Yossie’s Wine Recommendations

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

As promised, this week’s newsletter is a testimony to a recent Rosh Chodesh Club where we enjoyed a straight 13-year vertical tasting of one of my all-time favorite wineries – Capcanes of Spain.  While many acclaimed non-kosher vineyards around the world make kosher cuveés of certain wines in limited runs (like Château Pontet-Canet and Château Léoville-Poyferré), Capcanes is unique in that it was its kosher cuvee that initially put it on the map.  Located in the village of Capcanes in Spain’s Montsant region (which Capcanes is helping put on the map as a serious wine-growing region), a close neighbor of Spain’s famed Priorat, the Capcanes winery was founded as a cooperative by five local wine-growing families in 1933.  The cooperative was founded in order to pool the growers’ resources, protect their economic interests and ensure proper quality, pricing and distribution for their wines.  For many years they crushed their own grapes and sold bulk wine at competitive prices to many wineries in the region, including the world-famous Torres Winery; however by 1991 they had given up selling bulk wine and were simply selling the grapes directly.
Around that time, Angel Teixido (the senior wine maker who is also in charge of the vineyards) decided to make a few thousand bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon wine on his own.  By sheer happenstance, members of Barcelona’s small Jewish community tasted the wine in 1995 and found it delicious, leading them to ask the cooperative’s owner if Capcanes would produce a dry kosher table-wine for the community’s usage, promising to purchase the entire output of any such kosher wine.  With Capcanes’ finances floundering and despite the not-insubstantial required capital outlay (for new kosher equipment and rabbinic supervision), the potential for an economic turnaround was recognized by the cooperative and they acquiesced to the request.  The new equipment allowed the winemakers to isolate and vinify their best fruit, and the resulting wine – the Peraj Ha’Abib, Flor de Primavera - was born to instant acclaim, not only among the Jewish community but to wine lovers throughout the wine world (I am still hoping to taste that first 1995 vintage).  With this initial success in hand, the winery undertook more serious capital investments, procuring better equipment, technology, labor and talent and providing itself with the additional resources (it already had top-tier fruit) to become a winemaking powerhouse.  Within a relatively short period of time, Capcanes was transformed from a bulk wine producer to a serious winery with a respectable portfolio of, mostly non-kosher high-end, quality labels.

The winery mainly produces wines from Garnacha (Grenache), Carinena (Carignan), Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.  The ranks of the cooperative also grew and today include over 170 members of which nearly 80 are farmers/growers, raising grapes on over 600 acres of prime grape-growing land.  While the winery produces over one million bottles a year, the kosher production is only 25,000 - 30,000 bottles annually, equaling less than 2% of the winery’s total production.  In addition to Angel, the team also includes Jürgen Wagner, a delightful young man whose talents are apparent in every drop of wine and who is also in charge of the wineries considerable export efforts.  Beside by virtue of his considerable wine making talents, Jürgen is also partially responsible for putting Capcanes on the map by being among those who initially recognized the quality of the kosher wine while he was working at a neighboring winery, and introducing an impressed American importer to the wines, leading to the production of new, non-kosher wines that the importer sold out of with little efforts, putting in motion the move towards a large, mainly non-kosher and highly successful winery.  He also happens to be among the rare breed of winemakers who are delightfully fun to engage with without very much [at least outwardly apparent] ego and a true gentleman.

As would become such a special winery, even the name of its flagship wine has a twist to it.  The first mashgiach (kosher supervisor) of the winery was of North African decent and confused his Hebrew and Arabic, translating the Spanish “Flor de Primavera (“Spring Flower”) into Peraj Ha’Abib (“Spring Lover”) instead of the correct Hebrew translation of “Perach HaAviv”.  Given the voluptuous deliciousness of this wine, the “incorrect:” translation isn’t that far off…

I first encountered the Peraj Ha’Abib shortly after I moved to New York in 2004, where it was being sold at Manhattan’s PJ Wine in limited distribution and retailing for approximately $25 a bottle.  Royal took over its distribution with the 2003 vintage, tacking on OU supervision, redesigning the label and utilizing its well-oiled distribution machine to get this incredible wine into as many wine loving kosher consumers as possible, which they did with great success.  As a result, the price also jumped to around $50 a bottle, still worth it for such a terrific wine but no longer the previously tremendous bargain it was.  Prior to Royal’s involvement nearly 80% of the kosher production was sold to the non-kosher market, whereas these days the split is closer to 50-50%, with 30% being sold in the United States and the balance distributed to 45 countries around the globe.

In 2006 the winery added a “second” wine – the Peraj Petita as an approachable, easy and ready to drink wine that was priced accordingly and to this date, remains one of the best QPR values out there, constantly hitting both my Annual Kosher Wine Buying Guide and earning a YH Best Buy badge.  Over the years they winery has upped its game and most vintages represent a far more serious wine than the price tag or its “positioning” would indicate.  In 2007 another new wine was introduced, this time at the upper level of the spectrum comprised of 100% old-vine Grenache (from 100 year-old vines) – the Flor la Flor which has been reviewed multiple times on this page (with additional releases in the 2010 and 2011 vintages).  The wine represents a far more feminine and subtly elegant wine that the Peraj Ha’Abib but remains consistent with the characteristic notes we have come to expect from the winery.  2012 saw the introduction of a Rosé and was also supposed to see a 100% old vine Carignan that I had the pleasure of tasting from the barrel but which was ultimately not released.  Hopefully a future version will be released as the quality of Capcanes’ Carignan is high and the kosher wine drinking world has certainly warmed to it (assisted by terrific versions like Recanati’s now cultish “wild” version).

After determining to augment the “typical” RCC format with a vertical tasting, there were really only three options that could provide over a decade of kosher vintages that were all still drinking nicely – the Castel Grand Vin (which I eliminated once I couldn’t find a bottle of the kosher version of the 2002 vintage), the Cabernet Sauvignon in the Golan Heights Winery’s Yarden series and the Capcanes Peraj Ha’Abib.  With 2015 being the 20th year in which Capcanes is making kosher wine, it seemed like an appropriate way to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the NY RCC.  As you will see below, the vertical proved that it remains the standard by which any ageable kosher wine should be measured since each and every one of the 13 vintages we tasted was live, kicking and still showcasing why Capcanes remains one of the greatest kosher wines in existence today, certainly when taken as a whole and despite the many worthy contenders out there continuously trying to wrench the crown from her grasp.  Listed below are full tasting notes for reach of the 13 vintages we tasted – from 2000 through 2012, which is the current release.  One thing I noticed while finalizing the notes was that the back label of vintages 2005-2012 seem surprisingly identical insomuch as the percentages of each year and the time in barrels (as some of my notes had different numbers on this).  I am following up with the winery to confirm and if anything needs to be changed, it will be reflected once this gets posted to my website in a few weeks.

Hopefully this isn’t the first encounter you are having with the winery but if it is, run as fast as you can to the local kosher wine store and buy whatever you can find that has the name “Capcanes” on it.  Then make a habit of doing so.

Shabbat Shalom,

Capcanes, Peraj Ha'abib, Flor de Primavera, Monsant, 2000:  As I have had the honor and the pleasure of enjoying this wine on a nearly regular basis for over a decade, I experience plenty of warm nostalgia as I perused my tasting notes for this wine over the last 13 years (clearly enhance by the ~$22 I paid for most of my bottles from this vintage).  A delightfully Spanish blend of 33% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, 20% Tempranillo and 20% Carignan, the wine spent a little over a year in mostly new French oak and tops out at 14.5% AbV.  Still showcasing the characteristic elegance along with layered complexity and a rich and bold structure that has receded somewhat to reveal a host of tertiary aromas along with the rich dark forest fruit, roasted coffee beans and tobacco leaf.  Plenty of acid, minerals and warm spices are in great balance and keep things interesting along with rich forest floor and the slightly minty chocolate and flinty notes.  Showing better than its slightly younger brother form 2001, the wine is amazing right now and can be enjoyed over the next 24 months, after which cellar at your own risk.

Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera, Monsant, 2001:  Having enjoyed both the previously reviewed 2000 and this wine each multiple times over the last 24 months, they are the best ambassadors the winery could have and represent poster children for the patience of aging wine.  While there has been some bottle variation with this vintage recently, it isn’t surprising 14 years after harvest and the vast majority of bottles I have tasted, including tonight’s tasting have showcased the magnificence of the Peraj Ha’Abib beautifully.  With the typical blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Carignan and Tempranillo and about 14.5% AbV, this wine is slightly past its peak and should be drunk sooner than later.  With multiple layers revealing its secrets, this wine was an unmitigated pleasure to drink and I’m sorry to be down to my last three bottles.  With a slightly subdued nose of currants, cherries, plums and boysenberries accompanied by rich dark chocolate, spicy oak and some spices and a full-bodied palate of more fruit and plenty of saddle leather, tar, spicy oak, minerals and some bitter herbal notes, the wine continues to tantalize for nearly an hour but it is clearly time to polish off any remaining bottles you may have.  Drink now.

Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera, Monsant, 2002:  Easily the best surprise of the evening as this is the one vintage that wasn’t [formally] imported into the United States and thus hadn’t been previously tasted by any of the participants.  Utilizing the traditional old vine Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan with a touch of Tempranillo through in for effect, the wine spent 12 months aging in mostly new French oak and with 14% AbV.  With a rich and expressive nose of ripe blackberry and plum along with juicy cassis and near-sweet oak, the wine showed as a fully mature and developed wine should.  With the fruit somewhat in the background, there was plenty of minerals, leather, graphite and a touch of herbal notes keeping things interesting and showing the magic of a well-aged and (I can’t express show important this is) well-stored wine.  The tannic structure of the wine remains impeccable 13 years after its creation and showcases a highly extracted fruit palate along with hints of cedar, cigar, dark chocolate, slightly burnt espresso and a hint of anise.  Rich and delicious, this wine is at its peak and should be drunk now or within the next year or so.

Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera, Monsant, 2003:  While the wine was delicious, 2003 was a bit of a letdown for me as it was the year that the price of the wine went up nearly 50%, changing it from a nearly day-today wine (as the 1999, 2000 and 2001 had been) to more of a special occasion one.  Also changing was the wine’s label but the one thing that didn’t change was its pure greatness, picking up where it had left off with a rich and robust body, layers of complexity and elegance and primo aging ability.  A blend of Grenache (40%), Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), Carignan (20%) and Tempranillo (5%), the wine was aged in new French oak for a year and yields 14.5% AbV.  Showcasing the lovely structure and oomph that is one of the hallmarks of this wine, the nose opens with plenty near-sweet, mostly black fruit including cherries, currants and plums along with blackberries, slightly toasty oak, plenty of spices and a mineral undertone that provides character.  The completely integrated tannins are still front and center supporting the rich fruit and earthy minerals, along with freshly roasted coffee beans, cedar wood and warm spices.  A nicely lingering minty chocolate loaded finish rounds out this treat but it isn’t for further aging.  Drink now.

Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera, Monsant, 2004:  2004 was the first year the wine was made without Tempranillo and was comprised of what became the now traditional blend of 35% each of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon along with 30% Carignan, all sourced from the winery’s [real] old-vines, the wine benefited from at least 12 months in new French oak barrels and presents in the substantial manner to which we are accustomed topping out at 14% AbV.  Still going strong after 11 years and a prime indicator of the ultra-supremacy of this kosher wine, certainly from a consistency and aging perspective.  A rich nose loaded with ripe black forest fruit with a tinge of blue notes and countered with spicy oak, earthy minerals, a tinge of herbaceousness all of which continues onto the full-bodied palate where the array is joined by leather, a hint of flinty graphite, Crème Anglaise, cured tobacco and rich, ever-so-slightly minty chocolate that leads into a long and mouth-filling finish loaded with near-sweet crushed berries and warm spices that lingers, seemingly forever. Still drinking very nicely, the wine has a few years of good life in it and can be enjoyed through 2017 at least.

Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera, Monsant, 2005:  Justifiably regarded as one of (if not) the best Peraj to date (although it may have its match in the 2012 – see below), the wine represents all that is good in the Wonderful World of Capcanes.  With a new label designing proclaiming the blend to be comprised of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Grenache and 30% Carignan, the wine is at 14.5% AbV and spent 12 months maturing in new French oak barrels.  To use one of my favorite descriptors, the wine is an iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove (a descriptor that fits like a glove) with robust tannins and the winery’s characteristic impeccable balance lending itself to a long and full[-bodied] life of unmitigated pleasure and serious sophistication.  With a delightfully generous nose of dense blackberries, plums, black currents, cherries, rich cassis, toasty oak, cedar and a streak of slightly bitter herbs and a tantalizing full-bodied rich palate of plenty crushed forest berries a hint of blue fruit, earthy minerals and a touch of minty chocolate on the long and lingering finish.  This is a robust and powerful wine (that unfortunately didn’t show as nicely at our tasting as it should have) that is in its prime right now and should continue to cellar nicely for through 2019, maybe longer.

Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera, Monsant, 2006:  For some reason 2006 was one of the rarest vintages as far as its availability and most of the folks at the tasting hadn’t tasted this wine.  Luckily it was amazingly similar to its older and younger siblings… J.  By the label, comprised of 35% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache along with 30% of Carignan, the wine spent 12 months aging in new French oak and pans out at 14.5% AbV.  The nose takes some time to open up and reveal its charms but it is time well worth spending with a generous mélange of black cherries, plums and currants along with slightly toasty oak, earthy minerals, black pepper and warm spices that leads into a rich and full-bodied palate of more black and some red fruit, toasty oak, plenty of underlying minerals all wrapped in robust tannins that have served (and will continue to serve) this wine well.  Plenty of good dark chocolate, cigar-box and hints of herbal notes add complexity to this treat. Drink now through 2018.

Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera, Monsant, 2007:  One of the “problems” with writing tasting notes for the same exact wine through 13 straight vintages is trying to come up with different descriptors for an amazingly consistent wine.  While the vertical tasting did showcase a number of differences between vintages (in addition to the nearly unprecedented [for a kosher wine] super aging ability), the consistency in structure, style, balance and tasting notes form vintage to vintage is pretty astounding (and a rare anomaly in a world of kosher winemakers seemingly unable to make wine consistently year after year despite being blessed with less (but still existing) vintage variation than nearly every other well-known wine-growing region).  We can dispense with the obviously unnecessary comments as to this wine’s delightful elegance, impeccable balance, complexity and sheer lusciousness along with the 35% each of Grenache and cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Carignan that spent 12 months in new French oak and is at 14.5% AbV and simply describe the delightful nose which opens up with an array of concentrated plums, cassis and cherries with underlying notes of earthiness, minerals, biting black pepper, toasty oak and baker’s chocolate, much of which continues onto the full-bodied palate where the now-integrated tannins provide a robust structure that combines the rich fruit, sweet cedar, cured tobacco leaf, minerals and warm spices along with a streak of green herbaceousness that seemingly comes out of nowhere and certainly makes itself felt.  Drink now and cellar safely through 2020 at least.

Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera, Monsant, 2008:  With the typically full-bodied structure we have come to expect and love, the wine’s label proclaims it to be a blend of 35% of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache and 30% Carignan which aged for 12 months in new French oak and ending up with 14.5% AbV.  Once poured, the wine opens up with layers of black forest fruit including plums, boysenberries, rich cassis, some hints of red fruit creeping in along with plenty of biting spicy oak, cracked pepper, mocha and wonderful rich dark chocolate than envelopes you and makes you want to leave the wine in your glass for smelling purposes if only your mouth could control itself from devouring the wine.  A rich and full-bodied palate of fruit and wood is enhanced by tantalizing hints of tobacco leaf, coffee, oriental spices and dark chocolate, leading into a lingering finish that hangs on, seemingly forever.  With great structure and robust tannins this wine was built to last, as were all of its older siblings.  Enjoyable now (although the abundance of large-format versions of this vintage ensure that we will be hearing about it for years to come as the double-magnums are not yet ready), the wine (in regular 750ml format) should cellar comfortably through 2020.

Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera, Monsant, 2009:  A quick glance at the label of this wine would not provide any indication of what lies therein.  With an identical label to the 2010-2012 vintages (35% each of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Carignan at 14.5 AbV), one expects the same signature style to be poured form the bottle.  However, the 2009 vintage was a rare and substantial deviation from Capcanes’ signature style with a dialed back subtlety and elegance along with a much lighter body that surprises at first and then tremendously delights.  The first thing that comes to mind when tasting this wine is that it might have been mislabeled and was really made of 100% old vine Grenache (ala the La Flor del Flor) as the softer and floral Grenache really stands out in this wine (while the Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan seem to dominate most vintages despite the more-or-less equal representation in the blend).  Along with the expected blackberry, dark plums and crushed black berry fruit and toasty oak, the nose of this wine was slightly sweeter than usual, along with some lavender and a whiff of floral notes that were surprising to those tasting the wine for the first time.  Concentrated black fruit on the palate (with a hint of tart red fruit as well), along with plenty of minerals, dark espresso, some cedar, wet forest floor,  and hints of herbaceousness combine to tantalize and showcase a different side of Capcanes then we had previously been away.  Coupled with the impeccable balance and structure upon which the winery has staked its reputation, this wine is among the best ever from Jürgen and is drinking delightfully now with additional development time ahead of it and should cellar nicely until 2022 at least.

Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera, Monsant, 2010:  With the 2009 representing a shift in style for Capcanes, 2010 was a clear reverse of the trend (although probably in a vintage where the complexity and restraint would have been better served as you can see form the notes) returning the rich, bold and bombastic that has garnered it so many fans over the years.  Much more approachable upon release, the wine is now very “available” and presents in a rich and satisfying manner (but was slightly disappointing to those looking for the subtle complexity of the 2009).  Once again, a blend of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Grenache and 30% Carignan at 14.5% AbV which spend 12 months in new French oak.  A nice array of black cherries, plums, cassis, spicy oak, rich leather, spicy notes and the traditional roasted espresso and dark chocolate notes envelop you in the Capcanes way and lead into a dense and full bodied palate of ripe black fruit, more toasty oak and mouth coating tannins that graceful balance behind the robust “bite” of this wine.  A lingering and near-sweet finish round out this treat.  The wine is drinking amazingly right now and with an anticipated lifespan of 2018 or so, may end up the shortest-lived Peraj Ha’Abib yet.

Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera, Monsant, 2011:  While 2010 is seemingly a little weak in the news (and was certainly the group’s least favorite of the evening), the 2011 maintains the “Capcanes Way” while also delivering on its long held promise of signature power and elegance in a delicious package.  At 15% AbV and aged for one year in new French oak and as with the 2010, the label proclaims the blend to be the identical blend of 35% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache with 30% of Carignan, but my understanding is that there might have been some variation which I am confirming with the winery; in any event all of the fruit comes from the winery’s signature old vines (some just over 100 years old).  After opening with a subdued nose and palate, the wine opened up nicely after about ½ an hour in the glass, revealing a lovely nose of blackberries, rich cassis, tart black cherry and other crushed berries along freshly roasted espresso beans, toasty spicy oak and warm spices. The near-sweet and über-rich black fruit on the full bodied palate was matched nicely by freshly cracked black pepper, earthy minerals, plenty more toasty oak which was perfectly in balance with the fruit, acid and minerals providing a delicious [almost] end to the tasting.  While enjoyable now, the wine is still a baby and could use some time to gather it thoughts and decide what it is going to be when it grows up.  I’d wait 6-12 months before opening and then comfortably enjoy through 2021, maybe longer.

Capcanes, Peraj Ha’abib, Flor de Primavera, Monsant, 2012:  Given my love of and familiarity with this wine, even if I hadn’t just tasted 12 straight vintages of it, I would have recognized it given the powerful elegance exuding from every part of the wine.  My notes below are “supplemented” by a prior tasting I did of this wine as I wanted to make sure I got it down correctly.  First off, this wine should be enshrined among the pantheon of Capcanes’ great wines as it has a tremendous future ahead of it.  Utilizing the typical component, the label proclaims the blend to be the identical 35% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache with 30% of Carignan, but my understanding is that the blend may have been slightly different (as with the 2010 and 2011 vintages), all hailing from the tremendous selection of old vines at Jürgen’s disposal.  Rich, meaty and delicious the wine has a slightly closed nose of rich black fruit accompanied by earthy minerals, grilled meat, some graphite, saddle leather, espresso, and a touch of freshly paved asphalt.  The full bodied palate shows the impeccable balance we expect from Capcanes, presenting the slightly smoked wood, ripe black fruit, slight herbal notes and more earthy minerals in a harmonious package that still needs time to integrate (and the searing tannins certainly need a few years of “togetherness” to settle down and showcase the true magnificence of the wine (which its structure ensures will come to fruition).  A long and lingering finish leaves you wanting more as it comes fully loaded with the rich chocolate and mocha from the oak and plenty of slightly bitter minerals evidencing the pleasurable road ahead.  As evidenced by this epic tasting, while doable now drinking it now would be wine-infanticide at its best (or worst, depending on how you look at it), so please wait at least 12 months before opening up and then enjoy until 2023, likely longer.

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