My recent visit to the United States, the goal of which was entirely to taste and re-taste kosher wines for my upcoming book, had me primarily in California and New York. Considering that Royal Wines (Herzog, Baron Herzog, Weinstock, Kedem and others) is the largest producer of kosher wines into North America and also serves as the importer of several hundred kosher wines from France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Hungary and other European nations, it was only logical that a good deal of my tasting time was passed at the Oxnard winery of Herzog and at the Royal Wine headquarters in Bayonne, New Jersey.
This first post resulting from that trip will be devoted entirely to the various California produced Herzog wines. I also visited each of the other kosher wineries in California and separate posts will be made for those tastings. More than that, I attended two kosher wine extravaganzas organized by Royal – one in Oxnard and one in Manhattan, there not only to sign copies of the 2009 edition of my Israeli wine book but to taste a great many imported wines. In truth, I found both of those events quite cultured, the audience ranging from the ultra-religious to the not-at-all religious and even quite a few who were not Jewish, those ranging in age from early 20's to late 80's and from the extremely knowledgeable to wine beginners. Indeed, in a setting where both mevushal and non-mevushal wines have to be poured only by the Sabbath observant a certain amount of confusion and time-lag is to be expected but this was handled well and with grace.
Both events were open during the early hours to the trade and the press and later in the evening to the general public. As is my wont at such events, I arrived quite early in order to do as much tasting as possible as early as possible. As is not my wont, I stayed until the very end of each event, that largely because it was possible to meet with many of the general audience as well as (to my great pleasure) quite a large representation of our forum. Chuckling as I recall that I was interviewed by some nine newspapers and magazines, did a radio broadcast and yes, by heaven, even a 38 minute t.v. appearance with Gary Vaynerchuck who turns out to be every bit as hyperactive but absolutely charming as he appears on his broadcasts.
My sincere thanks to all of the people of Royal for their warm welcome and many courtesies during my visit. Thanks especially to talented winemaker Joe Hurliman for excellent tastings and his good company; to Shirley Weinstein for her patience and competence in helping me make arrangements of all kinds on this complex trip and to David, Nathan and Joseph Herzog not only for their courtesies and good company but for allowing me to tease them about the bacon and eggs that I had for breakfast almost every day. A very special thanks to Jay Buchsbaum, not only for sharing a lunch of kishke, specials, potato salad and other goodies at a downtown kosher deli, but for his assistance in many cases as well as for his good humor and good company. Oh yes – several warm hugs and a resounding "bravo" are assuredly in order to Todd Aarons, the chef at Tierra Sur restaurant (located in the Oxnard Winery), for his is most assuredly now the best kosher restaurant in the USA and perhaps in the world. That, however, will be the subject of several newspaper articles and a special post here in the near future.
As a point of information, the Herzog's Oxnard facility is indeed a state-of-the-art winery currently producing about 180,000 cases and moving up to 200,000 cases (2,160,000 -2,400,000 bottles) annually. Another important note – as many of the better Israeli wineries are moving away from wines that are mevushal (flash pasteurized), the Herzog and Baron Herzog wines are moving more deeply in the direction of flash pasteurization. In the case of the whites, it is the must and not the wines that are flash pasteurized and in the case of the reds, although it is the wines that undergo this process modern proprietary (and thus somewhat secret although perfectly acceptable according to the halachic rules) methods seem to be successfully avoiding many of the pitfalls that we have come to associate with this process. That change was much a positive surprise to me. Not only is this reflected in the tasting notes but in projected drinking windows. I need to do a bit of discrete spying to learn more about these methods.
My apologies for the long introduction but it seemed necessary. And now, after all of that – the tasting notes. Be there no question but that the upper-level Herzog wines have comfortably attained world-class quality and that the lower level wines have risen dramatically in quality. As might be said – the lord loves the combination of good terroir and a fine winemaker.
Herzog – Generation VIII, Special Reserve and Limited Edition Wines
Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Generation VIII, To Kalon, Napa, 2006: A single-vineard release, at this stage of its development a literal blockbuster, almost impenetrably dark garnet in color, opening with firm tannins and nearly intense spices and oak. Given time in the glass shows fine balance and structure, the wood and tannins yielding comfortably to blackcurrants, blackberries, and an abundance of chocolate, all lingering long and comfortably on the palate. Give this one the time it deserves and it will show black cherry and perhaps even note of raspberries and red licorice, the winemaker wisely letting the terroir of the vineyard show its best. Destined for polished elegance. Drink now if you must but best from 2011-2018, perhaps longer. Score 94. K
Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Generation VIII, North Coast, California, 2004: Made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Napa and the Chalk Hill's Warnecke vineyard, oak aged for 23 months in French oak. Showing spicy and toasty oak notes, softly mouth-coating tannins and opening to reveal a fine array of blackberry, currant and red plums, those supported nicely by hints of espresso coffee and vanilla. Long and generous. Drink now-2012. Score 91. K
Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Single Vineyard, Haystack Peak Vineyard, Atlas Peak, 2007 (Advance Tasting): Dark, intense and concentrated but maintaining its stylishness and elegance. Oak aged for 14 months, showing medium- to full-bodied (leaning towards the full), with hints of grilled herbs and black olives that play nicely together with ripe currant and black cherry fruits. As the wine matures look for notes of tobacco and graphite here, those settling in to a very long and satisfying finish. Best from release-2014. Score 93. K
Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley, 2005: Deeply aromatic, full-bodied, with silky tannins settling in nicely to show a gentle hand with the wood. On the nose and palate blackberry, blackcurrant and purple plums, those matched nicely by notes of spicy cedar wood. Long and elegant. Drink now-2013. Score 91. K
Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Napa Valley, 2005: Dark garnet, medium- to full-bodied, with soft tannins and lightly spicy wood integrated nicely to highlight traditional Cabernet aromas and flavors of blackcurrants, blackberry and black cherry fruits, those complemented nicely by notes of toasted rye bread and, on the long finish, notes of Oriental spices. Drink now-2011. Score 90. K
Herzog, Special Edition, Cabernet Sauvignon, Warnecke Vineyard, Chalk Hill, 2005: Deep, almost inky garnet in color, full-bodied, showing generous but gently mouth-coating tannins. With a nose redolent of dark chocolate, licorice and berries, opens to reveal a generous array of currant and blackberry fruits, those highlighted by notes of black pepper and oriental spices and, on the long finish an appealing hint of eucalyptus. Rich and concentrated. Drink now-2013. Score 92. K
Herzog, Merlot, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley, 2006: Full-bodied, with generous oak influences and soft tannins in fine proportion to fruits and acidity. On first attack black fruits, those yielding comfortably to notes of wild berries and espresso coffee and, on the finish hints of strawberries and milk chocolate. Long and mouth-filling. Drink now-2011. Score 90. K
Herzog, Merlot, Special Reserve, Alexander Valley, 2005: Garnet towards royal purple, medium-bodied, with soft tannins and a gentle hint of spicy oak. On the nose and palate blackberries, blueberries and cassis, those complemented by hints of spices, vanilla and white pepper. Drink now-2010. Score 89. K
Herzog, Syrah, Special Reserve, Edna Valley, 2005: Full-bodied, with generous wood and tannins integrated nicely to highlight and not hide aromas and flavors of red berries, cherries, peppermint and spring flowers, those complemented by notes of peppermint and spicy oak. A long and generous finish. Drink now-2012. Score 90. K
Herzog, Pinot Noir, Special Reserve, Edna Valley, 2006: Garnet towards royal purple, medium-bodied, with soft tannins and a gentle hint of wood. On the nose and palate wild berry, black and red cherries and a hint of lightly toasted rye bread. Drink now-2012. Score 89. K
Herzog, Pinot Noir, Special Reserve, Edna Valley, 2005: Ruby towards garnet, medium-bodied, a delicate Burgundy style wine showing gently caressing tannins and opening to reveal cherry, wild berry, and light spices, all lingering long and comfortably. Drink now-2012. Score 90. K
Herzog, Zinfandel, Special Reserve, Lodi, 2006: Dark garnet, full-bodied, deep and concentrated with still intense tannins and wood waiting to settle down but showing fine balance and structure that bode well for the future. On the nose and palate blackberry, purple plum, spices and peppermint, all coming together in a long, mouth-filling finish. Drink now-2012. Score 90. K
Herzog, Petite Sirah, Limited Edition, Lodi, 2005: Opens with a near-sweet plum and berry nose, goes on to reveal full-body with somewhat rustic, country-style tannins. On the nose and palate intense and peppery with generous wild berry, dried date and cedary wood notes, those supported by a hint of vanilla that runs through to the long finish. Drink now-2011. Score 89. K
Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel-Syrah, Special Reserve, California, 2005: As has become the tradition, a wine based on grapes from three different vineyards (Napa, Watts and Edna Valley this year). A blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Zinfandel and 3% Syrah, each grape vinified separately in American oak for about 14 months and then blended before bottling. Full-bodied, with still firm tannins needing time to settle down, and generous vanilla and toast from the wood but opening to show generous wild berry, black currant and purple plums, those on an appealingly spicy background. Drink now-2012 but worth decanting for about an hour. Score 90. K
Herzog, Chardonnay, Special Reserve, Russian River Valley, 2006: Light gold with orange tints, full-bodied, with generous oak and citrus on first attack, those opening to reveal appealing nutty and stony mineral overlays, all leading to a near buttery finish. Drink now. Score 89. K
Herzog, Zin Gris, Special Reserve, Lodi, 2007: Cherry red in color, a dry, lightly oaked rosé showing raspberry, strawberry and cedar notes, those set off nicely by a hint of white pepper. Generous and long for a rosé. Drink now. Score 87. K
Herzog – Late Harvest Wines
Herzog, Zinfandel, Late Harvest, 2007: Pale cherry red, a generously sweet full-bodied dessert red showing ripe, almost jammy cherry and berry fruits, the sweetness nicely balanced by lively acidity. Perhaps not for everyone but indeed, as Mr Lincoln said: "this is the kind of thing that people who like this kind of thing will like". Drink now. Score 85. K
Herzog, Chenin Blanc, Late Harvest, Clarksberg, 2007: Light gold with orange tints, full-bodied and generously sweet with good acidity to keep the wine lively. A fine effort, rich and generous with dried apricot and yellow peaches on first attack, those yielding to notes of mango and ginger, all overlaid with light hints of ginger and blanched almonds. Long and generous. Fine with goose liver dishes or as a dessert wine. Drink now-2013, perhaps longer. Score 90. K
Herzog, White Riesling, Late Harvest, Monterey County, 2007: Moderate sweetness set off by good balancing acidity and showing rich floral, citrus and citrus peel and caramel notes, those supported nicely by spicy and light petrol notes. Concentrated and well done. Drink now-2014. Score 91. K
Baron Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Jeunesse, California, 2007: Deep purple in color, light in body, semi-sweet, with soft, almost unfelt tannins and generous red berry and cherry fruits, a simple quaffer, best served lightly chilled. An entry level quaffer for those just switching over to wine. Drink up. Score 84. K
Baron Herzog, Black Muscat, California, 2007: Unambiguously sweet, almost fire-engine red in color, a not-at-all complex little red, somewhat more sophisticated than most Kiddush wines. Drink now. Score 83. K
Baron Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast, 2006: Lightly oaked, dark garnet in color, full-bodied and with caressing tannins. On the nose and palate appealing wild berry, black currant and licorice notes, all lingering nicely on the finish. Drink now-2011. Score 88. K
Baron Herzog, Merlot, Paso Robles, 2005: Medium- to full-bodied, garnet towards royal purple in color, with soft, well-integrated oak and gently mouth-coating tannins. On the nose and palate red currants, wild berries, and notes of espresso coffee. Long and generous. Drink now. Score 88. K
Baron Herzog, Syrah/Shiraz, California, 2007: So named, I suppose, to avoid or add to the confusion on the part of Americans but that's fair enough. Dark royal purple, medium-bodied, with soft tannins and a gentle hand with the oak and showing an array of blackberries, blueberries and currants, those with notes of spicy oak and, on the moderately long finish, a hint of bittersweet chocolate. Drink now-2011. Score 88 K
Baron Herzog, Zinfandel, Old Vine, Lodi, 2006: Dark garnet in color, with soft tannins integrated nicely to show red plum, wild berry and light leathery and spicy overtones. Round and moderately long Drink now. Score 86. K
Baron Herzog, Chardonnay, Central Coast, 2007: Light gold, medium-bodied, with good balancing acidity and showing grapefruit peel, green apple and mineral notes, all with an appealing light overtone of bitter herbs. Drink now. Score 86. K
Baron Herzog, Chenin Blanc, Clarksville, 2007: Ripe and forward, with melon, apple, peach and gooseberry fruits. Light golden in color, medium-bodied and with a fruit-forward nose leading to a round, lightly nutty finish. Drink now. Score 88. K
Baron Herzog, Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara, 2007: Light glistening gold in color, medium-bodied, with lively acidity and showing citrus, melon and green apple notes. Not complex but generous and easy to drink. Score 85. K
Baron Herzog, White Zinfandel, California, 2007: Blushing peach in color, off-dry with good balancing acidity, a not-at-all complex but pleasant White Zin with strawberry, raspberry and Granny Smith apples on the nose and palate. An acceptable entry level wine, especially for those who enjoy cotton candy. Drink now. Score 84. K
Weinstock, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 2004: Deep garnet towards royal purple, full-bodied, with soft tannins and gentle wood integrated nicely and opening to show generous currant and berry fruits. Round and easy to drink. Drink now. Score 87. K
Weinstock, Zinfandel, Cellar Select, Lodi, 2004: Blended with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon, starts off rather harshly on the palate but don't let that discourage you for after a few minutes in the glass the tannins soften and the initial almost searing intensity resides nicely. With deep tannins parting to reveal generous jammy berries and leathery, almost gamey notes along with hints of pepper, tobacco and bittersweet chocolate. Drinking beautifully now but not for much further cellaring. Drink now-2010. Score 89. K
Weinstock, Red by "W", Caliofornia, 2007: Dark ruby towards garnet, medium-bodied, with soft tannins, an aromatic wine showing raspberry, blackberry and pomegranate aromas and flavors. Not complex but a good quaffer. Drink now. Score 85. K
Weinstock, White by "W", California, 2008: A blend of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and white Muscat grapes Light- to medium-bodied, light golden straw with a hint of green and simple but appealing apple, pineapple and greengage plum flavors. A simple but pleasant entry-level quaffer. Drink now. Score 84. K
Weinstock, Cellar Selection, Sauvignon Blanc, Central Coast, 2007: Dark golden straw in color, with fresh aromas and flavors of citrus, apricots and apples on first attack, those going to pear and red grapefruit and hints of spice and eucalyptus. Drink now. Score 88. K
Waterford, Sauvignon Blanc, Livermore Reserve, Central Coast, 2007: Deeply aromatic, rich with earthy minerals and opening to show appealing spring flowers, gooseberries and grapefruit peel notes, those highlighted by light grassy overtones and, on the long finish a hint of white peaches. Drink now. Score 89. K
Three Special Tastings – One Experimental and Two Older Vintages
Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Clonal Project, 2007 (Barrel Tasting): Still an experimental wine but what a gorgeous experiment in making wines from low yield vines from a single clone in a single vineyard. At this stage of its development full-bodied, concentrated and deeply tannic but already showing fine balance and structure that bode well for the future. On the nose and palate ripe cherries and raspberries, those followed by red currants, those with a light and tantalizing hint of celery root. Destined not so much for elegance as to be a powerful blockbuster. I will follow this one with great care. Best 2011-2016, perhaps longer. Tentative Score 92-94. K
Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Reserve, Napa, 2000: Dark garnet red, medium- to full-bodied, with once firm tannins now well integrated. On the nose and palate blackcurrants, blackberries, sweet cedar wood and a hint of chocolate along with a note of Mediterranean herbs. Mature and drinking nicely (outliving my original prediction). Drink now or in the next year or so. Score 89. K
Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Edition, Warneke Vineyard, Chalk Hill, 2000: Full bodied, dark garnet, showing generous but soft and well integrated tannins and an appealing array of currant, berry, cherry and cedar flavors and aromas, all with just the right touch of the oak and a long spicy-vanilla finish. Drink now-2010. Score 92. K