In the world of Kosher wine, we are currently in the absolute most exciting part of the year. From January through March, the vast majority of this year’s wines are released so that they can be sold between Purim and Pesach. In order to sell these new releases to the stores and the consumers, a whole slew of events are held. In Israel, the 2 major events are the Sommelier Wine Expo and KFWE run by Royal’s distributor here in Israel – Zur. This year these events worked out to be a week apart and Moises Cohen of Elvi Wines which is distributed by Royal and Zur decided to be here for the entire week. That presented me with an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up and so I contacted Moises who graciously agreed to a tasting here in Israel. As all of the new releases were going to be tasted by most who would come at either of the 2 aforementioned events, I suggested maybe doing a vertical of something.Moises came through with not one but two verticals – and of 2 out of 3 of Elvi’s premium lines – Clos Mesorah and Herenza Rioja Reserva (the third being EL26)! To make things convinient, I asked my dear friend Simon Jacob if he could host at his home in Yemin Moshe in the heart of Yerushalayim (coming to me in Beit Shemesh would have been a schlep) and we were good to go.
Before I get to the wine specifics – which will be rather easy, and I’ll explain why – let me give some background on Elvi. Much has been written already and for broader write-ups you can see David Raccah’s blog or Yossie Horwitz’s. I will stick to the pieces of the story that are pertinent here. Dr. Moises Cohen and his family got into the wine business sort of by the back door. Moises and his family made Aliyah when Moises was in high school. Moises continued his studies eventually ending up at the Technion for a doctoral degree in Agricultural Engineering. I beleive he mentioned that he finished his degree or perhpas his practical requirement in Spain. He eventually ended up as a consultant to many excellent Spanish wineries as an agricultural engineer. Through this he started to gain a love for wine and wine-making and began producing wines for his family. Actually, Clos Mesorah, one of the Elvi’s premium labels, started as the “family wine” being produced only for personal consumption. The commercial enterprise began in the early aughts and has grown in size since.
Elvi is the first and only kosher winery in Spain since the expulsion and believe it or not it is one of only 3 fully kosher wineries in Europe (the other 2 being the Italian – Terra Di Seta and Cantina Giuiliano) – all other wineries doing kosher production runs but not being fully kosher. That of course is very important from a sociological perspective – from a wine perspective though beleive it or not it is even MORE impressive. Elvi began producing wines and would only propduce them kosher. They decided though, unlike most kosher wineries or productions, to first sell and compete in local the non-kosher market. the result is that many Elvi wines are served in very prestigious Michelin starred restaurants across Europe – and it is simply not marketed as kosher. Elvi also send it’s wines to blind tasting competitions where it regularly holds it’s own against the rest of the non-kosher wines of the regions it competes in.
What is MOST impressive though (for me at least) and what makes Elvi probably my favorite winery at this point, is that they produce wines at almost EVERY price point – and for the money each wine is worth it (and if you happen to be in Spain they are literally a STEAL). At the lower end for every day drinking they have their Vina Encina line consisting of a White, Rose and Red – in Israel when these are available they are usually 3 for NIS 100. Those are fair value for those wines are meant to be very entry level. Remarkably, their InVita White can also sometimes be found for the same price – and is often a KNOCKOUT.
From there we move to Rioja which is a DOC (Qualified Designation of Origin) wine region. Elvi here produces 3 levels of wine. Each wine is made from it’s own single vineyard in conjunction with the Winery that owns the vineyards (Elvi itself does not fully own any vineyards in Rioja). All of the Rioja wines of Elvi are named Herenza which is Spanish for Heritage. The entry level Rioja (sometimes marketed as “Semi-Crianza” as it spends at least 6 months in barrels) usually sells for about NIS 50 here in Israel. It can often age 7-8 years past harvest and is one of the absolute best values in kosher wine available (certainly in Israel) today. The 2016 is absolutely fantastic and a QPR superstar. Next up is the Crianza which spends at least 1 year in oak and usually sells here for about NIS 90 and again has yet to disappoint. We have had it many times at RCC and it has yet to disappoint. It can go a decade or more depending on vintage. Then of course there is their Rioja Reserva of which their have been only 3 vintages of which we tasted all. more on that below.
Moving up slightly price-wise is their first premium blend the EL26 produced in Prioriat the second of Spain’s highest DOC classification. If you can find it (not easy in Israel), this wine is always a beauty – and easily ages for 15 years. I hope to write more lengthily on the EL26 at a later date. And now on to the wines that we tasted at the vertical dinner.
At the same price point as the EL26 is their second premium label Clos Mesorah. As mentioned above, this wine was first produced as the Cohen family wine for personal consumption. It is produced in Montsant which is a DO region in Spain (one lower regional classification that DOC – though from a quality perspective – this wine can compete with almost any wine out there). In 2009, they decided to add it to their commercial portfolio. It was produced in ’09, ’10, ’13, ’14 and ’15. During our tasting we tasted all but the ’15 which was unfortunately inadvertently forgotten. It is really interesting to taste these wines side by side and here is why. As the name indicates the wines are made of the grapes planted all in the same vineyard in proximity to one another and the wine is produced on site. There is no artificial correcting of the wines (additional acid or the like) nor is there any filtering done. This is a true estate operation. What this leads to is a remarkable uniformity in profile from year to year for this wine – as it is always the same varietals from the same plots in plus-minus the same proportions – 40% Carignan, 30% Grenache 30% Syrah. That’s not to say their isn’t variation from vintage to vintage. As with any region the weather plays a factor as well. But, when tasting through the wines and looking at my notes afterwards, the same descriptors come up over and over again. To me this really shows that Elvi is producing wines not just with obvious soul – but also with obvious quality and care. This care starts at the vineyard and is maintained throughout the process. This vineyard and wine is treated IMHO the same way that Chateaus in Bordeaux treat their vineyards. The reason there is remarkable uniformity in each top notch 1st growth is for the same reason. It is for this reason that one can basically rely on a vintage report for Bordeaux and assuming there were no crazy non-standard issues at a specific winery, purchase futures and be assured of a consistent product that will more or less taste the you would expect and age the way you would expect. This is NOT the case with most kosher wine production in the US (outside of the one or 2 estate bottled productions like Four Gates) and is not even true for most producers in Israel who do not own their own vineyards but instead either rent parcels for a specific period of time. Of course you have you exceptions – most notably Tzora who owns all of their own vineyards and produces each of their wines from the same plots each year – and of course many of the various single vineyard projects – like Carmel’s Kayoumi. But these are the exception rather than the rule. But Elvi is doing it with Clos Mesorah and the proof is evident when you taste vintage after vintage side by side. The all share the same core characteristics – starting with the nose which is always floral and herbal with black and dark red fruit. In the mouth, there are also chore flavors that always carry through – blackberries and tart raspberries with nice herbs and tobacco and usually some nice meat and beautiful earthiness. All of this is presented in a medium bodied, balanced and beautifully elegant package. So what are the differences?
2009 – First commercial vintage. This wine is drinking beautifully right now and has not changed much since the last time I had it a couple of months back. The tertiary earthy flavors have come forward.The tannin is silky and well integrated with balancing acidity and minerality all playing nicely together. I would expect this guy to hold for a good few years at peak. It is simply a work of art.
2010 – This was my least favorite of the 4 we tasted (and I think it was my first experience with this vintage). It could be because it still tasted sort of closed to me. The structure was there and the flavors were all there and balanced – it just seemed less expressive. Would love the opportunity to check back on it in a year or two to see how it develops.
2013 – The wine was not produced in ’11 or ’12 – and it almost feels like all of the potential of those 2 years was saved up and finally released in the ’13. This wine is a MONSTER. While the ’09 was likely my favorite to drink now, the ’13 IMHO is the best of these vintages – really just a power powerhouse – with excellent structure, controlled ripe fruit, already developing earthiness and a finish and depth that just go on and on.
2014 – In line with previous vintages totally – it actually was more expressive than the ’10 as was typical for many Spanish wines of 2014 vintage. This is because there were later than usual rains which allowed for the harvest to persist later than would be typical resulting in wines that are more approachable on the whole. The nose is all there, but the earthiness had not yet developed. But that was fine as the structure allowed for an enjoyable experience even at this young age.
We then moved on the Herenza Rioja Reserva. This project is a joint effort between Elvi and a non-kosher Rioja producer – Bodegas Castillo de Sjazarra. While Elvi does not own these vineyards, the same mentality that goes into producing the Clos Mesorah – no tricks, no corrections, no fining agents. In order to boost the acidity of the Tempranillo, they simply blend in a small amount of a grape which is grown in the same vineyard in close proximity to the Tempranillo itself – though my notes aren’t clear
(auto-correct screwed me here) , I believe the varietal used for this purpose is Graciano. Again, as with the Clos Mesrorah, the wine profile is remarkably similar year after year – and of course, for the same reasons, same single vineyard and same plots within are used each year. The specific vineyards are located at highest altitude section of Rioja – Rioja Alta. While the Clos Mesorah is a lesson in elegance, the Herenza Rioja Reserva is much more powerful with muscular fruit and leather and some earth on the nose – with tart cranberries followed by deep dark red fruit, mushrooms, earth and some smoked meat and nice spice on the palate. There is great depth here across and the bright acidity and excellent tannin show that these guys are going to age really well.
2009 – The inaugural vintage. I do not the think the ’09 is near peak yet – probably not for another few years – but it is definitely starting to come into it’s own. The tannin while still VERY firm is slightly more integrated than previous tastings – and with less time in the decanter. The finish is really excellent here. Just keeps on going. In about 5 years, this is going to be the wine you want to have with a really excellent special meal. It will elevate the experience I am sure.
2010 – What’s cool here is you really see how the vintage year plays a role. Much like the Clos Mesorah, the ’10 Reserva is very closed. Still the profile is overall in line with other vintages, it just takes a while to coax it out of its shell. I actually think this one will go much longer than the ’09.
2014 – This wine is not released yet anywhere, but will be making it’s debut at the upcoming KFWE events. I never had the opportunity to taste either of the other Reservas this early in it’s development. Vintage year again shows itself as a force here as this wine is more expressive than the 2010 – albeit very, very young. Acid is much more in front here as is the spice. Much less mushroom and earth – but it’s there in the back palate. While enjoyable now to a degree, it really needs to come together. If it’s two older brothers are indicators, you really won’t start even seeing its full potential for at least another 5 years.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Moises and his son David who took time out of their busy schedules to present these verticals and share with us their inspirational story and wonderful philosophy. Thanks again to Simon Jacob and his lovely wife Barrie for hosting. Simon is often my partner in crime when it comes to these types of events and he and Barrie are always willing to open their beautiful home. Sweeter people you will not meet.