Monday, September 25, 2017

It’s Shavuot shopping season, and that means it’s time to break out the chilled whites wines; perhaps these bottles are your familiar favorites that go best with fish, white sauces and other dairy delicacies such as cheesecake and fresh whipped cream, but it’s nice to also take this opportunity to try new varietals. The ever-increasing number of kosher whites from all over the globe is yielding some really exciting tasting opportunities for the kosher wine drinker.

My now somewhat legendary posse of non-professional yet discriminating tasters has added a few extra members, and for this tasting I was able to bring together Rachel, Eliana, Lisa and Allyson to sample and discuss white wines provided to us by three local wine stores. Thanks to Wine Country, FillerUp Wines and Wine Land for curating our selection of whites for Shavuot.

The uncontested winner of the tasting was the Contessa Annalisa Lambrusco, a frizzante, or fizzy, semi-dry white wine that we described as a cross between a moscato and a prosecco. “This would be good with fresh raspberries,” said Rachel. “I love the fizz, and it really feels like there’s no alcoholic aftertaste or bitterness,” she added.

The wine is a pale lemon-yellow color with golden hints. It is fruity, fresh and has a lovely aromatic nose with hints of flowers, pears and apricot. It is light-tasting, but extraordinarily well-balanced, and while not overly sweet like moscato, it has a pleasant fruity finish with little to no acidity. To be clear, not all Lambruscos are alike: Lambrusco is both a region and a grape, and we learned that most wines that come from Lambrusco are not white at all, as the grape is red and the juice that comes out of it is red. Therefore, it’s likely that this particular wine comes from a blend of grapes grown in the Lambrusco region.

“I think it’s worth noting how affordable it is considering how expensive it tastes,” said Eliana. She noted after the tasting that she had just purchased several bottles of it on sale at Wine Country for $8.97, “but at its regular price of $10.99 it’s still an extraordinary deal,” she said.

There were two wines that, like our last tasting, members of my group demanded to take home, but this time, I was one of them. With this Lambrusco, I actually demanded to keep it at home, since I happened to be hosting the tasting. “I need to linger with this, and drink it as a glass of wine,” I told the group, which generally just tastes only miniscule amounts of each wine, so we can compare and contrast and go back to certain ones for comparison. “It’s so balanced and fizzy I could drink it all day.” This mevushal wine is certified kosher by the Beth Din of Paris (CIOP) and imported by The River Wine. We thank Wine Country for bringing it to our attention.

We also noted that Wine Land carries The River’s Contessa Annalisa Lambrusco Rosé for $8.99.

The second wine that made major waves at our tasting was the Lueria Roussanne. Roussanne is a white wine grape grown originally in the Rhône wine region in France, but Lueria’s vineyard is in Israel’s Upper Galilee region. The 100 percent roussanne wine come from a crop grown at the foothills of Meron Mountain, which has a unique soil structure, including chalk, basalt and terra rosa, which usually imparts minerality to wines. The wine is made using only the “free run,” that is, the first juice that flows from the grapes, without much acidity or influence of the skins or wood clusters from the grape vines.

“If you like red wine like I do, this is lighter than a red but with that robustness,” said Eliana. “It is dry and drinkable, and it has an interesting, unique minerality,” she added. I hasten to add that this is the second of only two bottles that our tasters felt the need to take home; and Eliana took this one home. Thanks to FillerUp Wines for placing it in our tasting. Lueria Roussanne, non-mevushal and OU, is imported by Red Garden Inc.

Clearly, the most talked about wine at our tasting was another selection from The River Wine, this time the California chardonnay made by the former kosher garagistas (small-batch winemakers), Gabriel and Shimon Weiss, who are famous for their high-end label Shirah Wine. The reason we talked about it so long was because there was a fruit element present that none of us had ever tasted in wine before. “All I am getting is banana,” said Lisa. “Is it a Laffy Taffy banana, or a real banana?” asked Eliana. “Now that you said ‘banana’ I can’t think about anything else,” said Allyson.

“The nose is great,” said Eliana, noting that the taste on the tongue differed greatly from the nose, or the scent. Overall, however, we found it smooth, crisp and light, and one of the most unique and fun chardonnays any of us have ever tasted. It is mevushal and certified by the OU. Thanks to Wine Land for adding it to our tasting, and we note that it was one of the most affordable of our selections; Wine Land has priced it at $11.99.

The second wine contributed by Wine Country was another California wine, but essentially the total opposite of a dry chardonnay. The Herzog Late Harvest Monterey County White Riesling (2015) is a deep, sweet fruity dessert wine. “I like sweet wines, and we drink it throughout our Shabbat meals, and so for me this is a nice change from our usual Bartenura Moscato,” said Lisa. “This would be great for people having a cheese plate during Shavuot,” suggested Rachel. The price is $20.

This Late Harvest White Riesling was described as having dried apricot and baked apple aromas, and since it is heavier than many other wines in terms of “syrupiness,” or viscosity, we hasten to suggest it as a accompaniment for lighter fruit-based desserts, or at most, paired with a cheesecake topped with sour cherries or a passionfruit sauce. This was also the lowest in alcohol of all of the wines we tasted, at 8.5 percent. This wine is mevushal and certified by the OU.

The most straightforward white wine, “the best gift idea, a really safe bet,” said Allyson, was the Adir Winery Kerem Ben Zimra Sauvignon Blanc, which was provided to us by FillerUp. “This is dry but fruity, but the fruit is not overpowering,” said Allyson. “There is no aftertaste; no bitterness,” she added. This mevushal wine is also from Israel’s Upper Galilee like Lueria’s Roussanne. “It almost feels like there’s no alcohol at all in it,” said Eliana. We described this wine as a restrained and complex bouquet with hints of grapefruit or tropical citrus with a small essence of grass or woodsiness. We considered this an elegant wine that would accompany many types of food very well, including pasta with red sauces, anything spicy or even a white-meat dish like roast chicken. Both the Lueria Roussanne and the Adir Sauvignon Blanc are priced at $26.99, with a price of $21.99 per bottle with the purchase of a mixed case at FillerUp.

The last wine we had the opportunity to enjoy, this one again recommended by Wine Land, was the incomparable Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc. This New Zealand wine achieved a score of 90 by Wine Spectator, which scales wine on a 100-point scale. This Sauvignon Blanc wine has the typical “kiwi” New Zealand snap back, essentially a blast of citrus that the taster notes only as he or she swallows, and is, in some ways, similar to the O’Dwyers Creek Sauvignon Blanc, which is also from New Zealand. “But this [the Goose Bay’s] snap back doesn’t punch you in the face,” joked Rachel. It is lighter, and crisp and just utterly smooth and enjoyable. “The grapefruit pith flavor is so good, and so refreshing,” added Rachel. The Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc is available at Wine Land for $16.99.

Thanks again to our partners at Wine Country (89 Newbridge Road, Bergenfield) for contributing the Contessa Annalisa Lambrusco and the Herzog Late Harvest White Riesling. Thanks to FillerUp (174 West Englewood Avenue, Teaneck) for contributing the Lueria Roussanne and the Adir Kerem Ben Zimra Sauvignon Blanc. Thanks to Wine Land (247 Degraw Avenue, formerly Queen Anne Wine and Liquor) for contributing the Twin Suns Chardonnay and the Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc.

By Elizabeth Kratz