April 23, 2024
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A Bit of California Grandeur for the New Year

Forty years ago, in the spring of 1976, a seminal event happened in Paris, France, that changed the map of wine just as much as the American Revolution, 200 years before, had changed the map of the British Empire.

Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, then living in Paris, decided to use the American Bicentennial to generate some publicity for himself. So he invited a number of France’s most distinguished wine experts to a blind tasting of some of the best French and American wines. The outcome was a foregone conclusion: France, of course, would win. Yet, when the ballots were tallied, the results shocked everyone—a Cabernet Sauvignon from California had beaten the best red wines of Bordeaux, and a California Chardonnay had beaten the best white Burgundies. Californian wine had come into its own.

From that day until this, California has been producing some of the world’s best wines, and within a few years of that Paris tasting, California started producing some the world’s best kosher wines as well. Pioneers like Ernie Weir of Hagafen Cellars have been making great kosher wines in California since the late 1970s.

Today California continues to produce many excellent kosher wines and most of these wines—because of lower transport costs and no tariffs or rates of exchange—are far less expensive than similar quality kosher wines from Israel or Europe.

So in honor of that grand old tasting of 40 years ago, and in preparation for Rosh Hashanah, I tasted about a dozen wines to find some of the best kosher Cabernets and Chardonnays from California. Almost all of the wines in the tasting were good or excellent, and any of them would make for a delightful addition to your holiday table.

 

The Cabernet Sauvignons

Prix Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Weir Family Vinyard, MJT Block, 2009: Made by Ernie Weir of Hagafen Cellars, this very full-bodied, inky dark-garnet-colored Cabernet is a blockbuster of a wine. The nose is rich and complex, with elements of cherries, blackberries, lemon verbena and just a whiff of freshly cured Virginia tobacco. Look for flavors of cherries, cassis, blackberries, dark chocolate, violets and toasty oak with hints of tar, herbs and smoky tobacco. Well made, with good mineral content and an abundance of well-heeled tannins, this wine is ready to drink now and for the next eight years, or perhaps longer. Score A. ($70. Available direct from the winery, 888-424-2336, www.hagafen.com)

Covenant, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2014: When Jeff Morgan started Covenant in 2003 their goal was to create a kosher “cult Napa Cab,” and he succeeded. While the Covenant Winery has grown to have a much broader portfolio, their flagship wine has always been made from 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in the heart of Napa—except this vintage. The usually warm growing season led to low yields, and in order not to reduce the volume of production, for this vintage only, Morgan decided to blend their Cabernet with other Napa-grown varietals. This led to a very good but very different wine. A blend of 57 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 31 percent Merlot and 12 percent Petit Verdot, this rich, full-bodied, bright-garnet-colored wine has a big nose of cherries, raspberries, cassis, stone fruits, pencil shavings and toasty oak, with whiffs of orange blossoms, fennel and spice. Look for flavors of cherries, cassis, plums and raspberries, with hints of mocha, leather and spice. While approachable now this wine still needs at least a year in the bottle before it will start to show its best, and should then drink well until 2026, or perhaps longer. Score A/A-. ($89.00. Available at FillerUp Kosher Wines, 174 West Englewood Ave, Teaneck, 201-862-1700)

Hagafen, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2013: Rich and full bodied, this dark-garnet-colored wine has a still tight nose of cherries, oak and herbs de Provence oak, cedar, cranberries, cherries and red currents. Look for flavors of cherries (running from front of the palate to the back), currants—red and black—and oak, with hints of pencil shavings, pipe tobacco and a mild herbal undertone. Endowed with an abundance of powdery tannins, this wine, while enjoyable now, still could probably use another six months to open up, and should cellar well for at least another six years. Score A-. ($43.00. Available at FillerUp Kosher Wines, 174 West Englewood Ave, Teaneck, 201-862-1700)

Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Napa Valley, 2013: This garnet-colored, full-bodied Cabernet has a complex nose with elements of black cherries, blackberries, tarragon, cedar and spicy oak. Look for flavors of cherries, cassis, blackberries, stone fruits, oak and cedar with just a touch of creme de mure on the finish. Ready to drink now, this wine should cellar well until 2022. Score A-. ($39.00. Available at FillerUp Kosher Wines, 174 West Englewood Ave, Teaneck, 201-862-1700)

 

The Chardonnays

Covenant, Chardonnay, Lavan, Napa Valley, 2013: Dark straw in color, this full-bodied Napa Valley Chardonnay has a rich fruity bouquet of apples, quince, logans, honeysuckle, honeydew 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, logans and citrus, and a touch of toasty oak running throughout. Drink now until 2019. Score A. ($37.00. Available at FillerUp Kosher Wines, 174 West Englewood Ave, Teaneck, 201-862-1700)

Prix, Chardonnay, Reserve, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, 2014: With a full body, and a tawny dark-straw color, this Chardonnay has an impressive nose of apples, pears, quince, fennel and toasty oak, with an intriguing floral note. Look for flavors of apples and Seville oranges at the front of the palate, moving to notes of coconut and roasted nuts mid palate, with quince and notes of eucalyptus and mulling spices on the finish, and a moderate note of oak running throughout. Although enjoyable now this wine can probably use another six months to a year in the bottle, and then should cellar well until 2021. Score A/A-. ($40.00. Available directly from the winery, 888-424-2336, www.hagafen.com)

Herzog, Chardonnay, Special Reserve, Russian River Valley, 2014: Aged for 18 months in a mixture of American and French oak, this almost-full-bodied, bright-straw-colored wine has a bouquet of apples, quince, Key limes, pineapples, hay and oak, with a slight but pleasant floral note. Look for flavors of apples and honey to play against tastes of cream, oak and vanilla, with a tropical note of pineapples and Key Limes at the back of the palate. Drink now until at least 2020. Score A-. ($27.00. Available at FillerUp Kosher Wines, 174 West Englewood Ave, Teaneck, 201-862-1700)

Hagafen, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2010: This medium- to full-bodied, bright-straw-colored Chardonnay has a lively, floral nose of apples, honey and fresh-cut straw, with a tropical hint of bananas, and notes of oak and freshly churned butter in the background. Look for flavors of apples, lemons, bananas and honey with a hint of cream. Ready to drink now and for the next five years. Score B+. ($23.00. Available at FillerUp Kosher Wines, 174 West Englewood Ave, Teaneck, 201-862-1700)

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.

By Gamliel Kronemer

 

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