It's WBW time again, and I'm pleased to be hosting this month's theme, Fine Kosher Wines. As I said in my original theme announcement, Jeff Morgan & Les Rudd's Covenant Cabernets from Napa opened my eyes to the fact that Kosher wines could be made exceptionally well in the right hands. And after meeting tasting through the wines with Jeff Morgan, Brian McGonigle of Indy Wines, and Alder from Vinography, I gained a whole new level of appreciation for anyone that can make superior wine under the constraints of the very fundamentals of Kosher winemaking. In some ways it's like making wine with both hands tied behind your back. Because the acts of picking, crushing, bottling, adjustments, etc., have to be undertaken by a Sabbath observant Jew, someone like Jeff, who is Jewish but isn't as strict as he would need to be to qualify his wines as Kosher, can do very little hands-on winemaking. Fortunately, he has both David Ramey as lead consultant and Jonathan Hajdu (who's observant) as associate winemaker. Jonathan was a cellermaster at Herzog, where the first few years of the Covenant wines were vintified.
Another major factor in making Kosher wine is the Jewish holiday schedule or the sun down of the friday Sabbath, that can interrupt the process. Careful planning has to take place ahead of time so that all the observant pickers and cellar workers are available when the grapes are ripe and all the grapes are crushed before sun down on Friday. For instance, in the 2004 harvest period, when other Napa growers were picking, there were three holidays that needed to be worked around. Thu. 16 September 2004 was Rosh HaShanah, Sat. 25 September 2004 was Yom Kippur and many people in Napa were still picking on Thu. 30 September 2004 which was Sukkot. Take out 4 friday nights and Saturdays too, and you have very few full days in September to work. Jeff told us that there were crushes that started very early in the morning and finished just as the sun was setting!
Because these wines are non-Mevushal, (i.e., not boiled or pasteurized) once a non-observant Jew, or a lowly gentile like me pours the wines, they are no longer Kosher. Wine bottles can be handled and transported by non-observers, but can't be opened or poured by them.
On to the wines. I do hope everyone got a better handle on what makes a Kosher wine Kosher, and I'm anxious to read everyone's findings. I know a few bloggers were planning to visit other Kosher wineries (that in itself posed a challenge as the were closed for Passover, of course, once it started on the 7th).
2006 Red C
This has a gentler oaking than the Covenant wines below due to using recycled barrels from the regular Covenant bottlings. Though not as chewy as the grander bottlings,but lots of blueberry, licorice, and mushroom/forest floor scents are present. Fruit-forward on the palate to balance some of the heat from the alcohol.
2006 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Nice bit of cherry pie , mint, and cola to the nose. Boysenberry flavors, licorice, and menthol on the palate with pretty, soft tannins.
2005 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
Much spicier nose with fine grained tannins. This had a larger yield and the wine is more herbal tinged than any of the other vintages.
2004 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
My favorite of the vintages we tried, partly because it is nicely matured at this point and is drinking well. Lots of blue fruit on the nose, with a pleasant bit of menthol and herbs. Great balance between the fruit and oak. Recommended.
2003 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
There were huge spikes of heat in 2003 (as well as in 2007) and the heat added to the richness and darker tannins in this one. Quite floral on the nose, like lily, with mushroom/umami flavors.
Also watch out for the 2008, which we tried in barrel, it was very rich and has good potential.
Thanks again to Lenn, Tim, and all you participants out there in the 'sphere. Check back this weekend for the wrap-up!