It was a true pleasure to taste wine last week from Elvi Winery, based in Catalonia’s Monsant region, in Spain. This all-kosher, Jewish-owned winery, is a true outlier among kosher wineries and, if I may put my personal view right up front-and-center, I’ve never tried an Elvi wine I didn’t like. That goes for the $8.99 entry level Viña Encina wines, all the way up to the $70 Clos Mesorah, the winery’s much-celebrated flagship offering.
We were honored to have David Cohen Aletà join our tasting group in Teaneck last week after his whirlwind tour of the globe for KFWE events, to walk us through yet another tasting of his wines. David is the son of Moises and Anna Cohen, owners of the winery. Cohen Aletà, just 22, is the export director. (In Spain, last names combine the father’s last name with the mother’s maiden name).
His visit was a pleasure and a true educational experience. We learned that Elvi, established in 2003, is the first and only kosher winery in Spain since 100 years before Spain’s expulsion of the Jews in 1492. Cohen Aletà father’s family was expelled from Spain to Morocco, where Moises was born. Anna was born in France and was working in Spain when the two met and married. “My mom is the winemaker and my dad grows the grapes,” said Cohen Aletà.
Elvi wines are certified by the OU and with additional haredi hechsherim. Elvi derives its name from a combination of the Hebrew word for God (“El”) and the Catalan word for wine (“Vi”). “The logo is a boat, to show that the wine drinker can travel around Spain with our wine,” Cohen Aletà explained, noting that every wine showcases the wines and grapes produced in Spain’s different regions.
For those who like sweeter wines, be sure to try the extremely affordable under $10 sangrias, available in both red and white. These are wines sweetened with natural fruit essences; peach, orange and apple. They are a lot of fun and a nice aperitif.
The two Viña Encina wines, Blanco (white) and Tinto (red), are produced in La Mancha. Both are mevushal. La Mancha is a Denominación de Origen (D.O.), just like D.O.C.G. in Italy. La Mancha is in central Spain and is famous for its macabeo grape, also known as viura. La Mancha also comprises the biggest vineyard in the world, and sells many grapes to Italy. “It’s literally a sea of grapes,” said Cohen Aletà.
The Viña Encina Blanco is comprised of 100% macabeo. Sometimes macabeo is used as one of several grapes included in the making of cava, or sparkling white wine, Spain’s answer to champagne. But when it is used in 100% form, it’s best for young white wines meant to be drunk immediately. “My mom likes to say the Blanco is an honest wine. What you smell on the nose is what you get in the mouth. It has low acidity, but a citric nose. Easy to drink,” he said.
The Viña Encina Tinto is comprised of 100% tempranillo, also known as cencibel, another wine grape typical of Spain, which makes rich, inky colored wines; tinto actually means “ink” in Spanish. Tempranillo is the main grape used in Rioja, another Spanish wine region The Viña Encina Tinto, for me, seems a more neutral or less dry version of Israeli cab blends. It reminded me of a very fruit-forward carignan or a GSM (grenache syrah mourvedre). At $8.99, this is a wine that is an incredible deal and a treat as well.
Cohen Aletà explained that what sets his father’s work apart, with all of Elvi wines, is the attention paid to the grapes, and his goal that the grape berries remain small, not densely packed, with wind able to make its way through the vines and individual berries. “Skin is what drives the wine; inside is just water and sugar,” he said. “My father knows how to prune the vines and to understand the work that goes into creating a bottle of wine. A lot of wineries don’t grow their own grapes, but we know what we’re putting into each bottle.”
For the Rioja wines, the most well-known wine region in Spain, like how Bordeaux is the most celebrated region in France, Elvi makes them under the Herenza or Herenza Reserva label. These are made from single vineyards. “Being in the wine business means you remember a lot about God; We lost 80% of the 2017 harvest due to hail and a freeze two weeks before the harvest,” Cohen Aletà said.
We tried three Herenza wines, and each in our tasting group had our favorites among them. The Herenza blue bottle is aged in new oak barrels, and has an earthy, tobacco nose; it’s price point is around $15, extremely affordable and enjoyable; a true QPR (quality price ratio). The Herenza black bottle was a true crowd-pleaser. Its nose was distinctly floral, with a bold and fruity flavor and thicker viscosity. “The 2016 can age for 10 years,” said Cohen Aletà. The Hereza Reserva 2014 has a nose of chocolate and earthly truffles, grass and tobacco. It was a full experience and a beautiful bottle of wine, and these are sold for at or under $26. It’s also a visually arresting bottle, with a cross-hatching of thin-orange wire; very beautiful (and makes a great gift)!
Finally, the Clos Mesorah 2016, was the most awaited wine of the tasting. “This was a perfect vintage for us,” said Cohen Aletà. It was opened and decanted for at least an hour before the tasting began. This year’s Clos Mesorah comprised a blend of 50% carignan (coming from 100-year-old vines), 30% grenache and 30% syrah (both from 20-year-old vines). It was deep violet in color, with ripe black fruit, herbs, tar, and toasted oak on the nose. An elegant mouthfeel and on the palate, one gets a taste of cherries, oak, rich tobacco and vanilla. It has a long and elegant finish. This wine, while delicious now, is meant to be saved for at least three years and aged even longer. Buy now and save for 2023 to 2033.
“My mom describes this wine as elegant and balanced, because nothing overpowers anything else. It was aged three years in the barrel, and these grape berries are hand-selected. Only 5,400 numbered bottles are made,” Cohen Aletà said. Seven hundred bottles are also made of an ultra-select blend, called Clos Mesorah Sublime. Alas, that was not in our tasting.
Overall, Elvi wines are unique and special. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about kosher winemaking in Spain and we recommend all the Elvi wines without exception. A freilichen Purim to all!
By Elizabeth Kratz