8466)
Covenant, Chardonnay, Lavan, Napa Valley, 2009: Dark straw in color, this full-bodied Napa Valley Chardonnay has a rich fruity bouquet of apples, quince, pears, and lemon zest, which is set off against elements of earth and toasty oak. The wine has a rich satiny mouth-feel, with flavors of apples, quince, pears and oak, and hints of citrus and spice. Drink now until 2016. Score A/A-. ($40.69, Available at Morrell & Company, 1 Rockefeller Plaza, Manhattan,  688-9370)
Four Gates, Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2009: This full-bodied, dark-garnet colored wine has a vibrant bouquet redolent of cherries, cassis, black liquorish, oak and cedar, with whiffs of pipe tobacco, lavender, and wild flowers. Look for flavors of cherries, blackberries, plums, cassis, and smoky oak. Although drinking reasonably well now, this wine is still tight, and will only start showing its best in 2013, and should then cellar well until 2017. Score A/A- (This wine will be released next week for approximately $40. The wine will be available directly from the winery: www.fourgateswine.com,  457-2673)
Hagafen, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2010: This full-bodied, bright straw-colored Chardonnay has a lively nose of apples, honey and fresh-cut straw, with a tropical hint of bananas and kumquats, and a nice note of oak in the background. Look for flavors of apples, straw, bananas, and honey with a hint of cream. Ready to drink now, this well made Chardonnay will only be at its best starting late this year, and should then cellar well until at least 2016. Score A/A-. ($24.99, Available at Chateau de Vin, 544 Central Ave., Cedarhurst, L.I.  374-9463)
Herzog, Chardonnay, Special Reserve, Russian River Valley, 2009: Aged for fifteen months in a mixture of American and French oak, this medium-to-full bodied, bright straw-colored wine has flavors and aromas of apples, lemons, hay, cream, and toasty oak, with a slight but very pleasant floral note. Drink now until at least 2014. Score A/A-. ($27.95, Available at Morrell & Company, 1 Rockefeller Plaza, Manhattan,  688-9370)
Shirah Wine Company, Power to the People, Syrah, Santa Barbara County, 2009: This inaugural commercial release from the Shirah Wine Company is an impressive wine, and bodes well for the future of this new garagiste producer. Made from Syrah grapes from the Thompson and McGinley vineyards, and fermented with 2 percent Viognier, this, full-bodied, dark-garnet colored wine has a bouquet of black cherries, toasty oak, pipe tobacco, cedar and smoke. Look for a flavor dominated by black cherries and black pepper, with notes of raspberries, crème de cassis, and bitter chocolate. Ready to drink now, this wine should be able to cellar until at least 2016. Score A- ($55.00, Directly available from the winery: www.shirahwine.com)
Brobdingnagian, Syrah, Sonoma County, 2009: Fruit forward and full-bodied, this dark garnet-colored wine has a nose of cherries and black pepper, with whiffs of cedar, figs, and espresso. Look for flavors of Bing cherries, black pepper and allspice, with a note of crème de framboise. Ready to drink now, this powerful syrah should be able to cellar until at least 2014. Score: A-. [No longer available]
Yarden, Merlot, Tel Phares Vineyard, Galilee, 2005: Full-bodied, and a dark-and-inky-garnet in color, this rich Merlot has a nose of cassis, plums, and toasty oak, with notes of cardamom and espresso. Look for flavors of cassis, cherries, plums, and crème de cassis, with hints of salad greens, oak, and spice. Well balanced, with smooth and supple tannins, this wine is ready to drink now, but should be able to cellar for another three or four years. Score A- ($49.95, Available at Liquors Galore, 1212 Ave. J, Brooklyn,  338-4166) n
Please note: Wines are scored on an ‘A’-‘F’ scale where ‘A’ is excellent, ‘B’ is good, ‘C’ is flawed, ‘D’ is very flawed, and ‘F’ is undrinkable. Prices listed reflect the prices at the retailer mentioned.
Fruit of the Vine appears monthly.