Reviews of the Hagafen Riesling 2012 and several whiskies including Angel’s Envy, the Tomintoul 10-year-old single malt and two single malts from Glengoyne.
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week February 27, 2013
The 2013 Kosher Food and Wine Experience was held in NYC earlier this month. This annual tasting event is one of the best opportunities-along with their tasting events in London and Los Angeles-to sample the latest kosher wines and spirits distributed by the Herzog family’s Royal Wine Corp. also known as Kedem, the world’s largest importer, producer and distributor of kosher table wines. These events are also a great opportunity to sample some tasty high-end kosher food, including, at the NY event, the fantastic French Chaud Lent Cassoulet and Texas Smokehouse Cholent provided by Got Cholent? Inc.’s Gemstone Catering. Their “Got Cholent” t-shirts are on our Hanukkah wish list as is their Moroccan Dafina.
This event is also a chance to schmooze with other writers, including Yossie Horwitz, whose “Yossie’s Corkboard” e-newsletter is another excellent resource for kosher wine recommendations. Most importantly, though, this event affords us an opportunity to meet with winery owners, winemakers and other folks who are intimately involved in creating kosher wines and to chat with them while tasting their newest offerings. With more than 40 wineries and over 200 wines at the event, the first difficult choice was simply figuring out where to begin. Or at least, so we thought.
After a few moments perusing the program, however, the choice became obvious-Ernie Weir’s Hagafen Cellars. Founded in 1979 by Ernie and his wife Irit, Hagafen wines have a reputation for consistent high quality. Hagafen wines have been served at the White House on many occasions, and a lot of their wine is actually sold to, and consumed by, non-Jews-further demonstrating their high quality. The family-owned and -operated winery, in California’s Napa Valley, is located on Napa’s Silverado Trail between the Oak Knoll and Stag’s Leap appellations and boasts a very popular tasting room. Each of Hagafen’s three wine labels, Hagafen (the primary label), Prix (their high-end line) and Don Ernesto (their quaffable line) are available there. While Hagafen wines are widely available, the winery also offers direct-to-consumer sales via their website, as well as two fantastic wine clubs (one of us greatly enjoys both clubs).
All Hagafen wines are certified kosher and mevushal under the supervision of the Orthodox Union (OU) – yet the wines never seem to suffer any noticeable adverse effects from the mevushal process (a thermal processing akin to flash pasteurization).
Hagafen’s portfolio includes Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Roussanne, and a Champagne-style sparkling wine. Ernie has also been making an off-dry, slightly sweet Riesling for years but his most recent Riesling is a completely dry version. His decision to change was based upon both the “character of the grapes” and his belief that the kosher wine drinker was now “ready for a dry Riesling.” The new Hagafen Riesling 2012 ($24) is a bright and well-balanced dry Riesling that opens with green apple and citrus aromas which lead into lingering peach, grapefruit and lime flavors. Versatile and food-friendly, this latest iteration can be paired with spicy oriental foods, salads, nearly any fish dish or simply enjoyed solo.
Also at the tasting, shifting now to spirits, were several quality whiskies, vodkas, cognacs, liqueurs and other hard alcoholic beverages that are either imported or distributed by Royal Wines. Some of these we’ve reviewed before, but the tasting allowed us the chance to re-taste.
The Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Angel’s Envy American Whiskey, Kedem Port Barrel Finish Edition (43.3% abv; $48), for example, is a wonderful and dangerously easy drinking bourbon whiskey that was finished for six months in barrels that previously held OU certified port-style wine from the Kedem winery in N.Y. While a little different from the initial release of Angel’s Envy that used actual ex-wine barrels from Portugal, rather than kosher port-style wine from N.Y.’s Finger Lakes region, this version is a similarly well-rounded, rich, and almost silky offering with charming sweet berry and sweet citrus notes integrated into the more familiar maple syrup, toffee, and vanilla and all with some distinct if light spicy cinnamon and nutmeg. Truly lovely.
Also on offer in the Royal portfolio of spirits are the Scotch whiskies from the Tomintoul distillery-on the label, you’ll note that the whisky imported is Medek Wine & Spirits, a division of the Royal Wine Corp. (“Medek” is “Kedem” spelled backwards, a nod and wink to Royal’s original company name and the label of its hugely successful grape juice and Kiddush wine brand). Because of Tomintoul’s connection to Royal, it was persuaded in July 2010 to obtain OU kosher certification for several of its single malts (10, 14 and 16 year-old expressions).
The Tomintoul 10-year-old single malt Scotch whisky (40% abv; $35) is an enjoyable, easy-drinking, delicate, aperitif style whisky with a light, floral, malty, toffee nose, with additional notes on the palate of vanilla fudge, apples and lemon, toasted nuts, honey and malt on the finish.
Also always worthy of note and available at the Royal Wine tasting were two of the Glengoyne Single Malt Scotch whiskies:
Glengoyne 10 year old (43% abv; $40): This wonderfully smooth, easy quaffed whisky offers fresh, lovely herbal aromas, with noticeable sweet American oak scents, and more cream than fruit – water flattens the nose a bit and isn’t needed, though it brings the citrusy elements more distinctly through on the palate. Otherwise, the palate is delicious as is with excellent balance between bitterness and sweetness, with warming flavors of pure malted barley, vanilla, honey, some ginger, and a glimmer of cooking apples and pears. Features a lovely, drying barley finish with some added chocolate and coffee notes.
Glengoyne 17 year old (43% abv; $70): This lovely, complex whisky offers lively grassy, herbaceous aromas that parlay variously into citrus fruits, cedar wood, chocolate, stewed cherries, peanut butter, mint and even shortbread. Pulling away from the nose to the palate, for eventually you will wish to drink as well as sniff this one, brings notes of orange, vanilla, malted barley, raisins, red currants, sweet cream, and chocolate, ending in a long, rich finish of milky coffee, citrus zest, candied ginger, some overripe grapefruit, peanut brittle, coconut, honey and slightly burnt shortbread. Delicious. L’Chaim!