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Don't Pass Over Hagafen Cellars

by Monty and Sara Preiser

Over the past year we have had the pleasure of getting to know Ernie and Irit Weir, owners of Hagafen Cellars in Napa, where Ernie also doubles (triples?) as wine maker and grower. We have taken people to the property to taste the wines, and we have served selected wines at functions in our home (where we are in good company given that the White House has done the same). So as we approach the spring holiday seasons, and you are considering what wines to serve, it seems to us an article about Hagafen is in order.

The First Question is: Why is this Napa winery different from all other Napa Wineries?

Writing about Hagafen balances a couple of objectives because, while the wines stand on their own as excellent representations of what Napa can produce, the winery’s full story is not told unless one mentions the wines are Kosher. Yet, as soon as one says that, some people (simple sons - or daughters?) skip immediately past the rest. Today we hope some that the wiser will thank us for leaning on them just a little bit in our efforts to have them read on.

The Second Question is: Why is Hagafen’s Kosher wine as good as, or (in numerous instances) better than, non Kosher products?

Hagafen is first and foremost a Napa winery that uses estate and California fruit just as do most of its competitors. Its vinification procedures are well recognized and within the norm, as is its barrel program. What all this translates to is the creation of quality products that have been honored in competitions and by critics worldwide (check the Hagafen website to see the incredible number of awards). Being Kosher is just an added bonus for those to whom it is an important consideration.

The Third Question is: Why are these Kosher wines different from other Kosher wines?

As we said above, there is little difference between Hagafen and other wineries insofar as how the wine is made from grape to bottle, except that at Hagafen the production and handling follow Jewish traditional law. As to the most oft cited reason for the unpopularity of Kosher wines – the necessity to raise their temperature over 212F – modern technology used by Hagafen dispenses with that process. The winery employs flash pasteurization by means of a sanitary heat exchanger.The liquid is rapidly heated to 185 F (85C) and chilled within seconds at the rate of approximately 15 gallons per minute - about 1 liter/second. Thus, Kosher wines are no longer plagued by the flavors being boiled out. The ultra short pasteurization process seems to have little, or no, effect on the normal maturation of the fruit, or the taste.

And . . . The Fourth Question is: Why choose to write about this wine on this day of days?

Many of us will begin to think about visiting friends and relatives during the upcoming holidays, and wines are usually appreciated gifts. Kosher wines are even more appropriate for enjoyment during Passover, and Hagafen wines in particular, which can be ordered directly from the winery, can be used at the Seder table.

Let’s discuss a few of our favorite Hagafen wines, both white and red. See if they fit your taste and price profile. You won’t have to dip too deep into your pocket to afford many of what would be an added treat to your holidays.

2005 Oak Knoll Chardonnay ($21), recently chosen as one the nation’s top 100 wines by a leading publication. It exhibits beautiful apples and honey (can you think of anything with which it might pair well?); 2005 Napa Sauvignon Blanc ($15), which features a ruby grapefruit flavor minus any tartness – very popular when we serve it; 2003 Estate Merlot ($27), a highly sought after wine of good fruit and finish - lovely with lamb; and 2002 Don Ernesto Clarinet Table Wine ($18), at this cost the perfect wine to pour pre dinner or for any apparitions that may or may not appear.

Finally, Hagafen has launched another series of wines that is marketed under the category of “Black Label.” These huge Reds are available only for wine club members and at the winery, and sell for between $39 - $75. We recently tasted them and found them to be a wonderful addition to the winery’s portfolio.

2001 Estate Bottled Syrah ($39), with good structure and an excellent dusty finish; 2004 Reserve Moskowite Ranch: Block 61 Napa Zinfandel ($45), an elegant sort of Zin with a light mid palate making it perfect for roasted meat without sauce, or a brisket; 2002 EB Cabernet Sauvignon ($49), with a nose that might be too ripe leading into a well integrated wine that leaves you with chocolate and cherries; 2002 Reserve EB Napa Cabernet Sauvignon: MIT Block ($65), a wine that coats the mid palate with orange and chocolate, but stays a bit too light for the heavy meats. Its price point might be a bit high; and 2004 Reserve EB Prix Melange Red Table wine ($75), not surprisingly the best wine Hagafen makes in our opinion. It is balanced, throws off a nose of cherry that permeates the entire sip, and has layers of cedar, mint, and espresso.

It’s interesting that Ernie and Irit have created these higher line wines. They are, as you could hopefully tell from our short reviews, well crafted and almost all fairly priced. But the original wines, good as they are, would have been enough for us.

Hagafen can be reached at 1-888-HAGAFEN (424-2336)or www.hagafen.com

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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