Yossie’s Wine Recommendations

a weekly newsletter on Israeli and kosher wine,  wineries and other oenophilic goodies

With the Gregorian year coming to an end, the next few newsletters will present my annual year-end trifecta which covers the best wines of 2016, my annual year in review and a look into the kosher wine industry’s crystal ball for what is in store for us during 2017.  However, before we close out 2016, I wanted to focus on the magical time at hand and that is Chanukah, easily one of my favorite holidays of the year (an emotion my children share given our family’s sacred minhag of receiving a gift on each of the holiday’s eight nights…), so let me take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Chanukah!

Before we get into our plans for holiday drinking and the magic of late disgorged Champagne, I wanted to let you all know about a number of serious wine-tasting events coming up as wine tasting season has already begun.  Following Royal Wine’s annual event in Miami last week (in conjunction with WIZO), the event is Israel’s best wine event – the Sommelier Expo which will be held in Tel-Aviv January 30-31.  Royal Wine will have its next two KFWE events at the same time - KFWE Paris (held in conjunction with Bokabsa and typically featuring some really nice European wines that are not imported into the United States) will be held on January 31, with KFWE London held the following day on February 1.  There is also a KFWE Israel which is held on February 6 but it more of a private event, sponsored by Royal Wine’s Israel importer – Zur.  The next two events are the big ones – KFWE New York (February 13) and KFWE Los Angeles (February 15), both returning to their respective venues from last year (Chelsea Piers in NY and the incredible Paterson Auto Museum in LA).  As with every year, the biggest available discount is directly from Royal’s - for the New York event, it’s the “EARLYBIRD” coupon code which gets you $25 off, while I don’t have a coupon for the Los Angeles Event.  The event sells out every year and people are always contacting me looking for tickets once it is sold out.  My recommendation – buy the ticket since you know you will be attending.  If not, it won’t be hard to “unload” in the days leading up to the event…  Last but not least, the Jewish Week’s annual pre-Pesach tasting (held in conjunction with their release of the Annual Kosher Wine Guide, will be held on March 20 at City Winery (details to come).

With all that Jazz out of the way, we now turn to Chanukah, which manages to combine family time, gift-giving, tons of really good (and traditionally unhealthy) food and plenty of “excuses” to crack open some really good wines into one amazing and guilt-free package.  While nobody reading these lines really needs an excuse to enjoy good stuff (especially since we gave the world the Rosh Chodesh Club), I am certainly an advocate of using Chagim as an opportunity to uncork a special bottle, especially given the rather empty calendar between Sukkot and Chanukah.  Despite nearly every Jewish holiday vying for supremacy in celebrating the concept of “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat”, Chanukah certainly takes the cake in the category of copious amounts of fat, cholesterol and sugar.  With the near-endless array of unhealthy edibles associated with Chanukah ranging across the taste, flavor and texture spectrum, the diversification can throw a wrench in traditional wine and food-pairing concepts.  For specific tips and recommendations on how to address these wide ranging delicacies, take a look at newsletter #323, where I presented some general suggestions in preparation for Thanksgiving – another holiday where the hodgepodge of foods can create some unnecessary pairing angst

As we commemorate the Chanukah miracle in which a one-day supply of oil for the Menorah lasted a full eight days, we wine lovers dream of replicating the miracle in our personal wine cellars.  With oil playing a prominent role in many of the holiday’s treats, the litany of holiday-related, artery-clogging foods we are expected to consume is rather expansive and includes Sufganiyot (deep fried donuts stuffed with jelly, Crème Anglais or smoked veal jam), Latkes (fried potato pancakes), hard and soft cheeses, chocolate coins (gelt) and other assorted goodies.  Reading my prior newsletter will provide you with plenty of help in navigating these treacherous waters but bottom line – the best suggestion is also the easiest – simply grab a few bottles of Champagne (or if you must, sparkling wine).  The one wine with the potential for a near-perfect pairing with any of the holiday treats you are contemplating is sparkling wine.  Champagne or other sparkling wines make a great choice for any pairing opportunity and are especially appropriate for a holiday meal, with their added inherent festivity.  Sparkling wine is the traditional wine for special occasions, which obviously includes Chanukah.

If you want to learn more about Champagne or other sparkling wines, check out the links to prior newsletters.  This week however, we are going to talk about a special subset of sparkling wine –late disgorged.  In order to understand the concept behind late-disgorged, a brief note on Champagne generally (with plenty of additional detail in the links above).  Very simply - most [non-kosher] Champagnes are blends of different grapes that come from different regions and vintages, which are artfully blended together to provide a consistent style that represents each Champagne “house”.  Once these wines are bottles, a solution of additional wine, sugar and yeast is added to the bottle before it is sealed.  This solution sets off a second fermentation in the bottle which is how the bubbles “get into” the wine (the CO2 produced by the fermentation also serves to protect the sparkling wine against oxidation which is one reason that many Champagnes have extremely long aging abilities).  Once the yeast dies, the fermentation ends and the dead yeast cells drop to the bottom of the bottle. 

These yeast remnants are referred to as “lees”, and the time the wine spends before they are removed is known as “aging on its lees”.  This process contributes additional body and complexity to the wine while the lees also serve as a “preserver” of the wine, maintaining “freshness” and retarding oxygenation.  The bottles are rotated on a regular basis (traditionally by hand) to ensure even distribution of the lees, with the rotation also slowly inverting the bottles each time until they are inverted 180 degrees, which causes the lees to accumulate under the cap of the wine.  When the winemaker decides the wine is ready, they neck of the bottle is flash-frozen, the bottle is uncapped and the trapped gasses push the frozen lees out of the bottle, which is then topped up with dosage (a solution of additional wine and, depending on the “type” of Champagne, sugar), corked and represents the finished product.  This process is called “disgorgement” (although most Champagne houses and wineries will allow the finished wine to continue to age in the bottle for a certain period of time) and the disgorgement date has historically been one of the most carefully kept secret of Champagne houses, with the date printed on each bottle in secret code (although that is slowly changing, with many “grower Champagnes” clearly including the information and some of the larger houses following suit).

With that out of the way, it becomes pretty clear what late disgorged means.  Given the preserving impact of the lees, when a winery is ready to sell the wine it will only disgorge the amount of wine is believes it can sell in a relatively short period of time, which can result in many different disgorgement dates over a relatively short period of time.  While the later disgorged wines are effectively “late disgorged” relative to those that hit the market first, this is not the intent behind the concept.  Late disgorged is used for wines that are disgorged long after the wine has been released, sold and cleared out of the market, typically many years later.  As Madam Bollinger was the first to develop the concept with the release in 1961 of the late disgorged 1952 vintage, RD (an acronym late disgorged in French- récemment dégorgé) is actually a trademark of Bollinger (leading many to associate the concept solely with the Bollinger Champagne house.  However, late disgorged and dégorgement tardif mean the same thing and are used interchangeably.

Conceptually, the reason for late disgorgement is that the longer aging time on the lees contributes additionally complexity and more pronounced flavors in the wine which can result in a richer and more luxurious style for the wine.  Despite the preservation of the lees, these wines mature differently that post-disgorgement (where that breath of oxygen they received during the disgorgement process contributes to a different aging process).  Generally speaking when tasting a late-disgorged wine side by side with its initial release, one should expect greater complexity from the late disgorged version coupled with a fresher feeling.  Some winemakers feel that there are different stages in the evolution of Champagne and the late disgorgement is a way to have the consumer enjoy the different stages in the best way possible.  The wine is sometimes actually different as well, since the wineries often reduce the sugar level in the dosage for the late disgorged wines.

Given the added capital expense endured by the winery, such bottles are usually much more expensive than the initial releases (sometimes double or tripling the price), so they also provide wineries with a boost to their bottom line.  Despite their apparent ageability, one should avoid the temptation generated by their excessive cost to cellar the wines.  Late disgorged wines are best consumed within a short period after release – most experts recommend within a few years of release.  In any event, late disgorged is not intended necessarily to be a “better” wine, simply a different wine that reflects a different stage of evolution.

Given the extremely limited options for late disgorged sparkling wine on the kosher market, to date I have only been able to compare two options side by side – the 2007 Brut from Hagafen and the Yarden 2000 Blanc de Blancs from the Golan Heights Winery (each of which I was able to compare the “regular” release to the late disgorged version of the same vintage.  My personal experience was not of a stark difference but the extremely limited sample size doesn’t make for any real analysis.  In the interim, it is simply another thing to try, given the discerning kosher wine drinker yet another interesting glimpse into the vast and amazing world of wine.

I have included below my tasting notes for four late disgorged sparkling wines (while there are a number of quality kosher Champagnes, to date there have been no kosher “Vintage” Champagnes, nor any late disgorged ones).  In addition to the Late Disgorged 2000 Yarden Blanc de Blancs, I understand that a Late Disgorged version of the 2005 is also in the works – so stay tuned!

Shabbat Shalom and a very Happy Chanukah to you all!

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Katzrin, Blanc de Blancs, Late Disgorged, 2000:  I first learned about this wine many years ago from Daniel Rogov who posted about it on his forum in 2011, for some reason its existence was denied by the winery when I inquired about it.  However, good things come to those who wait and the wine was released to great fanfare a few months ago.  Despite the exceptionally limited quantities, the wine is still available for purchase (500 NIS) at the winery’s visitor center in the Golan Heights and I recently tasted the wine on two separate opportunities.  While not as fresh or vibrant as I had expected, the wine retained a lovely mousse and offered up plenty of the yeast brioche, lemon pith and orange notes so present it its [much] earlier disgorged sibling, while also showcasing more vanilla, fresh-baked apple turnovers and nuanced notes of mocha and minerals.  With sufficient acidity keeping the wine fresh and vibrant it was a delightful experience and a welcome (albeit expensive) opportunity to try something new.  Stay tuned for the 2005 late disgorged as well.

Hagafen, Brut Cuvée, Late Disgorged, Napa Valley 2012:  While many will scoff at the idea of releasing a late disgorged version of a four-year old sparkling wine (the initial release of the incredible sparklers produced by the Golan Heights Winery doesn’t occur until 5-6 years past vintage), it certainly makes for an intriguing tasting opportunity (especially given the fact that Hagafen released this wine in Prix Reserve option as well) and given Hagafen’s growing expertise with sparkling wine, I see no reason to complain.  Utilizing a traditional blend of Pinot Noir (78%) and Chardonnay (22%), the wine is loaded with freshly-picked strawberries, tart raspberries, great citrus notes, freshly-baked pear tart and deliciously yeasty brioche.  The medium bodied wine provides a tight mouse that tantalizes the palate as the expressive wine opens up to reveal layers of citrus, rich fruit and warm spices.  Complex and elegant with 12% AbV, I doff my hat to Ernie for this one.

Hagafen, Prix Reserve, Brut Cuvée, Late Disgorged, Napa Valley 2012:  I am not sure how Ernie determined which wine would carry the Prix Reserve label versus the “regular” one for this wine, but I personally found the wine reviewed above to be more complex and have a richer mouth-feel than the Prix Reserve, which is still a delicious wine if somewhat one-dimensional.  With a nice mousse and good acidity, the wine showcases some nice summer fruits, tart raspberries, green apples and sweet Anjou pears along with a hint of cinnamon on a medium finish.  An enjoyable wine that makes for a great side by side with the “regular” version.

Hagafen, Brut Cuvée, Late Disgorged, 2007: Hagafen released three different sparkling wines for the 2007 vintage (the other two are a Cuvee de Noir and the “standard” Brut Cuvée) and all are delightful.  An expressive blend of Pinot Noir (80%) and Chardonnay (20%), the wine has a wonderfully fresh nose of lemon, tangerine, summer fruit, hints of strawberries and milk chocolate and nice yeasty notes or toasted brioche with plenty of tight bubbles keeping it lively. A medium to full bodied palate has great acidity and presents with raspberries, tart grapefruit, cooked strawberries and lemons, yeasty brioche and more summer fruits with a lingering finish that pleases with great minerals and a hint of pleasing citrusy bitterness. A truly enjoyable wine that is currently in “drink now” mode, if stored properly.

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