Kosher Quickie

We're two nights deep into Chanukah and it feels like the right time to talk about kosher wine.  I ended up sipping on the 'schewitz last night due to an unfortunately corked kosher wine incident at my friend's place, which got me thinking about kosher wines in general.  Now, while Manischewitz is the O.G. kosher wine, it has a reputation for its infamously sweet, grape-y flavor.  It's fruit juice for big kids and while some doth protest about drinking it, secretly everyone has a soft spot for Manny.

Photo courtesy of maneschewitzwine.com

Photo courtesy of maneschewitzwine.com

 

However, there is a whole world of kosher wine to explore and while I'm not familiar with any particular wines, I find the kosher approach fascinating.

Kosher wines can be certified in one of two ways: Meshuval or Non-meshuval.  Both wines must be harvested by observant Jews and have production overseen by a rabbi. However, meshuval wines go through a process where they are quickly heated to boiling point then cooled; essentially, they are considered pasturized wines.  While there is concern that flash heating a wine in that manner will cook it, newer technology ensures that for the most part, quality will not be compromised.   If a wine is meshuval, anyone can handle and serve the wine (read: non-Jews). 

On the other hand, non-meshuval wines do not go through the pasturization process and therefore must only be handled and served by observant Jews. In Orthodox and Hasidic communities this probably isn't a major concern but talk about staffing issues if you leave the neigborhood.  

I'm interested in trying out some of these kosher wines.  Does anyone out there have any experiences to share or wines to recommend? 

 

 

Holiday Prep with Chateau Frank

We're only a week into the holiday season but don't be fooled; time is going to fly.  While Christmas music still prompts an urge to sing along and the onslaught of holiday festivities hasn't reached its apex, now's the time to think about holiday beverages.

Whether you're looking for a hostess gift or something to serve at your own table, bubbly is always appropriate. While Champagne is a classic, I urge you to think domestic; specifically, the Chateau Frank Celebre Rose, Finger Lakes, NY, NV.  

Dr. Konstantin Frank is credited as one of the forefathers of Finger Lakes wines.  Merely ten years after immigrating to the US, he partnered with Charles Fournier and began producing quality wines in an area previously considered to be unsuitable for vineyard growth.  He believed, and rightly so, that it was the rootstock, not the climate, that was the cause of mediocre wines.  By growing European Vitis Vinifera, as opposed to the native Vitis Labrusca, he proved that this Northern New York territory could produce some stunning vino. 

Years later, Dr. Frank's son Willy, gifted with his father's pioneering spirit, started Chateau Frank, a label devoted specifically to sparkling wines.  Located down the road from the main winery, Chateau Frank inhabits an old winery that the previous owners converted into a champagne cellar.   Carved out deep below ground, the cellar provides the perfect cool environment essential for champagne storage.  Like his father, Willy believed that traditional varietals would thrive in the Finger Lakes climate, so he began growing the three classic Champagne grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Again, turning to France, he mirrored the methode champenoise, the traditional method for creating champagne, to great results. 

Chateau Frank Celebre Rose, Finger Lakes, NY, NY. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Chateau Frank Celebre Rose, Finger Lakes, NY, NY. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

The Celebre Rose showcases ripe strawberry and cherry with a hint of kiwi on the nose.  A slight note of bread is also present in the aromatics, showing the traditional champagne method in action.  Sipping through, the berries are bright and lively and the soft bubbles are texturally pleasing on the tongue.  Delicious as an apertif or with fruit-based dishes such as cranberry sauce, this bubbly is a winner for the holidays.

Shalom Japan

Fusion cuisine has been around for decades; back in the eighties, it was the haute cuisine of the rich and trendy and was as nouveau as its clientele's money.  Many restaurants adapted this style of cooking, bringing bold flavors to traditional American dishes. Over time it became rather dated, as trends tend to do, and palates veered off into other directions.  However, there is a small, unassuming restaurant in South Williamsburg that is making diners rethink fusion.  The homey feel of the place suggests the current trend of farm-to-table Americana but there is a different kind of comfort food going on in the kitchen.  Two cultures, where food has strong ties to traditions, are melding together in unique and exciting dishes; this restaurant, Shalom Japan, a Jewish-Japanese mashup, served one of the best meals I've had in a while.  

The food, an ode to the 2 chef/owners' backgrounds, tries not to take itself too seriously.  In order to set the mood, take a trip to the bathroom, just to get a viewing of this:

 

Shalom Japan's bathroom deco.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Shalom Japan's bathroom deco.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Got it?

 The wine list is unique, with several options not often seen on a menu.  Slovenia, Serbia and other Eastern Europian nations were represented alongside France, Italy and California.

Milijan Jelic, Morava, Serbia, 2011.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Milijan Jelic, Morava, Serbia, 2011.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

We opted for this Milijan Jelic, Morava, Serbia, 2011. It was rather herbaceous and mineral-driven upon first sniffs, but then a slight floral quality, as well as ripe peach, came through.  Once we started drinking it, the slate and mineral qualities became more prominent. There was a moderate amount of acidity but nothing too punchy. 

Once settled with our wine selection, we turned to the food.  A sign of a good restaurant is the bread basket and although it wasn't gratis, the sake kasu challah was warm and eggy, exactly as challah should be.

Next up were the veal head croquettes with aioli and mustard greens.  Although the meat wasn't discernable from other meat-filled croquettes, the nearly greaseless orbs were balanced with the vegetation they sat upon. 

But oh, those croquettes took a backseat the Okonomiyaki, which was probably the best dish of the night.  An okonomiyaki, meaning "as you like it," is a traditional savory pancake with a variety of ingredients either added on top or incorporated into the batter, then topped topped with some type of salty-sweet sauce.   This particular variation had corned lamb's tongue, saurkraut (a clever twist on the traditional cabbage often found in the pancake) and bonito.  It was like an open faced corned-beef sandwich on crack; almost too rich, my mouth kept wavering between the unctuousness of the lamb, the crisp exterior and gooey interior of the pancake, the sweetness of the sauce and bitterness of the saurkraut. 

For entrees, we opted for the Shana Tova Duck and the Lox Bowl. For non-tribal members, Shana Tova is the traditional new year greeting during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.  During this holiday, one is wished a sweet new year and apples dipped in honey is found at every holiday table.  This cleverly named and interpreted dish contained slices of tender duck breast and roasted root vegetables, balanced with yup, roasted apples and honey. A perfect autumn dish, my only critique was that the duck skin could have been a little crisper.

The Lox Bowl, the other entree, was a light and refreshing counterbalance to the duck.  Silky slices of cured salmon draped over a mountain of white rice, with cucumber, seaweed, japanese pickle and some salmon roe.  It was a massive bowl of Jewish sushi.  The umami of the seaweed and pickles was such a revelation when eating it; as much sushi as I've eaten in my life, I've never had the elements come together as perfectly as this.  My only note was that there was an excessive amount of rice; we ate only about a third of it but it became monotonous once all the goodies on top were gone. 

Of course we're stuffed but of course we order dessert. And how could you not when Shalom Japan serves on of the best bread puddings EVER? Chocolate challah bread pudding with a caramel and whiskey sauce.  I can't even describe it without drooling. Just know that you need to order it.  No debating. 

Interested in checking out Shalom Japan for yourself? Visit the New York restaurants page on OpenTable for reservations to this delicious joint. 

Walla Walla Washington Wines, Day 2 - Afternoon Revelry

Revived after a delicious lunch, I continued my tour with a stop at Mark Ryan.  Don't be fooled by the quaint vintage scooter in the front of the shop  - this place is gunning to be badass.

 

Mark Ryan's vintage scooter.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Mark Ryan's vintage scooter.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Case in point: the Numbskull BDX, Walla Walla, 2012.  Like the skulls on the label, the wine was bone-dry (come on, you can't say you didn't see that coming), with some grippy tannins.  It was lighter in body than expected, especially given the blend, but I think this will develop more nuances as it ages. 

Mark Ryan Numbskull.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Mark Ryan Numbskull.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The Lost Soul wasn't available for tasting but was substituted with the Wild Eyed, Red Mountain, 2012. The 100% Syrah had a plethora of ripe berries up front but was balanced with the spice one comes to expect from a Syrah.

Mark Ryan Wild Eyed. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Mark Ryan Wild Eyed. Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The Long Haul, Red Mountain, 2012, was appropriately named, as it definitely needed some aging in order to reach its fullest potential. Delicious notes of leather, tobacco and spice were already coming through on this Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot blend but these only hinted at the potential heights this wine could reach.

Mark Ryan Long Haul.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Mark Ryan Long Haul.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Last in the lineup was the Dead Horse, Red Mountain, 2012.  Comprised predominately of Cabernet Sauvignon, there was a surprising restraint to the fruit with leather and smoke rounding out the glass.

Mark Ryan Dead Horse.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Mark Ryan Dead Horse.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Like G. Cuneo, another winery that takes its cues from Old World regions is Rotie Cellars, which, if not apparent from the name, models itself on Rhone blends. Here, I found some shining wines that exemplify the quality wines Washington State is capable of producing. 

For whites, I was drawn to the Southern White, 2013, a Viogner/Roussanne/Marsanne blend that pranced in my mouth with honeysuckle, peach, lime and zippy acidity. 

 

Rotie Cellars Southern White, 2013.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Rotie Cellars Southern White, 2013.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Their Southern Blend, 2012, was also a standout for me.  A traditional GSM blend (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre, if you want to spell it out), the raspberry and currant fruit blended easily with the savory gaminess in this wine. It had the slight edge over their Northern Blend, 2012, a Syrah-dominant red that hinted at black fruit along with minerality, cocoa, spice and again, a certain meaty quality.  There was a freshness to the Southern Blend that made it more accessible.

Rotie Cellars Southern Blend, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Rotie Cellars Southern Blend, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The Swordfight, 2012, was another gem in the lineup. 50% Mourvedre/50% Syrah, my nose immediately picked up sweet baking spices, cumin and black cherry.  Sipping through, there were noticeable tannins and a bright cherry on the long finish.  I could see this really shining with some food. 

Rotie Cellars Swordfight, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Rotie Cellars Swordfight, 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

My favorite of the group though, was an unusual one:  the Dre, 2012.  Made from 100% Mourvedre, which isn't often seen, there was a spicy n' sweet tension of white pepper and cumin, along with a Luden's cough drop cherry note to it.  Sounds weird but the complexity kept revealing itself with each sip. It needed aging time, no question, but overall I found it weirdly compelling. As a side note, I so love the rebel bad-boy element on display in some of these Washington State wine names and labels. 

Rotie Cellars "Dre" 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Rotie Cellars "Dre" 2012.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Moving on, I arrived at Maison Bleue, another winery that is making a name for itself with Rhone blends.

The Maison Bleue lineup.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

The Maison Bleue lineup.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

My favorite was the Liberte, Syrah, 2011. Blackberry, overripe raspberry, spice, licorice and smoked meats made this a standout Syrah. 

Maison Bleue Syrah, 2011.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Maison Bleue Syrah, 2011.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The final winery of the trip was Spring Valley.  While I enjoyed their extensive lineup, what stood out the most for me were the bottle labels.  Featuring vintage photos of family members, they were a a unique tribute to the history of the winery. 

 

My favorite label - isn't she sassy? Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

My favorite label - isn't she sassy? Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

In general, Walla Walla is producing some great wines, marrying their unique terroir with traditional blends, offbeat single varietals, and a cornicopia of Old World Grapes.  I'm eager to see how this region develops as I see it becoming a major force in the wine industry.

 

Keep tasting, friends...