Looking back over the wines I tasted in 2012, I was struck by how many truly excellent kosher wines are now on the market. In most years I am only able to give one or two wines a score of “A” (excellent), and in 2012 I gave that grade to six wines.
Below are my tasting notes for the best 10 wines I tasted last year.
1. Herzog, Chalk Hill, Clone # Six Edition, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008: Since Joe Hurliman became the head winemaker at Herzog Wine Cellars, more than six years ago, the winery’s reserved and limited edition wines have developed a more restrained, elegant, style, which is epitomized in this wine. Full bodied with a bright garnet color, this luxurious wine has a nose redolent of cassis, cherries, anise, toasty oak and pipe tobacco, with lively notes of spice. Look for flavors of cherries, cassis, oak and mocha, with hints of Turkish coffee and allspice.
Score A. ($105.99. Available at America’s Wine Shop, 398 Third Ave. [Manhattan],  679-1224)
2. Brobdingnagian, Mendocino County, Petite Sirah, 2010: Jonathan Hajdu, who is primarily employed as the associate winemaker for Covenant Wines, a kosher wine producer located in the Napa Valley, makes his own wines under the Brobdingnagian label. The wines are named for the giants in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels,” and that choice of name seems particularly appropriate for this Petite Sirah, which is a colossus of a wine. Rich and very full bodied, with an inky color that falls between dark garnet and royal purple, this complex yet supple wine has a jam-like bouquet of black cherries, red currents, raspberries, kirshwasser, mocha, and smoky oak. Look for flavors of cherries, raspberries, boysenberries, kirshwasser, bitter chocolate, and a lively note of spice. This is perhaps the best wine Hajdu has produced to date, and it is certainly the best kosher Petite Sirah I have ever tasted.
Score A. (No longer available.)
3. Alexander the Great, Upper Galilee, Amarolo, 2007: Tasting hundreds of wines each year, I find it rare that a wine-bottle label will really stick out in my memory. Alexander the Great’s Amarolo has one of the rare wine-bottle labels that I vividly remember: Made of millimeters-thick embossed metal, Amarolo’s label is New World bling, but inside that bottle is a wine that is all Old World charm. This blend of 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 40 percent Merlot, 7 percent Petit Verdot, 6 percent Cabernet Franc, 4 percent Shiraz, and 3 percent Grenache grapes that were dried on mats for 70 days, in the Italian Amarone style, is a dark-garnet colored, full-bodied wine, which has an abundance of silky tannins. Look for flavors and aromas of cherries, cassis, and smoky oak, with delightful notes of crème de cassis, cigar smoke and old leather.
Score A. ($129.99. Available at Skyview Wine & Spirits, 5681 Riverdale Ave. [Riverdale],  548-3230)
4. Four Gates Winery, Santa Cruz Mountains, Pinot Noir, 2009: Located on a picturesque hillside, Four Gates Winery has been producing kosher wine from grapes grown in its small non-irrigated vineyard since 1997. Its 2009 Pinot Noir is a full-bodied garnet-colored wine, with a still tight nose of red cherries, cassis, and blackberries, with notes of leather and brier. Look for flavors of cherries, blackberries, plums, raspberries and oak, with a hint of crème de cassis and a faint herbal element in the background.
Score A. (No longer available)
5. Recanati, Kerem Ba’al, Reserve Wild Carignan, 2009: This full-bodied, dark purple-colored wine was made from Carignan grapes grown in a non-irrigated vineyard on vines that were planted more than three decades ago. Look for flavors and aromas of cherries, cassis, blackberries, raspberries and smoky oak, with notes of anise, allspice, cardamom, leather and pipe tobacco.
Score A. ($69.99. Available at Columbus Wine and Spirits, 730 Columbus Ave. [Manhattan],  865-7070)
6. Domaine du Castel, Judean Hills, “C” Blanc du Castel, Chardonnay, 2010: Full bodied, and bright straw in color, this super-rich Chardonnay has lush flavors and aromas of apples, toasty oak, roasted nuts, and freshly churned butter, with notes of leather and spice, and mulled cider. This is, without doubt, the best kosher vintage to date of this always-excellent wine, and one of the very best kosher Israeli whites ever to be exported to the U.S.
Score A. ($49.99. Available at Skyview Wine & Spirits, 5681 Riverdale Ave. [Riverdale],  548-3230)
7. Chateau de la Tour, Burgundy, Clos-Vougeot Grand Cru, 2004: This ruby-to-garnet-colored, full-bodied wine is as elegant as a true Burgundy should be. Look for a floral nose of strawberries, cherries and oak, with a hint of herbs de Provence. The flavor is restrained, yet complex, with elements of cherries, strawberries, mellow oak, and hints of strawberry eau de vie. This is one of the best kosher Burgundies I have ever tasted.
Score A/A-. ($129.99. Available at Chateau de Vin, 544 Central Ave. [Cedarhurst],  374-9643)
8. Yarden, Golan Heights, El Rom Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008: This dark garnet-colored, velvety smooth, full-bodied wine has flavors and aromas of cherries, plums, raspberries, cassis and toasty oak. Look for notes of stewed figs, crème de cassis, and spice.
Score A/A-. (No longer available.)
9. Hagafen, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009: Ernie Weir, the founder/winemaker of Hagafen Cellars, has been making some of the best kosher cabernets on the market for more than three decades, and his 2009 strikes me as a particularly good example of his style. Full bodied, with an inky, dark-garnet color, this luxurious cabernet has flavors and aromas of cherries, cassis and blackberries, with elements of toasty oak, leather, and pipe tobacco. This wine is imbued with abundant powdery tannins that still need to settle down a bit.
Score A/A-. (This wine is still making its way to retailers in the New York area, but in the interim it can be purchased directly from the winery for $45: www.hagafen.com,  424-2336)
10. Hagafen, Napa Valley, Pinot Noir, 2011: This dark ruby-colored, medium-to-full-bodied wine has a rich bouquet of cherries and cranberries with notes redolent of wild flowers and herbs. Look for flavors of cherries and strawberries, with maybe a hint of strawberry liqueur, all balanced against a well-restrained use of oak.
Score A/A-. ($34.99. Available at Skyview Wine & Spirits, 5681 Riverdale Ave. [Riverdale]  548-3230)
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 retailer mentioned.