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Wine Blogging Wednesday 56–Wine by Herzog: Kosher & Green

April 24, 2009

wbw-new1Until my visit yesterday to Herzog Winery’s Tasting Room, I had no idea that Kosher wine could be so fine and so green at the same time!

The ten year old facility looks brand new; it’s impressive, state of the art, and well laid out to serve a variety of functions from small, intimate tastings and classes to inside and outside hosted meetings. The public rooms have high ceilings, possibly 30 feet or more, but it’s well sound proofed with inviting lighting and nice appointments throughout–not overly done and decorated but classy and comfortable. How green the building is will be a question for my next visit.

When we walked in, we were greeted by receptionists at the counter as if we were at a major business–which we were! To the right is the business side of the winery and to the left the eating and drinking side–where we were headed. A self guided tour takes visitors upstairs where fine art hangs and to see the rest of the facility. Guided tours are also available.

The wine store is well stocked with jams, mustard, wine stuff, and lots and lots of wine which they are more than happy to sell. We were surprised by the international wines on display; the tasting room host told us that Herzog is the biggest importer and distributor of Kosher wines in the world. Amazing–we had no idea that the business was so big. They also import and distribute Kosher Cognac and other spirits.

Our host, David, was friendly, personable, and knowledgeable which we appreciated since we had hoped to attend a $10 wine tasting class that night which was sold out. Later when people left the class, they were pleased with what they’d learned and immediately came to the counter to taste more and make some purchases.

Herzog offers two levels of tastings. Suite 1 is $3 and features Baron Herzog label while the $6 flight shows off their reserve label.

We went for the higher end reserve tasting. Overall, the wines were well balanced, with nice clarity and color, reasonable alcohol content, some nice light oak, and they go well with food. Since it was Earth Day, we were also happy to learn that most of the vineyards from which they get their juice use sustainable practices.

We started with a Zin Gris, a true rose of Lodi zinfandel. While pleasant, refreshing and full of strawberry flavors and mild oak, for $18, I would rather get something sparkling and pink. This would be a fun wine for a hot afternoon, cheese and crackers, fruit, or other appetizers, or a salad with light flavors.

Next we tasted Herzog’s 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which had a very fragrant, prominent and pleasing nose rich with black cherry and mocha. The swirl showed off its fine legs and nice color while the sip released a strong cherry flavor with some strawberry and subtle pepper with a mild earthiness at the end. It finished well but abruptly. For $36, it’s a decent value for a Napa Valley Cab.

The third wine in the Reserve suite was a cab/syrah blend, 52% cab and 48% syrah. The shiraz deepened the color, making it a nice magenta. The nose was off at first–the bottle had been open for 24 hours, so David opened a new bottle for us, even though it tasted all right. The bouquet in the fresh bottle was much more prominent and pleasant, fruity, beautiful with lots of rich cherry. In the mouth, the new bottle was fresh, bright, balanced, with strong cherry, and a long savory finish. This would be a great wine for a summer barbeque.

I had tasted their Baron Herzog 100% syrah before and been unimpressed (I suspected the bottle was too warm making the wine taste overripe). David gave us a chance to taste the non-reserve syrah anew even though it wasn’t part of our flight. Unfortunately, I still wasn’t that thrilled with it: it still tasted like overripe fruit. I have had so many incredible syrahs from local ones like Vino V’s elegant White Hawk to Australian beauties from Chris Ringland. This one just didn’t cut the mustard, especially at the price.

Before we tasted the dessert zinfandel, we visited the winery’s retaurant, Tierra del Sur, which is one of the best and highest regarded Kosher restaurants between Beverly Hills and San Francisco.

We opted for a romaine salad ($9) with garlic, lemon and anchovies (like a ceasar salad) and an avocado gazpacho ($8). The salad was slightly overdressed but the flavors were delicious. The gazpacho was creamy and delicate with a hint of cilantro and dotted with pickled radishes–and a tiny portion, barely 10 spoonfuls to the bowl. The service was wonderful, and the dining room, for being such a cavernous space, was quiet, calm, and elegant. The subdued lighting and candlelight warmed the concrete floored space.  The fresh soft  bread was warm and served with garlic and rosemary infused olive oil. I wanted to try their reserve chardonnay and the food was chosen with this in mind as well. Unfortunately, the chardonnay was less impressive than the food which we loved, and  at $14 a glass,  a disapointment: overly oaked and lightweight.

Several of the desserts clamored for my attention but instead we went back to the tasting room for our dessert wine. The late harvest zinfandel was light in color, almost like strawberry juice, and it had strawberry flavor but not much complexity or much of anything else. Maybe I am too spoiled by my regular evening Jonesy Port to truly appreciate it.

SO what makes a wine or spirit Kosher?? According to David, what makes a wine Kosher comes from the control of the juice through the winemaking process. Rabbinic guidelines require that Kosher wine be handled or monitored by someone who is an Orthodox Jew throughout the process. The winemaker at Herzog, is not an orthodox Jew, so every step of the way, he has someone who is with him throughout his activities.

A second important factor in making Kosher wine is that no animal products are used for fining, filtering or anything else, the exception being the occasional use of egg whites for filtering. This also makes Kosher wine a popular choice for Vegans and vegetarians, an added benefit for Herzog and Earth guardians.

So if you’re looking for a green wine this Earth Month or beyond, one which is grown sustainably and without animal products, consider a Kosher source like Herzog.

(and thanks David for helping me taste and write this up!)

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