Well, I saved the best for last. If you’ve been following my last couple of posts, after over a year I was finally able to take a trip in to the US to see family. David Raccah of Kosherwinemusings.com arranged his schedule to overlap with mine so we could do a couple of tastings together. I had no expectation of getting to see Ralph Madeb this trip, my schedule was so tight I didn’t even bother trying – but Raccah arranged everything, and we did a lunch with Ralph and a few friends on my way to the airport.
And what a lunch it was…. Let me start off by saying it is rare that you got a tasting thrown by a winery or distributor where every wine is a hit. Sometimes when writing about these hosted events, you do your best to find what nice things there are to say about certain wines – and even when the wines are all technically OK, there are often wines that are simply not for me. This was one of those rare times when I would have been happy to be served every single wine we had. One wine was better than the next. Let’s just say that the wine I liked least, the base level St. Marguarite, still makes my list of top rosés of the year! A few words about M&M in addition to what I have previously written. What makes this importer special is that M & M didn’t just settle with importing wines that were already in production. Don’t get me wrong – they do that as well – they are the official US importer for IDS, and at this lunch we tasted what I consider to be the very best kosher Burgundy ever produced, and that’s an IDS wine. And, on top of that, they also picked up whatever was left of the Gefen HaShalom wines that didn’t have US distribution – and as you know the 2014 Von Hovel are the best ever produced kosher Rieslings. But that’s not what makes them special. Unlike most importers, they have also become a producer in their own right. Looking for wineries – primarily in Italy – to partner with and produce kosher runs. If this sounds familiar, it’s what both Royal and IDS do so successfully in France. M & M has taken this approach to Italy and has partnered with various wineries to produce some INCREDIBLE wines. Among them, the highest ever rated kosher wine to date the 2016 Brunello di Montalcino, Betina Cuvee Franci from Fabio Tassi, which received a 97 point score from James Suckling and a 96 from Wine Advocate. I tasted a barrel sample last year, which already showed its potential. Sadly that wine was still in transit when I was in NY, but it is headed for both US and Israel and should be there soon.
When I tasted the Brunello last year, and Ralph started telling me about the various wines that were being produced, I planned a trip to Italy to visit the various wineries that M & M was working with. This trip was to immediately follow my US trip last year and was scheduled for mid- March 2020. Obviously that trip was put off indefinitely on hold, but there are in fact many wines in various stages of production that I am super stoked for including a few wines from Tuscany’s highly rated Domini Castellare di Castellina 2018 vintage – like Baffonero under their Rocca di Frassinello label which is 100% Merlot. Or perhaps even more special the Castellare di Castellina, I Sodi di S. Niccolò, which is their top rated wine – a blend of Sangiovese and Malvasia Nera. There is also a white coming from their Sicilian Gura di Mare label called Tirsat, which is a blend of Chardonnay and Viognier. From what I understand, these three wines should all be available soon – and there are many, many more. It is ultra-refreshing to have such depth from this excellent region! Kudos to Ralph & David of M & M for making this happen. Now on to the wines from this tasting.
2019 Pescaja, Terre Alfieri, Arneis – This wine was released last year, and I never got a chance to write it up. It is one of my favorite whites of the 2019 vintage globally. I have to say, the first time I came across this wine I was scared by the nose. It has many qualities I simply don’t usually enjoy that normally present in Sauvignon Blanc. Yes – the dreaded cat-piss. For me, that is overwhelming. But while not blowing off, it does settle down and there are other far more pleasant notes that come through that are not at all SB’-like. Some wonderful floral notes, and very ripe clear pear. I thought of Rousanne. (Arneis is a variety of grape that I had no experience with until this wine, so my first instinct was to try to fit it into a category). In the mouth, no SB at all – this wine is beautiful, with that ripe pear, a beautiful nuttiness, sweet ripe grapefruit and a little pith. There is excellent mineral that runs through this wine to keep it interesting as well. It really is just excellent. From what I understand the 2020 is already en route to the US and Israel and I can’t wait!
2014 Von Hövel, Hütte Oberemmel, Riesling, Kabinett – As I mentioned, M&M picked up all of the Gefen HaShalom wines that didn’t already have distribution (Basically, everything but the Nik Weiss wines) – and I’m SO happy they did. Hopefully many more people will be able to taste a wine that previously had to be hand imported from Europe. The wine itself hasn’t moved much from my last tasting about one and a half years ago. Perhaps the flavors have deepened a bit, that funk, the petrol, the sweet honeysuckle. Absurdly the acidity seemed more assertive now. The wine still has plenty of time to go. Do yourself a favor and get some.
2015 Von Hövel, Saar, Riesling, Kabinett – As I’ve written before, this wine is excellent, though not near as rich or complex as either of the two 2014’s. But it’s a totally different style. Dryer with crazy acidity that balances out the more tropical notes. Since tasting originally, the petrol has become more pronounced. This is an excellent wine with a long life ahead due to the excellent acidity. It will be interesting to watch how this one develops compared to the 2014’s which again are of a different style altogether.
2018 Famiglia Cotarella, Ferentano – This is a wine I have been looking forward to for a long time. It was made kosher once before when the winery was still known as Falesco. The wine is made from the grape variety Roscetto (or Rossetto). From what I could find there are a couple of producers in Italy who use it in blends from time to time, but apparently yields are ultra-low and the grape is not easy to work with. The Cotarella family’s Ferentano is the only varietal wine produced from the grape – certainly with any regularity – therefore we are lucky Ralph convinced them to do a kosher run. This wine is beautiful. It spent 16 months in oak, but that oak is beautifully integrated into the wine and is not at all overdone. It really contributes to this excellent full mouth-feel and gives it some tannic structure as well. Crazy floral notes with a hint of licorice then and some cut grass. In the mouth flinty minerality drives this wine before moving to a mix of apple, pear, pomello, and fresh cut grass. The oak is perfectly integrated, the acid is perfectly balanced. Based on what I tasted, this is one of those wines that may very well be suitable for medium term white aging – but I have zero experience here. Personally, I’ll be stocking up.
2018 Clos des Lunes, Lune D’Argent, Bordeaux – This is a classic white Bordeaux blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. On the nose, the SB is most prevalent with Semillon only coming in later, with gooseberry up front, lemon, slate, and then some floral notes. In the mouth, first you get this crazy hit of acid that makes this wine sing. There are some really interesting and nice vegetal notes that turn to more standard grassy green and then more like dried grass with nice tar, citrus, and good mineral. This is another hit. I am so happy that we have seen so many nice Bordeaux whites released in the last couple of years!
2020 Chateau Sainte Marguerite, Symphonie, Rosé –One of the nicer Rosés of the dismal 2020 vintage. On the nose, nice raspberry and citrus. In the mouth, the wine is mineral driven with the nose carrying through with nice tart raspberry, and citrus. I found that overall there was a touch of acid that was perhaps missing here where I wanted it to pop, but that is a minimal drop. Overall this is a very nice and well-made wine and easily hits my top 10 of the year (admittedly a low-bar in 2020).
2020 Chateau Sainte Marguerite, Cuvee Fantastique, Rosé – So let’s get this out of the way. Barring some unforeseen late entry into the market, this is the best Rose you are going to taste this season. Certainly compared to the rest of the bunch, this wine truly is “Fantastique”. You can almost cut and paste my notes from the entry level St. Marguerite and use them here in terms of profile, but while there is a dip in acidity and perhaps even flavor in the mid-palate on that wine, here there is none of that. In fact all of the flavors are amplified with that driving minerality that is really excellent. If you can find it (and afford it – pretty sure it ain’t cheap) go and pick some up!
Reds – Burgundy
2018 Jean Luc & Paul Aegerter, Pommard, Reserve Personnelle – This wine has not changed much since my initial tasting just over a year ago. I will say that I did feel that the tannin has integrated a bit and the wine looks like it will live up to its potential though it’s still a good year or two from really being ready. For convenience – here are my notes from last year – February2020:
The next Aegerter wine is a clear step up. Overall, the nose here shows dark red almost black fruit, anise, violet, and some earth. In the mouth, things get really interesting with layers of deep juicy red cherry, strawberry, and nice lead. This wine seems built to go far longer than the previous one. The tannin is powdery and mouth coating and needs time to settle a little bit. The finish here is super impressive with rich earth and mushroom, toasted spice, more dark red fruit, and a hint of smoke. I would likely hold off on opening this for another year or two and then drink until the end of the decade.
2018 Jean Luc & Paul Aegerter, Gevrey-Chambertin, Vieilles Vignes, Reserve Personnelle – Like the other 2018 we tasted, this wine has not moved much in the last year and my notes from then stand. Really nice bottle of burgundy! I will say that it was really interesting tasting these wines next to the 2019’s – but more on that in a sec. For convenience – here are my notes from last year – February 2020:
By far the best of the three (2018) Aegerter Burgundies. On the nose, we see aspects of both the previous wines. It is darker still with black and red fruit, deep rich earth, and mushrooms. In the mouth, there is a brightness given by the acid that is full of bright red berries, which turn to dark red cherry and then blueberry and plum followed by layers of earth, smoke, and sweet tobacco on the finish. This wine and its two brothers were decanted for about an hour before we got to them – each one needed more time than the previous to open up. I actually saved this until the end of the evening, about three hours later, when it was finally beginning to show. This is a beautiful wine and I wouldn’t touch this for at least three years and then this can go for another 10 after – maybe longer.
2019 Jean Luc et Paul Aegerter, Nuits Saint Georges, Premier Cru, Les Vallerots – Wow – a clear step up. Now the 2018’s are really nice wines, but they are a touch behind the other premium kosher Burgundies that we have been blessed with in recent years like the Lescure Pommards or the D’Ardhuy Aloxe-Corton. Not so with this wine. It is an absolute beauty. This has nothing to do with the fact that it’s a premier cru. Quite honestly, classifications don’t really interest me – it’s what’s in the bottle that counts – and this wine delivers. The nose, enticing with great violet and jasmine followed by smoke and then classic cherry. In the mouth, far more approachable than I expected (though FAAAAR from peak) with again classic cherry, beautiful rich earth, some bramble, and smoke. On the finish, you get this really light, smokey, mushroomy earthy goodness that keeps on going. For me, this matches or exceeds any kosher burgundy released to date – save one…..
2019 Jean Luc et Paul Aegerter, Corton-Vergennes, Grand Cru – This wine is much more closed than the wine before it and requires serious time to open. But when it does…. On the nose, tons of funky earthiness on the start, followed by roasted meat, great cherry and strawberry, nice forest floor and some violet. In the mouth, once it opens, you get excellent dark red fruit – strawberry, cherry, even some raspberry, with great earthy mushrooms and some smoked meat. SOOO yummy. The finish shows some nice smoked meat and leather, with more red cherry and then some mocha. This wine was a revelation for me.
We tasted these in the early part of the lunch, and I nursed all four glasses of these burgundies as long as I could (until a non-Jewish waitress mistakenly handled my glass of Grand Cru, at which I mouthed a curse which I think only one other person saw and chuckled at knowingly). The development here over the course of the meal was apparent. The 2019 Aegerters are incredible. The Premier Cru can play with and perhaps even beat the big boys, and the Grand Cru is simply the best kosher burgundy out there – perhaps ever. When I initially posted a pic to my Instagram story declaring as much, a few people questioned whether this was pure hyperbole. While I do tend to sometimes exaggerate – this is not one of those cases. The wine is that good. Only problem is that there only 900 bottles made of the premier Cur and only 600 of the Grand Cru. These are going to be hard to find, but absolutely worth the effort – and the price….
Reds – Italy
2019 Pescaja, Tuké, Terre Alfieri, Nebbiolo – On the nose, dark red fruit – nearing black with some excellent spice and toasted herbs. The mouth follows through with dark red cherry and plum, some excellent tobacco and great rich earth. The finish is excellent with some nice umami and mushroom and more earth. I really enjoyed this wine – and… it’s affordable! Another wine to stock up on.
2018 Cantina Sanpaolo, Irpinia, Aglianico – This wine got me excited. Until now, I have only had the Aglianicos from Shira which I liked for the most part and one other true Italian Aglianico, which was a private bottling and a barrel sample, but excellent. This is the first finished Italian Aglianico that I have tasted – and it is tasty. On the nose, the wine comes at you in waves with these great floral notes, followed by red fruit and then mushroom. In the mouth, you get tart but ripe raspberry and cherry with acidity that makes your mouth water. This was a wonderful experience. It is designed as a relatively inexpensive drink now wine and boy! Is that a welcome addition to the M & M line up!
Note – In Israel, most of M & M’s Italian wines are imported by Shmuel Gotlieb of Geshem Spirits.
Reds – Bordeaux
2005 Chateau Valandraud, Saint Emilion, Grand Cru – Another wine tasted last year. My notes from then still hold true. A blockbuster wine that is at peak and available – perfect! For convenience, here is what I wrote last year – February 2020:
Let’s get this out of the way – this was the top wine of the night for me. I know – you are looking down the list and seeing the 2014 SHL – and yeah, maybe it’s technically ever so slightly superior – but that’s a huge maybe. Certainly in terms of where the wines are at now, the Valandraud wins. I was so happy when I saw this on the table. There were also an ’03 and ’04 that we never got to, but really, this was going to be the star anyhow. I am so happy that M & M picked up the back vintages of Valandraud. On the nose, red and black fruit with some nice herbs and a little barnyard in the back. In the mouth, boy is this wine layered and beautifully structured. Drinking is like taking a spoon of trifle, where you dig though all of the layers to get the full effect. Ripe black fruit and then raspberry, some smoke, some excellent graphite, with the herbs and tobacco coming in for the finish. The tannin is still firm here but well integrated. This wine is a plush delight. I would say it’s at peak now but it’s not going anywhere for the next few years. Really excellent stuff. As I write this I am setting a reminder to call Ralph and see if I can get some put away. Just beautiful.
2015 Virginie de Valandraud, Cuvee Prestige, Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru – It’s funny, I have tasted this wine a few times with others, but never in a setting that was conducive to writing notes, even though I stocked up. The nose here is tart red fruit and wonderful fresh herbs with some nice smoke in the back. The mouth follows through with tart red raspberry and some nice green notes with great herb and excellent earth with a little bit of graphite. There is wonderful structure here and a great core of acidity and mouth filling tannin that has just begun to integrate, even though this wine was released about three years ago. I really like this wine on release and it has already shown some growth. The finish is excellent with mushroom, tobacco, and even more herb, with a little bit of chocolate at the end. A pleasure to drink!
2018 Virginie de Valendraud, Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru – After tasting through a number of wines from the 2018 vintage, you sort of know what to expect. As it happens though, while this wine follows the same pattern of being really ripe on the nose, in the mouth, while ripe, you get more of a sense of control than with many others – but let’s take it one step at a time. The nose here is almost perfumed with crazy violet followed by plush dark fruit and even a little mushroom. In the mouth, there is a ton of ripe black fruit up front but not overdone or pushed. You also get some very nice green notes and some nice umami and mushroom too. The finish is excellent with black licorice, ripe dark, nice herb, fresh pipe tobacco, and earth. There is excellent acidity and tannin here to balance out all of the ripe fruit and this is one Bordeaux that I think, with age, will turn into something special.
2015 Chateau Labegorce, Margaux – I tasted this wine initially at the same time as the 2015 Virginie above and I am so happy I am getting an opportunity to write about it. I actually like this wine even MORE than the Valandraud. Tons of beautiful rich black fruit on the nose with a little tobacco and some lead. In the mouth layers of black fruit – blackberries, plums, cherries, followed by some green herb notes and nice tobacco. Everything is balanced with medium + acidity and nice tannin that keep your mouth watering for more. There is a really nice mocha and tobacco finish here as well – and in fact is actually yummier than I remember it from three years ago. This wine should have gotten more press. It plays with the big boys….
2017 Chateau Lafon-Rochet, Saint-Estephe, Grand Cru Classe – Yet another wine from my previous tasting with M&M. Again, my notes from then hold – but let me reiterate, IMHO this is THE top wine of the more difficult 2017 vintage. Great stuff. Again – for convenience here are my notes from last year – February 2020:
While the 2017 vintage in Bordeaux is hit or miss, as I have written about before, this wine is all hit. In fact, it is my favorite wine to date of the 2017 ‘s. It edges out by a hair the excellent 2017 Chateau Leoville Poyferre. The wine is still super young and very tight. This had been decanted for over 3.5 hours and still needed a ton of swirling to coax it open. There is great mushroom, graphite, and herbs, followed by ripe dark fruit. In the mouth, it opens with the herbs followed by the dark red fruit, tar, charcoal, and graphite. The tannin here is totally mouth coating and the acid presents refined in total balance. The finish is excellent with more toasted herb, tobacco, baker’s chocolate, mushrooms, and rich soil. Excellent stuff.
So of course let me start by thanking Ralph Madeb of M & M Importers who treated us to a wonderful lunch and shared some truly excellent wines. On top of that, and more importantly, as I noted above, he and his partner, David Motovich, are doing an excellent job at bringing in high quality wines to the kosher market that in some cases simply would not see the light of day otherwise. Also let me thank David Raccah who helped set this up, and who then helped get me to the airport just in the nick of time….