KFWE-Israel 2018

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, work took me to Barcelona at a most inopportune time – causing me to miss the annual Zur/KFWE-Israel event. Adding insult to injury, Elvi’s inclusion in the Zur/Royal portfolio also meant that a trip out to visit any of the Elvi properties was out of the question. As a consolation, Dr. Moises Cohen arranged to have some wine shipped to my hotel room for me to mule back including the as yet unreleased in Israel Clos Mesorah 2015 so I was at least able to capitalize on local pricing! Additionally (and more importantly), my dear friend Alexandre Kassel was nice enough to fill in for me and take copious notes at the Zur event and was nice enough to share them with us. Enjoy!

KFWE (Kosher Food and Wine Experience) Tel Aviv organized annually by Zur –  World of Wine (Royal’s Israeli Importer), is usually my favorite wine event of the year. Zur is Israel’s largest  importer of Kosher wine from around the world and their portfolio includes some of the very best kosher wines of  the world.

The 2018 event was not a disappointment, on the contrary, the event keeps getting better and better every year. The location on the Tel Aviv Port was great, the food was tasty and the wines were EPIC. Props to Zur for the enjoyable event!

The main attractions were, of course, the tables which proudly adorned the French flag.  Exciting new faces showed up there as production of Kosher Bordeaux enjoyed a spectacular expansion in the last few years. Coincidentally, 2015 was a great vintage in Bordeaux (as was 2016), which added a lot to the excitement. Let’s get to the tachlis.

Chateau Léoville Poyferré 2015, classified as a Deuxième Cru from Saint-Julien, made it’s long-awaited comeback to kosher stores. It’s the first kosher run of this wine since 2005. The wine was obviously very young but you could tell it is going to be head and shoulders above all other wines present in the room by its superior, incredibly powerful and flavorful nose. Earth, dirt, forest floor, some nice fruits  – everything was there. In the mouth, the wine was, to my surprise, already approachable and even enjoyable. The body is medium with great balance between the classic Bordeaux earthy notes and the rest. The tannin is tame. This wine is Elegance defined!
Please don’t get me wrong : by “approachable” I mean that there are not rough notes that need to be smoothed over time for the wine to become drinkable. This does not mean that it won’t be a waste if you drink it young. It would definitely be a great waste. The wine is far away from its full potential, the nose provides a teaser of what’s to come in the future, and it’s going to be awesome.     

The Chateau Leoville was accompanied by its St-Julien little siblings. the Chateau Moulin Riche 2015 and the Pavillon Léoville Poyferré 2014, both of similar status (and price). The Pavilion 2014 was already at KFWE last year, and I understand that the 2015 is not being imported yet, and it’s a pity I couldn’t compare Riche and Pavillon of similar vintages. Both were more expressive and displayed a more fragrant fruitiness than the Chateau Leoville, as they’re made to be drunk sooner. To my palate, the Moulin Riche is a nastier wine, with more smoky and spicy notes, while the Pavillon is more herbal, has more of this greenness to it, a fuller body and is a bit more powerful. Both are recommended great wines, with the Moulin Riche having more complexity, but it’s not fair, the Riche was a 2015, a better vintage than the already good 2014 vintage.

Also present was Chateau Le Crock 2015, which is owned by the same family but located in the Saint-Estephe appellation. Le Crock showed a nice density and had spicier and riper notes. The wine felt young with a lot of packed earthy aromas in it. Another very good wine.

Chateau Lascombes 2015. Lascombes, a Margaux AOC, was made kosher for the first time in 2015, and joined Léoville Poyferré as the only kosher wines classified Deuxième Cru. Note that I’m mentioning this mainly for the symbolism of it, it’s my understanding that classifications are a bit outdated and there are plenty of Bordeaux wineries ranked lower but making wines as good or better than those officially  highly ranked [Ed note: In the classification of 1855].

Than being said, the Chateau Lascombes showed very different than its Leoville colleague. While the Leoville was graceful, the nose of the Lascombes disclosed immediately its aggressive intentions with the (actual and metaphorical) smoke from its heavy artillery escaping the glass. In the mouth, the wine is compact, rich with mouth-coating and tongue-drying tannins and full of aromas. When the wine opens a bit further in the glass, some fruits start to show up joining the party. A BIG and great wine.

Lascombes Second wine Le Chevalier de Lascombes 2015 was there too, and was another show all by itself. The wine is fruit-forward with piercing tannins, lot of fun going on in the mouth and a very long mineral finish. Beautiful, almost as good as the First wine.

After the Lascombes I had my first encounter ever with Chateau Malartic Lagraviere 2014, another welcomed revenant to the kosher scene, from Pessac-Léognan. I fell in love as soon as I smelled its floral perfume. What a great nose! The mouth has fresh fruits, a very gratifying and elegant taste, with some of the Bordeaux earthiness beautifully integrated in it, spicing but not overpowering the fruit core. This is a piece of art, a carefully composed partition, which should get even better with time. It was hands down my favorite non-Chateau Leoville related wine of the night.

The Chateau Giscours 2014 came back to the event for the second time as it was already there last year, another Margaux to reinforce the Lascombes massive presence. It’s a great wine, full bodied with of all kinds of red fruits and dense mineral notes, but one that I personally have a hard time to connect with. Maybe it’s my perceived lack of freshness in this wine, I don’t know.

Among the cheaper but sometimes great options, the Les Roches de Yon Figeac 2014 shined particularly bright. This beautiful Saint-Emilion Grand Cru is very expressive and has an insane complexity. It starts by giving a fatty sensation on the tongue and then delivers some salty and smoky flavors, with mineral all around and very fun. The wine has  almost everything that most Israeli wines lack. Love it. A very solid QPR.

On the other hand, the Chateau Royaumont 2014 excelled with a far more powerful and fruity style accompanied by a leathery bitterness. Very good wine from Lalande De Pomerol at an accessible price.

Reputed QPR king Chateau Fourcas Dupré 2015, (Listrac-Medoc) is, I believe, also a newcomer in the israeli market, as I’ve never seen previous vintages in the holy land. The wine shows a great structure with mineral notes dominating but felt very closed and tasted a bit empty. I was slightly underwhelmed and will give it more time.
We also had a nice surprise with the Lauriers de Rothschild, Montagne St.Emilion 2015, the wine showed better than  previous vintages. The wine possess its own features, with very bitter tannins and a strong rocky taste, very different than the other Bordeaux wines  presented.

Finally, the last Bordeaux I will mention from the event is my pick for QPR champion – Chateau Les Riganes 2016. It needs to be open a couple of hours to come into its own. A very nice Bordeaux priced at 50 shekels in Israel and which should give you the easiest path to those precious mushroom tastes in wine that lovers of old world style wines crave.

In another round of the big battle of Champagne, Rothschild Champagne faced its eternal rival the Drappier Carte D’or again. Last year i favored Rothschild but opinions diverged. This year the Rothschild seemed to come out on top, it was dryer and sharper while the Drappier was a bit more fruity and more powerful.  

Sadly, the Italian stand was as unattractive as ever, dominated by the mass-pleasing Bartenura. Not only do I deplore that the best Kosher Italian wines are not imported (Falesco and Cantina Giuliano –  Terra di Seta is sold here) , but I also think  it’s a pity than most of what Italy can offer in wine is left untapped by the kosher market.

Spain’s stand,on the other hand, got a massive upgrade with the new inclusion of Elvi Wines in the event (and into Zur’s catalog I guess). Elvi makes wonderful wines but they held a tasting of their portfolio 2 months ago and therefore i didn’t taste all their wines again. But they did bring the Herenza Reserva 2010 from the Rioja, which wasn’t at the tasting and which is one of my favourite non-french kosher wines. The wine has a crazy depth. Truly multi-dimensional, with green spices (mint, anise and such), great tannins and toasted flavors, earth, fruits. Almost every red wine flavor you can think of is there. The wine was too young the  first time I tasted it 2 years ago, now it  might be entering its drinking window. In comparison their excellent other great wine the Clos Mesorah 2014from Monserat, is more focused in taste, a bit riper and bolder, a bit more new world (but not as much as the EL26)  and it strikes you immediately with its featured and balanced taste profile (while the Reserva is more of a journey). Of course, keep in mind that I’m talking about wine of different ages, but I’ve also tasted the oldest (2009) Mesorah, and my remarks still hold.

The American presence at the show was strong with Herzog occupying not less than 3 tables for their wide range of wines and Hagefen bringing a serious lineup too. The Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc 2017 had a lot of success, with its powerful acidity, pomelo and grapefruit,  some bleach, very fresh and fun. The Hagefen Chardonay 2016 though was less interesting, had a nice structure but a uni-dimensional taste. It paled next to its neighbor the Herzog Chardonnay, Russian River, 2015 a powerful, acidic, buttery and complex well-made  Chardonnay.

On the red side, every Hagefen wine shared some similar features : they’re all very clean, carefully balanced and full bodied wines. To each varietal its own, the Cabernet Franc 2012 was tannic and spicy, the Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 was more floral and fresh and the Merlot 2013 was powerful and aromatic. The only flaw in those wines is they’re too perfect, well made to a T – engineered to the point where they are less interesting. You won’t be surprised by any twisted flavor out of nowhere, but they’re still very easy to enjoy.

Of the Herzog reds, the Alexander Valley 2014 from Sonoma was very impressive, a wine more on the old world side, and what makes it great in my opinion is how the wine and tannins interact beautifully with the oak to make creamy and leathery-earthy wine.  Its brother, the Napa Valley 2014, was a bit disappointing showing too ripe to my liking, with the acidity to support it but I’m not enjoying it yet. To my dismay, the Special Edition Chalk Hill 2014 was too much like the Napa, which is a pity, but having heard of its track record i guess it might evolve well and be enjoyable in the future. The Generation VIII was truly excellent, superb structure, superb tannins and leathery flavors there too. This wine should become ever more fun after some years in the cellar, Bravo.

Further in Herzog territory, was the Variations Five 2014, a resolutely new world wine, which tends to be underrated. I thought it was a very impressive bold wine. It features a crazy evolution in the mouth – it starts on the fruit, makes place for the tannins, then we have a nice explosion of mineral flavor on the finish with a buttery mouthfeel. The oak is a bit too heavy but it’s a very nice wine nonetheless. Variation Four and Three weren’t there this time. The Variations American Oak 2015 was less interesting, ripe fruits, oak and mint notes. And finally after a marathon of 6 consecutive Herzog Cabernet Sauvignons, I tasted the Lineage 2015, a special wine, hard to classify, light body with some nice spices. Easy to drink but somewhat complex.

Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2016, excellent Sauvignon Blanc, more fruity and citrus-y than Hagefen’s and less hardcore.

To finish this already too long report on an Israeli note, Zur used to distribute only Psagot in Israel, but they have  expanded their local business lately adding Shiloh and Jezreel. All three wineries were present with their extensive lineups. Fortunately I had enough on my plate (or in my glass actually) with the foreign wines and I happily dedicated myself to them. But these israelis stands were not left unattended by other participants, far from it. And soon enough a rumour spread that Jezreel’s new blend Nahalel 2016 was worth trying (shout out to Evyatar for the tip). So I went to taste it, and even though i was already told that it was special, I was genuinely shocked by how different this wine is. This wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. The wine starts with a very special earthy flavor and evolves slowly up to a sweeter finish. A very beautiful wine. The other brand new blend of Jezreel, the Alfa 2016 was a more classic ripe/oaky Israel wine.

But,  bottom line for Jezreel, speaking as a wine enthusiast who doesn’t like the fact that most of the israeli wines are basically the same stuff, and being depressed to see some wineries that used to make good wines going in the wrong direction, making wine closer and closer to the uniform israeli model, I want to send big props to Jezreel Winery for going in a very good direction trying to surprise us with new wines that are different. Their last couple of rosés were suddenly, out of nowhere, among the best in Israel, their Carignan is sneaky good and now they come with this very fun to taste Nahalel? Keep up the good work guys!

Thanks again to Zur for this great night, I’m already counting the days to next year event!

(all photos are by Andy  Sinton – Thanks Andy!)

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