Finally, we are on to the main event. Honestly, the real reason I try to fly to France – besides hanging out with David – is to hang out for a day with Menachem Israelievitch and taste through Royal’s current French portfolio. It is truly the highlight of my trip each time. It’s not just that the wines are great – and they almost always are. It’s also not just that Menachem does tasting in the most professional manner possible – and he does. It’s that he is a true mensch and a lot of fun to drink and talk with. There are few people in the world that are exposed to this great a variety of styles and terroirs and are able to produce wines that accurately represent all of them – that are also of the highest quality. All the while, Menachem remains accessible and without ego and is just an all-around pleasure to hang with. That is not always the case with people in the wine business, where many winemakers are full of themselves or just talking up how awesome their wines supposedly are. Menachem lets the wine speak for itself. They aren’t ALL winners, and Menachem doesn’t try to portray them as such, which is very much appreciated. So on day three of my trip, we travelled to Menachem’s newly finished home in Paris to taste through Royal’s new releases. While I am sure I would have fun doing this myself, doing these tastings with David just kicks it up a notch. This is especially true here where the three of us know each other well and have rapport and so more fun and lively discussion can be had throughout the tasting. David actually posted his notes weeks ago and they can be found here – and as always I highly recommend reading his blog in addition to mine.
The wines were on the whole simply excellent. In fact, if you take a look at the current lineup there are four that are 95 or above! (I am including the 2019 Malartic Blanc, which did not make it into the tasting, as Menachem thought that I had had it already – luckily I was able to get a bottle the following week in NY and include the notes here.) That’s insane! Of those four we have the very best kosher white and IMHO the very best kosher red produced to date. To say this was a special tasting is a bit of an understatement. So, buckle up – here we go….
2019 Domaine Ternynck, Bourgogne, Les Truffieres (Mevushal) – On the nose, we have apple and quince with a touch of lemon and loads of melon. In the mouth, standard chardonnay profile of apple lemon with some good citrus a bit of stone fruit. There is acid but just misses the mark in terms of enough balance. A little hit of acid would be great. The finish is rather short. Otherwise it’s a nice simple wine. 87-88
2019 Les Marrioners, Petit Chablis (Mevushal) – The nose on this wine is excellent. It is more floral than previous releases – and really complex with nice pear, apple, hay, and some nice mineral. Unfortunately for me the mouth doesn’t live up to the nose – primarily because it lacks acidity in the mid palate and that sort of throws things for me. But from a complexity standpoint, you get all of the nose repeated here along with some stone fruit and even a bit of smoke mixed with the mineral. A little more acid would put this over the top. Still, it’s nice enough – just wanted a little more. 88
2020 Les Marrionniers, Chablis (Mevushal) – On the nose, some straw and apple but missing the citrus though. In the mouth, much of the same – the straw is really nice. It takes center-stage and makes for a rustic sort of feel. Acid is balanced. Finish is a bit short though, but it is nice with some flinty smokiness coming in behind the apple – otherwise a really nice entry level Chablis. 89-90
2020 Les Marrionniers Premier Cru, Montee de Tonnerre, Chablis – This Premier Cru comes from a special and famous plot in Chablis, Montee de Tonnerre. Like many Grand Crus, the plot is oriented towards the south-west and in fact is separated from the famous Grand Cru plot Les Blanchots by a narrow valley. It also shares many of the same soil characteristics as the neighboring Grand Cru plots and therefore is highly sought after. The plot can produce wines of the highest caliber, which often can age well. So it’s really nice that Royal was able to produce from this specific plot this year. On the nose, we have typical apple, lemon, and some stone fruit. In the mouth, there is nice green apple, excellent stone fruit – all ripe with some nice lime. Here the acid absolutely balances out the ripe fruit. There is also some really nice mineral here that plays in the background. The finish is long and near sweet with lemon, some funk, and some salty mineral, with the acid balancing throughout. Really excellent. 92-93
2019 Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt, Blanc, Grand Vin, Pessac-Leognan – Before I start, just a quick note – these are note on the Not-Mevushal version (which I hope we are getting here in Israel). In the US this wine is Mevushal – so these notes do not really apply. Like the 2018, this wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. It is exactly the kind of Sauvignon Blanc that I enjoy – really right up my alley. The nose has none of those off-putting notes that I associate with many New World SB’s. What you get is some clean fruit notes of apple, pear, and gooseberry with some nice mineral and even a little bit of flintiness. In the mouth, the first thing that hits you is the saline, followed by ripe golden delicious apple, which becomes more tart and leans toward green apple in the mid-palate. You taste some of the barrel here with a hint of that sweet oak followed by more saline and that smoky-flinty mineral. The finish here is long and very clean with more Granny Smith apple, lime, and smoke. The entire package is balanced out by some really nice acidity. I’m even a bigger fan of this vintage than last. I REALLY hope this is the version we are getting in Israel. Definitely a wine to stock up on! 93
2019 Chateau Malartic Lagraviere, Blanc, Grand Cru Classe – (Tasted the following week in NY) – This wine is a classic white Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon Blanc (75%) and Semillon (25%). Now as readers here know – the only SB that I really like is Old World style – and when you add the Semillon, you just end up with that perfect blend of flavor, acid, complexity, and richness. That’s what you have here. And really there is no other Bordeaux white that is on this level. As I wrote when discussing the Aegerter Mersault – there are some truly must-have legendary bottles – this is one of them On the nose you get beautiful citrus, lemon curd, lime, lemon zest, which moves into richer fruit, like quince and pear with an almost creaminess in the background and finally hay. In the mouth, you have this rich luscious mouthfeel from the Semillon but with really nice acidity to cut through. The profile is sweet white juicy citrus (in Israel the fruit is called Pomelit – a cross between a grapefruit and a pomelo – sometimes marketed as a Jaffa Sweetie in the US), hay, nectarine, mineral, hay, cream, and vanilla. Wow!!!!! Just super! Really it’s that good. Like I said – the complete package! I am SO looking forward to seeing this develop – assuming I can get my hands on more. 95
2019 Domaine Ternynck, Bourgogne, Les Brulis – The nose here is ripe and dark with black fruit and smoke. In the mouth, you basically have the nose repeated – black fruit and smoke with some toasted herb. It’s a little one dimensional, but nice enough. 87
2020 Domaine Ternynck, Bourgogne, Les Brulis – On the nose, very dark – with black currant, dark cherry, and blackberry. In the mouth, it is much more tart and red with raspberry and cranberry, with some nice green notes of herb and a touch of mint. The acid here is excellent for this medium bodied, entry level Pinot. Nice stuff! 90
2018 Ramon Cardova, Rioja (Mevushal) – On the nose, this wine has nice red fruit – mostly cherry, with some nice herbal notes. In the mouth, the wine shows darker with plums, dark cherry, and some smoke. The ripe fruit is balanced out by the acid, and the tannin here is nice and mouth-coating. On the finish, we have the toasted herb, more dark fruit, and some smoke. All in all, this checks most of the boxes for an entry level Rioja – nice fruit that is not over the top, excellent acid and tannin, and overall balanced. This is one of my favorite vintage of the Cardova Rioja. 89
2020 Chateau Trijet, Bordeaux – This medium bodied wine is a blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose on the 2020 Trijet is the best yet for this wine – VERY earthy with dark red fruit and toasted herb. Really nice. In the mouth, it is basically in line with 2019 – perhaps a bit better, with nice red fruit up front – raspberry, cherry, and plum, followed by some basil, mint, and foliage. There is incredible acidity, balancing out the fruit and clearing the way for the finish, which turns a bit smoky and chocolatey. This is an impressive wine and (I know I sound repetitive) this my favorite Trijet yet. 92
2020 Chateau Les Riganes, Bordeaux (Mevushal) – This is likely the only time I will taste this bottle, as we usually get the non-mevushal version in Israel. The nose here is very floral with crazy rose and violet, bright red fruit, and some nice earth. In the mouth, again – very floral with more violet and some jasmine, tart red raspberry, some cranberry, and herb. The finish is a little short for me and the wine overall is a bit too floral for my tastes. Still, it’s not bad – and I’m hoping that the non-mevushal is even better. 87-88
2020 Chateau Genlaire, Bordeaux Superieur (Mevushal) – The nose here is overpoweringly cotton candy and bubblegum. In the mouth, much more of the same with added crazy floral notes. I couldn’t really get passed it. Also, the wine was flat which made those flavors more overwhelming. This one is a pass for me. 85
2019 Chateau Canteloup, Medoc – This wine took a bit of time to open, but once it did – what a nose! This is beautiful with nice lead pencil, mineral, herb, dark fruit, and earth. In the mouth, you can taste the terroir with great dense earth, clay, and mineral enveloping some dense dark red fruit and some iron notes. This is an excellent wine! The finish adds a touch of smoke to an already impressive package. Really great stuff. This is my kind of wine. When we talk about wines to stock for the medium term – this is it. It’s not a wine that is going to cellar for 10 years, but it should drink incredibly well for the next 4-5. 92-93
2018 Barons Edmond & Benjamin de Rothschild, Les Lauriers, Montagne Saint-Emilion (Mevushal) – The nose is dark red fruit, perhaps a bit of overripe strawberry and some sort green vegetal note I couldn’t place. The mouth here is nicer with dark red and black fruit – blackberry, raspberry, dark cherry, and ripe strawberry, with some more of that green vegetal stuff. There nice balancing acidity to take care of all of that fruit. The finish is a bit smoky (which seems to be a recurring theme) and, surprisingly, more green, then red, with some green pepper and fresh sweet tobacco. Nice. 89
2019 Barons Edmond & Benjamin de Rothschild, Les Lauriers, Montagne Saint-Emilion (Mevushal) – The nose here is anise, jasmine, red fruit, and forest floor – very nice. In the mouth, you get more anise, some lead pencil, herbs, dark plum, some mineral, and some more tart red fruit. This wine is more complex, more restrained, and better structured than the 2018, with some crazy acid and searing tannin. The finish is long with nice earth, some pepper, more lead pencil herbs and sweet tobacco. A very nice bottle. 91
2019 Chateau de Parsac, Montagne Saint-Emilion (Mevushal) –There are a ton of French wines that are all very similar to this one (over the course of our hotel room tastings we tasted a whole bunch). They all have the same profile. They are overwhelmingly green, thin, and have a tinny undertone. Almost under ripe. Not for me. 85
2017 Barons Edmond & Benjamin De Rothschild, Haut-Medoc (Mevushal) – There is something overwhelmingly vegetal on the nose here. In the mouth, well, as Kermit said – it’s not easy being green. There is a lot of that and some red fruit in the background. The finish is of medium length, with some nice earthiness, but that’s about it. 85
2018 Barons Edmond & Benjamin de Rothschild, Haut-Medoc (Mevushal) – What a difference a year makes! This wine is much more in line with the 2016 vintage than with the 2017. On the nose, the wine presents with some unique floral notes – chrysanthemum, if I had to guess – followed by dark red fruit. In the mouth, you have dark red ripe fruit – raspberry, blackberry, with some lead, smoke, and earth. The acid nicely balances out the ripe juicy fruit. The finish is long with notes of tobacco, herb, mineral, and some smoke. Very nice stuff! 90+
2019 Chateau Malmaison, Moulis-en-Medoc – At first, this wine seemed over the top oaky on the nose – but that blew off. Instead, you have mostly toasted herbs and roasted meat with some very dark fruit, followed by some fresh herb. In the mouth, this wine is built beautifully and starts with nice ripe but controlled fruit – blackberry, blueberry, and raspberry, with some smoky undertones that then move into sweet pipe tobacco. The tannin here is mouth-coating, and the acid here is precisely blended into the mix to just focus the fruit. The finish is long and distinct and much more green and herbal, while still keeping that smokiness in the background. That’s a nice bottle right there. 91
2019 Etoiles de Mondorion, Grand Vin de Bordeaux – The Cab Franc, which is NOT the dominant variety in this blend, coming in at only 18% (the remainder being Merlot), makes its presence felt throughout. The nose here is green with herb and foliage and then some earth and some bright red fruit. In the mouth, the fruit is darker and redder at first, with cherry and plum and some smoke and lead. The fruit is balanced out by some really excellent acidity, and the tannin here is near searing. The finish returns to green with herbs and mint, earth, and smoking tobacco. The wine is elegantly built and a pleasure to drink. 92
2018 Chateau Royaumont, Lalande de Pomerol – On the nose, a mix of bright red fruit – plum, raspberry, and cherry mostly – followed by green notes – with mint, herbs, and bell pepper. In the mouth, we have another beautifully structured wine with deep red fruit – plum, blackberry, and dark cherry – enveloped in earth and smoke – all balanced out by excellent acidity. The tannin here is mouth coating. The finish is long end exquisite, with creamy milk chocolate, tobacco, earth, freshly ground coffee, and some lead pencil, all getting a healthy dose of smoke. It’s really the complete package. Truly lovely! 94
2018 Les Roches de Yon-Figeac, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru – Very much in line with 2017 vintage – with subtle differences. The nose, as always with this wine, is super expressive and has great mushroom, earth, and barnyard, with some dark red fruit way in the back. In the mouth, the wine is plush and rich. Everything from the nose carries through but is beautifully layered with additional herbs and smoke and some excellent iron and mineral not present in the 2017. This is another stellar wine from Figeac and pretty much on par with 2017. 94
2019 Chateau Greysac, Medoc (Mevushal) – The nose here was closed, and I could barely get anything off of it – perhaps some lead and maybe some tar. An acid bomb in the mouth though – which is there to balance out the nice ripe dark red and blue fruit. We also have anise, vanilla, and leather with great structure. The finish is long and mineral driven, with some nice saline, lead, tar, and the ripe red and blue fruit. This wine is still VERY closed though and needs time. It’s a 92 now but could score higher in couple of years when things calm down. 92+
2019 Gazin Rocquencourt, Pessac-Leognan – The nose is VERY ripe. Lots of earth, lots of smoke, ripe plum, ripe red fruit, and rich earth. In the mouth, you have dark plum and blueberry, followed by sweet milk chocolate, vanilla, graphite, smoke, and sweet tobacco on the end. I can tell you now – this is going to be crowd pleaser, and this wine will sell incredibly well. Again this is the non-mevushal version – I think they put this out mevushal as well for the US market. Not sure how that one is at all, as even this non-mevushal version is going to be too ripe for some of my friends – for me it hits the spot. 91
Mevushal vs Non-Mevushal at the high end
At this point we tasted the Chevalier de Lascombes, which was produced both mevushal for the US market and non-mevushal for the rest of the sane world. Part of the discussion that we had at this point was about the constant drive to produce mevushal versions of more and more wines – as close to the high end as possible. The Gazin above as case in point – though we only had the non-mevushal version to taste. With the Chevalier, Menachem brought both versions and dared us to see if we could tell the difference. He poured us three glasses. Two were going to be the same wine and one the other type. We were to guess which two glasses were the same – and then which of the glasses were mevushal and which were not. On part one, I did perfectly. I picked the identical glasses and which of the three was not the same. On part two, I reversed it and chose the wrong wine as mevushal vs non-mevushal. I will say, in my defense, the notes here are identical. The only difference is really in which flavors fell first – but other than that, they are absolutely identical and Menachem did a wonderful job here with the mevushal process. I really can’t tell which is which, and I think my palate is pretty good with identifying these things. So I will present a unified note for both the mevushal and non-mevushal versions below – and know that perhaps the only other difference between the wine is potential longevity, which I am currently not making note of in these notes in general – but there is a possibility that you might seem more accelerated aging and slightly abbreviated lifespan for the mevushal version. Later on, I will do the same thing for the 2019 Le Crock where, again, the resulting wines are so similar it does not pay to have a separate entry – having said that, there was a greater disparity between the two Le Crocks than the two Chevaliers – just nothing that the vast majority of drinkers will be able to pinpoint. And now, after all of that here are the notes:
2019 Chevalier de Lascombes, Margaux (Non-Mevushal/Mevushal) – On the nose, dark, dense, and ripe blue and black and fruit blackberry, blueberry and plum. In the mouth, the wine is very ripe but balanced – again with ripe blueberry, blackberry, plum, and some toasted herb. There is very nice acidity here that does balance out the very ripe fruit. I know this is going to be TOO ripe for some. But for me, the ripeness is just under the wire. It is acceptable – and quite frankly may recede a bit with age – and this wine does easily have a good 10 years ahead of it – it has the acidity and the tannic structure to wait out the ripeness – so I would consider it a decent bet regardless of the ripeness. Having said that, I do think it is fine as is – though it does push the boundaries. I can see this being a massive seller in the US – especially at restaurants looking for a high end name Bordeaux to have on the wine list – which appeals to the American palate and can hold its own. The finish is in line with the profile of the wine – milk chocolate, sweet tobacco, and sweet spice. 92
2019 Chateau Giscours, Grand Cru Classe En 1855, Margaux – Wow – this wine is right up my alley….. Beautiful ripe but controlled red fruit, cigar box, smoke, rich earth, and nice warm spice. In the mouth, this is super structured, with each layer of the wine coming at you in a distinct wave – first raspberry, then blueberry, graphite, rich earth, and tobacco. This is really special. All of that ripe fruit is balanced by focused acidity. The tannins are mouth-draping. The finish is long and as complex as the rest of the wine – with beautiful pure dark chocolate, coffee, lead, and nice tobacco. This is a special wine. 95+
2018 Chateau Saint Corbian, Saint-Estephe – Another awesome nose…. Earth, mushrooms, a little barnyard with all sorts of dark berries – mainly blackberry. In the mouth – let me quote my unedited notes – “the acid is kickass here – I mean incredible!” Yeah! Again, wonderful rich earth, mushroom, smoke, blackberry, blueberry, and some smoke. The finish is excellent with notes of spice, crushed black pepper, smoke, mint, herbs and tobacco. Wow! 93
2019 Chateau Le Crock, Saint-Estephe (Non-Mevushal/Mevushal) – I’m gonna get this out there at the start – I think this is the best Le Crock out there – whether you are getting the Mevushal version or the Non-Mevushal version, it just rocks. To me this is every bit as good as the 2018 or 2016 and far better than the 2017. When smelling this wine, you just think classic Bordeaux – nothing overdone, nothing out of place – tart red fruit, some dirt, nice earth, some black ripe fruit and some nice graphite. Classic. In the mouth, the wine is lovely, with perfectly ripe fruit – slightly darker than the nose with blackberry, black plum, black cherry, some deep smoke, graphite, and nice mineral. The acid is perfectly balanced and the tannin is mouth coating. Just wonderful. The finish is super long with tobacco, mineral, earth, and smoke. This is a must have – at a relatively awesome price. 94
2019 Chateau Moulin Riche, Saint-Julien – This wine needs time. As we were about to taste, David warned me that I am NOT going to be getting the full experience. He got to taste a bottle earlier in the US before our trip and left it open for over a week until it finally came into itself. Having said that, I can only score on what I tasted, and what I tasted was not bad at all. The nose at least was very expressive. Very floral, very herbal, nice dark red and black fruit, pencil, and some smoke. In the mouth, it was totally closed and would not open no matter what I did. What you get are the beginnings or the edges of flavors that are present in the nose – but only really impressions. There is an excellent core of acid and tannin, and structurally speaking the wine is excellent – it’s just not at all ready. At this stage, I am grading only on potential – assuming the wine does come into its own, and it will, the score will improve. 90-91
2019 Chateau LaGrange, Grand Cru Classe En 1855, Saint-Julien – This is the first time this wine has been made kosher – and so I had no idea of what to expect. Truth be told – I kept on glancing down the table at the PC that was just one bottle away while Menachem was giving background on this wine – and I missed a lot of it. What can I say – I was distracted – that is, until he poured the wine. The nose here is just SICK. Really dark with black and dark red fruit, black licorice, mixed with dirt and a bit of smoke. Really beautiful. In the mouth, the medium plus acidity perfectly balances out the fruit – which is again dark with blackberry, dark red raspberry, black licorice, a little blueberry, and some vanilla. The tannin is gripping. The finish is long and exquisite with earth and mint, toasted herbs, rich espresso, and nice graphite. This is a stunning wine – I am so happy to have made its acquaintance. It is another must have. 95
2019 Chateau Pontet-Canet, Grand Cru Classe en 1855, Pauillac – We get to the main event the 2019 Pontet Canet. First of all Menachem explained that we are literally the first people to taste this wine since the wine was bottled. It is literally the first bottle he is opening. Honestly, I got goosebumps right there. Before I get into the notes, I want to explain a little bit about the process and background of this wine. The last time this wine was made kosher was in 2004 – a fifteen year gap between kosher vintages. Of course the pedigree here needs no review. The 2003 Pontet Canet is considered by many to be the very best kosher wine ever produced. Period. The “problem” with those early aught vintages for the most part is that the kosher wine world was not ready for them! These wines sat on shelves for years; the kosher wine world didn’t really start developing into what it is today until 10 years later. By then the financial recovery was well underway, and people finally were starting to experiment again with fine kosher French wine. Over the intervening years, the rest of the world ALSO discovered Pontet Canet, and its stature in the non-kosher wine industry grew to where it is today – near the very top! And so there was increased demand for the product worldwide. On top of that, between 2004 and 2007, the winery started experimenting with going biodynamic. By 2008, no chemicals at all were used in the process, and by 2010, the winery was able to certify itself as the first fully biodynamic estate in Bordeaux. In fact, with those shifts in its philosophy also came shifts to the winemaking technique and resulting wines. For instance – no machinery is used at all in harvest. Horses and buggies are used to move between vines in the vineyards. Rather than have a de-stemmer, there is an old school wire mesh table created that naturally moves the stems from the berries when they pass through. Part of the wine is vinified in amphorae – but not just any amphorae. Each vine soil is taken to make the amphorae that houses the wine. If vines are grown in clay soil, the amphorae are made of that very same clay soil, and so on. And so, it was thought that making a small amount of this wine kosher would be impractical to say the least. Fifteen long years passed. What Menachem and Royal convinced PC to agree to is quite simply amazing. They built a mini-winery within the winery. Every piece of specialized manual equipment was replicated in this mini winery. They even built mini-amphorae from the same soils. And so, the exact same process could be replicated kosher. As Menachem explained all of this, I pretty much decided that I NEED to go to PC during or right after harvest this year and see this first hand. I don’t know if that’s going to be possible – but it is absolutely on my goals list from 2022.
All of that and we haven’t even spoken about the wine. Obviously, this wine, based on these shifts in process, presents wholly differently from the famed 2003.But let me get this out straight away. THIS is the best kosher wine ever produced (to date) – not the 2003. I gave this wine a 97 – That’s right a 97. I knew after I graded the Giscours and the La Grange that I might have a problem – I mean how high can one usually go – but – the truth is, the answer is 100 and there are wines that simply deserve those scores. This wine is 97 NOW it could go higher! That’s the crazy thing. The potential here is limitless. I mean this wine is in its infancy and will likely not be ready for another 15 or 20 years. But OK – let me reign it in and get to the notes first.
This wine is a made up of Cabernet Sauvignon (65%), Merlot (30%), Cabernet Franc (3%), and Petit Verdot (2%).The nose here is crazy – you can smell each type of soil used for each variety present in the wine – and those flavors are clear – right at the top of the wine. It’s intoxicating! Then you have the cleanest fruit – across the spectrum – red, black, green, and even a little blue. In the back, there is already nice barnyard mixed with sleek mineral. In the mouth, you can tell the wine is super young – and I am going to guess will shut down soon – but we tasted this wine REALLY early – and you just get the cleanest purest lines of fruit – pure flavor blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, cherry, excellent herbs that are also as clear as day – basil, thyme, rosemary, and some mint. Incredible earthiness and that barnyard envelope the entire thing. These flavors are just perfectly layered. The acid is perfectly balanced but not at all aggressive. The tannin here is fine grained and coats the mouth. The finish is greener with herbs and bramble with mushrooms and rich earth. This wine is a work of art. Here is the real issue. ONLY 3000 BOTTLES WERE PRODUCED. In Europe, most of it was already sold out in presale. The US (and to a lesser extent) Israel all will get some, but I don’t think there is a kosher wine that I can think of that has been more strictly allocated than this. So good luck to everyone trying. But you should definitely try – I mean how often does one come across a 97? Yeah, you read that right. 97
Well, this post speaks for itself. I can’t recall a vintage that produced THIS many excellent kosher wines – but Royal’s 2019 vintage simply can’t be beat. It’s incredible. I’ll shut up now.
My sincerest thanks to Royal Wines and Menachem Israelievitch for sharing these wines and so much of his time. This was simply stellar. In fact – just reading through this puts me in a good mood – wow!
Next up – Taieb – and the rest of the wines we tasted at the Hotel during our trip