Friday, November 20, 2009

Report from ... Mazel Wines Tasting – November 11, 2009

There was a time when the words ‘kosher’ and ‘wine’ didn’t mix. Even to this day, to some kosher wine means sweet sacramental wines, while to others, it means wines of an undrinkable nature, especially if you grew up with the stuff. While today there are still some real stinkers out there that’ll make you gag as you choke them down – the most notable fault is that the wine doesn’t taste like wine; on the other hand, there are also some very good wines and wineries that are putting out, not just drinkable kosher wines, but would be considered good wines even if they didn’t have the crutch of a ‘kosher’ label on them (the standard for kosher wine seems to be lower because of its undrinkable reputation – it’s as if kosher wine was invented so that the Jews could punish themselves). Tonight we were here to debunk that myth, a tasting of Mazel Wines wines (kosher wine agent) – a free for all tasting and a sit down portion, where we learned what it is that makes a wine “kosher”, the evening was led by wine writers Sheila and Irv (no last names mentioned to protect the innocent).

Sit Down Tasting …
8 Wines made up this part of the evening: 3 whites, 3 reds and two sweet bubblies. The whites included a Gruner Veltliner (Austria), a Pinot Grigio (Italy) and a Chardonnay (Israel). Hands down it was the Italian Cantina Gabriele 2007 Pinot Grigio ($18.35) that was the best of the white bunch – green apple, grapefruit/citrus, nice acidity and a long finish.

The red wines poured during this segment of the evening were: a Chianti (Italy), a Pinot Noir (Austria) and a Merlot (Israel) … I’m impressed here once again by the Italians, who seem to be doing it right. Cantina Gabriele (once again) 2007 Chianti ($18.35) was fruit forward with black cherry, vanilla, spice and had a lovely cherry finish.

The 2 bubblies were sweet versions, one from Austria, the other from New York State. Another no brainer for the tongue here, the New York wine won, Armon Sparkling – ($13.20) made from the much maligned Concord grape. Sure it’s a sweet wine with grapey flavours, but everyone needs a little sweetness in their lives and this wine really provides it.

Other Highlights …
During the walk around portion I encountered a Hafner Zweigelt ($13.95) that was a light and refreshing red, kinda like Pinot Noir without the earthy quality. Speaking of light, the third wine, from Italian producer Cantina Gabriele, that I tried was a very refreshing Moscato ($16.15) … it tasted like Moscato should, and that’s not some kosher-wine-pass I’m giving it, it was really very good – but you have to like Moscato; I do.

Finally, there was one Teperberg 1870 wine to try, and two representatives from the company on hand – there ought to be a rule in the wine business that states: the number of people from a winery should never out number the wines being poured. This winery had a story to tell and plenty of interesting wines were listed, and even on display (full bottles) but the corks were never pulled, nor were the wines tasted – a shame and a pity. One can assume from the name that Teperberg has been around since 1870 (but don’t quote me on that). The wine I tried was a tepid Late Harvest Riesling ($20.65 – 375ml), that someone forgot to chill, it had great tropical fruit with a sweet vanilla creaminess to it derived from the minimal barrel aging put on the wine (3-4 months of new and used oak); I suspect this wine would have been better chilled because it was quite good at room temperature.

It’ Not That Easy Being Kosher …
Rabbi Tzvi Heber gave a brief talk about Kosher wines and how they should be made … he did mention in his remarks that making wines kosher is a very “sensitive, tedious and difficult process.” But it seems that some wineries are getting the hang of making good wines within the confines of the rules of kashruth. It’s still hit and miss, but I’m glad to see that the hits really are hits and not just wines on a some kind of must-have-kosher-day-pass to the table.

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