For a wine critic, the first column of a new year is often a good opportunity to remember the best — and try to forget the worst — wines tasted in the previous year. While it is impossible to taste all of the more than 1,300 kosher wines produced around the world, the past year has given me the opportunity to taste some truly splendid wines, from bold Napa Valley reds to bubbly bruts made in the heart of Champagne. So for this month’s Fruit of The Vine, what follows is my Top Ten list for 2009.
1. Generation VIII by Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2006: Made from Cabernet grapes grown in Napa Valley’s famous To Kalon vineyard, this is a viscous dark and inky garnet-colored full-bodied wine, which has a slowly opening nose of cherries, cassis, kirshwasser, and toasty oak, with elements of spicy cedar and pipe tobacco, and a slight herbal note. Look for flavors of cherries, cassis, fennel, crème de cassis, oak, cedar, black pepper, and spices. With an impressive amount of tannins, this wine is ready to drink now, but should be able to cellar comfortably until at least 2017. (Score: A. $179.99. Available at Queen Anne Wine and Spirits 247 DeGraw Ave., Teaneck, N.J.,  692-1555.)
2. Covenant, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2007: Bright garnet in color, this youthful, full-bodied wine has flavors and aromas of cassis, red cherries, plums, cedar, and smoky oak, with hints of pipe tobacco and kirshwasser. With firm yet supple tannins which are not yet fully integrated, the wine is approachable now, but will only be at its best starting next year and should then be able to comfortably cellar until 2020. (Score: A. $90. Available directly from the winery. www.covenantwines.com,  963-3887.)
3. Galil Mountain, Yiron, Galilee, 2005: This full-bodied, dark and inky garnet-colored blend of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 44 percent Merlot, 4 percent Syrah, and 2 percent Petit Verdot, which was aged for 16 months in French oak barrels, has silky tannins and a truly rich mouth-feel. Look for flavors and aromas of cherries, cassis, blackberries, plums, cedar and oak, with a nice underlying earthiness. Dinking well now, this wine should be able to cellar until at least 2012. (Score: A/A- ($25.95. Available at Red White & Bubbly 211 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn,  636-9463.)
4. Chateau Piada, Sauternes, 2001: This dark gold-colored and intensely sweet wine has flavors and aromas of heather, lichees, apricots, lemon zest, cumquats, toasted white bread, cloves, cardamom, and white pepper. Drink now - 2012. (Score: A/A-. $49.99. Available at Park Avenue Wine Shop, 250 E Park Ave, Long Beach, L.I.  431-8400.)
5. Domaine St. Benoit, Châteauneuf du Pape, Laureline, 2005: Made in France’s Rhone Valley, this dark garnet-colored, medium-to-full-bodied blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and pink Clairette has a charming bouquet of cherries, plums, vanilla, cedar and violets. Look for flavors of cherries, plums, mixed berries and salad greens, with hints of vanilla, smoke and spice, and nice, firm tannins. Best now - 2013. (Score: A-. $45. Available at Park Avenue Liquor, 292 Madison Ave, Manhattan,  685-2442.)
6. Covenant, Red Sea, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2007. Though the “second wine” from Covenant Wines, Red Sea is in no way a second-class wine. Full-bodied and fruit-forward, this bright garnet-colored wine has lush, supple tannins, and flavors and aromas of cassis, crème de cassis, Rainier cherries and oak. Look for hints of rhubarb and cedar, and a subtle herbaceous note. This is perhaps the best vintage of this wine to date. Drink now - 2015. (Score: A-. $42.00. Available directly from the winery. www.covenantwines.com,  963-3887.)
7. Pommery, Champagne Brut Royale, Kosher Edition, Non-vintage: Bright-straw in color, and with an abundant supply of tiny bubbles, this lively Champagne has aromas of apples and citrus, with a hint of bananas. Look for a lean, crisp taste with flavors of apples and lemons, and a delightful layer of chalk and other minerals. (Score: A-. $52.99. Available at Beacon Wine and Spirits, 2120 Broadway, Manhattan,  877-0028.)
8. Yarden Syrah, Galilee, 2003: Made from Syrah grapes grown in the Galilee, and aged 18 months in small French oak barrels, this rich, luxurious, inky-dark, garnet-colored, full-bodied red has a delightful nose of ripe blackberries and black cherries with notes of smoky oak. Look for flavors of Bing cherries, blackberries, and crème de framboise, mingled nicely with elements of black pepper, cardamom, mocha, and smoke. Drink within the next year. (Score A-. $11.49. Available at Red White & Bubbly 211 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn,  636-9463.)
9. Yatir, Sauvignon Blanc, Negev, 2007: Made from 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in the Ramat Arad Vineyard, in the northern part of the Negev Desert, this crisp, bright straw-colored wine has a mouth-watering nose of apples, kiwifruit, and lichee nuts, with notes of citrus, oak, and honey. Look for an apple-like flavor, with notes of lemons, mangos, and oak. Although drinking well now, this wine should be able to continue to develop in cellar for at least another 18 months. (Score: A-/B+. $34.99. Available at Columbus Wine and Spirits, 730 Columbus Ave, Manhattan,  865-7070.)
10. Barkan, Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve, 2007: This dark straw-colored, light-to-medium-bodied wine was made from grapes grown in the Galilee, and fermented and aged in stainless-steel. Look for flavors and aromas of quince, kiwifruit, bananas, freshly cut grass, and nutmeg, with a nice mineral element, and creamy undertones. Drink soon. (Score: A-/B+. $13.74. Available at Cabrini Wines, 831 W. 181 St., Manhattan,  568-3226.)
Please note: Wines are scored on an A-F scale where A is excellent, B is good, C is flawed, D is very flawed, and F is undrinkable. Prices listed reflect the prices at the retailers mentioned.
Fruit of the Vine appears monthly.
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