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You’ve Come a Long Way, Eyfel (2 Examples of the Rise of Kosher Wines)

Vinted on April 15, 2009 binned in wine blogging wednesday, wine review

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This exciting edition of Tales of the Purple Monkey has Plumboo (the monkey) and me (not a monkey but likely descended form them) traveling to the exotic Middle East, specifically crossing the oft-disputed borders into Israel to sample kosher wines as part of the Wine Blogging Wednesday blog carnival.

This month’s WBW is being hosted by The Cork Dork, and is focused squarely on kosher wines as the Passover event comes to a close.

    I decided to explore a couple of extremes with this review, so we’ll be looking at two very different wines that have a few common threads uniting them – they’re both kosher, they’re both results of the relatively recent explosion in quality fine wine from the region, they’re both Petite Syrah based wines from Israel, and they’re both pretty damn good.

According to Hugh Johnson, most countries that produce wine have some form of kosher wine on the market, and they’re usually a long way removed from the sacramental wines and kiddush that once made kosher synonymous with “crap” when it came to wine (instead of it’s actual meaning, which is “pure”).  Kosher winemaking basically follows the same process as un-kosher winemaking, with the exception that the winery workers must be religious Jews and there should be nothing un-kosher added during the winemaking process.

Twenty years ago, Tom Stevenson reported in the New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia that “fine wine is nonexistent in the Levant.”  Now, in the book’s 4th Edition, he highlights that due to a “boom in boutique wineries” over the past decade (it should also be noted that an influx of California wine technology didn’t hurt, either), we now find “growth, diversification, and exhilarating promise in the wines form Lebanon and Israel.”

Between those two countries, Israel has far less land under vine than Lebanon, but exports much more of its increasingly yummy final product into the international kosher wine market.  According to the World Atlas of Wine, a fine wine culture has taken hold in Israel, and appears to be built to last. 

What’s truly amazing is how short our collective historical memories are when it comes to Israeli wine in general.  For centuries Israel lay on the wine route that ran from Egypt to Mesopotamia, and wine use in Jewish culture dates back literally before their recorded cultural history.  The word wine crops up over 200 times in the Bible.  Viewed that way, Israel’s fall from wine grace was a temporary blip on the historical radar.  Given Israel’s mild climate, varied soil types and state-of-the-art irrigation, it’s a wonder their wine quality revolution didn’t happen more quickly (for more on Israel’s winemaking history, check out Andre Domine’s Wine).

The proof, though, is in the puddin’ – or in this case, it’s in the Petite Sirah. 

After unfortunately missing an NYC expo of Israeli wine earlier in the year, I was fortunate enough to receive samples of Israeli wine from a few different sources.  Hence the opportunity to feature two of them here, both from the same grape but miles apart in terms of style.

First up is a wine from Recanati’s Reserve label, a (mostly) Petite Sirah (with a little Zinfandel mixed in) from Galilee.  New World style all the way, with dark blackberry jam, spices & pepper notes.  Absolutely screams fro something grilled (and I’m not talkin’ veggies).  If you’d told me it was from CA, I’d probably have believed you – which is not to say it’s a copy-cat wine, but that it’s achieved very good quality and excellent concentration of fruit.

Next up, I tried another kosher offering from Carmel, which was founded over 125 years ago by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner of Château Lafite and a Zionist.  Carmel is now one of the largest wine producers in Eastern Mediterranean.  Their 2004 Carmel Vintage is a port-style dessert wine made form Petite Sirah and clocks in at a hefty 18% abv.  On the nose, it’s got elements of dried blueberry and blackberry syrup, with smoke (compliments of many months aging in French oak) following up the rear flank.  The palate is all dried prune and sweet maple syrup.  I was really digging this – in fact, you would dig almost anything after 3 glasses of this (part from the hangover you’d endure later).  You could let your imagination run a bit wild with potential dessert pairing for this one, but you’d do just fine sipping it on its own after a hearty meal.

I suppose the moral of this story is that kosher wines are no longer crap, in fact they’re pretty f—king good.  They had me at Shalom, anyway.

Cheers!

(images: jewcy.com, palmbay.com, natashascafe.com, 1winedude )

Tax Season (or “Wine For Muppets”)

Vinted on April 13, 2009 binned in wine review

I am a muppet.

I don’t mean that I’m a small, furry puppet that entertains millions of kids and adults – though it can certainly be argued that small, furry and puppet are all apt descriptors for me (on occasion).

What I mean is, I’ve acted like a total idiot.

My friends in the U.K. use the saying (“I’m a muppet!”) when they completely screw something up.  I suppose it makes sense… as in, “damn, I screwed that up so badly, I acted like a plush toy without a functioning brain,” etc.

So when it comes to my taxes, I’m definitely a muppet. Because I have, by my standards, a huge federal return coming back to me.  And that is definitely not what I want.

Why?  Because that means I gave a nice, hefty, interest-free loan to Uncle Sam.  That’s money I could have been using to buy wines, and instead it went to interesting pursuits that have primarily delayed our progress towards a more just and tolerant society – pursuits like blowing up Iraqi civilians or debating whether or not gay marriage will unravel the moral fabric of our culture.

C’est la vie, I suppose.

The reason I bring up taxes is that the nice folks over at Icon Estates Wines, who represent about a gazillion wine brands, have sent me samples under the theme of Top Wines For Tax Times.  These are witty “pairings” such as -

You’re getting a big refund! Congratulations, you’ve hit the sweet spot!  Celebrate with a delicious Jackson0Triggs Proprietor’s Reserve Icewine…”

Not a bid idea, except that we’ve already established that getting a big refund means you’ve acted like a muppet and therefore probably is not something for which you should be congratulated.

This would not stop me however, from lining up a few samples to at least celebrate the fact that our 2008 taxes are at least completed for filing.  So I picked the “Your brain is in a knot” wine (Estancia’s Monterey Riesling), which is at least partially true but not necessarily related to the processing of my taxes, followed by the “It took you forever but you wouldn’t give up” wine – not true for me, since I pay someone else to work on my taxes – and finally the Jackson-Triggs Icewine (made from Vidal), which of course is related to the refund, without the “congratulations you’re a muppet!” part.

Ok, just to recap, we started with Sesame Street, moved on to taxes, and now we’re sampling wine from three different wineries.  Now that we’re all caught up…

Wine #1 – Despite the fact that the Estanica Riesling is from a cooler area (Monterey) in CA terms, it’s still a relatively warm climate in Riesling terms and it shows on this wine, which is heavy on the apple and pears, and a little lower on the acidity and floral component.  Still, it would kick ass paired with shrimp.

Wine #2 – The 2005 Paso Creek Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles) was a tad disappointing for me – nice alcohol level, but very heavy on the cherry fruit, almost cloying, without any of the extra pizzazz of secondary aromas that I like to finish off my Cabs.

Wine #3 – The clear winner of the night for me (and all of our dinner party, actually).  The Jackson-Triggs Vidal Proprietor’s Reserve Icewine (Niagara) is a great buy, with a ton of melon sorbet on the nose, and sweet lemon-lime with plenty of acidity on the palate.

I attribute the Jackson-Triggs being my favorite to the fact that Canadian icewine stomps all kinds of major ass.  In my experience, a wine drinker’s first encounter with Icewine roughly follows the trajectory graphed below. (click for larger version):

Whether or not you are a fan of sweet wine is irrelevant to Icewine’s awesomeness.  Icewine kicks so much ass, it may just be the Chuck Norris of wine (I bowed my head as I typed Chuck Norris’ name, by the way).  No offense is meant above to Heidi Klum, of course… it’s just a vehicle for the purpose of emphasis… but since I mentioned her, I should at least include a picture to help reinforce the awesomeness of Icewine, should I not?

Of course I should:

Cheers!

(images: sesamestreet.com, jacksotriggswinery.com, 1winedude, makemeheal .com)

Old World Italian Wine Booty… in a Northern CA Dress (Rosa D’Oro)

Vinted on April 8, 2009 binned in California wine, Italian Wine, wine review

When you write about wine, it’s easy to start becoming a little… jaded isn’t the right word… actually, yeah, jaded is the right word but it’s soooo overused… how about effete?… okay,  a bit effete regarding wines that are typical of their varietal character and place of origin.  When they’re really, really good, you don’t tire of them – at least, I don’t – but when wines are pretty good it’s easy for your tasting eye (I hope I’m the first and last person to ever use that image…) to start to wander, like a bored husband starting to check out the college cheerleaders at an NCAA tournament game.

Boring.  That’s the word.

Truth be told (though it’s not like I lie to you on a regular basis), the “regular” stuff can get a little boring sometimes.

Which is why I like to try new things when I get the chance, so I did not turn down Rosa D’Oro when they offered me samples of some of their current releases – they’re a family-run outfit in Lake County, CA, that specialize in making wine from Old World Italian varieties.  Now that’s different – and probably not boring, I thought, despite the fact that most CA-transplanted Italian varietal wines I’ve had have more-or-less sucked.  They might not turn out to be good, but the experience wouldn’t be boring!

Not that I don’t encourage the spirit of experimentation beyond the norm – I do – but some of those broken eggs in the omelet-making process are kind of rotten.

What was even more intriguing to me than their list of offerings (Refosco?  really?!??) was their clear intent on engaging the “new media” of wine – reaching out to wine bloggers, advertising in new trend-busting publications like Mutineer, attending new media-themed events like Wine 2.0, and authoring their own (very well-written) blog.

So, I worked my way through a sampling of Rosa D’Oro Refosco, Sangiovese, and Muscat Canelli – varieties more closely affiliated with Italy than Northern Cali.

And they’re among the best attempts at adapting Old World Italian wine to CA climate that I’ve ever tasted.

The `07 Muscat Canelli was a surprise, starting with dry green grape but taking on more intense citrus aromas a it warmed in the glass; on the palate, it’s bracingly acidic and immediately made me want to summon up a salad with oranges and lump crab.

The reds were just as pleasantly surprising as the Muscat.  The Refosco was the more interesting of the two, with a complex nose that covered the gamut from florals to red fruit and even leather.  The palate was less complicated but still interesting and very tannic (you’ll want some meat handy for this one).  The `07 Sangiovese was eerily close to feeling like it had come from a Chiant satellite region; it lacked the dried orange peel character of the most kickin’ Chiantis, but it certainly had enough red fruit character, tannin, and acidic structure to suggest it would evolve well for another 2-3 years in the bottle.

The really adventurous among you might want to try lining up some Rosa D’Oro selections in a comparison tasting with their Northern and Central Italian counterparts, but I’ve got diapers to change so I don’t have the time to run that conceit through to its logically conclusion (and I’ve tasted enough wines from CA and Italy to tell you that I think I can predict the outcome).

For now, I’ll settle for he knowledge that the concept of “CalItalia” wine is far from a lost cause.

Cheers!

(images: nscpcdn.com), rosadorowines.com)

Feets Don’t Fail Me Now (A Look at Barefoot Bubbly)

Vinted on February 23, 2009 binned in wine review

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Attention wine elitists: Not everything has to be serious.

This includes wine.

Yes, it does.  No, really, it does.

You see, it’s a bit like the movie Snakes on a Plane.  With a title like that, you know exactly what you’re in for.  Snakes.  On a plane.  Eating people.  Good guys will beat the snakes, bad guys will get a nasty dose of their own medicine, and Samuel L. Jackson will be a total badass (and will deliver memorable, profanity-laden pithy dialog).  Have fun, and leave your brain at the door for an hour and a half.

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Some wines are the same way, minus the profanity (and the poisonous, people-eating  snakes).

With some wines, you should be able to take a break from thinking too hard, and just sit back, kick your shoes off, and enjoy them.  Not talk about them, taste them, or examine them.  Just drink them.

Barefoot Bubbly is one of those wines.

Founded by CA winemaker Davis Bynum in the `60s as a small-production adjunct to his pricier wines, then revived in the `80s by Michael Houlihan and partner Bonnie Harvey, Barefoot Wines is now a Gallo property since 2005, with annual production of something like a gazillion cases.

Barefoot is a big, big producer.  So it may strike you as a bit strange that they would reach out to bloggers to get thoughts on their new on-line presence.  But that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Barefoot reached out to me to get my thoughts on a new website – Barefoot Republic – that includes a brand blog and elements of social networking (videos, profiles, reviews, etc.).  They also sent me a few samples of Barefoot wine, one of which I’ll be waxing Dude-like on in a few moments.

woodstockfilmfestivalcom-barefootwinesIt’s both interesting and frightening that a brand as big as Barefoot is (albeit a bit later than many smaller wineries) including bloggers and social networking in their game plan.  Interesting in that they’re arguably big enough to not have to care (yet) about the influence of bloggers; frightening in that Barefoot’s entry into this space probably is death knell of social netorking platforms giving smaller wine brands an edge on-line.  The fact that the effectiveness of brand recommendations (for wine or anything else) is moving from away from one-way advertising to social-netwoking is a topic for another post (or, in fact, several).  The site is beautifully done, by the way (if a bit slow in terms of responsiveness).

So… back to the wine…

I’d heard that Barefoot’s sparklers were a good buy, but I’d never had opportunity to try them before.  I popped open a sample of their Brut Cuvee Bubbly.  I didn’t have high hopes for this wine, since it’s labeled as “California Champagne” – a legal designation in the U.S., but arguably one that unfairly plays off the reputation – and far superior quality – of France’s birthplace of fine sparklers.

2009-02-22_173254Anyway, Barefoot’s Bubbly is made using the Charmat method, which is the same method of sparkling production used for Prosecco.  Like Prosecco, the Barefoot is a refreshing quaffer.  The first thing I thought about this wine was that I’ve had plenty of Prosecco that cost more that wasn’t a good as this sucker.

The Barefoot is not a complex wine - it has refreshing acidity, fresh apple aromas, and that’s about it.   But at under $10 a bottle. it doesn’t have to be.

With a name like Barefoot Bubbly, you should know what you’re in for.  Simple.  Tasty.  Ready to have fun for an hour and a half (or more).

No snakes, though.

Cheers!

(images: 1winedude.com, wikimedia.org, woodstockfilmfestival.com, barefootwine.com)

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