I have refrained from visiting wineries over the last couple of months out of necessity. Guidelines during this crazy period of time simply prevented most wineries from receiving visitors in person. Many if not most wineries were forced to adapt to the changing times and embraced some kind of direct to consumer delivery model to partially replace sales that were lost from the hospitality clientele, That business, unfortunately, will be slow to return in full due to the ongoing pandemic. As restrictions have relaxed a bit (though perhaps prematurely), I have tried to make it my business to visit a couple of wineries that were not at Sommelier and are also near and dear to my heart, usually producing the kinds of wines I really enjoy. Number one on the list is Netofa. I try to visit at least once a year if not twice. First, their tasting room is second to none, and it is the most comfortable place to taste through a lineup. Far more importantly though are the winemaker and the wines.
Pierre Miodownick needs no introduction from me. He is perhaps the best-known kosher winemaker in the business. He, Peter Stern, and Israel Flam are responsible for the original revolution in kosher winemaking that happened in the 70’s and 80’s. Pierre was responsible for all of the original famous French releases and served as Royal’s European winemaker through 2014. Along the way, he decided to split his time between France and Israel and open a winery of his own in the Holy Land, and thus Netofa was born in 2009. Netofa specializes in Rhone varietals – primarily Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache for red wines and Roussane and Chenin Blanc for whites. Netofa also makes port style wine using traditional method and varietals, having also been responsible for Royal Porto Cordovero releases including the famed LBV ’04 & ’05.
Pierre was kind enough to guide me through all current releases – and in a couple of cases where the wine was an almost finished state, pre-releases. The Netofa lineup has been pretty stable. Their base line, simply titled Domaine Netofa, consists of a red, white, and rosé, as does their next level up – Latour Netofa. After that is the Tel Qasser line, made of a white and a red; the flagship Dor, which is a red single varietal release; and their Port style dessert wines – consisting of an NV Ruby, and LBV (currently 2012), and eventually the world’s first kosher Tawny which is still in barrel and a few months away from release.
2019 Domaine Netofa White – As always 100% Chenin Blanc with no barrel aging. On the nose – very typical Domaine Netofa White – really you can’t miss it, which is something that I love about Netofa wine, the absolute consistency. The nose is as purely mineral driven with the fruit toward the back. In the mouth the wine opens with almost salinity but moves almost immediately to really nice bitter citrus, then into Chenin Blanc typicity with ripe pear and apple and finally more citrus. The body is a bit weird, which I find with 2019’s in general, in that it’s a little all over the place. Starts out with a great almost creaminess (which this wine often achieves even though it does not touch oak), which dissipates and sort of ends up in a different place. But the flavors keep this balanced and minimize the effect. Very nice.
2018 Latour Netofa White –Again 100% Chenin Blanc but the Latour is aged 10 months in oak (50% new). On the nose, the wine is bursting with beautiful lemon zest, white floral notes, and a hint of toast. In the mouth the barrel has given it a little heft, and everything comes together. The fruit (apple and pear primarily) is up front here but is balanced out with great acid and a nutty toastiness, which gives way to more fruit and then some fresh cut grass and a little spice. This wine is beautiful. One of my favorite Latour Whites to date.
2019 Latour Netofa White – (Pre-filter barrel sample) – While this wine is officially a barrel sample, I am told that it is basically finished and only now needs to be filtered and bottles. The big news here is that for the first time Pierre allowed the wine to age sur lie! After initial bâtonnage, he let the wine remain on its lees for eight months. The impact here is significant, primarily in the mouth feel. While you get the same basic profile that you do from the Latour 18, here, though, what a body! I would say it’s almost unctuous – rich and lush. Sure, the oak still needs to integrate, but the potential here is almost limitless. The fruit is everything you would expect but with added deeper dimensions of the nutty and yeasty notes that are already part of the complex profile here. This is my favorite 2019 white so far, and its months away from release. I’m super excited!
2019 Tel Qaaser White (Barrel sample) – When I tasted this bottle, something finally clicked for me regarding the 2019 vintage in general – and it’s making me rethink my opinion overall – but I’ll save that for a later post. Beautiful acidity. Super tight. Overall profile in line with previous vintages – which is great – I really love this wine. Still needs some time to come together fully. I am expecting this to be a huge win though. Potential is there to be as good as the 18 or even slightly better.
2018 Tel Qasser White – It’s instructive having this wine after the 19 barrel sample. The development here is huge in the first year. First, the 18 is an improvement over the 17 – and I liked the 17 very much. The 17 and this 18 are coming into maturity sooner than the 16 did – likely because the 16 was the only vintage to use new oak, which made the wine a bit more austere – while all vintages after use only 50% new oak. Therefore the 18 is approachable and, quite frankly, is in a great place now. The oak here is integrated and melds harmoniously into the overall mix, providing a very nice body and again beautiful nutty profile that balances out the white stone fruit. The finish is slightly salty with a nice bitterness that has you reaching for another glass. This will improve for another year or maybe two and hold for a while after – but again is absolutely approachable now and is just wonderful.
To me (and to most people in the world) rosé is meant to be drunk young and fresh and is an unpretentious fun form of wine. Rosé in a perfect world should never cost more than about NIS 70 ($20 and preferably less). If a rosé is absolutely exceptional and can stand up to a nice fish or pasta, I can see paying about NIS 85-90. NEVER more. I don’t care if the grapes were picked one by one and the juice gently massaged out of the berry one drop at a time. None of it interests me. There is simply no justification for an inflated price when you judge the final product – ever. Keeping within the theme of providing appropriate pricing, Netofa makes two rosés – one that falls neatly into the first category each year and one that falls into the second….
2019 Domain Netofa Rosé – As always, this wine is a GSM blend of 50% Syrah, with Grenache and Mourvedre making the remainder in equal parts. This wine usually retails for about NIS 50-55 (about $15). Why price first? Because with rosé and the crazy pricing we have seen recently, it’s important to highlight! The only thing that really comes through on the nose for me was some faint red berry – and maybe a little cherry. In the mouth you have strawberry, raspberry, a hit of sweet basil and nice juicy sweet red grapefruit – with some really nice acidity. There is a touch of sweetness on the finish but just a touch – and it’s balanced by the bitterness of the grapefruit. Overall this is a really fun drink. Nothing deep or complex. Just something to gulp down on a hot day. Pierre noted that it’s perfect for the pool and I would absolutely agree. If you are like me and don’t have a pool, think about drinking this when at the beach, out for a picnic, or when sweating over a grill. Super refreshing. [Aside – when I grill I drink one of three things depending on mood – rosé, beer, and Gin & Tonic – all refreshing in their own ways] You can buy this rosé here for NIS 50, and at that price point, it’s very hard to beat.
2019 Latour Rosado – This wine is made as always of 100% Tempranillo. The cost ranges from about NIS 75-90 depending on where you buy it. Having just went on the rant above, is this a wine worth paying the upper limit for? YES. The nose here shows more complexity – besides the strawberry, raspberry, and cherry blossom – I actually got some mineral that was nice. In the mouth, there is some nice structure and weight. With strawberry, raspberry and blackberry followed by some tart but sweet pomelit. This wine is not only fun but can stand up to a nice meal of pasta, fish, or chicken. When on sale, it’s a no brainer – and even at full price, it’s still a wine I would happily buy.
2018 Domaine Netofa Red – This wine is a blend of 60% Syrah and 20% each of Grenache and Mourvedre – Grenache is really prevalent on the nose at first with Syrah coming up behind. (Unfortunately I wrote this instead of translating this into descriptors –uch – shame on me!) In the mouth though, Syrah is the star here. Red fruit up front that then moves into blue and black with raspberry, juicy dark plum, blackberry, and some smoke, with some nice meaty flavor and a hit of umami. Very nice acid to make this a really easy drink with some nice earthiness and spice on the finish. A really, really nice everyday drink, that is totally unpretentious – just beautiful clean flavors meant to be and enjoyed now. IMHO maybe even slightly better than the 2017. Really lovely stuff. Not sure if there is a better buy out there today.
2018 Latour Netofa – A blend of 70/30 Syrah & Mourvèdre, aged in oak for just over a year in an equal blend of fresh, one year-old and 2 year-old barrels. Currently this wine is very closed. With adequate aeration (and no Grenache) you get some absolutely beautiful classic Syrah – blue and black fruit and a hint of smoke – really lush. In the mouth again – super closed – but the fruit flows through so elegantly and cleanly with some toasted herb, chocolate, and a hit of rich earth. Something many people in complained about in the past is a bitterness on the finish of almost all Netofa red wines (except for the Tel Qasser red). Now – don’t get me wrong – I LOVE THAT BITTERNESS – but, in the 2018 releases, it is barely there if detectable at all. I believe these have the potential to be huge in the US market and if you were unsure until now, it’s absolutely worth giving it a go. In any event, this is a beautiful wine.
2018 Tel Qasser Red – For me this wine in its initial two releases felt a little bit too fruity – not bad at all, – very good as a matter of fact – just not exactly my taste. With 2018, this wine actually has a flavor profile that has more potential. Nice red berries on the nose with an almost floral note as well. In the mouth crazy strawberry, cranberry, raspberry, and some graphite, with medium acidity and silky tannin. Very nice. Problem is there is something missing in the mid-palate. But the drop is short, and it finishes nicely with some darker red fruit, nice rich tobacco, and toasted herbs. As it was only bottled a few months ago, the middle may yet fill out. I’ll have to check back. Still a little fruity for me overall. It’s the least Netofa of the Netofa wines…..
2017 Syrah Dor – My computer battery died while taking notes on the Dor and I got distracted, so apologies in advance – The Dor is the flagship release of the winery. This is the third vintage they have released, and as always, it is a single varietal (the only red single varietal they release) with this being the second time it has been Syrah (following the initial 2013 Syrah and last year’s Tempranillo). This wine is VERY young. The nose is VERY blue right now with some nice meat at the back. Very dark. Very full bodied and still super fruity. Not over the top by a long shot – but it has spent 15 months in new oak and absolutely needs time to calm down, and lose some of the baby fat. While this is not my favorite Dor (that would be the 16 Tempranillo) – you can see potential here.
2011 Latour Netofa – Before checking in on Netofa’s dessert wines, Pierre pulled a bottle out of the library – the 2011 Latour Netofa. The wine is the same 70/30 blend of Syrah &Mourvèdre as the current version. And while I didn’t ask specifically, as this was the third vintage of this wine, I would guess the barrel makeup was the same as well. It is remarkable how well overall the wine held up. Make no mistake – the wine is now past peak – but just a little. The nose is dark, rich, and enticing with a slight jaminess on the nose, which gives you a hint at its age. In the mouth, you get dark near black fruit, some really excellent spice, and rich chocolate. The tannin is in the center as you would expect from a wine of this age. The finish is the real give away that the wine is over – you get some very clear dried fruit. Understand – this bottle sold for approximately NIS 70 or $20. Here we are tasting it nine years later and outside of the jam nose and the dried fruit you get on the finish, showing that it is on the decline, this wine is in excellent shape. If you have it, drink it now – it’s only going to decline further – but it’s still enjoyable if not at its 100% best.
Port-Style Dessert Wines
Netofa Ruby, NV (2017 bottling) – No real change here from the many times I have posted about this wine. It continues to provide the best value for a port style wine – period. If you like port – and I love it – this should be your go to bottle.
Netofa LBV 2012 – Absolutely no change since the last time I tasted this bottle about a year ago. I will say that I liked it so much that I bought a whole bunch (and it isn’t cheap). It is currently the absolute best port-style wine available. Now, that may change in a few months when the Tawny port is finally released (and shame on me for not reminding Pierre to pull a barrel sample – it just means I’m coming back for another visit in a few months) – but for now, if you are looking for a special occasion dessert wine, this is up there with the best of them.
My sincerest thanks to Pierre Miodownick for sharing his time and his wines with me for this tasting.