The Jewish Link Wine Guide judges had the privilege of tasting and rating many excellent wines over the last few months. When the scores were tallied, a few wineries rose to the top, continually appearing in our wine lists across multiple categories and price points. They were Dalton, Gvaot, Covenant, Shiloh and Elvi. These wineries have received the distinction of “Winery of the Year” for producing satisfying, high-quality products the kosher-wine consumer can reliably return to again and again. I was happy to relay the news of their success and asked each winemaker to share their unique vision for their winery and tell us which part of the winemaking process they enjoy most. We also had our judges and editor, Elizabeth Kratz, share their perspectives, weighing in on what makes these wineries stand out.
Alex Haruni, winemaker
“We are a modern and forward-thinking winery, bringing the wine-drinking public a range of consistent and excellent wines to suit all pockets. We are constantly striving to move forward and better ourselves, as I believe that if we are not moving forward, we will start falling backwards.”
“I love our blending sessions with the winemakers. Three to four times a year we sit for a couple of days and make the blends for the coming year. It’s a time when I can sit without interruption, put all the day-to-day issues of the winery aside, and focus on taking stock of what the harvest has brought us and how to best use it. It’s a time for artistry and creativity.”
“Dalton continues to provide a wide range of good-to-great wines at extremely accessible price ranges,” said Kratz. “Dalton’s ‘entry level’ estate line is better than many wineries’ highest-end flagship products. I also loved their 2019 rosé; it was wonderfully aromatic and beautiful. Truly not to be missed.”
Shivi Drori, winemaker
“Our winery is based on growing the best grapes possible, in one of the best terroirs in Israel. This involves a unique irrigation program which I developed, aiming to minimize irrigation (to some vineyards, no irrigation) as a way to enhance complexity and concentration of the wines.
“Our precise winemaking process is aimed to reveal the potential of these great grapes and build finesse and elegance on one hand, and wine-aging potential on the other.”
“I really like the first stage of alcoholic fermentation, when the hidden potential of the grapes is starting to show itself, and the sugar and primary aromas gradually make way for alcohol and more complex aromas. This is also the part where the right eye and hand can make the difference, and produce a great wine.”
Daphna Roth and Greg Raykher, judging duo, had this to say about Gva'ot: “[Gva'ot is] a winery that never disappoints and is always on the cutting edge. Gva'ot’s winemaker, Dr. Shivi Drori, is a professor at Ariel University. He conducted extensive research into ancient grape varieties, resulting in the first bottlings of bituni and jandali grapes in Israel. Gva'ot Gofna Pinot Noir is a standout, as is the top of the line Masada, but really, anything from Gva'ot is worth trying.”
Kratz’s verdict: “I’m a huge fan of Gva'ot wines. Pop open any bottle of Gva'ot and you will have a transcendent experience. Superior blending, fruit-forward flavor and sustained finishes.”
Amichai Lourie, winemaker
“I think my main goal is to connect people to the land of Israel through Shiloh wines. That’s why when people compliment Shiloh wines or when I’m asked how it is that our wines are receiving gold medals and high scores, I give the credit to Eretz Israel.”
Most enjoyable aspect of winemaking? “This question is easy to answer: My favorite part is working in the vineyards, and to be more specific, planting a new vineyard.”
Raykher summed up Shiloh as “a really solid wine at every price point, with a particular QPR sweet spot at the Secret Reserve line. Amichai Lourie, the winemaker, is a great guy, and seems to be one of the hardest-working wine salespeople in Israel (at least based on the number of pre-Corona steak dinners he was hosting and pouring at all over the world). We hosted Amichai at our house for a tasting, and he could not have been more gracious and generous with his wine and his time. Really, all wines in the Shiloh portfolio are highly recommended, although we have a sweet spot for their merlots, which grow really well in the Shomron.”
Kratz had only good things to say about Shiloh as well. “Amichai Lourie is the most intentional kosher winemaker in the industry. Everyone knows him, and everyone respects him. His wines are a celebration of the winemaking region and of the land of Israel. In every bottle he releases, he communicates immense potential, hope and a celebration of Israel’s unique Mediterranean terroir. That is what you buy when you purchase a bottle of Shiloh.”
Jeff Morgan, founder
“As ‘founding winemaker,’ I have developed the winemaking techniques and protocols that we follow in both California and Israel. They include native yeast fermentations and minimal—if any—filtration or fining. I also lead the blending process for all our wines. The goal is to maintain stylistic integrity and continuity for the brand based on my palate and preferences.”
Jonathan Hajdu, winemaker
“Covenant’s vision, for me, has always been quality-focused, small-lot winemaking, creating wines that enhance people’s everyday meals and special moments.
“My favorite part of the winemaking season is tasting the wines about a month after harvest. Very often this is the moment when the character of a wine is revealed; it’s a moment of discovery.”
“Covenant has rightly earned its ‘cult status’ in kosher winemaking,” said Kratz. “It gives me great personal pride that Covenant’s Sonoma wines are on the menu at high-end non-kosher eateries like The French Laundry. Jeff Morgan is a living legend. He and Jonathan Hajdu, a true industry star, are ambassadors of kosher wine, and they are bringing the entire industry along with them. I am proud to have Covenant wines in my cellar as well, as I know they are good investments that will only improve with time.”
Judge Jeff Katz shared what he loves about Covenant. “Highlights from Covenant include the bright, crisp and deep Chardonnay Lavan, the blackberry and subtly spiced Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon and the co-fermented merlot and zinfandel heavy Tribe Proprietary Red. Each varietal evokes a different and uniquely pleasurable experience, which may be due to the unique fermenting, pressing and aging processes each wine goes through. Covenant has a wine for everyone, at every price point.”
Ana Aléta, winemaker
“Immersed in the Mediterranean, the expression of the terroir is our main goal, leaning on the years of experiences, that year after year we can take from the field. Without a doubt one of our main objectives is preserving the ecosystem while trying to take the best of what nature has given us to make the best wine possible, with the unique expression of the land we are in. Small productions, handmade care of the vines, separated vinification, not accelerating any process, all in its precise moment. At Elvi Wines we make wines so that anyone can enjoy and try and find the correct wine for each occasion.”
Her favorite part of the winemaking process? “Definitively it would be the moment of opening a bottle to decide if it’s ready to be released to the market. The moment when all the work from the last months or years comes down to the bottle. The memories come back; the nuances of the vintage takes you to what the wine will be like in the following months and years; new challenges. It’s a constant dialogue between the present and the past, between knowledge and intuition.”
Judges Roth and Raykher's take on Elvi: “This is the first Jewish-owned winery in Spain since 1492. Amazing people, a great family. Dr. Moises Cohen is in charge of the vineyards and distribution and his wife Anna is the winemaker. Their son David works with his father and their daughter helps out and is expected to become a winemaker, too. The Herenza line covers different price points within Rioja, from an entry level to Crianza to Reserva. The Clos Mesora is a top-of-the-line estate wine produced high in the mountains in Monsant (a really special place to visit, about an hour and a half from Barcelona). Just the nicest people, making history as well as great wine.
Judge Yeruchum Rosenberg had this to say about Elvi: “The Cohen family puts such effort and care into every aspect of their winemaking—from the soil to what grows around it. Moises really understands the science behind the process. They produce a wide range of wines, and the disparity in price has no effect on the quality of the wine.”
Kratz shared the tasters’ enthusiasm: “I greatly enjoyed meeting and tasting wine with David Cohen Aléta [Anna’s son] last year, shortly before the COVID lockdown,” she said. “The Herenza wines are excellent, so floral and complex, and even the entry-level wines (the Vina Encina line) are great table wines and extremely well-priced.”
Judge Jeff Katz agreed with his colleagues: “Whether enjoying the Clos Mesorah, the Herenza Crianza, the Vina Encina Tempranillo or any of the 13 wines produced by Elvi Wines, I am transported to one of six provinces in which Elvi’s grapes in Spain are grown. Each varietal is both fruit forward and highlights the terroir from which its grapes were sourced. It is worth taking your senses on a trip to Spain.”
By Michal Rosenberg