Due to the crazy circumstances this year, all trips were cancelled and therefore it was impossible to taste what was not local. While Royal made an effort to reach out to consumers with a Virtual KFWE, those of us in Israel were out of luck. Some of my colleagues have received samples from Royal – in Israel the situation I think is a bit more complicated. Most of the wines that Royal distributes in the US have different local distribution in Israel. For California wines, only a small subset are sold in Israel and usually we are (at least) one vintage back. For French, Spanish, and Italian Royal wines, Israel and the US are not at all in sync. Sometimes we are VERY behind, sometimes we are ahead. But now we are talking about a very small subset indeed. So it’s been a tough year. So I thought about trying to schedule something at Royal as soon as I booked a flight. As it happens, Raccah was also planning a trip to NY but a week later. I thought things simply wouldn’t work out, but he rescheduled his trip to coincide with mine – and for that I say thanks, buddy! It made the tasting that much more fun. But Raccah had tasted through Cali and France – and I had tasted through most of the Israeli stuff he wanted to taste (though I am way behind on writing that stuff up!) – so GG set up a little bit of a combo, and we tasted through a fair amount on each side. I am not going to bother writing up the Israeli wines here, this post is super long as it is, and I plan on putting together an overview of the current Israeli releases sometime soon with my friend Alexander Kassel – but that is for a later series of posts. I will highlight two Israeli standouts though – both were white. In terms of the rest, it’s a mixed bag. 2020 Rosés even from France are really not up to par. So far the 2020 French whites are also – “meh” at best. 2018 French reds are really interesting. They all show very ripe. A few perhaps to the point where they are overripe. But, I am betting on most of these calming down with enough structure to give these wines the time they need to get where they have to without falling apart. Where this tasting went right were the Cali reds. There were some excellent, excellent bottles here, which is so nice to see after the 2017 vintage. I mean some of the very best expressions of Cali CS and even a truly excellent Cali PN. Herzog for the win. Throw in an excellent Elvi Clos Mesorah and the crazy 2018 Cantenac Brown – and we had a wonderful time indeed. My thanks to my friend Gabriel Geller and Royal wines for hosting this and letting me taste though some wonderful wines -and my thanks to David Raccah of Kosherwinemusings.com who helped set this up and of course makes these tastings that much more interesting.
Note: There were a few Royal French wines that didn’t make it into the tasting that I had tasted prior or immediately after this trip – I included them here as well and noted that they were tasted in Israel.
2017 Carmel, Single Vineyard, Riesling, Kayoumi – Both nose and flavor profile are exactly where you want them. Straight Riesling. Beautiful notes of petrol, melon, juicy sweet orange, and green apple. If anything, the acid is little less than we got in the 2016 or historic 2014. Perhaps this one won’t last as long (2014 is still nice if a little past peak, 2016 is still rocking). Unfortunately, this is the last Riesling that was produced from this famous vineyard whose plot of Riesling finally succumbed to virus– so enjoy these wines while you can – there are no more coming.
2020 Vitkin, White Israeli Journey – This wine is consistent with prior vintages (which is great). A blend of Colombard, Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and Gewürztraminer. On the nose, it feels like there is more Gewurtz than there is – but that’s because the Colombard amplifies it. Luckily Vitkin’s Gewurtz is first rate. This is a great easy drinking everyday white. In the mouth, mostly green apple and lemon, with a bit of grapefruit pith and melon, with some nice saline at the end. A slight step down from 2019 – as that crazy acid is a bit weaker here. But it’s still really nice.
2020 Domaine de Panquelaine, Coteaux du Giennois – Mevushal –This wine has settled into being the more consistent and better option of the two wines available from this label. The nose is consistent with what we expect from a wine that is Sancerre adjacent – nice floral notes of orange blossom. In the mouth, in line with 2019 (which was a step down from 2018) medium acid with citrus – that’s about it. The finish is a little short here too. I guess maybe it’s a bit of a step down from 2019.
2020 Domaine de Panquelaine, Sancerre – Mevushal – Unfortunately this one is a pass for me. First – on the nose – nothing. Now that isn’t new here – prior vintages had the same problem. When you think Sancerre, you think about that awesome floral nose – and that’s absent. But worse, in the mouth, no acid. What the wine has going for it (as in the prior two vintages) is minerality, but lacking acid is not something a wine like this can recover from as the fruit (primarily weirdly stone fruit) does not make this interesting enough
2018 Pascal Bouchard, La Classique, Chablis– Mevushal – This wine for the most part is in line with 2017. What does that mean? It’s an entry level Chablis that has not much depth but is balanced and hits the right notes. Problem? It retails in the US for like $50! There are far better Chablis options out there.
2020 Chateau Les Riganes Blanc – Mevushal – (Tasted in Israel) Not as flat as the 2019, but nowhere near the 2018 in quality. Medium, body, medium acid – but low on flavor. Nose is nice enough – a little floral, some citrus. In the mouth, you get some grapefruit, lemon, and gooseberry. It certainly needs a bit more acid to brighten it up – but even the base flavors just aren’t punchy enough. Again – there are better options
2017 Hagafen, Napa Valley, Brut Cuvee– (Rosé) – Mevushal – Overall, mousse is nice, decent acidity, nice citrus, strawberry, and some toast. Two issues – the wine sort of sweetens out at the end, but overall, I found that forgivable as there is good balancing acidity. The other problem is the price – it’s hard to recommend this at over $50. There are better options out there.
2020 Chateau Les Riganes Rosé – Mevushal – If I didn’t know that I was drinking wine, here is what I would guess would be the recipe for this beverage. – water, acid, and food coloring – Huge pass.
2020 Le Rosé de Greysac – same as above with a little grapefruit flavor thrown in. Another pass
2020 Chateau Roubine, Cru Classe – (Tasted in Israel) – On the nose, nice floral notes with strawberry and cherry. In the mouth, you have some nice citrus and pith and red fruit. There is a bit of sweetness present at the start, but that is just momentary. Overall, it was OK, though I would expect more in this price range.
2020 R de Roubine – Cotes de Provence – 2020 – mevushal – Water with food coloring. Really. That’s all I wrote.
2020 La Vie en Roubine – (tasted in Israel) – Another Rosé from Roubine, you would think that they had something to add to the market. I guess that’s true if you are looking for Flat round Rosé with no acid. I’m not sure what’s going on there.
2020 Saint Beatrice B – (Tasted in Israel) – Based on what others have written about this Rosé, I was expecting something decent. What I got was a Rosé with no fruit, no acid, and no reason for its existence. I am not sure what the hell people were tasting. Maybe we got a different batch in Israel.
2019 Chateau Le Petit Chaban – On the nose, this was rather green but then turns red with some nice earth. In the mouth, there is really nothing to this wine. It is just watery. If anything there is a little bit of jalapeno. Otherwise green with good acidity and not much else.
2019 Chateau Mayne Guyon, Blaye Cote de Bourdeaux– Mevushal – Flat, hollow, boring wine. That’s all I wrote, but I think that says it all. (I was falling behind as Dave and GG had tasted all of this stuff already.)
2018 Capcanes, Peraj HaAbib – (Tasted in Israel) – Capcanes has had a rough time over the last few years. After switching winemakers their style abruptly changed and pushed into vey over-ripe and over the top wines – and at times the wines have even bordered on simply being out of balance and for me that is a cardinal sin. I can take a 15% alcohol wine easily if it has the goods to back it up. Searing acid? Ok, as long as there is fruit – etc. When the 2018 Peraj HaAbib was released in the US, some loved it, and felt it was overall a return to form, others were not as impressed and felt it too ripe. When it became available here, I decided to try a bottle before purchasing in any quantity (always try before you buy!) I understand the the criticism. The wine is ripe. Much riper than the classic Peraj HaAbib profile of the past. But the wine is NICE. It absolutely has the structure to hold the wine until the fruit recedes a bit. On the nose you get ripe black and blue fruit and some savory notes with a little warm spice. In the mouth you have a very well built wine with ripe yet tart blue and black fruit, nice toasted herb and some lead. The savory notes on the nose become more defined in the mouth with smoked meat, and green olive with a little anise. The finish is really nice with tobacco and more toasted herb. All of this is presented in clearly defined layers with very clean lines. I’m a fan. (To be clear, this is the non-mevushal version.)
2018 Capcanes, Peraj HaAbib – Mevushal – There is nothing positive to write about this wine. Whatever was nice about the 2018 non-mevushal has been literally cooked out of the wine. In this day and age, there is no excuse for a mevushal process to kill an otherwise nice wine. Someone should get fired for this.
2017 Elvi, Clos Mesorah– I have to say, I was worried about this wine. 2017 was not the best year for Elvi – at least with the Herenza line. But Montsant is not Rioja. This wine is simply stunning. This wine starts of with some floral notes on the nose, then some dark black and blue fruit and bit of smoke. In the mouth – wow, this wine is stunning. It is far softer than the monster that was 2016. Really elegant. With nice black extracted fruit, smoke, graphite mineral, and then sweet cedar and toasted herb. There is great structure here. Mouth coating tannin, excellent acidity, and a finish of more black fruit, earth, and mushroom that really is almost endless. What’s more, even though the wine is softer, at dinner a few hours later this wine just kept on getting better. This is truly an excellent wine!
2018 Chateau Grand Puy Ducasse, Pauillac – Talk about typicity! – This wine is very, very nice. This is the most typical French Cabernet Sauvignon you can find – in a good way. Super elegant. On the nose, blackcurrant, lead pencil, and lilac. In the mouth, powerful dark fruit, graphite, and earth. Textbook French CS – Yummy!
2019 Covenant, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – I have to assume GG set these up on purpose, because we moved from a very typical French CS to a super typical Cali CS . On the nose, ripe plum, some herb, and lead. In the mouth, big and bold with excellent structure. Very dark ripe fruit with a little mint and some tobacco and fresh moist earth. It does feel ripe – but controlled. Really hits all of the notes a Big Bold Cal CS should. It there is one negative here is that the finish is a little sweet – but this full bodied wine has enough acid and tannin to balance that out. Very enjoyable.
2018 Herzog, Lineage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles – Mevushal – Usually I don’t really connect to the lineage series, but this wine is really nicely done. Red fruit on the nose with a bit of smoke. In the mouth it starts off weirdly a little green, but then moves in to dark red and black territory with nice herb and a hint of smoke at the end. The wine is ripe but really well balanced, which seems to be the common thread for most of Herzog’s 2018 line. In any event, nice stuff at a nice price!
2018 Herzog, Special Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley – On the nose, we have very typical Cali CS – nice ripe dark red and black fruit, licorice, some herb, tobacco, and tar. In the mouth – wow. Mouth coating tannin, excellent acidity that perfectly balances out the ripe fruit. The wine is really nice and mostly in line with the 2014. It unfolds in layers of excellent ripe dark fruit, rich tobacco, some nice graphite, and great moist earth. The finish is more earth, tobacco, and rich chocolate. This was excellent. It might be the definitive Alex Valley.
2018 Herzog, Special Edition, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chalk Hill – As I read my notes, I realize that I used one word a few times during this tasting – stunning. And here it is again. This is a stunning wine. In fact, IMHO it is a near perfect expression of California Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose is beautiful – chocolate, black fruit, licorice, toasted herbs, and smoke with an underlying earthiness. I couldn’t get my nose out of the glass. In the mouth, what a treat. Rich black cherry, black plum, blackberry, and maybe a little raspberry, followed by a straight firm line of graphite and mineral with moist earth and finally freshly dried tobacco, more herb, more black fruit, warm spice, and a touch of chocolate. At 13.5% alcohol it was as near textbook a Cali CS as I have had. I can’t be more effusive here. It fires on all cylinders. Just a wonderful wine.
2019 Capcanes, Peraj HaAbib, Pinot Noir – These Pinot from Capcanes have been improving year over year. This one is very nice and overall varietally true. The nose has nice typical cherry and wood. In the mouth, very nice if a little too fruity for me with nice red cherry and strawberry and good herbs. Where it is lacking is the finish, which sort of dropped off. But this is a nice effort that in Israel at least is usually priced well.
2019 Herzog, Special Reserve, Pinot Noir, Edna Valley – Wow What a nose! Great cherry, violet, mushrooms, bramble, and earth. Really, it just brings you right into this great mindset of anticipation. The mouth does not disappoint, with black cherry, dried mushroom, earth, and warm baking spice. This is a really special wine and hits all the notes you want with a Pinot. Medium to medium plus acidity, plush tannin, and a finish that goes on for miles. While super nice now, this is one to lay down for a while to really get all you can out of it. Another stunning wine from Herzog.
2018 Chateau Fontenil, Fronsac – (Tasted in Israel) – I tasted this wine blind among 25 or so Israeli wines a week before my trp. Someone snuck it in… Before the wine was revealed I wrote – “Very, very ripe fruity typical Israeli blend but with much more depth. This is a well-made, well-structured wine that is simply not to my taste, with tons of ripe blue and black fruit, some dried fruit, tons of typical oak, some nice spice, and tobacco – wow this is over the top – but really well made”. When it was revealed, someone commented that they had written “an Israeli Bordeaux” – and wow does that capture this wine. Basically, if the ripe characteristics of the 2018 vintage are not kept in check – this is what you end up with. It’s not a bad wine, just way over the top.
2018 Chateau Lascombes, Margaux – So this brings us to the Lascombes. If you read what I just wrote about the Fontenil, when I got a whiff, I got very afraid. The wine is ripe in the nose. Very ripe with crazy dark ripe fruit, and sweet spice like cinnamon and clove. In the mouth though, while ripe and even a touch fruity, thankfully there is none of that overpowering oak – and I think that is what saves this wine and lets it turn the corner. There is some nice black fruit, some nice mushroom, some lead, and more dark fruit. The wine is beautifully built with mouth filling tannin and very nice acidity, which I think just manages to balance out the ripeness here – but it takes time. I went back and forth on this one. I actually think that the fruit will calm down here and will be left with a very nice wine in 10 years from now. But it’s a little bit of a crapshoot. But for some of us, that’s part of the fun….
2018 Chateau Clarke, Baron Edmund de Rothschild, Listrac-Medoc – On the nose, this wine is less ripe than the Lascombes – with red and black fruit, rich chocolate, and maybe a little smoke. In the mouth, the wine is less ripe, but also slightly less balanced. There is nice minerality, some saline and graphite that start, and then you have the dark red fruit that follows. It’s actually really interesting, and I think I prefer it to the Lascombes right now – though in the long term my feeling is the Lascombes will win. The finish is super nice with classic chocolate, tobacco, and sweet herb that stays with you for a while. Overall, very nice stuff if perhaps a bit less elegant than the 2016.
2018 Chateau Malmaison, Baronne Nadine de Rothschild, Moulis en Medoc – This wine is an 80/20 Merlot CS blend – and a big win IMHO based on its price. Yes it’s very ripe – but much like the Herzog 2018s this wine is controlled. The nose has ripe black and blue fruit with some cedar and tobacco. In the mouth, we sort of follow the nose with ripe black and blue fruit, rich tobacco, some nice lead, and a little anise. Perhaps it could use a touch more acidity to balance out the fruit, but it’s very close. The tannin is nice here though. Nice finish of tobacco, espresso, and chocolate. Overall a very nice bottle that should develop nicely.
2018 Chateau Malartic-Lagravière, Pessac-Léognan – It’s funny, many of my French friends did not like the 2016 – and my guess is they won’t like the 2018 either, but I think for different reasons. I can’t figure out why. I think the Malartic was absolutely one of the best of 2016 vintage (if not THE best). The 2018 is pretty close to the 2016 (though as you will soon read, there is a wine that beats it hands down). On the nose, blackberries, blueberries, tobacco, and earth. In the mouth, as is now clearly typical of the 2018 vintage, ripe black fruit – more than the nose let on, but nicely controlled, with great lead, tobacco, anise, and some nice umami and mushroom. Really nice complexity and depth. Everything here is in balance with medium+ acidity and mouth coating tannin. The finish is long and lingering with nice tobacco, toasted herb, a little smoke, and some mushroom. A beautiful bottle.
2018 Chateau Fourcas Dupre, Listrac-Medoc – The nose here continues the theme of 2018 Bordeaux. Ripe red and black fruit, followed by some nice earthiness and mushroom. In the mouth, we have great black fruit that is ripe and rich with nice chocolate and some pencil shavings, more dark fruit and some smoke. There is excellent balancing acidity and nice tannin. The finish is impressive here as the fruit is calmer with nice plums and red currant, chocolate, more smoke, and nice forest floor. This is an elegant well-built wine – and as always, it’s priced incredibly well. Stock up and enjoy!
2018 Chateau Cantenac Brown, Margaux – OK – I am going to be honest here. I was only able to taste this wine once after it was open for a few hours. This is a wine that needs TIME to develop. Period. But even if I had a full day, I think it would just be scratching the surface. The nose is intoxicating with raspberry, blackberry, sweet herbs, some cedar, tobacco, and a little smoke. The mouth, as opposed to pretty much all of the 2018s I tasted, is really subdued and elegant – and brighter – raspberry, cranberry, strawberry, and then a little darker. There is a firm line of graphite that runs through the wine, as well as nice tar, great rich earth, leather, tobacco, and some nice toasted herbs. Everything is balanced – tannin, acid fruit. The finish is excellent with mushroom, earth, ground coffee, and some bakers chocolate. I wish I had more time with this, but what can I do. Maybe I’ll ask them to open a bottle on my next visit….. Bottom line, here we have the very best kosher red of the 2018 vintage.
2018 Chateau de Rayne-Vigneau, 1er Cru Sauternes – Rather than taste this wine at Royal, GG took this home for us to taste at the end of dinner, which as I mentioned last time, he and his wonderful wife Yael hosted in their home for me, Raccah, and Simon, who had landed that day. At first I was scared. The wine’s nose was very muted and quite frankly while nice enough – didn’t come close to the wonderful 2014. But the wine was simply too cold. As it warmed up a little, everything opened up. On the nose, excellent honeysuckle, nutmeg, and some beautiful floral notes. In the mouth – wow Beautiful lemon and rich juicy mandarin orange, with apricot, and some lemon curd. A few minutes later the wine kept on opening, with some rich creamy notes, candied pecan, and some dulce-de leche. There was excellent balancing acidity that kept this wine going. Really this was just excellent. It’s actually more ready than either of the two 1er cru’s from 2014 were at this point – but should go equally as long. This was a wonderful way to end a meal and cap off an excellent tasting. My thanks To GG and Yael for always making me feel at home.
While on the topic of feeling at home, let me take this opportunity to thank my brother and sister-in-law Ephraim and Michelle, who host me each time I am in the US. They are truly gracious and generous – putting up with my stumbling in at all hours of the night, sometimes inebriated. They take care of signing for my various packages including my wine deliveries before I come and overall just take excellent care of me when I am there. So thanks guys! You are the best!
Next up – An epic lunch with Ralph Madeb of M & M Importers.